If you add up all the hours Kara McCurdy works each week, you hit the big 8-0.
There are the 40 she puts in Mondays through Fridays as a New York City nanny, and there are the 40 she logs in while working on her weekend wedding photography business.
Kara, an upbeat woman with baby-bouncy curls who was up until 2 a.m. editing photos of a happy couple, says her schedule isn’t as suicidal as it sounds.
“The 2-year-old I’m a nanny for still takes three-hour naps every day,” she says. “I get a lot of emailing and photo editing done while she’s sleeping.”
Kara, who is 26, doesn’t mind hard work; in fact, if you have more, bring it on.
“I grew up in poverty,” she says. “Going to college and working hard are how I got out of poverty.”
Kara, who spent the first 14 years of her life in the tiny farm town of Celina, Ohio, and her high school years in the not-noticeably larger Norwalk, Ohio, is one of five children.
While the rest of the family was showing off hogs and horses trying to win ribbons at the county fair, Kara was drawing. Her sketchpad and pencil were her constant companions.
Her parents, who are ultra-conservative, were running a non-profit nondenominational Christian ministry out of their house.
“We were not even allowed to watch Disney cartoons,” she said. “But my parents put me into creative programs when they saw I was keen on arts and crafts.”
Kara got her first job at 9. It was a part-time position helping her brother with his paper route.
“Nobody asked me to,” she says. “I could just feel that my family didn’t have money. My parents made $25,000, and there were five kids. I was in public school from grades two through five and was getting free lunches. When they raised it to 25 cents a day, my parents told me I would have to figure out how to earn the money because they didn’t have it.”
So she did. By 11, she had her own paper route, which increased the family income by $110 a month.
At 12, she traded it for full-time babysitting, a job that paid a higher salary — $120 per month.
It was easy to work 40 hours a week, Kara says, because by then she was being home-schooled, which continued through eighth grade.
“I really missed socializing when I was being home-schooled,” she says, adding that she was always in honors classes. “I used to lie on my bed and cry because I didn’t have any friends.”
She was devastated, not to mention furious, when her parents decided to move the family to Norwalk.
“I Googled and printed out emancipation papers,” she says. “I didn’t want to leave.”
Kara told them she would go with them only if she could attend a public high school.
After the relocation, she took a short break from working full time. It was not by choice.
“I only knew how to baby-sit, and nobody in our new town would hire me because they didn’t know me or my family,” she says.
During her newfound free time, she concentrated on her artwork.
“I knew I wanted to make it my career,” she says. “But my art teacher didn’t think I was good enough. She changed her mind when she saw a photo I took and told me to focus on photography instead of drawing.”
Kara next found employment at the Cedar Point amusement park. She was 15.
Working summers, sometimes as much as 55 hours a week, and weekends, Kara earned the money to buy her first camera (it was a Canon T2i that cost $1,000) and to take her family on a tour of the Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia.
“My parents didn’t go to college,” she says. “I had saved $800, so I drove them, a brother and my boyfriend there for a weekend. When I saw the palm-tree-lined streets, I said, ‘This is it.’”
There was a slight problem: It was spring break of Kara’s senior year, and she had missed the application deadline not only for the Savannah school but also for every other college on the planet.
Somehow things worked out and Kara, armed with scholarships and loans, became a full-time student.
As was her custom, she worked her way through college, taking on a variety of jobs that included being a resident assistant in the dorm and working in a bed and breakfast.
Living in the dorm changed Kara’s life. It was there that she met her husband, Zach McCurdy, who would become creative director for Astoria-based Bareburger.
It just so happened that he was friends with the “noisy, stupid people” down the hall from Kara’s room.
“When I looked into his eyes, they looked like galaxies,” she says. “He was so handsome that I thought, ‘I’m going to have to start hanging out with them,’ and I wiggled my way into the group.”
They became friends – they each had broken up with their significant others and successfully plotted together to get them back only to discover that they’d rather spend the rest of their lives with each other.
In 2015, when they graduated, they got married and moved to New York City. The Big Apple had not been in their plans. In fact, they were considering Denver, where one of Kara’s sisters lived.
“Some friends who were living in Bushwick called and asked us whether we wanted to be roommates,” Kara says. “We wrote down the pros and cons for each city and chose New York because by sharing an apartment, the rent here was cheaper.”
They arrived the day before Kara’s 22nd birthday.
Kara, who had over $100,000 in students loans to pay off and only 14 cents left in her bank account, scrambled to find a job. She managed to secure a nanny position within two weeks of her arrival.
“In school, where I studied fine art, I had done some heavy projects, including ones on poverty, and I decided I never wanted to pick up a camera again,” she says, adding that she also knew that she would never make a living looking through the lens.
Being a nanny pays the bills, but Kara missed the creative side of her life. At Zach’s urging, she went back to photography, focusing this time on a happier theme: weddings.
“I love being the hype-girl on wedding days and lifting everyone up,” she says.
In the last year, Kara has created what she feels is the perfect life. “I love the balance I have,” she says. “It took me a long time to get there.”
As soon as it’s financially feasible – Kara is ever practical – she will make photography her full-time business.
“I believe in doing things that make you happy,” she says. “The minute it doesn’t give me joy, I’ll move on to something else.”
Astoria Characters Day: The 10th Anniversary is Sept. 15, 2019.
Sponsored by Bareburger, it’s a free, public event.
Copyright 2019 by Nancy A. Ruhling