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!

Sometimes Just Breathing is the Answer

Being thankful for what we have shouldn’t be reserved for one holiday per year, the gratitude should run through our bodies every second of every day – yes, even for the experiences we coin as ‘negative.’ Believe me, when it comes to curve balls bombarding you on the pitcher’s mound, no one appears more like Charlie Brown than I do – guaranteed. Today, I’m sharing my latest experience of how nothing seemed to line up appropriately and how we’re coping with it if you want to even consider it “coping.”

In one month’s time, I discovered I was not getting the promotion I was counting on at work as well as my ex deciding he wasn’t going to pay child support. And yes, he did decide it as a “giggling in the back of the classroom little boy.” But these points are not my focus. My focus is on breathing. That’s right, breathing.

You see, sometimes that’s the only option you may feel you have to fall back on. While some people opt to cease breathing and give up altogether, I thank God I’m not to that point. Do I have a game plan? No. Do I have a religion? Not really. I believe in living the Golden Rule. Then, you may ask yourself, what makes me so sure everything will work out? That’s a great question because I am not. But I’m also not ready to quit.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a couple of friends step up to the plate and do what they can to help. See, when the child support ceased to come in, my promotion was the backup plan that would have me prepared. I even had inside coaching on the skills and education it would take to get that promotion from within the company. However, at the last minute, the rules changed and I was denied. Unfortunately, due to my age, my options for gaining employment are limited. Have you seen the way offices are set up now? People have their dogs running around while they all sit around a community table brainstorming. Not that I wouldn’t like that, because I would, but they want someone working with them that has the same commonalities. They’re thinking about flying to the Alps for an expedition next week, while I’m wondering if my kids will want to watch a replay of Moana or if I’m bold enough to put a new spin on my bean casserole.

A month behind on my rent, I continued to make car payments so I would have a way to work, but the late fees began piling up. As it was initially, we were barely scraping by. In fact, I was using the knowledge that I had to be careful financially to spur me forward in my career. But with the late fees, there was no way to regain my financial footing. Even with the donations my friends managed to gather, it wasn’t one-fourth of what was necessary to climb out. Still, if it hadn’t been for their efforts and what was garnered, we wouldn’t have made it at all. It makes me truly grateful for them sticking their necks out to assist me. You know they say that when hard times come into play is when you discover who your real friends are and realize you didn’t have as many as you thought — but again, you may be surprised at the ones who surface.

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Packing with Nowhere to go

So, what’s the real story, MJ? Where are you today? On August 2nd, I have taken the day from work to represent myself in court to combat an eviction. I know, I know, there are state-appointed attorneys provided for those who cannot afford their own. But think about it, if they were any good, wouldn’t they be working for paying clients? Many of them are so overworked they don’t know or care about the slightest facts of the case – only that it’s another notch in their belt of “accomplishments.” Besides, their entire lives aren’t riding on the judge’s decision. If they lose, they can shrug and move onto the next one after lunch. I’m already having my mail forwarded to a P.O. Box.

So, with my flying high college degree in hand (and yes, they also want their money) and my tail between my legs, I will force my head upward and search for the answers. Until then, my daughter’s 12th birthday is today. On that note, I will leave you to your own devices and begin our family celebration which I have worked extraordinarily hard to make a special day despite our living room being jam-packed with filled cardboard boxes. Having Nikki realize she is extraordinary today is my number one goal.

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Nikki’s favorite breakfast – Texas donut and Nesquik

 

Until you check in again, I will continue breathing deeply and saying to myself, “Breathe in your future and blow out your past.” For there’s nothing being gained by holding onto the past or not contemplating the future. And doing this in four deep breaths always makes me gain my mental faculties a little better. Being a single parent means you’ve accepted the responsibility that no matter what, you will not quit.

Please read next week to see if any solutions mysteriously appear.

 

 

 

When the Unexpected Happens

You’ll hear bizarre stories of unexplainable occurrences that can be explained no more than calling them freak accidents; there are instances of a man being pinned by a train for an extensive period of time before their rescue, or a beachgoer tumbling into a hole and suffocating. Such mind-grappling scenarios that have truly happened. When these people woke up that day, they had no idea what Fate had in store. The unexpected happens when you least expect it.

