Lives of Quiet Desperation

This is D’s story.

D had a troubled childhood being farmed out by her mother to various relatives until at age 7 she was retrieved by her mother who subsequently re-married. D was adopted by the new husband and her surname was changed to his – not that she had any say in it. D’s stepfather abused her. When she got to age 17 she told the police but did not stand up well to questioning and ended up sectioned. Nothing happened because stepdad denied it. D believes now that her mother might have known what was going on and is even more puzzled that her mother continues to live with husband.

Needless to say, D did not do well at school.

D met a man and lived with him for 12 years. She had two daughters with him. He was not nice to D and regularly beat her. One girl bears a scar from the hot pie her father threw at her when she was 18 months old. Finally, D ended up in a refuge with the girls and the man ended up in prison for twelve months.

In the refuge D made a friend who introduced her to a nice young man. He had a job; he was earning money. He was kind and calm. Best of all he was not violent. D was up front – she wasn’t using contraception. The nice man didn’t bother either and D soon fell pregnant. D thought life would be good. The nice man would move in, the baby would be born, they would manage.

The nice young man was unprepared for two little girls who had witnessed and experienced violence so he didn’t move in. He kept a separate place to escape to. The baby arrived – a boy. They developed a life that worked for them and were reasonably happy.

D’s girls were difficult especially the youngest one but gradually things improved. Then they got worse. Daughter one went to college but then got pregnant. D has a two bedroomed house with her two girls, the toddler boy and now the new baby girl. The nice man found it even harder to cope.

Life continued although the nice man lost not one but two jobs. They managed but the relationship was under increasing strain. Daughter number two suddenly decided to live with a relative. D thought she would be back. She wasn’t. She threatened to report her mum to the social if she didn’t stop claiming benefit for her so the relative could have it. This upset D – not the money but the betrayal.

D lost benefit. Then daughter two became pregnant with a little boy who will be born soon with no arms and maybe something wrong with his feet. D has tried to support her but the daughter is prickly and headstrong. She has rejected D. D is worried.

D came under pressure from the powers that be to be ready for work when the little boy went to school. So she went to college to improve her qualifications. When the little boy reached five he went to school. He is very good – above average – at maths and quite good – average – for English and literacy. D got a job for sixteen hours a day. She delivered leaflets which involved early starts and, sometimes late finishes. She was not paid for all travelling time and had to walk all day up drives and down drives no matter the weather or the number of vicious dogs. D is someone’s success story – another one off the books.

D would like a better job but she knows no-one will employ her because she doesn’t have many skills or qualifications. So she feels defeated and her confidence is rock bottom.

Life jogged on and then D found herself in rent arrears. When the baby girl was born, the housing people put her down as a dependent of D…but she wasn’t. The baby girl was her granddaughter and D told them this from the very beginning. Still, they’d made a wrong calculation but D had to pay the money back. D appealed. No, it was the housing’s fault but D had to pay.

D had a catalogue so she could buy things and she managed this. But then came the nice man’s lost job; daughter two’s departure, repaying the rent arrears in addition to her contribution to the rent – £38.50 a week – plus council tax – £79 a month. Plus, the little boy was not eligible for free meals because his mum worked for 16 hours a week – £14 a week for dinners and £25 for a term’s worth of milk. Then D was laid off her job – no leaflets to deliver. Ah, a zero hours contract. The £60 a month she had agreed to repay the catalogue was the last straw. Her total weekly income was now £134 a week in working family tax credits and child benefit. This week she paid her council tax and the little boy’s milk and dinner bill. She’s got £100 to come from the job but she doesn’t dare take it because if the work starts again she will have to work a week in hand again. D’s head aches.

D can’t sleep and this morning she overslept, there was no electricity – meter ran out- and the little boy was late for school. When the nice lady at the school asked D if she was alright she burst into tears. The ladies at the school took her in, made her tea, listened to her, mopped her up and arranged for the Citizen’s Advice Bureau to contact her and for a food parcel to be delivered that evening. A food parcel.

The little boy has a non-genetic grandma who knew things weren’t perfect but had no idea of the extent of the problems because D doesn’t want – or know how – to ask for help. And anyway, she can’t afford help. She phoned a family member who offered to lend her money. But D can’t repay a loan. By a stroke of luck the grandma heard this story. The grandma went to the cashpoint and took out money. Then, while the little boy went to his dad’s, she went and fetched D and listened to her story and mopped her tears. Together they have made a little plan to start putting things right. Grandma is setting up direct debits. Grandma is appalled that D could work so hard, try so hard and continually be defeated by things she largely can’t control. She is a female Lennie – the best laid plans o’ mice and men gang aft agley – as Rabbie Burns might have said at this point.

A little girl passed around and not heard. A little girl who did not do well at school. Two little girls living with violence and not doing well at school. A little boy doing very well at school – fingers crossed. A toddler girl – who knows? An as yet unborn disabled baby boy.

These are the children we teach – watching their parents endure lives of quiet desperation every day while they go on to repeat those lives of quiet desperation . I am humbled. This story unfolded in my family. Today.

On the plus side, we are paying off the deficit, the bankers are still getting their bonuses and Iain Duncan Smith is still in a job.

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