The Gift of Giving

I wanted to take a few moments to tell all my readers a story, given the holiday season that is upon us. It doesn’t have anything to do with food, diets, nutrition or health. Then again, if mental health counts, maybe it does. This post is deeply personal and contains some very private information that I am choosing to make public in the event that it should help another. After all, isn’t that what the holidays are about?

I knew nothing then of what this little baby would do to my life,
but I was in for quite the ride.

My gorgeous daughter was born on Christmas Eve in 2003. I was a mere 19 years old at that time, and her father was never involved. Instead of acting as a father, he acted as a coward when I told him the news, handing me enough cash to cover an abortion that he politely requested (well, as politely as one can ask the mother of his child to get an abortion, anyway). I wasn’t even remotely worried about his absence, however. I was excited to be a mom. We didn’t talk after that.

My pride and joy.

From the time my daughter was born to the time she entered kindergarten, our life together was a delicate situation. She was the most wonderful thing in the world to me– a bright eyes, giggly little girl who brought me joy and pride. Naturally, though, having had a child at 19 with no father in the picture, we struggled immensely. I found out a couple of years later that my daughter’s natural father had passed away.

My mom and dad on the day my daughter was baptized.
I lived with my parents for the first year of my daughter’s life. The help they provided me with was invaluable, and I certainly didn’t appreciate it enough at the time. They watched her while I worked until midnight at grocery stores and call centers. My mother single-handedly potty trained my little girl. She was glad to do it.
First solid food: peaches. Not a fan of this chewing thing.
We had our share of arguments, as I was busy balancing being 20 and 21 and being a mom at the same time. My parents helped me out in every way they could– putting me through medical assisting school (I never did find a job in medical assisting after that), helping me pay the bills I couldn’t seem to stop accumulating, and providing free child care at will. I was probably an awful human being for not seeing how amazing they were, but my mom and dad were easily the first superheroes I knew.
My little punkin’ on her second birthday.
 I moved out of my parents’ home for the first time in the winter of 2004. That would be the first of many moves–mostly financially related, although one was relationship related (and oh man, am I glad that relationship didn’t work out…). From the time my daughter was one until the time she turned 5, we had moved 10 times (including three times moving back in with my folks). Yes, 10 times. My five year old had moved more in her life than most people move in a lifetime.
In one apartment, my daughter slept exclusively in a port-a-crib.
Luckily, she didn’t mind.
So, why did I move 10 times? Primarily because I was irresponsible with money– although that could be debated, because the good lord knows I didn’t have enough money to do anything anyway. I tried to hold down jobs and go to school at the same time. I was on state assistance. We were a welfare family, but I had big dreams. I didn’t drink. I didn’t smoke. I didn’t gamble. So in retrospect, I don’t think I was terribly irresponsible with my money, although it felt that way. I was simply a single mom who constantly had to rob Peter to pay Paul. My credit was shot (I actually filed bankruptcy at age 21– that has got to be some kind of world record, right?). I was a lost cause.
At her Aunt Jill’s house.

I made a lot of bad decisions, I’m sure. I was seriously destitute come 2006. I borrowed money from people I had every intention of paying back. It wasn’t money for drugs or new clothes or any other vice– it was truly money to keep a roof over my and my child’s head. Of course, good intentions didn’t pay people back. These wonderful friends and family members who helped me didn’t abandon me, though. They remained with me, likely silently judging my actions– perhaps rightfully so. They know who they are, and they truly did keep me from spiraling to the point of no return.

Enjoying the French Creek Nature Center in Sheffield.

Despite their help, though, I was still destitute. The food stamps didn’t cover food for the month, and Christmas was a bit of a joke. Thank goodness my child was small, so a bunch of dollar store items sufficed, as it was all I could do. I sold every last belonging I had that was worth anything to pay for my child to have Christmas. I did it. She had a Christmas. She was happy and we were living on bologna sandwiches and macaroni and cheese made with water and whatever margarine sticks I could find for fifty cents for weeks on end. I remember sifting through change in the couch and praying I could come up with enough money to buy a loaf of bread and peanut butter. It was a dire situation.

