Care Kid – Part III

I didn’t plan to have such a long break away from blogging – the days between my last post and this one have rolled into weeks without a moment to myself.

My original ambition was to blog at least a couple of times a month, but I’ve come to realise that my life as it is now just won’t allow for that level of consistency – as we speak (or more accurately as I type) work and life is getting the best of me. It has been all work and no play and finding the time to blog has been near impossible, particularly since the topic of my latest posts have been documenting my care experience (which is complex to say the least) and cannot be hashed out in an hour on the laptop.

There is simply far too much to cover; too many curves in the road, too many homes, too many social workers – just too much of everything to give the reader any real understanding of the reality of being in care.

There’s part of me that wishes I never started, not because I don’t have a story to tell – I do. I can tell stories for days about foster care, children’s homes and the care system as a whole – especially as I have been on both sides of the fence… the problem is, I don’t have the time to commit right now and with the little time I do have, I do not think I can do it justice. It’s completely frustrating because the feedback from my previous posts has been amazing. Goodness me, it has. I didn’t expect that my life experiences would translate so well and be relatable to so many. I have been truly humbled by your supportive messages and encouragement.

It’s funny because I don’t know what kind of reception I anticipated as to be honest writing ‘care kid’ was never about me. In fact, initially I began writing with the intention of using my experiences to highlight failures in the system and I thought it best to start writing from the beginning since children don’t just wake up one day and find themselves in care. There’s always a back story. Adversity, poverty, tragedy – some shit situation that precedes the “saving grace” of local authority intervention.

So I started with a condensed story of my childhood, which I’ll have you know is no poor me story; I am one of the lucky ones. My experiences both negative and positive made a strong woman out of me and as it happens I’ve had a pretty blessed life.

However, there are many a care leaver who did not find their feet, peace or healing and sadly never recovered from their childhoods. Many who still live with the devastating effects of their traumatic early year experiences and as a result found themselves in prison, addicted to drugs, destitute, suffering significant mental health issues or homeless as well as in many other unfortunate circumstances.

Not forgetting the thousands of looked after children leaving care each year who continue to suffer the same poor outcomes (a number that keeps growing since the number of children in care continues to reach record highs year after year).

I will be the first to say, care isn’t all bad, some people have good experiences, end up in great homes with good people and an amazing support system in their corner but my intention was never to tell a story about the successes of the system. The positive stories do little but mask the reality of so many; the uneducated, the unloved, the teen parents and drug addicts, the offenders and the homeless, the hard to reach and the forgotten.

I cannot forget them.

I want to tell the story of the many, not the narrative that’s sold to Ofsted to warrant awards recognising achievements that are hardly attained. This story is no misery memoir, it is reality. It’s about how outcomes for looked after children and care leavers are unacceptably poor, heart-breaking even. It is a story about how nearly half of under twenty-one year olds in prison have been in care as well as twenty-percent of the adult prison population. A story about how year by year nearly half of all care leavers are not in education or employment (that’s an average of five-thousand young people leaving the system each year to live independently with nothing but a care grant). Not a plan or a job, no education nor stability, non-existent support networks and very limited assistance. Virtually nothing but a parting grand to ensure that they have just enough funds to buy the essentials for their sparse and cold council flats; a bed, a cooker, a fridge – the money doesn’t stretch further than that. They are then left to their own devices to navigate life and independent living according to their “pathway play” which is the legislated bullshit that is prepared in the last two years of their journey for the benefit of evidencing positive outcomes for the government. And that is where their interests (their meaning the government) ends since that is all that is statistically recorded in regard to outcomes – local authorities soon lose track of care leavers after they are sent on their way at eighteen.

It’s easy to say looked after children (and care leavers specifically) are instrumental in their own shortcomings by not engaging with services – I’ve heard it many times before. However, when you’re unmentored, not prioritised, institutionalised, discouraged, unheard, abused, neglected and the list goes on. What hope do you have of becoming more than just a product of your environment?

Children in care are treated like a commidity. They are pawns in a business that generates millions of pounds worldwide at the expense of their development and outcomes. They are seen as service users before children. Cases to be managed and then closed. And the only people in the world who “care” about them, well, they clock off at 5pm.  In truth, the expectations of these damaged children are so low, that no one bothers trying. In care but no one cares, how is that for irony?

I apologise if this sounds bitter, but I guess someone has to be angry about this piss-poor under-funded, poorly resourced, overstretched system.

Anyway, I know you are wondering where the rant ends and the story starts, so I guess I should begin.

I was inspired to start documenting my journey through the system after bumping into a girl I used to live with many years ago. We grew up in care together and every time I see her I am met with the worst (yet sadly common) outcome growing up in care has to offer. The worst.

Telling my story was about telling her story. Documenting the failures and horrors of this system because what does 20% of care leavers in the UK are homeless mean to you unless you know one of those 20%? Unless you have seen their struggle, witnessed their pain, experienced their despair? Unless it is so close to home that you go to bed every night feeling so overwhelmed and heartbroken that it is simply not within your power to change outcomes or improve life chances? (At least not on the scale you would hope to)

It means nothing, it’s just another figure on top of a long list of figures that are undoubtedly more important to you like your bank balance or your earnings, the increase in your council tax or energy bills. And don’t get me wrong, some stats may even momentarily stop you in your tracks in sadness and concern for some of the most vulnerable in our society but the reality is, the horror is often fleeting because most of us are too busy navigating our own journey and struggles and are so far removed from being one of the forgotten.

The girl I used to live with. She has been forgotten.

I see this girl now and again, head lowered as she moves excessively fast through the neighbourhood, weaving in and out of pedestrians as she makes her way to her next fix. If you take the time to study her, the way she moves would most likely amuse you since it’s her speed rather than her stride that carries her so quickly. Her every move is rushed and determined and she walks with her upper body thrust forward leaning into her destination whilst her legs lag behind, working frantically to catch up.

I saw her again a little over a month ago as I popped out of work to go and buy some milk. As we passed one another I shouted out to her and watched as a brief moment of confusion wrinkled her brows before our eyes met, relaxing her face and slowing her to a stop. “Hey you” I called, opening my arms and taking hold of her, lingering in an embrace far longer than she was comfortable with. I say this because she is always the first to pull away and break our hug; and though I have learnt over the years that she doesn’t like to be kept for too long, every time we cross paths I offer up a cuddle anyway, willing her to slow down; if only for a moment.

I asked her how she had been keeping and she smiled her wonky smile in response, exposing a row of decaying teeth that always shock me though I’ve seen them many times before. “Things are good, yeah I’m doing alright” she mumbled twice, the first for my benefit and the second as though she was trying to convince herself.

I observed her closely as she shuffled around in front of me and noticed that her face had thinned out considerably since the last time I saw her. She had sores festering around her mouth and if her wrinkled skin could tell a story, maybe then you would understand why she looked as though she were in her late forties rather than her tender age of twenty-five.

She had never been any good at lying and if the rest of her appearance had not already given her up, rest assured her eyes certainly would have. The remnants of every crack spliff that had rested between her lips and every advantage taking man that had laid between her thighs in exchange for a rock were in those eyes. Her gaze tired and troubled, lonely and unbearably transparent; offering up her truth every time.

