From Here to Fostering

From Here to Fostering
Experiences are everything.......

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Life with Fritha

So Fritha moved in! The gloomy month of January suddenly brightened up. The (already quite noisy) house, got noiser. There was more giggling, more doors banging, more loos flusing, more cuddling, more whistles from the kettle and the unmistakable sound of a dog barking. My little family, who thrive in chaos, was thrilled to have been given a little bit more of it.

Fritha doesnt have much stuff. She is famous for if not minimalistic living, then for her skills in de-cluttering. You will often find attached to the small amount of posessions she has, a great deal of sentimental value. Her weaved baskets contain letters that people have written her over the years (in the days when we waited for the kind of communication we could touch and smell and smile at). Everything is neatly organised. The little pots lined up on her mini mantle piece contain a few cosmetics and at night, the seven rings she wears on her middle finger every day. Her shoes are stored neartly underneath the hatstand which doubles up as a wardrobe (knickers in an eco bag hanging on the left side, tights rolled into neat balls in one on the right). Books. One set of bedding; "its a lovely duvet cover Antonia my darling but I am going to use my crazy red one if thats ok?". Her yoga mat. A dog bed. Herself. And thats basically it. Moving her in took under an hour.

"So your friend is living with you?" people would ask. "So Fritha rents your spare room?" others would question. It didn't seem that complicated to me, we needed a lodger, Fritha needed a lodge. But people seemed surprised. After a few months one friend asked how it was going. "Great!" I breathed, in the excited way that you do when the enthusiasm for the thing you are talking about bubbles out of you regularly in an almost nauseating fashion. "You know that its rare, don't you" she said, "you two living together and getting on so well all the time". Golly thought I. Is it? Rare? How extraordinary. I immediately felt sorrowful for all those who have not had the opportunity to re-live their raucous flat sharing twenties in their more suburban thirties. But of course there is a difference in our situation. It is called an MBA. Rupert is doing one. MBA stands for Man Being Absent. Impossible though it might seem, (it feels like he only started it yesterday although the calendar and bank balance beg to differ), we are actually half way through his two year course now. I say 'we', because an MBA is one hell of a whole family experience. And one which I imagine some families might not be able to survive. The man works all day doing a job he does not love, and all night studying things that he does love (thank god) in the hope of securing a day job that he also loves. A means to an end if you will. This particular man's ridiculously dedicated and disciplined nature means that not only has he achieved a (few and far between) scholarship, excellent exam marks and coursework grades, but that he is loved madly by all his course mates. I have been told by a reliable source (a woman who has done an MBA herself and is now capable of explaining the ins and outs of it to other women without using any business lingo that causes a non business person, such as myself, to lose the will to live), that a network makes all the difference. No idea how it works but apparently a network is what you need and completing an MBA will get you one. For a price. Along with all the pounds, you pay with your time. I became a single parent on day one of the MBA and until Fritha moved in, I felt like one. The day she arrived she ran the kid's bath. Soon after that I found her brushing their teeth (no easy task) without bribery of any kind. Minutes later she was pouring me a glass of wine. And so we settled into a pattern. I would come home from school, collect the kids (if she hadn't already done so), and we would all walk the dog. Sometimes, after teaching four year olds all day, you don't feel like walking a dog. But this matters not in the canine mind, and so walk him we would, Fritha making up games for the boys all the way. Whether we look for fairies in the grass, count squirrels running up trees, or play zig zag tag on the cycle path, she ALWAYS transforms our reluctance into a renewed enthusiasm for fresh air, our common, and walking before tea. 

