Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Safety Net

This week I have been thinking a lot about the safety net that most of us take for granted until it is gone. For me it was always Mum. I was blessed to be the daughter of an amazing woman who lavished me, her only child, with all the love and affection I could want.

When I left home at 19 to go to university it was with the knowledge that I would return at the end of each term, that I could even pop home unexpectedly for the weekend if I was having a tough week and needed a bit of spoiling. My room was always ready, my favourite dinner was always prepared, someone was always excited to see me. I never actually lived at home after 19 but I knew it was there, I knew Mum was there. I could call whenever I fancied a chat about nothing in particular, I had a person to contact in an emergency, a room to sleep in if I lost my job or my relationship ended. Mum was my person, my safety net and her house was my home, wherever else I lived.

Sadly I lost Mum when I wasn't that much older than the care leavers I support. I recall conversations with the GP and so many consultants, decisions I had to make when I didn't feel mature enough to make them. I relied on advice from strangers without knowing if it was reliable. I remember packing up our house so it could go on the market, childhood keepsakes sold or thrown away because where, at my age, would I find room for them? I remember for months having good news or a silly story to tell and almost picking up the phone to share it with her: then the pain of remembering just before I dialled.

It wasn't until the initial grief had passed that I realised the full implications of losing her. In an emergency who could I call? Where will I spend Christmas? Whose spare room could I kip in if something went wrong? Which name do I give as my next of kin? I was out there in the big, wide world without a safety net and it suddenly looked a whole lot bigger and wider than I remembered.

This post isn't all about the past though, despite the self-indulgent nostalgia-fest I have been having. It is about the fact that I seem to have temporarily acquired a 22 year old lad, currently snoring away in my spare room. This came about after a few days of Facebook conversations with a former young person who lived here. I supported R for nearly 3 years when he left foster care and when he moved on to a supported hostel at 20 we stayed in contact. He hasn't had an easy time, he has struggled to find work and sometimes accommodation, also he does not connect with people easily so I think he feels quite isolated at times. A few months ago he moved into a shared house and I gave him a few surplus items of bedding and kitchenware to start him off. It's his own address, and he is better off in that respect than many other care leavers, but a bedroom with a TV in it within a house full of strangers is not really a home is it? So this week I had a lot of messages, mostly beginning with an exploratory "Hi. How r u?", which prompts the same question in return and soon got us to the crux of the matter: "I'm ill in bed. The house is really cold and I feel like crap."

There begins the dilemma. The carer in me wants to go get him and bring him back here for a few days but the reality of his situation, of most care leavers' situations, is that sadly they have to be self-reliant and learn to get through the tougher times without the support most of us have. So I chose a middle way, on the great advice of Twitter Chum @mizzanels I dropped by with a care package of cold-fighting goodies. He did look pretty poorly, had a very nasty cough and the house was freezing. Anyway, errand done I went back home to my warm, empty house and felt bad about not bringing him back with me. The next day, predictably, I did. In fact I went into full-scale Bossy Carer mode forcing him to take medicine, telling him to have a hot bath and when he should be in bed - your basic nightmare although he seemed to enjoy the fuss. In fact, truth be told, once he had eaten a decent meal and warmed up he wasn't really that ill at all - rather lonely, a bit low, feeling sorry for himself and dealing with all that in a cold house while feeling slightly under the weather was just the last straw I think.

Now and then we all need a safety net, especially when you're still learning to fly.

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