If someone had told me even just a year ago that I’d be working at a senior living facility that specializes in Alzheimer’s and dementia, I would never have believed them. In fact, if someone had told me a year ago that I’d be working full-time outside the home again, I wouldn’t have believed that either. For the past 14 years, I’ve either worked outside the home alongside my husband with our catering business, or worked from home with my own business. Going back to work full-time this January was a big adjustment for both myself and my family, but it was something that needed to be done and also happens to fit perfectly with the changes I’ve made in my life for a new career.
In 2011, I decided to get my high school diploma (I was home-schooled my last three years of high school but never received a diploma for finishing my work). I figured that if I was going to pursue my high school diploma and march with the local public high school graduating class, I might as well pursue my dream of higher education. I enrolled in college in the fall of 2011 and was a full-time student until January of this year. That was when everything changed for our family.
Throughout my schooling the past two years, I found that what I really want to do is work in end of life care and somehow bring art therapy into it. I help to take care of my grandfather and that made me see how little emphasis is put on elder care. My end goal is to pursue my Bachelors in Psychology and my Masters in Social Work. I’m also going to pursue my certification as a death midwife. While all of this sounds morbid, it’s truly where my heart is. I want to bring art, healing, closure, and life back into a season of the life cycle that is so foreboding to so many. It is a natural part of the cycle of life and should be full of respect, dignity, and celebration of the human spirit. All of this is what makes my current job so perfect for me.
I work at The Arbors in Shelburne, which is a senior living facility specializing in Alzheimer’s and dementia. The job that I applied for and received is in the Activities department. Even though I do activities outside of the art that I love so much to do, my focus is really on bringing art back into the community and into the lives of the residents. This is exactly where my heart is! What were the chances of finding a position working with the elderly and being able to provide therapy through art? The Arbors gave me both of those passions in one job position. It really is the perfect position for me. I spend my days interacting with an amazing generation of people. I get to share my love of art and see the kind of healing it brings to those living in a reality that is so different from our own.
In spite of it being the perfect job, going back into the work force full-time was something that knocked me and my family for a loop. It was a very quick decision and I found a job just as quickly. I didn’t expect to find something so perfect right away but there was no way I was turning it down. My schedule is basically the opposite of my husband’s. He works during the day and I work during the afternoon/evening. Because I have a son on the Autism Spectrum, I need my daytime hours freed up so that I can take him to appointments. I also have a daughter that just got braces put on last December so there are the constant trips to the orthodontist. Being in school also requires me to have time to study without distractions. Working afternoons/evenings was a must for me.
My husband and I knew that we would have to make some sacrifices for me to work full-time, but that it would all eventually even out and we’d find our groove as a family in time. Those first two months were really difficult. Only seeing my husband 15 min. each morning as I drove him to work and only seeing my kids for an hour before they caught the bus for school was brutal on all of us. Everyone was asleep by the time I got home. My husband and I took to writing notes to each other that were left on the counter or the white board on the fridge so that we could communicate. I would call home every night at break time at work so that we could connect. The last three months, though, have been much easier. My schedule has been tweaked a little so that I get home an hour earlier and I’m going to have one day shift a week so that I can have an extra night at home with my family.
Even though I love what I do, being outside of my little cocoon was one of the hardest things for me to adjust to. Being away from my comfort zone, my family, my dogs, my art space for nine hours every day was something I didn’t think I’d ever be able to get used to. After all, I’d been at home for over eight years! And honestly, I thought my family couldn’t do without me. I didn’t think they could manage without me doing all the things I do for them. An amazing thing has happened, though. They’ve stepped up. My husband cooks more. My kids do more around the house. They’re 13 and 14 years old. I don’t know why I didn’t realize before now that they’re capable of so much more than I give them credit for. There’s no reason they can’t help out more than I allowed them to and that’s what it’s come down to. I’ve tried to do too much all on my own.
Other things have happened through this process that have been worth the sacrifice. My husband and I have become closer and the things that we talk about when we’re together are deeper and we connect more because we know that we have less time together due to our schedules. Our finances are more stable because I have a reliable income. This has taken a lot of stress off of me as the budget keeper and bill payer.
Life is still busy, even with getting into the groove. I finished the spring semester of college and had two weeks off and now I’m back in classes for the summer. Working full-time, running a household, and going to school three-quarter time is a lot to take on, but with creative solutions, we’ve made it work for our family. I’ve learned that it’s okay to ask my kids to do more around the house. It’s okay for my husband to have to cook dinner a few nights a week. It’s okay that my studio isn’t always neat and tidy. It’s okay that the laundry is sitting in a pile for a week on my bedroom floor by the time it gets folded and put away. In fact, it’s okay to ask my kids to go through the pile and take care of their own clean laundry. It was even okay to let go of my 4.o GPA this past spring semester because I got my assignments in late and took the hit on my grades. I’ve given up the world’s standards of perfection and found profound satisfaction in my family’s imperfections. It really is okay.
[typography font=”Delius Swash Caps” size=”24″ size_format=”px”]Written By Erika[/typography]
Erika Martin is a 30-something mom of 2, wife of 1, a Human Services degree student, and also works full-time working with the older generation, specializing in therapeutic and sensory art. She lives in Ferrisburg with her family and her 3 Siberian Husky mixed dogs and 2 cats. She spends her free time creating commissioned alternative art, teaching art workshops and retreats, writing, reading non-fiction, and doing anything to keep her hands busy. There’s never a dull moment in the Martin Household, but she makes sure it’s filled with love, peace, understanding, compassion, rainbows, and sunshine. You can read more about her family on her personal blog or in her new book that is currently available for pre-order called Zach: Uncensored, autism without a filter.