Becoming Russell: 1998


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“If one more person takes my hand and tries to say they understand,
Tells me there’s a bigger plan that I’m not meant to see,
If one more person dares suggest that I held something unconfessed,
Tries to make the dots connect from righteousness to easy street,
Well I, I won’t deny I’ve relied on some assumptions,
A man’s honest life entitles him to something…” -Broken Praise, Todd Smith

I’ve learned that telling a story that stretches across 20+ years is difficult because, to my family, it was just life. Like any other family, we loved going to the beach, laughing with each other, watching movies, baking cookies. We ate dinner as a family. We went to church every Sunday. But the difference between us and most other families? Our rough patches were more like milestones than simply rough patches. Take any financial rough patch you’ve had and spread it across the whole of your years raising children or being raised and that’s what you’d have–that’s what we had. We had breaks between these milestones; we had hope that it would get better. It just never did.

I’ve also learned that throwing stones doesn’t have to be literal–in most countries, it would be a crime anyway. Throwing stones comes in many forms–accusations, blame-shifting, labeling, conclusions, etc. Bad situations become worse when people step in to do anything but practice community and Jesus-like grace. Sometimes there just aren’t conclusions–sometimes we can’t hide behind the pretense that with a dose of effort and a pinch of common sense, everything will be figured out. Life isn’t a formula. We don’t always have this in the bag. So suck it up, Mary Poppins, and deal.

As you read our story, I’ll be frank: you’re going to blame my dad.  Most people have. But I really wish you wouldn’t. I really wish you’d just read. I really wish that this story will shine a light on the reality of poverty, rather than the stereotypes that have evolved it into something it’s not.

And hey, Dad? The haters gonna hate.

Without further adieu, here’s the situation:

It just takes a thought to be that little girl again. It’s late February of 1998. I’m 5 years old. We’re driving down to Summerville, South Carolina. And I’m staring out my car window, watching the rain drops race each other down the outside glass.

Summerville was where we were supposed to start our new life, which is exactly what we were doing. Little did we know, though, how much of a polar opposite our reality would become in comparison to what we thought was happening as we packed up boxes and left 315 Summit Drive for the first time. Little did we know that within the next 5 years, we’d be moving right back in that little, yellow house that we would one day paint white with the brown porch that we would one day paint blue.

My dad was closing in on 5 years with the upstate company when they started inching him towards the door, taking down his salary and encouraging him to go down to the Charleston territory and develop it. And this one company down there offered him a large territory and decent pay. He took it.

I don’t remember everything, but I do remember moving. I remember that we all lived downstairs, Anthony’s room diagonal from the one I shared with 2-year-old Abby. I remember looking down  from the upstairs room and studying how the early morning light cascaded across the concrete driveway. I remember Mom making brownies one evening, the fluorescent light cascading across that old, white stove . I remember my brother’s green desk. I remember how the house had this deliciously musky scent that made me feel at home. I remember how Anthony would wake up early to help Mom with her aerobics.

That was the spring I met my first best friend, Summer. We played Peter Pan in the backyard and would alternate between being Peter Pan or Tinkerbell, sprinkling sand into each other’s hair like it was pixie dust and zooming down the slide because it was the closest thing to flying away to Neverland. That was the summer I bugged her about getting saved until she finally shut her eyes and speedily recited, “Dear Jesus come into my heart. Amen!” And smirked at me, leaving me quite concerned for her soul.

That was the summer of beach trips and insanely hot weather and sitting on fire ant piles, which resulted in crying for Mom. That was the summer Abby, Anthony, and I sat on a styrofoam cooler at the beach, sending cans of coke all over the beach. To all the whales out there, I deeply apologize.

But as the summer of 1998 came to a close, so did our time in Summerville. My dad was not given the territory he thought he would have and logistically, he couldn’t make it work for our family of five. So it was back to Greenville for us and off to kindergarten for me.

When we came back from Summerville, our grandparents let us live in their basement until we were able to get on our feet. Unfortunately, our dad is a salesman. And sales is a tough business to be in–if things are good, they’re really good. But if things are bad, they’re really bad. He started work right away as a salesman for another heavy equipment company, but they didn’t hold up their end of the bargain. So he left. Then he tried working as a salesman for a cemetery, but they only let him sell the flowers and gave everything else to their more seasoned salesmen. At that job, he ended up only making $100/week so he left there as well. 1998 left my dad jobless and our family without permanent housing.

 

But that was just the beginning–1999 was on its way.

 

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Post-Grad.


 

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“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single twenty something in possession of a degree must be in want of a job.”-Jane Austen

Okay. Jane Austen with minor tweaking by Mandie Russell. But if she were alive, I have every confidence that Jane Austen would be like, “I feel you, bro.” Because if she were alive she, too, would say things like twenty something and bro.

