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. 

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