Parenting help

Frances writes:

it’s been a good easter holiday but there has been nothing really to do my sister and all the kids stayed a few nights so my flat was a bit cramped but i enjoyed the company. my sister has been giving me parenting help, getting mia into a bedtime routine and it has worked, well she has 5 kids so she has enough experience but she said she didn’t get how to do it till the last 2. mia is being an angel since my sister come she goes to sleep without kicking off more or less when i want but i try to make it the same times everyday. mia is 7 months now, wow how time passes fast she is crawling better and can sit up from lying down on her own she is even trying to pull her self up using things like the table. i want to start planning her birthday party soon get things ready so i no what im gonna do, i no i want it in a big venue and have lots of people. my brother has volenteered to dress as a clown so it should be fun.

me and hassan are back in college on monday i cant wait to get back to work and learn some more. Hassan didn’t pass the test for the fork lift course so he is looking for other courses and opertunities. im applying for my provisional soon so i have some form of id because ive only got my birth certificate and i want to open a new bank account to start saving for mia and rainy days.

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Her first word

[… continued]

I ask after Mia.

“Oh, she’s hard work at the moment,” says Frances. “She won’t leave me alone. If she can’t see me, she’ll start crying. Unless I’m giving her all my attention then she gets upset. Jane [the Family Nurse Partnership nurse] says it’ll only last a month or so but it’s getting really irritating.”

Frances goes to get Mia from the bedroom. “Good morning… good morning… good morning,” I hear her say.

Mia, bleary-eyed, stares at me as she is brought into the living room. “She’s getting big now,” I say, remembering the tiny baby from only six months ago.

Frances puts her down, holds her arms high and shows me how she can ‘walk’. Still half asleep, Mia isn’t quite ready to perform. “Normally she can walk right across the room,” says her mum.

As Frances fetches a bottle I pick Mia up and carry her across the room, slipping into baby talk as I go. “Hello. Yes, how are you? How are you? Soon you’ll be talking into my tape recorder, won’t you? Won’t you?

“Has she started talking yet?” I ask Frances.

She laughs. “Yes, but I can’t tell you what she says.”

Apparently Mia makes a sound which resembles a moderately rude swear word.

“So, what will you tell her when she is seven and asks what her first word was?”

“I’ll make something up,” says Frances, still laughing.

After Mia is changed and fed we set off to Moss Side. We pass an adventure playground in the centre of the estate, its slides and zip wires obscured by a high fence made out of wooden stakes, like a Wild West stockade. “I used to play there,” she says, reminiscing. “I’ve photographed there,” I say.

Remembering the two large, less than friendly dogs at her mum’s house, I pull up tentatively outside. As Frances is getting her things out of my car the front door opens and one of her sisters walks down the garden path to meet us. For a moment Frances is concerned, not expecting anyone here other than her mum. Her mother had asked for some help, needed some shopping, and so the older sister had arranged for her three kids to be picked up from school and came over straight away. I think she was relieved she could now pass on the responsibility to Frances.

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“I don’t want it to end.”

I’ve texted, phoned and left a message on Facebook. I could really do with getting in touch with her today as it’s the last chance I have before we go away for the holidays. I phone again at lunchtime and this time Frances answers. She hasn’t any credit on her phone and so couldn’t even text me back. I forget that even the smallest things – like being able to communicate effectively – are restrictive to those on low incomes.

“What are you doing this afternoon?” I ask.

“I’m getting ready to go and see my mum. She’s back at home. I thought I’d go down and do a bit of cleaning for her. See how she is.”

Her mum has been very poorly in hospital: complications following the amputation of part of her leg. I’ve been hoping to get to see Frances with her mum, extend the blog a little, so this sounds interesting.

“Can I come with you?” I ask.

“I don’t think that would be a good idea. I don’t think she’d be up for that. She’s fed up, the doctors have told her she has to go back in.”