I’d met this girl close to thirteen years ago at a house party in the middle of an estate I pass often these days on my way to work. The first time our paths crossed I hated her; she was loud, mouthy, ignorant and overly eager to prove how tough she was. I was a couple of years older than her, with a bit of a “bad girl” reputation amongst my peers and back then, that had been good enough reason for her to arm herself with a knife and attempt to fight me.

I think back to this day often when I read newspaper articles about young boys falling victim to knife crime. An epidemic many can’t understand though it is happening right on our doorsteps and playing out in our newspapers and TV screens week after week and has been for years.

Young people perishing day by day on the streets on London, often because of some minor disagreement, post code wars or tension borne out of a desperation for approval and respect. I am reminded of myself and this girl, at the time a bad mix of egos to have in one room, though I was never a trouble maker. My biggest problem was; I was never one to walk away when trouble came knocking; even if it was holding a knife in its hand.

I remember my adrenaline pumping as I walked across the room ready to fight. Now I look back, it was completely foolish of me to even think I had any chance against someone holding a knife but ego and youth is a dangerous combination. In my mind my life was stretched out before me and death was never an option, not for a teenager anyway – death was an old people’s affliction. In my adolescent mind, this was just another day and another fight and my only worry was; I had to win it.

Fortunately, the fight never came to nothing as someone started screaming that the police were outside which quickly dispersed the crowd. Anxious to get out of the block and away from area before we were arrested, my friends and I wasted no time following suit, leaving the altercation for another day.

The next time we would meet would be a few days later outside a children’s home on the edge of the Peckham/New Cross border. I’d left my own children’s home on the opposite side of Peckham in the middle of the night to meet up with a couple of friends to go out joyriding when who should turn up but this girl who previously had tried to stab me for clout. Our mutual friend who sadly passed away some years ago after falling suspiciously from a tower block whilst being pursued by the police encouraged us to squash our “beef” and from that day onwards we became firm friends.

Fast forward thirteen years later and here we were standing in the carpark of a supermarket, her pretending that she was doing fine and me standing there thinking how the hell did life turn out like this? Whilst I rushed out of the office to buy some milk to feed my coffee fix, she rushed through Peckham for hers. Both clinging on to bitter addictions, only mine merely tasted bitter, hers had poisoned her life from inside out.

This young woman is twenty-five. She has been working the streets and taking class a drugs since she was sixteen. She has had three children, two of whom have been adopted and one of which is in foster care. And do you know what breaks my heart the most? Her story is by no means rare; nearly every single girl I grew up in care with ended up on the same or similar paths.

Most of them bar one became teenage mothers, myself included. Grown before our time, not just because we had babies in our youth but simply since we were exposed to most things far too early. We became adults prematurely; with no guidance or discipline we were running around London doing everything we shouldn’t have been before we were even thirteen years of age. Smoking cannabis, drinking alcohol, raving with people twice our age, staying out all night, hanging around with the wrong crowd, running away, not attending school – you name it, we done it. We had freedom long before we were mature enough to know what to do with it and there was no escaping from the cycle. Everyone in care seemed to know one another. I guess, no one fits like the people whose scars run as deep as your own.

I had friends at school, friends from my childhood, and friends from the local area but they didn’t understand me and my pain like my care family did and I was always aware of the divide. I wasn’t like my peers; I didn’t wear the latest trainers or have much more than the school uniform on my back. I didn’t go home to my parents after school or even to my family and I lacked the solid foundations that my friends had, or at least appeared to have back then. I was not allowed to have sleepovers or spend time with my friends outside of school, and I never invited them back to where I lived either. I was different and I felt it.

It sounds so trivial and meaningless now but when you’re a teenager your only concern in life is to fit in. Being socially accepted despite being so underprivileged compared to my peers was my primary focus and I worked hard to achieve it, it was more important than meeting with social workers, doing my work or going to school at all. I’d been thrown out of four secondary schools by the age of fifteen as a result of truancy or fighting and I could care less about the teachers and making grades or building a relationship with my foster families and then once I moved back into children’s home the support staff there.

Instead, I spent all my time with the young people from my care home and other homes in area. We’d spend our days hanging around estates or outside of various children’s homes in the borough, as well as youth offending and social services. Camberwell Green youth court was heavily frequented by the same crowd of looked after children, quite often for minor wrongdoings such as breaking the small panes of glass in the fire alarm boxes in order to trigger the alarm and escape the magnetic locked doors of the children home after lock up at 10pm. We were criminalised for being disobedient teenagers, arrested and manhandled for going out after lock up and other petty infringements. Police cells became our respite when other homes in the borough were unable to take us due to being understaffed or at full capacity. Being arrested was normal as were police raids in the early hours of the morning and as much as I hate to admit it, some of my fondest childhood memories end in cuffs. Not because we were criminal or particularly violent but purely because those were the tools used by staff to manage our behaviour.

Our “crimes” were plenty but comically petty like stealing the staff keys to break into the kitchen for mid night feasts. Barricading ourselves in the office if we were refused pocket money as a consequence of not tidying our rooms. Once my brother (who for some time lived in a children’s home with me before he was quickly moved on to another one following a particularly out of control in house water fight) was arrested for throwing an apple across the room as a member of staff walked through the door. Granted it hit her smack bang between the eyes and probably hurt quite a bit. However, it was not intentional nor malicious, yet he was arrested anyway for common assault. Our arrests for the most part were silly and unreasonable and as our criminal records lengthened so did the patience of the courts.

I was fourteen when one afternoon I walked into court and watched powerless as three judges turned whispering to one another for less than sixty-seconds and decided that this time, I would not be going home. In fairness I had much more than a third strike against my name and was frequenting court at the time more than I was attending my pupil referral unit (an educational unit for disruptive and troubled children) however I never expected I would be incarcerated.

To be continued….

 

Motherless Mum

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“There is an emptiness inside of me — a void that will never be filled. No one in your life will ever love you as your mother does. There is no love as pure, unconditional and strong as a mother’s love. And I will never be loved that way again.”  – Hope Edelman –

As Mother’s Day in the UK comes to an end for another year, I sit on my sofa listening to the unrelenting hum of the cars passing in the street below and think about how truly challenging yet rewarding this journey of motherhood without a mum of my own has been. I have been a mother for nine years and motherless for close to eighteen, and if I am honest sometimes being a motherless mum has been one of the loneliest most isolating roles on earth.

My son was born in the early hours of a still and humid morning at the height of summer some ten years ago. I’d woken up at 3am feeling tight and uncomfortable all over as though I was about to explode at any moment. Getting up to use the toilet I realised with horror that the time to give birth and relieve myself of my heavy and quite often painful bump was nearly upon me since my mucus plug was sitting at the bottom of the toilet bowl.

Phoning my midwife to seek advice, she explained that I simply could not be in labour as I was able to speak coherently and was not screaming down the phone in terrible pain. Despite her advice and convinced that I was indeed in labour I pleaded for my partner to phone an ambulance anyway and when the first-response paramedic arrived, to my frustration he agreed with the midwife – there would be no baby that day, though by this point my waters had broken and I was contracting minutes apart. I felt defeated and annoyed that the medics were ignoring me just because I was not experiencing the traditional symptoms or reacting to my contractions in the expected typical way. I demanded that I be taken to hospital in any case and stormed off to the kitchen to wash the dishes whilst waiting for the ambulance to arrive.