Her relationship with children is stunning to watch. Ask any of our friends. Whenever we gather, she wraps her heart and soul and body around our little ones. Maybe our chat might be losing its appeal, but we like to tell ourselves that it is because of the connection she has with kids. Like the Pied Piper, her imaginary games enthral them as much as they do her, and they cannot keep away. The children she works with in India as just as in love with her as our Western offspring. Whether she is on her hands and knees pretending to be a dinosaur, running an early morning kids only disco in the living room ("you guys go back to sleep"), or leaving butterflies all over the bedroom floor of the four year old who is learning about them at school when he sleeps so that he will find they have magically appeared, just for him, in the morning, her imagination and love know no end. Even when they are being little shites. "I HATE YOUs" and "This is really unFAIRs" are just as common in our house as in any other occupied by normal, feral children. But from Fritha there is no sighing. No yelling. No door slamming. Instead, a firm "I am looking forward to playing with you again once you've said sorry!" or similar is delivered with a smiley face. And it works! Where she learned all her tricks from I will never know but I feel quite sure that Supernanny has every reason to be very nervous.  We are raising my children together and our lives are all the richer for it. Apart from the incredible practical help (texts often read "I'm running late! Can you collect the boys?!" - "Already have, they are eating tea now, no rush") she nurtures their whole soul. They quite simply, worship her. I imagine they imagine every child has a Fritha in the same way our children imagine every child has food and shelter. 

Once home from our walk, we have our own little dance - tea, bath, bed, wine, supper, all happen in a relatively effortless fashion when Fritha is around. The dishwasher always seems to be unloaded. The clean laundry always seems to be folded. Dirty pots and pans left on the side of an evening, sit sparkling and clean on the drying rack before breakfast. Crisps, bananas, wine and other essentials are always in stock. Our rather intense relationship with Ocado may be wholly satisfying but it is not perfect - there were always things we ran out of. Until Fritha moved in. I cook, she washes up. I hoover, she mops. I put washing in, she hangs in out. I'm in the bath, she chats on the loo. She's in the shower, I chat from the sink. And the absent man? He has two wives, one of whom is almost always available for babysitting (in exchange for a little dog sitting), so that on the odd occasion he has some free time, he can take the other out for a drink. And when he is not around, the two wives have a merry time. 

Fritha has not gotten to the professional level where she is today without a lot of hard work. She would rarely choose Grey's Anatomy, Kirstie and Phil or god forbid Coronation street over a chance to get some work done, emails sent or phone calls made if needs be. The price she pays for the freedom of working from home and for herself is ambiguous working hours. However with a little persuasion, the promise of some slightly higher brow television (ideally in the form of a Channel 4 documentary), and a glass of red on the sofa, she will snuggle with me. And hence the single mother is a single mother no more. I know of none so fortunate as myself, to have a such a lovely husband as well as an extraordinary wife to live with. Or an MBA husband lucky enough to have such an appeased MBA widow behind him. For there is none as appeased as the girl who gets to live with her man AND her best friend. 

Sometimes I think Fritha is unaware of her 'effect'. She makes happy people, happier. It may be that her healthy living, fresh air/yoga induced energy levels mean she is not aware of her limbs simply doing all the things that need doing around the house. It may be that she is unconscious of all that her presence does to make our home such a sparkly place to be. It may be that she does not mean to improve the atmosphere wherever she goes.  Although I doubt it. Her mind is quick and her heart even quicker. Fritha lives to serve. It is rare that I wake up without a steaming cup of tea beside my bed (always the exact right colour). She is not yet a mother but her heart doesn't know this. For she thinks, talks and acts in the way a mother does. A mother whose first thought when she opens her eyes is for someone other than herself. A mother for whom everyone around her is someone to look after. Human beings present Fritha with a chance to live what she loves. She is not a martyr - far from it. She understands that giving to others means you give to yourself. All that comes out of her comes back tenfold in the pleasure she sees in the comforts offered by her hands. "I'm going to wash your car", she beams at 6.30am on a Sunday morning. "Why would you do that to yourself?" I ask in bleary astonishment. The pellet of dog poop that stubbornly refuses to reveal it's hiding place within our battered Ford Focus means we walk, cycle or scoot whenever possible. A blank look of incomprehension from Frith. "Because I want to!" and an hour later it sparkles inside out and both children have had the time of their lives playing pirates and goodness knows what else with their very own Mary Poppins. 

