The next day after work, I went to the library and then a book store. At home, I hid the stack of books about teenagers as carefully as I hid her Christmas presents. Over the next few days after she was in bed or otherwise absent from the house, I pulled them out and studied them as if I had an eighth grade final in algebra.
Skimming two or three of them helped me see that adolescence had simply snuck up on us. It made me feel better to know that what we had been experiencing was at least normal, even if a little frightening. It was hard to believe my little girl, my precious little baby, was a full-blown teenager but the descriptions in those books were as clear as the advice they gave.
I had to give her more freedom, in all areas of her life in general, in line with her maturity level. I had to radically change how I was communicating with her with respect to what I said, how I said it, and why I said it. [ “How to Talk So Your Teenager Will Listen”by Paul Swets saved our relationship. Here is a link to that precious, precious book. http://amzn.to/1KRrCBW
I frowned so hard it hurt when I read the list of communication errors parents of teens typically make. I saw myself in every item.
“And I was so proud of having a close relationship with her, of being sure I knew what was going on, daily, in her little world and her little heart!”
I Wanted My Little Girl To Stay Little
There it was again. I had to stop thinking of her as a little child, as my child. I had to start thinking of her as a soon-to-be adult. If I didn’t, it would show in my words, my tone of voice, and my face. Over and over again I read the lists of right attitudes and comments expressing those attitudes. I made a cheat sheet and tucked it inside a kitchen cabinet out of sight.
And, of course, I prayed, long and earnestly, for self-control and wisdom, especially wisdom, about the job issue and how to help her cope with our finances. My efforts paid off, almost immediately.
The divorce came when Sharon was 3. Sharon and I lived in what I call “functional poverty.” We had food, clothing, and shelter but little more. I was paid per page for ridiculously long hours transcribing medical dictation. Those extra hours disqualified us for government aid, but we would have had less otherwise.
So, I was grateful my friends in Al-Anon had told me to prepare for a job that would support the two of us. The certificate I earned in medical transcribing, plus piano-fast fingers and solid command of English meant I produced medical transcription — fast.
I sincerely gave the marriage my very best for one year after my husband sobered up, as my Al-Anon friends also advised. But the divorce happened anyway.
By God’s great grace, I was able to pick Sharon up from daycare and bring her back to the office with me many weekday evenings so I could keep typing. After she grew up, she told me never to feel bad about those years when I had to work so many hours. Sharon said had been just the right age to relish the freedom to putter around the small office, sitting at an empty desk and drawing or making houses with ribbon boxes (yes, we used typewriters back then!)
Some nights, I lugged that huge IBM Selectric home, along with my Dorland’s medical dictionary tome and transcribing machine. I set it all up on a flimsy cardtable and played with Sharon from about six to her bedtime at nine, and then typed (fueld on coffee and cigarettes and desperation) until one or two in the morning before rising at six to start anther day.
All during those seven years, I was grateful each day, even before I knew Jesus, that I could make enough money to give Sharon what she needed and be consciously with her each hour she was not in school or daycare.
Single Parenting Done Right Requires Great Sacrifice
The biggest lesson I learned in those first few years of single parenting was that, done right, single parenting required nearly all of my time as well as nearly all my physical and emotional energy. I hugged the comfort of the “Little House on the Prairie” series of books to my heart. I identified with the hard-working parents in those stories. I especially thought of my own loving, hard-working father. I felt just like him. And that made me happy deep inside every single morning.
The extra sacrifice is necessary because it is God’s plan for two adults to raise children. When there is only one parent, they bear a double burden.
God Shows Special Concern for the Poor, the Orphan, and the Widow
Throughout the Bible, you will find verses where God instructs His people to watch out for and help those who are poor and those who are orphans and those who are widows.
He sees people in trouble and hardship and He commands those of His followers who have more to make some personal sacrifices to help those with less. Those sacrifices include not only finances but personal time and energy, just like the Wexel family did for Sharon and for me. Where would we have been without their obedience to God?
Joining and attending a Bible-belieiving church will bring you friends who will help, although do not count on them or the church to be perfect! They are just as human as you, but at least some of them will be on the lookout to help those who need help and those who are hurting.
