Monday, 25 May 2015
The Man of the House
My ex-husband and I have a wonderful relationship. We really do! He helps out wherever he can, bringing us free firewood from his partner's farm and meat for the freezer, even vegies from the garden. I know he doesn't have to do any of it and I really do appreciate it. But even more valuable is the fact we can still talk to each other about anything. At least once a week we have a good old chat about life in general and of course in particular about the kids. I like to think of myself as a pretty good parent but two heads are still definitely better than one and on the occasions I find myself a bit stuck, its wonderful to know I can still pick up the phone to the boys' dad and we can nut things out together. We raised our boys together for the first 14 and 16 years of their lives and whilst I'm responsible for looking after most of their day to day needs, when it comes to instilling things like good old fashioned morals and values and helping them get through what child psychologist Nigel Latta calls 'the Mad Uncle Jack' years, that's still an ongoing job for both of us and their dad's input is just as important as mine; probably even more.
Even so, as the only man of the house these days, 16-year-old Ali has a great deal of weight on his young shoulders and I am acutely aware that a good deal of this comes from me. Since his brother left home, things have become much harder financially, not easier and whilst the only indication Liam has of it is a distinct decrease in care packages winging their way to his uni digs, for Ali there is no escaping it. I try not to talk about it too much but it's unavoidable. Every day there are constant reminders of what we can do and what we can't. What we can buy and what we can't. What bills are due to come out this week and why I can't take him to visit his friend 45 minutes away because we can't afford petrol until God knows when. Things such as wanting to book a hair cut or buy a new pair of school shoes are major financial decisions which can often take weeks, even months to make happen.
It must SUCK. I wish I could take it all away so he didn't have to put up with it. Sure it's character building, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and all that but I think he's had more than his fair share of character building stuff now. I'd love to be able to wave a magic wand and whisk him away for a week on the Gold Coast or something, Lord knows he deserves it! But like pretty much everything life throws at him, Ali takes it all in his stride. That's just how it is and he just gets on with it. Even on days when we can't even afford so much as a loaf of bread and I feel like the worst mother in the world, not once over the past two and a half years has he ever shown any anger or frustration. He's a pretty special kid.
The thing is, I'm not often able to talk about how special but today I thought 'stuff it, I will!' I want people to know what a bloody good kid my son is. I do worry that despite all his years of Simple Savings training and living with Mother Hubbard he may possibly never manage to get a grip on his own finances. I hope I'm wrong but if this turns out to be true it will be because he's far too generous for his own good. The first inkling I had of this was when he was barely knee high to a grasshopper at a national Pet Expo. He came across a dachshund who was collecting for the SPCA and wearing a little barrel for people to put coins in. Ali was instantly enchanted with the little dog and by the time I had managed to drag him away from the venue he had given every cent he owned to a sausage dog!
The bigger he's got, the bigger his heart seems to have gotten too and I have been proud and deeply touched on a few occasions when he has come home and confessed he has given his lawn mowing money or even birthday money to other families in need to enable them to buy food or petrol. They always pay him back, even though he tells them not to worry. I think the last time this happened was the week I fed us with $6, around the time I started this blog. I remember being proud of him as always but having a right old chuckle at him helping another family buy food when we had so little ourselves! Still, he insisted they were far worse off than we were and I believed him. And, he thinks a lot of those families. They have a real bond and mutual respect which I think will always be there.
Us 'old farts' can be quick to jump to conclusions about teenagers and I was no exception when a few months ago he started coming home later than usual and not saying where he had been. Immediately I thought he must be up to no good or just wasting his time hanging out with the rabble who descend on our seaside town in summer. So it brought a real lump to my throat to learn that he had in fact been going and sitting with his mate's dad most afternoons while he was suffering from a debilitating illness. Ali going round there and chatting to him and helping to make sure he was comfortable for a couple of hours meant that his friend was able to keep up his holiday job. Once again I was immensely proud of my boy.
Not that I'm under any illusions he's perfect of course! He's still your average teenager in pretty much every sense and he still does like hanging around town with his mates rather a lot more than I'd like. But there are a few people out there who will always be glad that he does. It was around New Year, either just before or just after. It was school holidays anyway. Ali was supposed to be staying at a friend's house so I was surprised and immediately worried to receive a phone call at 1.00 in the morning, saying could I please pick him up and that he had something really important to tell me. I could tell by the wobble in his voice that something was very wrong so I drove into town as fast as I could and found him sitting alone, huddled up on the concrete outside one of the local dairies. It was a hot summer night but he was shaking.
He told me that he had been with his friends as planned and they had just been wandering around town talking and laughing when by chance they went to the wharf, right at the very end of town. It was midnight and they didn't expect to see anyone there but there was one lone figure, down on the platform. 'Do you know that guy?' Ali's friends asked him. 'Yeah, kind of', Ali said and called out to him and asked what he was doing. The figure called back that he was hand fishing - you know, not with a rod, just with a hand reel, over the side of the wharf. 'Oh OK' Ali replied and started to walk away - and then thought about it and suddenly stopped short. Wait a minute - who on earth goes hand fishing by themselves at the wharf at midnight?! He told his friends to go on without him and ran down to the 'fisherman'. He had a line alright, but it wasn't a fishing line. It was a makeshift noose and Ali got there just in the nick of time.
Much to the distress of its owner, Ali immediately began untying and dismantling the noose from the post on which it had been tied and refused to give it back, saying 'You can talk to me. I'm not letting you do this'. So he did and Ali sat and listened while he cried and poured out his problems. Then he walked him 3km back to the safety of his house and promised he would check on him the next day. It was after he dropped him home that he called me. Ali kept in touch with him constantly over the next few days and promised he would tell no one but it was becoming apparent that trying to carry this alone was more than he could handle. In the end we went to a local member of the police who we trusted. We stared at each other wide eyed as Ali gave a full recount of what had happened and it gave me chills to realise fully just how close it had been. Whilst Ali didn't like to break his friend's confidence, he immediately felt as though a weight had been lifted and the police swung into action straight away, taking the chap under their wing. He's doing well now but even if they never speak of it again I think that's another bond that will never be broken.
Which is more than I can say for Ali's shoulder right now! As if he didn't have enough stress living with a daft bat like me, he's gone and dislocated his shoulder playing rugby and is on the waiting list for surgery! He is SO miserable. He was captain of the rugby team too and doing a wonderful job, I really do feel for him, he looks so sad! He's not able to work much right now and has been stressing out over being able to pay his brother for his car so he's taken a leaf out of his mother's book and been selling his Xbox and games and anything else he can make a few extra dollars from. 'I made $200 in five minutes this morning!' he told one of his mates who came to visit and cheer him up. I know everyone thinks their own kids are super special and of course they are. I just wish I could make life easier for him than it is right now but all I can do is let him know how loved he is and how proud I am of him. And now you know too :)