Catch Up or Give Up (or Welcome to the New School)

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Since we moved, things have been much different. School, especially, has been a hurdle we all have had to climb much more quickly than we thought. I’m going to let you in on a secret…people in Illinois do not think people in Indiana are getting a kick-ass education. Now, I’m not here to speak to the whole state and I can’t even speak to the whole school my kids are in but I can tell you in the two classrooms my kids are in they are getting an education that far surpasses their previous education.

Which, friends, is a double-edged sword.

I had to give a Friday Night Lights style pep talk (I miss that show forever and always) to my kids at the end of week two at the school. They were overwhelmed, their grades were all crap because they weren’t used to grades at all (previous school gave E for exceeds, M for meets, and P for progressing toward goal) and they didn’t know what to do with the Cs and Ds and even (I seriously almost fainted) Fs my kids were suddenly coming home with.

I steal all my best pep talk jamz from Coach Taylor. 

Even though I was terrified they were going to pull my kids out of the High Ability (HA) classroom and put them into the regular classroom, the first thing I had to acknowledge was that, if they did, that was okay. Don’t get me wrong, I nearly cried when both kids tested into the program because Oldest Sister is strong in reading and weak in math and Middle Sister is strong in math and weak in reading and I didn’t know how it would work if they only tested strong for their preferred subject and when I was informed they were both going to HA I was absolutely thrilled (who wouldn’t be?) and hoped we could bring up their weak subjects without turning my house into Brave New World or The Giver or some other awful place where children only do what they are supposed to and never have any fun.

I realized while I was in my pep talk that it really was okay if they ended up in the regular classroom. Of COURSE it was okay. But only if we made the effort – first – to bloom where we were planted.

Big Sister brought her grades up within a month. The hook of my speech was, “We only have two choices. Catch up or give up.” Big Sister had taken it to heart and I think everyone in her class being really kind and helpful made it easy for her to decide to catch up. The entire district has a philosophy to keep the same class together from 1st grade though middle school, so these kids kind of know they have to get along because they’re going to be together for years. It forms close bonds among children and parents alike because the class has it’s own identity as it passes from grade to grade. So it was fairly easy for her to catch up.

Middle Sister, on the other hand, struggled. She forgot to turn in a couple assignments and it was the end of a grading period so her report card had two Fs on it. She was getting run down. She had never felt any kind of educational adversity before. Everything has always been so easy for her and it was hitting her hard. She cried. She looked tired all the time. I ended up holding her and stroking her hair a lot when she just couldn’t do one more thing. I asked her if she wanted to give up and every time she would say in this quiet, sad voice, “No mommy, but I do want the hard part to be over now.”

“Soon, baby, it will be over soon and you will be so happy.” You know every time I said that I prayed with every cell in my body I wasn’t lying. I prayed that it would be over soon. That she would catch up before she just couldn’t take one more step. I had her read out loud to me and  I would read her the same paragraph out loud and then have her read it out loud. Back and forth for a half hour a night. I signed up for a free account on www.spellingcity.com and had her do extra spelling practice a half hour a night. It started to work. She brought home a C+ and then a B+ on her spelling tests. She was reading with a little more fluency. She was starting to get a foothold.

Then we had a setback. A big one. They do timed fact practice at school. 100 problems in 4 minutes for now and I think they go faster as the year progresses. Every one would come home with an F or a D- on it. She was stuck. She didn’t know what to do. She was getting bad grades at math. A great deal of her personal identity is based on being great at math. My confident child was handing over papers and saying things like, “I don’t understand. I know all these. I just can’t go any faster.”

My heart broke.

I told her, “Well, you know your times tables, so the problem isn’t your knowledge it’s your speed so I need you to know first, last, and always that how fast you can do math is never a good way to judge yourself. These sheets are to help you memorize the times tables to the deep marrow in your bones, like they were part of your skin, little memories tattooed in your brain forever. This is not a test that judges how good you are. This is a test to help you be better, even if it feels like you’re failing, every time you’re remembering a little more.”