One thing you can count on as surely as you can count on the sun rising in the east tomorrow morning: if you give your heart to God and follow His ways, He will take care of you and your family, somehow, some way.
Deutoronomy 31, verse 6 in the New International Version reassures us: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid of or terrified by them [your enemies, which include non-human ones such as poverty loss of hope, etc. – explanation added] for the LORD, your God goes with you. He will never leave you or forsake you.”
In working on this blog, I have fortunately found many great bloggers who are sharing their insights about how to save money. Below are links to the top five sites I have found. Check out the “About” pages to see what these wise women want to share with you. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
And remember: the best gift you can give to a blogger is to comment on their blog posts, recommend then to your friends, and mention them on your social media outlets. So, if you appreciate the time these folks have spent publishing information for your benefit, show it!
Sharing with Those Who Have Less: A HUGE Blessing to the Giver
Besides benefiting Sharon and me, the new depth of contentment attained that night helped other people our lives touched. Sharon and I both had a long-time friend, Darla, whom I had known before the divorce and whom Sharon had known since Darla worked in Sharon’s daycare. Darla’s husband left and overnight made her a single mom with a five -year-old and a new baby.
One Saturday, Sharon and I bought a big ham and cooked it. We also bought enough sweet potatoes, green beans, cornbread, and fruit salad for four meals. Then we went home and spent about three hours making sweet potato casserole, green bean salad, cornbread, and fruit salad. We packaged all but one meal’s portion in freezer bags.
“Mommy,” Sharon asked as we tucked newspaper carefully into the floor of the car and then added the bowls and bags, “I think Miss Darla is going to be real happy.”
“Me, too, baby,” I said, “She does not have much money at all right now and we have some extra so we should help her. She will be happy, I am sure. And she will be glad to see you, too!”
Miss Darla was indeed delighted. As Sharon and I lugged the food, plus the three bags of groceries, inside, Darla’s eyes brimmed with tears. She hugged us both several times.
As Sharon and I headed back across town toward home, I was exhausted, thinking of all the Saturday chores of our own still ahead of me. I also would be up really late that night to make up for the three hours I usually transcribed on Saturday mornings while Sharon watched cartoons. But the blissful smile on Sharon’s face told me she had experienced, personally, the blessing of giving to others. What a priceless gift to me!
Generosity Should Become a Way of Life
Sharon and I had many chances to work together to help others the next few years while she lived at home. On another occasion, a few weeks later, a girl in her late teens, a recent immigrant from the Caribbean islands, also benefitted from the generosity Sharon and I were learning together.
Sharon was at school when I met Keesha at the tiny laundry room in our apartment complex.
Keesha looked like the teenager I later found out she was. She lacked the maturity necessary to be on her own at 18, and that deficiency was further complicated by having to cope with a new culture.
In the laundry room, I was waiting for a load of blankets to dry. Keesha kept putting quarters in the slot for the washing machine and opening and closing the lid on the washer.
“Excuse me, but you need to turn the handle on the coin tray.”
Keesha looked at me blankly, so I put my book down and walked over to her washer.
“Here. You just do this.” I turned the crank, and immediately water cascaded into the machine.
“Oh, thank you!” Keesha said. “We don’t have these at home.”
“You’re welcome.” I said and went back to my book, but only for a few moments because she kept staring at me. When I looked up, she smiled.
“Can you tell me where the free telephones are, please?”
“Well, there aren’t any free telephones. Local calls cost a quarter.”
I invited her home with me to use the telephone. Over a cup of tea and a plate I heaped high with cookies, we talked some more.
“Keesha” I said “Do you want me to take you to the grocery story this afternoon after I pick up my daughter from school?”
“Oh!, that would be wonderful!”
Keesha’s inability to care for herself was even more painfully obvious in the grocery store .
“My brother gave me this…” Keesha held out thirty dollars in ten dollar bills. “He said this will be food for one week.”
“Okay, I said. Why don’t you and Sharon start getting what you need in your buggy and I’ll work on my list.”
Sharon was all smiles, excited to be treated like a grown-up and, I knew, excited to be helping someone again.
