A Year of Change

Be Brave, have faith, and leap …

There comes a point where you just have to step out in faith or you will be forever stuck. It is scary and exhilarating at the same time. I decided I needed to do just that for 2017; step out of my box of known and face the unknown. I did it in phases which made it slightly easier, but hard nonetheless.

 

If you have been reading for a while or if you know me, then you know 3 years ago my husband lost his job and it put us in a tailspin. This is a vital part of our story. It changed everything in unimaginable ways that will forever impact us. After a year we found stability in a job that kept us firmly and significantly under the poverty level. We were lucky though. We had help. Lots of help. Randomly things we needed would appear; people and organizations would help us in every capacity. The kids knew life was rough, but they also knew we were blessed.

What they didn’t know is I skipped meals so they could have full bellies. Clothes were from clothing banks and I mended the holes so they didn’t know. Every month we had disconnect notices. A broken down car was like a jail sentence. Not being able to fix it meant if I couldn’t walk there then I wasn’t going. But we survived. We worked hard and scraped by.

And then I broke. Sometimes just surviving isn’t enough. I couldn’t handle the cycle of poverty we found ourselves in. It is suffocating and depressing and hopeless. It is almost impossible to escape from it. The terrifying thing is people live like this and do not have the help we had. How the heck do they manage? The cycle is almost 100% impossible to break from and I knew this, but I was determined because I couldn’t keep living the way we were.

So I took a leap of faith.

In January I took money I had been slowly saving and invested in an opportunity. I started to sell Perfectly Posh. 2017 was the business building year. We now have hope in my future income instead of despair at where we are at.

In the spring I stopped going to the food pantry and clothing bank. Both were huge leaps of faith since I had nothing to replace this help with. I just made a decision to stop going and instead have faith the gap would be filled.

I also started donating little bits to charity. By summer I was tithing to my church and by fall I was rounding that up so the difference could go to helping others in poverty while we ourselves still live in it. Isn’t that ironic? We still don’t make enough to be above the poverty line. However, we are more than surviving …

The biggest leap was deciding I would not get help from any organizations for Christmas. I panicked and thought it was a stupid decision, but deep down I knew I had to as part of my break away from the cycle we were in. So I took a deep breath and told God “I trust you with my business because it is all for your glory and not mine.”

That is when things got weird.

Not knowing we had a need, someone generously gave us gifts for our oldest. They just didn’t want the items anymore and so we got them. We were also given Pokemon trading cards … lots of them. My kids love Pokemon and play every Saturday at a local comic book store. This was a big deal and made for very excited children on Christmas.
My girls were blessed with a new-to-them bike to share. It didn’t stop there … It has been overwhelming. I hadn’t confided to many about my fears of no Christmas; only a select few who know our situation anyway. The people who helped have no idea the depth of their actions. They were miraculously placed in our lives at the right time. I believe in Divine Intervention.

My kids had an amazing Christmas. It wasn’t over the top and most of the gifts were second-hand, but they got things they wanted and things they never dreamed to ask for. They were thrilled. My money went further than it should have. So many stores had discounts that were allowed to be stacked, shipping was free, and then I was able to get cash back through ebates or swagbucks.

 

Is there stuff I want and even need that I didn’t get? Definitely. But I am OK with that because what we do have shouldn’t even be! This insane leap of faith paid off.

We still have so far to go. I can’t imagine the day we make a real living wage again. We still can’t afford the car we need (we do not all fit in the car we currently have). At the end of the month I still skip most meals so the food doesn’t run out on the kids. There are holes in socks and no plan on replacing them anytime soon. BUT it is so much better than it was. The circle of poverty that surrounds us is crumbling and there is now hope where there wasn’t. All because I couldn’t handle it anymore and took a chance …

~Andrea

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Forgiveness

What does forgiveness mean to you? How do you define it?

My husband and I were asked this today in therapy. Now before you jump to ideas and think he and I are having martial problems that need forgiving; we aren’t. Is our marriage perfect? No. However, we don’t go to marriage counseling. We go to “life is messy and we would like a person with an outside perspective to walk with us through it” counseling. Not that there is anything wrong with marriage counseling. I think it is a great resource. I just want to be clear so you can understand us just a little.

