“Toni, you need to come over – we’re having a meeting about your brother’s care.”
This was a request I received from my mum c.2013. Due to my brother’s disabilities and my mum’s inability to cope, he has been within the care system on and off since he was around a year old and permanently since the age of 12 – he’s now 31. Placements were not always straightforward and frequently I would be called upon to support my mum as an advocate thanks to my position as being “the sensible one” among my siblings.
My mum lived in social housing and found it difficult to keep on top of most things – you wouldn’t drink from a mug without scrubbing it first. If you could find a clean sponge. No judgement, just a fact. I know when you’re struggling with poor physical and mental health, are reliant on benefits and have a chaotic family life, the daily tasks many of us accept as part of living can feel like a step too far.
By contrast to my mum, I was living in a house my husband and I had bought in a peaceful village. Driving a spanking new car. One of the children was in full-time nursery (a nursery where many children would go on to attend prep school) and, having recently concluded my corporate career, had set up my own business as a freelance alliances manager. Where my mum had a tattoo on her wedding finger; I was rocking some pretty pricey rings.
I enter the house through the back door, leaving the overgrown garden behind me, passing the sink full of washing up that hasn’t been done. I step into the living room with the furniture that seems to change every other bloody week (I don’t know where the never ending merry-go-round of three piece suites came from – my mum had an exceptional network), see the carrier bags full of who-knows-what in the corners of the room and note the people perched just on the edge of their chairs in the way you do when you know the seat isn’t clean.
And then I see my mum’s MP. And, because I have a vague interest in politics, I already know who she is. It’s Maria Miller. And I know that she’s been involved in an expenses scandal and that she was (at the time) Minister for Women. And I’m thinking “How the hell is she sat in my mother’s house?!”. I’m witnessing the fact that MPs do get personally involved with their constituent’s requests and also wondering whether Maria reckons that I am following the news on her claims. Or, if she, in fact, cares.
It turns out that I’m slightly there under false pretences. My mum could always be counted on to find a reason to get people to visit and, whilst the topic of my brother’s care was on the agenda, there is another angle at play. I soon discover that part of the reason her very well known MP is there is to ask my mum to stop leaving dozens of messages on the constituency answerphone each day. Oh the shame! And there I am in my nice coat and decent shoes taking notes in a Moleskine book. Being polite and ‘professional’, trying to put on a good front for ‘the family’ and once again feeling like I’ve been somewhat manipulated. I understand my mum’s stress and angst and also the MP’s frustration. I wonder why on earth I’m actually there….
Achieving social mobility can mean that you carry two worlds at the same time. This story is just one example. That ability to operate in two spheres at the same time can be a real benefit but it can also be disorientating and at times cause you to lose your sense of self. It’s something I’m planning to explore in more detail by sharing more of these stories. If you’re interested in hearing them, please sign up for my mailing list here
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