Wednesday, July 19, 2017

EVEN FOSTER CHILDREN DISTANCE THEMSELVES FROM 'PARENTS'



Fostering has many unexpected highs, but of course there are lows.

One low that gets me every time - though it shouldn't - happened to me again this week.

It's got to do with that thing when children reach a certain age and don't want to be seen with their parents. I think it's pretty common, maybe universal. Apparently there's a good reason for it. It's a preliminary to the young leaving the nest and braving it out into the world. I guess that means that baby blackbirds wake up one morning and chirp to themselves "I don't want to be seen dead with these deadbeat blackbird parents any more, I'm off outa here..." and away they fly.

Then again Confucius (or someone like him) said "Let your children go and every path they take will lead them back to you."

Fair enough, but it's a bit painful when you have to walk past them in the high street when they're out with new school friends and know that you're not supposed to say hello because they'd be mortally embarrassed.

That's what happened this week. Only, the thing is, in fostering, the; "I don't want to be seen with my foster parents" is seriously profound, sometimes.

Understandable.

A couple of summers ago we took the family to Centre Parcs, great fun. Everyone bonded, joining in all the activities, me and the other half watching; you're not getting us zip-wiring over forests. And of course that was the right thing to do. Children want their parents to stand back and be amazed at them, and if we went white-water sluicing where's the achievement in them doing it?

We bonded so big that after the first day a delegation of children came and asked us if we could eat in our cabin every evening. I was immensely flattered, the night before we'd gone to one of the many restaurants and everyone had ordered what they wanted. Not cheap, but we're on holiday!

The plan to eat in our own kitchen in the woods was agreed and I did a shopping excursion in the afternoon and bought everyone's favourites. I set off up the woodland path early evening from the pool and got all the food ready.

They came cycling back at the appointed time and we ate, all chomping and laughing. The main topic of conversation being the new friends they were all on the verge of making. They ate up and everyone begged to be allowed out until it got dark. Centre Parcs is set up for this so we allowed. Everyone had their mobile phone.

Clearing away the dishes I said to other half;

"How nice they wanted a home-cooked dinner."

"Don't get your hopes up too high girl," came the reply. "After you left I caught wind of a few discreet conversations about what's going on. There's a couple of families with children about the same age as ours and ours are hoping to buddy up. Thing is the parents of the other children are half our age. And they're the real parents by the look of it."

Body blow for sure. Ours didn't want the other families to see us because we won't see forty-five again. Moreover, without me betraying any details, you only have to look at us as a family unit to tell that we are what we are.

We ate in the cabin every evening except the last night, when we all went out together to one of the restaurants, they didn't have to keep their fostering secret any more.

And yesterday there I was shopping in the High Street and one of our looked-after children was suddenly coming towards me with a bunch of friends I didn't recognise. I crossed the road and pretended to stare into the charity shop window where I used the reflection to tell when they'd got past and it was safe to go on.

Thing is this; much as it hurt, the child knew what I'd done with the child in mind, and speaking of mind I didn't mind at all, or mention it that evening.

But I'm 95% certain the child knew and appreciated what I'd done, and that's what it's all about.

Hurt Factor: 8/100. Satisfaction Factor 92/100.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF FOSTERING PART 8






END OF A LONG DAY


                6.45pm Bathtime for Joe. I don’t ask him if he wants one or tell him that he’s getting one, instead I say “Do you want foam in your bath or not?” Gives him control. Being asked to make a decision distracts him from an opportunity to be oppositional. He goes for suds so I run a warm one about six inches deep leave a towel out for him and he does the rest himself. I keep the door two inches open and ask him something every five minutes, such as if he’s using the sponge. He dries himself and puts on his pyjamas and dressing gown before coming out of the bathroom. Submerging looked-after children in warm water always calms them, Joe is no exception. He sits peacefully on his bed while I dry his hair which he always gets wet. Perhaps in part because he likes me drying it for him.