When the second set of paramedics appeared they agreed to take me to hospital since by then I was in tears and distressed; irritated that no one seemed to be listening. They advised my partner to collect some of my belongings and meet us at the hospital since I would probably not be having the baby until the following day anyway. All alone on the way to the hospital, strapped to a gurney and in no mood to talk to the paramedic who attempted to make polite conversation with me I held my stomach and sobbed for my mum. We arrived at the hospital in less than ten minutes and we had not been there for longer than five when the urge to push overcame me and to everyone’s surprise, after three pushes my son was born; just over an hour since my first call to the midwife.

My labour was quick, uncomplicated and without pain relief, and as I pushed my son into the world surrounded by the paramedics and hospital staff, I could think of nothing else but the overwhelming need to have my mother there with me.

As the years have gone by, that need has presented itself on many occasions especially during times of great difficulty when I had no choice but to navigate through life’s challenges alone. The ending of my relationship, problems at work, managing finances, running a home, questions about my own childhood – the list of instances I have needed my mum have been plenty, yet for myself and many other motherless mums, it was in these moments that I had no choice but to learn how to mother myself.

My life without a mum has been lonely. On shit days there is simply no one to turn to, no one to talk to and no one to understand me in a way only a mother can. For the most part I have worked out motherhood and life on my own, and often people will ask me who taught me how to cook, or clean or something as trivial as braiding hair and I laugh at the innocent expectation that everyone has someone to teach them these things. To the contrary, in the absence of a mother everything I know I have quite literally taught myself.

When my son was born, I taught myself how to rock him to sleep within minutes by patting his bum as I swayed him gently in my arms. I taught myself how to get up and work through exhaustion, functioning on barely any sleep and very little energy, even when I am sick. I taught myself how to paint, and hang wallpaper, fit shelves, build furniture, upcycle and anything necessary to make our house a home. These days I have been teaching myself patience and perseverance when I constantly remind my near ten year old to hang up his school uniform after school or put his toys back in their rightful homes. I have negotiated motherhood alone, often selflessly and exhaustively, and with many mistakes along the way.

Generally life keeps me so busy that I have little time to focus on the absence of my mum, however when life slows down in the evenings and my son is fed, bathed and snoring softly in bed, it will be in those moments that the loneliness strikes and I long to phone my mum just to talk about, well anything and nothing at all.

I grieve a confidant, a guide, a nurturer and a protector and I am eternally sad that she missed out on her life and my son. I yearn for her advice, her support, her wisdom and her voice.. And I guess just someone to tell me that I am doing ok.

“I miss her when I can’t remember what works best on insect bites, and when nobody else cares how rude the receptionist at the doctor’s office was to me. Whether she actually would have flown in to act as baby nurse or mailed me cotton balls and calamine lotion if she were alive isn’t really the issue. It’s the fact that I can’t ask her for these things that makes me miss her all over again.”

– Hope Elderman –

One of the most difficult aspects of mothering without a mum is juggling childcare and work in this modern day world. As it stands if I need help, there are only a couple of people I can call and with lives and responsibilities of their own, their support will understandably forever be limited and conditional. Childcare has always been a problem, and in the early days when I first split from my childs father scheduling childcare so we were both able to remain at work was the cause of great tension and stress since he pretty much took a backseat and has been less than willing to step in and help since. Sick days, inset days, hospital appointments, balancing childcare around my shifts and any other juggling of childcare arrangements are always my responsibility and without a mum or any real support system, this can be tough.

As is my social life (away from family-focused events) which has always been pretty much non existent, though fortunately I have a great group of long term friends who understand that for me motherhood is and will always be the priority.

I guess, in many ways being motherless has made me overprotective of my son because he really is all I’ve got, plus my care experience exposed me to just how manipulative and self-serving adults can be and I am super careful and selective about who I allow into his life as a result. I will not just leave him with anyone, and with exclusion of my great aunt and my cousin (and in the early days my siblings though they are all busy with their own lives now) no one is or has ever been allowed to look after my son. No one, friends or family alike.

In that respect, I think it’s fair to say that my mother’s early death has shaped not only my life but also the way that I mother as I am acutely aware that the ground can be pulled out from under your feet without a moments notice and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it.

As I approach my sons tenth birthday, this fear has become very real as he will soon be older than I was when my mother died and I am irrationally fearful of the future and the possibility of leaving him behind if like my mother I am destined to die young. I hope we break the curse and life does not deal us those cards.

The journey of motherhood without a mum has been tough, but if there is one thing that I am thankful for it is my motivation to succeed. Growing up motherless (and parentless) taught me resilience I don’t think I ever would have discovered or developed otherwise. I am independent, strong and a survivor both by nature and self nurture. I am aware of my capabilities and I know that no matter what challenges life will bring I can and will survive. There is no one in the world that I can fall back on (at least not unconditionally) and that circumstance alone has unquestionably governed both my experience of motherhood, my life and my unrelenting will to push through.

Being a motherless mother has been a lesson. A lesson in love, in perserverance, a lesson in trying, failing and trying again and a lesson in taking ownership of my life.

It has never been easy and I don’t expect it will ever get easier, however it is a journey that has taught me patience, courage, self-love, kindness, forgiveness and strength and for that I am forever thankful.

Care Kid – Part II

“As a child I felt myself to be alone, and I am still, because I know things and must hint at things which others apparently know nothing of, and for the most part do not want to know”    -Carl Jung-

The first months I spent in care felt like being trapped in an episode of Tracy Beaker, except there was no pretending my mum was a famous Hollywood star who would eventually come back for me; she was gone. My siblings and I had been taken back to London and placed in a children’s home in Bermondsey in an area known as ‘The Blue’. Bermondsey was one of Peckham’s bordering districts and though it was only ten-minutes by car from our childhood home the community was very different to its multi-cultural neighbour. The area had been heavily bombed during World War II and numerous council estates had been erected in place of the factories that had lined the streets pre-war. Its residents were predominantly the white working class and the area had a bad and well earned reputation of being extremely intolerant and racist. The Blue was at the heart of Bermondsey’s community and had once been a popular traditional street market in its glory days before the traders were pushed out by gentrification and big supermarket chains. By the early nineties left in place of the hundreds of stalls that had once dotted the high-street was a main road lined with run down shops and cafes and right at the end of the road nestled behind a pub, park and a shabby laundrette was the children’s home.

Roseberry Street children’s home was a modern multi-purpose building with spacious rooms, heavy duty carpet throughout and a generous sized garden. We had been accommodated inside a separate unit within the home isolated from the other residents and it was like having our own little apartment; with two double bedrooms as well as a kitchen, bathroom and lounge area. The home was your typical communal living residential care home, well lived in and devoid of any real comfort or character and though the staff had attempted to make it homely with well-placed toys and posters on the walls, the regimented daily time table as well as the high turnover of staff and regular meetings with social workers made it feel more like a youth centre than a home. We were no longer just children, we were now considered ‘looked after children’ – supervised, examined and monitored twenty-four-seven.

Outside of our unit there were multiple rooms for the other children who lived there as well as offices, a computer room and a bedroom for the staff who stayed overnight. We would spend the majority of our day playing with the other residents in the garden or recreation room downstairs and the staff for the most part would allow us all to run wild until lock up when we were marched upstairs and instructed to get ready for bed.

