I Can’t Take it Anymore!

You know when you watch a movie and the main character does something totally unthinkable leaving you scratching your head in confusion?

After having no manageable sleep for four nights, working full time, having curfew restraints, and being unable to shower for nearly a week—while working overtime on the weekends, you’d think I would be thrilled to move to another shelter. Not when it’s in Bountiful and the kids attend school in Lehi.

We’ve located four units to move into over the past month, searching only during my free time on the weekends. Each time it’s lost because the shelter isn’t open during the weekend when all of the listings are posted. By the time the shelter calls Monday afternoon to check on the vacancy, the new resident has signed, sealed, and delivered their agreement with the securing payment. And I just can’t pretend anymore.

 

I will not be searching for anything more than a temporary shelter providing us more than safekeeping. Still, the late night customs of religions one week and an incessantly crying newborn baby the next is enough to drive my sanity over the brink. I can only imagine how my kids are surviving. Think calm thoughts—think calm thoughts. Be grateful for food and warmth. But sleep is paramount to survival; look it up.

Every night, as we go to bed, an endless stream of our own muffled laughter ends our day in good spirits, with hopes that tomorrow offers a promise for the future.

Everyone’s Days are Numbered

Unsure of whether it’s considered “unhealthy” or “mentally strong” when someone mentions dying and I realize it’s part of the natural process. Everyone dies, it’s only a matter of when and what has been accomplished in the lifetime–people aren’t typically aware of the “finish line.” But every day poses new challenges and another opportunity to learn something spectacular. Here’s your chance!

Family Promise is an incredible opportunity for people to reach out and help others without making a huge commitment of time or money. Although I’m not religious, I still believe in the Golden Rule and Karma–or anything else you want to call it. Perhaps it’s best considered Yin and Yang where it all evens out, but the good begets good and vice versa, coming back around in the end. And my personal philosophy is that everything that can create a learning experience is in a sense “good.” It’s the “bad” we repeat.

For those who aren’t familiar with helping others through resources like Family Promise, I urge you to educate yourself and have your church leaders welcome them. This is an opportunity to prove what your God has been instructing all the while. Watch and see.

If everyone’s days are numbered, as are the days of the families in this program, as well as the hours people have in dedicating themselves to others, is there a better time to start than now? How would your God answer this question? Everyone’s days are numbered, and we’re hoping our number comes up soon.

What do you get with 3 attorneys and 13 shaved heads?

Probably the most testing part of living in a shelter is as much as I like observing people, I don’t particularly care for interacting with them. They say writers are introverts, but I’m not shy–and when I do speak, I’m a no-holds-barred person. I believe the issue boils down to an acute hearing condition referred to as hyperacusis, which isn’t nearly as wonderful as it sounds. While it’s true I can hear a bee’s fart clear across the park there are certainly some serious drawbacks. My sounds all blend together at the same decibel level. For example, if I were to eat at a fast food restaurant with kids running around giggling and families jabbering, I wouldn’t be able to distinguish their chatter from that of someone seated next to me speaking. It’s one massive cloud of cacophony that sucks. On the other hand, if my surroundings consist of virtual silence in a library and someone across the room whispers to the librarian I can hear what book or information the reader seeks. In an area with twenty people, separated at night by curtains dividing the rooms, my anxiety requires additional attention. I get little to no sleep due to the constant whining and bickering, and there’s nothing I can do about it.

Thank goodness for the sparse groups of individuals and churches who do more than just preach about all the good they’ve done to earn their ways into heaven. There are some who truly believe in assisting others. Now whether they do it to feel good about their deeds or as some sort of pass to enter The Pearly Gates, I don’t know. And frankly, not being a follower of God myself, I still believe in The Golden Rule. If people simply abide by doing unto others as they’d have done unto them, wouldn’t that be a ticket to Heaven for those who truly believe? I don’t do it for rewards–I do it because it’s right.

