Sally is an attractive young woman, 29, married and with children aged 5 and 3. After working 10 years in a unionized long-term care home, she has qualified for what passes as full-time work in that facility. She enjoys her role as Personal Support Worker – a profession she ‘chose’ because training was available locally – but the family could use a better rate of pay as her husband is seasonally employed. She moved into her present home with her now-husband when she was 16, and was supported by him to finish high school and college. She can’t see getting further education, although it would increase her employment prospects, because of a reluctance to leave or uproot the family. Sally’s step sibs have also participated in this research – Steve and Elizabeth.
FM: Okay, so start with describing the family you were raised in – who, where, what they did for a living, etc…
So both my parents – my mom stayed at home with 3 kids until I was born. She went to work when I turned 2. My dad started at [a hardware store] and then worked [in maintenance]. Mom worked in retail. I have 3 siblings. All my family is still here; nobody’s left. My brother also works in maintenance, like my dad. My one sister works at the bank and my other sister works at a large grocery store in Lakeville.
My folks separated when I was 14. My mom had breast cancer at the time – actually, dad left and it wasn’t long after she found the lump. Had to sell the house so we ended up at a park of double-wide homes. At that time it was just me and mom. My one sister had gone to school, my other sister had her own house and my brother was gone well before then.
FM: Was selling the house necessary because of the split up, or health-related expenses, or not being able to work, etc?
Yes to all of the above. With moving to [the trailer park], my mom could pay for it with no mortgage, so then she had time to not worry about the bills and get better.
FM: And she did?
Yes, she’s been in remission for 12 years and she does well with it.
FM: You’re in the medical profession: was that experience a factor in your decision?
No, my mom, for a while when we were down at [the trailer court], she did home care. Because at the time you didn’t have to have papers, you just went in and did the basic stuff, grocery shopping and cleaning, that kind of stuff. And I was quite grossed out by it at that time.
I left home at 16 – I met my now husband. He had a house so I moved in with him. Unemployment was hard. I tried the youth employment. They got me a job at [a grocery store]. Which I’m really not a people person so I quit.
FM: How old were you at this time?
At [the grocery store]? I was done school so I would have been around 17, 18.
FM: Just to clarify, you moved in with your boyfriend/now husband when you were 16 but continued to go to school?
Yeah. That was the joys of him having a vehicle and being older than me.
FM: How much older?
FM: And what did he do?
At the time he was in logging. He worked for his dad.
FM: And now?
He still works for his dad but they’ve gotten out of logging and do landscaping – because there’s not much in logging any more.
FM: And what did your mom think about you leaving home this young?
Um, I don’t think she was happy about it, but being her and me for the length of time that it was, we did have a bit of a hard go for a while. I was stubborn, bull-headed and she didn’t really have a say. I just took my stuff up there, little bits at a time, and eventually everything was there.
FM: And it was your new home?
Yes, and it’s still my home.
FM: Okay, and just to contextualize – you’re 29 now, and have two kids ages 5 and 3. So you were together for quite a long time before you started a family.
I was 23 when we got married and my son came along the next year.
FM: So did you ever leave the country?
No. I did my schooling and everything here.
FM: Talk about that a bit.
After I quit [the grocery store], I knew I needed something. It just so happened that in the paper there was an ad for Personal Support Worker at [the community college] in Lakeville. So I talked to my dad who helped pay for my schooling and started the course, got highest mark. I did my placement in [a long-term care facility] and found that I quite enjoyed it, working with the elderly. I graduated in May and I had a job in July in the long-term care facility in Lakeville. Which I’m still there. It’s been almost 10 years.
FM: Some women with that training have reported that they’ve not been able to make enough money to pay the rent, because of limited hours, etc. What’s your experience been?
I feel that I have had enough hours to get me through. As of this Monday coming, I’m finally into the full-time contract. I have never not been able to pay my bills. There’ve been times when I would like more hours but I seem to manage.
FM: So it took you 10 years of part-time work to ‘earn’ a full-time job?
Their full time is not technically full-time, either. It’s just 52 hours bi-weekly that I have.
FM: Does it include benefits?
Yes. Now the catch there is I’ve had benefits the whole time because when I started our contract had everything covered. I started in July 2003. By January 2004 the benefits stopped. Everyone after me became ‘in lieu of’. So I made the cut, just barely, or I would have been with no benefits.
FM: And this a unionized environment?
Yes. Sometimes I wonder what they do for us, but yes.
FM: I was thinking how bad it might be if it wasn’t unionized.
I personally don’t think anyone would work there. I don’t think they could keep staff.
FM: So pretty skinchy employers, but you like the work.
I’m there for the work. I love working with the elderly, putting smiles on their faces, and helping with their activities of daily living.
FM: Can I ask how much it pays?
