I took a break at work today and went outside to enjoy the weather; the building I work in is over-air conditioned, which was fine when it was 95 degrees, but now it's ridiculous. I went across the street to the park that runs along the north branch of the Chicago River, enjoying the air and the sunshine, crossing paths with cyclists, joggers, and dog-walkers. I was about to turn back when I heard someone call my name -- it was Christina. She's been unemployed for almost two years now, and has managed to survive it with scrappy ingenuity. As she puts it, she works "like an immigrant," making a living babysitting, cleaning houses, and other odd jobs. The minute she found out I'd been laid off she called me and gave me all the information I'd need on how to file an unemployment claim. I was literally still sitting in my office, fresh out of the meeting with HR where I'd been let go. "It will be okay," she said to me, "I know it doesn't feel like it right now, but it will."
Christina is the picture of not just surviving the economic downturn, but of moving on with her life in spite of it. She cobbles together enough jobs to pay rent, health insurance, and other necessities, and even connected me with babysitting jobs while I was unemployed. We used to work together on Tuesday mornings at a moms group, on the first floor of a town home that was so big I never saw the top floor in all the Tuesdays I babysat there. The moms would arrive perfectly coiffed and made up, and I always wondered why and how that was possible. Christina told me they dressed for each other, that she'd babysat for the mom who lived in the townhouse, and she never dressed like she did at moms group. Christina was funny, the kids responded to her, and most importantly she knew how to work the remote control to the gigantic TV set mounted on the wall of the playroom. At a certain point during every shift the kids would get out of control and the only thing that would calm them was a show called Fireman Sam, which details the episodic life of an animated firefighter who lives in the town of Pontypandy. After our shift was over sometimes we'd get coffee, or make breakfast at one of our homes. It was a rather pleasant way to spend a Tuesday morning.
We did stuff together outside of babysitting too; we went bowling once or twice, and saw The Hangover at the Webster Place Theater. I haven't seen much of her since getting a job, although we did get together recently for breakfast. It was nice to run into her out of the blue. She was pushing a stroller -- her regular Wednesday babysitting job is walking distance from my work. We spent a few minutes catching up, and when the baby in the stroller started getting fussy, we parted ways. It put me in a much better mood to see her; I hope she's out there again next Wednesday.