I was only nine when we moved from the house on Creekwood Drive. I left my friends, my school, my teacher, even my dogs, but it was worth it. We were all tired of tiny rooms and bunk beds. I even had to share a room with my 7-year-old brother. What a pain!
We started building our new house one week after my birthday in 1993. My baby brother, Nathan, was only four days old when they dug the hole for our basement. The house was huge, with four bathrooms and four bedrooms. Mom would get an office and a craft room and Dad would get a three-car garage. The kids would have a toyroom in the basement and a place to do our own laundry. Like we really wanted the laundry room! Mom said that it was both or neither, so I guess we’ll have a nice place to play. We only have one washer and dryer anyway, so I don’t know what good it does to tell us that we have to wash our own clothes.
Mom and Dad got a huge bedroom with a big green tub. They said it was big enough for all of us to take a swim, but I don’t really think so. Nathan is sleeping in their room, so, for now, Neal has a room of his own. I don’t know why a 7-year-old needs a room of his own, especially one bigger than mine, but Mom and Dad never ask me what I think. My little sisters get to share a room. Kinsey is four and Kiyna is three. They like to play together, so they don’t really care. I get the last room. It’s the smallest, but Mom says that I will never have to share with anyone so I shouldn’t complain. They let me decorate it any way I wanted so I chose black and white flowered wallpaper and red chair rail. It looks really cool. Most people hate it, but I don’t care. They don’t have to live there.
We spent a lot of time in our new neighborhood even before we officially moved in because we had to move out of our old house on June first. Mom and Dad were able to find us a squishy little apartment for those two months, but it was dangerous there and we had to stay inside most of the time. The apartments were arranged in circles and there was a playground in the middle of each circle. When we first moved in, we thought that we would be able to spend some time on the swings and slide. But the first day we were out there, we found bullet casings under the slide and a boy chased us with a baseball bat. After that, Mom made us stay inside.
It was hard to stay in the apartment because we didn’t unpack anything. Even though we put some stuff in storage, it was way crowded with boxes and furniture. Mom and Dad felt bad that our house was running behind schedule, so as soon as Dad got home from work, we would all climb in the van and drive to our new neighborhood. We walked around and got to know some of the neighbors. We even put up our wallpaper and stuff in our rooms before the house was finished.
Sometimes we would leave the neighborhood and go on a license plate hunt. It was one of our favorite games. Dad would drive the van around the hotels that were close by and we would look at all of the license plates. Our apartment complex had plates from all over the country, so it was a good place to check. One day we had nearly all of the states, so we begged Dad to keep driving. We went clear in to Murray and Midvale, just looking for license plates. We never did find Hawaii or Rhode Island. Oh well, 48 wasn’t too bad for one day.
Finally, our house was done. We started at our new school on Tuesday and we moved into our house on the next Saturday. It was all so exciting! We’d been living in that awful little apartment for so long, our new bedrooms seemed huge.
Since school had already started, I was plenty busy just trying to fit in, make friends, and do my homework. Mom and Dad promised me that on the first birthday I had in the new house, I could have a huge sleepover with all of my new friends. Since my birthday was in November, that gave me a few months to figure out who I really wanted to invite. Mom limited it to 15 girls, but I wasn’t sure I could even come up with that many friends in just a couple of months. I started making my lists and dreaming about the party.
August and September slipped by and the weather started to turn colder. We’d been able to wear shorts to school until it got too cold. We usually didn’t even do most of our school shopping until traditional schools started because Mom said that the sales are always better in September.
I remember the school shopping trip very well, because Mom and Dad took us all to Wal-Mart and we actually did all the shopping at once. We’d never done that before. Mom usually took us to two or three stores and we got a couple of things in each store. Dad usually bought our school supplies and he just brought them home. Well, not this time.
Neal, Kinsey, and I all got new shoes, socks, underwear, pants, shirts, and jackets. Then Mom and Dad let us choose backpacks, notebooks, crayons, pencils, rulers, and all that school stuff. We got to do that because Mom and Dad decided that we wanted to play a game to help us keep our new house clean. They made each one of us a bingo board with jobs and when we got our first Bingo, we got a pair of socks or a new shirt. With two bingos, we could get a backpack, and if we finished our entire board with a blackout, we got a new jacket. Of course, we all worked really hard with prizes like that. Everybody earned a blackout, so Mom and Dad took us all shopping at once. I didn’t usually think much about money. Mom and Dad pretty much bought us everything we needed, but I was surprised when I heard Mom tell Dad that our new stuff cost nearly $800.00. That’s a lot of money! But things were about to change drastically at our house. Two weeks later, my dad got laid off from his job.
Dad is an electronics design engineer and he had worked for the same company since I was four years old. We didn’t have a clue that his job was shaky, or we probably would never have built our new house. Mom said that it tripled the amount of money we had to pay each month just to have a place to live. As I said, I never worried much about money before, but after the layoff, it seemed to be a constant worry. We couldn’t go to the store and just buy whatever groceries we wanted. We had to be careful. Mom started cooking more with the stuff we already had in the kitchen, like chili beans. I like chili, but my brother and sisters don’t. Neal only liked cold cereal and noodles, so he had a bad time. I think there were lots of days that all he ate was what he had for school lunch and some bread and butter.
We really thought that Dad would get a new job right away. He did get some money from his company to help him find a new job. It sounded like a lot to me until Mom explained that it would only make two house payments. I started to wonder about my birthday party. Mom and Dad aren’t always great about keeping promises like that, and if they had a good excuse, well, maybe my sleepover would be history. I stopped telling my new friends about it and just kept my mouth shut.
About the 20th of October, Mom brought up the subject. She asked me if I had my list ready for the party. I was so surprised. “I thought the party was canceled,” I said.
“Why?” asked Mom.
“Well, because we don’t have any money and Dad doesn’t have a job,” I replied.
“Look, Honey,” Mom said. “We still have to live, even if we don’t have much money right now. The party won’t cost that much if we’re careful.” I must have looked worried, because Mom quickly said; “We can make our own pizzas instead of ordering out. And Dad can make your cake rather than buy it at the store. The party will still be great. Don’t worry so much.” I gave Mom a big hug and then ran to my backpack to uncover my hidden list of friends. I think Mom was a little surprised that I already had 15 friends listed, but we made invitations and I passed them out at school the next morning.
Most of the girls were in my class, but a few from our neighborhood were on different tracks, so I had to find them at lunch or recess. By the end of the day, my party was the hottest thing going on, except for Halloween, of course.