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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Growing Up Poor -- Guest Post

Today Kristen Duvall gives another poignant perspective on poverty. She grew up with it, and can speak to the judgment and its effects like no one else.


For most of my life, I've tried to hide where I came from. I see the type of hate and derision thrown toward people who are thought of as “poor” and I did everything in my power to pretend that wasn't me.

Growing up, people often tossed around insults to those on welfare, and I'd try to pretend it wasn't me they were making fun of. Early on in life, I learned to grit my teeth, look away and try to block out the cruelty. I know that the kids in my class were merely repeating the words their parents had said at home, that they logically had no idea what it was like for my family, but still... Every time someone made a jab about the lazy leeches living off of government assistance, they were talking about me. When people say, “Can't feed them, don't breed them,” they're talking about me. In my head, I was something to be despised simply because I was born into the family I was. I didn't ask for any of it.

I'm tired of hiding. I'm tired of being ashamed of a situation that I had no control over. I'm tired of friends posting memes bashing the poor, including the children of the poor, while they perpetuate the misconception that people like my family are lazy, good-for-nothing welfare queens.

Because they're not.

My family didn't just fall on hard times – their entire life has been filled with one ridiculous tragedy after another. While we hadn't always been poor, the problems my family encountered started early in my life. My dad was a Vietnam war veteran and worked hard until the day he died. But he died very young and left my mom a widow at the age of 30. She had no warning he would die on her, and when he passed, he left her with two daughters to care for. I was only three and a half at the time. She did everything she could for us, she worked very hard my entire life, but her health problems left her disabled and without a regular source of income at a young age.

Yet, she resisted filing for disability benefits for many years. It wasn't an easy choice for her, not something she took lightly. It took years of coaxing from family members to finally get her to apply.

When I say we were poor, I don't mean we didn't get name brand clothes or drove a used car. Oh no, we often went without water, and for most of my childhood, we didn't have heat. Our house was falling down around us because my mom couldn't afford the repairs needed to maintain it. We had holes in the floor big enough for me to fall through, and a well with a pump that constantly failed. Because we had no heat, our pipes would freeze in the winter meaning no water then too. Sure, it could have been worse, even for us. At least we had a roof over our heads – even if it was threatening to fall down on top of us.

But then things got worse.

A few years ago, my family lost everything when their house burned to the ground. Because of the issues with the house, my mom couldn't afford the insurance premiums, so when it was destroyed, they were left homeless. Had it not been for the kindness of strangers, I don't know what they'd have done.

To this very day, my mom, brother, and stepfather continue to live in the small, cramped RV that was gifted to them after they lost their house. It has no running water and no way to cook food other than a hot plate and a microwave – most nights, my mom eats nothing but canned green beans with ham seasoning. Despite it all, they're grateful to have a roof over their heads.

I'm not in a place where I can help them. I'm barely getting by on my own and living thousands of miles away. All I've ever wanted to do was help pull them out of poverty. I was the golden child, the first person in my family to graduate high school, much less college and then graduate school. I earned degrees in subjects I thought would be practical, that would help me earn the sort of income to allow me to help them. It wasn't what I enjoyed studying, but it wasn't about me. I needed a career that allowed me to make enough money to take care of them.

And I've failed. 

Every time one of my friends posts about how lazy and horrible the poor are, I still feel like they're talking about me. Like they're talking about my family. I grit my teeth and try to remind myself that they're not doing it on purpose and don't really mean me, but it still hurts. You see, my mom is a great person. Truly, she is. She's always volunteered for school events and around the community. She's given to charity even when she had very little to give. She raised me to be a strong, independent woman who knows that I'm not entitled to anything and that life is unfair sometimes. I've learned the value of a dollar, and you will never see me spending a hundred dollars on a purse or a pair of shoes, no matter how much money I make, because I realize what truly matters in this world. I know what it's like to go without basic necessities, and because of that, I never waste water or throw out perfectly good food. All thanks to my my past. All thanks to my mom.

So yes, it hurts me to see others – especially people I consider to be friends – bashing the poor. Bashing people like my mom. Sure, you might say, she's the outlier, an anomaly in an otherwise lazy group. But no, my friends, she's not. How do I know this? Because I've lived it. I've been deep into the bowels of poverty and lived to tell the tale. I've met people who may surprise you, I've heard their stories, I've lived their stories.

