1989 & 1990 blurred together…..
The friendships I had formed in the last year became stronger as we had informal mothers groups, tupperware parties and playdates. My life revolved around the activities of my children, the family business and the next cuppa with Janice, Janene, Trish and Raewyn…. or the next visit with Ally, Jason & Megan. These were unusual times as I, the single parent, socialized with my married friends. We had so much in common yet my life had complexities they couldn’t comprehend and with a list of such awesome friends I still had gaps of loneliness. Ally and her family moved away…far away. My friends were awesome…but they had “couple” stuff that often made them unavailable to me for companionship. I was alone.
Still without transport, we moved into a 2 bedroom unit around the corner from Mum and Dads – it was cramped but convenient. I took driving lessons and purchased a bucket of rust that passed as a car…..woohooo independance!!!! I hated the fact that I was still dependant on the state and decided to join the Lioness Club as well as helping at the kindergarten as a way of giving back to the community.
Eventually we were able to secure a 3 bedroom state house in the same area and my transformation to the lower class was complete. My community work did little to quell the guilt I felt at being a single parent and social commentary only made me hate my situation even more.
I felt really stuck at the bottom of the social heap. There is no dignity in this place where you accept donations of clothing and food just to meet the basic needs of your children. Where, on the coldest nights, you sleep in your clothing because the blankets are all on the childrens beds. Where the house is freezing cold and full of smoke as you try to coax warmth from wet wood in a draughty house with no floor coverings. Where you struggle and don’t ask for extra help because you are already getting government support. My parents, and family, were a great practical support to me at this time but even they couldn’t really understand the place I was at.
But for all that – there was love in our house. This is the place where character is built. This is the place where you learn to make do. This is the place where simple treats, like 100s & 1,000s on cereal, take on a whole new meaning. This is a place where opportunity appears in the most unlikely of places…… The letterbox.
Mid way through 1990, In my letterbox….. Addressed to someone else was an unassuming white envelope. I had no forwarding address for this person and there was no return address on the envelope….. what to do? YUP, I opened it. Heck I didn’t get much mail so someone elses was better than nothing. What anticipation….what would it contain????
Within the envelope was a brochure…. a simple three-fold white brochure….. about a course for single parents…. “Mothers Alone”. Fully funded, with childcare, including topics such as car maintenance, self defence, journal writing, toddler taming, legal matters, career planning, home maintenance. How exciting…. but it wasn’t addresses to me. So I called the number to say that the person for whom, the letter was addressed was no longer at this address…and asked if I could go to the course. WHOOT they said yes….. This was my new beginning. This was just for me. This was an opportunity.
The course was government sponsored and run by Waiariki Polytechnic – the local Tertiary Education Provider. Jill Chrisp ran the program with an amazing collection of guest speakers. One day a week for 10 weeks I went to course and came away inspired, hopeful, upskilled and understood. All these ladies faced the same struggles I did, they understood me, they knew what this life was like. I made some new friends. The presenters kept it real as we told our stories, shared our solutions, and made plans for better futures. Was there a way out of this place of poverty? Was there still hope??
As part of the career planning session I identified that I had some career choices that I could explore further…. this included the option of becoming a dietician…and I was sent off to meet Liz Fitchett who worked on the main Waiariki Campus. Liz was, and still is, amazing. She talked to me about the training to become a dietician – not a real option at that time for me – and also gave me other options that I was unaware of. I applied to study Hotel and catering management – a 2 year full time course!!!! Was this even realistic? I hadn’t even finished high school. There were only 30 places on the program and over 90 applicants. The application process was arduous and included a panel interview with industry representatives. On the day of the interview I realised I had nothing suitable to wear…. it was over before it began. I went anyway…. not in a suit and tie like the other applicants but in a second hand mumsy dress. They grilled me on what contribution I thought I could make to hospitality as a single parent with three small children….. they were right…it was too hard. But they offered me a “wild card” place on the program anyway…. possibly they saw potential in me…or they had quotas of places to fill for disadvantaged people. Who cares…..
I WAS ACCEPTED …… bring on 1991!!!!