We met at the end of the second aisle. In Keesha’s buggy was a six-pack of soda, a giant bag of candy bars, two magazines, and three bags of cookies. Sharon’s resigned look at me and shrugging shoulders told me she had likely tried to encourage more sensible purchases but had failed. The years of grocery shopping alongside me had obviously taught my child how to stretch the dollars to buy healthy food and how to ignore pricey junk food.
“You know, Keesha,” I began. “Let me explain how you can buy more with your thirty dollars. I know you want treats but they are expensive. Your thirty dollars will not even pay for everything in your buggy already. Let’s put everything back and start over.
I know some especially tasty things that don’t cost so much. Let me show you. You know I’m on a tight budget, too.”
Together, the three of us put the luxuries back on the shelves. The three of us huddled out of the way of other shoppers near the service desk as I explained to Carla the benefits of each item I wrote on her list: oatmeal in the huge economy box would be better than individual packets and would be a good winter breakfast; store-brand wheat bread was just as good as bread from the deli. Store-brand tuna, macaroni and cheese, and English peas would be a good dinner or lunch. Orange juice from concentrate, rather than fresh-squeezed was better as was ground beef, rather than the steak she mentioned.
Our little car was packed for the trip home, just like when Sharon and I did our monthly you-pack-it-grocery-store shopping. Sharon’s smiling face was framed in the rear-view window.
Back at the apartments, Sharon and I helped Keesha carry her three bags of groceries inside her tiny studio apartment. As I put the bag I carried on the only counter space, a 12 by 20 rectangle next to a refrigerator half the size of mine in a kitchenette the size of a closet, a fresh surge of compassion washed over me.
Keesha truly didn’t know how to take care of herself, she was alone in a strange country, and her only family contact was a brother who apparently had minimal contact with her.
“Do you want us to stay a while and help you put away the groceries,” I asked.
“Oh, yes,” was Keesha’s enthusiastic reply.
Twenty minutes later, as Sharon and I walked back to our own apartment, which now seemed spacious, Sharon gave me a conspiratorial wink.
“You gave Carla some of our food when you first met her this morning, Mommy. I know, because I saw Jewel-T tuna and canned milk and nacho-flavored cheese crackers in Keesha’s kitchen!”
Reading that book with the peculiar orange cover that winter night was like talking with an old friend, one who knows you well enough to finish your sentences. I felt like Helen Hoover had covered many miles by my side, if not physically at least emotionally.
Fortunately, I had learned that books can provide friends when I was still a very young child, although I would not have phrased my appreciation of books quite that way. As a shy young girl, I had found friends in books and had gratefully escaped into the pages of “Black Beauty”, virtually every book in the “Black Stallion” series, “White Fang”, “Call of the Wild”, “Beautiful Joe”, ”Little Women”, and dozens of others.
As an even shyer adolescent, books grew in importance in my life. While I did have some friends and did participate in some activities, my greatest pleasure was always the safe solitude of reading a good book.
Making Much of Little
This passion for reading helped, of course, with grades but most of all, it soothed the loneliness that accompanies painful shyness. And it did, indeed, provide friends, especially as I began to identify favorite authors, topics, and genres.
As a newly divorced single parent, this love of reading led me to self-help books that started the healing of damaged emotions, a healing that began to be completed when I finally went to counseling. But my favorite book of all, after I gave my heart to Jesus, was the Bible. Here, I found true friendship, comfort and all the love I could absorb.
Yes, love of reading was a priceless gift that had served me well for all my life. On that chilly Florida night, so long ago now, reading gave me as much pleasure as Cinderella must have felt at the ball.
I walked the five steps to the kitchen, refilled my chipped brown bowl of crackers, and snuggled back under the scraggy blue blanket.
The winter wind whooshed between the long row of apartment buildings, paused, then whooshed again. Each rushing gust tapered off to a low, eerie moan. The top of the kitchen vent pipe clanked as it fell back in place after each onslaught abated. Florida was rarely that cold, and the weather helped me identify even more with the Hoovers in their Minnesotta cabin. I smiled and started another chapter, as content as I could possibly be.
That first winter, though, the Hoovers nearly starved. (As they learned later, folks in that area helped each other out and would gladly have helped them that winter. However, the Hoovers were city-folk and had no idea that potential friends, eager to help, were closeby.)
