Saturday, January 21, 2017

From Riches to Rags: A How to Guide For Going From Middle Class to Homeless in Six Months or Less part 2

At the end of our episode yesterday, we left the Skiff's homeless and separating to live in different states.  Mom and the boys are heading to Virginia to live with relatives. Meanwhile, Dad is staying in Texas for work and trying to find a new home for them.
I wish I could say that this blog would be a lighter and funnier read than yesterday's posting.  I do try to find the humor in our lives, even in the darkest hours.  However, though there were sparks of humor, the next months were some of the darkest nights my soul has ever had.  Our family was in crisis, my sanity hanging by a thread and our marriage was a thread snap away from ending. 
Yesterday, I purposely focused on the financial things that had led to this dark place and only alluded to the effects of that stress on our family.  In order for you to understand the light and grace at the end of this story, you have to understand just how dark the night became.

"I shall not sing a May song.
A May song should be gay.
I'll wait until November
And sing a song of gray.
I'll wait until November

That is the time for me.
I'll go out in the frosty dark
And sing most terribly.
And all the little people
Will stare at me and say,
"That is the Crazy Woman
Who would not sing in May." 

 Gwendolyn Brooks- The Crazy Woman


 October 2016
       Shamed: Evicted, Repo'ed and Po Po'ed

Friday, September 30th found me on the road, in a rental van, with all five boys heading to my parents house,  in a complete state of shock.  The past week had brought a whole new meaning to the word "stress".  We had spent that week doing everything in our power to avoid moving.  For the first time in three years our oldest child was back in school, in a fantastic autism program.  It had taken a team of professionals and us 6 months to prepare him for this huge step back into the world of public school.  Three years prior he had a complete breakdown due to his autism, generalized anxiety disorder and teen hormones.  He had such severe panic attacks that he was unable to leave the house most days.  For three years our lives had revolved around therapy appointments with his amazing psychologist,  a medicine regiment that was fit for a 90 year old horse, and little to no sleep.  The fact that he daily faced these challenges and I could not do anything to make it better for him is a kind of hell I wouldn't wish on my worse enemy.  He was the major reason we had moved to Brigadoon, a town with a well known autism program in their public schools.  That he was finally settling into his new school, made the idea of leaving completely unacceptable. When I realized we were not going to be able to avoid the inevitable loss of our house, I met with his psychologist (she's all the boys therapist).  I sat in her office and explained what was happening and asked for the best way to handle telling the boys.  I cannot tell you what an amazing doctor she is.  Not only did she write a letter to the court explaining the reasons us leaving was a very bad idea, she also started looking for other housing for us and stopped charging us for the boys therapy until we could pay. She was one of the amazing people who God used to get us through the darkness.
Unfortunately, the letter made no difference in our circumstances with our landlord.  So we were faced with the reality that we had to leave.  My husband and I spent that last week running the insane amount of errands it takes to relocate a family on little to no notice; withdrawing kids from school,  returning library things, getting the things needed for the trip, taking care of the banking things, etc.
The level of stress was beyond anything I can describe.  This is bad for any family but it is especially bad when you have special needs kids who cannot deal with emotional upheaval of any kind.  Heck a trip to six flags for two hours leads to two days of recovery meltdowns.  The meltdowns were happening fast and furious in our house.  The Friday before I left, it all hit the fan and our oldest had a meltdown on such a scale that he had to be restrained (restraining a 6ft tall, 200+ pound teenager is not an experience I would want anyone to deal with). The noise of the meltdown led to a noise complaint being filed with the police.  Blessedly, it only took them meeting our kids to understand the situation and to offer their help.  But the fact that the police were called to our home, even though the circumstances are explainable, was a level of shaming that this girl never thought she would experience.
The fact I was packing the boys and leaving my husband behind was a huge blow to our marriage.  Even though, I wasn't "leaving" my husband, I was in reality moving myself and all of our kids 1300 miles from my husband, leaving him alone with the cat.  That does psychological damage, no matter necessary it is.
September 30th....driving with a van full of excited boys, who have no idea yet that we are leaving for more than a visit to their grandparents (on the advice of their doctor's we were told to wait to tell them until after we got there and settled in.  It was decided that the level of emotional instability would be dangerous in an enclosed vehicle, particularly in view of the huge meltdown we had just experienced the week before)....trying to make it as normal as possible for heart completely broken and feeling like a complete failure as a mother and wife.......driving halfway across the country to go live with my parents (I hadn't lived home since I was single and a teenager.  Now I was nearly 40, with five kids).  I cannot tell you the amount of shame, guilt and failure that I swallowed and tried to smile through.  I can honestly say that I have never been brought so low within myself.

