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Holding a family together in hard times

The Lindners -- mom, dad and four sons -- lose their home but not their determination.

June 01, 2009|Paloma Esquivel

Janean Lindner wakes and watches her boys asleep in a sofa bed a few feet away.

It's just after 7 on a Thursday in April. Janean, her husband, Stace, and three of their sons have been at the Ayres Suites in Mission Viejo for 16 nights and 17 days.

Despite her efforts, the room is cluttered -- a computer, small television, skateboards, school projects. These are the things that remain.

In the chaos of eviction, Janean became increasingly frantic and they lost nearly everything. At a rushed garage sale, she told buyers to pay what they thought best, believing God would make it fair. She gave most of it away.

Now, in a hotel dominated by business travelers, she is desperate to hold on to what's left of the family's middle-class life. Janean, approaching her 42nd birthday, would do almost anything -- apply for any job, accept any gift -- just to hold on a little longer. The worry about what might happen next is relentless. A relative suggested that when everything else is exhausted, the family could always take a tent to nearby O'Neill Park and set up camp in its canyons. Others have done that.

Janean watches 5-year-old Turner grab a video game controller and snuggle back under the covers with Lego Batman. He'll play until it's time for kindergarten, four hours later, but she won't stop him. The game is his anchor.

Trenton, the 13-year-old, wakes up and argues about going to school. Stace trips over books and toys on the floor while he dresses. Trevan, at 4 the youngest, follows his father.

The phone rings. It's the front desk telling Janean she has a Fed-Ex package. Probably somebody suing us, Janean says. Maybe it's a gift, the receptionist tells her.

Janean laughs. Maybe.

Maybe God is about to give us a break.

It's just before 9, and Janean kisses Trenton on the cheek before he leaves with her husband, already two periods late for school. She hands Stace, 46, a stack of envelopes with resumes and thank-you notes to drop at the post office. Since he was injured and stopped working, Janean relies on him to run these errands.

When they're gone, Janean tidies the room and talks briefly on the phone with her oldest son, Taylor. The 18-year-old moved in with his girlfriend after the eviction. Janean makes the bed, empties the trash and sits at the desk to sort through a stack of bills and job applications. A Penny Saver sits on the desk, an ad circled in pencil.

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Turner is playing Nintendo. Trevan, more rambunctious than his older brother, is in a corner, digging through plastic boxes, quietly pulling out books and photo albums, pencils, toys, and stickers -- the belongings Janean carefully packed when they were forced out of their three-bedroom home in Rancho Santa Margarita.

Home this day is 500 square feet of cramped generic space. When the sofa bed is open, there is hardly room to walk. Heavy gold curtains block the light and the thick red carpet is worn. The rest is miniature or disposable -- a mini-fridge is too small for a gallon of milk and the coffee pot is just big enough for one cup.

"Who wants to come brush their teeth first?" Janean asks.

The boys ignore her.

"Don't you want to see if your wiggly tooth will come out?" she asks Turner, and he drops his game and runs to her. Trevan follows closely behind.

When they're done, Janean puts on her makeup. She teases her hair and sprays it, curls her eyelashes and puts on lip gloss. Her nail polish is chipped. Dark circles rim her eyes. There are days when she wants to crawl under the covers and stay there.

It wasn't always this way.

When she met Stace 20 years ago, he worked at his father's butcher shop and had a place of his own, a car and Jet Skis. He had more money than anyone she'd ever known.

A few years after they married, the couple had enough to build a home, a three-bedroom place in Kansas City with a nursery where Janean painted tropical fish on the walls. But they've always been wanderers, moving from Texas to Missouri to Pennsylvania and California, on a whim. They've never been very good at saving.

None of that mattered much, especially after Stace learned to remodel kitchens and bathrooms. They got used to living on $4,000 a month, sometimes $6,000. When they moved to California in 2004, they rented a two-story, three-bedroom house in a neighborhood where people plan Memorial Day picnics and go to church together.

The good times unraveled quickly, though. They sank their money, time and hopes into a children's clothing store, and it failed. Then Stace crushed his arm and quit remodeling. Janean hasn't been able to get a full-time job. Turner, who's autistic, requires special attention, and Taylor, the oldest son, was in a skateboarding accident last year that produced a pile of medical bills.

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