A thought that always troubles my mind at the most unusual part of the day is I’ll be in a bathroom stall and think I hear someone in the stall next to me without having heard them enter. My curiosity gets the best of me and I bend down to see if there are feet next door, but it isn’t feet I see. Instead, I see someone gazing back at me. Now I don’t know if I expect this person to be another curious woman or a sadistic male killer, but I’ll bet my scream would be the same.

Don’t get me wrong, I know that sometimes great things happen to people as well in an unexpected way. I’ve certainly had my close calls where Fate seems to step in and save my derriere. So tell me, what was a time that something totally unexpected happened to you that ultimately changed your life?

Here’s a story I’ve written that may shed more light on this scenario. READ “STIFF”

How often are Ordinary People Evicted?

Before I start, I have to let you know that I am anything but ordinary. So are you! There’s not one person in the world who’s experienced the same honors and tragedies; joys and heartaches; failures and accomplishments as we have. No one. But most of us are still considered to be “ordinary people.” Are we in danger of eviction? You may be surprised.

Screen Shot 2018-06-27 at 6.35.52 AMAccording to a study given to Americans, less than 1/3 are prepared for a financial crisis and a third have no savings. Seriously, what would happen if someone on the freeway got a bee sting and went into shock, taking a bunch of automobiles with them – yours included? Fortunately, you aren’t dead, although the financial wave of crisis ahead may force you to consider whether you’re so lucky after all. Even with insurance – while vehicular insurance pays financially after an accident, they can’t make up for the bodily damage. Changes are good you’re forever impacted.

Get Out!

Let’s face it, no matter how much you recoup in damages, replacing your body parts will never be the same. AND  the house payment, the car payment, the credit cards and loans, as well as any other tidbits of insurance, utilities, etc. aren’t always willing to wait. The harsh part is companies need to ensure the funds are produced for the products that have been purchased – the end. Companies seldom consider the consumer and the emergencies they’ve encountered.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that if you’re a cautious driver, you’ll be safe. Typically speaking in a freeway pileup, one vehicle’s driver fell asleep, was drinking, talking on the phone, or any other distractive calamities. And car accidents aren’t the only causes of hardship. Sometimes tragedy strikes with a vengeance taking our finances and a loved one away simultaneously. In these such instances, counseling is just as important as finances. Without writing a book, there are far too many situations to list them all.

The point is that any type of income, or lack thereof, can cause hardships. Loss of a job is another. And experience in today’s world doesn’t hold a candle to youth. Technology is changing at such a rapid pace that no matter the skill, you’ll have to upgrade to get the job. Ever heard the saying, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” Believe me, you aren’t the only one. There are a lot of companies that feel the same. I can’t tell you how many applications I’ve filled out that asked me if I’m over 40 years old. Sure, I’ve got more stuff in my cranium that needs to be worked around – but I’ve also extensive real-world experience in dealing with people in general.

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As I was saying, there are many reasons people must survive with temporary financial setbacks, including an ex refusing to pay child support. Think about what must be done when he ceases payments? Every time it’s the same old thing – no penalties to him. No hardships. And now, the time has come where it’s costing the livelihood of your children.

Here are several places I was able to dig up, although there are more available, found by searching the web. Although these are located in Utah, some of them are nationwide and can help with food, utilities, healthcare needs, housing, finances, credit counseling, legal services, public assistance, and/or support groups. Take some time and be patient.

  1. Utah Department of Workforce Services: https://jobs.utah.gov/assistance/index.html
  2. Utah Community Action: https://www.utahca.org/housing-case-management
  3. Community Action Partnership: https://www.communityactionpartnership.com/
  4. The Salvation Army: https://www.salvationarmyusa.org/usn/
  5. Questar Dominion Energy: https://www.dominionenergy.com/
  6. 2-1-1: http://www.211.org/
  7. Netwish: http://www.netwish.org/index.html
  8. Modest Needs: www.modestneeds.org
  9. Suicide Prevention Lifeline: https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ 1-800-273-8255
  10. United Way: https://www.unitedwayoc.org/

Dave Ramsey (future prevention): https://www.daveramsey.com/blog/quick-guide-to-your-emergency-fund

There are places and resources you can utilize to help you cope, although they won’t always work. Still, it’s worth it to check into them. The fact remains that when given the notice to vacate, despite the three-day-notice, you have longer to find a solution. Check your local government to determine what it is for you. This means you have more time of which you may not have been aware. You may be able to work a part-time job, find assistance from a church or other establishment, or locate another additional means.