And guess what? Not all of these people are there because they're lazy. Bad things do sometimes happen to good people. But that's a fact we like to forget because it's less scary to imagine that these folks deserve everything they've had happen to them. It's comforting to forget that sometimes we lose jobs, our husbands die, or we're struck with a debilitating disability and our six months of savings can only go so far when faced with a catastrophe like that.

Believe it or not, being on welfare isn't fun. It's not a vacation. It's not easy living month to month, worrying about whether or not you'll be able to eat next week. It's no picnic in the park, trust me. Don't believe me? Try washing your hair in a bucket of cold water and tell me how you like it. Because I've been there. My family is still there as we speak, and they're not enjoying life.

While you're at it, why not spend a Midwestern winter without heat. Try to get to work with a car that doesn't start when the temperature drops below a certain point. Try saving up for emergencies when you make less than $300 a month and your rent is almost twice that. Try paying for childcare while working a minimum wage job and see that you're pretty much giving your babysitter your entire paycheck. 

And to top it all of, try dealing with the people who think you're lazy, that you have it easy, and make demeaning comments about every little thing you do.

FAIL KITCHEN - Pinata Cookies Loooooooool

Why not just go to KMart and buy a real pinata and put delicious, delicious candy in it?


Saturday, July 19, 2014

Establishing a Hierarchy -- Guest Post

Today Sarah Fountains from Married with the Mom in Law gives an interesting perspective on living as an adult with another person's family.


For the better part of a year I have been lodging with friends in a mutually beneficial arrangement. I get to move out of my Mum's and I get free bed and board; in exchange I help my friends look after their two sons and take on some of the housework: everybody wins.

These two boys – ages 8 and 6 – are highly energetic and were built for the outdoors. They need a lot of outdoor playtime, every day, which is where we hit a snag. I can't take them outdoors every day, and the back yard is pitifully small.  Sometimes I have other things to do – there was an incident last week where they would. not. stop asking., even though they could clearly see I was on a step-stool cleaning out a cupboard. I also, for my sins, don't want to take them out every day (yes, I may or may not have started cleaning out the cupboard when they got home from school on purpose). Especially when they're not that great at leaving the park at the time that I say that they should.

I might be wrong here, but in my book, going to the park is a treat, not a right. Yes, even for kids 'built for the outdoors'. I get to decide if and when we go, and when we leave. Obviously, so do their parents, but going for walks has become something they only ask for from me.

Yet, they are part of the family, and I am not. Not in the same way. I am 'like' family, whilst not actually being family. It is confusing how I fit into the hierarchy, both for them, and, sometimes, for me. They go out for family fun time, vacations, etc, without me, meaning they are higher than me in the household hierarchy, and yet at the same time, I am an adult and I expect them to follow any and all instructions I give them (because sometimes it's for their own safety), meaning I need to be above them.

I do try to be fair with it. Cleaning out the cupboard was a rarity, but bringing order out of chaos, and not going to the park were necessary for my own mental health that day. Most of the time I aim to get them to compromise with me – “If you'll help me clean off the dining room table, then afterward I will supervise you playing outside at the front for a few minutes.” It has had some success. Where it is safe to do so, and I have the mental energy to handle it, I let them be in complete control too. If we're out for a walk (not just to/from the park), I often let them choose which ways we are going, for example.

But there are times where that isn't possible, and I don't want to 'give in' every time either. The best way I've found is just to... take control. Keep my temper, but don't give them the option of not doing what I say. For example, when we're out on a walk, and I decide we're heading home now, I walk off, and, this is the key, don't look back until they have no other choice but to follow me. The second I look back to see if they are following, I've given them a choice whether they will or not. They're not stupid. Even if they were following, they'd pounce on that and be off on their bikes in the opposite direction faster than I could catch them, and that helps no body.

In the meantime, we muddle through. There's still something of a power-struggle, and there may be broken feathers, but I also have to acknowledge that they're still kids and they're not going to be that great at everything an adult could do, and just cross my fingers that we can keep on going tomorrow.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Children and Death -- Contributor Post

Today, Jackie Monck from Accidentally Mommy pens a poignant piece about how children deal with death and how to help them.


