A mean girl

“You guys don’t know cursive, do you?” She asked my two very sweet girls minding their own business while drawing pictures.

“I know how to write my name is cursive.” My oldest responded, still staring down at her paper

“But you don’t learn how to write in cursive for anything else, huh?” She shot back.

“What DO you guys learn at school?” Our 9-year-old homeschooled neighbor asked but it was more of a statement than anything else. 

My 3rd grader proceeded to tell her the things they learn at school. And I could hear our neighbor’s eyes rolling to the back of her head. Just like her mother’s eyes do when I talk to her about how our kids are going to school and we don’t homeschool because I work full-time. Plus, God just didn’t give me the desire or the gift to homeschool my kids even if I didn’t work full-time. Sorry bout it. 

Lord, please take away these thoughts. Help me to not hate a family. 

Yeah, I said it. And it’s a shameful part of my heart. But it is a real struggle that is constant. This family has been the most judgemental family to ever encounter our family. Every dynamic about our families are different, especially the grace we show each other…or the lack of it. And most of the time, it hits me where it hurts. 

I was bullied by girls like this in elementary school. I was nice and sweet, like my oldest is. I didn’t think bad thoughts about the other girls. I wasn’t trying to compete with them. I didn’t think I was better than them or felt threatened by them. I didn’t think lowly of them. I just wanted to be their friend. My oldest is the same way. 

“…what was your name again?” She asked my 6-year-old for the 5th time since she’d been over for the last two hours. We’ve lived two doors down from them for 8 months and have played with them almost every single week since then. She knows her name. 

“…oh you guys drink from water bottles? That’s interesting.” With eyebrows raised and pinched lips.

Protecting your family from people who leave you feeling badly about yourself is something I don’t think I’m very good at. 

I’m better at exposing ourselves to those people and then explaining to the girls why we aren’t going to act like them, or treat other people like that. And then, how they are to handle people who treat them that way. We will still be respectful to them, but I do limit the time they are exposed to them and will come up with some bogus excuse as to why it’s time for them to go home.

My daughters will encounter girls like this. Who throw daggers from their mouths, who live in households where this is not ever corrected or even observed…in which case it is probably modeled. 

Most of the time, the daggers are subtle, feeling more like bee stings than stabs. But then the comments are so frequent that you realize it’s starting to hurt, that something isn’t right.

When you are an outsider looking in on this type of behavior, watching and listening to how your children respond to the “mean girl”…it’s a sobering feeling. But at the same time, it’s paralyzing. You don’t know what to do in this situation because their parent isn’t here and you’re NOT their parent. You also might not be close enough with this family to have an understanding of what kind of behavior is acceptable in your home and what is not…and if they will be offended if you correct their child. 

If you look closely at the girls coloring together. It looks nice. They may all be smiling. Oftentimes my girls won’t even know when something mean was said. But I’ll know. And the one throwing the daggers–she knows. 

It’s in moments like this, where you are in the most uncomfortable situation and you feel like you are betraying your children by allowing this person into their lives. By not cutting off that friendship quick and fast. There will be periods of time that I’ll put off those weekend playdates, or I’ll tell them I need help with the laundry first or “maybe when ______”, or “it looks like they aren’t home.”

But I come to the realization that I won’t always be around to put those boundaries around them. One day they will encounter those mean girls at school (they already have), where they will see them every single day. They will not be able to escape them. And all they can do is understand how to react and handle this situation. Identifying what is happening and understanding that they aren’t going to allow themselves to be treated that way, because they recognize the feeling of “oh, that hurt. Why did it hurt? Because it was mean. And people who are my friends don’t make me feel this way.”

So after I make up an excuse to send her home, my girls will ask about the excuse. Usually it revolves around chores. And I’ll tell them that the way she was treating them was not respectful and it was time for her to go home. Then we’ll talk about what is respectful and what about the things she said was mean, and unacceptable in our house. 

Please don’t mistake…I know a mean girl when I see one. And sometimes, that mean girl in is one of my girls. And in my opinion, it’s my responsibility to help her understand when she is acting like someone who is not welcomed in our home. Nobody is perfect and I know my girls will fail. They will throw daggers and hurt someone’s feelings. They already have. But I’m not in the business of raising perfect women, I’m in the business of raising wise, kind, prudent, discerning and strong women. 

And that means that they can say uncomfortable things to their sisters and their friends to correct them when they know they are not being treated in a respectable way. 

“Excuse me, Maya, I wasn’t done talking. Please don’t interrupt me.”

“Elena, that wasn’t very nice and you hurt my feelings. Can you please say you’re sorry?”

I am one of the worst communicators I know. I feel very uncomfortable living a life where I don’t apologize for someone else’s faults, where I can be confident in myself because I am confident in the Lord’s love for me, where I don’t have to fight for other people’s attention and focus on me because I’m rooted in Jesus, and where I’m not afraid to call out what is right and what is wrong. 

That’s the ultimate struggle! To be like Jesus was. Being strong and kind and loving. By confronting sin with respect and kindness. Understanding your worth, while calling out the best in others around you. And doing that, is not always nice and easy and comfortable. It comes as a shock to someone and may even offend them, but it doesn’t change what is good, right and true. 

