Saturday, May 9, 2009

Portrait: St. Louis, Missouri

I suppose in the grand scheme of things, I don't really have anything to complain about. My husband has a good job that provides insurance. He just got a raise and will (probably, hopefully) get a bonus in June. We can currently afford our mortgage (although thanks to a shady refinance guy, it's on a balloon and set to go up in November but our mortgage company is trying to help us as best they can) and all our bills. We can even afford some luxuries like going out for ice cream or a movie. 

The thing is, in November of last year, the day before Obama was elected, I got a phone call from my cousin who is only a month older then me. We had always joked that between the two of us, we had done it right - I got married, she had kids. I have serious fertility issues, she does too except hers are that if a man sneezes in the same county she gets knocked up and I can't seem to get knocked up for the life of me. So she calls me around midday on the 3rd of November and at four am on the 4th my husband and I pulled in to our driveway with two little girls in the backseat of our car. 

She didn't think she was a good parent and didn't want to parent anymore, so she asked us to take the kids instead of her giving them to the state. In a matter of hours we went from zero kids to two under two. 

All of a sudden our budget has to make room for lawyers bills and increased insurance and the extra food, clothing, water, diapers (although we use cloth), and other things kids need. She dropped them off wearing shorts and tee shirts (in November in Chicago, coming from Michigan) with one spare diaper, a binkie for each girl, a bunch of half broken toys and some clothes that ranged from newborn size to preteen girl size (the girls were 11 months old and 2 and a half at the time). We had to dig deep in our savings to get them beds, clothing, coats, shoes, bottles, plates, cups, diapers, toys, etc. You never realize how much kids need until you have them on your doorstep and you realize you have nothing for them. 

We have gone from barely surviving to almost thriving now although it's taken every bit of the past six months. In the time while we've been trying to figure out how to pay for everything involved in having kids, my cousin has moved to Mexico (with her parents footing the bill), moved to Canada (with her parents footing the bill) and told me today she's going to Hawaii for vacation but will possibly decide to move there (with her parents footing the bill). My husband and I had to stop going to school for at least the next year so we can pay for things like the custody battle for our oldest since my cousin "forgot" to tell the biological dad who was incarcerated at the time that she was giving us the kids and preschool and groceries. We've had to cancel vacations, borrow money from my parents, spend our entire tax return ($6,000) and sell things on Craigslist and Ebay. 

I could get a job but it would have to be at nights because I don't really have a skill set that would make it worthwhile to put the girls in daycare, but it's been hard to find something that will let me work only in my available time frame. I do odd jobs when I can - random things like babysitting or petsitting that don't pay much but every penny helps. We went from being carefree twenty somethings who vacationed three times a year and never worried about money because we made plenty of it to being on an uber budget so we can afford food for dinner tonight and to make everything legal to keep our daughters. Meanwhile, she's globetrotting and can't promise she'll be in one place for an entire week so I can send her the paperwork to get her rights revoked and help us with our adoption. 

The crazy thing is, I wouldn't trade it for the world. I love these kids so much that I would live in my car and sell tee shirts out of the back if that's what we had to do to keep them. My husband feels the same way. We've given up eating out, going to school, going to movies and concerts, buying books, having our own laptops, vacations, new clothes, and having pets so we could dedicate every penny to lawyer fees. Instead of buying groceries at Whole Foods and eating all organic, we buy from the farmers market and Shop N Save. Instead of going for movies we take our daughters for a walk in the park, instead of going to a bookstore we head to the library. The things we're doing to save money seem so very basic but it's been a huge lifestyle switch for us. 

I do get angry when I think about my cousin hanging out in Mexico and Hawaii, living off her parents money and spending all day on the beach. I get angry thinking about how it's going to hurt my girls when they get older to know they were given up because she was bored with parenting. I get angry when I have to decide between paying the lawyer and having a date night with my husband as she's posting pictures online of her sitting on a beach with a margarita. 

But really, I know that right now, in this economy, I've got nothing to complain about. We're insured. We have a house that we can afford. We're making it, barely, paycheck to paycheck, but we're making it. And we have two gorgeous, amazing, wonderful daughters who have brought more laughter and happiness and light to our lives then I can ever explain. Someday this will all be done - the lawyers and the budgeting and the worry will be gone. In the end, we'll still have each other and we will know that we're stronger for having figured this out, for thriving under these intense conditions. If nothing else, I keep telling my husband it will be something to tell the girls when they are older, to tell them how hard we worked to keep them.

I just keep reminding myself that it's simply another life lesson, another bit of proof that love will sweep in and leave you breathless when you least expect it, that surprise blessings can bring challenges but that doesn't make them any less of a blessing, and that the look on my daughters faces when their daddy comes in the door at night could never carry a price tag. 

St Louis, Missouri