7.00pm Joe's in bed, with a glass of milk and a bedtime snack, a healthy one; carrot sticks and cherry tomatoes. I bring the model Mummy up for him to see it’s going dry. We do his spelling for tomorrow. I help by making the shape of difficult letters with my mouth, so he gets 10 out of 10. Then it’s time for a bedtime story. Always the same format. It has to be about “Paul”, the fictional dog with the same name as my own son. I have to make suggestions for the story;

“How about the day Paul learned to ride a bike?”

“No.”

“The time Paul went to the One Stop on his own.”

“No.”

“The time Paul cleaned the windows?”

“Yeah.”

Joe usually rejects the first two ideas and approves the third. Control, I suspect, or maybe he identifies with Paul and wants the storyline to be one which helps him ground himself in his new life. Paul cleaning the windows is Paul as a mature being who helps around the house.

I make up a tale in which Paul gets lots of things comically wrong, but wins through in the end.

7.15pm Lights out. I say goodnight sleeptight.

Joe doesn’t reply. No problem, never replies to 'Goodnight' Or 'Good Morning'.  He still can’t bring himself to say 'please' or 'thank you', those expressions are too intimate, conventional and somehow submissive. I don’t give a tinker’s cuss.

I go downstairs to clear up the kitchen and make noises so he knows there's still someone downstairs with whom he has a connection, plus if he can hear me then I will be able to hear him if he calls, and he is more likely to sleep with the security of knowing that.


7.20pm Clearing the dirty sink. Good chance to ruminate about a totally knackering day of fostering. But I’m already thinking it was pretty darn good.

7.35pm Joe has usually called out by now, just to check the connection. I creep to the top of the stairs for a peek. He's asleep.

7.35pm and 30 seconds. I'm in the living room with a glass of Jacob's Creek sharing Infinite Tolerance Day with other half.

In a nutshell; it worked. Joe had an entire day without feeling the onrush of panic that left him angry, frightened, crying his eyes out inconsolably. But it was what I call 'emotionally expensive' for me.

Looking back - this episode happened six years ago, but I kept thorough notes throughout the day - I now think it was more successful than I realised at the time. Joe achieved some invaluable firsts;

  • He sought my company, wanted to be with me (game of Scrabble)
  • He asked me why I was being so kind (when I agreed to yet another chase game)
  • He experienced a panic free day (and fell asleep in 10 minutes)
And looking back; what happened the next day, and for each the rest of the days he's been with us (2109 as of today), there's been an over-arching air of infinite tolerance, but we put down a few lines in the sand, and added more boundaries as he became more calm and self-regulating.

Joe is on his way. He still has a way to go, but his progress is so fantastic that last week his social worker asked us if we wanted to have him re-assessed so that it could be recorded that he has made a considerable recovery from his nightmares. 

So big thank you to Infinite Tolerance Day.

The End

(Or in Joe's case, the Beginning)




Monday, July 17, 2017

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF FOSTERING PART 7







"WHY ARE YOU BEING SO KIND?"


                4.20pm It’s crunch time. We’re well over halfway through the Infinite Tolerance experiment. Little Joe has had a day without a single panic attack. This is down to us resolving not to thwart, disagree or disapprove of any of his many (mild) anti-behaviours that previously we’d tried to adjust.

Crunch time; he’s just asked to go on another bike ride. But I’ve just remembered his homework for tomorrow is to bring a model Egyptian mummy to school, one he’s made himself (or at least participated in). Oh blimey. Do I have any clay in the house? There’s some remnants of that self-drying stuff in the bottom drawer, but I’ve never found it much cop.

He needs a Mummy (I know, I always feel for children in care when they have to do the inevitable school project about the pharoes and have to bandy the world’s most potent word, it must jar them).

Brainwave. Make some bread dough. It goes hard overnight and is easy to mould. No need to make a walking mummy a la Curse of the Mummy (that’s not technically correct anyway), all we need to do is shape a crude sarcophagus. 

That was the easy bit. The hard bit is going to be pursuading him against a bike ride.

4.25pm Me and Joe are moulding dough. Blimey it couldn’t have been easier. I said;

“Ooo, let’s make your model for school tomorrow, it’ll be fun, a bit messy and won’t take long.”

and he went;

“Yay!!!”