I’m paraphrasing myself and it was kind of a long speech. I talk until I can see the kid’s eyes focus back on me and hear what I’m saying. I may say the same thing ten ways until one of them hits the target and my kid really HEARS what I’m saying. I talk in a gentle, almost hypnotic voice because if I yelled it all none of it would stick. My kids aren’t horses and I don’t plan on breaking their spirits!

So when this came home today:

I’m not even going to lie, I got misty. Like, almost started bawling right there.

I made sure Big Sister heard my speech about the hard workin’ B and how important it was even she got in on cheering Middle Sister and being as supportive as she is able. I mean, she was fine, not mean or anything but I can’t even tell you how happy Big Sister is to be The One That Is Good At School™ since it has been Middle Sister’s title for so long.

Big Sister has bloomed since we have been at this new school and Middle Sister has experienced things that are not easy. Who knew two girls could get so many maturity-boosting lessons in 9 weeks?

Today, I signed them up for a softball camp. Three Saturdays of hitting, stealing bases, learning about sportsmanship and doing whatever other cool things softball players do. There is a big sports culture in this town and even if my girls turn their eyes to books and drawings I still want them to try and experience as much as possible so they have fewer “what if” moments as they get older. Middle Sister is loving the board game club she is in now and has applied for the next session. Big Sister has signed up for a coding workshop that starts in March.

Today is the first day I finally stopped holding my breath because today is the day I know both of my girls not only chose to catch up, they followed through and are going to be okay.

Breathing brings me great happiness.

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Same Situation, Different Year, Different Situation

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This place is familiar.

The place where the taxes are finished and on hold to be sent as soon as the government will accept them. The “pre-spending” list written over the course of the year and ordered most important to least important done. If there is a list, there is no giddy sense of overwhelm and no moment to savor. In order for our financial plans to work we must not forget we are poor just yet. We must keep the mentality of “cannot afford” and “we can’t right now” long enough to make our momentum last.

The place where Mr. Brickie laid off and has it on good authority the next job starts “in a couple weeks.” Last year a couple weeks turned into July. It was awful.

Even though a lot of the phrases and timing is the same this year, it’s also a lot different.

The tax return we are expecting is larger than any I’ve ever received. There will also be a portion dedicated to the emergency fund so I can stop using credit cards for emergencies. If I do not pay off the credit cards with the tax return, I’ll do that through the course of the year.

The job front is different in two respects. First, Mr. Brickie has more contacts and more understanding about how the season works. The job starting is one where the foreman really likes Mr. Brickie. Likes him so much he sent a written recommendation to the apprentice coordinator. Also, Mr. Brickie isn’t going to wait and hope like he did last year. He’s going to get out there and get work.

In the meantime, he has applied for unemployment and that gap in employment he had before he started the training program for becoming a bricklayer hit us hard in terms of unemployment payments. The first time he got $272 every two weeks. The second time he got $320 every two weeks. This time (after the waiting week) it will be close to $800 every two weeks.

I think the difference between last year and this year is really striking.

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Birthday Parties and Layoffs

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I threw a birthday party for one of my daughters and the other one will have her birthday party next week. I was really nervous about it because it’s been a while since we’ve done a party and with all these new people and not knowing how many kids were coming I was a wreck.

Of course Mr. Brickie then got called in on the Sunday the party was happening on so it was going to be just me. Lucky for me, my cousin came by a little early and kept me sane. Five kids showed up and they all had an absolute blast. They rotated between video games and hanging out talking and Pokemon cards.Three boys and two girls and everyone just…got along.

It was amazing. Even Little Sister and Big sister were great hosts, asking if people needed more snacks or something to drink. I was proud of everyone.

Yesterday, Mr. Brickie found out he’s laid off again, so today I am putting in his unemployment application online just in case he doesn’t get back to work right away (if I put in the app and he does start working right away you just don’t certify and nothing happens) but he has a lead on a job starting in a couple weeks so that’s promising.

