Monday, 12 May 2014

Does she have to pay?

[Dated on 23rd September 2013, but I'm only just publishing this.]

My mum has trouble paying the heating.

My mum HAD some trouble paying the heating, but we're not behind now.

Is there any financial help we can get?

Lady phones up first saying that mum has debt, but no, not really.

Me: Does she work?

Caller: 10 hours a week.

Me: She could try to find more work.

Caller interprets into East European language to her mum. I did not understand, but clearly her mum was not pleased.

Caller: She's worried that if they cut off her heating. Her cousin lives here with three children.

Me: Has she other benefits?

Caller: Only Housing Benefit.

Me: How much is getting?

Caller: £1020, but our rent is £1800.

Me: How many rooms do you have?

Caller: Three.

Me: She's likely to be done for fraud if she lets her cousin live there when she's on Housing Benefit.

Caller: O, the Council knows. We have reported change of circumstances.

Me: But she's not owing heating bills?

Caller: No, not now, but she's afraid that she can't pay.

Me: OK, I'm not sure if there's anything else we can do, apart from trying to work more hours.

Caller: Really, what you're telling me is irrelevant and you are upsetting my mother.

I took advice from supervisor.

Me: My supervisor said you could use this online calculator to find out whether she is getting all the benefits.

Caller: I want to talk to your supervisor.

Me: I have spoken to her and this is what she says. Check this out on xxxxx, and then if you have debts, we can help you restructure it.

Caller: What does that mean?

Me: We'll see who you are owing money to, and we'll see what your income and expenditure are. We then say, perhaps your mum could pay £5 a month until her debt is clear.

Caller: Has she got to pay it?

Me: Of course.

Caller: But this is not useful. We need help.

Me: I am trying to help. You said she is not really owing money any more.

Caller: She is. She's paying a little amount.

Me: How much and who is she owing?

Caller: I don't know. She has not got all the information.

Me: Then you must help her collect all this information and if she wants us to help her, we can help her.

Caller: You know, what you said earlier about her having to work longer hours is not nice because she is 56.

Me: (I heard 66.) How old did you say she is?

Caller: Fifty-six.

Me: I'm 56 [well, nearly]

Caller: But it's different. You speak English. She does not. She feels ashamed that after seven years here she still does not speak English. You know it's hard for old people to learn, not like me, I can learn it .... [on and on she went]

Me: Does she have debts? If she does, email or call us, and we'll arrange debt advice.

Caller: You know, my mum is so depressed she was trying to kill herself. If you don't help her, we're afraid she might ....

Me: Has she seen her GP?

Caller: Yes, but ... maybe it would be helpful to get her counselling.

Me: [thinking how to give her counselling when she does not speak English in an English speaking country] I am sorry to hear that, but you must make sure that the GP knows.

And on and on she went, not letting me get off the phone.

Caller: Just one minute?

Me: What is it about? You know what you have to do.

Caller: Just one minute. What is your name?

Me: [gave her my name, spelt it for her]. I'm a volunteer here, like many of the people here.

Caller: What's your extension number?

Me: What do you mean extension number?

Caller: An extension number is the line we can call directly.

Me: I don't have an extension number. I only do this Monday afternoons.

She finally hung up.

Then I learned that she rang up almost immediately and spoke to another volunteer demanding an appointment. Now she definitely has debts. Colleague spoke to supervisor and said, she does have debt we could try to apply for a grant.

Colleague: 'Grant'. That was what she was after.

The caller had wanted to be given 'free money' in the first place. Which explains why her mum was not pleased to be told she could work more hours, and her attempt at emotional blackmail about her mum trying to kill herself and all that.

Why should these people who never paid tax in this country be given £12000 a year of housing benefit in the first place? And to treat volunteers at an organization trying to help others?

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Thoughts about Mother

I do believe it is 'Mothers' Day' in most parts of the world this weekend. Us here in Britain celebrated 'Mothering Sunday' some weeks ago, before Easter. (This weekend is important because we have Eurovision!)

My thoughts had been on a viral video, the one exalting 'being mum' as the 'toughest job in the world'.

Of course full-time mums love it, but then the criticisms quickly rolled in: what about the full-time dad? Or working mums? Are you telling me that being a full-time mum is more difficult than juggling a paid job and motherhood*?

Some feminist commentators of course jumped in to say that to put the full-time mother on the pedestal is a step back in the feminist struggle. How DARE you even suggest that after all the sacrifices made by women to give women the right to education and work that we should dignify a video which celebrates the work that mothers do AT HOME?

I don't want to write a long essay on this. I can only speak from my personal experience, just as every other mother (or father) would speak from their personal experience.