November 2016
The Holidays....Now what

The next two months crept slowly by; time seemed to stand still as we fell into the semblance of a routine.  Because I had no idea how long we would be in Virginia, I couldn't enroll them in school.  So I tried to do a little homeschooling for the time there.  Being a parent to the Skiff boys is emotionally draining in the best of times.  Being in essence a single parent to them, is beyond anything I can describe. 
A week after we made it to Virginia and once there was absolutely no hope that we would be moving back to our house, I told them what was going on with our housing situation.  My boys are amazing.  They initially handled the news so much better than I could have ever imagined.  But the instability of our situation, being separated from their dad, friends, things and even our beloved Phil Cat weighed heavily on them.  They were on top of each other all the time, in a strange place without their routine, meds (our new insurance took three months to kick in) or even therapists.  I am the emotional stability of Skiffdom.  I am the one that makes it better for everyone.  Everyone needed something from me that I couldn't give them.  I could not make this better.  I could only try to mitigate the consequences.
I tried to keep everyone busy.  My mother very generously allowed me to drive her SUV since I was car-less as well as homeless.  We went to parks.  We went to museums.  We went apple picking. We went to the library.   No matter where and what I tried to do, the meltdowns were constant.  If it wasn't one it was another. I shutdown, curled into myself and cut myself off from pretty much everyone who loved me, including my husband.  If you want a quick way to nearly destroy your marriage, move you and your kids halfway across the country and then emotionally shut your partner out.  It is a sure recipe for marital disaster.  Every time we talked on the phone we ended up arguing over anything and everything.  Slowly the number of calls decreased and we resorted to quick texts.  The miles between us grew with every passing day.
There were good moments that happened along the way.  I was able to reconnect with most of my siblings, friends I hadn't seen in years came to visit me, I met new family and I was able to get to know my precious nieces and nephews.
Thanksgiving my husband was able to come for a few days.  I was hoping that those few precious days would be used to reconnect.  Instead, it just emphasized the large gulf that had grown between us.  The boys enjoyed having their Dad there. But it made it that much harder for them when he left.   He felt abandoned by me.  I felt overwhelmed and neglected by him.   By the time he flew back to Texas, I was almost dreading him visiting for Christmas. I wish I could make this story prettier for you. But that wouldn't be the truth.  The truth was dark and ugly.