Of course he’s not going to just sit and wait and hope for a couple weeks. He’s learned from past “waiting games” that turned into “no gig” that waiting is never the right option for steady work! No one has done this to him intentionally, but things happen. It’s important to get your hustle on the minute you find out there isn’t work the next day.

We do have enough to pay January’s rent today, though, and I should have my tax return by the time February’s rent is due. I’m also really really excited to be able to write that sentence! Even though he was laid off (temporarily) I can still BREATHE knowing the rent is paid.

Whew, right? Total whew.

Today is the day where Mr. Brickie goes to Illinois and cancels our public aid (medicaid and SNAP) so we can reapply in Indiana. It also looks like it might be a food bank day but I need to lok that up. I have a feeling it’s Thursday. One moment.

(15 minutes later)

Okay. Mr. Brickie is on his way to the food pantry. It’s 9:07am and they close at 10am and all he needs is proof the kids get free lunch (they do) and he says the building where he would get that letter to prove they get free lunch is in the same building as the food pantry.

He just tried to take my car. It started fine (hooray!) but is totally stuck in the snow. Wouldn’t move an inch. I’ll have to look into that if I plan to, you know, drive anywhere this week. He’s taking his commuter car (the ’90 Toyota) to the food pantry.

I wonder if I’ll ever get used to things being not-horribly-difficult … every time something here is easy to get done or close-by it feels like a shock to my system. I’m determined I will never take it for granted.

So with a (super low-key and inexpensive) birthday party under my belt, public aid services getting switched, unemployment being applied for while jobs are being searched for, and getting the food pantry taken care of it’s been an eventful morning.

How silly of me to forget so quickly what my job is. Sure it’s overseeing homework and making dinner and keeping my home neat and inviting. That’s just my public face, though. When danger threatens my family I turn into a superhero! I spin in a circle and become a kind of rickety-poor version of Wonder Woman. My powers are finding ways to make it through Mr. Brickie’s apprenticeship with food and power and all the things we need to survive.

I wish I could remember my super-powers when he is working steadily and I start thinking I’m useless.

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Today We Are No Longer Homeowners!

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I know you’re probably cringing for me because it’s such an awful thing this whole foreclosure business but really we’re past that and on to the celebration of starting the new chapter in our lives.

A chapter where people are kind.
A chapter where we aren’t crazy dirt poor.
A chapter where my daughters are blooming from being planted in fertile educational soil.
A chapter where things only get better. (I mean on the whole, I’m sure emergencies will still occur.)
A chapter with hope as the underlying message.

With the weather being so awful-cold he hasn’t worked yet this week so rent is going to be a struggle this month but he’s going to try and figure something out (as am I).

It’s okay. We’ll get there.

In the meantime? No albatross around our necks and $120,000 less debt. Our Net Worth has improved drastically overnight.

Have a great day.

(Technically the court date was Tuesday, Jan. 6th but today is our first full day of being not-homeowners!)

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Be Present….For What?

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The only thing that keeps going through my mind is, “Be the present you wish to see in the world.” Because I destroy perfectly good quotes and make them into other things and that’s how I think.

I’m planning a birthday party today. I’m not sure how to be present for the possibility of 28 3rd grade children in my not-small but not-big house-apartment-space. I keep going back and forth between, “The kids will have fun. There will be cake. There will be toys. Kids are low pressure.” and, “They’re all going to laugh at me.” (Yes, the Carrie reference is totally intentional. Of course it is!)

Even if I get through this one I have two more this month. Big Sister’s in two weeks and the friends/family party the weekend in between. I might cry.

Okay, I know it sounds like I’m going off into left field, but stick with me.

In order to be present in your life, you have to know what your life IS. Some days I feel like my life now is like I won the life lottery with decent neighbors, people on the street that wave and say hello, and kindness at almost every turn. Then other days I feel like I live in an apartment and that makes me less of a life-succeess than someone who rented a house than someone who owns a house. Like, I would be happy to be present in my life if I knew how I was supposed to feel about my life, you know?