At this time, it’s around $20/hr, which is good for here. We do do the grunt of the work, though, so I do think we should be paid more.
FM: The other employees would be RNs and RPNs. What kind of pay do they get, in comparison?
I believe the RPN is around $28-$30. And the RN is closer to $40. The RPNs are part of our union contract. The RNs are not, so I don’t know exactly what.
FM: And what’s the ratio of positions – how many PSWs to RPNs?
Just to clarify that a little bit…you want to know how many RPNs – what details?
FM: My thinking is to fill out the picture of employment options – RPN pays more but maybe there are less jobs, and very few RN jobs – that’s what I was exploring.
Yes, you’re right. The PSWs, that is more jobs in a long-term care facility because like I said they do the bulk of the work. PSWs have 8 full-time positions and then probably 10-15 part-time. And RPN there is 3 full time and 1 part-time.
FM: So not much motivation to get further training?
I would love to, but no. The kids are holding me back from that.
FM: Talk a bit more about that.
Other than the fact that I know my husband couldn’t go with me to go back to school, or to raise the kids on his own if I would go back to school…and then there’s the loss of income
FM: Okay, so to get more qualifications, you’d have to leave the county, and your husband couldn’t – maybe wouldn’t – come with you, but neither could he manage the kids if you weren’t here.
Not that he couldn’t, I’d just never do that. I just wouldn’t make him take the care of them on his own. If it came down to a necessity that I needed to upgrade my education, I’m sure he would be willing to move. But it would be hard; this is our roots. It would be hard to pick up and go.
FM: What education does he have?
Well, he has his high school education. He did go to college but it was short periods, just 6-month courses for logging stuff. So nothing to carry him on with.
FM: Did you like school?
FM: But you got highest marks in the PSW course. Put that together.
I knew school was important to get me where I wanted to go, but I just did what I had to do, I never went over and beyond.
FM: Is there a way that you could upgrade your qualifications by distance learning, something like that?
I’ve never really looked into it. I have heard there are some things you can do on line, but you have your practical and usually you have to be in the hospital of their choice for that stuff, and Lakeville doesn’t have – like in a large hospital you have labour and delivery, surgery, that stuff, whereas Lakeville doesn’t have that stuff.
FM: Right. So talk a bit more about the importance of social connections here, the roots that you referred to.
Family is important. I like to know that they’re close. I do like a small town, how you do know most people. They like to help. I’m familiar with the area, not like a new town where you have to learn everything, the ins and outs. And if you need favours, if you need anything, most people are willing to help out in some way. whereas if you’re in the city, people have to drive to you. It’s harder if you don’t know people.
FM: Does your family help out in practical ways, like for example, babysitting kids?
FM: You said you could come today because your kids are one in school and the other in a group day care, to get ready for school? Do I remember that?
FM: So you’re using community child care rather than or to augment family child care?
The reason for that is because since my daughter was born, she’s been very much attached to me, so I wanted her to go to, not a complete stranger but people she’s not as familiar with as my family. So she won’t have as much separation anxiety when she goes to school.
FM: Socialization is important. You live in town, right?
[A small village.]
FM: And do you have friends with kids of the same age, do the ‘play date’ bit?
FM: So do you think that your kids get the socialization they need to be prepared to do well in school and in life, generally, and it’s just that your daughter has particular needs? But otherwise, raising kids in a small village is not a disadvantage, maybe even an advantage. Talk about that a bit…
I think my kids are well socialized. They both play hockey. Actually, my son is probably more outgoing and friendly than me. Since my daughter has started day care, she is less attached. I’ve noticed a big change in her learning, even. She’s picking up things. At 3 years old, she’s quite smart. Being raised here myself, I like the thought of my kids being able to go in the back yard and run and play. It’s not just a little box they’re playing in. My dad has a farm. They can go down and see the cows, ride in the tractor. Fun things for the kids. We try to do as much as possible with them, out and about, not held back for anything.
FM: Do you do family weekends into the city? I know that was a pattern with my staff.
No. We have a trailer. Actually this was our first summer that we did camping, which the kids liked. We travelled to Sauble Beach, North Bay, Katrine. We like the advantage of the trailer because you can just hook on, just pick a spot, there you still had your familiar [place]. So you had your mini-home and so many things to do. The kids learned to ride their bikes without training wheels this summer.
FM: So you’re country people and happy with it?
Yes, very much.
FM: Do you think you missed anything important by not going away to school?
I really can’t answer that because I don’t know. I’m sure I could have had a better education had I have gone, but at the time I didn’t know what I wanted to do. And even taking my PSW I wasn’t sure if it would really be for me in the end, but it turns out it’s actually something I love.
FM: Was there any discussion when you were a high school student that was intended, at least, to help you figure out what your options were, what you might want to prepare to do? That’s supposed to be part of what the guidance dept. does. Did they, for you?