December 2016

December dawned darker and more lonely than anything I had experienced before.  Still I was determined to make Christmas as normal as possible for my boys.  I did my best to do all our normal traditions, making cookies, drinking hot chocolate out of Christmas mugs while decorating the tree, driving around looking at lights. I went through the motions but it felt empty and lonely without my husband there to enjoy it with us.
A bright spot occurred when my sister surprised us by telling me she and the family had chipped in and raised money for us to buy Christmas gifts for the boys.  The generosity of our family and friends has humbled me over and over again throughout this whole year.  Again, I simply cannot say thank you enough.  To be loved and cared about by so many is one of the most amazing and humbling experiences.  Please know that what you gave or the kind words you said or the visit you made to us during this time was in no way taken for granted.  In fact, each of these things is stored and treasured deep within my heart.
We were working on three months of being in Virginia and nothing had changed in our circumstances.  My husband was busy working both his regular job and still working on starting his own company.  But he had been unable to find us a house.  The reality was we could no longer exist in this in between place.  It was decided that if we were unable to move back to Texas after Christmas, I was going to enroll the boys into school in Virginia and we would remain there until the end of June when school released.  Though unspoken, I believe both my husband and I knew that decision would have ended our marriage.  Our relationship was depleted, with each passing day any sentiment that remained was being twisted by anger and blame.
But God had a better plan.  A week after we had decided on that plan, my husband was able to find us a house, after months of being turned away time after time.  We had a house to move back to! It was small and in a town we hadn't even considered before but it was a place to come home to!!!
I cannot tell you what a relief this was. 
We had been brought lower in every way than we had ever been in our lives together.  Finally, there was a real solid hope.  We could move forward.
My husband moved into our new home the week before Christmas.  He immediately fell in love with the house and the town.  After months of being alone, he was finally home.
He flew to Virginia the eve of Christmas Eve.  We celebrated a wonderful Christmas with my family. The boys had an amazing Christmas, thanks to our family and friends.  And we were able to put all our finances into getting us home. So we began the process of getting packed up to drive back. 
Unfortunately, Virginia wasn't quite through with us.  We all came down with a stomach bug from hell.  We've had a lot of stomach bugs go through the house through out the years.  This is by far the worst one we ever experienced.  After four days of stomach bug hell, we were finally ready to hit the road.
Never have you seen people more excited to get back to Texas.  Pulling into the driveway was like a dream.  I cannot tell you what it is like to finally have a place after having been without a place of your own for so long. The boys loved it immediately.  They are in walking distance to all their favorite things to do.  The house is smaller but the layout actually works better for our family.  And it is so much easier for me to keep it clean because let's be honest, with five boys the majority of housework falls on me.;)
Our financial situation has stabilized a lot.  The insurance from my husband's new company is much better.  Our monthly expenses have dropped dramatically from what they were when we lived in Brigadoon. We do still need to replace the family car but that will happen in time. Right now, we are just happy to be home.
I have learned important lessons throughout this process. I have learned that I cannot do it all on my own. I go to very dark places.  I need my friends, family and most importantly my husband.  I have learned that contrary to my long held belief,  shame won't kill you.  I have learned that if you are willing to share them, the dark and shameful times will bring you even closer to the people around you.  I have learned that our marriage needs to be nurtured.  We have made it a point to spend time reconnecting since my husband came to get us around Christmastime.  Our marriage is in a much better place than it was a month and a half ago. 
Our family, as a whole, is still healing from the past year. The boys  are more settled and happy than I have seen them in a long time.  So are my husband and I.   It will take time to fully recover but we are on the right path. 


Friday, January 20, 2017

From Riches to Rags: A How to Guide For Going From Middle Class to Homeless in Six Months or Less part 1

Here it is, the blog I've been pondering, dreading, nervous to write for a long time.  It's also the blog many of you have been waiting for.  The blog that answer's the question, "What the heck happened to the Skiffs?"
I have endeavored to be tactfully transparent in this blog.  Believe it or not, that's not an easy thing for me.  I'm a good southern girl, raised to keep family business in the family and to smile at the outside world while your life explodes around you.  I'm the girl that hates to inconvenience anyone.  The one who apologized over and over to the nurses when I screamed out during labor.  Living the life of Skiff out loud and for real has been a long process of letting go and accepting myself, our little world and the crazy that spins up, like dust storms in the desert, in our daily lives. That said, one thing I have not been transparent in is our finances.  It isn't that I intentionally hid anything; it's just nothing ruins relationships faster than bringing money into them.   I'm a good southern girl and we all know that you don't talk finances in polite company.  So this blog has been the hardest thing I've had to write to date.  During the last four months,  I pretty much dropped off the map in all my relationships.  I had to hibernate emotionally just to survive and to stay strong for my kids through one of the hardest times our family has been through.  I still haven't really begun to process all that happened in less than six months.  That being said, because our struggle became very public, I feel it is only right that I tell the tale.  The very nature of this story means that I will be sharing more details than I am comfortable with but I can't tell you the real story without including them.  Please know my heart in sharing these things is to tell our story of the past year.  It is not because I am in anyway trying to solicit sympathy. This is our story...the good, the bad and the ugly.  We take full responsibility for the decisions that led to this road.  It isn't a pretty story but it is one we are emerging from.