Loss is never an easy thing for adults. Even with our ability to comprehend the frailty and fleeting beauty that is life, our grief can overwhelm us. Not just when a fellow humanimal dies, either. Pets, and even the loss of other living organisms (See: my deceased grandmother's tangelo tree,) can cause us mourning that must be comprehended, processed, and eventually put to rest like the person/thing we're grieving over.

How does a child translate those feelings, though? How can we help our little people to be efficient in dealing with their grief, which can easily be misunderstood and misplaced?

Firstly, it all needs to be changed up depending on the age of the child. This can be difficult in multi-child households, because whilst trying to deal with one's own feelings, one must deal with the unique needs of each child. Those needs are not just age/comprehension based, either. They are also based on the personality of the child. Is your son a child who has his feet on the ground, often serious and thoughtful? Is your daughter a child who already has separation issues and grows very closely attached? Just as every child is unique and we cannot teach them all the same, we cannot expect them to all to be comforted by the same manner and technique.

It's not uncommon for a child to express their feelings in manners that are undesirable and hurtful. Small children, say, toddler age-- may skip routine activities, regress, or fret uncontrollably while older children can do the same, in addition to acting out aggressively.

I'm going to go ahead and let you in on a child psychologist's secret as the first step towards soothing the ravaged feelings of your little dude or dudette. Honesty.

Yep. That's going to be the first thing a child psychologist will try with your child if you find that you cannot improve the feelings of your teacup humanimal. Whether your child is six or sixteen, they will bring your child into a calm, serene, non-threatening environment, often with toys or art, and they will level. They will ask concise, honest questions, and they will answer return questions honestly, with examples of their own experiences.

That brings us to point two – self expression. Art, Legos, Tinker Toys, even Matchbox cars or Barbies can be the gateway to breaking apart the negativity that can often be expressed by a child who is in mourning. It redirects those feelings and gives them a manner of expression that can take on any form, instead of them feeling frustrated in non-pretend situations. Allow your child that little bit extra toy time, allow them to sing a little louder, allow more fingerpainting. These are outlets that they can use to express emotions that have very probably been building in them like steam in a pressure cooker.

Misunderstanding is also a common feeling that the child in mourning will experience. This again comes back to honesty. Don't tell them that Nana took a trip or that Fluffy ran away. Be honest. Don't tell them more than they need to know, and don't explain over their heads, but be honest. “I'm sorry, my darling, but Nana's body was tired.” A similar statement can be used for beloved pets. The objects, though, can be more difficult. In the case of my tree, my daughter was equally as heartbroken as I was. This was a treasured family heirloom, bringing to us physical nourishment as well as the emotional nourishment it provided by holding many happy memories. When asked why a seemingly perfect tree needed to be cut down and hauled away, with tears in my own eyes, I explained that like Nanny, all life is fleeting in the grand scheme of things. We are a spiritual family, so I informed her that my hope was that since all living things have spirit in them, that Nanny would be receiving the spirit of her tree in the afterlife, there for her to sit under during perpetual blossom for the scent of the flowers she loved so much.

Punishing a child who is actively grieving is a slippery slope, so generally my recommendation is DON'T DO IT. Like the fact that they can misunderstand the loss, they can misunderstand that they're being punished for their actions, not their feelings. Instead, uit has been my experience that sitting them down and talking out the situation and why the behavior is undesirable but the feelings are allowed is the best course of action.

For our small ones who aren't yet comprehending on that level, helping them through their mourning can be ten times as difficult. I have found that there is a very simple first step – be there for them. Physically, make sure to touch and hug and cuddle frequently. Babywearing very young children, temporary co-sleeping, daily and momentary cuddling – these are all things that release the neurochemicals that are key to helping them at this stage. (Yes, processing grief even has a biological aspect, but this blog isn't long enough for that to be explained today.)

Socially, do not stop talking about said person and thing. On terms that they will understand, explain that life is temporary. Don't put photos away, rather, take the time to remember out loud. It will be good for everyone involved, as love begets love, and love begets healing.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

How Bullying Affected my Life and Continues to Do So to This Day -- Guest Post

Today, Caitie George from A Sainted Sinner talks about bullying. Not only in terms of what it does to kids, but how it can follow you into adulthood. Powerful stuff.