Today I’m mentioning one such group the program called Family Promise relies on located at Wasatch Presbyterian Church. That’s where we met our two newest families and had entire families to help us through our week. We had three attorneys waiting on us. (If you want to see a real miracle… attorneys helping homeless for no pay?) Unbelievable, but actually helped restore my faith in the legal system or at least a few choice individuals. Not all lawyers are assholes. One played the guitar and offered company while we ate the delicious, star-rated meal another attorney prepared including a blueberry and cherry oatmeal and a delicious quiche with bacon and sausage. Not a typical meal at all, but memorable for sure. And the last was our hostess. Nikki enjoyed the inflatable air mattresses that invited us to take a nap straight away.

 

Sunday, the 16th, Shawn and his teen daughter left, due to what he called bedbugs (which were baby cockroaches), and Eric and Justin’s crew found their new living quarters with their kids. Everything was calm for one night with my family of three and the Hispanic family of four. Last Saturday, the dynamic changed considerably with an addition of two families consisting of thirteen people – hair pulled up or shaved off. They’d arrived from the same place—The Road Home. The Road Home is a shelter that’s overpopulated, understaffed, and an absolute last resort. We went there once because we were told if authorities caught us sleeping in the car they would take my children, but we just couldn’t stay. After going there, we decided to take our chances. With the bug infestation and dysfunctionality of it, we spent three nights crammed like three triplets crammed into the uterus of my car, surrounded by our possessions. The two additional families are Road Home graduates with shaved heads — need I say more?

The first family is a father, Troy, whose wife left him and their five kids, and one grandchild, for meth. He doesn’t work but is upset that the program requires him to find employment. The young teen mother has a raging attitude, a deplorable vocabulary, and no sense of regard for anyone else. Yeah, I guess a typical distressed teen but the stress has amplified it about thirty times. He has a young teen daughter (I thought was a male for two days until I realized she has hair); a son about my daughter’s age who’s intelligent but desperate for attention; and a set of twins who are about four. Like the Hispanic family, they do not have transportation and rely on the van to pick them up every morning at 7:00 a.m. and drop them off at 5:00 p.m. each day except for the weekends. Sunday is generally when we change church locations at 2:00 p.m.

The second family proves that if there is a God, He certainly works in mysterious ways. The father’s story was he was hit on his motorcycle with his bride-to-be on the back. When she died instantly, he inherited a metal plate in his head, brain damage, a messed up spine and pins to hold his legs on. The accident brought his professional life as a chef to a screeching halt. He married another woman who, according to her, was hit in the head by an anvil at the young age of three. Neither of them works and their four children, under the age of thirteen, prove the mother was sincere when she announced they would have as many children as possible. Put them in the room with any television set on and they stare like cats watching fish swim in a bowl.

 

When we met them, we were at a church with the most amazing hosts. We’ve already met several incredible people through our journey over the past month, as is visible in earlier posts. But this church supplied entertainment for breakfast—and extremely caring people and an incredible supplier of organization orchestrating numerous families who pull together for a week to serve others who have had a rough time.

 

Let’s face it, kids the answer to the aforementioned riddle is Wasatch Presbyterian and Family Promise helping families – organizing this jumble of people is a feat in itself much less creating joy in the process. But somehow, Allison, Alyssa, and Brickel manage. Our stay was wonderful! After the last church, I never wanted to leave the shelter of this God’s house and the incredible families inside, but all good things must come to an end. We moved again, and this time it was to a little church in West Jordan for real adventure!

 

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Good news and bad news, but that’s life, right? We’ve got to take the good with the bad, take away the accomplishments and pay the price for our flaws. In a world where you make larger mistakes, guaranteed the price will be paid a very long time. If you’re damned lucky, you’ll pay it off in time to reap some sort of reward.

Trusting in the law and that child support will be paid—I’m not the only one stupid enough to think that could happen. And then ending up in a world of crap… But let’s forget about that for a while. Maybe it’s better to forget about it for good. If we do, we’re more likely to repeat the events that got us here in the first place, though.

For you, my readers, I’ll simply post the photos and let you fill in the blanks to the events. In fact, let’s just do this week’s entry specifically in photos. It was supposed to be posted on Sunday and I’m wiped out. So, here are the photos I’ve taken this past week. If you have any guesses, post them. I’ll make sure and tell you how close you are to the correct answer—it’ll be fun! (And all in a week’s work.)

