Friday, November 27, 2009

Monetary Miracles and Momentary States of Grace

With this being Thanksgiving and all, I’d like to share some tales of gratitude.

“The Dude Abides," that’s what the kids and I say when some inexplicable stroke of good fortune comes our way. It’s a standing joke; born out of a phone conversation just after the great flood of 08’, when a record, six inches of rain in two hours turned my basement into a raging tributary of the mighty Mississippi.

My homeowners insurance left me high and dry, through their convenient exclusion clause, dealing with “overland flooding.” Even after my friends, my kids’ friends and my kid from NYC came home to help with the clean-up, there were replacement and repair costs for which I had zero funds.

Enter Uncle Sam. In grateful glee, I was telling son # 1 in Los Angeles that I’d received a check from FEMA that day. But the cell phone signal, as always, was spotty in this old house.

“The Lord provides!” I proclaimed, hearkening back to my Baptist roots.

“What’d you say?” asked Nathan. “The dude abides?”

I busted a gut laughing, “yeah, something like that!”

Of course! Of course that’s what my screenwriter son in Los Angeles would say! His concept of a quote from the “good book” would be any line of dialogue from any script the Coen brothers ever wrote! Lord provides, dude abides, same difference.

The FEMA money, thrilled as I was to receive it, does not however, meet the criteria for monetary miracles, of which, I have personally experienced three.

The first was the $21,000 Letter. Patrick, my #2 son, was the first kid with whom I experienced the terror of “funding college while Dad’s in the slammer” which, they do not cover in financial aid brochures. Patrick was a senior when his father was arrested, so I had a distinct Paddy knot in my gut for months worrying about how I’d actually pay for the film school to which he’d been accepted. (Yes, two kids went to film school, imagine the poverty and despair!) At the time, however, I had a good job and was reasonably solvent. There was just that little matter of the bankruptcy five years earlier.....hence the need to write a letter of explanation to THE dude, Dear Old Uncle Sam, a direct lender to Patrick’s prospective college. Summoning all my journalistic objectivity, I simply recounted the facts; I went belly up five years prior, when my marriage ended and my household income plummeted some 60%; the ex lost his job shortly after the break-up, providing zero support for the first 18 months after the split; BUT in the ensuing years, I’d more than doubled my income, qualified for a new house, a new car and was current with all my creditors, and (cue the violins now) surely this diligent effort by a single mother of four, teaching her children that indeed “anything is possible” should be worthy of an affirmative nod from her benevolent Uncle Sam, because, after all, I was working toward getting all four of my kids through college and on to the tax rolls!


And honey, this wasn’t a 3-pointer, this was the $21,000 college loan, buzzer shot ! The financial aid director at North Carolina School of the Arts, with whom I have a life long bond, called and said,

“I have never seen one of these “extenuating circumstance” loans approved so fast!”

What the hell did he think? Extenuating Circumstances R Us!

The 2nd monetary miracle occurred that fall, when I took Pat to the aforementioned school. He was in, that’s all that mattered, but I was still broke as a joke --you know, no extra cash laying around to outfit his dorm. But Paddy’s a sweet kid, grateful just to get in, (especially when you look at his high school grades) and he’s the quintessential minimalist, not in to material possessions. So we loaded up my Subaru with all his paltry possessions, which I washed (think art student here...) and drove from MO to NC for his freshman year of film school. He was so excited and honestly, I was so fucking proud that we’d been able to pull it off, I was having a prolonged , 750 mile, super-human strength moment. You know that feeling, when you feel strong enough to pick up a car?

It was sketchy though when it came time to get at least a few things for his dorm, (like Cheez-Its and plastic coat hangers) and still have enough money left for the solitary trek home. I figured I had about $50 left on my puny little credit card, which Cap One had so graciously sent along with a $200 limit, the very minute my bankruptcy showed up in the paper. I love those bastards.

We swiped the card at the Walmart, waiting, waiting, waiting. APPROVED! I also love being approved.

Well, okay! I take him back to the dorm, drop him off, we cry like babies and I’m heading back, 750 miles, by myself, empty car, two teenagers at home, with just enough money for gas and food, not enough for a motel, I’ll have to drive straight through.

I muse over the Walmart purchases.

“Hmm, I’m surprised it went through.”
“It was like, $64 bucks!”
“Shit! They’ll charge me a goddamn $35 over-limit fee for Cheez-Its!”
“I hate those bastards!”

Thinking, thinking, cussing and thinking, I do what people who are intelligent do, I called the 800-number on the back of the card, as I’m maneuvering the mountain roads in Asheville, NC.
I click the appropriate number to check my available credit balance.

“Your available credit balance is $783.42.”

Holy mother of God!!!! I almost wreck the car!! $783.42 ! Hell, I could have bought him a damn clothes hamper ! Cap One, in their infinite generosity, had (unbeknown to me, obviously) raised my credit limit to $1000, at the precise time when, golly gee, I needed a bit more spending money! I promptly pulled off the highway and ate breakfast at the Cracker Barrel. I even rocked in one of those stupid rocking chairs and bought three pieces of stick candy for the rest of the ride home, thanking the credit card dudes all the while.