Bedtimes were deeply unsettling as I was plagued by distressing and repetitive nightmares virtually every night and I hated going to bed. It was not a place of rest and I would cause trouble and hide away from the staff on most evenings in an attempt to delay the inevitable. My brothers who needed little in the way of encouragement would join me running around creating havoc whilst the staff done their best to control us. I was soon labelled the problem child, naughty and unmanageable and as you will imagine the staff grew to hate me, picking me up and taking me back to bed a thousand times kicking and screaming before tiredness would eventually overwhelm me and I’d fall into a troubled sleep.

My mum had died two weeks before the summer school holidays were due to end and it was decided by social services that it would be a good idea for us children to  return to school once the new term begun. My first day back was one of the worst days of my life, I had always been a confident child, self-assured and accepted but that day was the very first time I had ever really been aware of what it felt like to be different. Our family were well known in the community and it was no secret that my mum had been killed, it had been printed in the papers and was talk of our neighbourhood. Our loss was everyone’s gossip and it felt like there was no one left in the world who didn’t know that our mum was dead. I remember feeling self-conscious especially at the end of the school day when all eyes were on us as we boarded the white mini-bus that had been provided by social services for the children’s home to transport us to and from school.

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Gloucester Grove Primary School

Though I had always been fairly bright and fond of school when I returned I struggled to concentrate in class and would spend my days worrying about things far beyond my control or understanding. My teacher at the time Mrs Miller, evidently unsure about how to manage my withdrawal allowed me to wander out of class unchallenged and I’d spend my days sitting with the receptionist in the school office instead. Her name was Val and she was a kind elderly lady who reminded me of my great grandmother. She would tease and make light of the fact that I was skiving class again and it amused me that she would always look at me over the rim of, rather than through her glasses and jokingly remark “ohh Jaimee-lee, not again” whenever I appeared in the office doorway. In those early days she became my refuge at school  and I found comfort in the fact she allowed me to be present without expecting anything in return unlike the many new adults in my life.

There were plenty of them, from social workers to the police liaison officers, to independent reviewing officers and the staff both at school and at the children’s home, to the children’s psychotherapist and the court appointed guardian, as well as our solicitor. We were introduced day after day to one hidden agenda led adult after the next, making their notes and recording our every interaction and I didn’t trust any of them, refusing to be blinded by any illusion that they cared or could tell the truth.

“Because never in my entire childhood did I feel like a child. I felt like a person all along―the same person that I am today.” – Orson Scott Card –

I don’t know how I came to that conclusion at nine years old, I’d be a liar to tell you. Perhaps due to pre-conceived beliefs that social services were bad and stole children from their families or maybe because my own parents had failed miserably in their duty to protect us from the likes of these bad people and as a result I refused to trust anyone else? Or possibly because the children’s psychotherapist who’d been assigned to us through the court to establish the extent of emotional damage we had suffered following my mothers death was forcefully manipulating me to express resentment for my father that I didn’t possess. Who knows? The only thing I am certain of is in my young mind I ascertained that these adults were not to be trusted.

The first weeks we were in the children’s home passed by in a blur and the only real memory I have apart from the heavy handed staff, who would smack and throw us around and the other children a couple of whom I would meet years later in another home, was that I wanted nothing more than to go home. The overwhelming need to escape was constant and one day I decided that I was going to run away and persuaded my little brothers to come with me. The day we ran away started off as normal, it was a Saturday and the house was busy. I asked the staff if I could use the computer room and typed a letter to say good bye. I remember genuinely believing in my heart that going back to life before social workers was as easy as sending a letter and walking away – how wrong was I? Once it was written, we slipped into the garden to make our escape. It was a huge garden the length of the building with high walls on either side and bushes along the back fence and though we were not the tallest of children, the walls were no match for us. We were estate kids and had been climbing trees and fences since we could talk and were up and over in no time.

Hearts pounding, anxious of being caught, we hit the ground running for the majority of the half and hour race home, following the route the mini-bus had driven on our school runs. The closer we got the more convinced I became that the life we’d lost was just ahead of us and it was an enormous shock to get back and find our front door locked and the windows boarded up. Usually during the summer holidays our door was wide open and our mums’ friends would be in the living room whilst us children ran in and out all day with our bikes, toys and endless snacks. If you wanted an ice lolly our house was the place to be and if you needed to find your mum, it was a safe bet that you would find her sitting in our living room gossiping away as adults do. Yet here we stood, in front of our boarded up house, in our unusually quiet and deserted estate not knowing quite what to do; we had run away with nowhere to go.

Knocking on the door of our neighbour, I asked if I could climb over her back fence to get into my house. She was shocked to see us and asked what we were doing there & I remember brazenly telling her that we had run away. She was stunned and anxiously told us that we needed to go back but I was adamant about checking the back door so she ushered us inside and allowed me to climb her back fence. Unluckily our back door was locked and it was one of those defining moments when I realised that I wasn’t nearly as smart as I thought I was. Social services had infiltrated every part of our lives, there was nowhere left untouched by their control, even our home. Our safe, magical, full of light, love and life home was dark, empty and locked to us; and I was completely heartbroken that I had been robbed of the chance to outgrow it. My brothers, baffled by my tears were quite happy since the shed had been left open and was packed with our bikes and lifting them over our neighbours garden we cycled back to the children’s home with our tails between our legs. The staff were angry to say the least and we were greeted with a very harsh telling off from the local police who had been running around the area trying to locate us. I was distressed to be back and remember locking myself in the room crying, defeated and angry at the world and everyone in it.

That immense devastation at the unfairness of life would soon become a theme for the next few months as losing our parents and our childhood home was just the beginning. At the end of September we found out that we would also lose one another as social services had determined that rather than place us with either the maternal or paternal sides of our family we would be split up and placed into long term foster care. Our family did little to detest the decision though they had spent several weeks locked in a nasty dispute with children’s services about the long term arrangements of our care, neither side wanting us to be placed with the other. Social services had invited both groups to several meetings and with increasing tensions between them, they had done little but prove themselves to be incapable of putting their differences and ill feeling aside for the benefit of our welfare.

My mums mum, though very involved in our care proceedings had hardly been a source of support or protection for her own children and even in the event that she would have offered to extend herself and her home to us, she simply did not possess the ability or skills to raise a handful of bereaved children. And unfortunately, the same could be said for both my mothers and fathers siblings, who were all equally unequipped and disinterested in inheriting the responsibility of us and were undoubtedly relieved to not have been landed with the burden of six kids.

Consequently myself and my siblings, with our fractured and unstable family networks were condemned to the foster care system and though social services assured our families that there were carers on hand who could take us all, in reality foster carers available to house a sibling group of six just didn’t exist. Instead we were split into pairs and swiftly moved on to our new homes. My elder sister who was ten and one of my brothers who was eight were sent to live with one family, whilst myself, still nine and another brother who was six were placed with a third and the twins who were three and the only joy left in our lives were naturally placed together.

jaimee
August 2000 – Laying flowers for our mum at the site of her death

The loss was colossal, like another death and I don’t think I have ever truly recovered. There is no sense of reason when you’re a child being separated from your siblings. You cannot understand that there is no one-place where you can stay together or that your placements have been ascertained on account of your often varying needs. There is no logic or justification that lessens the trauma of being separated, and even now nearly twenty years later I consider our separation an unforgiveable betrayal by those responsible for preserving and maintaining our relationships.

