Real-life

One mo­ment Eletta Palmer was en­joy­ing a fam­ily hol­i­day, the next she was a mother of four aged just 22

Friday - - Friday Contents -

The 22-year-old who sud­denly be­came a mother of four.

Squish­ing the sand be­tween my toes, I grinned. The air was heavy with the smell of the sea and fish and chips and I loved it. I was on hol­i­day with my fam­ily – my mum, Joanne, three sis­ters, two broth­ers, two chil­dren and my cousin.

I lis­tened to my sis­ters, Ni­lan­thie, 18, Shaleen, 15, and Ce­leste, 13, shriek­ing in the sea, while Mum made sand­cas­tles with my 18-mon­thold twin broth­ers Ke­iron and Kyle and my daugh­ter, Aisha, three, and son Ra­hees, 13 months.

It was the last day of our trip to Black­pool, and we wanted to pack in as much as pos­si­ble be­fore go­ing home to Brad­ford, 130km away.

As a sin­gle par­ent, Mum worked hard in a bak­ery to pro­vide for us. She scrimped and saved all year to take us on hol­i­day. We couldn’t af­ford to go abroad so we usu­ally chose a sea­side re­sort in Eng­land. But we al­ways had a good time.

Watch­ing Mum now, it was good to see her look­ing re­laxed. She and I were close – she’d al­ways been there for me. We were even preg­nant at the same time – Mum with the twins and me with Ra­hees. It was scary hav­ing chil­dren so young on my own, but Mum had helped me through it.

“Did you have a good time, love?” Mum asked later as we took our bags to the cars. I gave her a kiss. “It was amaz­ing,” I said.

Mum loaded her bags in the car with my broth­ers and sis­ters. I got into my cousin Jennifer Cargill’s car with Aisha and Ra­hees.

“See you at home,’’ Mum said as we waved her off. Watch­ing her car dis­ap­pear down the road, I was think­ing about ev­ery­thing I had to do when­hen I got home.

“That’s the prob­lem with hol­i­days,” I thought. “There’s al­ways so much un­pack­ing and wash­ing af­ter­wards.”

We soon lost track of Mum’s car on the M6 mo­tor­way and her car wasn’t out­side her house when we ar­rived home, just down the road. I wasn’t wor­ried. “She must have been held up,’’ I thought.

But when hours passed and still Mum’s car didn’t ap­pear, I be­gan to panic. She was never late, and if there was a prob­lem she would have called to let us know.

I kept call­ing her mo­bile, then when she didn’t an­swer, I rang my

sis­ter Ce­leste’s phone. The phone just kept ring­ing and ring­ing.

I thought maybe their car had bro­ken down, and kept check­ing out the win­dow to see if they had ar­rived. “They’ll be here soon,” my cousin said as I put the kids to bed.

But when they hadn’t turned up by the time it got dark, I was fran­tic. “Some­thing aw­ful must have hap­pened,” I said to my cousin.

Then fi­nally at 8pm, a po­lice car pulled up in front of our house. Fear pulsed through me – es­pe­cially when I saw two of­fi­cers walk­ing up to my front door.

Ev­ery­thing slowed down as I went to an­swer – it was as if I was sud­denly be­hind glass, not re­ally there.

“I have some bad news,” a po­lice of­fi­cer said. “The car your mother was driv­ing has been in­volved in a crash on the M6 mo­tor­way near Manch­ester.” Ap­par­ently she’d swerved to avoid an­other driver and lost con­trol of her car, which flipped over twice.

“Two people have been killed in­clud­ing the driver,” he said. The words made me reel. Mum? Dead?

I be­gan to shake. But my three sis­ters and two broth­ers had been in the car – so one of them had died too. I was cry­ing, grief crash­ing over me.

The po­lice asked me to go with them to Wi­gan hospi­tal to iden­tify the bod­ies. I trem­bled at the word. My cousin put her arm around me and or­gan­ised for a neigh­bour to look af­ter the kids.

I don’t re­mem­ber how long it took to reach the hospi­tal or even the people who were there. I just re­mem­ber see­ing Mum and my lit­tle sis­ter Ce­leste, ly­ing there, not mov­ing. I couldn’t be­lieve it was re­ally them, and kept telling my­self it was a nightmare from which I would soon wake up sweat­ing.

“It can’t be them,” I kept say­ing. “It’s maybe some­body who looks like them,” I was in­co­her­ent, cry­ing and talk­ing non­sense. It was the shock, I sup­pose, and the grief. They had died at the scene of the crash.