“What about if I just come over and give you a lift to her house and photograph you outside? It would save you getting the bus.”

“Wicked,” says Frances.

It’s about the sixth day of unseasonably warm weather. Twenty degrees at the end of March. Wythenshawe is taking advantage: the clothes lines are full, shorts are on and gardens are being tidied.

Frances comes downstairs to let me in. Hassan is on a course, more fork-lift truck training thinks Frances and baby Mia is asleep. Good, I have a chance to talk to her. I’ve been wanting to ask her what she gets out of this, the blog. Sometimes I feel it’s too one-sided.

“I love it,” she says, putting the kettle on. “I don’t know, it’s a really good experience, isn’t it? People have seen me and recognised me from the blog, haven’t they? It’s nice to know that anyone in the world could come across it on the web and be reading about me. That’s just interesting, isn’t it?”

“And what’s it like having this bloke, who’s old enough to be your dad, pitching up every now and again with a camera?”

“You are like my dad,” she says genuinely. “You know, I don’t actually have a dad, so it’s like my dad is coming to visit when you come round. You pop round, have a  brew, I tell you what I’ve been up to. It’s someone different to talk to, isn’t it? I can’t really explain it, it’s just… exciting.”

“What will it be like at the end?”

“I don’t want it to end.”

The window is open wide and we can hear kids from the other flats playing in the enclosed garden.

“So, tell me about your mum.”

“They wanted to put her on antidepressants and I said no.”

“You said no?”

“She’s on enough tablets as it is. She’s on about 30 different tablets a day. All those tablets are bad for your liver or something. And antidepressants can be really addictive.”

“I don’t think they are addictive any more,” I suggest.

“I’ve told her she should go and see a counsellor instead. My mum loves to talk – she’ll tell anyone her life story – so she would be better going to the counsellor anyway.”

“And what does your mum think?”

“She doesn’t say anything.”

“So, if she’s not talking, and she usually does, then maybe she needs to be on antidepressants,” I say, knowing that talking therapy is useful but pharmaceutical intervention is sometimes the answer. “I’ve been on antidepressants,” I offer.

“I’ve been on them too,” says Frances, “and I only realised they were making me worse when I came off them.”

We discuss treatments for depression, both of us ill-informed. “Anyway,” I say, “I’m not supposed to be giving you my opinion. I’m just supposed to be documenting yours. When does your mum have to go back in?”

“The doctor says as soon as possible otherwise she’ll end up in a coma, again. But this time it could be worse than last time.”

It seems that her mum is living at home on her own, pretty much. Frances’ brother has moved out and his mate is staying there temporarily but is out for most of the day and evening.

“Once, last week, she fell out of her wheelchair and had to wait two hours before anyone came to help her up,” says Frances. “That’s why I was going to go down this afternoon, to clean up for her, take her for a walk, or sit with her in the front garden.”

[to be continued…]

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A rough few weeks

Frances writes:

its been a rough few weeks with my mum being in hospital but she is finally out thank god. she is back home and well but she is smoking again my brother is going to pay for a hypnotist I’ve been going down as much as possible but its hard because of collage ad been trying to actually make time for myself. Mia’s good she is getting more and more active trying to crawl and always turning round now she has still got a thing about phones,she’s funny she makes us laugh she is getting so big now i love looking back at pictures of her as a baby and seeing the difference, not having another 1 yet though she is enough lol. Hassan is Ok too he is still going college and always spending time with Mia they are so cute together. Im not to bad either college is going great i ave an exam on the 26th for maths not to excited about that maths is not my strongest subject. Im starting face painting now and doing themed face painting for things like childrens parties or model pictures. I have been bidding 3 times a week on Homefinder because 3 bids is my allowence, im waiting to have a meeting with the manager of my place so i can get my possitive notice that will help me get into a difffernt band because im not classed as someone that needs re-housing and my conxtions worker is trying too get me on a housing course so i get more points.

anyway hope everyone is good and enjoying the blog i am enjoying sharing my expirence with everyone please keep reading and thank you for following mine and Mia’s story

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Being famous


“You coming?” Frances asks Hassan.
“No, I’ll drop off in Moss Side,” he says.
“Why don’t you come?” I say. “It’s for everyone. Anyone can come.”