4.50pm. Bike ride. Well, I never thought I’d get away with avoiding it. Up and down the pavement. An elderly woman said something to him when I was too far away to hear. I asked him what she said, he replied;

“She said ‘Be careful.

He seemed fine, it was a minor telling-off by a person too old to understand that cycling on the pavement is fine these days. She’s the one who risked doing damage. I hate the refrain “Be careful!” to children. You hear it at the school railings every morning and afternoon. It’s so lazy. If an adult has a safety concern they should be specific and say;  “Stay back from the kerb” for example, or “Make sure you avoid running into one of the little ones”, that’s the ticket.

5.05pm. Joe shuts himself in the front room for another dose of cartoons, alone. Spongebob inevitably. I take him a lolly “To hold you, Sunday roast is in half an hour”.

I sling a rushed foster carer’s version of Sunday lunch into the oven: pre-cooked Aunt Bessie’s roast pots, frozen Yorkshire puds and five chicken breasts in foil. On the stove I’m boiling carrots, beans and brocolli. Gravy granules await the veg water. Total prep time 8-10 minutes. I don’t lay the table. On selected Sundays our roast is taken as a lap lunch by way of a treat. 'Selected' by me when I'm chasing my tail.  People eat where they are, usually watching cartoons. All I have to do is put out a pile of plates and a jumble of cutlery and it's help yourself.

I note that these little breaks from Joe are crucial for me. Spending extended periods of time concentrating of every tiny nuance of a specific parenting programme is gruelling.

5.30pm I peer into the living room and Joe has built a ramp-house out of sofa cushions. He wants a game of wrestling/chasing. I have to go after him, allowing him to dodge and escape up and down his little mountain. If I ‘catch’ him - my hands on his shoulders - I gently ease him over onto cushions and let him get up.

5.40pm The oven pings. Tea-time.

6.10pm We’ve both had another respite - being in care is as demanding for the child as it is sometimes for the carers. Joe is always calmer with a plate of food at his mercy. The family is dotted around the house scoffing. I’m sat with Joe watching…yep, Spongebob. 

6.15pm The washing up can wait until Joe’s in bed. He wants another game of wrestling/chase. I agree. It’s at this point he asks me something that will stay with me all my life, and hopefully beyond. He asks it in a way that makes me feel gloriously happy yet slightly  sad, because it speaks so profoundly of where he’s been in terms of humanity for his first five years of life. He says, in a whisper;

“Why are you being so kind to me?”

I can still picture his face. His expression was one of genuine curiosity, he wanted to know what was going on. The question came at me as such a blinding flash of light that I can’t remember exactly what I replied, and I didn't make a note of it, but I think I said something like;

“Because you deserve people being kind to you”. Or maybe; "I'm just doing what foster mums do."

continued...

Sunday, July 16, 2017

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF FOSTERING PART 6







A GAME OF SKRABBEL


              1.50pm Sunday lunchtime. It should be Sunday lunchtime, but cooking would take me away from Little Joe and my personal quest which is to give him a day without a single panic attack.

To recap; Joe gets very hot and bothered whenever he thinks he'd been thwarted, dismissed, disapproved of or somehow in trouble. It's painful to see what he goes through, it rips him up poor little guy. So I have decided to give him a whole day where he might never feel dissed or denied and thus experience a day of peace.

I'm calling it the Day of Infinite Tolerance (as opposed to Zero Tolerance).

1.56pm Joe announces he wants to cycle to the One Stop for some Randoms. The One Stop is 600 yards from our house, pavement all the way. Perfect. Helmet on, he cycles, I walk behind him. We get there and he does that wonderment thing in front of the stacked shelves, gazing at the sweets, chocolate bars and snacks. When you tell a six-year-old they can have one of anything they want, it's their earliest experience of total freedom of choice. Then they say they can't make up their minds between Randoms and Monster Munch, knowing you'll cave in and let them have both, because they deserve it.

2.15pm Joe shuts himself in the living room with Randoms and Monster Munch. TV blaring, sounds like Spongebob. Again.

