For those who don’t know, we moved house last week.
In the week or so before the move, I was trying desperately to juggle my workload (oh, the joys of being self employed) with caring for S, and packing. My mum had S a couple of days so that I could get more done, and a friend came over the night before the move to help, but it was still chaos. On the day of the move, I had help from a few truly amazing friends and family. A dear friend and my mum both drove back and forth between houses for me, but neither could lift anything. My sister (who turned out to be a complete legend throughout) stayed at the old house loading cars, and I unpacked them at the new house. For a couple of hours, another friend came to join in but she had work so couldn’t help for long. In the afternoon, another friend came and moved all of the furniture for us – an absolute Godsend, as I would not have been able to move anything without his help.
I own a lot of junk, and there is no way in the world I could have moved without the help of my friends and family. And I am more than a little proud of myself, that the vast majority of the boxes in this flat were brought in here by me. Up one or two flights of stairs. Even the really heavy ones. I have bruises on my bruises, and I still ache everywhere – but there is a great sense of achievement to be found in having done something like that on my own.
Yesterday, I returned the keys to the old flat. It was a bit of an anticlimax as it happens; having spent a week trying to ensure the flat was empty, that I’d given away the floor, the cooker, the stair gates, a million other things, when it came to it the lady just gave me a receipt for the keys and waved me on my way. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but that wasn’t it. I walked away feeling a bit deflated, and that feeling remains.
That flat became something of an albatross to me. It started out as the place where myself and the ex would raise our daughter, with him bringing his kids to stay over and us all having a jolly old time together. It became the place where I was harassed, subjugated, terrorised. Coerced into things I didn’t want to do. It was the place he turned up drunk in the middle of the night, the place he knew where I was. The place the door wobbled in its frame and I never felt 100% sure that it would keep him out, if he chose to try his luck at kicking it in. The place where my gas was turned off in the middle of Winter even though I’d finally managed to get the council to put a new box over the meter outside.
It was also the place I didn’t feel I could keep my child safe. The one basic thing a mother should do for her child, and I didn’t feel I was capable of it. It was the place male shadows passed back and forth outside the front door, even though I lived on the end of the block. The place where the noise got so bad in the summer, I took S to stay with a complete stranger one Saturday night, just to get some sleep. The place where people sat chatting, drunk and drugged and fighting, until 4, 5, 6am. The place where I had to walk my child home from nursery through dog shit and smashed bottles and the stench of what I hope was dog piss. The place where people didn’t even pretend the drugs were illegal.
I felt trapped in that flat; I didn’t want to be there, but I didn’t want to go out either. Going out meant coming home at some point, and sometimes it’s better just not to deal with what you might find on the way out or back in. I wrote to my MP for help, because on top of the noise all Summer, the drugs, the dog shit, the dirt, the people going through the bins at night, I have a hernia that doesn’t react well to carrying a wriggling toddler up and down steps. He didn’t help; he wasn’t interested. This area has been a Conservative seat for 90 years; he doesn’t need the vote of a single mother in a council flat. I felt like I would be trapped there forever.
When the offer of this flat came up, I grabbed it with both hands, but I thought it would be withdrawn once the issues of accepting Local Housing Allowance (Housing Benefit for people in private rentals) came to light. Right up to the day we moved, I expected it to fall through, and up to the moment I walked away having handed the keys back, I still felt like we might end up being dragged back to that place. When my landlord came round to plumb in the washing machine yesterday morning, I half expected him to look at the piles of junk and tell me to get lost.
My child’s first home should hold happy memories for me, but as I walked back in there yesterday, with all the floors taken up and furniture removed, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the first time I set foot in there, and everything that happened there. Things I would rather forget have sprung to the forefront of my mind and I still feel sick now. Something about the sight of those rooms, the smell, the echo of my footsteps as I walked around the house, checking everything had been moved… just turned my stomach.
These last few weeks I’ve found it really tough to be a single mother. Tough to pack up an entire house, tough to orchestrate moving said house, tough to unpack. Nobody there to help make decisions, to help pack, to be moral support. On that first night, after everyone left and S was asleep upstairs, I sat, stunned and eating pizza. Alone, when I would have loved to be sitting with someone, doing that “phew, we did it” thing you do when you’ve just moved house. Now, a week later, we are surrounded by boxes and rubbish and junk. I’m trying to fit unpacking around my work and caring for S. I’m trying not to notice that when you’re trying to figure out where the bins go, or how to work the shower, or how to make sure the heating comes on in the morning, it’s nice to have someone to puzzle it out with. On the first night I called a friend who knows these things, and described all the switches and cables and dials I could see until he was able to explain what to do to make sure the water heated up for a shower. I’m glad I called him, but I would have preferred to have someone here too, going through it with me – even if that meant we failed at getting the water heater working.
I am relieved and very grateful to have moved house.
Once the unpacking is done and the boxes and rubbish cleared, I will love our new house infinitely more than I was able to tolerate the old one.
I am beyond grateful to the selfless, wonderful people who helped us to move house.
But right now, it really notices that I am a single parent. I am struggling to do this alone at the moment. I feel like S is suffering because there’s nobody here to help take the strain, and I feel guilty about that in a way I’ve not experienced since she was a tiny baby.