So we were asked this question “What does forgiveness mean?” I had to think about it because I know what it means but I wasn’t sure how to best describe it.

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This is basically what I came up with … Forgiving is freeing yourself, and really the other person also. You don’t even have to tell the other person you forgive them. When you do, the atmosphere and aura change and it positively impacts both of you. Freeing yourself means letting go and moving forward. You are done. You  don’t forget, but you leave it. You are free.

Mark said something similar … you stop feeding into whatever “it” is and you let it die. You move forward. You don’t forget but you leave it in the past.

Our person reminded us it is actually a financial reference (I had totally forgotten this!). The debt is whipped clean. It is gone. You are free.

They all go together. Forgiving helps you and the person who hurt, wronged, or whatever you.

Something pretty heavy and serious happened to us this summer and the actions of one person (not Mark or I) damaged us. We were shaken and hurt to the core. We were left with an enormous gaping hole of hurt. Life is messy and this was the biggest mess yet.
We were asked what will happen if we forgive (person)? How will (person) respond? Does (person) realize forgiveness is even needed?

So we are pondering this.

We were also asked what would happen if we symbolically bury the hurt in the back yard (although I think funeral pyre is more dramatic if we are going for symbolism). If (person) is there to observe will the impact of what happened and how it affected us finally be realized (person thinks simply forgetting and moving on is easy to do, we think otherwise). Will it help with forgiveness? Will it help us be able to stop carrying baggage we don’t want but have no idea how to put down?

It will be an interesting 2 weeks as we figure this out and do an additional assignment we were challenged with. Think about this (and share with me if you want) what does forgiveness in your life look like? What does it mean? Have you ever needed to be forgiven for something serious? Have you ever needed to do the forgiving? What happened when you were forgiven or forgave? Are you free? Or are you still carrying the baggage (I promise not to judge because I still carry mine)?

~Andrea

Huge Change

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This year, quite at the last minute, Marco and I decided to place the girls into public school. This is something we talked about ever since we moved into our current school district. When we first moved here we knew the school was a great school, Dee would be going into kindergarten so it would have been great timing. This is what stopped us:

1) Dee had massive anxiety. It was so extreme I was afraid putting her into school would be more harmful than good and I wanted her to love school.

2) The year prior had been awful. Marco lost his job, we lived in different states, and we were homeless. Mark slept on the couch at a friend’s place here and I hopped from place to place. I stayed at an empty house owned by a church, my parents’ house, and hotels. I dragged the kids and dog along with me. It was stressful. The unstable life we led made me want to create a bubble of stability for my kids. I wanted them home with me.

3) Debilitating fear of what the homeschool community would think of me for sending my kids to public school, the fear of being ostracized by homeschoolers and public school mommas since I wouldn’t really fall into either category exclusively, and the fear of being a failure. I feared I had failed at homeschooling my girls. Yes, I realize now that I hadn’t failed, but my fear was real and legitimate.

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We finally came to a breaking point. I was burnt out. Dee and I would fight every time I tried to teach her reading. Math and art and every other subject as fine, but reading? Oh my word. It was awful. Math came easy to her, but reading was hard and she would rather play than read. I cried a lot. She cried a lot. It was not how homeschooling should be. One would think the kid with learning issues and special needs would be the one I struggled to teach. Nope.

To make all of this all 100% worse we were in a homeschool co-op that was the worst experience ever. I loved the other moms there, but the leaders were terrible. They believe in 100% unbending conformity (when I told my therapist this he shuddered). They were not nice people and I hated the toxic environment I was in. I knew I wasn’t going to go back there, but at the same time I knew I couldn’t be home 7 days a week with all 5 kids because I was burnt out. Working at minimum 2 jobs and at maximum 4 jobs, I needed help.

All summer long I struggled with “The Great Debate.” Public school or homeschool? Then one of the kids had a medical crisis and I had to make a decision. The day before classes started I walked into the school and signed the girls up. That was a Tuesday. School started Wednesday. The girls first day was Friday. The entire time we never said a word to anyone other than a few very close people. We did not put up first day of school pictures or discuss it at all.