The chattering classes who generally don't know as much about parenting as foster parents bang on about the evils of children sitting in front of TV scoffing junk. The chatterers wouldn't last 48 hours in fostering. Everything's good in moderation. 

2.35pm Joe emerges; 'my throat's hot'. That's Monster Munch Fire for you. I tell him I'll bring him some apple juice so he goes back to Spongebob. I butler in a glass of juice. 

Then this happened;

Joe gave me 3 Randoms. 

3 of his Randoms! A cake, a racing car and a mushroom, if you want the details.

If I had had doubts about Infinite Tolerance Day (and I did, by the way), they vanished in that moment. This is a little boy whose attachment levels were so poor the concept of giving up anything as precious as a sweet was absolutely off his behaviour range.

Yet today, after eight and a half hours of Infinite Tolerance, he gave me not 1 but 3 Randoms.

I float away sucking a racing car and humming inside. 

3.00pm We have two rooms downstairs, a living room and a room off the kitchen with a stained sofa, a knackered flat screen TV, some computer game consoles, a box of toys and some board games.  I tend to sit in there sometimes for a bit of peace, get my breathe back. I'm sitting there when Joe appears... and asks to join me! Again, a first, a big one. He's never wanted my company before.

3.05pm Joe finds the box of Scrabble and announces that we're going to have a game. This should be interesting as his academic record is woeful, but he knows the letters of the alphabet.

3.10pm Joe goes upstairs and fetches two soft toys, one for his team and one for my team. Spreading the responsibility should he 'lose' I guess. But he doesn't know that I always let foster children win, especially today of all days.

3.15pm A game of 'animal scrabble' begins. Joe came up with the theme. He comes up with the rest of the rules too; he takes about thirty letters. Oh, and he takes up position under the coffee table, a small square wooden one next to the sofa. He's also blocked up the open sides with cushions, making him feel safe while he experiments with playing a game against an adult. The danger lies not just in possible defeat, but in experiencing new feelings such as attachment and mutuality. 

3.20pm I've explained that if you place a word over a 'Triple Word' square you get triple points. Joe places "J-E-L-E-P-U-N-D-X-Q-W" on the Triple Word square and says it's "Elephant".  I keep score. Joe scoops up almost all the remaining letters. I pass as I can't go, and he places "P-A-R-I-D-Y-T" nowhere near his "Elephant". I hesitate to ask what it says because I want to show him I can 'read' what he 'writes', for his self-esteem. But I reckon he knows that I know that he's whistling dixie because he announces "Parrot!"

4.10pm Joe wins the Animal Scrabble with over a thousand points. But he wins bigger in the game of Life. He's engaged one-to-one with a domestic adult (he has Oppositional Defiance Disorder; he is compliant with teachers, doctors, social workers and police officers but cuts off or acts hostile with adults he shares a roof with). Plus he had control for an hour, plus he won.

4.15pm Joe asks for another bike ride. I remember that he needs to take a model mummy to school for his Ancient Egypt project homework. Aaaagh, I'm going to have to say "No."

Here's come today's first panic attack...

continued



Saturday, July 15, 2017

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF FOSTERING PART 5





ON THE ROAD


             11.05am Joe won’t be seen out front of our house with his foster mum if she’s wearing cargo shorts. Funny, he didn’t mind me wearing them to Halfords. Must be something to do with awareness of neighbours. Again; revealing about what mattered in his old home. 

I put on jeans.

11.15am Outside he cycles up the road on the pavement. I don’t tell him how far he’s allowed to go before turning back, I’m interested to see how far he feels confident going. About fifty yards. He stops, and looks round at me, one foot on the ground. He looks ahead again, wondering if he dare go further, but decides not to, jerks the bike round and cycles back to me, slowly. Repeats this a dozen times. Often, when he's fifty yards away up the road he stops and seems to meditate on his situation. Being fifty yards away from his foster mum is close to some kind of freedom or independence. I wonder if he's ruminating about cycling off out of his life and never coming back. 

But each time, he does come back. It turns out he was wondering this; “Can I go in the road?”

