BROKEN HEARTHS: Game of Life easier than the real thing

A San Luis Obispo family struggles for stability after enduring the cruel blow of having both parents laid off from their jobs

jlynem@thetribunenews.comSeptember 17, 2010 

TRIBUNE PHOTO BY JOE JOHNSTON Buy Photo

When the company where Jennifer Maw worked for more than two years as a soil and water analyst suddenly closed in July, it was a particularly harsh blow.

Her husband had already been laid off from his job, and Maw knew the family would have to alter its lifestyle.

Maw’s first priority, however, was maintaining a sense of normalcy for her three daughters: Annabell, 16, Savannah, 13, and Brianna, 10.

Yet with her husband scrambling to find work earlier this summer, the kids were asking what the family was going to do and whether everything would be all right.

Maw said she was doing “constant reassuring.”

It would have been too disruptive to dwell on the negative, said the 38-year-old Maw, noting at the time that the family had about six months of reserves.

“As adults, we have the responsibility to make sure that nothing for them is changing,” she said.

But life had changed. Gone were the family trips several times a year to Disneyland, the annual vacations to places like Hawaii, and the big overnight birthday parties at hotels. Now, expenses needed paring to pay the $2,500 monthly rent, utilities and other bills, she said.

The family reduced its cell phone minutes and cut back on eating out and fancy haircuts, “all but the bare necessities,” Maw said. “We didn’t go on vacation at all this year,” she said.

There has been limited back-to-school shopping. The family rents $1 movies from Redbox, a DVD rental kiosk found in stores.

Even the kids’ favorite iTunes downloads have been severely limited. This summer, the girls found loose change around the house and used it to download music, she said.

Now, another wrinkle has entered the mix, further impacting the household, Maw said. Her husband started a new job several weeks ago, but his work is three hours away in Mountain View.

Maw and the children decided to remain in San Luis Obispo this school year, so her husband commutes home every weekend from the Bay Area.

The change not only added new expenses — filling up his car and paying for hotels — but Maw said it leaves her without adult help around the house.

“(The kids) are fine with it right now,” she said. “But logistically, it’s really hard. There’s no backup for me. I have to be available for the kids.”

The experience has taught the family valuable lessons about what’s truly important, Maw said.

On a recent shopping trip, Brianna remarked that she was not willing to pay a steep price for some chocolate candy.

“She said, ‘I don’t want to spend $4 on that,’ ” Maw said.

Annabell misses trips to San Francisco, where she would visit her favorite shops like H&M and Zara. She’s now working as a tutor and saving money to buy whatever she needs.

And Savannah doesn’t ask for money anymore. “I babysit now,” she said proudly.

“I think they feel really grateful,” Maw said. “Before, we were all so prosperous for so long, we didn’t worry about anything. Anything they would wish for, it would appear. Now, we won’t have the things they used to take for granted.”

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