And because of that, despite how uncomfortable I’ll feel by correcting another woman’s daughter in my home–I do it. Because I have respect for my daughters and my home and I also have respect for THAT daughter. Who may not know, that what she just said or how she said it was disrespectful and hurtful. I’ll do it in a firm but kind way, so she knows that yes, she is welcome back in our home but not if she decides to speak this way.

And if she goes home and her mom is offended by that, I will show my girls what it looks like to have respect for myself, while calling others to respect me as well, unafraid that she might not like me anymore (because if I’m honest, she doesn’t really like me as it is, so what am I even losing?) because Jesus has called me to identify what is good, right and true, as well as being strong, prudent and discerning.

A daycare desert

In 20 years, if people ask me what was the hardest part during my season of raising kids, this is the moment I’ll reflect on.

Dropping my girls off at daycare 

Listen, I’ve been taking my kids to daycare since I first started having kids. I was a college student when I first became a mom and was determined to finish, so it was decided that they would be watched by family members and be in daycare. 

The benefit I had with that particular time, was that the in-home daycare I was taking them to was amazing and the woman who ran it was an angel sent from the Lord. Not exaggerating. She basically potty trained my oldest. (Don’t ask me for potty training tips)

I really didn’t have a hard time with drop off because I knew they were loved and cared for with integrity. I would later take them to a Montessori school/daycare that my mom worked at and we were able to go for free, which was a God send. I love Montessori schools. That would eventually end and they would go to another in-home daycare with a woman who was Spanish speaking (my kids are half Mexican) so we absolutely loved this and she would speak to them in Spanish. She had kids of her own and they loved on our girls so much. 

While all this was great, we were extremely privileged. We lived in Suburb, USA in Southern California where the standard of living is extremely high compared to the rest of the places we’ve lived. So most of our childcare options were pretty good options, even if they were not the preferred option. 

Then we came to East Tennessee. Where it is literally considered a childcare desert. Which means that in certain areas there are terrible choices for childcare and the good ones are a pretty good drive away. 

The standard of living here, is below the poverty line and everyone is looking for work, so they can just survive. There are lots of women offering childcare services in their homes for a decent price but most of the time, their homes are filled with smoke filled carpets and wallpaper that haven’t seen a stint of clean air in 40 years. 

I’m not bagging on smokers. You do you, okay. But if you’re going to care for children, this is just a big huge NO F***ING WAY. In California one of our pediatricians told me that if any family members who were smokers wanted to hold our baby, they’d have to change their shirt after smoking a cigarette. 

Change their shirt.

Now imagine someone smoking in their home, or going outside to smoke, 15 times a day and coming back inside to care for children who will most likely acquire lung cancer in 50 years because of this insane exposure. 

My husband and I visited a woman’s home to see if it would be a good place for our two youngest to go. Walking up to the house, I looked down as I lost my step and a trail of cigarette buds caught my eye. I realized after not seeing the end of cigarette trail that this would be a bad experience 

She opened the door and I couldn’t breathe. I didn’t even look at my husband, I knew he had already started to hold his breath. We walk inside to find a basement turned make-shift daycare, dark and dreary with sheets covering the windows. The TV blaring and 6 little toddlers running around. My heart sank. 

Because I knew these parents had no other option but to take their kids here. 

Daycare is expensive. It typically costs more than your mortgage or rent, especially if you’re paying for more than one child. And if you live in a childcare desert, there are caretakers that will exploit your need. 

We eventually found a daycare, we were lucky and have been on the state program for childcare assistance which alleviates a ton of stress and pressure. 

It is still not the ideal place I want my children to be at. There’s a reason they accept our childcare assistance voucher. There’s more children and less teachers then there should be. They will be overlooked at times, their sippy cups and blankets will get switched around on accident, sometimes they come home with a different brand of diapers then what we have in our diaper bag and they have never been more sick. 

But at the same time, I have never been more thankful for this childcare. No, the women watching them aren’t as qualified as I’d prefer, they might not greet me with the cheerful smile I expect when I walk through the door to drop my daughters off in the hands of strangers for the next 9 hours and there are more tears in the furniture than there should be. 

But we live in a childcare desert, where our alternatives are honestly unthinkable. Our budget doesn’t allow for us to drive 30 minutes west to where my childcare standards are exceeded. 

And if God has taught me anything from moving to a city that is as far opposite of Suburb, USA where I grew up, it’s that our world is so much more broken than I grew up understanding. 

There are more people on the streets than I think. 

There are more working mothers waking up at 5am so they can catch the bus, take their kids to school and get to work, (at the daycare that my children go to)…then I ever actually thought. 

He has given me more respect, compassion and understanding for these people living below the poverty line, settling for their environment because they have no other choice. 

He gave me an understanding of what poverty actually is, and he’s doing the same for my daughters. They’re exposed to more at school than I ever was, they know more about drugs than I ever knew until I was older and they have the realization of what reality is for some people, because we drive past it everyday.

