Summit Daily editor’s column: The Summit County two-income shuffle
Can we all admit we’re a little stressed out?
Honestly, I’m stressed writing this column. I really don’t have time to do it. I just sent Judy Dombrowski — the wonderful and wise Frisco woman who sometimes watches my 5-year-old son, Sam — a text asking if it was OK if I picked him up at 4:30 p.m. instead of 2 p.m. I hate to ask that of her, but there’s still so much to do: I have to plan the weekend papers, water the garden, edit a raft of stories for the paper, and, you know, finish this column. The paper is also in the thick of launching a redesign and I need to make sure that’s going smoothly. And also … well, you know the rest. Being a parent and a professional can be a balancing act. It’s nothing new.
You’re probably like me and the many other Summit County parents who work full-time to support their kids and afford the mountain-town lifestyle. We make compromises — gambles really — that we desperately hope pay off now, or down the road.
Believe me, I’m not complaining. I feel grateful to be alive every morning when I watch the sun turn Peak 1 on like a light bulb. But I don’t think I’m alone when I say I still haven’t figured out this two-income household dynamic.
My wife and I have both worked full time for about the past 3 years. That’s a non-negotiable for most Summit families who are looking to build a future. And yet we struggle every week to support each other well. We’re bad about keeping a shared calendar, and I’m terrible at keeping dates and plans straight in my head. Sometimes things flare up. Wires get crossed.
I really should be better at this by now.
I have to admit that I had been a bit spoiled before moving to the Rockies. For the first six years of my now-8-year-old daughter’s life, my wife stayed home, while I worked. I was just barely able to support my family with my meager journalist earnings (even in much-cheaper Texas environs), but I wouldn’t have done it any other way: My wife and daughter formed a deep, lasting bond; I was free to do good work that I was proud of; we planted a big garden together and everything seemed harmonious.
I look back on those days with more than a bit of nostalgia. To be sure, there were downsides: We weren’t really able to save any money; my wife worried about her job prospects when she eventually reentered the workforce; and I was secretly jealous of the time my wife spent with my daughter, who is pretty dang cute.
Things changed when we moved to the mountains nearly four years ago. We came here for our kids. We wanted them to have a childhood in a place that wasn’t suburban-bland, that wasn’t arranged just for shopping and consumption. We wanted them to connect with nature in a way that wasn’t possible in the urban sprawl of Austin. That experience hasn’t come cheap, though.
Bill Eckhoff, who’s lived in Summit for more than 30 years, is someone who knows this. He owns a thriving excavation business in Breckenridge and also raises three kids. He’s worked hard to help foster his children’s passions, whether it be mogul skiing or kayaking.
These days, though, he sleeps by his daughter Amanda’s bedside at Children’s Hospital of Colorado. She was involved in a terrible cycling accident back in June that left her with a traumatic brain injury. Bill dutifully wakes up at 4 a.m. every morning to commute back home to Breckenridge to work.
Bill told me this past week that Amanda was set to go to a prestigious kayaking program in Canada this summer. Of course, he had to cancel because of the devastating collision. Bill had done everything he could to foster Amanda’s intense interest in kayaking. She excelled at it, she loved it. Random chance puts the brakes on all of that.
Bill is going through something I cannot fathom. We parents work ourselves ragged to give our kids the best life possible and hope it turns out OK. We know nothing is guaranteed, but we keep our fingers crossed.
My wife and I sent our daughter to a horse camp this past week. She had a blast. Maybe she’s found her calling. Maybe not. What’s more important is that she knows we love her, that we don’t let work blind us to the here and now. We have to build more than just a future.
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