We lived life and no one noticed. This is a little sad because this means no one really paid any attention to subtle things I said or did. However, I get it. I can miss subtly at times also. My homeschooling friends had no idea the girls were gone all day. I mentioned school and they simply assumed I meant homeschool.

Why didn’t I say anything? I didn’t want to deal with the unnecessary questions and remarks. Remarks that are usually untrue and only hurtful.

“Why did you put them in public school?”
“You know public is not as good as it used it be right?”
“Aren’t you scared of bullies and your kids learning immoral things and growing up too fast?”
“They never really get free time or socialization in school. They will burn out.”
“You are being selfish because you are working. Maybe you should quit your jobs” (or what ever reason they come up with)
“They are at school all day and come home to do homework all night. Do you really want that?”
“You are at the mercy of the schools.”
“Why are you still homeschooling the boys?”
“Do you favor the boys?”

Oh the list of snarky remarks and questions is endless. I didn’t want to deal with them because it is no one’s business. Period. So we didn’t say anything. Mark respected my wishes to keep it quiet. Then the girls had school pictures and I posted them…

People were shocked, but the girls are firmly established in school so no one said anything. I could tell a few people really wanted to, but they held their tongues and I am glad they did. A few people were super happy for us. They understood the turmoil I must have gone through because they messaged me to tell me they deal with the same debate. I felt less alone, less like a failure, and more empowered.

 

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My gorgeous, thriving girls. They are world changers.

The girls are thriving! Ry’s teacher refers to her as an “asset.” What an amazing word! She isn’t just a good kid or studious or smart. She is an asset. This means she is valuable to the class and they need her and greatly benefit from her! WOW! I am pretty sure no one ever referred to me as an asset. When I told Ry the compliment she was glowing. What an amazing confidence boost for a 10 year old girl who was trying to fit in to an already established class. When we went to Parent/Teacher Conference we could tell her teacher really loves her! What an amazing feeling! The confirmation we made the right decision is just what I needed.

Delaney, not surprising, is known as a sweet heart. Everyone loves her gentle and kind ways. Dee still has lots of anxiety, but she is coming out of her shell and developing her strengths. School was exactly what she needed in order to spread her wings and fly. The teacher works one-pm-one with her and the fact they all have gathered to be a foundation under her makes my heart swell. They want to see her succeed. They could easily not care, but they do. Adding these positive influences into her life has been only a blessing.

We have no regrets. This was exactly what needed to be done. The boys are thriving at home, Charlie is getting more in depth one-on-one with me; something he desperately needed. I am far more calm and far less stressed. I am able to better focus and I accomplish more.

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The days are calmer.

Every family needs to decide what is right for them and their children. Don’t let anyone ever make you feel like you are a failure because you didn’t do things they way they think you should. You do what you need to do and own it! Being supportive is always the better option.

~Andrea

Dream Journal

I do not hide the fact I see a therapist. Sometimes you just need a little guidance or an extra ear to listen. Sometimes you need serious intervention. Whatever the case, there is no shame … or at least there shouldn’t be, so I try to normalize the completely normal by openly talking about it.

That said, my therapist suggested a dream journal. I can’t decided if this is to help me or to entertain him because I get some seriously weird dreams y’all. I tell my dreams to my husband and he always looks at me and says “Your subconscious is a scary, scary place.”

My dreams are so vivid I sometimes can’t even tell if they were a dream or reality. I hate that. I feel like I am going crazy when that happens. They just seem so incredibly real! Many nights I am sound asleep but fretting and my husband is left to groggily soothe me so he can go back to sleep. I rarely remember those dreams, but I always remember the feelings I had in them; fear, anxiety, stress.

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I have done a fairly decent job at getting my dreams written, but this morning the first half of my dream just ran away from me, like running water through your fingers. I find that frustrating. All day I have been trying to remember the first part of the dream. As I type this blog post, my mind is still trying to grasp that earlier dream. I can remember the second half completely. I can still feel the cold and damp from the fog and smell the brisk air … these things didn’t happen but they were so real to my subconscious that have stuck with me all day. The first half though? It is like when you have Deja Vu and can’t quite figure out why. Did it really happen before?

