Tuesday, 2 June 2015
I remember being about 10 years old and sitting at the big girls' table one afternoon when I heard the news. It came to me in hushed whispers. The parents of one of the boys in the year above me were getting DIVORCED. I had absolutely no idea what that meant but did my best to look appropriately shocked as this was obviously extremely scandalous and NOT a good thing. We lived in a tiny English village where life was very sheltered and none of us kids had ever heard of this happening before. By the time I got to high school the following year I realised that this socially unacceptable disaster had happened to a few more people than I thought, although there was only one way you could tell them apart from everyone else - they had free school dinners. I remember being very indignant about this when I first stood behind a small boy in the dinner queue. He didn't have to pay for his burger and chips like me, he just got his name ticked off a list! I went home and told my mum about it, far from impressed. She said that he was from one-parent family - you know, his parents were DIVORCED. His mum (or whichever parent he lived with) probably didn't have much money so he and other kids like him were allowed free dinners. Oh. That was OK then. I didn't know this boy, only his name from getting ticked off the list but from then on I wondered what life was like for him. Wouldn't it be lonely only having one parent? Did he miss the other one? Was his house as 'nice' as other people's houses? Did he have enough food to eat at home?
My goodness, how times have changed. In the 30 years since I stood behind that boy in the dinner queue, parents like I had have become a minority. Any of my children's friends whose parents are still together is pretty much a rarity and even some of those who have two parents are not the original two parents they started life with! I never thought in a million years our family would become one of the new majority. None of us did. I remember Liam coming home from school not long after we moved here and saying that one of his teachers had told him about the 'Whangamata curse'. Apparently it happened a lot - happy families would move to the area supposedly to 'live the dream' only to have the wheels fall off. I think Liam was quite taken aback but laughed it off and so did I. 'That will never happen to us!' we all said. But it did. I don't think it was anything to do with a curse; more a case of simply taking the old problems to a new house. Or maybe we were born in a really unlucky year or something. You only need to look at my old school friends on Facebook to see that the class of '89 has by and large been hugely unsuccessful in love and marriage! I tell you what though, as a mother who has been unable to afford a loaf of bread for sandwiches more times than I care to admit to, it would be bloody helpful if kids of one-parent families still got free hot school dinners!
But as with all things, there is always a positive. Since my own marriage ended, I have been saddened to see several of my close friends go down the same track. Each time, people have been shocked to see another 'perfect family' fall apart. Just yesterday I heard of another beautiful friend who unbeknown to pretty much everyone has been raising her four children alone these past few months. She is one of the strongest, most capable women I have ever met and I know that no matter what she will hold it all together and do a brilliant job just as she always has. Even so, knowing what she was going through and seeing the stress on her face, the lack of sleep in her eyes and hearing the wobble in her voice just absolutely broke my heart. Bless her heart, she has just become a member of a very special club of sisters in our community and I hope she knows we are all here for her, just as we are for each other. We may not have the funds spare to help one another financially - we don't have enough ourselves! But we have all been there, we do a great job and by God we are a strong bunch of women. Even if we don't need each other or see each other that often, it's nice to know we're around. Don't get me wrong, I know there are plenty of amazing solo dads in the same boat too and they have my utmost empathy and respect; I just haven't had anything to do with them really. Let's face it, male or female, it's not easy either way!
I reckon I have it pretty easy in comparison to a lot of people. Sure it would be nice not to struggle. Ali and me wouldn't even get to eat roast chicken if it wasn't for my mum bringing me one when she comes to visit! But seriously, I live a very peaceful, boring life. My kids and I have a wonderful relationship, my ex-husband and I get along really well and his partner is lovely. She has two small children and my ex is wonderful with them, it really makes me smile to see him buckle them into their little car seats and take them to swimming lessons. I admire him a lot, I don't know if I could do it! I guess you never know what you can do though until you're faced with it. I still love my in-laws and all the siblings and relatives who were my family for more than 20 years. As far as I'm concerned they're still family and always will be. I have no psycho exes to deal with, no bitter custody battles, life just ticks along really. Don't get me wrong, the breaking up part was still shite. Seeing my friend yesterday brought all the awful, hideous memories flooding back. But unlike me, she had someone who had been through it to tell her everything was going to be alright. Someone who wasn't just saying it but who meant it and was standing in front of her as living proof. And as I stood there I realised what a long way I had come from where she was now. I wanted to tell her of all the positive things I had learned along the way, all the things she could look forward to, all the things which would make her happy and how this already awesome woman was going to change and grow beyond her wildest imagination. But I didn't. I didn't think it was the right time but she'll learn for herself soon enough, I know she will.
I hope that like me she will find her life is full of everyday angels. Like the angel who brought in a brand new pair of boots to work the week I sold most of my shoes. She had bought them for herself but were too small for her so she brought them into our workplace to see if they would fit any of us. I felt like Cinderella and I already knew before I even tried them on that they would fit. Or the wonderful, kind angel who contacted Nova Energy and put enough credit on my power bill to last Ali and me at least one month, if not two! Or the volunteer angels I didn't even know existed in our own town who brought me FIVE bags of food last week. Amazing people like these can literally mean the difference between being able to hold everything together or having your whole world fall down around your ankles. I truly hope that one day I can find a way to repay all the people who have helped me. Who knows, maybe I could even turn out to be somebody's angel one day, wouldn't that be brilliant!