Community shopping #empowershop

Today was one of those special days. I am privileged to have them more than most people, and I live in the joy and beauty of them.

It all started a couple of months ago when I met a woman and her teenaged girls at the refuge. There had been terrible things happen, and they were, at first, relieved to be there. But the mum was lost in her own demons, and after a while, the two girls went to stay with a family friend, we shall call her F, who loves them dearly.

I've kept in contact with F and the girls. They've been out to the storage units a number of times, I've bought bits and pieces for them, and F rings me to let me know how they're doing.  Whenever we've been at the storage unit, the older of the two girls, we will call her T,   always looks downcast. There are always so many clothes for her younger sister, and none for her. So the last time we were there, I told her that I would take her out clothes shopping in the school holidays.

And today was the day. When I woke up this morning, I had no idea where to take her to get what she needed. So I asked on social media, and the Aunties, as you always do, came up trumps. All really great suggestions and a good starting place that made me feel so much more confident than I had at the beginning of the day. So armed with those suggestions, I thought it best to ring her and lay out our plans, so she knew what the day would look like, and consult her on what she really wanted to get.

We had a budget of $300, which due to a few kind people, went up to $650. When I told her that, she gasped audibly. And said she had a list for me. In the meantime, one of my closest friends, S, said she and her 24 yr old daughter could come with us. I thought that was a great idea, because I worried that T would be overwhelmed, and I knew that S would be a calming presence, and dilute any attention on T that could make her feel pressured.

When I went to pick T up, she was grinning from ear to ear.  Just beaming. Off we went, and she started talking. About her mum, about the lies, about how hard it is learning how to be a normal teenager. She talked about flashbacks, and seeing what kids her age should never see. She talked about crying - how she thought she cried too much. My heart was breaking and I started crying. "I don't want you to feel sorry for me" she said. I told her I didn't, that I was crying because I was so angry at the adults in her life who had let her down, who had fucked up so badly that she was the one who ended carrying so much pain. Fuck adults, we agreed.

We initially went to Dressmart. She's a really tall person, with a lovely big body, and she's so self conscious. Ashamed of her stretchmarks. We met S and went into the bra shop  - a really discomfiting place for a kid like that to be. She wanted me to talk for her, she said, and be in the cubicle with her. So I ensconsed her there, and we got the shop assistant to do T's first bra fitting. I don't wear bras, so I'm hopeless at all this. S, though, is an expert and she and her daughter scoured the shop for suitable bras. At last, The One was found, and we went on to the next shop.

At this stage, I was really overwhelmed by how much pain this kid is carrying and how such little things were giving her such joy. I hear so much, hold people's hands through so much, but this kid. She got under my skin, and it felt heavy. But she? She was so excited, so ebullient, and talking! It was just a joy to see, and that carried us all through. We looked at some more shops, but everything was too small, and I could see her getting downcast again. S and C and I gave her a pep talk about body confidence, about the evils of manufacturers, and that staved it off for a while. We went into a shoe shop and found the perfect pair of shoes, in her size. And that did it. She was so happy! So joyful! And we decided it was time for some lunch, to celebrate, and to rest our feet.

Another successful shop for more shoes, and clothes, and then the one thing she really wanted - to get her ears pierced. They had been before, and had grown over, and she just wanted it so badly. Luckily chemists still do this, so I signed a consent form for her and she sat down. She was nervous about the pain  - "just do it" she exhorted the pharmacist's assistant - but there was none. And her face. Oh my goddess, her face. She kept touching her ears, and I could tell she was feeling herself. Her beautiful self.

Kmart was our next stop, and what a stop it was. She had her list and she knew what she wanted. Socks, undies, pyjamas, tshirts, more trousers.....and shorts. We never did get those shorts, but we ended up getting most everything else on her list. She went into the changing room and came out with a new outfit on - including a denim jacket - and I just about burst into tears. Who was this girl? This happy smiling confident girl? It was her. In love with her image in a way she never had been before.

A couple more stops for a hair straightener and special sunglasses - the mirrored sort, not clear, she was very firm about it - and we were done. When I took her back to F's home, she showed her everything we had got, and we talked a bit more. About getting her a locked diary, so that she can write some of her secrets down, about getting her some counselling, and most of all getting her glasses. She's falling behind at school and nobody notices because she's too nervous to tell the teachers why she can't do the work. We'll sort it.

Because it is very clear to me that this young woman needs all the love she can get to make up for the horrors she has endured. It won't fix her, but maybe, just maybe, it will help her face life and whatever it holds in store for her.

Thank you for being part of that, for helping me to make sure that she's okay, that she doesn't, as she said to me "turn out like my Mum. I don't want to be like her. I don't want to make the choices she's made."  If love is what it takes, then I think F, and The Aunties, HER Aunties, are the ones who can make that happen.  

What the Aunties did. May Edition

How women's refuges in NZ operate - and why your local refuge needs your support.