The Shelter

I could feel the soft pull on my nipple and let down as my twelve month old suckled in the early morning hour, the soft yellow of the rising sun. I half dozed as he nuzzled in close, and I was cherishing this sweet bond between mother and son, enjoying the sweet flow of life in this moment I so rarely experience.

A knock rattled the wooden door, I lifted my head, “Time to get up…” sang a woman’s voice. I let my head drop back down to the pillow as thoughts ran quickly through my mind. I’m nursing my son, can’t I just have a moment of peace. I’ll get up soon, I’ll be a good girl, I’ll do what I am asked, just let me have this moment. “I’m nursing my son.” I called out. “We’ll be out in a minute.” I planned on weening him at twelve months, but when our world was suddenly turned upside down, us homeless and me a single mom, living together in a shelter with strange women and unknown children, our schedule dictated to us by some random third party who did not know us, our lives, or our circumstances; battling the justice system, all while terrified of what my then husband and father-in-law might do, the words of my father-in-laws threat constantly running through my mind, influencing all the decisions I was making I have worked for the city, I have worked for the county, I know all the judges and all the judges dirty laundry, if you leave my son again, you will not get custody of yours.” With all of that, I knew we could both use the comfort and normalcy nursing provided.

The Shelter
I finished nursing, but not before another knock rattled my door, this time with the woman coming in. There was no real privacy here. After dressing myself and my son from the limited clothing options I had and changing his diaper, we were out in the common area of the shelter. Shelter life was not quite what I expected, I remember walking in with visions of something like an elementary school cafeteria with cots set up in rows and public bathrooms. I expected meals to be served from the school kitchen on plastic trays with little milk cartons, the whole scene with a faded tonal quality. Instead there was a large open area divided into two sections, a living room with three couches set up in a ‘U’ and a large flat screen TV on the open end, we even had Dish network, and a dining room with two large tables and benches, there were three or four highchairs lining the back wall, satelliting out from the main living area were offices for the counselors, a play room with donated toys and movies, a large kitchen and pantry where we prepared our own meals, and five bedrooms each with their own bathrooms and the capacity to sleep 5-6 women and children.

Shelter Rules
We had to take turns doing daily chores, vacuuming, dusting, sweeping and moping, cleaning our bathrooms, and preparing the meals they told us to. They provided a washer, dryer, and laundry soap, I remember walking down the five flights of stairs into the dark unfinished basement where we did our laundry, the other women staying there told ghost stories about the creepy room, though I never saw anything. One evening the assigned meal was meat loaf, while I had seen my parents make it all growing up, I never had prepared it myself. I’m not sure why she was there, because she rarely was, but the director taught me how to make the meatloaf, it was a tender mercy to be standing there in the kitchen, cooking dinner together she felt like a mother figure to me and that brought me a small bit of peace in a then otherwise cold world.

There was a 9 o’clock curfew, if we weren’t in by 9 o’clock, with a few pre-approved exceptions we would be kicked out, period. One night, shortly after beginning my stay at the shelter, I found myself in the doctors office with my son at 8 pm I was lucky enough to have my mom and Grammy in the office with me, my son had just been diagnosed with RSV the nurses instructed me on how to give him a breathing treatment and had ordered a machine for me. It was miserable to stick the silicone mask in my one year old’s face as I held him tight and he cried and tried to get away. When I knew the appointment would get me back to the shelter past curfew, I called and told them what was going on, this was obviously and exception, and I had no problems getting back in when I showed up half an hour past curfew.

Shelter Living
We lived on the fourth floor, no one was allowed in except those of us staying there and a handful of counselors. It was that fact that brought me the most comfort, I knew my ex and his family had absolutely no access to me. There were legal advocates to help us file temporary custody papers, divorce decrees, and protective orders as needed, she was a liaison between us and the legal system, some thing I was particularly grateful for as I had absolutely no experience with the justice system. There was a daycare we were allowed to leave our children at free of charge for when we absolutely needed it. We had to take Domestic Violence, Self Esteem, and Parenting classes that would continue on after we left the shelter and optional one on one financial and sexual assault/abuse counseling available as well. We could only stay in the shelter for 30 days, then we were kicked out, we had the option of getting assisted living, and in order to be approved for that, we had to have a job and pass a drug test. That was my first and only experience being drug tested, and having a woman assigned to you to watch you pee was a little weird.

The Other Women
When I walked into the shelter, my son and I were the only ones staying there, the first woman to join us was older, in her 50’s or so, she had left her abuser several times before. I was blessed enough to have a car, and after my ex canceled my sell phone service, my Grammy gave cash to buy a new cell phone, the woman knew I was going to get a phone, and asked if she could come along and visit her bank while we were out, I drove to a mall far away from the one my ex and I had frequented, when I took her to the drive through for her bank, she found her accounts had all been frozen, she had no access to money and shortly after returned to her abuser again.

Another girl had two children, and pre-teen boy and a four year old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome the mother had little time and attention for her daughter, as she was so wrapped up in everything else going on, I stepping in as I could, and I now understand her come from as my son falls somewhere in the behavioral needs spectrum.

