Last December, we sat at our old kitchen table and thought about Christmas gifts.
Our son was barely one and our daughter had turned three that summer. We were living in a little house that carried a big mortgage. I wrote in the evenings and he sold plumbing supplies all day.
We were optimistic. We were happy. We were crazy in love.
But we were also flat broke.
So much so that we narrowed our list of 10 gifts for our children down to just two, one for each kid. A $20 Big Wheels and a new winter outfit.
We cut out Netflix, cancelled magazine subscriptions and opted not to renew Amazon Prime (that one really hurt.)
We cut data out of our cell phone plans and switched to a lower-tier cable package. Still, around the middle of every month, we were scrimping to stay in the black. My husband felt defeated and I was just really scared.
Worst of all? Our babies had no clue. I’d tuck them to bed and talk to them about a grandiose future, where they could be a doctor or a dancer or a dentist, but I had no clue how we could ever afford to give that to them.
I reached out to old bosses and took on proposal writing work. He started crawling under houses and fixing pipes again at night. We were exhausted, stretched thin, and tired to the bone.
We turned to the internet for advice and I considered a venture in multi-level marketing. We even checked out get-rich-quick programs and scanned financial advice columns, like Wealthy Affiliate Review, to learn about starting up an online business.
We didn’t do any of those things. Not because we didn’t have the means, but because we didn’t have the energy. We’d crawl into bed at separate hours physically, mentally, and emotionally tapped out.
I read once that money is the number one reason married couples argue. I never used to believe it until I lived through it. Between bills and budgets, spending and saving, we were hard-pressed to find anything we agreed on. I’ve loved that man since I was 16, but nothing pulls you through the fire quicker than receiving a notice from the bank that you need to stop overdrafting your checking account or you’ll be severely penalized.
One day my husband came to me after dinner and declared, “I think it’s time to sell my truck.” He’d gone online and figured up the resale value and thought it would at least be enough to get us through the next few months of house payments. We went outside that very next day and took pictures of our beloved Chevrolet from all angles, with every intention of posting it for sale.
Instead, we accepted a loan from my grandparents to get us back on our feet. It was humiliating to ask for help, but humbling to receive it.
And slowly, the tide turned. Tides have a way of doing that.
Work picked up for both of us and our schedules became a little more flexible. I was less the harried, stressed-out mom and more relaxed and present. We started having family dance parties in the living room again. I began talking to my husband more before bed and I ached a little less when my daughter saw a new toy on television that she wanted.
Since then, we’ve dipped and peaked. We’ve had months where supper is bean burritos and breakfast is dry cereal and we’re grateful for it. Then, we’ve had surprise surpluses, and we’re equally thankful.
Just yesterday, I was getting ready for the day. I sat down in front of my bathroom mirror and started putting on my drugstore makeup. It wasn’t expensive and my hair wasn’t washed and I was feeling that generally gross way that moms sometimes do in the morning.
My daughter ran up behind me, threw her arms around my neck and put her tiny, porcelain-skinned face right beside mine. “You’re perfect for me,” she said.
I grabbed her and cried and squeezed her cheeks and repeated the same words right back to her.
So maybe we don’t have a lot of money. Maybe the commas in my bank account statement aren’t where I wished they were. Erma Bombeck called these the hamburger years – these times of sacrifice and struggle and of making ends meet.
We’re living into them deeply, embracing the spread of life with full arms and hungry eyes.
And what a glorious, delicious feast it is.