It’s funny how metaphorical cups overflowing are seen as good, yet metaphorical plates being overloaded are undoubtedly bad. Until recently, perhaps thinking more in terms of barbecues than metaphors, I’d rather have risked trying to balance an overloaded plate (potential to make it to my destination without dropping anything and then lots of nice stuff to eat) than an overflowing cup (guaranteed to spill with every step, meaning less wine when I finally sit down), but now I’m beginning to wonder.
The last couple of months have been very, very challenging. My poor plate seems to have been loaded to the point where I can’t pick it up, let alone try to balance it, anymore (and I’ve run out of wine for my little cup).
I started the school summer holidays feeling vaguely hopeful. I knew I had no money and that I couldn’t afford an actual holiday, but the CMS had promised me that I’d receive money direct from E’s salary by the end of August, and whilst I knew it would be a tough one, I thought I could see a light at the end of the tunnel. I had plans to get the house sorted and get the kids and I all organised and ready for a new start in September. I did get a fair bit done (thanks to help from friends I cleared loads of rubbish from the house and managed to get the place looking almost civilised), but I had reckoned without the weekly calls from my creditors (who still contact me despite having agreed to the TPP with StepChange), and the regular final demands, and threats of legal action from these creditors in the post and the simple fact that, because I wasn’t at work, I wasn’t busy enough to be able to put these things to the back of my mind.
This was my first long break I’d had since E withdrew his financial support last year, and for the first time, I was able to (forced to) fully feel the emotional impact of what E was doing. I’ve lived with it, with the fact of his actions, for almost a year, but because there was always something to do and someone else to think about, I’d been able to put dealing with my own emotions to the back of my mind. This summer I couldn’t get away from them.
Suddenly, the vindictiveness of E’s withdrawing all financial support from us and the nastiness of his letting the secured loan fall into arrears hit me really hard. The situation he’d created for me, and how it contrasted with the situation he’d created for himself – a lovely life with P, with (rumour has it) lovely holidays and a secure home where he isn’t being threatened with repossession and eviction – made me breathless. I couldn’t sleep at night for fretting over why he was doing it, and how he could do it to his kids. Getting up in the morning, I was exhausted and I struggled to get the basic stuff – things like cleaning the bathrooms and doing the dishes – done. It was like moving around in a fog – I couldn’t think clearly, and yet all I could think about was the money and when it would arrive at the end of the month. I took call after call from creditors and explained my situation over and over again, always waving the carrot of the CMS payment at the end of August in front of them in a vain attempt to keep them off my back for a few more weeks.
The bank that I’ve been with for nearly 30 years (and never missed a loan payment with) has been the worst creditor. On one occasion my salary had been paid into my old bank account (one the things I had to do with the TPP was open a new bank account, so that the other, overdrawn, one could be treated as a ‘debt’ and paid at £1 per month as per the terms of the TPP). This shouldn’t have been a big deal, but my bank spent over an hour telling me that my account was frozen and that I couldn’t access my salary, or transfer it to my new account. I spent two tearful hours speaking to them before they finally allowed me to transfer my salary (charging me for the privilege, of course) and taking time to explain that, despite agreeing to the TPP, they would be sending me a final demand giving me 60 days to pay them back.
In the end, my entire summer focused on the 29th August (the payment day promised by the CMS). I had a year’s worth of accounts done starting from this date, proving I could manage. I was looking at being able to pay the secured loan company and keep the mortgage and bills up to date until the house was sold and the kids and I could finally start a life free of E. By the time the 29th rolled round, I was emotionally and physically exhausted.
On the morning of the 29th I checked by bank account. There was no money there. I tried not to panic, the CMS had said that was the date they would collect, not the date that they would pay me, so I tried to keep calm. However, on 2nd September, when I still hadn’t received anything, and my mortgage and car insurance payments had bounced, I called the CMS.
After half an hour on hold, I was told that they hadn’t been able to collect the money from E’s employer but that they didn’t know why. They said that, under the terms of the Deduction from Earnings Order, E’s employer was legally obliged to pay them the child maintenance payment they’d demanded or to tell them why they hadn’t paid it. They had no information on record. They told me that they’d pass this onto my case worker who would refer it to a collections team. They told me it would take weeks. I told them that if I didn’t receive this payment I would literally be unable to feed my family, let alone pay the bills or mortgages. They said they sympathised, but there was nothing more they could do and that someone would call me when they had more information.
The first casualties of this were inevitably the kids. Youngest Son was excited about starting a new school in September and Oldest Son was gearing up to start Sixth Form. In the past, when one of the kids starts a new school, we’ve always bought them a new set of uniform. The start of Sixth Form would be heralded by new jeans and a few bits of non-uniform stuff to wear. Everyone would usually get new stationery, even if it was a few pens and a pencil case. Before term started there would be new shoes and haircuts. There’s always been something new, however small, to mark the start of a new school or a new school year. I’d been waving the same August 29th carrot in front the kids as I had in front of the creditors. I’d hoped that the weekend before they were due to start back at school/sixth form I could make things normal, get the things they needed for school.
This year, however, there was nothing. I couldn’t afford a uniform for Youngest Son (fortunately, we had a stack of, slightly graying, second hand uniform that Oldest Son had worn into the ground), I couldn’t get the boys’ haircut, there were no new shoes (meaning Youngest Son has started school in a pair of worn and fraying shoes that pinch him at the toes and with his hair dangerously close to his eyes).
Oldest Daughter, has also been affected – she is now in rent arrears for her flat at University (they charge rent even for the months she doesn’t have a student loan meaning that E and I had to help her out last year) because I can’t help her this year.
In the meantime, the stuff on my plate – already precariously balanced and teetering with the stuff from the summer – is threatening to collapse under the weight of the possibility of no child maintenance for months, and the resulting threats of repossession orders, eviction and bailiffs.
Perhaps, in retrospect, an overflowing cup is better after all.