Not that I remember. I never took any specific classes for any education that I thought I might be interested in, so I’m going to answer no to that.
FM: I’m beginning to form the opinion that the absence of help in exploring the ‘big world out there’ is a problem. Not that kids would necessarily make a different decision, but at least they’d have the sense that they’d considered a number of options, rather than just falling, sort of by luck, into their life work. The idea of choosing: how important is that to you?
I know from experience when it come time for my kids, there will be a lot more options and understanding of what they want to be, where they want to go. I’m going to help them more and get them where they need to get started. Because I look back, maybe my parents just weren’t as aware, maybe, I don’t know. Because they didn’t push me.
FM: Your sibs – they didn’t leave, but they opted into other lines of work. Did they make ‘choices’ d’ya think, or did they just fall another direction into their life work?
My brother definitely did not make choices. My oldest sister did go away to school in [a city to the south], only for a year and then came home. She did complete the course, it was just a year course, but then she didn’t further her education. My other sister also went away to school in [a closer, smaller city]. She did not finish and came home. Which she has no qualifications because of it. So really, I’m the only one who’s got a – even though it’s just a PSW – I’m the only one in the family to have certification.
FM: Do you think you’re fairly characteristic of your peers, the girls who were in your high school class, for example? Or were you atypical?
Does that mean did I get along with people?
FM: Actually, no, interesting that you go there. I was meaning did the other girls go away or stay put, did they get into family mode differently… but your answer suggests that maybe you didn’t feel like you ever fit in, at the school, in the community?
To answer the question properly, all of my friends did go away. One’s a teacher, one’s a security person at the hydro plant, another is a registered nurse. So really I was the only one that I was close with that never went. With school, it wasn’t that I didn’t feel like I didn’t fit in, I just chose not to be part of the drama that most of the girls create at school. I had more guy friends than I did girls.
FM: So what ‘drama’ was the norm?
Who took whose boyfriend, who did something that made one girl mad so they outed you out of a group, just the basics.
FM: Were you a big partyer when you were in high school?
FM: Was everybody?
Yes and no. But mostly.
FM: But you must have been a bit atypical because you’re living with your boyfriend, not your parents for the last couple of years of school, right?
FM: So did you party with the high school or with your partner’s people?
The first half of high school was just with high school friends. Once I met my husband, it was parties at his house, wherever it happened to be.
FM: So in some ways getting hooked up made the social part of high school simpler.
FM: So that was the good part; the ‘bad part’, maybe, was not being free to go as much as your girlfriends were. Which you may not have wanted to do in any case, because of being shy, I’m thinking.
Because I’m shy? I am shy.
FM: Okay. Thanks for exploring this. I’ve had some guys doing interviews that I’m calling in my mind ‘country boys’ because they love being here, they belong here, they never considered being anywhere else. But you’re my first girl/woman that I see in that way.
FM: And more, let me explore housing – what are your housing circumstances? Rent? Own? What?
Neither. My husband’s parents own the house.
FM: And this is where you’ve lived since you hooked up with him.
FM: And how are you with that? Do you feel like it’s your house?
Actually, yes. I’ll always have a part of me that wants something that’s ours, but it’s so ours, they don’t make it seem like theirs in any way.
FM: Does he have siblings?
Yes, he has a sister.
FM: And does she think he’s got a break? That he’s got something that she should have, or that she was treated unfairly?
No. Not at all.
FM: She wouldn’t want the house?
No, she wouldn’t. Hers is much better.
FM:Okay, so really, you’ve lived in 3 houses your entire life, your mom and dad, [the trailer court], and your husband’s house. How old-fashioned!
FM: Okay, so we’ve talked housing, education, employment. Health – anything there? Mental health? Substance over-use? Physical health?
FM: Good. And husband too?
FM: Okay, then involvement with the legal system?
FM: That’s boring in a good way. Okay I have some finish-up questions. Are we there? So… For the people who will read this story, to give it the shape and focus that you intend, would you say what you think is the Most Important Event in the story. Could be something that happened, or something that didn’t happen, a hole or an absence, something like that. So most important event…
I would say not being able to go to school now is probably the most important thing now. It doesn’t bother me that I didn’t do it at the time, it’s just that now that I have children, it’s harder to find your way to do that.
FM: And is your motivation to go to school to increase your qualifications so that you can work differently in the medical field, do different work, or be paid more, or have more influence in how work gets delivered, what lights your fire?
It definitely has to do with being paid more. But I also – I guess you can say I’m like a sponge. When things do go on at work, I’m right there and I want to learn. And I want the ones with more education to explain things and it’s all very interesting to me, so I feel if I did have the education I would be more fulfilled.