Frances and I eventually persuade Hassan to come with us and he goes off to get changed as Frances irons his trousers. I entertain Mia who is by now sitting on the floor showing me what she can do with a multi-coloured piece of plastic. I’m quickly reminded how time intensive babies and toddlers are: you can’t take your eyes off them for a second. It’s exhausting.

Hassan is ready, looking smart.

We talk about cars pretty much all the way into town, prompted by Hassan’s disdain for my rather old, rather dirty Toyota. He concedes, at least, that Toyotas score points for their reliability, but that’s about all. “We’ll get a Honda CR-V when I win the lottery,” says Frances.

I offer to drop them at the town hall and then park. They won’t have it and say they’ll walk with me so I park near the site of the Haçienda and we walk the rest of the way. We pass dickie-bowed musicians on their way to the stage door of the Bridgewater Hall; office workers heading for an after-work pint, and hopeful Athletic Bilbao fans beating a path to Old Trafford. Frances, Hassan and Mia don’t look at all out of place and yet I’m guessing this might be the first time the whole family has been on a night out like this. For them, this is an occasion.

The banqueting room is quickly filling up and after we have said our hellos to the Reclaim team, we install ourselves on one of the round tables near the door. The proceedings begin and I jump around the place, taking photos. The two-minute film in which Frances and Mia both feature is premièred and Frances hides her embarrassment by holding her daughter in front of her face. As the credits fade the room explodes with applause and whoops.

There are moving speeches, accolades and an award presentation. As with every other Reclaim event, the onlooker is left energised, convinced beyond doubt of the capability of young people.

After the formalities a hot buffet is served and Frances fetches the food for herself and Hassan. As the socialising begins, readers of our blog introduce themselves to Frances and ask to hold Mia. They ask how her mum is, and how she is getting on at college. Frances is made up: it’s like being famous!

“That was great,” she says as we walk down the ceremonial staircase on our way out. “Really good.”

Hassan has enjoyed it too but is frustrated that someone of his age isn’t able to tap into a source of support and inspiration that is clearly so beneficial to teenagers. “Maybe I’ll tell my little brother,” he says as we head back to Wythenshawe.

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Going out

It’s late afternoon as I drive through the Wythenshawe estate. Most of the local schoolchildren have gone home. There are just a few stragglers at the bus stops now, late because of football training, a volleyball match or detention.

Frances and I are off to a ‘do’ at the town hall to celebrate Reclaim winning a Philip Lawrence Award. She’s pretty much ready, her hair and beauty training put into practice.

In the flat, Hassan is lying on one of the sofas with Mia asleep in her chair at his side. I haven’t seen him for a few weeks so it’s good to catch up.

“How’s the job search going?” I ask, after we’ve chatted about Mia’s new obsession with mobile phones. “What’s on offer? Anything?”

“Nope. There are no jobs. It’s boring.”

Hassan says he has been to a jobs fair at Manchester City’s football stadium. I’ve been there too. I used to work for the regeneration company that organised them. A large conference room, more likely to host a footballer’s testimonial, has hundreds of jobseekers surfing the 20-30 stands manned by patient recruitment professionals. It’s well run. There are support staff from employment agencies helping fill out application forms or compose CVs.

“There were only two things I was interested in,” says Hassan. “One was for the police, working in the community or something.”

“Community Support Officer,” says Frances, handing me a cup of tea.

“There would be six months training with that,” says Hassan. “And the other was fork lift truck training. Every job now in a warehouse always asks for a forklift truck licence.”