Helen and Ade had miscalculated how much food they’d need that first winter, a fact discovered after the only general store in driving distance had closed for the season. Because a blizzard kept all roads impassable for weeks longer than normal, the Hoovers faced true danger.
Miraculously, it was caring for the forest animals, who were also near starving that winter, that provided for the Hoovers. True animal lovers, they shared their corn with the deer and squirrels, and Helen dipped into the flour bin each morning to bake two huge pancakes for the birds. The squirrels stayed close to the cabin all day, and, gradually so did the deer. The birds grew so accustomed to their breakfast provider they would land on Helen’s hand and gobble up the two pancakes she held, pancakes that would have given her and her husband extra nourishment they needed.
However, such close contact provided Helen with keen insights about animal behavior for her stories and it let Ade observe the tiny details that made his line drawings so realistic. Because of their love and care for their forest friends and the lessons they thus intentionally learned, Helen’s animal stories began selling, as did Ade’s drawings.
Effects of Poverty
Throughout their life in the big woods of Minnesota, the Hoovers faced many of the same dangers the Ingalls family did in “The Little House on the Prairie”. http://amzn.to/1ZpVvQu (Here is a link to purchase a that series of books. I cannot recommend these encouraging stories highly enough, to read with your children as well as for your own pleasure!)
The Hoovers had to struggle to keep warm in below freezing weather and had to stretch beyond reasonableness, a scanty food supply. Helen ordered the food, that is, canned goods and staples for the entire winter, via mail order.
When the shipment arrived on day in late fall, they had to store it in the middle of what little floor space they had left in the little cabin.
I laughed out loud when I read that part. I had only to look around me to know just how they felt. I hadn’t finished putting away all the groceries from the monthly shopping trip Sharon and I had made that day for our own big grocery order for the month.
Over by the window stood that case of corn and another case of assorted canned goods as well as boxes and bags of cereal, pasta, oatmeal, cookies, and pop tarts. Other boxes and bags stood on the floor by the door and even on top of the television.
I smiled. Lack of space, buying in bulk to save money and counting every penny twice were all things I understood. I also understood the struggle the Hoovers had to remain hopeful, despite the odds, that their dreams of making Helen’s writing and Ade’s drawing profitable provide an income so they could stay in their beloved forest cabin. . . and keep on writing and sketching.
That evening, with Sharon all tucked into bed for the night, I poured some of the taco-flavored cheese crackers we had just bought into an old cracked ceramic bowl. Then I wrapped myself up in our old blue blanket, and curled up on the good end of the loveseat with The Gift of the Deer. (Available at Amazon at http://amzn.to/1JEa23V
During that year I typed at home, reading any book for pleasure was a true luxury. With so much transcribing to be done I dared not strain my eyes during non-typing hours. This book, though, turned out to be a special treasure. It provided inspiration and strength for many years to come, just as The Little House series had already done. Somehow, I knew all that while reading those first ten pages in the library.
Another Thrifty Family
Helen Hoover’s clear recounting of the same type of problems I’d faced clarified my own thoughts about living in difficult circumstances, things like making do and doing without, stretching each nickle, and inconveniences like small living space. Also, Helen and her husband had made deliberate decisions to shape their lives around the things they valued, no matter the cost to other conveniences or luxuries.
The story was of a couple, Helen and Ade Hoover, and their decision to leave the Chicago suburbs and live in a log cabin in the Minnesota woods. They both were kept busy just trying to survive and had only a few precious hours each day on their writing and drawing, hobbies they hoped to make profitable. The long, severe Minnesota winters were themselves challenging as was getting supplies like food and heating oil.
Every little task required great effort and planning. For Ade to make the trek to the general store to mail Helen’s stories and his drawings required careful planning ahead so that, for example, he could chop enough wood for the entire day the trip would take while Helen would be alone in the cabin all day.
Paring life to the bone, though, gave them keen appreciation of the blessings they typically had taken for granted back in the city— food, shelter, warmth, and companionship. Their simple life and their struggle with the elements taught them to cherish nature and the wild creatures they discovered who lived in the same ten acres of wooded forest they owned. Chipmunks, birds of all kinds, otters, beavers, badgers, and bobcats and were common sights. And of course, the deer.
