Many years ago, the school called me to come pick up my youngest son a lot – if he wasn’t in trouble, he was sick. As a single parent it was a struggle to keep a job and manage three kids, one of which was not doing well at school – at all. The truth was, the school had no idea what to do with Jake when he was there – he was not able to do the academic work and his behavior was often a problem. They had me sign a form that said they had permission to use gentle restraint when needed. They had to go take classes to learn how to do gentle restraint because apparently no kid before Jake was ever that bad.
At the same time, my two oldest kids were in high school and struggling in different ways. My son Asa was often in trouble at school, so it was not a surprise to get a phone call that he had been in another fight. But this time was different. This time he had been in a fight with his sister Caitlin – apparently ending with them both rolling around on the floor and Caitlin’s cheek getting bruised. They were both suspended. Eventually they were allowed to be back to school in regular classes. But then I got a phone call from the neighbor because Caitlin and Asa had a fist fight at home (Caitlin ran up to the neighbors for help) and I needed to come home to handle it.
I was working as a bookkeeper for a small business and had already reduced my hours due to continuing problems with the kids. I have chronic pain that flares up when I am stressed or don’t sleep well. I remember sitting at my desk in such pain that I put my head down on my desk – and I said to myself, “This is ridiculous.” So I put in my resignation and trusted God to provide for us. I wasn’t scared. I was relieved. I needed the time to take care of my family and I felt the only way to do that was to be at home full-time – even though my only consistent income would be Jake’s monthly disability payment. I knew God had it figured out and that somehow we would get through.
I had done some painting before so thought that I could maybe make some money selling my art. I didn’t have much in terms of supplies and just a little money to put into it. Years prior, I had painted a wolf on a rock and it turned out pretty good – so I decided that I would paint rocks. It helped that there were tons of rocks around where I lived. I just had to go out and find them. Soon I was painting lots of rocks and selling them on eBay. I didn’t get rich, but it all helped. Using Jake’s disability, my eBay income, my credit cards and a loan against my life insurance, I was able to keep us going. We were fortunate to qualify for food stamps so I didn’t have to worry about us not having food.
I took Jake out of school and homeschooled him for almost a whole year. During that time, I was able to get to know him better. I know that sounds awful – that I didn’t really know my child. But when you are a single parent, with several kids, trying to work and keep everything together, you lose that closeness that you might otherwise have in different circumstances. It was an eye-opening experience to work with Jake on very basic education because I was not aware of the extent of his learning disabilities. It was interesting to see how he acted socially and to learn what things set him off and how best to help him when he was out of control.
Being at home also helped things calm down with my two older kids as well. We had breakfast together. I took them to school and picked them up. We spent more time together as a family, and thus strengthened our relationships. And I was happy – and it all worked – for about a year.
My credit cards maxed out, my mortgage payments got behind, and I could not see any way out of the financial hole we were in – so I filed for bankruptcy and ended up losing my house. I decided that Jake needed to go back to school because he needed the social aspect of it and because I felt a real teacher could help him with his learning disabilities better than I could. Ended up getting a part-time job once Jake could manage being at school regularly, and we moved to a rental.
Not the ending I was hoping for, but I do not regret quitting my job. That decision to quit my job led to so many good things – so many opportunities that I would not have had otherwise. It gave me the opportunity to get to know my kids better and to strengthen our relationships. It gave me the opportunity to discover more about Jake’s disabilities and learn how to help him and what his triggers were. It gave me the opportunity to have more family time. It gave me the opportunity to paint, and find out that I really love it and am pretty good. It gave me the opportunity to feel freedom and peace, and to discover my love of gardening. Filing for bankruptcy gave me a clean slate financially. Having to move sent me on a journey of many more moves that have been full of new adventures – like becoming a paraeducator to help children like my son to have more success at school. I feel like it gave me my life back. And it all was possible because of the bad things that were going on. Without the bad things, the stress, the crisis we felt as a family, these opportunities would not have occurred. There is a myth that in an Asian language, the character for the word “crisis” is the same as the one for “opportunity.” While this is not true, I still hang onto the idea fiercely. Whenever bad things occur in my life, I try to see how it could be an opportunity for something new, something different, a change that will take me in a different direction. It is not always easy to see – and sometimes I don’t see the connections until later, as I think back upon my life. I am who I am, and where I am, right now, because of the good AND bad things that occurred and the decisions I made when those things came along. And I like who I am – and where I am – so it was all worth it in the end.