So next week, Hassan is on a free four-day forklift truck training course. He’ll enjoy it. He’s into cars and driving, and I can imagine him reversing at speed between the pallets, alarm blaring, yellow light flashing. But again, there will be childcare issues if Frances is to get herself to college.

“If you’re stuck I could put out an appeal on the blog, I bet you’d get lost of offers… from strangers.”

“Mia, will go to my mum,” Hassan says, perhaps not realising I am joking.

With the two of them here together and with Mia’s six-month ‘birthday’ coming up at the weekend, I ask how things are.

“And how are you two getting on? Living together?”

“Fine,” says Frances.

“Arguing,” says Hassan, smiling. “No, we’re not arguing anymore. There isn’t time now that you’re at college. Before we’d spend all the time together.”

“We haven’t argued in ages,” agrees Frances.

“And what do you normally argue about?” I ask, mischievously.

“Cleaning,” says Hassan.

I remember Frances talking about cleaning when I first interviewed her, when she was still living with her mum. She admitted she was a bit obsessive and liked to keep the place tidy. Hassan’s threshold of cleanliness is not, it seems, as high as Frances’ which is the cause for occasional friction.

“It’s International Women’s Day today,” I say to Hassan, still gently stirring it, “and you have to give the women a break and do the cleaning yourself. And soon it’ll be Mother’s Day.”

Mia starts to wake up, a smile on her face.

“Good morning,” says Frances. “Good morning.”

[to be continued…]

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Bad week #2

Frances and I spoke on the phone tonight. Her mum is no longer in a coma but is still in hospital.

“She went in with breathing difficulties,” she says, slowy. “And then, within a couple of days, she was in a coma. One of my sisters phoned us up and we went down to see her. It was not nice. She had tubes coming out of everywhere: she had a breathing tube coming out of her mouth, a feeding tube up her nose and a cannula in her neck.”

By last weekend the doctors had stablised her breathing and brought her out of the coma.
“She still has to use a mask to breathe, and she is now trying to talk.”

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for Frances. As well as her mum, Mia has been poorly too.

“She’s had that hand, foot and mouth disease and now…”
“Hand, foot and mouth?”
“Yeah. And then she got the ’flu, a proper bad one. She’d cry every time she coughed because her throat hurt too much. She’s getting a bit better now, but now I think I’m coming down with it and so I’d rather not go and see my mum in case I give her anything. That’d make her breathing worse.”

We arrange to meet tomorrow. We are both invited to an award ceremony at the town hall when Reclaim gets presented with a Philip Lawrence Award.

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Bad week

Last Monday Frances wrote:

this week my mum is back in hospital in a coma thing because she couldn’t breath they might try to wake her up tomorrow and see if she can breath with a mask instead of a tube she in intensive care this time

It’s been a worrying time this last week but Frances says her mum is now getting better.

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Home ground


By the time we are in the car Mia is asleep.

I explain why, today, I am driving my wife’s car. It’s do to with her and our eldest son having gone skiing this week.

“Where to?” asks Frances.

“Austria I think.”

“I’ve never been abroad,” she says. “I don’t even have a passport.”

“Where would you like to go?”

“I quite fancy Africa. Maybe South Africa. That’s sounds great.”

“Have you seen what’s left of the bus depot?” I say as we drive down Princess Road, the beginning of Moss Side.

“Yeah, it’s all been pulled down now, hasn’t it?”

“And there is a load of land behind it too. I guess they will be building houses there soon.” We pass the yellow diggers and dumper trucks.

“I hope I get one of those,” she says, “it would be great to be back in the middle of everything.”

We stop at Asda and Frances gets out to join the cashpoint queue as I circle the car park a couple of times. I feel somehow very responsible, vulnerable even. For a couple of minutes I am in sole charge of the sleeping five-month old on the back seat. It’s a peculiar feeling that leaves as soon as she jumps back in.

“Do you remember when this first opened?” I ask. Having photographing it being built, I still think of the Hulme Asda as relatively new.

“No,” she says. Thinking about it, she would have been only three or four. I’ve been at this for a while now.