Getting our month’s worth of groceries, and Sharon and me, wedged into the old silver Mustang was a challenge, especially since much of the food was in those cardboard boxes with the fronts cut out. Things just wouldn’t stay inside or stack very well. We managed, though, with much repacking, rearranging, and as always, much laughter and mutual teasing.
“Why didn’t you tell me that box wouldn’t fit in the trunk?”
“You know if we eat three bags of cookies and two boxes of cereal, right now, everything would fit in the back seat just fine.”
Finally, everything in those two buggies was in the car, and so were we. In the front seat, Sharon rested her feet on that case of corn and held the thermos of Kool-aid between her knees. She bit into a chocolate chip cookie.
I leaned back against the headrest and closed my eyes. The car, parked in the shade while we were shopping, was cool and a light breeze dried the sweat on my forehead. I bit into a cookie. Sharon was right. The cookies were good. But even better was my anticipation of a month’s worth of plenty of everything Sharon could possibly want, or need, to eat.
Twenty minutes later, we were turning into the library parking lot.
“Don’t we have to go home and put the groceries up first?”
“No, baby. Remember, Jewel-T doesn’t sell food that has to be refrigerated.”
The library – a priceless gift for our little family.
Sharon spent the next half hour or so in the middle reader section, in a delicious state of indecision. Should she pick one of the few Beverly Cleary books on the shelf we hadn’t read or save some for the next time? And which book in the Bunnicula series did she want next?
Meanwhile, I had found two more books, one on philosophy and another on creative thinking, and had copied the Encyclopedia Britannica’s 15-page article on aesthetics. How I loved studying whatever interested me!
I was about to meander over to Middle Readers to select my own books to be reading with Sharon when the incongruity of a bright orange binding among all the black, gray, and dull green, stopped me. The title of the volume, “The Gift of the Deer”, and the author, Helen Hoover, both were unfamiliar. Being a library edition, the book, of course, had no jacket to describe its contents. Per force of habit, I flipped it open about one-quarter of the way from the front, intending to sample a few paragraphs here and there every few pages or so, my usual method of getting a feel for a strange author. This time, it took only two samples before I sat down on the nearest footstool and just read. That’s where I was, five minutes and ten pages later.
“Where were you? I’ve been looking all over for you!”
“I’m sorry, baby, but I started reading this book about this couple who both quit their jobs in Chicago and went to live in a log cabin, just like Little House, only this is in Minnesota instead of the midwest, and . . .
With difficulty, for the next hour, I turned my attention to the tasks of getting our books checked out and lugged to the car and of getting us, our books, and our groceries home and lugged into the house.
“No, not just yet, sweetie. I have to put some Kool-Aid in your lunchbox thermos for you and some water in last year’s thermos for me. You know we’ll be thirsty by the time we get there and do all that shopping. We’ll be hungry, too. But, you know what? We’ll just eat some of whatever cookies we decide to buy. ”
“Or Little Ann oatmealcakes?”
“Sure, baby. We can get some of them, too. We’ll have a nice snack while we shop. You know we are going to buy a lot of food today!”
Five minutes later, we were in the car and on the big road, as Sharon called the interstate. I smiled as I looked at her. She was obviously in an expansive, the-world-is-my-oyster mood. The smile on her face was as big as Christmas.
The wind zipped through the open car windows (yes, even in Florida we had no air conditioning in the car) and swirled her strawberry blonde hair in semicircles around her face. By hiking her right shoulder up, she managed to rest the entire length of one skinny little arm on the edge of the window, affectionately and possessively. The gesture reminded me of young boys stretching to put a soon-to-be-manly arm around their mother’s shoulders at church and PTA meetings.
Always mindful that she would all too soon be a young adult, I used every outing to explain a bit about driving skills or to practice navigation.
“See if you can tell me whether to go left or right at this next fork in the road.”
“Look up ahead. See that car pulled off to the side? When you see a car stopped like that, change lanes if you can, so you won’t go by them so close. It’s safer that way.
