Yesterday I learned a lot, which I rather apt really because I woke up with sleepy eyes and heavy limbs and that feeling of impending doom and excited butterflies that only a first day at school can bring.
At 9am I prised open a bucket of paint and painted a ceiling until my arms were numb and the room was full of paint fumes and my face, clothes and hair suitably splattered with white specks making me look like someone who has made a token effort. My eagerness was 99% due to the fact that:
a) I was super nervous about meeting all these new people
b) people are bestowing me with time and money and things and love and after such a difficult 19 months that all feels a bit woah
c) the nerves damn it, the nerves!
A few hours later and after meeting DomesticGoddesque, CoffeeCurls, Mammasaurus, TwoUnderTwoToo, MissieLizzie and SeasiderInTheCity and with goodies courtessy of MummyBarrow and CheetahsInMyShoes we had covered as much of the house as possible with over 25 litres of paint. Phew.
PND has pretty much hidden me from the world for the last 19 months, not to mention rendering me extremly self-critical, withdrawn, anxious and almost unable to do anything without the husband there for reassurance or help. But with talk of how crazy the situation is and how lovely people can be and about the importance of being open to help echoing around the house as it bounced off freshly painted walls something just as crazy happened. In a small way I remembered who I could be, who I was, and how it feels to be surrounded by friends who care.
We talked about starting school and mutual friends and learning to walk and surviving on £30 a week, about how anyone could find themselves in a situation like this and about how my kitchen resembles a vagina (Annie) and that pampas grass in the front garden means we’re swingers (who knew? MissieLizze seemed very clued up on the protocals).
The five of us, together with MissieLizzies husband (who is awesome because he brought us ice creams and we didn’t even have to ask. And because he painted a whole ceiling with a tiny paintbrush.) and her (frankly banana obsessed) daughter didn’t stop until nearly 7pm. We painted and painted and painted and with each brushstroke the rooms got a little lighter and I felt happier and more humbled and appreciative than I have in a long time.
Everyone asked me how I stay so positive. Believe me, I want to crumble. I want to cry and shout and scream and hide until it all goes away. I can see the mould and the stains and the filth. I can smell the ammonia and the damp. I can feel the absolute rage at the unfairness of everything and the helplessness of not knowing how we are going to get through this – because making the house safe is step one, living and surviving and recovering is the biggest hurdle. My positivity comes from Beans, from my desperation to protect her from thing she doesn’t need to know or see or feel. I can’t crumble because what about her? I can’t fight the good fight for everyone and complain until something is done because I need all that fight (selfishly) in my own belly to get us through this.
In a nod to remarks about ‘benefit culture’ and ‘getting something for nothing’ – there is no such thing as a free ride or something for nothing. We, like thousands of other families across the country, have found ourselves living this life through no fault of our own. This is not the life that we want or hoped for or dreamed about. No one would want to carry their baby over nettles and broken glass into a front door of a house that is in no way fit for habitation. A house that we have to pay to rent and for upkeep and bills before we have even thought about food and nappies and clothes on our extremely limited weekly budget. Yes, it’s amazing that a system exists that means a home for those in need, who can’t afford the huge deposits needed for private rental and who have nowhere else to go. But it’s not free and it’s not nice and it’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination.
When we flung brushes and rollers into a bucket of water and locked the door behind us as the sun set on the day I felt better than I have done in a long time. Because yes, life may be shit times a million but every now and again it reminds you what matters – kindness and love and support and friendship. Without that, without a community rallying around you, where would any of us be?