 

Living with Strangers on my Birthday

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We’re each given a canvas at the start of the day. Sometimes it’s dirty and sometimes it’s clean. It’s all ours for 24 hours.

We’re on our third week of living in the shelter called Family Promise. Cameron spends this weekend with his dad, snoozing in his own bed, watching cable networks on television, and he’ll golf. He enjoys that short commercial break of “living the dream” once in a while. But Cameron almost didn’t get to this time.

The family I mentioned last time, Shawn and Kiwi, came a week ago last Thursday. Although she was separated from the rest of us, the accordion curtain that separated our families wasn’t enough to keep her untreated illness from spreading. After a long three-day weekend, I woke up on my birthday with a headache, sore throat, and body aches. But I couldn’t let the dreaded Norovirus stop me for several reasons.

First, if you miss a day of work after a holiday, as with most companies, your holiday pay isn’t available. Second, I had already paid for my birthday celebration with my kids. And third, well, I didn’t feel like sitting this one out. It’s been forever since I’ve celebrated my birthday, so everyone else can suck it and let me have a good time being sick!

The Friday before, I’d been talking to my manager at work and discussed my plans for having a fun birthday and she suggested a place called, “Painting with a Twist.” It was fun, allowing Cameron and Nikki to freely express themselves on canvas. For my birthday, we all copied from the same painting, you can see the variation in each of our psyches and how it reflects on our outlook. Can you tell who painted each? (See bottom for answers)

We returned late and went straight to bed. I felt pretty bad. The night refused to hold any promises of sleep. Between the city nightlife of passersby yelling at each other and cursing with the competition of a runny nose, sore throat, throbbing head, and having to empty my intestines, I didn’t sleep very well.

The following morning was surprisingly worse. I went to work and was so worn I could hardly hold a thought, much less work. The day would have dragged if I could remember it, but it was a murky mess of mistakes and apologies.

When I arrived at the church, I discovered Cameron was also ill. We decided to take Wednesday off for the doctor. The illness was so nasty we were treated with medication that was a liquid-based prescription level ibuprofen that could only have tasted worse if scraped from the bottom of a farmer’s boot. We were each given a bottle of water before the nursing assistant cautiously left the room. I swallowed hard, twisted the cap off my water, and then downed the medicine in one fatal drink before chasing it with the entire bottle of water before coming up for air.

Cameron didn’t swallow his water with the same vigor as me. He sipped his, and then took a swallow of water—several times between intermittent mini-convulsions. Afterward, we were given Z-packs containing Azithromycin. Fun? But the paintings will last forever AND Cameron’s stealthy play won him a painting created by the instructor. The scowl I received with the suggestion he might consider it a gift to his girlfriend, Trinity, was at least notable. He smiled warmly and declined.

At the shelter, “residents” must be absent between seven a.m. and five p.m. for typical services and upkeep of the churches. So Cameron and I went to a library—a public library where we could cough and “share the glory” with others. Although, we did manage to stay in our own little corner and keep our breathing to a minimum. We always cover our mouths and wash our hands in an attempt to stave off infections. Doing what we could in distancing ourselves and keeping calm so we could heal quietly without infecting others, but gain intelligence at the same time.

Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 12.27.14 PM.pngFriday, I had a weekly review at work. I wish I could say that despite the havoc in the rest of my life that my job is going smoothly, but I can’t. Tuesday’s pathetic average worked itself in to bring my score even lower than it was, which was a very “unbirthday” surprise. My average of files per hour still sits at about eight. I have two weeks to bring it to a ten or I’ll be in danger of losing my job. All I can say to that is that it would really suck—but with two more weeks, I can only hope that positive occurrences happen.

After I picked Nikki up and left Cameron at his dad’s, we entered our room to discover things had been moved. Nothing major has been noted missing, but I have a real issue, especially when chaos is breaking out around me, to have everything organized and placed evenly. Although my suitcase was still positioned in front of the closet door, the door wasn’t latched and my suitcase was half unzipped. Now we lock our door when we leave and have the host open it each night when we get back.

