Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Dark Days: Winter 2009

How many of you watched Dr. Oz yesterday?  If you missed the show it was about the "New Face of Hunger in America" and gave a startling statistic... 1 in 5 kids in America is hungry and does not know where their next meal will come from.  1 in 5.....

This hit really close to me because we have been there.  His show gave me the courage to finally write the blog I promised in Karma's Adoption story, to write about our dark days of 2009.  This is hard to write about, it was a very bleak time and not something we are proud of.  I feel very exposed and vulnerable sharing this deeply into my life.

Right before the economy tanked Ted started his own lawn care business.  It was awesome, at first that is.  He could easily make more money in a day than he would make at a typical job in a week.  It was crazy what (and how much) people were willing to pay others to do (things like mowing a lawn) so they didn't have to mess with it.

Then the economy began to take a bad turn and people began to look for ways to save money.  Whats the first thing to go when people are looking to save money?  Anything deemed "unnecessary" or a "luxury", paying someone else to do a chore around your house is definitely a luxury.

In the Spring/Summer 2009 we made enough to pay our bills, but not enough to save for that winter.  We still thought it would be ok.  Ted figured he could pick up a PT/Seasonal job and some off and on work through a temp agency.  He had done this before no problem, temp agency's were the best because you often got paid the same day for your work.  We were in for a big shock, we had no clue just how bad things were getting.

October approached and while Ted sill had plenty of work with Fall clean ups and final mows he began to look.  That was our first reality check into this new job market.  There was nothing, NADA, zip, zilch, zero out there.  He went to temp agency after temp agency and was always told the same thing.  They received about 20 jobs a day, double that on a good day but had between 100-150 people show up each day looking for work.  People would begin to line up as early as 2-3am to try and get at the front of the line.

Ted exhausted all of his options and finally we thought our prayers had been answered.  In October he found a job through friends at our church.  It was pretty far away (about an hour drive 1 way), had 0 benefits, was for very little money (not even enough to pay all of our bills but some money is better than none right!), and was NIGHT SHIFT! 12 hour days from 6pm-6am.  Not the ideal situation for us but we were willing to make it work. 

At this point I was just ending my first trimester with Sariah and we had 3 kids age 3 and under in the house.  I have nicknamed October and December 2009 as "the 2 months of hell"  as I was basically a single parent the entire time.  On a work day he would get home at 7am, go to bed and sleep until 4-4:30pm, get up, eat dinner with us and be out the door by 5pm so he could be in to work by 6.  On his days off he couldn't just switch his internal clock and make himself stay up all day so he would still sleep from about 5-7am until 4-4:30pm.  That meant on a work day our kids got to see their dad for 30-60 minutes, on a none work day they got about 4 hrs.  It was torture.  Did I mention the area of the warehouse he worked in had NO HEAT and December 2009 was one of the coldest months on record for our area?

Now you may be scratching your head asking yourself why only the months of October and December were the "2 months of hell".  That's because in October their work load dropped and they let him go, only to take him back in December and repeat the whole process again after the holiday season.

Needless to say in November we fell WAY behind, that month our only income was what we received as foster care payment for Karma (since she was still a foster baby at that time).  My life became a sort of surreal experience I felt like I was viewing as an outsider.  Every day was the same.  Watch Ted spend all day searching for work, spending every dime we had on gas, exhausting all leads only to find nothing.  Try to figure out how we were going to eat that day while trying to hold it together and not loose it in front of the kids.  Do it all again the next day

If it was not for our family, friends and especially our church I know we would have been homeless.  Our church took care of us and I will be eternally grateful to them for that.  They paid our rent, utilities and provided food.  Our friends/family helped in the areas they could from providing spontaneous groceries, diapers etc to helping with bills our church did not cover.   Every month as I made the appointment once again with our Bishop to ask for help I promised myself that would be the last time, that Ted would find work and we would be ok.  Every month I lied to myself.

Winter 2009 was not all dark.  It was hard to see the light at the time but there were bright spots.  Those bright spots were also a huge lesson in humility.  There is no more conflicting of a feeling in the world than to wake up and discover huge boxes of diapers or bags full of groceries on your door step.  Conflicting because you feel so happy and so extremely grateful but at the same time you are then reminded of your own inability to provide these things for your family.

Christmas 2009 was really rough, it's heart breaking to think you are not going to be able to get your child a single thing that year.  Yes, that's not what the holiday is about but every parent wants to be able to provide that for their kids.  Once again those closest to us stepped in.  Our church does it's own Angel Tree program each year and in 2009 they put our 3 kids on that tree.  Without that and the wonderful gifts provided by friends/family our kids would have had nothing that year.

