12: The Tent

12: The Tent

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Happiness

The Tent

We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.

~Friedrich Koenig

Water hit me in the face and trickled down my shirt. “We’ve been attacked by munchkins!” I hollered at my husband as I ran after our five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter. We were a family armed with water guns and giggles, and somehow the kids always got their best shots on me. My mom’s eyes crinkled with delight as she watched us play while cradling our infant son.

“Lindy,” she said, “you and Tom are more like older siblings to your kids than parents.” This was an observation, not a criticism and Tom and I received her words like a badge of honor. We didn’t take life as seriously as we probably should have. Our marriage was easy and our children a delight. We let the kids stomp in rain puddles and stay up too late. We felt we had been given this amazing gift of three little personalities and we were privileged to know these beings before anyone else. It was like we were harboring three beautiful secrets that we would introduce to the world one day.

When Tom and I married we knew we wanted to have kids and experience America. We had our own design business and could set up shop anywhere, so we did. We lived in some of the best tourist spots in the country. We lived in Atlanta, Georgia through its gorgeous spring months. We enjoyed Colorado’s delightful year-round climate. For a time we lived in a two-story farmhouse, rich in character, on a pumpkin farm in Illinois and helped with several harvests. In the Northwest we chose to live in a little fishing village in the shadow of Mount Rainier. Later we moved to Montana where we were literally surrounded by mountains and taught our kids how to ski. The houses in which we resided varied widely. One was expansive with all the amenities, while another was a little duplex in desperate need of repair. Each one enriched our lives differently, but none as much as when we lived in the tent.

“The tent.” Whenever I say those words my husband smiles knowingly. That was the one place in which we did not choose to reside. Tom and I had been living in the most impressive house we had ever rented. It was a two-story in Washington State with picture windows all the way up to the vaulted ceiling. We had bedrooms enough for everyone plus a writing room and a room for me to do my illustration work. The windows looked out on a lush, green meadow bordered by tall pines. We were often surprised by deer that were curious enough to peek into our family room window. We would have stayed there forever if it hadn’t been so wonderful.

Now, we like wonderful. We like amenities and everything that this house had to offer, but so did the realtors, and because they liked it so much they were able to sell it right out from under us.

Although this complicated our lives and added to our expenses with deposits and moving costs, we were not worried. We had one really good design client. This company not only kept our bills paid, but also took the majority of our design time. They had us create newsletters, brochures and advertising pieces. We hadn’t needed to pursue other clients, so we didn’t. That, however, turned out to be a mistake.

The same week that we got the call that we had thirty days to move out of our house, we also got the call from our one and only client. He told us he had hired in-house designers and would no longer need our services.

Difficult circumstances, but not insurmountable. We planned to get in the car and hunt for a new place and new clients. That is when the final blow came. Literally! Our car’s engine blew up and we were done. We were thirty-four years old, had three kids and found ourselves without a car, without a job and without a home.

As we had always done before, Tom and I put our heads together and brainstormed survival plans. We borrowed a beater pick-up truck from his brother-in-law and when the deadline came for us to be out of the house, we moved most of our belongings into a storage unit. We had still not found a place to rent so we took our tent and our sleeping bags and a few changes of clothes to a state park and set up camp. The kids were delighted! We had been on many adventures with them and this was just one more, but not for me.

The tent was meant to be a weeklong stopgap measure, but new work and another house were not forthcoming. The reality of being without a home was setting in and I began to feel fear and frustration. We weren’t camping, we were surviving, and as the days rolled on with no income, our checking account dwindled. The prospect of having the required deposit and first month’s rent to get into a new place was fast diminishing.

My husband began each day by driving to his office in town to buy a newspaper and searching for housing and jobs. Daily I shook out sleeping bags and amused the kids with nature walks and berry picking. My job was to keep them happy while I hid my own fear of the future. As long as the weather stayed warm we could continue this way, but early fall frosts were not far off. The days of no work and no house turned into weeks of anxiety.

One night when the three children were asleep in their bags, Tom and I talked quietly about our worries. I was feeling the full burden of our homeless and jobless situation and could not stop the tears from rolling down my face. Tom rubbed my shoulders and leaned in close. “We are the most blessed of people, you know,” he said softly. I looked at him incredulously.

“What do you mean?” I sobbed. “We have nothing!”

Then he gently replied, “Honey, we have everything that matters right here. We have the kids, we have a roof over our heads, and we have each other.”

It seemed so simple — too simple — but I knew he was right. I told him, “If anyone heard you say that they would think you had lost your mind!” We began to chuckle and then we began to laugh! We laughed and hugged until our tears of desperation turned into tears of tenderness.

We lived thirty-three days without a home that year. Miraculously, the landlord of a duplex trusted us to move in without having a dime of deposit to give her. Since that summer we have moved less often, and made contingency plans for unexpected hardships, but we have never forgotten our days in the tent. That was where my husband and I became grown-ups in our hope, in our faith and in our love. We make a point to vacation in the tent every summer just for pleasure. It is there that we remember we have everything that matters.

~Lindy Schneider

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