Preschool dance recital.
Our struggles were real. But we had angels watching over us. I cannot even begin to touch on every time a stranger helped us. We were grocery shopping late at night after I’d gotten off work. My daughter might have been three. She was tired and dirty from daycare; having food on her face and disheveled hair from hours of playing. In the checkout, I learned that I didn’t have enough money to pay for my groceries because my food stamp card didn’t load properly. I was mortified and asked the cashier to cancel at least half the order while I picked out the essential items we couldn’t do without that could be paid for using the money that was going to pay our three-months-past-due electric bill.
 Then, out of nowhere, a woman appeared from behind me. She silently handed her credit card to the cashier and said, while picking up a pack of my Goldfish crackers, “Please put this on my card. I’d be honored to help that adorable little lady enjoy her favorite snacks.”
I refused her help, naturally, but she wouldn’t have it. She didn’t just pay for our overage– she paid our whole bill and gave me a twenty dollar bill as well.
“I’ve been in your shoes before, and let me tell you, it won’t always be like this,” she told me. “So take the money and go buy yourself something that will make YOU happy, because I’m sure you haven’t in awhile.”
I was a little embarrassed, to tell you the truth. More importantly, though, I was grateful. Because of that stranger’s generosity, we had food in our bellies and our electricity stayed on.
Yet another time, while in a Target store filling a prescription one October, my daughter and I browsed the Halloween costumes. She was raving about the princess costumes, the cartoon character costumes, and just about any other costume that contained bright colors or sparkles.
Her heart was set on a mermaid costume. After checking the price tag, I had to decline. It was at least $20 (I don’t remember how much, exactly, but I couldn’t afford it regardless.), and I had about $10 in my checking account at the time (that was all the money I had). I declined, telling her that we’d make a costume at home instead. She pouted for a second, but soon forgot.
As I exited the store, a Target employee called me over to one of the checkout lanes. At first, I thought they assumed I’d been shoplifting. But what happened next was something beautiful.
“A gentleman came through a few minutes ago and asked me to give this to your daughter,” the cashier explained with a smile. “I hope that’s OK.”
My daughter opened a plastic Target bag, revealing the mermaid costume she’d wanted to badly, as well as a hot pink wig. She was so excited that she thought I’d purchased it and surprised her. The cashier handed me the receipt, noting that there was a message on the back:
“Have a safe and happy Halloween. I have a feeling good things are in store for you both.”
Through tears, I thanked the cashier. I hadn’t even seen this generous stranger.

Grainy photo of that great mermaid costume a stranger
gave to us.
When we got home, my daughter asked to try on the costume. As I took the it out of the bag, something fell out onto the floor. It appeared it had been folded up inside.
The shiny object caught be off guard, but lying there on the floor was a Target gift card with “$50” hand written on it. No letter or anything.
Yes, stranger. Good things were in store for us.
These two particular events stick out to me, but they certainly weren’t the only acts of kindness that were bestowed upon us while I struggled. To the people who offered me money to pay my rent and utilities during that time, you are not forgotten either. I’d spend all day here thanking each of you if I could. Some strangers, some friends. Clearly, you were all friends.
In 2009, I met my future husband. By then I’d had better luck financially. We finally moved to the city where we currently live. We still struggled, and it wasn’t easy. But good things were in store. I was freelancing full time by that point, and while I certainly wasn’t on easy street, I was able to survive for the first time in my daughter’s young life. We had food and insurance and a safe place to live. And in July, we met the man who would later become my husband.
ETA 10/15: My husband and I divorced in June of 2015, but he continues to be a father to my daughter and I am eternally grateful for him. His commitment to her shines in everything he does.

I got my happy ending. I’m sure life will present trials and tribulations for us, as it seems to do for us all. However, we made it through some of the darkest, saddest times with the help of angels.

This holiday season, something has really struck me. The gifts I received from wonderful strangers in our darkest of times were so much more than I’d ever imagined. At the time, it was groceries and Halloween costumes. Years later, I realize those were only the superficial gifts. The real gift all these wonderful people gave me was the gift of giving.

Giving isn’t something you do just because you want a child to have a certain toy or a pair of snow boots to keep them warm. It’s not just giving food to the less fortunate and blankets to the homeless. It’s a gift that constantly renews itself. It’s contagious in every way. The superficial parts of giving are great while they last, but it is the effect that the gesture has on someone that is the real gift.
To my angels, I may have just been a sad looking mom who couldn’t afford groceries or a glittery mermaid costume. But what they may not have known is the impact that those gestures would have on the rest of my life. They may not have known that I would remember their generosity so vividly or that those small actions would truly play an instrumental part in my life and my child’s life. But they were instrumental in every way, and those little actions have created a snowball effect in me that will lead me to help others as I am able.
It goes deeper, still. The cashiers at the supermarket and Target will surely remember those moments as I did– when a stranger came to the aid of someone who was struggling. Without question, without a need to be repaid, without the seeking of attention for doing a good deed. And guess what? Those cashiers got to share in the gift of giving as well, solely by bearing witness to it.
That, my friends, is the REAL gift of giving. I’m posting this today because I wish to share this gift with my readers. It is probably the best gift I’ve ever gotten, and unlike material things, it never stops being cool, breaks down or gets lost. It’s always with me, and I’d love for it to be with you all as well. Remember that giving isn’t just about throwing a soup can into a box for the needy, but that’s part of it. It’s about humanity and leaving an impression on a person who might have otherwise been at his wit’s end. It’s the memory to my child of a splendid Halloween that she had no idea almost didn’t happen. It’s the relief someone feels when they can provide food for their children.
It’s the ability to change someone’s entire life simply by doing for them what you’d hope someone would do for you if you were in their shoes.
Happy holidays to each and every one of you. May you spread the gift of giving as far and wide as possible. It lasts forever. It never goes away. And it spreads like wildfire.
 
 

-LeeAnn Teagno

Need Ingredients for That Recipe?

Ingredients

It takes a lot of trial and error to find the "right" fit for a low carb recipe. I have made some ... different low carb desserts. You don't need to go through that! I made a list of my favorite ingredients as well as what stores you can find them at. Enjoy!

About the author

Leeann Teagno

Eating healthy, for me, is about more than weight loss like it used to be. It’s about controlling my blood sugar levels and obtaining normal–or relatively normal–hormone levels. I still struggle to lose weight efficiently, but eating a wheat, sugar and gluten free diet helps to control some of the problems I’ve encountered with these health issues of mine.

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