Things that I never knew we needed have appeared over the last six months. A mini greenhouse, "don't buy salad! I've grown us some", a rare and beautiful type of plant, cushions. And the dog!  Our life without Digger is almost as unthinkable as our life without Fritha. Which is why we choose not to think about that and take heart in the fact that she has promised us she will never leave unless it is to move in with a Suitable Husband Type. And so it goes without saying that we will not release her until an incredibly special man arrives and proves himself worthy. The search for him continues................

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

In the beginning...

Remember when you could smoke on trains? Remember when you could buy ten silk cut AND a whole pint of beer for a fiver? Remember when you would wear a tiny skirt underneath a long one and then pull the long one off as soon as college was out and you were free to get onto the (smoking) train and hang out with boys? Perhaps that last bit was just me, (and any other girl who has just been released from a convent into a co-ed sixth form).
Tonight I am backtracking to the heady days of the late nineties, when on my very first day at sixth form college, Fritha and I first met. I got onto the train, a little nervously as I did not know a soul, grabbed a seat in the corner of the (smoking) carriage and set about trying to look cool. Although hard to believe now, the smoking thing was really true, and honest to goodness, you couldn't SEE for all the puffing cigarettes inside that locomotive. But it wasn't long before I heard a voice calling to me through the volcano; "Hey chick, haven't seen you before! I'm Fritha, who are you?" I wafted the smoke away, and behind it found the coolest looking girl I had ever laid eyes on, smiling at me. And that was the beginning. The beginning of all the adventures. Just the start of all the train trips, road trips, and plane trips, sleepovers, fancy dress parties and video shoots (another time), house parties, pub parties and rave parties. The begining of a friendship which evolved from that train carriage, through our college days, on through our uni days and into our twenties, stretched on into our considerably more sensible thirties (although I speak for myself only here), and into our here and now, the mid thirties. I am glad I remember the moment we first met, because truth be told, nowadays I can't remember her ever not being in my life and heart.
Fast forward eighteen or so years and you'll see us, still together, arms linked, and battling the wind on a freezing cold beach in Cornwall on New Year's Day. Having just enjoyed a particularly special week's holiday in a perfect-for-us holiday home in Polzeath (organised, as usual, by hers truly) with our best pals, we were feeling blue about going home. As we mulched along the wet sand, laughing hysterically at my eldest's suggestion of getting an ice cream (whaddaya want - hypothermia?!) we chatted about her hopes for the year ahead. Having spent a year living at home after the painful end of an intense relationship, her wounds were healing, her heart was mending, and it was time to move back to London, to be back in the hub of her work. As talk of rent and mortgages progressed (thirties chat v different to smoky carriage teen chat, no?) we moved onto the exciting topic of my own dire financial situation (caused by insane cost of childcare/house/food/life). My fella and I had been advertising for a lodger for a while, but had still to hear an enthusiastic response. We had travelled from the small town of Indifferent (surely the cute pictures of the kids haven't uploaded correctly?) and had just arrived on the outskirts of the city of Offended. Enough was enough. We were officially pissed. Not one person had enquired about our ad. Not one person wanted to share our house! Our close to the Northern line/Common/curry houses of Tooting, family house! Even with two noisy/sticky children, smudgy floors, scribbled on walls AND mice thrown in to the deal. So imagine my excitement when my phone buzzed (despite shocking Cornish reception, must be a sign) and a lovely, sparkly, young, single, normal sounding lady doctor (Ooooo), asked if she could come and see the room the next day. Whoopeeee! All our troubles were over! I could move back up from Sainsbury's basics to regular, normal, non orange products! We could perhaps even get the odd Taste the Difference item on weekends! As I chattered on about this doctor goddess/new BFF to be, Fritha went quiet. "I wonder if she'll have a cool dog?" She asked. At that point, her own little canine beauty bounded on past us up the beach. "What if you wanted a lodger with a dog?" She asked. Blank stare from me. Confused (told you I was simple), I stared at her expectantly. "What if I was your lodger?!" she finally chirped, her impatience with me smothered by her own excitement over the suggestion. I'm pretty sure that the subsequent howls, screeches and yelps of joy that erupted from us both were only audible to bats in the surrounding beach caves and possibly any nearby wolves (do they have wolves in Cornwall? Must google). Hubby was absolutely delighted ('do dogs catch mice?') and she moved in the next day.