At first we would still see each other at school and though it was difficult and upsetting to go home to different families, we would at least see one another from Monday through to Friday but a few weeks into our new placements that was all to change. My foster carer lived in Dulwich and it was decided that we would move schools to be closer to her home. It was heart-breaking to say good-bye to my friends, the majority of whom I had known since nursery and my last day of school remains one of the saddest days of my life.

My new school was in the heart of Dulwich Village an affluent area in South-East London and to say that it was a change is an understatement. The majority of the children in my new school were from white middle class backgrounds, a big contrast to the children of working class backgrounds I was used to; and I was conscious from the get go that I did not fit in. I had a foster-carer for starters, a completely alien term to most if not all of the children in my classroom who thought kids in children’s homes and foster care were purely fictions in the books of Charles Dickens and Jaqueline Wilson. They were posh, privileged and worlds apart from any of my former peers and I struggled to adjust.

I was so depressed that one day I cut off my hair, every last bit of it. I don’t know what came over me, in one moment I wanted my mum more than I ever had since the day she had died and in the next I had picked up scissors and through tears began to hack away at my hair until there was nothing left to cut away. I will never forget how my foster carer panicked, holding me in her arms with tears in her eyes when she saw the damage I had done. There was nothing but small patches of hair left and with no way to repair it, that evening I was taken to her daughters’ home where her boyfriend who was a barber shaved the remainder off.

I hated being in care and my foster placement was far different to those of my siblings whose carers were British and permissive, living lifestyles very similar to our parents, or at least my mothers whose culture was more dominant in our household. Our carer was Jamaican born, older than my mum had been and although she was nice and incredibly loving, she was set in her cultural ways; with customs radically different to the ones in which I’d been taught and raised. She was authoritative, stern and religious and we were expected to go to church every Sunday, complete house hold chores and used a living and dining room separate from her own. Obedience and submission were highly valued, and the freedoms and casual supervision that we had been used to growing up were no more. We were instructed to address our foster carer as “auntie” rather than by her name or “mum” like my siblings had taken to calling their foster carers and it was very much a foster rather than a family home and I struggled to adapt.

In contrast my siblings had settled in well at their new foster placements and in some respects had been more fortunate than my brother and I. I say this because their foster carers had been friends prior to their placements and as a result their close sibling bonds had been sustained. They would spend time at one another’s homes, enjoyed several holidays abroad together and were very much involved in each others lives. As for myself and my little brother, we had been isolated, always on the outside looking in and I have vivid memories of going to play in Dulwich Park, a popular park a short walk from our foster placement and coincidently bumping into our siblings there on several occasions enjoying joint picnics with their foster families and extended family friends. My brother and I were never invited though we lived less than ten minutes away and our foster carers made no effort to arrange contact between us. My siblings never came to our house and we never went to theirs, and as a matter of fact I remember distinctly being shunned by their new families and prevented from visiting our younger siblings in the playground of their infant school that was next door to ours.

Unfortunately this is not uncommon for children in care and it absolutely perplexed me then as it does now how adults in positions of trust and authority can be so far removed and insensitive to the devastation that separation amongst siblings can cause. It is not often that foster families are willing to interrupt their own lives and customs to make space for the customs or the families of the child/ren they welcome into their home. And as a foster child you are expected to mould yourself and adopt the practices and habits of the family you have been placed with. There is rarely room for compromise and foster carers are often resistant to change or rearrangement of their own lifestyles or schedules even if it is in the best interests of the child.

Likewise, social services are overstretched and understaffed and do little to support contact with families or siblings once they are satisfied that vulnerable children have been placed in safe and stable foster homes. Their excuses are many, from their limited resources and time, to the lack of emotional investment they make in the very children they work with. There is no consequence for the poor practice of separation, at least not for the professionals involved who don’t suffer the life-long damage or distress. In truth, though this is a statement that will most certainly sit uncomfortably with some,  our individual carers and social workers were by all intents instrumental in fracturing and alienating our close sibling relationships due to their own self-interest. It would become my biggest problem with foster care and social services, even as a child and it is fair to say that I believed instead of maintaining, prioritising and nurturing our sibling relationships; they destroyed and severed them.

I felt broken and alone, grieving the loss of my siblings and family though they were still alive. I was afflicted with shame and feelings of betrayal whenever I allowed myself to feel happiness or affection for my carer though she was a good person. It was almost a guilty pleasure to receive love, and though there were moments where I would immerse myself in nurture completely, open and childlike in my need for affection, generally, I would be completely detached and often destructive as a means to avoid attachment and the many risks related to trusting any adult in authority. I knew how it felt to be let down, to be lied to and mistreated, hopeful and disappointed, ridiculed and punished, controlled and powerless, unseen, unheard and unwanted, and I wouldn’t allow myself to be at the receiving end of anything that could break my fragile existence. Above all, no one was going to take the place of my mum..

To be continued..

Care Kid – Part I

Care Kid – Part I

Jaimee

Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.

-Carl Jung-

An honest account of my experience of the UK care system:

I remember the first time I had ever been outside of social services. I was around seven years old and my mum shoved me into her car before driving to the local social service offices which were located in an old Victorian school building at the end of our road. She was crying hysterically and demanded that I went inside to tell them what my dad had done. I sat there wild eyed and still, too terrified to move. The year previously, the mum of a girl in my class at school had got mixed up with some yardies from the estate and was caught at the airport bringing drugs back into the UK. My classmate and her siblings were subsequently removed from their mothers care and since we were only children and didn’t really understand the gravity of their mums actions we naively demonised social services for taking away our friends. Why my mum had driven to social services I just couldn’t understand, these were the very people who everyone despised, who split up families and I was petrified that if I got out of the car I would be taken away. I had never seen my mum acting so irrational before and although in pain I sat fearful and silent whilst my mum hit the steering wheel repeatedly before eventually turning the car around and heading back home. It is only in hindsight that I have come to understand that this particular event was one of my mum’s many cries for help, and the sheer panic in her eyes on that day plagues my memories.

We lived on one of the notorious ‘five Peckham estates’ in South-East London made up of the Sumner; the Willowbrook; the Camden; Gloucester Grove and the North Peckham. Our home was a three-bedroom council maisonette on a part of the estate called Shurland Gardens, opposite what had once been a canal but was filled in and transformed into a nature reserve walkway many years before. Our side of Peckham was a deprived social housing community with never ending intertwined high rises, even higher unemployment rates, ever increasing rates of crime and very little prospects for those who resided there. From the outside looking in, it would have been the last place on earth anyone would want to live, let alone raise children, however for those who lived there it was a welcoming and friendly neighbourhood where everyone knew their neighbours and helped one another out.

My parents who were not yet thirty had six children; three boys and three girls. My dad was from a big family himself, one of ten children. He was a clever man, in fact at school, his teachers recognising that he was gifted and so far ahead of his peers sent him to have his IQ tested. The results were the talk of the family, his IQ surpassed one-hundred-and-forty which was the bench mark for those considered to be geniuses. Sadly or stupidly depending on your perspective, as intelligent as he was, after falling in with the wrong crowd he left school at fourteen with no qualifications and a one way ticket to prison. As you’d expect, the years that followed were no walk in the park, my dad got mixed up in everything he shouldn’t have and built himself quite the reputation both on the streets and within the local nick. But that was all to change when my mum fell pregnant with my elder sister and told him he would need to grow up and get a real job if they were going to make a go of things. He quickly found work and the positions were plenty; a scaffolder, electrician, painter and decorator etc.. he was not fussy, and as the mouths to feed multiplied, he found himself in one undesirable position after the next, jobs well beneath his capability and a complete waste of his exceptional intelligence.