At the store, we each got a buggy and two or three of the empty cardboard boxes tossed in a wire cage at the front of the store. At this store, you “bagged” your groceries yourself, in those boxes, which was another way they kept prices low.
“You can be in charge of your own buggy, sweetie. You decide where the heavy stuff has to go and where to put the bread and cookies so they won’t get smashed.
“Okay! And I think I”ll put the big box of laundry soap on the bottom rack, with the toilet paper.”
Grateful for food to eat.
Off we went, to load our buggies with canned corn, green beans, spinach, fruit cocktail, tuna, spaghetti sauce, cookies, crackers, flour, sugar, and rice. Sharon’s eyebrows disappeared under her bangs when I put an entire case—24 cans-—of whole kernel corn in the bottom of her buggy.
“Mommy! Are you sure we can afford that much?”
She smiled so big I thought surely it must hurt when I put three boxes of strawberry pop tarts and four packages of individually wrapped oatmeal cake snacks in her buggy.
“Wow! That’s enough for lunch every day and for after school!”.
Jewel-T offered near wholesale prices by handling only generic brands and offering no frills, not even shelves. The fronts of boxes in which food was shipped cut out and the boxes were stacked, beside each other, making ersatz shelves similar to the shelves and aisles in typical grocery stores.
When I think of our life together in the years of Sharon’s childhood, when the series of thunderstorms that was adolescence was a barely perceptible and muffled rumbling a great distance away, I often see us together in the car.
It is the repeated and regular comings and goings, to school, to work, or the home of a friend that establish the rhythm of family life. That rhythm is the framework within which special events and especially memorable adventures occur, much as rhythm is the framework within which grace notes flutter and syncopation charms. For some families, it is the coming and going to and from work and school that establishes this rhythm. For others, it is the presence or absence of a father whose work frequently takes him away from home. The rhythm of life for Sharon and me consisted of being home together, being away from home, or being in the car together.
Gratitude for little (really big) things
A trip in the car together meant we were leaving our precious little home and setting forth, together, into the big, wide world. The physical proximity of being in the car together enhanced the camaraderie and our sense of adventure. So did the fact that Sharon was a fully-informed, and involved participant. She was my partner, in every outing. It had been so since the divorce, when she was three.Then, her skinny little legs were so short they had to stick straight out in front of her as she sat on the front seat beside me and held the eggs when we bought groceries. I called her “the best egg holder in Florida” every time. Now, when she sat beside me, her feet rested on the floor and she often had a pad and pencil in her lap, making a list of our errands in endearing irregular and large childish print as I spelled slowly.
“L – i – b – r – a – r – y, g – a – s,…”
“Wait a minute, Mommy.”
“Sorry. I’ll go slower. Are you ready? S—–t—–a—–m—-p—–s…”
Making Much of Little
Thursday was our grocery shopping and errand running day, and, as with other things, I worked hard to make the little I had to give her seem much. During the week, I asked her to add items to the list we kept on the fridge
“Please add ketchup to the list, baby. K – e – t – c – h – u – p.
I also purposely involved her in decision making.
“What flavor of jelly do you prefer, sweetie, and what kind of snack cake do you want for after school this week?”
And, of course, I talked about our weekly shopping trip both before and after it happened. When I took her to school on Thursday morning it was, “Don’t forget, we get to get groceries tonight!” and on Saturday morning, “I’m glad you wanted to try a different kind of jelly this week. You picked out a good one. This sure tastes good! ”
Our monthly adventure into true thrift
Our monthly trek to the u-pack-it bulk grocery, however, truly was an adventure. I didn’t have to work at making it seem so.
Jewel-T was on the other side of town and any trip beyond the sphere of our little suburb was unusual enough to feel special with a capital S by virtue of that fact alone. But not only that, for our monthly grocery stock-up trip we left early on Saturday afternoon with an empty car and we returned home with our car interior as well as the trunk stuffed with enough canned and boxed imperishables to feed us both for the next month.
It is truly hard to say who enjoyed the whole process more, Sharon or me. In childhood innocence, her smiling face and the twinkle in her eyes told me she felt we were rich to be buying so much food. As for me, having that much food stored up comforted me in a way so fundamental that I nearly cried each and every time, simply out of gratitude.