I digress.

314 days ago (Quick shout-out to Google for doing that math for me. You rock, guys.) I graduated with my BA degree in Journalism and Mass Communication. And also a minor in french, though the only thing that has come in handy with that minor is the ability to say, “Voulez-vous in limonade?” And the only reason that came in handy was because I worked at Chick-fil-A. Not that I used it while working in the kitchen. But it was a mental confidence booster as I bug-searched Romaine lettuce, knowing that I could offer lemonade to customers in a foreign language. Could the high schoolers do that? Pfft, doubtful.

That was all the comfort I had in my pastor pants and tiny-ponytailed world. The struggle.

These 314 days have flown by: I’ve gotten more sleep, stalked more people on Facebook, drank more coffee than in the previous 4 years combined, and worked on…growing out a pixie. I mean, please, take something off my full plate because I literally can’t even. I’ve had interviews and volunteered and walked away from some opportunities that weren’t for me. The past 10 months have really taught me a lot of life lessons, but that’s boring.

So here are 10 lessons/observations I’ve learned as a post-grad that should be passed on from generation to generation. Take notes, kids.

 

  1. You’re kind of like a little bug, wandering around trying to find some bigger bugs with more beneficial living and working conditions who also offer dental. But what really throws you are the even bigger bugs that are trying to squish your little buggy dreams and so you crawl back to your buggy wasteland and cry and search your buggy internet for more realistic buggy opportunities. (If that made any sense to you, we should be friends.)
  2. Just to clarify: if you say “Just out of college!” it’s like wearing a sign around your neck that says, “Fresh meat.”
  3. Also, companies don’t pay you $3,500 a month to be a content writer for their sites. Unless you’re Amy Poehler or Tina Fey, move along. I’m not even talking about having the mental capacity of Amy Poehler or Tina Fey–I’m talking you must be one or the other. And I’m guessing you’re not, so save yourself some time.
  4. Chick-fil-a pants don’t look good on any one. I’m talking Jennifer Aniston couldn’t make those things look good.
  5. If you interview with someone and they ask to keep your information just in case, go for it. But know that you will not be getting a call until the 1st of never. (Note: No, that’s not actually a thing.)
  6. Long drives and listening to the Beach Boys works every time.
  7. If traveling is involved and you’ve always wanted to go all over the country, you’ll probably take a job despite any red flags. And that’s okay because it teaches you to trust your instinct next time.
  8. Your cat will never talk back to you. Or make you feel better about life.
  9. A full carton of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream doesn’t look like that much, but it is. Oh, it is. And you will go into Pillsbury Doughboy mode, which is never a good place to be.
  10. On a serious note: you can and will get through the “post-grad” season. And you’ll come out knowing who you are, what you want, and how to treat people when you’re in a leadership position. It’s all good, you little professional you.

As you can see, I’m aging like a fine wine. Or at least Betty White.

#strugglebuslife

 

 

Becoming Russell: Part 1.


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I’m opening the door tonight.

I’m welcoming you into our home, a place made of equal parts hardship and laughter and brokenness and moving forward. You’re sitting on that infamous sectional couch that has housed many bestie late-night chats and movie nights. You’re observing the basket of fruit ingrained smack into the tile above our stove, the basket I swear on my life is a promise straight from God that He’s not done here. He’s not done with this home.

Our story has created this sensation, whether based on a truth or a lie, that we’ve been placed on the outside of those living. That we’re the outcasts of society because of where we’ve been, what we’ve known. But, society, I’m switching it around on you tonight: I’m inviting you into an “outcast’s” home. I’m showing you what life looks like outside of the societal norm.

And it won’t be pretty. But I guarantee it will be beautiful.

Let’s start here:

I know this to be true in my 23 years of life: our stories do not begin with us nor do they end with us. This notion that seems to permeate human nature that we control what happens to us or that this life revolves around us is well…bull. That being said, our story began in 1957 and then again in 1963 and again in 1980 and crashed in 1983 and began again in 1987 and again in 1990 and all the years and months and days between–the days that stand as the foundation for our family. That isn’t to say that we’re infinite or immortal because that’s not true at all. But that is to say that what happened in the past–what happens in our own lives– affects more lives than could be imagined. And to limit a story to 1992-20whatever is a vapid mindset. At best.

We are souls in human bodies. And that’s everything you need to know.

But I’ll go further. We’re souls in human bodies that broke together and learned how to break each other. Maybe that’s the true tragedy of anything that’s happened in the past 23, 21, and 20 years: we saw everything and still broke each other. We saw everything and still lost faith.