I have a great family, but I can’t afford the convenience of having a birthday party at the place with the trampolines. Is that something I should feel bad about or not give a crap about? Will the moms judge my situation? How do I make a good impression? Will I even have the chance to make an impression with a bunch of kids running in after being dropped off and running out when they get picked up?

I’m perfectly willing to be present. I just don’t know what I’m showing up to be present for. My life feels like someone else’s more often than not and I have this weird feeling I’m playing my part all wrong. (Not saying I could change, I couldn’t. That doesn’t make the feeling of doing it wrong go away.)

My choices since I have moved have been more social and I am doing my best to be the person I think I want to be, but I’m not sure if I’m doing it right.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is I am fully present but in a perpetual state of confusion.
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Learning to Let Go…

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I am not an enlightened person.

I’m in the forgive but don’t forget camp. I hold no ill will to anyone for anything that’s happened to me pretty much ever because holding anger only hurts my heart and does not move me closer to solutions.

You know me, I’m all about the solution to the problem.

Really, when it comes to letting go I’m a champ, except when I’m not. You see, I have kind of an awesome memory. It’s not photographic (probably not even photogenic!) but it works by association and looks an awful lot like file cabinets. If someone asks for something or needs something I check the file cabinet before saying, “Yes!”

I’m not sure if that is “Setting Appropriate Boundaris” or “Holding on to Past Grudges” and I have this sinking feeling that it’s a matter of perspective.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but what are remembering past grudges and using them to form “Healthy Boundaries” but holding on to the past with good intentions?

Is it obvious I find it confusing?

What matters more: The action, or the intent?

I let go of a lot in 2014. A house, a town, SO MUCH ANXIETY! I don’t plan on flipping the script and becoming a hoarder, but I’m certainly not actively looking to let go of anything else at this time.

Maybe sometimes the best thing to do is relax and not let go.
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2014 – A Blog Year In Review

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Oh my gosh! This seemed like such a cute idea when I first saw it on a few blogger’s sites. Collect a few posts from a few months and viola! You have this great little year in review, some links to posts people may have missed, and a review post all in one!

Then I started going through my blog.

You guys, it’s a MESS.

So many pictures didn’t come over when I switched hosting companies. There are blank boxes with names of pictures and no pictures. Things are messy. I don’t like my own writing half the time. It was a humbling (LONG) experience.

I did my best to keep it as un-snoozy as possible.

January

At the beginning of this year I cooked crock pot ground beef stew and chicken nuggets as I worried my way through my first winter as a bricklayer’s wife.

February

I calculated our -$96,985 net worth and figured out we had more bills than income. I also started working out with a kettlebell. Then I bit all my nails off waiting for Mr. Brickie to go back to work “any minute now” (which turned out to be June 27th!)

March

I got the bills and the budget sorted a bit. There was a really good, old-fashioned rant about people who get angry at people for buying junk food with food stamps, and I got misty eyed as I realized one of the most popular posts on my blog was about our date night.

April

We got chickens! We built an almost servicable coop before deciding to leave them indoors. I loved those chickens like you would not believe.

May

I shared the story about how I dropped the ball and did not follow through with my responsibilities on a board of trustees I was elected to.

June

I finally stopped overexplaining! It was one of the best decisions I ever made even if it occasionally makes others a bit uncomfortable. Mr. Brickie finally went from no work to oodles of poodles of overtime.

July

I bought all the girls’ school supplies online and my friend loaned us a car!

August

We started planning the move we thought would be taking place in July, 2015. Mr. Brickie’s work schedule went a little crazy–from overtime to no overtime to overtime to no gig. I try to practice some mindfulness and take time to be thankful for the amazing things I have in my life.

September

In an effort to be move-ready, we play The Minimalist Game. I start an emergency/moving fund.

October

First, we bought a really, really used car with the emergency fund and then we get awful professional budgeting advice while we are trying to keep the house from being foreclosed on and then we find out we have to move way, WAY sooner than expected and I start a fundraiser, because my sad little emergency/moving fund isn’t going to cut it.