Our church gladly helped but they also encouraged us to apply for help through our state.  Ted had previously been self employed and had not worked at the other job long enough to qualify for unemployment though.  We were terrified to apply for anything like food stamps.  We had already gone through a scare of loosing Karma once and feared if we applied for any type of assistance they would think she was too much of a burden on us and remove her from our care. 

Our church gave us food but I didn't want to appear "greedy", they were already helping us out with so much more.  I often requested less food than we needed and I made myself pay for it.  I never wanted to make my kids feel the pain of hunger so I shouldered that burden for them instead.  There were months that went by where I would only eat dinner, or perhaps a PB sandwich for lunch and then dinner. 

Even with that our kids were hungry.  They were accustomed to having lots of snacks, fresh fruits, etc in the home at all times.  Now we were down to the bare minimum essentials to get by.  We did get WIC, something we got automatically for Karma because she was a foster baby, so I was not worried about the state taking her away for that.  I was very thankful for the WIC, especially since 2009 is when they made all the big changes to start giving fresh fruits/veggies, bread and more food.  There were many weeks where I had to plan all of our meals around what we got on WIC.  Lots of eggs and toast, beans, PB sandwiches, etc filled out plates at that time.

If I am being completely honest here, another thing that held me back from applying for assistance was what others would think if they found out.  We already had people in our lives (sadly some were family even) who felt we "lived off the government" because of the WIC and Medicaid we received so getting something like food stamps would only confirm for them that we were indeed lazy bleepity bleeps living off of "their tax dollars".  The fear of loosing Karma just provided a much more convenient excuse for my aversion to the idea of applying for help. 

I had learned to keep my mouth shut about these things too, so I held it all in and never told anyone the 100% full truth of what was going on in our home during this time.  I had heard it all before so I thought I "knew" what people would say.  It never ceases to amaze me the lack of empathy that can exist in people.  In the past if I even uttered anything about financial woes all I ever heard were 1 of 2 things:
1- Why don't you just go back to work?
to which I would answer "because the daycare costs for 3 kids full time is OUTRAGEOUS!" we would be even deeper in the hole if I got a job!
to which the second (and in my opinion even more rude/heartless) comment would almost always follow..
2- Well, you guys are the ones that CHOSE to have this many kids, you should have thought about that before you had them.  You shouldn't have kids that you can't take care of.
This one always stings, what are they trying to say, that since we have hit a few bumps in the road our kids should be taken away.  You can have all the financial security in the world when you decide to have kids and POOF it's all yanked away after they are here.  What are you supposed to do then, just walk away and say "well I can't afford to have kids anymore so I don't deserve them".  I plan to blog more on this subject in the future as I have a lot to say about this area.

Because of encounters like the ones I mentioned above (which happened both online and in real life, sadly again even with family members) I never breathed a word of my hunger.  Even Ted did not know I was restricting my diet so much to make sure he and the kids had enough to eat. I was pregnant at the time and fainted 4 times in 1 month.  I even spent 4 days in the hospital with heart palpitations.

I couldn't vent about any this to anyone really.  I never mentioned anything on FB because I did not want to advertise things like we were home alone all night long the 2 months Ted had work or that he was unemployed and we were living off the kindness of others when he didn't.  I slept very poorly all night long out of fear and anxiety.  Ted didn't get much better sleep when he was working as we lived in a tiny duplex and it's nearly impossible to get 3 kids so little to be quiet all day long. 

My health was suffering big time and in my head I knew I was not bonding with the baby inside of me, another thing I have never admitted (until this day) to a single soul, not even Ted.  I tried not to think about the fact that I was pregnant because thinking about it meant I had to admit to myself I was choosing the kids I already had over the one I was carrying because obviously she needed nutrition too. 

Looking back I am pretty sure I suffered from depression during this time, I just covered it well to the outside world.  Many days I would wake up, go out to the living room and just lay back down on the couch and only move to do absolute necessary things like cook meals for the kids, change diapers, use the restroom, etc.  No cleaning, no playing with the kids, nothing like that.  After a week or so of this "funk" I would tell myself to snap out of it and make an effort to be the person I wanted to be only to fall right back into the cycle again.  Yelly Mom also made her debut in the Winter of 2009 sadly.  Before this time I had never yelled at my kids, by the time spring finally rolled around the yelling was a daily occurrence in our home.