The family of Erica and Justin with the kids—a five-bedroom home has been found for them if you can believe that. It’s a lower portion of a home, which must be gigantic to have five bedrooms in half of it! I’m happy for them, but a little sad because that’s the only family we’ve been conversing with regularly. Awaiting the next family is like playing the shell game. I figure we’re here for another four months or so. I still have a lot to learn about finances before we can move.

When I went into the playroom to notify Erica of the Norovirus, because I heard the Hispanic grandma hacking up a lung in the room half an hour earlier, the host entered just after I finished relaying the warning signs of the virus. It’s both viral and bacterial, meaning the room most likely churns with contamination. But as I was leaving, Erica informed the host that the Hispanic boy urinated in a bin and carefully placed the lid on top just as her son entered. Norovirus doesn’t seem so dangerous all of a sudden, OR perhaps this is exactly where it was born.

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Washing hands helps. When others touch your food with contaminated hands, you could get ill.

Shawn came running out of his room next to ours yesterday screaming about having bedbugs and demanding he saw a really big one. I’m thinking, if it was that big, it probably wasn’t a bedbug. They’re relatively small.

Cameron still suffers withdrawals from his friends, which is only to be expected. The school he’d left behind is the only real group of friends he’d associated with, but the adjustment is necessary. He’s trying to find some resonance with reality, but it’s hard.

The resilience of Nikki beams out of every pore of her body whenever school studies are mentioned. It’s fun to watch her boast about her typing scores, but we have discussed the importance of humility. I’m happy to see her excited.

Both kids plan on joining the CERT training at the end of the month through their school, Utah Military Academy. This provides the certification necessary for rescuing people from flood, fire, or other catastrophic events. Empowering–we need this.Screen Shot 2018-09-09 at 12.36.56 PM.png

Today is Sunday. It probably sounds petty to say we’re not eating breakfast because it’s the day the church doors are open to feeding the homeless. While there are courteous transients, addicts, pedophiles, etc. in the mix, I’m guarded. When it comes to my kids, I’d rather avoid than take the time to sort— it’s quicker and safer.

Meanwhile, I’m working on an interesting story that’s a bit off the beaten track of what I normally write. Could it be the position in which I find myself? There’s some blood and death—maybe because my dreams are a bit askew at the moment.

My goals for my next birthday include living in a separate dwelling, barbecuing, and the three of us going out to an incredible play after we eat. Time to pull out the blank canvas and start on those plans for the future.  

My memory will always hold this birthday as the learning experience of a lifetime.

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Nikki’s crow on a dead tree has no idea it’s about to become the owl’s dinner in the light of the rising sun; Cameron’s is a tree with the sun setting behind it; mine is cherry blossoms by a still lake on the mountain front after a long and prosperous day.

 

Arrival of the Newest Quirky Family

As I stated earlier, numerous families live together in this program and give each other the nod and smile of passing strangers. When we go to our individual rooms is when we all vent out the frustrations of how the other families agitate us or comfort us. Of course, there’s a huge mix, even considering just four very different families who’ve fallen on hard times in this crisis our country is headed toward.

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The members of the churches offer their services by providing homemade dinners they’ve prepared themselves, and delicious breakfasts as well on the weekends. If ever there’s a time one considers whether God exists, it’s when good people step in front of the harsh words of discriminating people and allow these people center stage. I can’t say I believe in a singular body claiming to be all-powerful any more than I believe Santa delivers coal to children who’ve misbehaved. But it’s clear as day that whether or not a singular god does exist, as long as people continue caring for each other with the goodness of their hearts, there’s hope for humankind. Let’s reveal our recipe.

Breakfast at Church
A member dedicates her time to a meal she’s created on her own for four families she’s never met.

Family One: The family that’s been here the longest is going on their third month. They seem happy enough, although their accumulation of children is extremely original. Justin and Erika are white and have four children between them, but only the dark-skinned one is hers, Z. The cutest bright-eyed, testy, and full-of-energy little four-year-old you could ever hope to meet. Everyone loves Z. They have an additional array of children from hopeful and happy Jade, who is about seven; Tyler is their reliable and trustworthy boy at about nine; and Sean who is extremely responsible and often times a parent himself, at the age of twelve. Justin has another child who remains with her mother elsewhere.