11.45am Jeez. I shouldn’t really allow. But there’s not been a smidgeon of traffic, and it is Infinite Tolerance Day. I explain that if a car appears he’s to immediately stop, get off, and walk the bike onto the pavement. And that I'm going to trot along beside him.

WE ARE THREE HOURS INTO INFINITE TOLERANCE DAY AND FRUIT IS BORN! THERE IS NO WAY BEFORE ITD THAT HE WOULD HAVE AGREED TO A CONSTRAINT, NO MATTER HOW SENSIBLE, BUT HE DOES!!! WITHOUT A WORD OF DISAGREEMENT, WITHOUT A TRACE OF PANIC, HE AGREES AND COMPLIES.

My heart pounding slightly in case a hotrod suddenly roars round the corner, Little Joe sets off on a nervous wobble next to the kerb. He’s on the road, in more ways than one.

We do this several times. Him cycling in the road, me trotting beside him. 

12.05pm He asks if he can do it on his own. I agree, nervously repeating the instructions about stopping pronto if a car appears.

He nods sagely, like a grown up would. 

As I read my diary notes back to myself I’m reminded that I ought to have expected a backlash, a common reaction in disturbed children, a backlash against their feelings of guilt at being treated with kindness, love and respect. I’ve had this phenomenon explained to me by psychologists more than once, but I’m afraid it’s still Greek to me.

But there was no backlash, not this time. Joe cycles up and down half-a-dozen times, then does a circuit, riding away from me on the road, doing a careful u-turn fifty yards away and cycling back on the other side of the road. 

12.30pm That done, he was done with cycling. He’d achieved what he wanted to achieve, and that was that. Looking back, it’s significant that he hardly ever again asked to cycle on the road, at least not for about 4 years, by which time he was doing so because he needed to go somewhere rather than merely experience a rite of passage. 

I shouldn’t say ‘merely’, it must have been HUGE for him. 

12.35pm We go in. I put the bike and helmet away and Joe shuts himself in the front room with Spongebob for 20 minutes. I take him a snack, say nothing and leave him too it. He’s luxuriating.

1.00pm Joe emerges from the living room and asks for my mobile phone. On it are several videos I took of him cycling on the pavement, then on the road. He plays them over and over back to himself. I can feel waves of pride coming off him. But it doesn’t materialise, instead he ends up cursing; “I look stupid”. I delete the videos.

1.20pm Joe goes upstairs to where husband is replacing  a bedroom light switch. The upstairs lights are off at the fuse box. His toolbox is basically a junkbox and he and Joe go through all the old screws, rawlplugs, folded bits of sandpaper, half-empty glue tubes and mystery tools. Joe plays ‘monsters’ with the vice grip's jaws. 

1.30pm Joe comes downstairs and asks to make a video of himself.

Joe uses my phone again to video himself presenting a “News”. About poo. That’s all I can remember about the “News”, that the top story, the only story, was poo-related, I deleted it once he was done watching himself back. He watched himself a dozen times.

I noted at the time that this viewing of himself on phone videos could be useful; a growing sense of how he comes across to others might help him realise the impact he has on others around him. 

Not expecting miracles, but Infinite Tolerance Day? So far so good.

I'm knackered already by the way, and we're only halfway through. I'm having to concentrate so damn hard to make my every action and reaction ones which won't Trigger him, it's exhausting mentally. 

But no wobbly, not yet anyway, that's the main thing.

continued




Friday, July 14, 2017

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF FOSTERING PART 4





THE CYCLE HELMET THING


             8.35am Sunday morning. Joe wants to go for a bike ride. He's not allowed to ride on the road and I'm uncomfortable about him riding on the pavement, but we have a meadow near us which is great for the bike, providing it's dry. Today is a cold wet morning, the meadow will be a quagmire. But today is Infinite Tolerance Day, the idea being to give Little Joe a day where he never has reason to panic. He is in total control.

To the garage to get the bike. We’ve got five kids bikes at the moment by the way, we don’t sell off outgrown ones, never know what size you’re going to need next.

The tyre is soft so we wheel it into the kitchen and search the drawers for the pump. The adapter doesn’t fit the tyre. I search for the right adaptor.