Finally the light at the end of the tunnel came.  March rolled around and the Spring clean up jobs began to come in.  March was the first month we did not have to ask for help from anyone.  In the months that followed things got better, we were able to catch up on our bills and pay for everything ourselves.  I finally allowed myself to bond with the baby inside of me.  I thank God everyday that she is so smart and bright, that the things I did during those dark days had no lasting effects on her.  Ted did lawn care all throughout the Spring/Summer of 2010 but knew we could not have another winter like that again so he began searching for another job much earlier, and thankfully found one in September.

Now, anytime things appear to be getting rough for us I ask myself "is this as bad as the winter of 2009?", thankfully thus far it never has been.  That will forever be my comparison point for how "bad" we have it and even then I know we were so lucky compared to the things others have gone through.  We never did end up homeless, we did have some food in our home, our utilities never got shut off.   Sadly others cannot say the same.

I was in tears yesterday afternoon as I watched Dr. Oz.  Watching those families gave me flashbacks of our own dark days when we didn't know day to day if we would have food to eat or not.  Now, after a meal when our kids are finished and there is still so much food left on their plates I cry.  I cannot stand to throw that food out when I know so many out there are struggling to eat.  At the same time I never want to force my kids into the "clean your plate" club.  Its really hard to find balance with it.  Our rule is they have to take at least 1 bite from everything on their plate and usually have to complete a certain amount of bites total before they can leave the table.  This still ends with more food than I would like left on their plates.

Dr. Oz ended his show by announcing he has partnered with Share Our Strength to Help Fight Hunger.  You can click on that link to donate and help provide meals to kids in need.  As little as $5 can give 1 child 50 meals, FIFTY!  People who say the rude comments I mentioned above have no idea what it's like.  They feel superior thinking they have made all the "right" choices and are protected.   Well, wake up call, plenty of people made all the "right" choices and STILL find themselves and their children going hungry.  It is no longer the stigma of only those "lazy and unwilling to work" need help.  Plenty of hard working families in America, families who have done all the "right' things are still in need.  Families who have jobs, pay their bills, don't have credit cards, etc and they still just can't make it.  Consider yourself lucky if you have never had to know what it feels like to go hungry but please do not look down on those who have.  Any one of us is just 1 paycheck, 1 terrible medical diagnosis, 1 accident, 1 unexpected lay off away from being THAT family.  I say a prayer of thanks everyday to have food in our bellies and a roof over our heads.

As hard as it is to share such deeply personal things I do so because I want people to know that it can happen to anyone.  The job market is tough right now and even when you find a job you often have to settle for a job making far less than what you really need to cover everything.  So people are working, HARD and still can't make it.  There is nothing "lazy' about this, that stigma needs to end NOW! 

I'm donating...... will you?

this humble and very exposed feeling mama,


  1. Despite this being painful for you to write, it is beautiful to read because your character and strength truly shine through.

  2. Oh Honey. My heart broke reading all this. I've been there too. Not quite as bad as your winter, but close. I won't bore you with details. Currently we have 4 young boys, and I would love another, but hubby ALWAYS fears for food. Hugs mama.

  3. Hunger is a terrifying thing to face.

    We have two boys, one born in 2007 and the other in 2009. We were using protection and birth control both times; it seems neither were supposed to work and we were blessed with our amazing sons. In the summer of 2010, Hubby lost the computer tech job he'd had for two years thanks to a technicality in company policy, and I lost the lucrative insurance job I'd had for all of three months. It was the worst thing in the world to know that we had a $775 rent payment to make every month, $400 to the car, $200 electric.. We gave up cable, cut down on internet, switched cell phone providers to a lesser plan, canceled our car insurance. We went on food stamps and WIC, and because despite our good fortunes we've had more down days than up, we have been on Medicaid since #1 was born.
    For a couple of months, my in-laws helped us out, but that could only go so far. We ended up losing our house this last summer, and have since moved in with my mother, a long-time LPN whose position at the hospital she works at nets her just under $30k/year. Now we're helping her pay her bills and are trying to pay down our own debts so that we can begin to save in hopes of someday owning our own home. There were days before we were on the SNAP program that we went hungry so our kids could eat, there were (and still are) harassing phone calls from companies and creditors. Our car has been repossessed once, nearly so a second time a few months ago because of a rough spot for us. Almost all of our belongings are in a storage unit because there is simply no space for them here.
    Going hungry is not something any of us should have to struggle with. When we are able, I know I will proudly donate; until then, like you, I urge others to do the same. As it is, my children donate their gently-used toys to any group who will take them, to donate to others. There is so much that can be done to help out those who are struggling. I urge everyone to look into EVERY option.