One girl, somewhere in her 30’s I remember as being super cute and nice, I even let her borrow my shoes, then had to claim them back after she cut herself and they kicked her out for drug use.

A mother came in for one night with her five children, the children were frightened and unsure of everything going on, I remember talking to one of the daughters about anything that didn’t have to do with the shelter to help comfort her, that family was out the next day as the mother had taken legal measures to kick her abuser out of the family home.

There were many more who came and went in the 3 weeks I stayed there. I was surprised how many women had been in the shelter before, and come back several times. We would put all our children to bed and sit up on those three couches in the living room with the TV off talking about our lives, children, and abusers. There were woman who had it far worse than I had, I was the only one with a car, steady job (even though it was seasonal and I was furloughed, I knew I would begin work again soon), I had a strong support system of family, friends, and angels. Some women had no hope of living a life on their own, believing they didn’t have the skills to do so. Some women had been beaten so bad they had had hospital stays, one had been locked in her house with her children whenever her abuser left with absolutely no access to the outside world. I remember being told I was beautiful and tearing up over it, it had been so long since I had heard those words and I had forgot I was. It was humbling and frightening to hear each others stories, but we lifted each other and buoyed each other up, we were all we had.

Shelter Classes
For me, it was in the classes that I began to find hope and faith again. I didn’t think I really needed them at first, I thought I was above them, and as I continued to go, I began a journey of self improvement that has not stopped in the seven years since I left. I remember sitting in the Domestic Violence class as the teacher was speaking and letting my mind wander, I was pondering the fact I never thought I would be where I currently was, I never thought I’d be a single mother leaving an abusive marriage, I realized there was a long road a head of me, and my life had taken a complete 180 degree turn, and I didn’t know where to go from here, anything was possible, it was then I had a thought come to me, Everything will be okay, you are going to get through this, and you are going to come back and teach other women what you learned. It was four years later that I found a company that teaches how to be a trainer and a mentor, I knew this was the start to my journey as a teacher to help these women, and I have taught in several locations, including the very shelter I once stayed at.

All in all, I am truly grateful for the shelter experience, it opened my eyes to the truth of the world by taking off my rose colored glasses, it gave me a safe place for myself and my son. The shelter taught me lessons I could have learned no other way and set me on a new and invigorating life path, I won’t trade that for the world.

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Twice the Work Part 2

“You do have strep throat, I can put you on an prescription or give you a shot?”

I knew an antibiotic prescription would take a while to get in my system and do it’s job”How soon does the shot start working?”

“Right away.”

I was exhausted I sat in the stale white exam room weighing my options. I had only just recovered from the stomach flu and now strep? My body was worn out and my brain was barely holding onto all the daily activities I had to do. I’d only been working two jobs for the better part of a month. I could not afford to take any time off.

“I’ll take the shot.”

The doctor looked at me, surprised. “Most people prefer the prescription.”

“I just want to get it over.” I slurred.

When the nurse came back with the needle, she asked me if I’d ever had one of these before. Something triggered in my brain. The peanut butter shot? My sister had one, and they called it the peanut butter shot because it was thick, and had to be pushed in slowly. It was supposed to hurt. Bad.

“Nope.”

“Well, it hurts a bit.”

She pulled the back of my pants down so she could get to the designated spot. I braced myself as the nurse prepped my skin and poked me. I felt the pinch and sting turn to a burning as she slowly depressed the medicine through the syringe into my blood stream.

Lesson 3 Ask for Help

For so long I thought the true mark of strength was proving I could do it all on my own. Being a single mom, I felt it was my responsibility to fill both roles of both parents at all times and in all places.

It’s a trick I got hooked into, as so many of us do, thinking we must do it all alone. As we allow others to help us, we actually get many benefits, we allow a flow to come into our life of give and receive. A flow is what we want, a flow of money, and flow of growth, a flow of love. Asking for help humbles has and prepares us for better and greater blessings to come into out lives.

Even knowing all this, and that, in reality, it takes true strength to stop and ask for help, I still have a hard time actually doing it. Letting go of that pride and control is a hard and scary thing to do, especially after having been deprived of control over my life during my abusive marriage.

I had no choice but to ask for help as I was working two jobs Help getting my son to and from school, help getting him to speech therapy, help taking care of daily tasks. I was so worried I would be taking advantage of other peoples plans and time, that they would see myself and my son as an extra burden, and. since I had to rely on them so heavily on a daily basis, that I would burn them out of ever wanting to help me again.

What I found is there are many people out there who are more than willing help, and giving others the opportunity to serve blesses their lives as well as mine. Most importantly, I learned asking for and receiving help reduced stress, worry, and concern in my hectic life and it was perfectly okay during this temporary hardship in my life. That it is a blessing for us to be given circumstances to learn humility and that we all experience this ‘humble leason’ at one time or another in this life.

Lesson 4 Find the Positive

Day after day I felt like a drone. Up and ready for job one, then to job two, do homework with my son, feed him dinner, bathe him and put him to bed, get ready for the next day, put myself to bed.