My mum, who I don’t remember very much though I was nine when she died (a result of repressed traumatic memories from my childhood I believe) was the eldest of three siblings. She was a beautiful woman with a million freckles, one for every good deed she had ever done. She was a born giver, or perhaps it was simply a characteristic she had acquired by looking after her siblings growing up? Either way, she didn’t just love to help, she lived to help and there was no one who was unworthy of her support. She extended herself to all and I remember that we could not go out anywhere without her stopping along the way to chat for ten minutes to someone she had bumped into; her heart was truly golden and she had many friends. Having said that, what many would agree was her biggest attribute was also her biggest flaw, she was a compulsive care giver and like many people who thrive off of helping others she was not very good at helping herself. I would love to be able to write that she liked to read or listen to music, draw, bake, sing or any number of things but the truth is I don’t know. I have asked people who knew her many times about my mum and their response is always the same “she loved her children, you were her life”. I do not disagree, if I remember anything at all, I remember my mothers love.

Generally my parents were both decent well liked people, slightly rough around the edges and not without fault, however their dedication to persevere and give us children a well rounded upbringing was unmatched. They would have made a good team in different circumstances and it is fair to say that for the most part our house was a happy if somewhat dysfunctional home. Sure we had been exposed to arguments, violence, harsh discipline and the occasional visit from the local police if my dad had been up to no good but in equal measures we had experienced love, affection and countless happy memories. My parents had done their best and despite their volatile relationship and shortcomings, they were good parents and cared deeply for us children.

Despite this, if truth be told my parents had no business having six of us children, especially within the short time span of seven years. Their own childhood traumas were yet to be resolved and diving straight into parenthood (on such an extreme scale at that) was somewhat blind and unwise. My mother in particular was witness to horrific domestic violence between her own parents as a child and as a result was burdened with a lot of responsibility for her younger siblings. My nan, who had found comfort in alcohol after suffering  prolonged abuse and extreme violence at the hands of my grandfather relied heavily and inappropriately on the support of my mum. As you might expect, this parentification was incredibly damaging to my mums development and in theory is most likely the cause of her extreme (and often destructive) selflessness. As for my dad, who was one of the middle children of a few too many; he had also experienced a troubled childhood although his early years had been a lot less chaotic than my mothers since he lived in a two parent home with what appeared to be reasonably competent and hard working parents. In reality, his parents though present were largely absent due their long working hours and were terribly emotionally and psychologically unavailable to their children. This meant that the parenting responsibilities of the youngest children were taken over by the oldest, some of whom were quite a few years older than my dad. In effect, my grandparents deficiencies in parenting had a huge impact on my dads developmental needs and quite certainly led to the onset of his psychological difficulties.

In light of the above, I do totally understand why the answer to my parents dysfunctional childhoods and hunger for love was to create their own perfect little secure and happy family, however, in truth they were ill equipped for the journey and as the pressure and demands of life and six children grew, they became overworked and as a result, completely overwhelmed.

On that particular day (prior to my mums manic drive to social services) I had been playing outside in the igloo’s, which was a stone tunnelled play area in the middle of the estate with my siblings and some of the other children from the neighbourhood when Sophie (this was not her name but for the purpose of the blog, we will call her Sophie) came running towards the igloo’s yelling that our dad had said we needed to go home for dinner. Sophie was one of our neighbours, she was an overweight girl who always wore ill fitting clothes, she had dishwater blonde hair, a filthy mouth (quite literally, she swore like a sailor) and a real mean streak. Her mean-spirited nature caused her to frequently fall out with the other children, usually because she called us racist or unkind names whenever she didn’t get her own way.

On hearing that dinner was ready the boys sprinted off ahead of us, and as my sister and I went to follow behind, Sophie pulled me aside and whispered that she had lied, my dad did not really call us in for dinner after all. She asked me if I wanted to come with her as her mums friends dog was having puppies and she was on her way to check them out. Of course I wanted to see the puppies so I called out to my sister who had started to skip in the direction of home that I would catch up and off we went. The flat was on the other side of the estate only a couple of minutes away and when we arrived Sophie impatiently thumped on the door. When the door swung open we were greeted by a unkempt man straight out of Oliver Twist with overgrown greasy hair and a long, thin unshaven face. The dog, who was equally as dishevelled as it’s owner was trying to squirm out from between his legs until the man kicked it swearing loudly. The man looked to me like the drug addicts we had been warned to stay away from and I thought to myself that if my dad knew where I was I would be in big, big trouble. I watched for a moment whilst Sophie bent down to pet the dog who had nervously retreated into the corner and announced that I needed to go home. Sophie, for once in what was possibly her entire existence and clearly frightened by the mans ill treatment of his dog did not detest and quickly turning on our heels we ran back towards our side of the estate.

Sophie lived a few doors down from our house with her nan, her brother and her teenage sister who had recently given birth to a little girl fathered by a young black guy who lived in one of the flats above ours. I remember that the baby was talk of the estate for a little while, as she was mixed race and Sophie’s family were known and vocal racists. That’s the thing about living on an estate, your business very rarely remained your own.

Arriving back to our block Sophie and I decided to play pretend mums and babies. The game was a favourite amongst the little girls who lived in our estate and we would alternate between playing make believe mums and make believe teachers on a daily basis. When I look back our choice of past time was quite telling of our working class environments. The only influential women in our lives at the time were either our mums or the teachers at school and we would spend hours mimicking them. I remember thinking for a long time that my future in the world would be limited to filling either one of those roles, since the only other option was to become a Spice Girl and unfortunately I could not sing to save my life.

Anyhow, I loved playing mums, I was a mini mum at home anyway and enjoyed helping my own mum with my youngest siblings as much as possible. My little sister who had been born when I was six was my very own real life baby (as well as her twin brother) and she was permanently stuck to my hip. I learnt to change their bums and feed them before I was seven and my mum who was extremely unwell at the time after suffering severe blood loss during their birth was happy to let me be so involved.

Sophie had prepped a sleeping area with an old sheet in the corner of her garden and there I lay pretending to be napping whilst mummy was cleaning the house, which was actually Sophie picking up the stray leaves from the garden and throwing them on the other side of the gate. Usually there would be a few of us playing, but that day for whatever reason it was just the two of us, and I vividly remember feeling pleased that Sophie, who was a couple of years older than me had singled me out to join her.

We had not been playing for long when suddenly I heard my dad’s voice booming through the estate shouting my name. I froze instantly knowing just by the tone of his voice that I was knee-deep in trouble. Standing up I beckoned to my dad over the short walls that enclosed our individual front gardens and he came striding towards us. My brain was doing somersaults trying to come up with an adequate excuse to prevent the beating that I knew was coming but my dad was on the war path. I found out years later that he had been waiting for me to return for over an hour and had also argued with my mum because he didn’t want us to play with Sophie.

