“What do you do?” It’s a question usually asked within the first 5 minutes of meeting someone. For most of the last 11 years my wife, Megan, has always had the same answer:
“I am a stay-at-home mom.”
That answer has been modified at times to include she and I working together to start a nonprofit that donated comic books to low-income schools, and her helping me start a business. She incorporated our company, got an accountant, and made us legitimate. I’ve heard her say more than once, “We aren’t going to be Wesley Snipes.” (Apparently his tax issues made a big impression on her.)
Now though, in what will be the biggest change for our family since the last baby was born 7 years ago, she has a new answer to that question:
“I’m the Community Manager for a startup incubator.”
Luxury & Choices
We became a one-income family in our first six months of marriage. Megan had the chance to move into management in her job at the time, but we turned it down so she could focus on raising Liz, the daughter that she brought to our marriage who quickly became my daughter as well, and the baby we were trying to have.
On an overcast day in a Peter Piper Pizza in 2004 we decided to make my $40,000 salary stretch as far as it could, which meant living in a succession of apartments that included:
- Crash, the neighbor who had a significant other with his name tattooed on her breast, and greeted every morning with a burst of profanity so loud that it served as my alarm clock;
- Another neighbor who made the unfortunate mistake of calling Megan a four-letter slur that rhymes with a football term, in what I think was a misguided attempt to make Crash seem like a gentleman (mission accomplished);
- A robbery of our U-Haul;
- A shooting we had to flee from that put bullet holes in our neighbor’s couch and blinds;
- A young man who I had to persuade with a high-powered bow and arrow to kindly leave our family alone.
From our copious use of discount grocery stores to the mirror dangling from my driver’s side window, our lives have never been defined by luxury. And contrary to something I frequently hear, having a stay-at-home parent is not a luxury.
But it’s not a choice every family can or should make.
Family structure comes in every shape and size. My youngest brother Levi is a single parent who works 10 hours a day, then comes home to be the primary caregiver to his young daughter and son. However you accomplish it, if you put food on a kid’s plate and love in their heart you deserve a hug, a kind word, and to be free from the judgment of others.
For us, I’m glad we were able to make the choice to have Megan manage the business of being the McKissens.
And while I’m sure the transition will be difficult—maybe most of all for me, who’s had the help of the most intelligent and competent person I’ve ever met almost on-demand—life changes, and this is the next phase for us.
Who are you?
When people ask, “What do you do?” they are really asking, “Who are you?” but doing so in a much more socially acceptable way. Usually people answer with a title or a profession: “CFO”, “accountant”, “IT manager”.
That’s just a title, a shorthand way of trying to tell people who you are in as few words as possible.
It never captured the way Megan took emotions and egos, blood and poop, joy and heartbreak, breakfast and dinner, and the kindness that comes when you love people more than anything along with the thoughtlessness that can come when you know those same people can’t or won’t leave, and turned it into the most difficult and important of all organizational units:
The answer to that question, “What do you do?”, never tells anyone who you are.
But OPO Startups, a startup incubator and Megan’s new employer, saw who she was, and not just what she did on paper. I’m proud of her, and I’m proud of them, for seeing that anyone who can do what she’s done for over a decade has an amazing set of transferrable skills.
When I started a business, when our daughter got behind the wheel of a car for the first time, when our son confronted his best friend about being intolerant of others, when our youngest daughter needed to have the courage to overcome a paralyzing fear of dogs, Megan was there to support us.
She provides a place to land and the encouragement and love we need to be braver or better than we are at any particular moment.
That, to me, is the definition of incubation.
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