November

I will never doubt the goodness of people again because we raised enough money from the fundraiser to move. Also the goodness of our landlord who found the fundraiser on the Internet and still let us move in even though he knew our rent and security deposit were paid by the kindness of others.

December

The girls both tested into gifted classrooms, they love their new school, 4th graders all learn to play the recorder and 3rd grade learns to read music, the school lost one of my daughters, and I opine on the difference between buying something (like beer) because it’s in your budget vs. buying something because it’s part of a costume.

I hope you all have a really stellar 2015! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your visits, your emails, your phone calls, and your support. I really think this is one of the most supportive corners of the Internet and I would like to figure out a way to make it even more inviting next year but for now I’m spending my time just thanking each and every one of you in my head for showing up and reading.

You are the best.

For real.

Also…I want to let you in on a secret…I think 2015 in the Decki houshold is going to be way, way better than last year.

I can’t wait to share it with you!

Promotion Update

Mr. Brickie Promotion Tracker
Hours to 60%: 147
Days: 19
Estimated Date: 2/2/2015

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How I Talked to My Kids About Foreclosure

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I’ve never told you guys how I handled the kids during our years-long foreclosure drama, have I?

My bad. Totally my bad.

Ugh. I can’t decide if I should go with some good music while I write today or Dave Ramsey (I hate even saying the name because I’m really not trying to make him a keyword. I’m not doing the plan unless you consider a Hot Pocket the same as Pizza because other than some Oregano and Basil they’re completely different.)

I’m listening to KMJM Classic Country 1360 on iHeartRadio. If you like country, check it out. I don’t often like country but when I do I want a very specific kind and this station has it.

Okay, so back to foreclosure. See, I’m not good at talking about this even though doing it was the most planned thing I’ve ever done.

I told my girls two YEARS before we moved that we were moving. I just kind of dropped it that we’d be moving in two years. They were 5 & 6 at the time and didn’t really process it very well but it was sitting there in their little brains. I would bring it up every 3-6 months. Totally casual but absolutely sure they heard what I said so it couldn’t leave their minds entirely but also to make sure they knew mommy and daddy had this under control and knew it was coming and did it on purpose.

When our timeline changed drastically from April 2015 to November 2014 they had a moment where they felt unsure and insecure. It broke my heart. I explained what happened (an investor purchased the property because they think it’s a nice area because they don’t have kids) and my kids, after a few days, were right as rain again.

The key was being consistent. I told them the things we knew were true. Nice schools. Friends and family in the area. We would all be together and it would be an adventure. I focused on adventure and how we were like explorers and we were going to learn new things and find great places. I referenced Dora because we were explorers. I referenced video games because we were in charge of our own lives like little avatars.

The very most important thing? I never showed fear. I may have been throwing up from fear and stress. I might have had too much wine trying to get through the awful feelings and thoughts but for my kids? I was Wonder Woman taking charge and solving problems. See daddy going to work? He’s working to pay the rent on our apartment we’re going to move to! Such a good daddy! He loves us so much!

Focus on the strength of the father the children can count on. Be a body to snuggle with if the children feel scared. Strength is the perception I was selling and I sold it consistently.
You guys already know consistency is the key to everything, right? I think the only reason this whole thing worked as well as it did for the kids is I never showed fear to them. I waited until I was in bed at night to cry silently into my pillow. I waited until they were outside to vomit while looking at the Craigslist ads for places to live.

Mr. Brickie was there for me and I was there for him so we could be there as a united front to the children. Also, I basically told no one else (except you) what was going on because I didn’t want anyone to have a chance to good-naturedly ask a question that could shatter my children’s world. We fed them the questions in subtle ways so they would come to us with concerns we had answers to.

It was a Machiavelli-level production. I honestly watched old Darren Brown videos to get my technique just right for planting questions and words into my children’s minds.

Creepy, right?

I don’t care. It worked.

Not only did it work but the kids have told me about a hundred times in the last month how much happier they are here. That didn’t require any manipulation. This town is perfect for us. Polite people, small-town feel. It’s amazing.

