Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Downside of Being an “Angel" on an Angel Tree

Welcome back Me! It's been almost THREE years since I've blogged!
And, hello Stranger, who I will likely never see, meet, or even know anything about you, as you read a tiny excerpt from approx 1 hour of my life, many moons ago.
Be blessed. You are seen. You are important. You are loved.
First, I/we have never ACTUALLY been on an Angel Tree, though there is no shame in that … and quite honestly, I feel certain we would have been accepted if applied. There are some of us who either were raised to not accept handouts or naturally have too much pride … which can be both a good and bad thing. I fit one or both of those descriptions. By default, I’m a natural born giver. Being on the receiving end is not in my comfort zone.

As far as "joining in the spirit of giving during this holiday season," here’s a different perspective/take and a bit of insight for others who are graciously giving to the “less fortunate.” Which I also have done, do, and will do when possible. It wasn’t until I was convinced against my will to “allow others to love on me and my girls,” that I saw a little glitch in this concept.
It was an “Adopt-a-single-mom-Christmas-dinner-night.”
We experienced being a charity case.

It's important to keep in mind that people may not realize they are "less fortunate," OR, possibly, they are happy and fine living with less ... what you/others may see as beneath certain standards. We all store our treasures differently. Some of the most content, happiest people can be found in poverty. Yes, the gifts and gestures typically will light up many faces and hearts ... but sometimes it can backfire.

Getting straight to the point, I have two daughters, (they are grown now,) and I have been a single mom since 2007. I have never had a lot of money; therefore, my children were not raised with many of the luxuries like their peers. However, they survived just fine and very few people even noticed or knew that there was or ever could have possibly been a financial struggle going on in my bank account. Week-to-week, sometimes day-to-day. Zero dollars in a savings account, but we still made it. Creativity will make a fun game out of trying to see what meals you can make with what is in the house …. And how long you can make that last.

Three smiling faces and happy-go-lucky personalities are powerful and can outshine more than one could ever imagine. Plus, time together and laughing are free. They don’t cost a penny! -Not that we stayed happy 24/7, but moodiness and anger gives me anxiety, so I demanded pleasantness even if it was a ‘fake it til you make it’ situation.- (Hindsight has shown me I should have allowed them to express their emotions,*oops* but I needed peace and harmony to pull this off ... so they had to go with my flow. They can go to therapy for that when they get older and overcome their childhood like the rest of us.)

Possibly, the greatest illusion to our we-are-not-poor-appearance would be because my daughters are beautiful, cute as pie, and learned how adding inexpensive jewelry/sparkle/glitter to ANYTHING makes it look super fancy. I also made sure their teeth were white and hair was healthy/well/kept, nails painted, or at least clean and nice. It certainly helped that all 3 of us wore the same size clothes as far as a larger variety wardrobe … and they wore school uniforms for a few years.

My main budget objective besides paying the mortgage and bills was to take my children on AT LEAST one vacation EVERY year. Preferably to the beach and anywhere else we could go. I was able to bless our family of three, (and sometimes they could take a friend,) with travel many times thanks to friendships/relationships I had/have established over the years. Sometimes, someone had a vacation home, airfare, hotel points, etc. and shared them with us. Other times I bartered hair services. I am thankful for those HUGE blessings and look forward to the day I can pay such forward. And, I shall. I remember one year a client said I could stay at her oceanfront condo when the kids were about 10 and 14. They both got so excited and I was like, “What makes you think I am taking you? You both want to stay on your phones and aren’t exactly the most pleasant to each other. I could invite a friend, who will split the gas money, food, adult conversation and have fun. That will be much more vacationy for me!”

They were stunned and appalled that I would consider NOT taking them with me. After they discussed amongst themselves, they approached me with a proposal, “Mom, what if we both contribute $20 to gas money and limit our cell phone time? Then can we go with you?”
Needless to say, that worked … and they each have always contributed toward the fuel expense since that trip. If we are traveling with others, especially adults, there is always a pause, stare and jaw dropped silence when one of my girls leans through the seats and hands a twenty dollar bill to the front when we pull up to the gas pump. Instant good chi for everyone. Adults are stunned and impressed. My girls feel proud, responsible and grown up. Awesome ...

Though the financial struggle was very real, to others, at the time, it looked like we were ‘living the life’ … and to us, we were! It WASN’T a facade. It was our perception of our little all-girl-life … and perception is reality. Who knew we packed lots of food from home in our luggage, bought groceries there just as we would at home or seldom to never went out to eat at a restaurant? I showed them the awesomeness and upside to having whatever you want right there in the room, to be eaten whenever their little hearts desired! And, no fussing at each other because someone is taking too long to get ready while everyone else is waiting and starving. A win/win. Plus, that was more time looking at the ocean … and they needed to soak in every moment possible because oceans aren’t in Tennessee, but the restaurants are.

Granted, our home also threw/throws many off and has been the cause of a tremendous misconception of our financial class/status. The only answer I have is that sliding in this house before the market crashed in 2008 (or whenever) was nothing shy of a miraculous blessing. In other words, virtually every dime I have goes to mortgage, and everyone gets ‘healthy, free water’ to drink at meals. There was/is NO WAY in Hades I would waste what we did have on carbonated drinks. Looking back, that ended up being better for them anyway.