"The woods are lovely, dark and deep,   
But I have promises to keep,   
And miles to go before I sleep,   
And miles to go before I sleep."  Robert Frost

                         January 2016
                         New Beginnings
Standing in the airport, at the luggage carousel, I had no idea how much my life was about to change.  Christmas Eve, my grandmother had passed away.  My husband and I made emergency travel plans to get me back to Virginia for her funeral. I had been close to my grandmother, probably closer than most people.  I  spent many hours with her watching Murder She Wrote, drinking tea, talking and reading....all at once.  It was our way.  Or swinging on her front porch in the early morning or late evening, drinking tea, talking, or just quietly sitting and rocking.  Her last years had been hard and her passing though sad was also a relief of her suffering.  So as I waited for my luggage, I was quietly contemplative about the woman who had taught me about hospital corners, how to wear make-up and how to prank snooty art dealers.  The last thing on my mind was that I would soon be moving away from the home we'd lived in for 8 years and the town that I had a love/hate relationship with.
My luggage finally made it's way to me. I exited the airport and made my way to my husband, who was excitedly awaiting my arrival with good news.  I climbed into our SUV, LuLu, and he drove me to get breakfast, which is our thing.  I sat cross from him and he shared that he had been approached with a job offer.  He wasn't really looking for a new job because he really liked the company he was at.  But this new company offered him a way forward in his career, management. He had maxed out his upward mobility at the company he was presently at.  It had the added enticement of a 20k a year raise, which was definitely a factor in the subsequent choices we made.
While being excited that he had this opportunity, I was also wary.  This job was a 6 month contract to hire, normal practice in the IT field that my husband works in.  My concern lay in the fact we are a family of many, large, monthly medical expenses.  I was uncomfortable with the health insurance the recruiter's offered for the 6 months before he was hired full time.  But with such a large raise, we felt somewhat confident that we could handle any added expenses short term.  After several weeks of negotiation, it was decided my husband would take this new job.  
One of the considerations in taking this job was that we would need to move because of the crazy daily commute it would require.  We originally intended to move in June, after the boys finished the school year.  But after a few weeks, it became very clear that we would need to move much more quickly than originally intended.  I loved the little town we lived in.  I had made so many good friends, people who were now more family than friends.  We were involved in the community and our boys had spent most of they're school careers there.  However, I also HATED the school system.  Fighting for accommodations for four special needs kids, in small Texas town, will make you enemies more quickly than campaigning for Donald Trump.  Since we had to move anyway, we shopped for the best school district we could get in.  It was the driving motivator in choosing the town we eventually landed in.  For the purposes of this blog, that town shall be called Brigadoon, a beautiful living dream that is lost to the mist. By the end of February, my husband had a new job, we had a new town, new house and a new school district.  What could possibly go wrong?
                                                     April 2016
                                           Let the Games Begin

Spring dawned with so much promise.  Brigadoon was practically perfect in every way.  The boys school district actually came to me ASKING if they could please provide more services to the boys.  If you have in any way experienced the Special Education process, you know this is about as common as seeing a flying, rainbow colored unicorn pig.  Actually, I'm pretty sure that you are more likely to experience the colorful unicorn pig than you are to be offered more special accommodations for your special needs kids.
Apart from the school system, Brigadoon was exactly the kind of town I loved.  It was full of eclectic, small town shops and the convenience of  anything I could possibly need within a couple of miles of my house.  I had 3 Chick-Fil-a's within 2 miles of my house and a coffee shop the played blues music and served amazing, inexpensive coffee!  Could any place be more perfect? Ah, Brigadoon, a beautiful dream that fades too quickly away.
Yet, even in the perfection, the rumblings of unrest were starting.  April was the first month we had to use our new insurance to pay for our medical expenses.  Our copay's had gone up by almost double.  And our meds....oh the meds....they had gone up by 10 times what we had been paying just a month before.  Those expenses added to the increase of our housing expenses and travel, more than ate up the raise that my husband had received.  Add that to the fact, the move itself had cost us 10k that was not planned, we were beginning to struggle in a way that we hadn't since we had moved to Texas 8 years before.  But there was light at the end of the tunnel.  If we could just hold on until August, my husband would be made permanent at the new company and our health insurance would greatly improve.  As our biggest financial issue was the medical expenses, this was a huge ray of hope for us.
                                          June 2016
                          The Gremlins Come Out to Play

