Tribute


Thank youToday was “Anna’s” last day working at Ariel’s nursery. Anna has worked in the baby room for a long time, and has been a constant Significant Adult for Ariel ever since she started at nursery nearly two years ago. Even after Ariel moved up from the baby room to the toddler room last year, Anna has always been a firm favourite. She is always cheerful, kind, loving, friendly, fun and – more importantly than any of these things, perhaps – she is always there. She has been a skilled worker in a demanding profession. We loved her.

Even miserable, antisocial, shy, self-centred little Maia cannot help but shed a tear. Even I couldn’t help but offer our friend a hug as we said goodbye. Anna herself had been in tears half the afternoon, so sad to leave “her” beloved children, kissing them all and wondering if she was doing the right thing in leaving this world, her world, behind.

Why is she going? What will she do?

She is going because, as a mother of three herself, with the youngest about to start school, she is no longer able to fit her job around her life. Instead, she is going to spend more time with her own children while she still can, and work long evening shifts in a big local supermarket.

It breaks my heart.

Someone so highly trained, so experienced, so skilled, so beloved, so needed – lost from an essential vocation at which she excelled into the soulless world of filling shelves or scanning barcodes or whatever it is she will be doing (I couldn’t bear to ask for details). All for the want of decent, affordable after-school arrangements for her own children. In what possible world can this make sense? Only in ours.

It breaks my heart.

(Slightly late due to the wrong sort of leaves on the track, or something…)

This post is for Bea’s WOMEN WHO SUPPORT US day, 7 February 2007.

I just want to say something simple. It’s about the women who make our lives possible, just by doing their job. In my case, I’m talking about the staff at Ariel’s nursery.

I pretty much need childcare to live – no childcare = no work = no money = meltdown.

(I realise that there are “stay-at-home” options. But, even if full time 24-hour parenting were an appealing prospect, unemployed single mothers do not get a good deal, especially those who (like me) get no child support from the absent father, or indeed any help from anyone apart from their own selves. Around here, unemployed single mothers are probably the poorest people going. In addition, they are stigmatised for lazy sponging welfare queens, popping one out every couple of years to keep the benefits rolling in. Funnily enough, I don’t want that. Really not.)

And I need childcare where I know that Ariel will be happy, will be well looked after. That she will be fed something decent, treated with respect, lovingly, that my preferences for her care will be respected, that she will be able to build relationships of trust with all her carers. That she will be safe. That no harm will come to her.

The women at Ariel’s nursery are, without exception, brilliant. They are kind, loving, professional women. They do an amazing job. Many of them have kids at home, they have kids in their faces from morning until night – yet I have never once seen anything – not a thing – to suggest that they were other than calm and collected, professional and loving. I have no idea how they do it. I couldn’t. I can’t. They do, day in and day out, and for appallingly low wages.

So – I salute you. And I thank you.

We came today to remember you. So many of your friends came. So many spoke of you with warmth, mingling sadness with celebration.

We remembered how generous you were with yourself, and how laid back. None of us had ever seen you lose your temper. Did you ever? We remembered the infuriating way you would volunteer to organise things and then do nothing and leave everyone in a mess. We remembered individual kindnesses, and funny stories about you.

We remembered how you would laugh. When you laughed, that irrepressible, giggly chuckle, it would carry across the room and we knew right away it was you, knew that something funny had happened and we’d hear about it later. Perhaps over a glass of something or a bite to eat, or perhaps while you smoked outside and we hopped from foot to foot because it was cold.

I remembered you telling me about your godchildren one day, when Ariel was wearing a yellow dress. She wore one again today, a streak of vibrant colour in a mournful wintry hall. She laughed and drank and ate and wanted stories. You would have approved.

Goodbye.

I like to think that you are enjoying the afterlife at least as much as you enjoyed this one.

You think it doesn’t happen, not to people you know, not to friends, or family.
And then it does.

In many ways, this shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it was. He was only in his forties, always the same, sometimes ill, but always there, more or less. Never dying.

But we are all mortal. And some of us die alone in a filthy room with nobody to say goodbye. A little tear or two in the aftermath doesn’t seem to cut it, somehow. And this isn’t much of a tribute but, in what feels like fake grief, it is all I can manage.

[Inspired by Feminist First.]

When I first started to think about how I would write this post, I was struck by what I felt was a dearth of female influence in my life.

I have pretty much always rejected the conventional standard for femininity, but without knowing that what I should reject was the standard, rather than the women who felt compelled to comply with it. So I concluded that I didn’t like women much, and on the whole I avoided having much to do with them – at least until the shared experience of motherhood gave me the chance to learn that I was wrong, and I came to know and respect so many new sisters.

But the more I came to think about it, the more I realise that despite my youthful rejection of womankind, women have still been my friends and supporters and a few very special women have made my life a joy.

Thank you to all of you!

Thank you to my mother, who has supported me and wanted me and loved me from the moment I was conceived, and who continues to do so today. Thank you for watching out for me, for putting up with the bad stuff and appreciating the good stuff. Thank you for everything you gave up so you could be with me and give me what I wanted and needed.

Thank you to the girls who were friends with me at school, even when other people were mean to me. Thank you to the young women who exposed me to such a range of life options during my college and post-graduate years. Thank you especially to the woman who I lived next door to as a fresher, who came across the Atlantic to make that year so fabulous.

Thank you to the midwife who looked into my eyes and took me through every contraction until the birth of my wonderful daughter. Thank you to my health visitor, who has supported me in my parenting decisions, looked out for me when I was down, and never interfered. Thank you to the cyber-women I have come to know in the last couple of years, especially the ones who have posted in the internet support groups I have frequented, and the ones whose blogs I read!

Thank you to all the women at BIBS, my local breastfeeding support group, who have been there for me throughout my journey into motherhood, for your support and inspiration, and for giving me role models. Thank you for helping me to trust my instincts, and to find my way without fear.

And, finally, since I am self-supporting, I’d just like to take a moment to love myself.

Thank you ME!