  4. You honestly don't know how hard this hits home for me right now. Next year will be two years since my husband has been unemployed. That was okay, because he was getting unemployment until march of this year. He was able to do a couple of little jobs and picked up some work with an electrician. But his skilled trade is house building, and noone is building houses right now. Just when things were hitting rock bottom, I got lucky and found a job. I had the job for two months {just long enough for me to be the decent human that I am and report it to the Food Stamps office, to get a cut in the amount we were receiving}, only to find out all in one week that my husband needs a hip replacement, I was losing my job, and my son needed to see a neurosurgeon because of his head growth.
    Like you I am also a mother of four children. They are 8 years old, 6 years old, 2 years old, and 10 months old. Right now I have been out of work for a little over a month, I don't know how we are going to get the kids Christmas, my son's birthday is Sunday, and he doesn't have a single present yet. Oh did I mention that I am currently fighting with the food stamps office to get an increase, because we ran out about two weeks ago and they just don't seem to care that we are rolling quarters to get milk.
    This is the most difficult it has ever been for me, and I too have moments where I don't eat, just because the kids need to eat. Honestly my only reason for even eating these days is because my 10 month old is still nursing and I have to be able to feed him.
    Sorry to lay all of this out but it is comforting to know that someone else has been where I am at, and they were able to rise above it. I am so happy that things worked out for you and I am praying that they will work out for me.
    Thank you for writing this!

  5. People that make those kinds of negative comments (why don't you get a job or it's your choice to have that many kids) just don't understand life outside their bubble.

    So many people are one pay cheque away from poverty. And all it takes is a job loss to push the family to the brink.

    I completely understand this, my husband has been out of work several times and each time we scrape the money together for rent, bills and food. I will do without long before my kids will.

    I, too, have family that make judgements on my actions, etc so I know how painful that is and understand why you would chose to not share those details with them.

    But, we have survived our dark times and hopefully they will not come back!

  6. Oh Christy, I admire you so much for being such a survivor and for sharing your story with us! I'm so thankful for the generosity of your church and of the friends and family that helped you. I will click on the link and donate right now, and I will be keeping all families that face this kind of hardship in my thoughts and prayers. xoxo

  7. I'm in tears....This is so me right now. And it seems there is no end in sight. I have a 13 month old and a 10 year old...We live off of my sons SSI and cash assistance because my fiancee has a few mental issues that make it so he absolutely can not work right now. I would get a job, but I can't get daycare through CCIS because there are 2 adults in the home but the doctor recommends me not leaving the children alone with my fiancee "just in case". I feel safe leaving the boys with the fiancee, but if the doctors found out, they could report us to CPS and I fear they'll take my babies. God...And then, because of a misdemeanor drug charge on my fiancee's criminal record from when he was 18, we can't get housing assistance. REALLY??? That was SIX years ago. He has not had even one single charge since then. He was young and did something stupid which he has paid for. He did his time...Why can't they let it slide? It isn't like he's a damn criminal. He made ONE FREAKING MISTAKE!! Good Lord. His Grandma had just passed away and his family kicked him out of the house he grew up in. His mother passed away in a car accident when he was 1 and his father was/is a crackhead. My finacee doesn't want to be like that. He's a great guy and he's straightened up a lot...Especially since our son was born 13 months ago.

    Some day...I see us getting out of this slump...There is a light at the end of the tunnel...Somewhere.

    Thank you for sharing this. It makes me feel good to know that I'm not the only one who has struggled and is still struggling. <3

  8. Oh Christy. Thank you for sharing <3 Really, I get where you're coming from though I don't truly understand since I've never been there. We have a total of four kids too, but only one in the home with us and of course Ember needs nothing money could provide. The older two we send child support to and try to send presents/needed stuff whenever we can. Our Little Man's 1st Christmas is coming up and it's got me thinking about money so much. Without family, we wouldn't be getting by. But though times are rough, it could be worse I keep trying to remember.

  9. Thank you for sharing. This helps so much with perspective

  10. *hugs* Thank you for being willing to be so vulnerable. I'm glad you guys made it through.

  11. I love you, friend. You are amazing. xoxoxoxoxo

  12. this is one of the most amazing blog posts i have ever read christy! thank you so much for sharing!!!! i hate when people say things like that too! only the blind and ignorant say things like that and they need our compassion and prayers in hopes that they can open their eyes to the truths about life.

  13. I 100% feel your pain. My DH has been out of work for over 2 years, and it is TOUGH!! We have been on unemployment, and now public assistance. We are blessed to have family support, but we go without a lot.