They arrived in a camper. Oft times, the couple “takes a break” from the kids by disappearing on occasion into the camper for a period of time. This is when Sean steps up to the plate to break up any occurrences between his siblings—a rarity for someone who isn’t yet a teen himself. He and my daughter get along splendidly.

Family Two: Is the family who’s lived here about two months. That’s Sydney and her crew. She has two hefty children, a broken leg, and a deviously grinning grandmother Laura who claims not to understand a lick of English. Anytime the squatty woman sees me she waves and smiles, “Hola!” It was sort of cute at first. But after a week, I’m thinking, “Why can’t she just say ‘Hello’?” But her daughter, Sydney, learns more English every day from her daughter, Alex. It’s awesome when people set out to learn.

I discovered the grandma has no interest in having anything to do with this country. We used Google Translator to communicate, and I learned a lot of what goes on behind that smirk of the “friendly” grandma. In November, when Sydney’s husband is released from prison, grandma plans on returning to her home country. As twisted as she is, I see her point and can try to resonate with her discomfort. I mean, going shopping in a store where all the labels are a different language would be hard enough—but trying to exchange currency with someone who’s unable to communicate would be really difficult—especially with all the family’s stuff packed into garbage bags. Their youngest, Jay, is a relatively large six-year-old, and he is the interpreter for the children to parent communication. Although I have no idea what he’s communicating he’s seen that day.

Still, they allow “little” Jay into the women’s bathroom where he periodically climbs on his hands and knees to peer beneath the doors calling, “Grandma! Grandma!” Doesn’t she answer him if he doesn’t look? My daughter no longer uses the restroom without a guard—me. Can’t say I blame her. And this family is by far the messiest.

Family Three: Is Shawn and Kassandra, who goes by Kiwi. I believe she’s about fourteen with special needs, and I also have a fairly strong suspicion he’s schizophrenic. He often speaks to himself and “spontaneously combusts” during sleeping hours. He also refuses to acknowledge that anyone has a variety of skin color. He and his daughter are black, but for some reason, he’s hung up the Hi-fi Shop killings from the early 1970’s and claims it happened in the early 80’s. He revealed that because the killers were black, he’s disassociated himself from the race. I wonder if he’s heard of Hitler—white and not the best example. They’ve been here about four nights, but the first one was the worst. I’d slept from 1:30 a.m. to four.

The heavy curtain drawn to separate the rooms wasn’t enough to block the noise. And with my exceptional hearing, the situation proved to be extremely trying.

Every hour the first night his daughter would cough so hard I thought they needed a stick to cram her lungs back in. Each time he’d say something inaudible. Once he shouted clear as day, “Get the fuck away from me!” I wondered if both would emerge from the room the following morning.

Kiwi whimpered and cried, but apparently stopped trying to get close. I was heartbroken by the incident. Still, I couldn’t do anything. I was told we couldn’t intervene unless there was visible physical damage. Since I can’t do anything, I do my best to prevent my children from hearing what goes on with the others.

Last morning was a bit different. I awakened to hear “other noises” omitting from beneath the curtain. It started with an “Ooooh!,” ended with a sigh, and his door opening and closing, before the men’s restroom door across the hall did the same. When I asked him how he slept, he replied, “Good. Too good, actually.”

Sleeping quarters at the first church
After the first house we stayed in, the church was another shelter for a week’s visit.

Glad I don’t have to clean their room. It’s enough we all share one shower and must plan accordingly. Because the families generally shower in the evening, we get up at 5:00 a.m. to cleanse ourselves and prepare for the day’s events–traveling to work and school despite where we awaken.

Cameron still tries adjusting enough to be successful at school. Everyone at the churches is enchanted with his level of respect. He shakes the hosts’ hands and introduces himself before offering his assistance around the church. The adults always seem to be taken with this, and it makes me proud.