We go through all the kitchen drawers including the one full of gizmo gubbins; old cables, chargers, weird leads and unidentifiable jack plugs. When I say “we” I mean me, Joe stands watching everything, somehow comforted by my endeavours on his behalf.

9.00am. A parallel activity begins; Joe and I are examining all the bits from the gizmo drawer trying to work out which are worth keeping and which should be chucked out. He is happily distracted showing off what he knows about technology. Kids are born knowing more about tech than people my age.

9.20am. From nowhere Joe says; “Swordfight!”, a game we played yesterday. This entails finding an old newspaper and rolling a sheet into a thin rod with a bit of tape to hold it. Then with our harmless ‘swords’ we swish away until one or both weapons are bent out of use.

9.35am. Back to the bike ride. Joe changes his mind about the helmet, the one I’ve scrubbed free of childish cartoons. Half an hour ago he said it was okay. Now he hates it.

I say he will need a helmet, and perhaps we ought to get him one of his own. Halfords will be open shortly, 10 minutes in the car.

9.45am. DANGER: Joe gets a bit agitated. He’s anxious again about the expense. “It costs a fortune” he keeps repeating. A common theme in looked-after children who come from homes where money was tight is that they’d be at the back of the queue for anything, and ‘expense’ would be used to deny their needs and pleasures. Plus 'expense' would be used against them when they have been bought anything which the parents later regret buying. 

I see in my notes I suggest this syndrome, where parents abuse children for having bought them something should be labelled; "Buyers Remorse by Proxy" (today, reading my notes back to myself to write up "Infinite Tolerance Day" I make a mental note that all the child psychology training sessions I'd been attending had started to take their toll...)

9.47am. I explain to a wound-up Joe that a helmet is not a toy or a luxury, it’s a necessity. A safety matter. Joe takes that on board, calms down.

9.55am. On our way to Halfords, Joe sitting in his booster seat in the back. Driving, as long as it’s not too far, always seems to soothe.

10.10am. Halfords.  Joe agonises about which helmet. There are innumerable ones which are his size, but most of them are, says Joe; "too childish". Joe frequently exhibits a need to be perceived by strangers as an adult. Indeed, in Halfords he behaves very grown-up. He's never had a panic attack in public. He saves his episodes up and they usually happen ten minutes after we get through our own front door. 

He tries out some of the bikes on the shop floor, after quietly getting me to absolutely swear he won’t get into trouble with the staff. He’s proud to ride and dismount a proper BMX. 

Back to the helmet. It’s £29.99. He is adamant it’s too expensive. I repeat the argument that he's not being spoilt - he must have a helmet. 

He has a real fear of being bought something 'expensive', and I must relieve him of it.

(NB; One of the many fascinating things about fostering is building a picture of the world the children must have inhabited before they were taken into care. All the different types of pressure, fear and anxieties that were visited on them. You end up with an identikit picture of the child’s real parents).

10.40am. My logic wins. Logic usually never works when a child is truly wound up, but Joe has the mind of a lawyer in there alongside the mind of a damaged child and the fact that a cycle hemet is some kind of legal requirement gets through. We buy the helmet and drive home. 

10.55am. Our kitchen. My other half says he’s nipping to Homebase, I suspect the Day of Infinite Tolerance is getting to him.

11.05am. Joe and I agree that now he has an acceptable helmet and the bike's tyres are pumped up, he should have a practice ride on the side road next to our house, which is very quiet, almost deserted on a Sunday morning. 

But, as we are about to leave, Joe says to me; 

‘Don’t wear those shorts’. 

Eh?

continued...


Thursday, July 13, 2017

A DAY IN THE LIFE OF FOSTERING PART 3

                





MONSTERS


       At 6.35am Joe leaves his den and goes upstairs to finish his latest 'monster' painting. He draws and paints a lot, which is great for a couple of reasons; one it's a good activity in itself, two it gives us insight into his world. He always paints monsters. Nothing else. Big ones, towering over him with long claws or muscular tentacles. They are always furious, with angry expressions, blazing eyes, contorted mouths and sharp fangs.