This blogging thing is a bit exciting isn't it?!

I like blogs. I like reading them. I didn't know what they were till recently because I am a bit simple but every now and then various little interesting boxes with catchy titles would pop into my line of vision during a particularly gripping facebooking session (why is it so addictive? So someone's cousin's dog chewed a shoe - why does that warrant me clicking 'read more'? Seriously?) or while googling something essential ('why was Reece Ritherspoon rude to a policeman' or similar). So I would open them up and find funny people telling funny stories, or angry people telling angry stories or spiritual people sharing ideas and I'd be gripped! There are a lot of brilliant people out there with razor sharp minds and you don't have to wait for them to find the time to write a book and for it to then sell enough so that you end up hearing about them and reading their ideas in five years time - you can read them now! If there were no work to go to I would lie down in a paddock and read myself sick. There is so much to be devoured. So many billions of brains splashing their thoughts out into the world. All ours for the taking should we be interested. Once again I find myself in awe of tinernet, and chuckling to myself over the fact that in twenty years time my kids will tilt their heads to oneside and say 'bless' (or the year 2033 equivalent phrase, perhaps 'sick' or 'sweet'?) as they look back on what will inevitably then be that dated form of communication called blogging.
Imagine my wide eyes when on holiday last week my best friend started talking about writing a blog. "A blog!" I cried encouragingly. "I like blogs! I like reading them!" Imagine my enthusiasm for the idea of one of my favourite people in the world, writing a blog about her incredibly interesting and brilliant life, peppered constantly with her own unique wisdom and utter excellentness. In case you can't imagine the enthusiasm, there was lots. We were baking ourselves by the pool and already in quite a serious state of bliss. Imagine the cogs turning around our minds then, as both of us then came upon the stumbling blocks so rudely standing in the way of her plan. Number 1: Her desire to write about her current passion - fostering children as a single woman. Confidentiality rules? We were stumped. Number 2: Her dyslexia. Fritha and words are not the best of pals. Give the girl a yoga mat, or some massage oil, or a tantruming child, or an audience of a thousand expectant people, or just a needle and thread and she is a complete and utter expert. But the written word is not her forte. Wikipedia says a lot of negative stuff about dyslexia (sometimes Google is put to good use) but I feel that it is a kind of special quirk, another weirdly cool thing about her. But nonetheless, writing a blog would be tiresome in its demands and perhaps not for her.  'Ah well' we sighed, our enthusiasm dampening and our hearts a little sulky. Glass of rose?
But we, Fritha and I, are not quitters. When an idea infiltrates itself into our minds, either individually or as a pair, we don't let it go (whether it's a good idea or a bad one). I knew her stories needed to be told. And since she is with me most of the time, a lot of her stories are mine too. And I quite fancied joining in with the blogging gang and sharing some of them. This chick is seriouisly inspiring. She constantly amazes me and so it would be just plain selfish not to share her. "I know!" I yelped while the first of the evening drinks were being poured poolside, as the sun sank heavily into a lake of orange and pink. "I'll bloody write it for you!"
Back in Blightly and having been punched in the face with real life and the necessity for alarm clocks and knowing what the time/day is and three regular meals a day and work and school and everything else that is completely erased from your brain, Men in Black style, whilst you are sunning yourself in the Algarve, I have finally found time to stick myself infront of the computer and start. And what a jolly time I have had! Next time I am blogging (get me!) I will tell you more about the wonder that is Fritha and how I became lucky enough to become her friend.