  • Scour your house to find items to sell (after all, you may not have them at all soon)
  • If you are a photographer or artist, create and sell online
  • Write an eBook about things other people care about that may help them
  • Start a dog-walking business and offer your services to people you know
  • Buy low-cost items at yard sales, even jimmy the cost down, and resell on Facebook, KSL, or other free advertising outlets
  • Brainstorm before you go to bed and see what happens when you awaken (sure, you may have restless sleep, but the answer may be right under your nose)

The point is that no matter who you are – if you are not investing in additional outlets, or you’re simply live paycheck to paycheck like the majority of our country, what will you do when something comes up, “ordinary person”?

My advice is to take a chance and start something now, before the crisis, to prevent it from happening at all. Many times the actions of someone else, completely out of our control, impact us in ways we cannot anticipate. You can do this. You are not ordinary. The fact of the matter is, you’re quite an extraordinary person. And you have ways of figuring things out you never thought possible. So, dig deeper! Share your insight!

Gotta Let the Animal Growl

At the circus, I’m always torn. I mean, I love to see how intelligent the animals are and I’m in awe at every feat they manage. But on the other hand, I’m saddened by the fact they’re supposed to be wild. Emotionally torn, like last night. A responsible person always has demons at war between pleasure and sensibility. For me, last night, I walked the line like a tightrope walker.

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The Greatest Showman (2017)

Being a single parent who works and has no life can be a daunting experience, especially when two opportunities to go out on the same night exist. One gathering was for an open house for a friend’s new business, directly following work. In fact, I left a bit early to attend. I had a beer and rubbed shoulders a bit, making a few connections and walking away with a spectacular work of art from a raffle. I have no idea what the original picture is I’ve won, but I know it’s going to be spectacular. The place I visited is one that anyone with an interest in creating films in Salt Lake should justly visit, and it’s called Creative Guild Studio. I’d go into details, but I’m trying to keep this short and sweet. It was awesome, and you would do better in checking it out for yourself.

When I left this event, I rallied with my new friends from work at an apartment where they partook of “God’s Sweet Rolling Hills.” I’m happy to say I was cautious enough not to

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Remember this scene from film classic Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke? (1978)

include myself in this activity. (That’s all I’d need for “you know who” to cause friction for me and my children.) However, I drank several shots of Fire Ball, the best cinnamon whiskey I’ve ever sampled. Needless to say, I’m happy I didn’t get pulled over after resting up, my clothes no longer smelled like Gain clothing detergent. And through the cautions of said friends, I managed being detoured from my nemesis, tequila.

So, after “climbing the ladder and strutting heel to toe across the wire,” I arrived with a few new memories to last me a while longer. I tasted freedom and independence for a moment, and it was good to let my wild animal growl a little.

 

Reaping the Benefits of Military School

Who’s there to drop a load of the kid’s friends to the movies, wait in long lines at the doctor’s office after taking the day from work, fix dinner in work clothes after arriving home from screaming clients all day, or fight for child support because one idiot refuses to pay? The sheriff — um, no, I meant to say, “the parent.” Or in my case, the mom.

As a mother of a teenager, I can say to all other single parents of teens, “Bless you,” especially if they turn out alright in the end. Although my son displays brilliance at the drop of a hat, his social skills are on the precipice of mild insanity, as if he’s afraid he won’t fit in with the guys. The truth is, he’s far better than holding himself back to fit in for two more years. Cameron has a blinding bright future ahead of him.

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.01.55 AMWhile being homeschooled, his grades shined like the sun in the heavens — until I began working and expected him to proceed on his own. Meanwhile, his father insisted he’s “normal” and should attend public school. I tried to set clear expectations but caved after being pestered by him and our son. Instead of going to a school focusing on kids with special qualities, I registered him in public school three years ago. Cameron’s grades took a major dip. “He’s new to the system and needs to adjust,” I was told. I backed off and waited — for three years. Each and every year his scores dip lower and lower. His final term last year was below a 2.0.

“That’s it! At the rate you’re going, there will be nothing left to salvage after high school. Universities won’t accept you, much less fight for you, and the military will take you on as one of the lost kids who doesn’t know where else to go after their parents kick them out — as a last resort. This is not a plan! Instead, you’ll attend the Utah Military Academy (UMA) this year.”