A frequent theme is a giant vicious monster chasing a tiny little fluffy animal. The little animal is about to be pounced on and presumably torn to bits. I've posted a typical sketch above.

When you get this sort of insight into the life a foster child endured before they come to you for help you have no choice except do absolutely everything you possibly can to help.

Hence 'Infinite Tolerance Day (ITD)'.

6.55am Joe comes down without his finished painting, angry because it was 'rubbish' and he is 'useless at everything'.

He's brought two more soft toys, his two newest, the ones we bought him ourselves. They too have to be welcomed into the family, he watches them receive the warmth we give him, must help him process newfound kindness. He's named them after our town and the shop we bought them in, perhaps a sign that he secretly wants to bond with his new home. You never stop looking for positives.

7.05am Joe spots a plastic recorder which hadn't been put out of sight from last night, stupid me. He makes a dreadful racket with it, and he can do so for as long as he wants (ITD). Then he throws it at the sofa in anger that it doesn't play a beautiful tune. Perhaps he caught sight of a flicker of grimace in my face? Concentrate girl! It's game on and the prize is a day of relief for Joe's mind and soul.

7.15am He wants to hear again the story of the day that the puppy dog "Paul" met a big black dog who called Paul 'Daddy'. It's a story I invented yesterday and have had to re-tell it several times. Joe controls every twist and turn of every story he asks to be told, changing any detail that doesn't match his needs. Why does Joe (Puppy 'Paul')  need to be called 'Daddy' by a big black dog? One will never know.

7.18am The 'Jumping Game' begins. Joe climbs onto the arm of the sofa and jumps over my lap onto the vacant half of the cushions. It's my job to be terrified he'll land on me. Normally I'd let the game go on for about a dozen jumps and then try for a new game or go make a cup of tea. But this morning the jumping game goes on until he says change.

7.25am Joe asks for a bike ride. To the meadow. The meadow is knee deep in mud and it's spitting outside, so we explain it's going to be no fun and a dirty business, but the more we explain the more he wants to go. We have to try to find a way to change his mind, if possible.

7.27am Help arrives...Joe knows he must wear a helmet to cycle on the pavement to the meadow, he tries to argue against wearing one but we can invoke the "Rules of Fostering" argument, as in "It's Nothing To Do With Us". The good news is that the helmet we have that he can borrow has a cartoon motif painted on it and Joe says it's too childish.

7.29am We're not out of the woods. Joe wants the cartoon removed. I suggest we paint over it. Out come the paints.

7.35am With Joe watching I mix some black poster paint, same colour as the rest of the helmet and paint over the motif. No good, paint too watery, you can see the motif beneath.

7.40am. I clean off the poster paint and get busy with some duct tape. No good. "Looks stupid".

7.45am. Acrylic black. (Ours is not a house where before we fostered you'd find a collection of paint that Van Gogh would have died for, but once you start fostering your cupboards are filled with all the Arts and Crafts guff under the sun).

8.10am. Acrylic not nearly dry. Hair dryer goes to work. Joe inspecting carefully.

He is, I believe, as aware as I am that the purpose of these activities is not so much to get the helmet looking right as to test the foster mum's capacity to the full before she runs out of patience and Joe can have his familiar wobbly.

Not today Joe. Not on this watch.

8.20am The acrylic has not done the trick. I take the helmet to the sink and go at the motif with a brillo, even though it's taking the gloss off the helmet. Meanwhile Joe has found the recorder again, stupid me, will I kindly hide/mutilate the damn thing next time he's not looking (it belonged to one of my own sons).

8.21am. I'm at the sink scrubbing and humming to Joe's tuneless recorder playing. The minute he picks up that I appear to be enjoying the racket he throws the recorder on the floor, furious that he can't make it play like James Galway, a bit confused that I haven't said "Keep the noise down". I distract him by asking if he can look in the biscuit barrel to see if we have Kit Kats, and while he's not looking I put the recorder in a drawer.

8.27am. Joe pronounces the helmet passable, he wants the bike ride. To the swampy meadow. In the cold rain. 

Time to drop Infinite Tolerance Day surely...

Continued.