In all fairness both of my parents had reasonable points. My dads logic was that Sophie was a bully with a vicious racist tongue and drug addict parents who every once in a while would come and wreak havoc on the estate. My parents had actually chased Sophie’s parents away more than once after catching them sitting outside the block getting their fix in full view of everyone including us kids. It was my dads opinion that Sophie wasn’t a very nice child and he didn’t want us mixing with her. My mum, well her argument was simple.  Nice or mean, the fact remained that Sophie was still a child. The shortcomings of her parents were not Sophie’s fault nor responsibility and it did no harm to let us play with her. My mums heart was much like my own, emphatic to the extent that sometimes it is at the expense of ones own wellbeing. In any case, like I said, though they both had fair points their presentation as always was off, and instead of resolving their disagreement maturely, they argued.

My dad was unpredictable and frightening when angered and unfortunately since I had caused the argument between him and my mum, I ended up being the one to bare the brunt of his rage that day. Marching into Sophie’s garden he didn’t even give me a chance to talk before he grabbed me roughly and began to drag me back towards our house. I wasn’t a very big child, and could barely keep upright so to stop myself from falling over I grasped onto the metal rails that ran down the length of our block separating the walkway from the estate itself and held on tight. My dad angered further by my resistance tightened his grip and pulled me off of the rails before he half dragged and half slapped me all the way home.

After what seemed like a terrifyingly long time but would have only been less than two minutes, my dad pulled me through the front door and my mum took one look at me and screamed. The skin on my back was badly grazed and had actually been altogether scraped off in some places where I had been dragged along the pavement. I was crying uncontrollably, and my mum started screaming wildly at my dad before bundling me in the car and driving to social services.

It wasn’t until around a year later that social services would pop up again following my mother’s death and my dad’s immediate incarceration. I was nine years old and two social workers had travelled down from London to the place of my mums murder to escort us six children to a children’s home where we ended up living for the following couple of months.

One of those social workers was a man, a good man, with kind eyes and a big smile. He had a lot of time for us kids and his humanity and understanding in our time of need I will never forget. Our paths actually ended up crossing again years later, as a matter of fact if you have read my ‘Awkward Intro’ post and are familiar with the training I used to deliver to social work professionals, well it was during one of those workshops that we ended up meeting again. I know, I know, what are the chances of that?! I didn’t realise it was him until after the session had ended when he approached me with tears in his eyes and asked if I remembered him. I said I did though I genuinely couldn’t place where I knew his face from (it gets like that after years in the system and contact with hundreds of different professionals). As soon as he told me his name, I was instantly transported back in time. How strange that though he no longer worked for the same local authority, he had randomly decided to book himself on my course without knowing that it was I, the same Jaimee from more than a decade ago who he had briefly supported along with my siblings through the most traumatic period of our lives? It is truly amazing how life works eh?

To be continued….

 

Drowning

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Understanding grief is hard until you experience it for yourself. Can you imagine pain so heavy it pulls you so far underwater that no matter how long and hard you swim, you still cannot break the surface? That is what loss does to you, it weighs you down.

Sometimes it’s gradual, as a life ebbs away and a light dims, you are slowly swept out further into waters that you know you will never escape. You try to turn back but the force of the current is too strong, it pulls you further. At first you deny it, then you attempt to fight it before finally you start to pray for it’s departure but by now you are enveloped firmly in it’s torment. It slowly drowns you in sorrow as your loved one progressively becomes a lesser version of themselves until eventually their light goes out. Dying becomes death and it is in this very moment that the current stops teasing you and finally pulls you under. You knew it would happen and you thought you had prepared for it, anticipated the pain, accepted your impending loss. Nonetheless you are still overwhelmed by the depths of your despair. Loss is suffocating, draining, soul destroying, you can’t control it and under, under, under you go.

Sometimes though, loss is instant; that is what happened to me. One minute life is normal, the world is the same as it always has been, then suddenly pain and loss hits you so hard, so directly, so unfairly, you cannot ever imagine recovering. I mean of course you have seen pain before, you’ve read about it in a newspaper, watched it on the TV, you even had a friend who’s dad died – of course you know pain but you’ve never seen it up close. You definitely haven’t felt it, lived it, drowned in it. You are overwhelmed. In an instant pain went from something you knew, to all you know. This isn’t real, it can’t be real. Then the realisation comes that it is, you are pulled down further, there is no air here, panic sets in, you want, you need sweet air, instead you are swallowing mouthfuls of salty water – tears but no air. You’re praying, begging, willing for life to go back to the life you had taken for granted; grief free. It won’t, God doesn’t make bargains and neither does the sea of grief. You can pray, cry, scream and swim forever but you will never break the surface again.

You are changed, you’ve become another despairing soul in this sea, there are millions here, young, old and all of those in between. All here together, in the same sea, drowning in the same unforgiving waters yet all alone in their battle to survive their very own grief. And for the majority, survive they will, instinct does that here, forces you to survive even when you don’t want to. In fact over time you stop trying to break the surface, you stop praying to return to life before your loss; you stop wishing for death; you stop questioning God; you stop letting grief slowly destroy you; and you learn to accept what is, what was and what will never be again – and then you swim to shallow waters.

Existing is bearable there, whilst you’re still at sea at least in the shallow end you feel the heat of the sun and on the darkest of nights, see the beauty of the stars. The light of both brings structure to your days and you learn to live again. And yes, now and again the current will sweep you out to sea where the waters are dark, deep and overwhelming. However once you know the shallow waters there you will return because life goes on there and despite the devastation of your loss, you decide you had better go on too.

Jaimee x

 

Losing Myself to Motherhood

IMG_3278Nearly ten years in on this journey called motherhood and this is one of the most important lessons I have learnt;

Becoming a mum does not mean one must lose oneself.

What does that even mean? How could you possibly lose yourself? Well the reality is you can and you do. As any parent will know, life changes drastically once you have a baby. Your responsibilities multiply, your priorities shift and as for your goals and routine? For what it’s worth, be prepared to be flexible.

The transition process began for me as soon as I found out I was pregnant. Given the fact that I was pregnant at sixteen I made a decision very early on in my pregnancy that I had to be capable; there was no other choice. If this was to be and I was going to go ahead and have a baby, then despite what anyone thought and in defiance to their objections and disapproval, I would prove them wrong; I would be the best mum.

In my mind that meant completely reinventing myself and distancing myself from the rebellious teenager everyone knew. I went from being a typical sixteen year old, with many friends and always in the mix to hiding away from the world overnight. I could not possibly continue being a teenager, doing normal teenage things as well as be a mother, the two simply did not go hand in hand, I had to pick one role; and I chose to be a mum.

There has never been a day that I have regretted my decision to bring my son into the world because I love him deeply, truly I do. However it saddens me that I did not have the guidance ten years ago to know that I could have been both, choosing motherhood did not mean Jaimeé would cease to exist. On the contrary I was told that if I kept my baby I would be giving up everything. Life would never be the same again, I would never come first and any dreams that I had, well I might as well forget them.

In truth, it was the above counsel that fuelled my desire to relinquish my old life completely, to prove that all that everyone said I would have to sacrifice did not matter to me, though it did. I loved my youth, my freedom and my friends and of course I had dreams and aspirations. Yet, society instructed that I give those up, my needs did not come first anymore. I had made my bed and now I’d have to lie in it.