Danika, or Nikki as she used to be called, excels in school and has her sites set on becoming a squad leader this year and a sergeant next year. Her grades show commitment, so we bought a huge black backpack for her to carry her computer back and forth to school because her other one was pink zebra-stripes and unacceptable by the school’s standards. Her potential is limitless.

Me, on the other hand, I can’t say I’m up-to-par with the circus. I had my one-on-one with my manager last week and it isn’t looking good. That means I need to work a little harder. Sure, coloring and cutting my hair is an issue, as I’m used to doing it myself. But without my supplies, guess I’m going back to gray and having to buy a haircut from a local salon—something easy to keep up.

Grandma's in 08.2018
We delivered a huge salad and made Grandma Bev’s day with a visit.

Today, we broke up our day by swinging by to visit Grandma Bev. She’s one happy lady, even if she can’t hear us half the time and weighs half of what my daughter weighs. She’s stopped repeating the same stories she’s used to telling of her father painting and her grandfather, Francis Scott Key, writing the national anthem. I have a feeling she’s beginning to wind down but fighting it every step of the way. I’ll truly miss her when she’s gone, but we’ll have created wonderful memories like the one we made today by bringing her a lunch that will last a week.

Harmons downtown
Harmon’s grocer downtown, located in City Creek Center, displays a whole new world of possibilities.

Tonight’s our first night in a church downtown. We’ve lightly canvassed, such as the Harmon’s in the picture.  I’ve heard the cooks are unbelievable, but I have a hard time believing that. After all, the last church did a bang-up job of keeping our stomachs and gas tanks full. People are wonderful!

We realize how fortunate we are to be cared for, but also prepare for our turn to care for others in the future.

I Dare you to Beat This!

I’ve always been competitive as a kid growing up. Had a big family of nine kids total. The situation with our parents was sort of like puppies fighting for nipples when there never seemed to be enough nipples. With that many pups, getting your share was pretty tough. It took the right kick in the right place to ensure your place in line without getting caught by the watchful eyes of my parents and sent to the back of the feeding line.

The best part of being part of a big family was the hand-me-downs. There’s nothing like getting handed down your sister’s Halloween costume of a homeless person. It always fit each kid too, no taking anything in or letting it out. It was one of our favorites. Plus, on Halloween, we found the parents with the bowls would offer us more candy than they offered the pretty princesses. Once in a while, even the other trick-or-treaters would donate from their own bags. We’d make that candy last for six months! Sometimes we’d each place a share into our family community Christmas bowl. Trust me, there’s nothing like seeing a wicked chocolate witch mingling with a marshmallow Santa for the holidays. The true spirit of Christmas!

Sure, we were poor growing up. With that many mouths to feed and parents who missed graduating from high school, we had to fight for our food. Dinner time was the most organized our family was, we each waited until my father was served before we helped ourselves. No smacking, no reaching, and no talking ’til my father finished and left the room. Sort of like he was the king. But after he left, it was every man for himself.

Everyone had a favorite; mine was potatoes. You wouldn’t guess it then. I was so small, my choice was to either have the waistband so huge my belt gathered my britches around my waist or absolute floods that hit halfway between my ankles and my knees. I usually wore the belt cinching them up with safety pins strategically placed on each side. That way, no one could see my unmatching socks so big the toes were doubled over. All of our socks were interchangeable that way.

Because we couldn’t afford lunch, we reused our lunch bags for a week. Some people consider that cost conservative. It isn’t like there was anything to ruin the bag. Every day a peanut butter sandwich and some change for a milk. Multiply that with the number of kids and my father’s meager income and you can get a fuzzy picture of where we were.

Still, I remember fighting this big kid named Mike in elementary because he wanted my lunch. The kids were standing in a circle around us as soon as I told him I wouldn’t give my peanut butter sandwich to him – sort of a modern-day David and Goliath story going on in the schoolyard. A hefty boy against a scrawny, four-eyed little girl too hungry to back down. One hefty punch was all it took. Yes, from him. I was a twiggy-armed girI half his size! I didn’t see him for the rest of the day – or anyone else for that matter. He’d knocked my glasses halfway across the playground and broken them. The rest of the school year I looked like one of those nerds from the television sitcoms with tape holding the nosepiece together. But the bullies still didn’t bother me after that and I’ve never trusted another Mike. And I continued to receive little notes in my lunch from my mom–usually the highlight of my day and the main reason I was excited about lunchtime.