Monetary miracle #3, just happened this week. While not as perilous as the 2nd one, when I almost careened off the side of a cliff, giddy with joy over my manna from heaven, this third episode does have a certain, uncanny, full-circle feel to it. This trifecta of the monetary miracles, also came in the form of a plastic card with money behind it. I got it in the mail, only this one does not have criminal finance charges associated with it. There may be, however, some strings attached --forgiveness and acceptance strings, which make me feel a tiny bit uncomfortable, having been the impervious “little mama that could” for lo, these seven years.

Turns out, the state of Missouri, on it's own volition, has begun collecting back child support for me and they’re depositing it in a handy little account. All I have to do is swipe and run. I don’t need no stinking approval. This is amazing.

What’s even more amazing, the amount being deposited each month, dollar for dollar, is the EXACT amount of money that was cut from my household budget last June, when I had to take a pay cut to keep my job. Like millions of other workers in this country, everybody in the company took a pay cut to keep the place afloat. That’s cool, I get it, but with me as the sole provider, two kids still in college and an 80 pound dog to feed, well, you get the picture....

But this time, it’s Uncle MO to the rescue riding on the back of the “Ex,” who I’ll call Rick in this blog.

It took Rick a few months to get a job, I suppose prison was one thing, but trying to earn a living when you’re a registered sex offender, that’s a whole different kind of challenge. I sympathize with that, to a point. From what I’ve heard, the laws make it practically impossible for sexual offenders to gain their footing, once they’ve completed treatment and done their time. This wouldn’t appear to do anybody much good, but such are the risks associated with engaging in illicit acts with minors. Never mind that Rick was one of four men who were caught and prosecuted when this boy’s parents confiscated his computer. Never mind that his sentence was longer than everybody else’s. Never mind that on the night after his arrest, when I would have choked him with my bare hands, if not for the bullet proof glass between us, he told me with tears in his eyes,

“I swear to God, Jean, I thought he was eighteen. He told me was eighteen.”

Never mind any of that. Eighteen? As if.

As if it would have been okay if that boy had been the same age his very own son, who was a senior in high school. As if anywhere, that would be considered okay. Okay, technically, it might be legally okay, but morally, uh-uh. Not where I live, buddy boy, I’m not buying it. And as it turned out, he was only 13, the same age as our youngest son.

Some people, have suggested, after gauging whether I could reach them with a left hook, that Rick got a harsh sentence. As news reports eventually revealed, the juvenile had a habit of meeting men in person after he’d met them on the Internet. Four of these encounters led to four men going to prison. Call me old fashioned, but I’ve always held that right is right and wrong is wrong and anytime there’s a kid involved, I come down on the side of the kid, I don’t give a flip how screwed up the adult’s childhood was.

To this day, I have never spoken to Rick about what could have possibly gone wrong in his life to have led him down this dark path. We split up when he confessed he was gay, but they don’t put people in prison for that. Still, I have never interrogated, screamed, accused nor questioned, "How could you do this to your kids? How could you lie like this? What’s wrong with you?” because frankly, I’ve been too busy.

Not trying to sound like a martyr here, but from the night his mug shot showed up on TV, the mothering-on-steroids kicked in like a seven year adrenaline pump which is just now beginning to taper off, because they're grown now, for the most part. On any given day I had to choose where to put my energy. I’ll admit, some days were better than others. I could allow myself to steep in bitterness, and self-doubt, wallow in the sorrow of so much loss, or put a fucking tourniquet on it. I chose to stop the bleeding.

Besides, to quote Jethro Bodeen from the Beverly Hillbillies, I had some cipherin’ to do. Lord knows I always had some cipherin’ to do. Like figuring out Patrick’s college and Lauren’s college and Sean’s college....and cars, and computers, and orthopedic braces, and emergency appendectomies and emergency water removal from my basement! When the water’s rising, who has time to ponder ?

I may not have answers, but by God I’ve got a little bit more cash. And far be it from me to question monetary miracles. Rick went from being an anchorman to being a delivery man. He doesn’t complain much and I give him a lot of credit for that. God bless him and Uncle MO, for alas, my lost income has miraculously been restored.

The Dude indeed, abides.

P.S. Thanks to all of you for your sweet comments on the blog and for your kindness and prayers for my brother Don. Dallas won yesterday and he was able to eat some turkey and pumpkin pie. All things considered, he had a pretty good Thanksgiving.
And thanks to you, I did too. Keep hope alive.


  1. Jean, you have the gift!! Keep going!! Bobbie

  2. Jean Ellen you are bold, brave and ballsy. I love your words almost as much as I love you. Keep the tears and laughter flowing.

    Michelle the Belle

  3. Jean,

    It's amazing to me that your writing is equally as awesome as you are (considering the high amount of awesomeness you posses). Love the blog. Love you.


  4. Jeannie! Extenuating Circumstances R Us - I laughed out loud. You are too funny!

  5. Your writing truly conveys your optimistic, never-say-die attitude. It seems appropriate to play "Truckin" while reading this blog.
    Keep on Truckin' Jean!

  6. Your strength to move forward when others would retreat is flat out amazing. Never doubt the "dude."