And yet, through all that, I was so greatly blessed. It seems in our darkest hour is when God hovers over us the most orchestrating our lives on a daily basis to help us learn and grow and make it.

I began working my second job end of November, as this point I had one of those guys in my life, you know, the boyfriend I had dated for six months, we broke up (which was heart breaking) and still tried to ‘be friends’ we were texting everyday, spending time together, and talking on the phone, he said he wasn’t dating any other girls at all, I told him I was gonna still date other guys, it became hard and full of negative feelings for both of us, I felt he reeled me in and out of his life at his convince and I’m sure he felt similarly. Finally we had enough. We cut things off between us completely and for good the beginning of December. I was devastated.

This is where Job 2 became a huge blessing. We had many of the same friends and while this group of friends (including the ex boyfriend) were going to holiday parties and activities, I was ‘stuck’ working two jobs. At first I thought this was unfair and I yearned to go out and be social with these people, then I learned it was really a blessing in disguise, giving me needed time to heal, spend time with my son, and ponder my life and my direction.

After the holidays I was blessed with a new man unexpectedly and blessedly walking into my life, the debts I had were being paid off, I had strengthened my relationship with my son and grown even closer to God.

It wasn’t just automatic, I remember in the beginning purposefully choosing my thoughts, I remember as thoughts of despair crept into my head, I consciously replaced those with thoughts of finding the positive, of seeing my life with a different perspective. And I was blessed for it.

I was lead by The Lord through what could have been months of pain and misery, and I chose to make them months of learning and growth. Which they were. During this time I got to do things I had always wanted to do, but never had. I got to go snowboarding, I got to sing in the church choir, I got to run my first half marathon and I began a relationship which I love, honor and cherish with a man whom I love, honor and cherish.

I know making the effort to ‘find the good’ is what created the good during this time in my life. I know I am a co-creator with God in creating the life I want for myself and my son. I know we all have the gift, blessing, and ability to each do this in our own individual lives.

I was in a hard period of my life, and despite that, I felt the peace and happiness and joy as I concentrated on what I did want and focused on finding the silver linings in my then dull and grey world, rather than dwelling on the sadness, woe is me attitude and grief.

It is a practice I do and will continue to use, I’m not perfect at it, I forget to find the good sometimes, and I continue to do it anyway, practicing until it becomes second nature in my life. It is a practice all of us can do. And I urge you to remember it and to try it. Write about it, share it with others and see what blessings ensue.

Twice the Work Part 1

Where have I been? Have I disappeared from the blog world? It feels that way to me. And for good reason. I have found myself working two jobs for the last three months. And despite leaving my house at 5:30 am and getting home between 6:30 and 7:00pm, losing time with my son, missing out on fun social activities being constantly on the move, and cleaning, cleaning, cleaning, I have enjoyed this experience and learned Four lessons I could not have learned otherwise.

The Jobs:

My day job is as a government worker. It’s clerical, and very cushy. I’ve worked there for the last 11 years and am so very grateful for it. The promotions I have had, the people I have met, and the experiences I’ve been a part of have all been times of great learning and blessings.

My second job I picked up out of necessity. I wasn’t brilliant in my money choices and found myself with extra debt I needed to pay off ASAP. My best friend owns a daycare center, I gave her a call, she was short staffed and could use my help, I started working there three days later.

The Lessons:

1- Play More

I remember when I had the one job, I would come home, and to be honest, (I am embarrassed to admit this) I would not always be willing or excited to play with my son. I was tired and worn out. I would sit and watch a movie with him, or sit and read to him, but to physically interact with my only child, I was not always super excited to play his juvenile games.

In my second job I suddenly found myself immersed in a room full of 2-4 year old, all demanding my attention and wanting to play. It didn’t matter that I was exhausted, I was working for my best friend, I wasn’t going to let her down.

I had to fight off feelings of guilt and disappointment in myself. Here I was playing and spending time with other people’s kids when I should be home with my own. I decided not to let the negative thinking get to me, and instead focus on when I would only be working the one job and how I would change things and spend more time playing with my son.

2- Be Grateful

I spent a lot of time being exposed to so many different families and people and got insight into how their lives are built. So many children with divorced parents, some with single and dating parents, some with step parents, some with parents in jail, some with parents who passed away, some with military parents away on assignment, some who were being raised by grandparents, aunts & uncles or adoptive parents. It has been a wide awakening to me, and I see so many kids who are struggling, and yet surviving. They don’t always understand their circumstances and rarely have control over them and I see a lot of scared kids.

I also see a lot of love. No matter what their circumstance, I see adults in these kids lives who do their best to show this kids love even though it may be imperfect circumstances, love still exists

I have spent much time feeling guilty for my sons life circumstances. I did not intend to be a single mom. I remember as I was growing up there being times I wanted my mom and times I wanted my dad, and I could go be with whichever whenever, my son doesn’t have that.

I have begun to remind myself to think of and be grateful for what he does have. In my home, he has a loving mom, grandparents and an aunt, in his dads home, he has a loving dad and step mom.

Life is never perfect. Circumstances aren’t always as we plan them. Love fills in the gaps, imperfect people carry us through and God and His angels open doors we cannot see on our own.