Over a thousand square feet of apartment (all original hardwood floors including a basement with washer & dryer) for $775/mo.? You’re singing the song of my people, for sure. A landlord that has no problem with painting and pictures and shelves because, as he said, “I want you to make it your home.”

Priceless.

While we did end up in a fantastic place compared to where we thought we would end up, even if we were in that dark, creepy basement apartment we looked at it would still be an adventure of a different kind and one we would eventually move away from to bigger and better places.

The fact that we can look at this place and say, “No. We will stay here longer than just a while.” makes things easier in the long run but the transition would have been exactly the same.

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The Difference Between Optimism and Gratefulness

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….and how being grateful might not save the world but it could save your sanity.

Christmas is difficult sometimes.

I don’t mean some Christmases are difficult and some are not. Every Christmas season there are moments that are difficult. Sometimes those moments are subtle and fast like a cold whisper-kiss across the cheek. Moments like the one where you want to add that one extra thing to the list for the kids and realize you can’t because you didn’t get a paycheck this week because you got a stipend check last week for training and training isn’t work so you don’t get anything on payday. Yes, that whole thought happens in a minute and it gets processed as a heartbeat of disappointment and it passes.

While my example is financial, I am sure manymanymany other people have similar moments of frustration. Maybe they are centered around family, maybe they are centered around friends, maybe they are centered around something personal. My point with the example above is not that I am poor, my point is that we all experience moments that are jarring to our personal version of Holiday Spirit™ happens to be.

I think of an optimistic person as not having those dark moments. They are somehow able to circumvent that moment of pain in between seeing something and feeling the disappointment. It could be nature, it could be nurture, it could be both, it could be neither. At this point I’ve come to believe optimism is an inborn trait. Those of us who were not born with it can come close with (I feel close to optimistic. Your mileage may vary, of course.) by cultivating a grateful heart. The way I define a grateful heart is stopping to notice the good moments and not letting them roll off into the pile of meaningless things that happened during the day.

For example, I received an email today that said (in part) “Your kids are lucky to have you and [Mr. Brickie].  They will go far with that type of love in their background.” (I’m not lying. Someone actually said this to me. I have the email. I HAVE PROOF.)

When I read that, my heart felt fuller almost immediately and a few overwhelmed tears might have spilled out. I took a moment to just be in that moment where I was amazed someone would think that about me, about my kids, even about my grumpy-butt husband. I spent another moment being thankful that person took time out of her busy day to share that positive thought with me. That is a priceless moment that keeps me warm against the moments of darkness and pessimism that come and go throughout not only the Christmas season but the whole year.

I keep those moments, those words you have been kind enough to give me in conversations, in messages, in emails. I keep them in my mind and in my heart on a little shelf and take them down when I’m feeling shaken and scared, angry and not good enough.

Cultivating gratefulness is not just about seeing the moment when the moment happens and having the feeling in that moment. It is keeping those moments on a shelf in your heart to combat the other moments that can bring you down. An arsenal of weapons where the ammunition is beauty, love, a kind word, or even the memory of a hug.

Weapons that can destroy the darkness. Hold back the pain. Create a dam of positive emotion that can be unleashed when it is most needed.

Warmth to combat the cold.

Hipsters, Lumbersexuals, and Living Within Your Means

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There is an article over on The Atlantic about Lumbersexuals. Go ahead, read it if you haven’t and then come back. If you don’t want to read it, I’ll sum it up. Lumberjacks are the new cowboys, flannel is back in fashion, and certain groups of men are happier working with their bodies and their minds as opposed to just their minds.

One of the iconic things mentioned in this article is a man with a flannel and a can of PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, which is cheap and drinkable but definitely not a microbrew or what anyone would call artisanal) and I smiled because cheap beer has a place in my heart from the old college days of cheap drinking and loud singing in large groups for no good reason. The article then goes on to talk about men in crisis and how they try to recreate these things that they felt were “real” because their lives seem so “unreal” and about three quarters of the way through I realized this is the same problem in a different light.

