We found out about the foreclosure by accident. Little boys aren’t the best at keeping secrets, and during a Friday afternoon drive home, my husband’s 11-year-old son let the cat out of the bag. “I guess the drive will take a little longer when we live with Joe and Diane,” he said.
We knew right away that it meant his mom was losing her home—their home. My stepson and stepdaughter would be moving from their pale yellow house on a quiet, tree-lined street into a basement apartment at their cousin’s new place. I was nauseous with anger, furious that their mother had sold the house she and my husband once shared and landed everyone in this predicament. But I was also devastated for the woman who had become my unlikely friend.
We chat about her children and the man we both married; she cuts my hair and gives me cooking tips. Teachers often do a double-take when we both show up for parent-teacher conferences and I dedicated a recent Sunday to helping her move. Now she is also one of the many victims of the economic crisis—according to a report from the Center for Responsible Lending, the number of foreclosures in 2009 has just passed the 1 million mark.
She had moved from the 100-year-old Victorian she and my husband owned together in eastern Pennsylvania to another home deep in the woods in the East Stroudsburg area, about eight miles away. A construction company rep and a real estate agent had talked her into buying the land and building the house. They assured her that the lack of a down payment and minuscule reportable income wouldn’t be a problem. And it wasn’t—not for them. Though the home wasn’t grand, she struggled for nearly seven years to make the monthly payments, which turned into missed payments and eventually, foreclosure.
My stepchildren, now 17 and 12, are two of my best friends. I’ve chaperoned school trips and sat next to them on their first plane ride. Eve and I like to bake and decorate the house. Years ago I gave Austin the nickname Mr. Stin and we’ve spent hours together in “Stin Town”—on the couch, under a fleece blanket watching Sponge Bob, iCarly and the Food Network. Despite their being rays of light during a dark time in their mother’s life, my husband or I couldn’t bear the thought of them living in a basement. And much to our surprise, because she loves her children so much, their mother agreed that it would be best if we switched the custody arrangement. Instead of living with her during the week and us on the weekends, now they’ll be with us five days a week.
The negatives abound. The kids have to switch school districts, leave their friends and won’t be with their dogs, Tiny and Harley. They have shed tears more than once over the changes. But, we’re concentrating on the positives of this situation. And surprisingly, they aren’t too hard to find. Foreclosure is a bad thing. It means losing your house, a significant drop in your credit score, and maybe feeling like a failure. But for our joint family it’s also a new beginning. My husband’s ex agrees. When I was helping her pack up her kitchen she told me not to pack some of the plates. “I bought new dishes to help signify my new start,” she said, smiling.
- Their mother won’t have the constant worry of a mortgage payment she can’t make or agonize over when she might be kicked out of her house. A hairdresser, she wants to switch careers, and changing the custody arrangement gives her the space to enroll and succeed in school.
- The kids will get to spend more time with their father. The oldest will soon be applying to college and we’ll be able to help her navigate the sea of applications, campus visits and essays. As he enters his teenage years, my stepson can have more of his dad’s POV on everything from dating and sex to playing the guitar and drinking and driving.
- My husband will get to spend more time with his kids. After the divorce, he’s had his children almost every weekend and for extended periods around holidays and family vacations. But he is excited to be part of their day-to-day routines again. After all, he didn’t divorce his kids and still feels guilty about not seeing their daily development and growth. This new arrangement won’t erase the last several years or make up for lost time but will provide a new chapter in their father-daughter and father-son relationships.
Dealing with the economic downturn and all of its nasty side effects, like foreclosure, isn’t something any of us relish. But fresh starts and the opportunity to strengthen our family bonds are aspects of the recession we can all appreciate.
Jennifer Leckstrom works full-time in PR. Her writing has appeared on Glamour.com, YourTango, and in the Pocono Record. She lives in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.