Screen Shot 2018-06-04 at 9.27.36 AM.pngNikki, his kid sister, jumps up and down with glee. Her intent is to become a dog-handler for the military or even continue on as a military vet. Whichever she decides, it’s quite a phenomenal feat that makes her mother’s heart swell with pride.

Cameron isn’t so perky about the whole idea. He doesn’t want to abandon his friends and girlfriend this year, especially after we had the big “Condom Talk.” I explained that if he gives it a couple of months, he’ll find he fits right in and probably love it. Meanwhile, he’s determined to get his driver’s license all of a sudden. Hmm, I smell freedom in the wake. With all of this going on, I’ve given him a “bad guy” ultimatum.

If he decides not to attend military school, he’s going to his father’s house because he’s given up. I won’t quit on him even if it means I have to stop being “the good guy.” Now I wonder, am I making the right choice?

 

 

Teen Hormones on a 3-foot Leash

So much has happened, but I’ll fill you in on the most pressing item of parenthood — lack of control with the necessity to work. If you remember, I’m on a 90-day probation period for my new employer, which puts me in an uncomfortable position when things go awry, because I cannot have any time away from work for the first three months without suffering a write-up. I already have one, due to an accident that lengthened my arrival from one hour to an hour and 12 minutes, despite speeding at 90 mph. After two, the write-up goes in front of the council and they determine whether or not you’ll remain.

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Low wages, high stress, no control

Last Friday was the final day of school and an early release. With Cameron dismissed an hour before Nikki, I asked him to pick her up. She usually rides her bike. But I took them out for breakfast. When we were finished, there was no time to go by the house to get Nikki’s things. Besides, she wouldn’t need anything on the last day, right? Wrong.

I dropped Cameron off with $20 so he and Nikki could celebrate getting out early and purchased a yearbook for him to have signed. Off I drove, wondering how the summer will go. Cameron wants to work a summer job. Nikki wanting to swim. (This is a big deal considering a non-English speaking woman nearly drown her in a tub when she was four. Ever since, it’s been a trial even giving her a bath.) Cameron can’t be working while Nikki swims, so it was quite the conundrum. But, I had an hour’s drive with time to consider the options.

When I arrived at work, I submitted a text to Cameron which read, “Hey. respond when you get this… Nikki is out @ 1:15 p.m. Please be there BEFORE that time.” He texted back, “Ok I will.”

Neck-deep in a meeting, taking notes concerning a new system, I ignored my phone until it insisted I answer. I slipped into the hall to answer a call at 1:30 from Nikki, calling from the school’s office, saying he hadn’t come yet. I called six times, and he didn’t answer. As I was leaving a message, he picked up. “Oh,” he said, “I forgot. I’ll go right now.”

 

Cameron's message
Screenshot of my phone

My phone rang and rang within the next couple of hours from a Blocked Caller. Considering them sales calls, I ignored them, I slipped out periodically calling my son to no avail. Worried, I relayed my situation to my instructor, who reminded me that if I leave, I may lose my job. This means I’d also lose my apartment and ability to provide food, etc. for my children.

My mind raced around all the possibilities that may have occurred, preventing both kids from answering their phones. Was my daughter alive?

I hurried into the break room and listened to my messages. There was a call from a police officer, left at 3:55, stating he’s bringing Nikki home from school. She’d waited three hours and her brother never arrived. Because we failed to go home before school, she’d left her phone in her room and couldn’t call Cameron or me herself because the faculty had gone home.

Turns out, he was making out with a girl at the park after going to lunch with the $20. He’d saved enough to purchase frozen burritos for Nikki’s dinner.

The short answer to my solution? I’ve confiscated his phone and texted

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The game’s been set. Will he make a winning choice?

his girlfriend he cannot see her until permission is given. Snapchat and Instagram have been deleted. (And he’s freaking out because he can’t continue his “streaks” on Snapchat, as if it’s the end of the world.)

After three days, Cameron begged me to call his dad who thinks Cameron getting a job is a great idea. I explained that unless Cameron could handle the regular responsibilities, he would not get the privilege of payment.

 

I am signing both kids up at a military academy. Drastic, I get that. But I can’t afford to lose my low-paying position. What else can a mother do with a teen’s raging hormones but pull the leash in?