If these men wanted to feel masculine and do something with their bodies they could join a union. Or they could join a trade and not join a union. The trades get a bad wrap sometimes as a bunch of lazy guys doing bad work and being dumb. They are not. My husband needs to be able to eyeball 1/8″ and do fraction math all day long in his head while he lays brick. He gets a sense of doing real work at the end of a day where he has worked on an elementary school or a retirement home. We have pointed out buildings to our girls and said, “Daddy helped build that.” He tells me it is an immensely satisfying feeling.

It also pays a living wage once you get past being an apprentice. A wage that is enough to properly feed and clothe a family of five….if you are willing to live within your means and don’t want to eat at a farm to table restaurant every week and don’t mind cheap beer.

Lumbersexuals and hipsters want the accouterments of a middle class life but do not want to make the sacrifices that come with one.

PBR is fine and dandy as a symbol to show that someone doesn’t require a microbrew to be happy. To show off that you don’t need name brand things.

It is a different personification of the rich not needing to show off with a bunch of branded items. You are well off enough you don’t have to prove it to anyone so you don’t care if your car is ten years old. You are not showing off. It’s the understanding that once you have truly arrived the only person who needs to see you there is you. You don’t need anyone else to notice what you’re wearing because you just. don’t. care. It’s what my great grandmother taught me rich was and, while she was talking about having enough money, I think I misinterpreted at the time and thought she meant enough money as in loads and piles of money, not enough money in the very real sense of not feeling fear anymore.

But the posturing? The overt symbolism this entails? When you are drinking cheap beer (but the RIGHT kind of cheap beer, for sure, otherwise people might think you’re poor or something) you are sending a message as much as someone who is wearing DG sunglasses while sporting a Louis Vuitton handbag and … I don’t even know … pick some clothing that has a brand all over it and you get my drift. There are people who need/want to be billboards and there are people who want to be the billboards that are the mirror image of those other “bad” billboards but in doing so are just as much of a billboard as the first people. I don’t want to buy the things to look like I’m from GQ they say….I want this cheap beer and this (probably not cheap) flannel and I will grow my beard and not be mainstream.

Sure, they are not mainstream anymore and I do love looking at guys with beards because beards are nifty, but trying to pretend you’re something you are not happens as much in a thousand dollar suit as it does in a hundred dollar flannel.

It’s a costume.

If these men (and hey, I’m sure women feel this way too…I know I miss my flannels from high school and college like crazy!) want to do something meaningful with their bodies as well as their minds in order to make a paycheck they don’t have to risk their lives the way actual lumberjacks did. There are safety regulations that help keep people alive and everything now! Ah, the future! My husband doesn’t go on a scaffold twenty stories up without safety gear (thank goodness!) so he doesn’t have to deal with the horrible conditions and he gets the joy of a job well done that will last at least a few generations before it’s turned into a parking lot. Hell, the law of numbers states that our grandkids’ grandkids (I’m just using it as an example) will be able to find at least one building in the Chicagoland area that their ancestor worked on.

The sacrifice for these bearded, lost men (the real sacrifice that would give them satisfaction instead of symbols) would mean they would have to drink PBR because that’s what was in the budget, not because they were slumming. It would be a choice, still, but a different kind of choice.

A choice to live a life with less money and more life.

It’s a simple shift that would probably make a lot of people happy. The symbols of a satisfied life will never make the person wearing them as satisfied as the life itself would, but maybe it’s the best they can do. Maybe they can’t let expectations of what life should be just … go.

Switching our lives around from being a white collar family to a blue collar family has been one of the most difficult things we have ever done individually or as a couple. A new state, a new living arrangement, new schools, new expectations, and a new budget have left us reeling but feeling satisfied and at home. I know that there is a Mary Engelbreit quote that says, “Bloom where you’re planted.”

Sometimes, though, you have to tear out your root structure and move to the sunlight so you can bloom your best.

Dumping cheap beer and old symbols on the problem isn’t going to solve anything.

Only a change in perspective can do that.

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