As I sit here writing this, I am currently 27 years old. Most of the events that take place in this happened when I was 11, 12, and 13. For the most part, I’ve managed to put it all behind me and move on from the bullying that I endured for three years. In 2010, when it was our ten year reunion from middle school, we met up for dinner. Silly me thought that maybe people would have changed in ten years. Instead, they laughed about how funny it was when they had teased and taunted me and when I told them that those things had actually hurt and had caused a huge fall out, they continued to laugh and tell me that I was being too serious.

There were two major reasons for my being bullied; my religion and the music band Hanson. Let’s start with religion. I was born and raised Roman Catholic. In the Catholic faith it is believe that when a baby is baptized, he or she is cleansed from original sin and can thus began their life washed anew. There are other sacraments, like first communion, confession, and confirmation that help to keep you free of sin as you journey through life. My classmates didn’t believe this. My classmates were mostly Baptist with a few Episcopalians and Presbyterians thrown in.

One girl asked me one day when I had been saved. I remember looking around, confused, because I had never heard that term before. I asked her what she meant and she asked me if I had gone to the principal and prayed with her and agreed to accept Jesus into my heart. I told her that no, I hadn’t, because I was Catholic and had been baptized and I already had Jesus in my heart. I was then told that I was wrong and when I went to hell, it would be fault and my fault only for not following the true teachings of Christ.

That’s where the issues first began. I was 11 years old and suddenly I’m being told that I have not in fact been saved and cleansed of sin and I’m going to hell unless I do it their way? I went home that night in tears. In fact, tears would be a common theme for those three years. There was rarely a night where I didn’t sob over my dinner because of how terrible school was. Even the teachers were in on it! They kept pushing me to accept Jesus and every time I told them that I had, I was told that I was a wrong and an infant cannot accept Jesus.

In addition to all of that which was going on, during my sixth grade year, I became a fan of Hanson. I just loved their music. As most fans do, I had the tshirts and the books and the whole shebang. I can remember one dress down day, there were whispers going everywhere. I didn’t pay attention, because at that point I was tired of the whispers, but before I knew it there was a parade of upperclassmen opening my classroom door to look at and laugh at my Hanson tshirt.

I was trying to hold it together, but it didn’t last very long. I excused myself to the bathroom where I had a good cry. In that moment, I decided that I wasn’t going to let them win. Why should I?
That doesn’t mean that I didn’t still cry about it at night. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t purposefully wearing things I knew they’d tease me about, but I wanted them to think that they couldn’t get to me. That they couldn’t hurt me. It wasn’t true, but at 11 what did I know, really? I remember one class, we a substitute and everyone else was being holy terrors. I had finished my assignment and was reading a book when the substitute came over and asked me to point out my name to him. I pointed it out and he thanked me.

At that school, we had a check system for the day. It’s been so long, I can’t remember how many checks it was but if you got more than two checks for bad behavior, you received detention. I was the only person in the classroom that day that didn’t get a check mark. Oh, you can imagine the insanity that happened. Someone tried to tell the teacher it wasn’t fair because I had spoken to him. I think that was the beginning of my true breaking point. They were willing to stoop that low? They wanted to hurt me that badly?

In seventh grade is when I began to cut. At first it was nothing more that little scratches because I was afraid my parents would find out and I didn’t want to hurt or upset them. In school, I would dig my fingers into the undersides of my arms with my arms crossed until I drew blood. It was the only way I knew how to keep myself under control. Seventh grade was also when I finally broke down and went to see the principal and accept Jesus into my heart. My thinking on that one was that I already believed he was in my heart, so what harm could it do?

Unfortunately, the principal announces to the school who has finally accepted Jesus and all I got were smug “I told you so” looks from the bullies. From that point on, I was a different person entirely. I was defiant, I didn’t care what they wanted me to do or who they wanted me to be. I purposefully did the exact opposite of what I was told to do simply because I was tired of trying. I had cried for so many nights and I had even gone to the principal about it and I was told that I just needed to conform and everything would be okay.

Once I left that school and entered high school, things were okay. I wasn’t bullied there, but the scars from the past remained with me. I made very little friends because I didn’t know who I could trust and who was going to hurt me all over again. I had people I was friendly with, but nothing that I would consider a true friendship. However in high school, the panic attacks started and for four years, I suffered silently because I was afraid there was something really wrong with me.

