BEDFORD — Christine sweeps the hair from her face, stifling a laugh as she repeats instructions for her ten-year-old twins. They’re supposed to be helping to clean the living room. But the boys are rambunctious; it’s hard to keep them focused on a task and harder still to ignore the comic nature of the things that distract them. Christine has to disguise her amusement to keep the house in order. She’s raising four boys and multiple pets. As of last month, she’s doing it alone.
This isn’t the first rough patch the family has faced, but it is the most intimidating. They settled into their new home in Bedford just three years ago. Money was tight, so the family relied on Operation Back 2 School and Night of Hope to keep their kids on track. Both Christine and her then-husband worked two jobs, and the household stabilized. They made it through lean years and medical issues.
It looked like they had finally found their way. Then, just as they pulled themselves from debt, Christine found out that her husband planned to leave the family behind. With even more expenses looming, she turned to 6 Stones for help.
A Surprise Blessing
Sixteen years ago, Christine and her husband committed to marriage. Their first child came just a year later, and they thought the family would stop growing with the arrival of their second in 2006. Those plans didn’t hold.
“When we first got married, we were actually both very comfortable, financially,” Christine said. “We discussed children and how many children we were going to have; he wanted two, I wanted four. After two, we were actually done. We had bought a great little home, just right for four people. And then we had the biggest surprise of our life with a surprise pregnancy that turned out to be identical twins. It’s been a huge transition, but they were meant to be here. They’re amazing.”
To make room for the twins, Christine left her job in Veterinary Medicine. They took a calculated risk; she needed a more flexible schedule than her long shifts allowed. Her Associates Degree lost value in the process — she wasn't able to keep up with the continuing education requirements of her degree and few employers will consider her resume without that element — but the kids needed her at home. She took on two part-time jobs as a nanny. The purse strings tightened, but so did the family ties.
“Children who live in families who are under this constant financial struggle, they live a different way. We live in the awareness that there’s not enough money to make all the ends meet, so they have to learn to live without,” she said, adding: “It brings me a lot of joy to work with children. My kids? I cannot ever express how much I love them. They are absolutely amazing. For me, to get those moments to connect with them, it’s so huge. It really is what gets me through my day.”
But that financial strain took a toll over time. Christine asked that the details of her divorce remain private, but there’s an undeniable monetary component. It set the entire family back.
Gasping for Breath
One of the boys suffers from a spinal condition; something the family only just got under control. Christine is due for an important procedure of her own. She’ll be in recovery by the time this piece is published, trying to get healthy in time to attend Operation Back 2 School. Even with those expenses, she was confident that the budget would stabilize. She and her husband had meticulously paid off their debts and resisted frivolous spending.
They didn’t have internet until 2016. This summer, her twins’ birthday party cost $1/kid plus the price of pizza at a public pool. The kids usually qualify for reduced-price lunch at school (this year, they qualify for free lunch). Christine picks up extra hours wherever she can to help the family get ahead.
“Recently, I worked really hard. Worked lots of extra hours for several months to get caught up. It was a really good feeling, to finally feel like I could breathe. Like I wasn’t drowning. And then I discovered a lot of things which led to my divorce. It was my choice to file for divorce, to protect myself and my children. I went from feeling confident, and so happy, and honestly, proud of myself for working an insane amount of hours in an effort to get us in a better place. I got to live in that place for a couple of weeks before my world came crashing down,” she said.
She started running the numbers in her head. They’d be going without something again this year; it was just a question of which things they let go. Then her boys came home with a letter from 6 Stones and HEB ISD. They qualified for free school supplies through Operation Back 2 School.
“I am always watching the bottom line,” Christine said. “I feel like I devote an exorbitant amount of time and mental effort. It’s draining, to constantly be concerned about money. I work as much as I can, but it just doesn’t ever quite seem to be enough. So those letters are [a welcome relief]. This year, if we didn’t have that available to us, my children wouldn’t be able to start school with the supplies that they need. That’s really big for us. It was a huge weight off my shoulders, to know that we have this available to us… I know that on August 10, we’re going to get to go and get the things that they need.”
The Beauty of Community
Christine is no stranger to teamwork; she built her household around it. Everyone has chores to do, and her eldest son even picks up construction work to cover his own wants and needs. But no amount of internal manpower can restore their finances this summer. Her ex-husband hasn’t sent child support payments yet, and her surgery will cost much more than the sticker price because of the wages she’ll forfeit during recovery. They need help. They need hope.
“Until everything gets sorted out through the court system, with child support and all the payments that need to be made — on time — we are struggling. We are in a very precarious place right now, and it’s a scary feeling” she said. “Two years ago, we did Operation Back 2 School. And it was a huge help for us. We wouldn’t have been able to supply our children with all of their needs without it.”
“I remember leaving my last 6 Stones experience — my first and last, previously — just being in awe. Feeling loved. I had felt in the past that I had no value, and I felt valued and loved. Just so overwhelmed with generosity and kindness and love. It was an amazing, very fulfilling, experience. I went in a little embarrassed and I was a little anxious and sad because I needed help. And I left feeling like my heart was just overfilled with love.”
Now, buried by stress, she’s eager to experience Operation Back 2 School again.
“It brought a sense of peace. My kids were so happy, afterward, to have backpacks and the school supplies that they knew they needed. To see them happy is huge for me. When you’re constantly living in a financial strain, there aren’t as many happy times,” said Christine. “Just to see everything there, through all the community, it was a really unique experience.”
YOU are an important part of that experience! There are hundreds of families like Christine’s in our community, and you can make an inexpressible difference for them by being generous with your time, talents, and treasure. With just over 2,000 kids waiting for a sponsor and countless volunteer roles available, this is the perfect time for you to get involved. Will you join us in supporting parents like Christine and their children?