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Here I am, allowing Mike to draw first blood for my peanut butter sandwich!

We moved a lot too. The longest I went to school in one district was two years. There were several I went to less than half a year, and that was tough. As soon as my name was no longer “the new girl,” it was time to change schools. You can imagine my horror when at one school another girl stole my “new girl” title. I was pissed. That’s when I became “Michelle Z.” There were already two girls who had the name “Michelle.” It made sense that in addition to being new, I was also always the last in line. And no one could ever pronounce my surname. Nine letters long and starting with a Z; I was proud of anyone for making an effort to sound out the extensively long German name. Even the people of my immediate family had an individual way of pronouncing it. I chose the shortest – Zetner.

I remember in school one time, in third grade when we lived in Bradenton, Florida. I went to a school called Orange Ridge Elementary. Yep, third grade was a long time ago. But I’ll never forget that school and Mrs. Sanders, this black woman that kept forgetting I was in her class. The principal called over the speaker system to, “Please send Michelle to the office.” Mrs. Sanders explained she had two Michelles and needed to know if he needed Michelle Winters or Michelle Barker.

There was silence for a moment before he continued, “Could you please send Michelle Z-e-h-e-n-d-n-e-r to the office?”

My third-grade teacher exploded, “We ain’t got one of those!” That’s when I understood why she was a third-grade teacher.

I raised my hand from the back corner of the room. “I’m talking to the principal,” she reminded me. That’s when I explained my name was Michelle Zehendner. Her face softened for a second and then she said to the speaker, “Here she comes.” You’d think she’d remember me after that – but she didn’t. That’s okay because we moved a few months later.

I have a feeling my parents moved so much to dodge the bills. You can’t do that as easily now. Yep, those were the Good Ol’ Days. It finally occurred to me one Sunday after church. My mom had already run away from home to “find herself.” I don’t think she ever did, but I’m certain she had more fun searching than sticking it out at the “Zehendner’s Funny Farm.” So my father and five kids get home from church. I was the new mom at 14-years-old and four siblings remaining. My dad jumps from the car and runs up to grab a paper from our front door. He comes back to the car and announces, “We’re going to play a game, okay?” I was old enough to understand anytime my dad said there was going to be a game, you definitely didn’t want to be the loser.

But we loved games, so we were chomping at the bit. Perhaps that’s where my competitive edge stems from – everything was a competition. “Who can eat their liver first?” was always a game I lost at. But this game was to see who could pack their things the fastest. The amazing part was how many of the toys we’d been fighting over the day before were lost in the name of winning the game. For us, winning was everything!

I believe I won that time. My brothers were only six and four, so they still didn’t have their bearings straight. They packed all their toys. Clothes weren’t that important. Then again, they would have been happier naked with an excuse to remain that way. But it figured their toys were always first because they were never taken out of the box. They stayed in the bottom of the closet with the flaps tucked inside like big toy boxes. But if they ever got tired of their toy box, they’d simply stomp on it so they could have a new one to decorate with markers. They actually became pretty good at styling their boxes.

My sisters who were about 3 years younger than me were about eleven months apart. A lot of times my parents would dress them as twins, although one was blond the other brunette, and they were absolutely nothing alike. Still, the real fun came when only one outfit was packed and when we unpacked, they fought over who actually left their outfit behind. They became so engulfed in winning, they’d rip the outfit to shreds fighting over it. Needless to say, my family participated in cheap family entertainment. Perhaps I’ll share some later.

But we did something that day that I bet 98% of American families could never do. We moved within 5 hours – in my favorite white church dress and heels.  So you can guess where my tenacity of being a single parent with a university degree, and standing up to fight rather than running comes from. I may have been born in the depths, but I’ll be damned if I don’t rise to the top!

Beat that!