The attacks were random, but they all had the same common theme : death. I was so afraid of what comes after that I would end up hyperventilating, unable to breathe, crying, shaking, and sweating. If the Baptists are telling the Catholic they have it wrong, and the Muslims are telling the world that they have it wrong (I was a sophomore when 9/11 happened), then who was right?! I couldn’t handle the stress of not knowing. I tried researching and I realized that there were common themes in all religions but I still couldn’t find the answer that would calm my panic attacks.

The self mutilation got worse in high school. Or rather, maybe I should say it became more frequent. I was honestly afraid that I was downright mentally insane and I was going to be put in a mental hospital if I spoke a word of it to anyone. So I hid it and didn’t say a word. Every time I had a panic attack, I would bite my hands or my arms almost to the point of blood and then I would stop. For some reason, the pain centered me and brought my mind out of it’s panicky fog.

I remember one attack. I was sitting in religion class and I suddenly felt like … like I wasn’t in my own body. That feeling where your skin is all pins and needles and prickly and you can’t tell if this is real life or if you’re dreaming. Only my mind interpreted it as “HA! You’re not alive! You’re dead. This is death and you are trapped in this school forever!” I remember running from the classroom with permission to the nearest bathroom. I was so panicked and so shaken up that I began to vomit and couldn’t stop.

Once again, I turned to self mutilation to calm my brain down and when the shivers and shakes had finished, I washed my face, rinsed my mouth out and returned to class. My teacher looked horrified. My eyes were red from crying, my hair was matted down from being so sweaty. I gave her my best smile and told her that I wasn’t feeling well and since it was last period of the day, she told me to lay my head on my desk and rest.

From 2003-2008 I dealt with a lot of death. I lost a beloved aunt to ALS. We lost a wonderful family friend due to old age. I lost my grandfather in 2006 and the hardest one of all, my gran in 2008. She died of a massive and sudden heart attack. No one was expecting it and to this day, I go to pick up the phone to call her or send her an email. Luckily for me, in the summer of 2004, I had a panic attack so bad (I know that doesn’t sound lucky, but it really was) that my mom finally clued into the fact that something just wasn’t right.

I had been napping on the couch and had gotten overheated in the humid summer air. For some reason, heat is a huge trigger for me. If I get overheated and can’t cool down, a panic attack is guaranteed. That afternoon I had a dream that I was headed off to college (which I was. I went to RIC in the fall of 04) and while I was in my dorm, someone broke into my house and killed my family and when the cops came to tell me, the first thing they said was “The man came for you. If you had been there, your family would still be alive.”

That panic attack was so bad that I ended up in the ER two days later. I couldn’t stop crying, I couldn’t sleep, I felt like there was a rock lodged in my stomach. I lost 9 pounds in almost three days because of how horrible I felt. I remember, the day of the attack, my mom sitting with me on the couch and it finally all came pouring out. The six years of attacks, the reasons why, why I didn’t want to tell anyone, all of the reasons why I was so scared to be me. She called my pediatrician that day and we set up an appointment for three days later but ended up in the ER due to dehydration because I couldn’t keep anything down.

The doctor I was referred to was amazing. He was patient and kind and he listened to everything I said, everything I babbled out. Both of my parents were there at the appointment as support and he asked them questions as well as me. Both of my parents were surprised at the symptoms they had noticed but had assumed was normal adolescence. When we came out of the appointment, I had a sample box of Paxil to try and a slew of diagnosis.

I currently (as of the writing of this article in 2013) have been diagnosed with bipolar II, generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Now, as a medical person myself, I do know that most of these are caused by imbalances in the brain chemistry. But what I also know is that the bullying that lead the onset of my panic attacks didn’t help. Would I have developed panic disorder anyway? Maybe. It’s certainly a possibility.

But I also know that when therapists and doctors ask me when all of this began, I can pinpoint it. I can say to them “It started in middle school and got worse through the years”. This isn’t a piece on who is right and who is wrong when it comes to religious beliefs. I consider myself agnostic now as I try and find the pieces of who I am and what I believe. This is a piece that I hope even just ONE person reads and realizes how serious and traumatizing bullying can be.

People take their lives because of bullying. I’m a lucky one. My parents are my rocks and without them, I don’t know what I would do. I know I’m lucky but there is one child out there, right now, who won’t be so lucky. I write you this story, this piece about my life, in the hopes that maybe someone won’t have to turn to suicide to feel better about who they are. We’re all amazing. We all have potential. We just need someone to believe in us.



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