“My other sis­ters and broth­ers?” I asked, re­mem­ber­ing them.

“They are OK,” a po­lice of­fi­cer said. My sis­ter Ni­lan­thie had been taken to an­other hospi­tal while Shaleen and the boys were be­ing treated for mi­nor in­juries in Wi­gan.

Walk­ing through the hospi­tal, I forced my­self to stop cry­ing. I couldn’t let the lit­tle ones see me like this. So I washed my face in the bath­room, took a deep breath and walked into their ward.

For­tu­nately the boys had hardly any in­juries. Kyle had a bump on his head while Ke­iron a scratch on his nose. Shaleen had a cou­ple of bro­ken teeth and a frac­tured rib.

Re­lieved, I rushed to Pre­ston hospi­tal, where Ni­lan­thie had been put into an ar­ti­fi­cial coma while se­vere gouges to her left leg and arm healed. “She will be much bet­ter in a day or two,” the doc­tor there told me.

Re­al­is­ing I couldn’t do much there, I went back to be with the twins.

See­ing the boys, so small in the hospi­tal beds, I knew in­stantly that I would look af­ter them.

Their dad wasn’t on the scene, and I loved them too much to give them up to some­body else. I wanted

I re­mem­ber see­ing Mum and my sis­ter ly­ing there not mov­ing. I couldn’t be­lieve it was re­ally them

to look af­ter them, to keep them safe. It’s what Mum would have wanted. So even though I was only 22 and a sin­gle mum of two, I made a de­ci­sion.

“They’re com­ing to live with me,’’ I told the nurses and po­lice.

Af­ter spend­ing three days in hospi­tal, they, along with my sis­ters, were dis­charged.

I took them all to my house. I wanted them with me. I’d seen them ev­ery day since they’d been born. They be­longed with me. They needed me, just like I needed them.

I’d al­ready lost my mum and sis­ter, and I was de­ter­mined not to ever lose my lit­tle broth­ers.

My sis­ters were older, and my aunt wanted to look af­ter them. It was a wrench for all of us, but I promised to visit, and re­as­sured them we were still a fam­ily.

I wanted to keep us all to­gether, but I didn’t have a job and knew they’d be bet­ter off with my aunt.

At first, I thought that no one would take me se­ri­ously and I wouldn’t be able to keep the boys, but thank­fully the so­cial work­ers agreed that the boys would be al­lowed to stay with me per­ma­nently in my three-bed­room apart­ment.

Af­ter Mum and Ce­leste’s fu­neral, which was ter­ri­bly sad, I tried to move for­ward, to try and get a rou­tine go­ing for the boys’ and my two chil­dren’s sake.

Those first few weeks were very dif­fi­cult be­cause I couldn’t come to terms with the huge loss. But I de­cided I had to stay strong – if only for the sake of my twin broth­ers.

Cud­dling them close, I told them I’d never leave them.

“Don’t worry, you’re mine,” I told them, wip­ing away my tears.

Be­com­ing a mum of four was a shock. I didn’t work and re­lied solely on ben­e­fits to get through each week. I’d al­ways dreamed of go­ing to univer­sity one day, but with four young chil­dren in my care, I knew that it was un­likely.

But I didn’t mind. I loved my chil­dren – all four of them. It was a strug­gle, but play­ing with them, tak­ing care of them, telling sto­ries at night and en­sur­ing they grow up with the right val­ues made me re­alise money wasn’t ev­ery­thing.

The boys were too young to un­der­stand what had hap­pened, but I tried to stay up­beat and pro­vide them with a sense of rou­tine – just like Mum would have done.

She’d given me a bril­liant and well-bal­anced up­bring­ing. Now I wanted to do the same for my

broth­ers. But it wasn’t easy. Some­times when I was ex­hausted and the kids were play­ing up, I’d think, “I wish Mum was here and I wasn’t in this po­si­tion.” But never did I doubt my de­ci­sion to take care of the kids.

The trou­ble was, I was con­cen­trat­ing so much on tak­ing care of the chil­dren that I never had time for my­self or to grieve prop­erly for Mum and Ce­leste.

Dur­ing the day, when I was car­ing for the chil­dren, I shut out my grief and sad­ness. I didn’t have time to think, rac­ing around af­ter lively tod­dlers and cook­ing and clean­ing.