I am curious to see where this rabbit hole of journal writing leads. Will it open an inner perspective? Maybe it will simply provide some seriously interesting writings. Hm, maybe this is where my riches will come from. (I kid! I kid!)

I do have hopes for this endeavor. I am hoping that I will no longer hate the prospect of sleep (I can’t stand these vivid dreams). I hope to garner insight. I am not sure what specifically I am looking to learn, but I want to learn something.

So I have to wonder, who else has a dream journal? I can’t be the only one who has insanely crazy and totally “out there” dreams. Share if you wish.

~Andrea

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year! Or Is It?

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Oh my word … I can’t believe it is October 20. Where did the month go? I am in B-I-G trouble! WHY? Well, to start I don’t have Halloween costumes completely planned. The big ones are the eldest and the middle and they happen to be the 2 not planned. Figures.

However, before Halloween even gets here I have Dee’s 8th birthday, although I am going to have to do her party in November because one of her classmates is having his party ON HER BIRTHDAY! UGH! I know the mom has no idea, but it is still frustrating on my end. Dee could care less (thank the stars), but she isn’t the one who has to re-plan the entire thing.

So are you following? Dee’s birthday, then Halloween, then Dee’s party … and then Thanksgiving and after that is Ry’s birthday. We will do her party in December because I can’t handle 2 November parties …. or maybe I should do a combo? My house isn’t big enough and renting a place is $$$. Hm …. Sorry let me get back on track.

OK, so we get through Ry’s birthday and then it is Christmas and then the 13 year old’s birthday immediately after. Sigh. We get a little reprieve before the next birthday in the middle of January. Zen is my favorite. He is an April baby.

I am exhausted and need a plan. Sooooo …. Anyone want to do all this for me?? Any takers? No? Darn. Well, I tried …

I also need to not  miss the happiness that all of this craziness brings. We are celebrating so much GOODNESS and it is so easy to get lost in the hecticness of it all. My middles are all going to celebrate new milestones (8, 11, and 14)!!!! Halloween is always so fabulous in my neighborhood! Thanksgiving is quiet for us, but it is always nice. Christmas….ah! I love everything about it!

I need to not focus on the heart-squeezing panic I feel at what needs to be done. I need someone to walk behind me flicking me and saying “Are you living in the moment? Be happy!” Pretty sure my friend Jess B is up for that job. Good thing she doesn’t live near me!

Wish me luck and I will keep you posted!

~Andrea

My Top 10 Best Ideas

OK, so I really feel like even after 15 years of parenting, I totally stink at this gig. However, there are moments where I feel I out-shine my biggest expectations. Please note these are the best ideas for MY family! I am absolutely not telling you this is the best way because I am not stupid. I realize every family has to find there own groove. These are my hacks that have made life in the Gardner Household far easier.

Here are my favorite (in no particular order):

10. Teaching my kids to cook at an early age. Now that they are older they can cook dinner without supervision! Can I just tell you how awesome it is to not have to worry about making dinner every night.

9. Split the house into zones. I give them a number and they scurry off and clean that area. When they cooperate the house gets fully clean in under 30 minutes.

8. Use Perfectly Posh Gender Bender to remove stains … including nail polish! Posh makes no claims that the soap is anything more than a nourishing, tallow-free, moisturizing soap, but it worked wonders when a certain daughter spilled nail polish all over my carpet and hid it from me instead of telling. I found it 2 days later but Gender Bender and a little elbow grease got the polish completely out of our carpet!

7. Letting the kids pick their own extracurricular activities instead of imposing my own desires on them. If I had my way they would all be little theater buffs. To date, none of them are in theater. However, when they love what they are doing, they tend to try their best.

6. When shopping with little kids always bring a sharpie marker. Why? Because they can be used on mirrors in fitting room and wipe off easily with a baby wipe.
Why are you in a fitting room with all the kids?
*Baby wanted to breastfeed and you need quiet or they rip your nipple off while looking around and nursing at the same time because stores are exciting for them. So you pop over to the fitting rooms and settle with the baby and let the toddler create art on the mirror. Now if only they would deliver a coffee to the fitting rooms ….
*You have 3 little ones 5 and under and you need to hide while you cry because what the he** were you thinking when you thought that you could take 3 little kids to Target??
*You actually need to try on clothes and you really don’t want your toddler climbing under all the dressing room doors and scaring the sh** out of all the other women also trying on clothes.
*Because it is a great idea.