And I THINK he’s given me this gift of understanding, mostly because my heart leans toward being judgmental. Because of this experience, I don’t lean toward judgement of other moms and I won’t later on. I won’t judge the mom who takes her kids to a mediocre daycare or even a terrible one, because I’ll know she’s not proud of it. I’ll know the guilt she feels every morning when she drops her kids off. I’ll know the shame she feels as she drives away to go to work. And I’ll know how she pretends that it’s better than it actually is. I’ll know.

So if someone asks that in 20 years, I’ll say the hardest part was living in a childcare desert and trusting in God that my children will be okay. Experiencing the “no other choice” feeling that so many parts of America feel, as well as the rest of the world. And knowing that God doesn’t just live in the suburbs.

You’re not only a good mom if you take your kid to the best daycare with wooden toys. 

And you’re not a bad mom if you HAVE to take your kids to daycare. That is just the way things are sometimes, but the awesome thing is that God doesn’t work by chance. He’s an intentional God, pursuing you hard and fast, and he’s not in the game of playing favorites. This is the story of ALL of us. Poverty or not. Being a “good” mom comes in many different forms.

We WILL make our mortgage this month

Have you ever felt stuck?

Financially stuck. Emotionally stuck. Physically stuck. Creatively stuck. Just stuck?

Last year my husband went on his 4th, and last, deployment that lasted for 6 months. I didn’t save our money well during this time and quite honestly blew it on groceries for clean eating and I didn’t look back.

That was the wrong choice.

I could have still eaten healthy while being frugal but I didn’t “want” to. I wanted our kids to eat super healthy food and I wanted to lose ALL the baby weight (this did not happen).

But my mind didn’t go past deployment. It only saw the NOW. It didn’t think about how things would be in 9 or 10 months and where our income would be coming from.

My husband is now in the reserves and when he came back from deployment, his active duty stopped, as expected. We had enough savings to last us for three months which included our mortgage, car payments and various other bills.

At the time, I was trying to do Real Estate full time but as a new agent, we all know how impossible the first year can seem. To cut this short, I made zero dollars for 6 months.

My husband is such a gracious guy and believes in me full heartedly…probably because I’m just all in, in everything I do. I go from 0-60 no matter what it is and I’m super confident about it and just expect him to be on board, so he may feel like he just has no other choice sometimes lol. Other times he slows me down, gets me level headed and helps me think more realistically.

But MOST of the time, he just says “okay babe.” Love him.

So that’s exactly what he did. He stayed home with the kids and let me go try to do this Real Estate thing full fledged. I did it all in but saw no results.

We had a plan for my husband to go to school and use his GI bill and I would go back to work since I already have my degree. He’s worked hard for our family and I didn’t want to take that away from him.

We went 4 months without me making anything. I took any extra side paying job, and so did he. Sign twirling, wine serving…we finally found jobs and he got a part time job at Home Depot, but it’s still tight. We had a family member pay our mortgage last month and it was the most humbling experience asking someone to do that for us because of our poor judgment in finances.

Our house is also a purchase that we shouldn’t have made but that’s a story for a different day.

It’s amazing but also painful how God puts you in these circumstances and tests you and your faith. I was and still am being tested on how I can trust God that our family will be alright no matter what happens and that He will find the way that I can’t. I’ve been shown (again) that I don’t have control over everything and I need to let go and just be, and let him work. That is probably what I struggle with most in my life, is giving up the reigns to my life.

I’m the type of person to say, “oh yeah? That’s not gonna happen. Watch me prove you wrong,” and then I go prove them wrong.

BUT every now and then, God shows me that sometimes I’M the one that’s wrong and I’m not always able to go out and do it. He wants to show me that HE can do it and HE’S the reason why I can prove people wrong at times. He gives me that drive. It doesn’t come from myself.

I wrote on our whiteboard that hangs in our dining room/hallway that “We will make our mortgage this month”. This is where I write our grocery lists, everyone’s schedules, things that we need reminders for…and words of encouragement. So I decided that I would put up those words in hopes (not really hopes, I firmly believed we would pay our mortgage ourselves), that we would go out and do it.

Well…January flew by and although we made money, it wasn’t enough to pay our mortgage.

Earlier that month, God somehow reacquainted us with a family member that we hadn’t seen in over 2 years because of some disagreements.

Without this being a thought in our mind, they offered to pay our mortgage. We didn’t accept this offer at first because we thought we had it under control.

Well, we didn’t. A week ago, we went back to them and asked if they would graciously pay our mortgage this month and that we would pay them back with our tax return.

The old me would be so disappointed in myself for not achieving that goal I put on that board. I would feel ashamed for needing that much help and I would hide from any communication from that person who helped us.

But the me I am today, who has done a lot of soul searching and had hours of alone time with God and really allowing him to scrape out the bad parts of my heart that have been lurking in the corners for decades… and then him refilling it with his goodness–this new me invites this season of our lives. This difficult, painful, seemingly endless, penny pinching and frustrating season. I invite it because I know it’s good for me. I know it’s shaping me. And maybe it’s shaping my husband and kids too, but in my heart, I’m the one that needed this shaping the most.

I’m learning the definition of hard work, patience and most of all grace + I know it’s only going to bless me and my family.

Jesus is amazing