1983 was really the definitive year for our family in a lot of ways, though it only directly affected my dad. That was the year she broke him. That was the year his ministry was lost. That was the year a gunshot wound took his sister, Amanda. That was the year he lived in his car. 1983 dumped him and 1984 picked him up, but life was etched in open wounds and broken promises.

1987 was the year he met my mom and she was everything the last one chose not to be. She was spring and he was late winter, the cold subsiding and life waiting to begin anew. She was air and he was a raging fire, constantly moving, constantly running. The analogies could continue. But I like to think that she liked him because he was so different and interesting. He won her with humor and Rhett Butler-esque (yes, that’s a word) charm and she brought life back to him: that’s their love story.

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They married in 1990 and it was me then Anthony then Abby, one right after the other. We haven’t been far behind each other since, glued to the hip and fighting like cats and dogs. That’s our love story.

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Between 1983 and 1993, my dad mostly worked odd jobs, at times working two jobs. And in 1992 he was attending North Greenville University to finish up school while waiting tables at Ryan’s. But then July of 1993 happened and he accepted a salesman position with  a heavy equipment organization in the upstate where he worked until February of 1998.

And February of 1998 is where our roller coaster ride really begins.

You’ll hate me for this, but coming up next: 1998.

 

 

 

The Mandie Russell Guide To Singlehood


 

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“Mandie, why are you single? Like you’re so pretty and smart. And stuff.”

`I know. I know. This is obviously what you’re all thinking. I get asked this all the time.

Actually, I’ve never been asked this question in my life. But I definitely don’t know why. I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that every white shirt I own has a chocolate and/or coffee stain on it or that I wear the same outfit at least three times in a week or that I think jokes like, “Are you a beaver? Cause dayummm,” are funny.

*cough* Anyway…

One of the things I’ve noticed in my online wanderings, if you will, is this weird extremism that surrounds singleness. Either a.) people take it too seriously or b.) people build it up to be this completely magical time of life where you do things like backpack through Europe, which really is magical if you have that kind of money as a twenty something, or c.) people make it into this social statement that you don’t need a man and  you’re too fabulous and blah, blah, blah. To be honest, it’s all annoying. And to be honest, most of us probably wouldn’t choose singleness over being with someone you care about…let’s be real.

That is why I have created a comprehensive list of all the reasons being single just isn’t that bad, but spoiler alert: it’s all based on reality. I promise. Because if we’re honest with ourselves, a solid 80% of being single looks a lot like that scene from Risky Business. Thank you, Tom Cruise.

1.To start things off, you really aren’t accountable to another human being. That can be a bad thing, but it’s also a good way to learn responsibility and see where you are as a human being. But if you’re spending over $100 dollars a month at Starbucks, maybe get a budgeting buddy. You can be budgies.

*Feel no obligation to laugh at that last one. I, for one, definitely didn’t spend the last 30 seconds laughing at my own joke. Ahem.

2. No one judges you for wearing a bandanna around the house like the Hulk Hogan impersonator  you certainly are not. Like at all. Okay, unless you blog about these things like an idiot.

3.  On Friday nights while most of the taken girls are dressing up and going out, you’re sitting on your couch in your underwear watching Fuller House. And Gilmore Girls. And Friends. And you’re not even sorry. (Not that I do that. Pfft.)

4.  You wanna join the Peace Corps? Do it. You wanna teach English in a foreign country? Do it, girrrrl. (Well, I mean…get that certification, girrrrl! You can’t just hop a plane.) You wanna walk the Pacific Crest Trail? Pack those bags! (Sidenote: Yes, this is on my bucket list. And yes, I need someone to go with me. I’m not Cheryl Strayed here and rattlesnakes are real.)

5.  Rock whatever look you want to. No shave November? Hah, that’s funny. Try no shave 2016. #overachievers

6.  I’m going to be real frank here: you don’t have to worry about his toe jam. And to all you ladies out there like, “Nahhh, that doesn’t happen!” I’ve seen your husbands and I already know it’s toe jam central.

7. You don’t have to worry that your SO is a Calvinist and that he’ll raise your children to believe that they have a 50/50 shot of getting into heaven. This is my fear.

8. You can take those pent-up feelings and give them out. Get a pet, volunteer, make something valuable. Like a bird feeder. Or a mug. For your mother.

9. You get to sit around with your sister and rate guys on tv guilt-free. Does it get much better than that? I think not.

10. If you want to stay under the delusion that love is a fairytale, you can do that too. Why the heck not? Stay innocent.

11. You don’t have to scour your social media to make sure there’s nothing embarrassing that doesn’t reflect who you are as a person currently. Unless you’re like me and all your statuses in 2008 revolved around fried chicken or something equally ridiculous, then by all means: delete those posts.

