Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Feathering the nest

My girls wanted to go to the Stroudsmoor Inn this past weekend. Each year, they have a tree lighting, and Santa arrives, and there are fireworks. I have always wanted to take them, but we literally had no money. I mean zero. Zip. Nada. Taking three little girls anywhere, even to the grocery store is always challenging. They want everything they see. I envisioned taking them to the Stroudsmoor Inn, and everything having a price tag. Pony rides, and petting zoos, all requiring tickets. What would we have done? Made the girls watch the kids have fun, and be unable to let them join in.

I found out the next day that all of those things were free of charge. My girlfriend took her daughter there, and said how fantastic it was. I had one of those "I suck at being a Mom" moments. I have them at least twice a week now. They are getting bigger by the day, and all the magic of Christmas will soon be but a memory. I felt that I missed an opportunity. One that would have cost nothing, and put smiles on my kids faces. At least for the afternoon.

I finished putting out the rest of our Christmas decorations. I love the smell of ornaments and sparkly things coming out of boxes. It is a mix of cinnamon, and magic, and a hint of mildew from the basement that just smells like the holidays. OK, maybe not the mildew part, but, due to our crawl space under the house, where we store our decorations, that scent has become synonymous with Christmas here.

 I set up our nativity. I realized that I had not introduced a vital part of my childhood to the girls. Each Christmas, my mom and dad would put up our nativity set. I loved looking at it. It had remnants of actual straw glued to it, worn away by years of use. It had that magical scent of a far away place (I guess that would be the attic) and my Dad had carefully removed baby Jesus, and his manger. There were glue marks still there, where he was supposed to be.

My mom had us cut up strips of colored paper, to look like straw. I always chose yellow paper, and frowned down upon my brothers choice of purple. We put the "straw" in a bowl, next to the nativity set. Every time we did a good deed, one that we kept to our self, but did completely out of the goodness of our hearts, we were to place a piece of straw in the stable, where the manger would be. We were feathering the nest, making it soft, with unselfish acts.

We were still kids after all, so the good deeds weren't always out of the kindness of our hearts. There was definitely some competition to it. I always used the yellow straw. My brother, the purple. You could see who was the better " do gooder."  Some days, I would throw a piece or two in thinking that I must have done something good that day, and forgotten what it was. Making my bed, which was my responsibility, all of a sudden warranted a piece of straw.

But by Christmas morning, the manger was placed in the stable while we slept, by my Dad. And the straw was piled high. It looked cozy, and made me happy to see how hard we had all tried.

 I set up a bowl of straw the other day, and told my girls what to do. (I also made sure the straw was all the same color, as my girls are competitive about everything!) Right away, it started. Charlotte cleaned the living room. Olivia folded the laundry. They played with their baby sister. They made every attempt not to fight. I watched them, quietly creep over, and place a piece of straw in the stable. I saw the smiles on their faces.

I was smiling too. it isn't a pony ride, but it is something a bit more. Trying hard to do something good.



  1. I heard about your blog on 'The Story' today. It's my absolute favorite radio show. I love listening to the stories people have to tell, whether they leave me laughing or crying. I truly hope things get better for you and your family, and soon. Though I'm not the kind of person who prays, you will remain in my thoughts. Good luck, I wish you the happiest of holidays.<3

  2. I also was just listening to you on The Story and knew I had to come find your blog. Last year I had the privilege of telling my story to Dick Gordon about how hard it was for my husband and I to buy our first home, and the financial struggles we've had throughout our marriage. I have to tell you I had to fight back tears several times during your interview, especially when you mentioned how you feel irresponsible when something as simple as purchasing the right medicine for your child isn't an option. I had the same exact dilemma just a few weeks ago, and felt like anyone would think that I was a horrible parent for not having the money to take care of my child. Thank you for letting me know I'm not alone. My husband and I work as hard as we both can and sacrifice so much, but that sometimes isn't enough. I also feel like everything you read in the newspaper has happened to myself and my family. Thank you for being honest and talking about what so many of us want to but feel that we can't.

  3. Loved your story on the story. Your honesty is refreshing- and your sense of humor will (hopefully) help you in the end. Thinking of you, Mary

  4. Like the folks above, heard your story on The Story. I've been out of work for 17 months and can relate to a lot of what you said. Thanks for having the guts to go "public" with your story. Its incredibly helpful to those of us in the same boat. Our American culture isn't very good at sharing grief, especially when it comes to financial hard times, and that crap needs to change. Best of luck to you, David and the kids. Will be rooting for you guys.

  5. Thanks for sharing what you're going through on The Story. We share a similar history and new circumstances. Our experience in dealing with our mortgage company is so frustrating, though we have given up on staying in our house. Since we started trying to work with them a few years ago, our neighborhood has changed dramatically and we are eager to leave.

    I have so many moments where I can't justify the expense of something that my parents wouldn't have thought twice about spending on me; it makes me feel really bad, but at the same time I hope that my kids won't grow to be as superficial as I was.

    Even when I was working as a buyer for a small boutique, I felt conflicted, knowing that the perfect things I was buying with certain clients in mind was really taking advantage of a weakness in them.

    Thinking back to the mountains of toys we'd buy for Christmas morning makes me feel guilty about what message we were giving our kids. Out of necessity, we had to change the way Christmas happens in our house. Last year, we spent so little - I was worried about how the kids would react (it was year two of "something you want, something you read, a game for the family, and a surprise) our kids said that it was the best Christmas ever. I think that we're both fortunate to get a new chance to give our kids a life where human values are more important than things.

    Your blog is beautiful and heartbreakingly familiar, I'm definitely going to be a regular reader.

  6. Just like Whitney, I listened to you on NPR's "The Story" yesterday, 12/8. I understand what you are going through. Been there as a young mom, but who thought I would be there again as a grandma? My husband and I are both blessed, we have jobs, but no raises in about 8 years. Trying to get our kids through college and we pretty much support our 4 year old grandson. It's harder and harder each passing month. I've dug into money I had put away for retirement, who knows if I'll ever even be able to retire?? We're not alone, there are plenty of us out there, we all try to prop each other up. Family and friends give to each other when there's a need and they have some extra money to share. I never would have imagined my kids being poor, you know, you always think they will have it better? Anyway, thanks for your blog and your words on "The Story". Good luck and God bless.