But once the kids were all asleep in bed, the flood­gates would open and I’d of­ten end up cry­ing my­self to sleep. “I miss you, Mum,’’ I’d sob.

I wasn’t alone. My broth­ers and sis­ters too found it ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to cope with los­ing our mother and Ce­leste. Ke­iron used to strug­gle to sleep as he used to curl up in Mum’s bed with her. My sis­ters were suf­fer­ing from the shock and trauma from the loss, and my aunt said they would cry of­ten.

Mum’s death had been such a shock. I would’ve done any­thing for one last con­ver­sa­tion, or one last

I just did what I had to do to keep our fam­ily to­gether. Wouldn’t any­one do the same?

cud­dle with her. I re­mem­bered that she was al­ways smil­ing and singing songs. If we went to a party, she would be the first per­son to get up on the dance floor.

See­ing the boys grow­ing up with­out her was heart-break­ing. Ev­ery mile­stone was painful and I felt so an­gry that Mum was miss­ing out on it all.

But I knew that I couldn’t give up. Lis­ten­ing to them string words to­gether as sen­tences, see­ing them hav­ing lit­tle fights with each other over toys, get­ting them en­rolled in pri­mary school... all the lit­tle mile­stones in their lives used to make me emo­tional.

“I wish Mum could have seen them do that, or heard them say this or take their first steps to school,” I’d tell my­self as I tried hard not to break down in front of the kids. “I’m do­ing this for Mum,’’ I would say to my­self, vow­ing to stay strong.

But over the years, bit by bit, it got eas­ier and felt more nat­u­ral.

Now the boys are 12. They don’t re­mem­ber Mum be­cause they were so young when she died, but I talk about her and Ce­leste all the time – I’m de­ter­mined to keep both of their mem­o­ries alive.

The boys call me Eletta, but on Mother’s Day, they send me cards and they also sur­prise me with letters say­ing, “Thanks for be­ing our mum.”

Read­ing those words never fails to make me cry and I trea­sure ev­ery one of those notes.

“You don’t have to say thank you,” I tell them. “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

I al­ways re­fer to Kyle and Ke­iron as my sons and when we’re out to­gether, strangers as­sume they’re mine. They’re so close in age to my son, Ra­hees, they look like triplets.

In the early years of look­ing af­ter my broth­ers, I gave up my de­sire to study to fo­cus on be­ing a mum. But now that we’re more set­tled, it’s my time again. I re­cently won a place at the Univer­sity of Birm­ing­ham to study crim­i­nol­ogy, and I’m re­ally en­joy­ing my stud­ies. The chil­dren stay with me in Birm­ing­ham while I’m study­ing.

I’ve also had two more chil­dren, Shanaya, eight, and NeVaeah, three months. So now I’m a mum of six! I’m happy with my fi­ancé, Lee Thomp­son, 37. He’s a site man­ager who I met on­line two years ago. He was shocked when he found out I was look­ing af­ter my broth­ers af­ter Mum’s death and now is in awe of what I’ve done.

“I’ve such re­spect for you,” he once told me. We’re get­ting mar­ried in Au­gust. Ke­iron and Kyle will walk me down the aisle and give me away.

My sis­ters are both grown up and have lives of their own.

Lee is great with the kids and has spent time get­ting to know them all. He’s al­ways telling me how well I’ve coped with the sit­u­a­tion.

But I don’t think it was any­thing spe­cial at all. The way I see it, I just did what I had to do to keep our fam­ily to­gether. Wouldn’t any­one do the same?

I miss Mum and Ce­leste ev­ery day and, of course, I wish they were still here with us.

But af­ter years of sad­ness, I’ve fi­nally found hap­pi­ness again.

We’re one big fam­ily and I feel blessed. I never imag­ined I’d be a mum to my own broth­ers but I’ve raised them to be po­lite, happy, hard-work­ing chil­dren – just as Mum would have done.

They of­ten ask me about Mum and I tell them how spe­cial she was, how she was a larger-than-life char­ac­ter.

Ev­ery time I get a cud­dle or a kiss from them, I know that it was all worth it. We’ve been on such an in­cred­i­ble jour­ney to­gether and I’d do any­thing for my fam­ily.

Some­times, I think, “If Mum could see us now, would she be proud?”

At last, I think I fi­nally know the an­swer to that ques­tion.

Ra­hees, Shanaya, Aisha and the twins Kyle and Ke­iron

My fi­ancé Lee is so proud of what I’ve done

NeVaeah, my youngest, is three months

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