12. If you’re anything like me, the prospect of having to raise children is terrifying because I can’t even adult. I’m talking at a Sid-the-sloth-is-my-spirit-animal level. But none of that matters because you don’t have to worry about that and you have time to grow up a little more if you feel like you need to before all that happens.

13. You don’t have to worry about relatives treating you like an adult. Because they all pretty much figure you’re sitting in your underwear eating Oreos anyway or just trying to get the printer to work at your underpaid post-grad job.

14. No worrying about meeting his/her family. Put that social anxiety away and head to the beach for Christmas. It’s all good, bruh.

15. That concert you’ve been dying to go to landed on your six month anniversary? Won’t happen. Ever.

But I can’t promise it won’t happen with like meetings or your parents’ anniversary…you can’t win them all, kids.

16. As a single person, I guarantee your shower singing game will be on point. Can you master “When You Believe?” Maybe, maybe not. But it doesn’t matter because the only one hearing you belt it out is your shampoo bottle.

17. There is virtually no chance of having a surprise pregnancy. Unless you’ve got a 1980’s Three Men and a Baby situation going on and a baby lands on your doorstep. But hey, at least it’s not your baby!

18. Being single means you get to work on pretty awesome friendships with crazy, funny people. And it’s worth every minute of loneliness that being single will inevitably bring.

So. While singleness is about a lot of things, it’s mostly about forming great friendships and working on yourself before dragging some poor loser into your world. It’s great!

Story Time: The Water Park.


 

This is my seester, Abby. She’s fun and crazy in one convenient package. Available only between the hours of 7 am and 5:45 pm as the rest of the day she is in her bed. Unless that’s a weekend because in that case, why would you even try?

Before she was Abby the twentysomething with those forest-green eyes that tell stories for her, she was this full-faced chunker who believed her two older siblings a bit too much.

To say in the least, man.

[Note: No younger sisters were hurt in the making of this story. A little therapy and she’ll be fine. No, really.]

Like honestly…I don’t know why she still talks to us. Or admits we’re related. One little white lie and it could all go away, Abs. Just one.

Anyway, once upon a freaking time…

Anthony was a notoriously OCD little boy when it came to things like: cleaning his room, how tight his belt was worn, and when he took his afternoon poop. And if I’m correct, it was at 2:40 pm. At least in 5th grade.

As you can see, he’s spent plenty of time doing away with that reputation:

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…though ironically he’s eating beans here. Maybe it was getting close to 2:40. Idk.

Anyway, now you can find him at your local gym and/or hopping between Georgia and South Carolina and North Carolina…and New York, if we’re honest, blaring Beyoncé and doing some dance he thinks is funny.

I digress.

Mom was thrilled with his OCD tendencies because it proved to her that one of her children was going to be okay because at least they would have a clean house, their pants would never fall down, or she could at least depend on regular bowel movements.

I mean, what more could a mother of Russell children ask?

So Anthony was neat and tidy, but Abby and I on the other hand…were a bit on the messy side. And by messy, I mean that dust bunnies did the Macarena on our floor on a regular basis. Metaphorically speaking. So one day, Anthony decided to do something about our messy room at Abby’s expense and she’s had trust issues ever since.

Because really…the 8 year old is the obvious choice. I was stubborn and awful. Plus he knew I would sit on him.

“Abby,” he told her, “Mom just called and said that if you cleaned your room, she’d take us to the water park!”

Abby’s eyes lit up with excitement, “Really ?” she asked.

(…no, Abby. It’s March.)

“Yes,” Anthony told her, “But you have to clean up your room before she gets home!”

“Okay!” Abby rushed into our bedroom, threw on her green bathing suit, and I…*cough*…let it happen. Because you know…I was curious. And this was kind of funny. And Lord knew I wasn’t about to clean.

Probably twenty minutes later, Mom walked in to find Abby on hands and knees, gathering up all our clothes as quickly as she could and man, could she clean if she thought something fun would come of it. “What are you doing?” Mom asked carefully with the full knowledge that an 8 year old cleaning her room in a bathing suit was not normal, even in our household.

Abby was becoming skeptical, “Anthony said if I cleaned my room, you said we would go to the water park.”

“I didn’t say that,” all eyes were on Anthony as Abby’s eyes lit up with indignant fury.

“You tricked me!”

“But it got you to clean your room!”

And I can’t remember what happened next, but I’m sure it involved Abby stomping off and Mom telling Anthony not to lie to his little sister and to be kind.

Needless to say Abby hasn’t forgiven him for that one yet and yeah, we definitely owe that girl a trip to the water park. It’s on Anthony, Abs.