FM: Well, work is for a long time. It’s pretty important that you feel as good as you can about it. And there’s not many options here, plus you’ve found your field, so it’s just positioning yourself within that field as best you can. I’m going to tell you about some programs you might not know about, after we’ve finished…
Okay, that’s very helpful, thank you.
FM: Next question… People who read this story will form an opinion about how it will turn out, for good or not so good. What do you think?
Probably not so good.
FM: You’re feeling stuck.
I think the hardest part is I have nothing for my kids. If something was to happen. And I know from experience, other than my dad helping me with school, I didn’t get any help. I would have done so many things differently if I was more aware of what life really was about. And I think that’s the thing. I don’t think that kids are really taught about the real world until it’s really too late.
FM: I think that’s a really important theme that’s developing among these stories. Is how to give kids some exposure to the Big World even if they live in and want to continue to live in the Little World. It shouldn’t be a choice, and it shouldn’t mean less opportunity, less support for exploring and achieving the best you can do. Do you have any idea what that support would look like? For you, or for your kids?
FM: Okay. Two advice questions. First, what advice would you give to your younger self, whether or not your younger self would take that advice, that you think would make this narrative unfold easier or better or... Whatever...
The biggest key thing was that when I started work at 14 I should have saved money rather than just spend it all.
FM: And buy the ticket to get out of town?
I honestly don’t think I would have left town. This is very much a part of me and when I do go out of town, I have no desire to stay and live in a city.
FM: Did you ever think about just travelling around, seeing what there was to see? Or was that too frivolous?
In Ontario or outside? Because I have travelled.
I’ve been to Mexico and Cuba. Both times were for weddings. But the best trip was Holland. And I went with my mom and her boyfriend. He’s Dutch and he has family there. And there was nothing bad about the trip. It was just amazing.
FM: When was this?
It’ll be 2 years ago in April.
FM: Just you or kids?
Just me, my mom, her boyfriend.
FM: What a nice break.
It was really nice.
FM: Any more where that came from, d’ya think?
It’ll be a long time before I travel again. I want my children to be a part of that now, and they’re not really of an age to appreciate and understand. From experience, after seeing a few things out in the world, it just would be nice to do it with my family.
FM: Would your husband agree?
FM: Okay. Last question. What advice – we’ve sort of touched on this – what advice would you give those of us who would hope to be helpful to young people like yourself, what advice about what we could or should do?
That’s a hard one. Again, it really comes down to money. And I’m not really sure that there’s a way, especially with the generation coming, to really explain to them how important it is to have a job and hold a job, to still be able to enjoy life. Because from what I observe, generations now are way more dependent on parents than I was.
FM: True. And for longer. You were outa home when you were 16.
I was probably an exception with everything that went on. Most of my friends were at home until they were 18, left for school.
FM: Do you consider yourself ‘poor’?
I would not say poor but I’m not rich by any means.
FM: Are you ‘comfortable’ or worried?
I worry all the time. About money.
FM: Are you comfortable saying what your family income is on an average year?
It’s about $55,000.
FM: And do you pay rent or just utilities and m–
FM: So without that, you’d really be scraping.
FM: And is your husband’s livelihood fairly secure going forward, or are you worried?
I’m sure there’s always going to be landscaping, but it does worry me. It’s not a yearly – you can’t landscape in the winter.
FM: Does he qualify for EI?
Yes. He’s been on it pretty much every year since I’ve been with him.
FM: What’s he going to do when they bring in these new changes – the Harper government has passed legislation that ‘frequent flyers’, people who have regularly claimed EI, will have the — shit, I’m now adding to your worries! — will have the amount they receive reduced, and the option offered is that they should go where the jobs are, i.e. the oil sands. That’s my version of what I hear, and I think it will rip this community apart, because your husband is one of legions who depend – and their employers depend – on EI supporting seasonal employment... Sorry to break that news.
Honestly, though, I’m sure he will always find something. It’s just what is the problem. With having 2 little ones, working for his dad has been nice because if I need him, he’s available. Because I do shift work, and day care is not always available to shift workers.
FM: Yeah, we didn’t even go there. How long – maybe forever – would you have to do shift work? Would days only ever be available to you?
Starting Monday I’ll have just strictly days. It’s just 7 to 3 shifts. But when I started I did evenings and nights and days, and then I went strictly to days, then to evenings which I’m just finishing, and I’ll go on days again. Even though you’re unionized, you’re never guaranteed. If we have cut-backs and lose hours, the ones who have been there longer can bump the newer ones for hours. So even though I have a permanent full-time job, it doesn’t mean I’m secure. Because it’s happened to me. That’s why – I had 45 hours on days and someone bumped me so then I went to evenings.
FM: So they have you coming and going. You can have hours or you can have days but hardly ever rest assured that you can have both. Wow. We have to see about getting you something more… That’s me. Anything more?
Not that I can think of.