5. Push Ups. Forget time out. Time out does nothing if you aren’t going to teach your child how to cam themselves by taking slow deep breathes etc. Time outs make them mad at you because it is soooooooo unfair so they retaliate and draw on the walls when you turn your back. How do you punish that? They did it while in punishment! Instead make them do push-ups! Sure they grumble and complain, but they learn how to do proper push ups before the rest of their peers and, I kid you not, it becomes a bragging right. They get stronger and learn that positive physical activity can help them. When they are done we talk about what they did wrong and what they can do different next time. The push ups help them get into a clearer mind faster so the conversation actually sinks into their brains!

4. The girls are terrible at cleaning their room. They can literally take a full day to do a 5 minute job. Ground them, take away dessert, etc and nothing changes. Heck, I have even thrown away their toys! Yes, in the trash, not into a bucket to earn back. Doesn’t matter. They could care less. Do you realize how annoying this is?? I want their rooms clean. It is a safety issue and, to be honest, I hate messes. It overwhelms me and makes me irrational. So how did I finally get them to clean and in a timely manner? I bet them they couldn’t clean their room in the time it took the Mission Impossible theme song to play. I blasted the song and stood at their door and watched (because I didn’t want stuff shoved under beds etc). I have never seen them move so fast. The song is 3 minutes and 28 seconds long. I think this is a new cleaning record. I don’t mind losing this bet.

3. No screen time during the week. Period. I have a basket and phones and tablet go in there unless I give the say so. Bored? Go play a game or ride your bike. Read, write, or be bored. Just stay off electronics. I am watching a terrible trend of disconnect. Humans are losing empathy and I really think it is lack of real human interaction that is the cause. Maybe I am wrong, but I know this isn’t hurting them and may benefit them. If this doesn’t work for you, I totally get it. I promise we do not judge. To each their own, but I promise you this has made our lives more pleasant and far more simple.

2. I took Facebook off my phone. It is still on my tablet and that goes with me everywhere also, but I am more likely to not check it 500 times a day. I also took Snapchat, Twitter Tumblr, etc off my phone … the only thing I kept was Instagram because I do like to post pictures easily. All of these are on my tablet, so I am still connected via social media, but I am on it far less and much happier for it. Bonus, my kids have also noticed I am not on it as much and they are also happier.

1. Everyday I tell myself “You are doing the best you can in the moment. Give yourself a break.” OK, so sometimes I then call myself a liar and tell myself I am terrible at this parenting thing and I may even cry ugly tears, but if I keep telling myself I am doing my best then maybe I will one day believe it and maybe my kids will see I tried and refused to give up on myself. Maybe it will help them to learn to never give up on themselves. If that is the one thing I succeed at, then I did well.

~Andrea

19 Years Later

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Happy Anniversary, Marco! Can you believe it has been 19 years since our wedding? The day was perfect. The temperature was an ideal low 70s and the New England leaves were just starting to turn into their gorgeous fall foliage colors. That morning, as I got ready, I scarfed down Dunkin’ Donuts and prayed I wouldn’t stain my dress. Spoiler alert, I didn’t!

Katie Beth, our flower girl, was so tired. It was nap time and she looked at me before walking down the aisle and said, “Auntie! Hold my hand!” Her dad rushed over and took her hand and walked with her. I love that memory; she was my buddy.

I walked down the aisle to Over The Rhine Rhapsodie … and there you were. My best friend. Oh the butterflies!

5 children, 3 states, medical emergencies, work trips, vacations, major job changes, leaps of faith, fights, laughter, death, and more. I hasn’t been easy. I can’t even put into words our journey because it would be a book. It is all worth it to be with you. I hope you feel the same.

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2017

So, Mr Gardner, here’s to another 50 years. You’re stuck with me. I was wrong on the day of our wedding. I thought I couldn’t love you more than I did in that moment, but I was naive. That was such an innocent love. Now, I love you madly and deeply and so much more than I ever thought was possible. There are still butterflies. No regrets. Happy anniversary, my love.

~Andrea