I am often asked how we can live on what is nowadays considered a pretty low income and still have a good quality of life. I can wax lyrical about wearing several layers of clothes rather than turn the heating up, bath-sharing, menu-planning, savvy food shopping and taking on the might of the power companies. I can crow about walking and cycling, growing your own food, being content with a week in a soggy tent in Ayrshire rather than a fortnight on a Costa and why a picnic in a carpark is far better than a take-away from a fast-food outlet.
One thing I don’t really talk about so much is the importance of friendship, kindness and generosity. This is a serious oversight on my part, and something that ought to be addressed.
“Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art…. It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.” – CS Lewis
I have wonderful friends. Really, really wonderful friends.
They know how we live. I’m very open about the fact we don’t have much money. I try not to moan too vocally when yet another begging letter from PTA or sponsored form turns up in a school-bag; and I confess to having performed the incredible disappearing party invitation trick a couple of times when it looks like the boys have better social lives than the Kardashians.
One thing, however, we rarely – if ever – have to worry about is clothes for the boys. As well as receiving regular shipments of stuff from my fabulous sister in Wales, and my sister-in-law in Airdrie; I have some fantastic friends – Kirsty, Nav and Gillian (wave, ladies!) who donate the most beautiful, pristine outgrown boys’ clothes. Please don’t ever ask me if I am embarrassed by your charity – I appreciate these fabulous bags more than you’ll ever know. I was trying to remember the last time I had to buy an item of clothing (excluding shoes) for the boys and, in all honesty, I couldn’t remember. Every time I see my boys bundled up in a warm winter coat, wearing jeans that don’t flash their ankles and t-shirts remarkably unstained by ketchup, I give quiet thanks to my band of fabulous friends who put their outgrown outfits to one side for us.
We now come to the two Ls – Linda and Lou. (I know Lou is very shy, so I won’t out her real identity any further!) Linda and Lou are famous in our house for sending their ‘magical boxes of stuff’ which always generate much excitement. Linda recently sent a huge packet of fantastic National Geographic children’s magazines which both the boys adore – they have been read, cut out, collaged, turned into models, and the wildlife posters cover up a multitude of grotty, dirty marks on their bedroom wall.
Last week, on the way to nursery to get Fin, the postman stopped me on the way with a huge parcel and asked if I could take it there and then rather than him having to take it back to the depot. One look at the writing on the box – including the directions ‘Non devant les enfants’ and I squeeeeee’d. Loudly. It was one of Lou’s Magical Boxes of Stuff.
I was desperate to get home and reveal the joys within, yet – predictably – I got dragged into conversation with the nursery teacher, had to calm three tantrums from Fin, stopped three times to empty stones from shoes and twice to pick children up from the icy pavement. Once home, I plonked the children down in front of mindless TV with a couple of Tesco Everyday Value custard creams and disappeared upstairs with the parcel, a sharp knife, and a a fleeting sense of feeling like a teenage boy sneaking a friend’s copy of Razzle past his parents. ‘Stay downstairs‘ I bellowed to the children, who were already doing their best impressions of ninja ducklings and attempting to follow me stealthily up the stairs.
Once in the safety of the bedroom, when I could hear the boys yelling at each other over what channel to watch (we are at the cBeebies/cBBC crosscroads at the moment); my hand trembled as I opened the parcel with my sharpest knife (not a great idea when you’re on 9mg of warfarin a day, readers). Lou has shares in ScotchTape, I think, and let’s just say that this parcel was pretty damn secure.
It was worth the wait. A veritable treasure trove revealed itself to me – amongst which were several gorgeous and pristine books on pirates, knights, trains and farmyard machinery, a set of readers suitable for Ellis, polystyrene spitfires, an adventure whistle complete with compass and magnifying glass, some stickers, a wind-up UFO and – because Lou never underestimates the power of a mother’s relative sanity – a wonderful book of letters by the Mitford sisters, presumably to keep me entertained in an altogether more seemly fashion than just drowning in a skip full of Asda Smartprice gin.
Most of these treasures have been put aside as Christmas presents for the boys. I am very fortunate that I have two boys who accept and understand the reasons why some of their gifts, like their clothes, are second-hand. They appreciate these gifts no less than the ones that come in their shiny plastic wrappers and, thanks to the example of people like Linda and Lou, have taken it upon themselves to offer up their own outgrown toys and books to friends of mine, the local Facebook ‘mums group’ and the local toddler group, who are always really grateful for them.
Next year, I plan to start repaying these little acts of kindness and thoughtfulness, however I can. Words can’t really express how much gratitude I have for those friends of mine (not all of whom are mentioned here, though my gratitude extends to each and every one of you – including my wonderful bunch of crafty mates who will be getting their own post dedicated to them!) who do not judge us or or lifestyle, who go to the trouble of putting things aside with us in mind, and making our lives that much more comfortable.
Thank you. xx