I had been in a job where I worked from 8.30am (or earlier) to whenever. There were days when I was at the office for so much of the day that I never saw the sun. This is Singapore, mind you: twelve hours of glorious sunshine every day of the year.

One day when I left work, unusually, before 6.30pm, I found myself thinking: O wow! The sun is still up and I have finished for the day. It was a treat.

Then I chose to be a stay-at-home mother. Probably the biggest mistake of my life.

Probably the biggest mistake of my life? (question mark).

Check back with me in seven years' time as I do not have the verdict for now. (The 'jury is still out', as they say.) But there were days when I used to yearn for those exhilarating days back at the office.

Not because of the tedium of 'housework' (cleaning, ironing, etc). I have outsourced much of this work. But the role of the mother is unrelenting, full on, day in and day out, often unchanging, ad nauseum and it often seemed ad infinitum.

When one's children are very young, there is a danger of the mother's thinking turning to mush.

I envied my husband. At least he had the time during the two hours he takes to travel to and from work to read the newspapers. There were days I only wanted to have space, but couldn't.

Probably too much information here, but it will be nice to be able to go to the loo and lock the door, so that your toddler wouldn't traipse in after you and bombard you with questions about 'What are you doing?'.

I envied my husband. At least if his staff were uncooperative or plain rebellious he could tell them off, reason with them, sack them. Even if bosses are being unfair, you could turn to independent adjudicators for help to decide what is and is not fair.

With a child, what? He's screaming, hitting, biting. You have to remain cool.

I envied my husband. He could sleep through the night (before he was overtaken by his current illness). Mothers are like SAS soldiers, some people think. We sleep with one ear open. I could tell when my child was not well just by listening to the way he slept, with or without the baby monitor.

So I am the one who gets up, check him, medicate him, sponge him, clean up after him, whatever.

Did I wish that I was a working mum instead? Yes. The plan was that I returned to work, but that plan fell through because of circumstances and we just had to adjust our plans accordingly.

Sure, when children start school, we do not parent 24/7 as in their pre-school days. Do those who work think that this is 'gift time', 'down time', 'tai tai time'?

For some mothers, perhaps. I seemed to be perpetually planning and organizing family stuff, the little things, the 'non-important' things, like getting uniforms ready, the sports gear cleaned, getting people in to repair this, waiting for the engineer to sort out that.

Nobody even stops to think what would happen if the washing is not done, the cooker is not repaired, the grass is not cut, the bins are not emptied, etc. etc.

Yet because I was not in 'paid work', I had a great sense of guilt, and I plodded on.

If I had been able to find a job that allowed me to work school hours, I would have. The opportunities to spend time with other adults would be mentally stimulating.

As it was I was only able to volunteer in the community, doing very responsible but unpaid work. And no money. (I also have a little business, but that is more to engage the brain and make a difference rather than to make money.)

So please do not diss those mothers who either chose, or had, to stay at home due to family circumstances.

*I know many mums who confessed to choosing work so that they did not have to look after their children full-time. For these, being a working mum is the easier option. Other mothers want to stay at home but need to work.

We are all trying to do our best and it does nothing for one section of the 'sisterhood' to accuse another for being anti-feminist or simply not doing their bit.

Would I have done it differently? Was staying home the biggest mistake of my life?

My son was perfectly happy that I was always home for him. That was the pattern he was comfortable with. However I sensed recently that he had become just a teensy bit embarrassed that his mum does not have a 'real' job, as in a paying job, like the mums of most of his mates.

Getting a paying job after more than ten years is an uphill task. After many, many disappointments (and that is another story) I had finally landed a part-time job, paying very little, but which I enjoy. It lets me use my brains.

Our family is what it is now because of what we decided to do. I see many clients who had become single parents on the flimsiest of excuses. I am almost certain that, had I been in a paid job outside the home, my husband and I would have split up by now given all the physical and emotional challenges that we faced, and our son would not be the very happy teenager he is now.

This is not to say that I am such a wonderful person. Please. It is very difficult to be a stay-at-home parent if one's spouse is not very supportive. It is so easy to start belittling the stay-at-home spouse, making him/her feel second-best, or to take for granted the hundreds of tasks one quietly completes day after day after day.

Every family has its issues (家家有本難念的經). Sometimes it's money, sometimes it's health, relationships, etc. As a couple we struggled with our issues and did what -- at that point -- we thought was best for the whole family.

So, let us not judge. Some stay-at-home mothers (and fathers) DO have the toughest job -- in relation to what they cannot do or what they prefer to do, or what they are gifted to do. If we merely adopt our own experience as the default and correct position, we will never agree with anyone else who has/had to live life from a different position.

Be ye kind, one to another.

This weekend, be kind especially to your mum.