Consequently my disconnection to life as I had known it prior to pregnancy very quickly ensued. I traded freedom for responsibility, adolescence for adulthood, spontaneity for structure. I stopped communicating with friends, listening to music I enjoyed (Giggs better pop up in your thoughts as an artist, haha), frequenting the youth club I’d once attended religiously, spending time with family and generally going out at all. Sure there were some positive changes as well, I stopped taking risks, I quit smoking, drinking alcohol and loitering around the estates of my youth but my identity as I had known it was gone and I quickly withdrew into myself.

When I look back, it frustrates me that I allowed stigma and the opinions of others to shape my idea of motherhood and influence my journey so profoundly that I felt compelled to disassociate from everything and everyone I knew and transform into someone I didn’t even recognise. Warranted, I evolved into a good little mum along the way however for a little while there it was at the cost of myself when it needn’t have been.

I can think of plenty of other examples where my desire to be the best mum was both unhelpful to my growth and at the expense of having a well rounded existence, though I won’t begin to list them all as it does not make for interesting reading. What I will say is that in hindsight I recognise that my dedication to demonstrating my competence as a mum caused me to not realise or accept when I needed support. It also led to me staying in an unhappy relationship long after I should have left in addition to ignoring and evading opportunities to socialise and meet with friends. My understanding of what being the best mum to my child involved was the cause of unnecessary misery and insecurity when I was unable to meet my own expectations or live up to my parenting ideals.

Conversely, as I do not want to be misunderstood, I do not believe there is anything wrong with wanting to be your best. As a matter of fact you should absolutely aspire to be your best, it is a discipline worth developing. It’s the nature of survival that we do not want to fail or fall short in any area of our lives, not of our expectations, or our peers nor our potential. The problem is, sometimes that desire to be the best & do the best can become unhealthy, destructive and tiring!

My perception of what being the ‘best mum’ entailed was warped, isolating and counterproductive. Best to me meant being wholly committed to being mum and dismissing all of the needs & wants of Jaimeé. It meant sacrificing who I was before I was a mum and who I was away from being a mum. It resulted in feeling guilty anytime I done something for myself and in reality it was a damaging mindset to have adopted. In light of this, a few years ago I decided I didn’t need to be the best mum in the world, my idea of best was delusional and subjective anyway.

Being a good mum is enough. Being a good mum is about taking care of yourself and your needs. It requires growth, practice and sacrifice as well as patience for both your child and yourself. It demands self-evaluation and elevation. It means being comfortable and humble enough to ask for help, advice or support or to lean on the village around you. Being a good mum involves work (lots of it), mistakes (lots of them), learning curves (life is no straight road) and a never ending commitment to growth.

See, in motherhood there is no peak or destination for one to stop, rest and praise one’s self for their good job. Being a good mum is a conscious effort to wake up everyday until your last, acknowledging the new opportunity to be a better you and a better mum. It is accepting that sometimes you will make mistakes and you might not always have it all together, but if your will is strong and you are prepared to grow then you are already half way there.

So ladies, don’t waste your time attempting to be the best mum, instead aspire to be the best you because believing you are “the best mum” or making that ideal your goal grounds your growth. The definition of best is ‘the most excellent’. To delude yourself that your parenting ability is or can be of the highest degree leaves no room for improvement and plenty of room for disappointment.

You don’t have to lose yourself in motherhood, consume yourself in motherhood or wear motherhood like a skin. It is perfectly acceptable to be a mum and be you too. To take breaks between the routine of life, to nurture yourself, to establish your own hobbies and invest time, effort and money into your own needs. It’s fine to have that extra drink, accept that invitation to meet friends or let your child spend a little more time on the iPad just so you can finish reading that book.

I avoided being me for a couple of years and quit investing time in myself, my goals and my relationships because I was busy devoting all of my time and energy into being mum & I am happy to hold my hands up and admit my judgement was off.

If I could give one piece of advice to any mum or mum to be it would be, do not lose yourself like I did and/or allow society to pressure or guilt trip you into thinking once you become pregnant your identity is limited to being “mum”. There is no shame in finding the balance between who you were, who you are and motherhood.

Jaimeé  ♥

 

Why Now?

I wanted to blog because well, I love to write. I write down most things; my thoughts, poetry, quotes that I come across, my shopping lists, everything! I have been known to write letters to end relationships, I mean, come on, that’s 1940 type shit! Who even does that?! Cringey as it may be it is honestly the only way I can collate and organise my thoughts and feelings.

Most of what I have written has never been shared, but on the occasion I do share my writing my friends and family encourage me to share more. I have told those who believe in me a million times “one day I will start a blog” and yet I never get round to it. Not because I don’t have time; I do. Nor because I’ve lost interest; I haven’t, I don’t get round to it simply because my writing is very personal, I write about experiences, about traumas and lessons, I write about love and loss and life.

Therefore though I desperately wanted to blog for the longest time, I have always lacked the nerve. In actual fact would you believe I made this blog nearly a year ago in April 2017 following a conversation with my sisters about creating a shared blog between us. The plan was to share our lives from each of our perspectives, me being the mum and a little bit of a tearaway, my older sister being the successful and keen traveller living abroad and our youngest sister being the most independent 20 year old of all time.

Unfortunately despite our plans, it never happened, the discussions dried up & so once again without the comfort of my sisters to join me on the journey, I pushed the thought of blogging to the back of my mind and poured my heart and thoughts into note books instead.

How then did I get to this point? You’re asking the wrong person, I really don’t know where I found the courage. When I decided to finally blog, I thought (and overthought) a lot about, well everything! The themes of my content, my target audience, the style of my writing, the responsibility of being credible and honest, the commitment to consistency et cetera. There were many things to consider and in turn many pros and cons to creating an online platform.

The biggest con was not being in control of my audience. My job means that I work with some of the most vulnerable people in the community. I have to be very careful about maintaining boundaries and ensuring I share very limited (if any) information about my personal life. Thus, sharing my life and thoughts via a virtual platform makes me susceptible to clients potentially coming across my blog. The very thought made me cringe since the last thing I would ever want to do is cross professional boundaries. My work is important to me; as are the people I work with.

Having said that, so is writing. I love to write; I have been writing since forever. I wouldn’t say that I am an exceptionally good writer however articulating my thoughts and feelings has been a passion of mine long before I can remember, and it is one of my few comforts in life.

I mean sure, I could cancel out all the if’s, buts and maybes by simply writing anonymously. At the very least then I could protect myself from the possible over exposure to the young people I work with but I’m a firm believer in transparency and integrity. I’ve never hidden from who I am, I’ve lived an ordinaryish life and have overcome a lot along the way.

Perhaps naïve but I don’t necessarily see the harm in my clients knowing any of what I plan to share. I’m human and outside of work I have a life that isn’t perfect. Who’s is? I’m an average young woman and a busy mum living a standard life in an overpopulated city. There are thousands of women like me all over the globe.

That being said, the biggest pro to creating a blog was; there are thousands of women like me all over the globe. Thousands of people who are currently juggling motherhood and work and single parenting. Who have or are trying to overcome hardship by chasing their dreams and finding their inner strength to continue on their journeys in the face of adversity.

And so I guess that’s why I’ve decided to blog, for the women just like me who may have gone through or are going through similar situations to the ones I have experienced. To encourage them, to connect with them, to learn from them, to support them & hopefully have their support whilst we continue on our journeys into pension age and beyond.

Jaimeé  ♥