By the time June rolled around, we were in a bad place.  Besides the above stated issues, all the little things that could go wrong were.  Our washer and dryer broke.  We had four separate flat tires, and the tires weren't even old.  My husband was working his job and doing side jobs trying to hold our heads above the water.  But as soon as we got a little relief, something else would go wrong.  He had a fender bender.  His autoimmune disease flared and he had to miss work.  I got sick. He got sick.  The kids got sick.   We all needed more meds.  It was never ending.  We simply could not catch a break.  The stress was taking it's toll on us all.  We managed to keep the details of our situation away from the kids but they could definitely feel the stress that was swirling around us like a great swarm of locust.  Everyone was on edge and our normal release valves were not an option because the finances simply weren't there.  I withdrew from most of my friends and tried to batten down the hatches and just get through until magical month of August came around.

                                        August 2016
                                      Brigadoon Dies

Once August first rolled around, we were holding our breath waiting for my husband's transition to permanent employee.  The company had a new CEO who had restructured the entire company.  The management position had never materialized and my husband hated the boring grunt work he was currently doing.  But he was willing to stay on, just to stabilize our very precarious financial position.  So we waited. And waited. And waited.  He was promised that the transition would happen but whenever he pushed for details, he was put off until later.  My husband, had several large contracts from his side work, which was blossoming into a real business.  We made the decision for him to focus on those contracts and leave the company that had still not made him permanent.  In hind sight, this was a terrible decision.  But in the middle of the craziness we were faced with, we were not thinking all that clearly. We had no more time to be put off.  We had robbed Peter to pay Paul as long as we could.  Both Peter and Paul were demanding payment and we had nothing left to give them.  
Our rent was late but we could pay it. However, when I went to pay it they refused the payment unless I could also pay the late fees attached.  We didn't have the extra cash so we received a letter to vacate or face eviction.  By the end of September we had a court date for eviction. And no idea how we were going to provide a roof for our kids.  We had voluntarily turned over our SUV to the creditors to hopefully save more money.  That was a hard blow for me personally.  LuLu had been the first decent vehicle I had ever owned.  But even with that payment gone, we were just too far in the hole. 
We did everything we could to save our house but there comes a point when your plane is hurtling toward the ground in a nosedive, that you just can't pull up anymore.  That's where we were; in a nosedive, spinning out of control and having no idea what to do next.  
I cannot begin to describe the stress and panic we were feeling.  We hadn't told anyone what was going on but we finally confided in q few good friends and our families so that they could pray for direction and a miracle for us.  
Our good friend created a Go Fund Me page to raise support for us.  That page and those who gave were a lifeline to us.  We used that money to get me and the boys safely to Virginia. 
The last week of September, we had exhausted all our resources and we decided that I would take the boys to Virginia to live with my parents while Usarian (whom had been hired a new company, with yet another raise....praise God!) waited the two weeks to start his new job, packed the house and then saved money to get us a new place.  We were blessed with dear friend's who opened their home to him during this time.  The plan was that we would be apart about a month or so but it ended up being much longer than we had planned.
I have to take a moment to say THANK YOU, to the many friend's and family who came to our aid during this time.  I cannot begin to express just how much your prayer's, support and friendship meant to us during this time.  Honestly, I don't know that we would have made it through without you all.  There were days to come that it was your words and support that were the only thing that got me through.
I also want to say a special thank you to my parents, who not only opened their home to me and our five kids, they did it with such grace and love.  Three months is a very long time to have an extra 6 people in your home, especially when 5 of those people are teen boys with special needs.  So thank you mom and dad.  I cannot begin to thank you enough.

Tomorrow I will write the ending of our story.  But for now, I'm going to sign off and enjoy the new house my family is in. And the fact we are in it together.  Stay tuned for the journey between there and here. 

Total Pageviews


Kristine Meier-Skiff. Powered by Blogger.