“Do you know people who work there?”

“Yeah. My friend’s brother works in the McDonald’s; my brother’s girlfriend’s brother works as, like, a shelf-stacker; a few of my mum’s neighbours work on the checkouts; my friend from school worked there. Even my brother used to work in there.” We are passing the probation office. “He used to go there, too.”

Frances points out familiar landmarks like my mum does every time we drive through her childhood stomping ground in Stockport. “That’s the back of the brewery,” she is saying now.

After he’s worked out who it is pulling up outside, her friend Matthew waves to us from his bedroom window. He then comes out in his socks to help with the bags and the buggy. I’m introduced as the ‘personal photographer’ which Matthew and his brother Tyrone find amusing.

“I want to get into photography,” says Tyrone.

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The gorgeous baby

“It’s hot in here,” I say, following Frances into the flat. “Have you had the boiler fixed?”
“Yes,” she says, “but now it’s too hot… we have to keep the windows open.”

Hassan is out at the doctor’s. Mia is in her chair watching Cbeebies. Actually Mia is sitting up, rocking from side to side to the music on Baby Jake. “I thought at first she was just swaying,” says Frances, “but she is actually bopping along to it.” And she is.

I had texted to see if I could take them both to see Frances’ mum at her house in Moss Side but apparently she has a day of hospital appointments. Instead I have offered to give Frances a lift to one of her friends who lives round the corner from her mum’s.

I’ve brought my laptop to show her the final edit of the cinema advert she filmed for Reclaim a few weeks ago. I’ve seen it several times already and so instead of it bringing a tear to my eye it now only brings a lump to my throat.

“I need someone to lend a hand… to guide me on my way…”

As I photograph Frances watching the two minute film, Mia is uncharacteristically grouchy from in front of the TV, unable to see her mother. “Mia!” calls Frances reassuringly. “Ah it’s wicked,” she says as the credits roll, “and look, Mia has her name on it too. I love that.”

I pick Mia up and sit with her on my knee as I ask Frances how things are going. Mia looks up at me, beyond me, transfixed by the reading glasses I have pushed on the top of my head.
It’s impossible not to fall into baby talk. “Why has he got those glasses on? Hey? Hey? Is he bonkers? Yes he is. Yes he is. You are a gorgeous baby, aren’t you? Aren’t you?”

I ask about Frances’ mum (she’s getting better); about the Family Nurse Partnership nurse, Jane (she’s happy with progress); about housing (no change really) and about college.

“The travelling is just annoying. I have to get two buses from here or, if we stay at Hassan’s mum’s then I have to get three buses,” says Frances, “but I have had a cheque from the Prince’s Trust for my materials.”

“What do you think? Will you stick it?”

“Yeah,” she says emphatically.

“And so, Frances, what’s exciting you at the moment? What’s worrying you? What’s on your mind?”

“I really want to get a job. One of my really good friends applied for a job in a call centre, a job I told her to go for, and she’s got it! She’s on £400 a week! Because she’s living with her mum she doesn’t have to pay rent even, she doesn’t have nappies to buy. If I had £400 a week…. I’d be… jumping off houses.

“But I think I am better carrying on with my education and then at least I would have something…”

“Yes, yes,” I say to Mia, who is getting bored with me. “Are we going to Moss Side now to see some friends? Are we? Are we?”

Frances starts the long process of getting ready to leave the house with a baby. She sings along to the TV as she prepares four bottles of formula milk: “… smart potatoes sing with me…” and then, as I have the laptop, I suggest she has a look at our blog.

“Have you seen the blog recently?” I ask. Although she approves the text for each blog post on Facebook through her mobile phone, Frances doesn’t have a computer and so infrequently sees the finished entry. She loves the picture of her daughter in the chippy.

“Look at those eyes,” she says, “and see how she has grown. She wouldn’t fit in that Moses basket now.”

[to be continued…]

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