  14. thank you all so much for your kind and sincere comments. It's comforting to know that so many others have been there (or sadly are there now). I mean, it's sad that so many have been there, I wouldn't wish that on anyone, just comforting that people get it. I shared this because I strongly feel it is important to shed the stigma that comes with asking for/receiving help.

  15. Thank you for sharing this, Christy! It was so vulnerable and real - I could almost feel your stress and depression reading it. Praise God for carrying you through that dark time. And what an amazing church to be there for you in the midst of that, too. Bless you!

  16. Thanks so much for sharing your story and putting a face on hunger. It's been one of my passions for years — I simply can't bear that any family, any child, any person is going to bed hungry. You're doing so much to change that simply by telling your story.

  17. The lack of compassion and understanding for all of the people who have been forced into these kinds of situations is literally sickening. Thank you for sharing this with all of us.

  18. I confess that when I was a younger woman I would think things like, "then why did you have all those kids," whether because someone seemed unable to afford them or because someone seemed overwhelmed having multiple children close in age. While I still advocate education on natural birth control and why the World Health Organization recommends at least two years between pregnancies, I've learned that there are many reasons why people have multiple kids close in age, and that no matter what those reasons are, those parents (and children) need compassion and support, not a lecture or guilt trip.

    Lest anyone think differently, I grew up in a home where, although I was never hungry, we were usually below the poverty "line" and regularly visited food banks and received WIC and medicaid for the children, and were, I suppose some would say lucky or blessed, to live in a place where subsistence hunting and fishing and wood heat are available. I received WIC and medicaid while pregnant and nursing, until we reached a point financially where we no longer needed it.

    I personally feel like that is what those programs are for, stepping stones until you reach a place where you don't need them, and that as long as they are not being abused, then there is nothing to be ashamed of. It sounds like you needed it, and used almost appropriately - if only you'd asked for as much as you truly needed. Your church helping you is what your church should do. That is what sisters and brothers of a faith, of humanity, should do for eachother. My family of origin is very community oriented. We participated in many community building, improvement and maintenance projects. In retrospect, I think that contributed to feeling like we were doing and giving an equal share, while receiving what we needed, and helped us children not to grow up feeling "poor" or "dependent" or any other negative feelings often felt by kids in those situations.

  19. Thank you for finding the strength to share your story. It's important, what you went through and the sharing of it with others.

  20. This was such a brave thing to share, Christy. The stigmas can be paralyzing and so very painful, but as people like you speak out, I hold on to hope that we can break them down.

    I feel so fortunate to have been able to live fairly comfortably since Annabelle was born, but I know the paycheck to paycheck life very well. In my own childhood, winters were extremely difficult, some more than others, and I can remember days where I ate only baked potatoes, because that was all we had left in the house. No child deserves that, and no parent deserves to watch their child going through it. We can't see into the future when we decide to start a family - we're all operating on dreams and good intentions and never know what's around the corner. For you, I hope it's (mostly) all good from here on out. xo

  21. Thank you for this post. We've faced a lot of insecurity, though thankfully not quite to this point, and it isn't fun at all. This is a reminder to me that there may be many people in my community, including my own friends who I know are unemployed, who are in your situation and embarrassed to tell me.

    When my dad was unemployed when I was a kid, I know my mom struggled to put food on the table. I thought everyone ate like we did -- mostly starch with some limp veggies and the teeny bits of meat stretched out with lots of beans. But we never were left hungry, due to the support of our community. Friends and family were always bringing things by, sending anonymous grocery store gift cards in the mail, giving us rides. I only hope our community now is as generous as that. I don't think it is, so this really inspires me to look around among the people I know in my town and give what I can, where I can.

  22. Just be thankful it only lasted a few months. For some families poverty is forever, I grew up in one of them. My grandmother raised five kids on SSI alone. We tried to be careful planing our family. We bought a house through a federal assistance program that promised to adjust our payment to our income-it was a scam. They were quick to bill us when Kevin got a raise, but when we qualified for a price reduction they tried to drown us in a sea of paperwork. We have given up so much just to stay in our home (our neighbors just got evicted, Christmas tree and all) and are just now getting our heads above water. Christmas will be humble again this year if only because it sickens me to see our nation so focused on consuming when they should be giving. ❤ this post.

  23. The more I read of this post, the more I had tears in my eyes. Thank you for sharing. I'm on WIC and get a few dollars each month for food stamps, and I'm grateful. The only things I spend money on are things for my business and food, and I try to provide well-rounded, healthy meals for my family all the time. Still, I feel like I live in abundance. Thank you for reminding us how lucky we are and how hard it can be to not be so lucky.


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