Now to the case in point … or point in case … I never can remember the proper way to say that. But, back to BEING an angel on an Angel Tree and such … and our experience with being “adopted by a family who wanted to be there for a single mother and her pitiful/poor-child-of-one parent” kids. Overall, it sucked and I hope to never feel that way again.

Here’s how our experience felt as a family who was 'more fortunate' included us in their family dinner one night:
It was awkward before it even started. My kids could not understand WHY we were going to eat dinner at a stranger’s house. (I may have went a bit overboard with germ awareness, if people wash their hands before they touch food, and how normal looking people can be weirdo killers.)
We arrived, and I felt about 1 inch tall as we were greeted with an energy of Awww, you poor little, sweet things. Come in here. Like, when someone sees you for the first time after you lose a loved one. An overextended gesture of comfort with attempted effort to relate to your sadness in some way.
The energy within the host home was stuffy, not welcoming like our home. The family members were on the larger side, apparently not super health conscious eaters, and made fried chickenstrips. They were like McDonald’s chicken nuggets, only bigger, then macaroni and cheese along with another starch … no veggies. They had an older daughter, I think she was about 20, who very CLEARLY was forced to participate in taking in this possibly nearing homeless mother and her children. The dinner conversation was forced and unnatural. Then … In what seemed like slo-mo, in between bites, the mom/wife/female/matriarch asked my girls in a pitiful voice, “So, do you all have a Christmas tree?”
The girls looked at me in confusion. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Answer or let the kids answer. Melt in my chair. Change the subject. Say, “Oh, I forgot we need to leave early!” I have absolutely no memory what I did ...
Luckily, I had instilled and raised my children to know, recognize, give thanks and appreciate how very fortunate we were. For all they knew when they were young … we were LOADED. I certainly didn’t tell them any different until they were much older. This good-deed-doing-woman just about blew that.

My very perplexed, matter-of-fact, oldest daughter responded, “Uhhh … Yes. We have three.”

No, they were not brand new, fancy trees. One was a 3 foot Charlie Brown tree … It was not referred to as the ‘smallest, cheapest one,’ but ‘The cutest one.’
I honestly don’t remember if the family gave us gifts. I think it was just a ‘feed a family’ kind of deal. What I do remember is that I did not feel “loved like Christ loved the church.”
I felt pitied, judged and that someone did their ‘good deed’ so they could let others know how they hosted “a single mother and her two little girls for dinner last night.”

Food for thought: If you are helping someone through a tough time, don’t forget they are just as valuable of a human as you. They likely have not always been in this position, and likely won’t always stay in it. Hard times come and go. Pitying/looking down on someone as though they are less fortunate than you completely erases your so called good deed and makes another feel less valuable .... even though intentions were good and one’s heart was in the right place.

By NO means do I feel this family’s intention was to make me/us feel this way. I still to this day appreciate their efforts, having us in their home and the food that was prepared for me and the girls. It simply didn't go as planned ... at least not for us. Hopefully it helped them in some blessed way.

Regarding that night, in my spirit, I felt somewhat guilty and as though it was kind of wrong by accepting what I was encouraged to take by letting a family ‘adopt us for dinner.’ Possibly, it is because I knew there were other families in greater need. Or maybe it was because the girls and I were not alone or lonely. We have an amazing circle of family and friends to gather for dinner anytime we want, while others truly have no one. I honestly do not know why I was so hesitant and resistant to participate. I remember the lady who was over the ‘adopt a single parent’ thing telling me I needed to allow others to help me … that this was something I needed to work on within myself.
Maybe … maybe not. All I know is that I passed on anything like that again. In all honesty, I felt we were somewhat better off than them in the happy category … like, maybe it would have been more rewarding and fun for everyone if we invited them to our house. (They should start an “Adopt an unbroken-functional by the world’s standards-family-to dinner-program!)

There’s nothing wrong with asking for or needing help. I have certainly had to do it … even in recent times. But when my girls were in the young, formative years … I took more pleasure in teaching them how to go help someone else as though they are no different than you (because they are NOT different!) … and if possible, do it without drawing attention to yourself or the one in need.

Bottom line: EVERYONE is in need in some way. We are all less fortunate in some way. We are all better off than another in some way. Helping others is soo great, as long as it really helps. Giving a child (or person) a gift while declaring how sad it is that they can’t afford it devalues the gift, no matter it’s price tag. Don’t embarrass people because of what they don’t have materialistically. In the big picture, the one you think you are helping may be better off than you in other ways. If the primary possession one has is happiness, by all means, try not to take any of that.

I am not ashamed of our life. I am very proud of it. We learned to travel on a dime and how to cut corners, but still have fun. Now they enjoy BY CHOICE the challenge of finding good deals and being minimalists.

I wonder if they even remember this story about when we got adopted for dinner and suddenly felt like street urchins ...

Now, go pick you an angel off of an angel tree, or do something for the elderly, the disabled, widows, widowers, single parents, orphans ... Just don't convince yourself you're doing them a favor. It kinda puts a damper on the whole thing. If you are TRULY giving, the giver receives as much if not more than the recipient. Karma is clever.

Less is more,

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