Tuesday, August 22, 2017

FUN IDEAS



A couple of weeks to go with school holidays. 

I find the more you involve yourself with the pastimes the more fun.


SOME IDEAS;

QUICK ON THE DRAW.

You need to have more than one TV remote control for your telly. We have a Sky one and the one that came with the TV. Turn the TV to BBC1. Arm yourself and 1 child with a remote each and designate a different channel to each (eg BBC2 for you and ITV to the child team). On a count of 3 shout "Draw" and it's the first to change to their channel.  NB; ensure that a score is kept and that, assuming it's the first to 20, that the child team gets a slight lead and maybe gets to 19-17 in the lead. Whatever else happens, they must win.

PIRATES/STAR WARS

Get a sheet of newspaper and roll it into a tight stick. Teach them to roll their own. It's a harmless 'sword/light sabre'. Whether you or they are Robin Hood or Darth Vader, they win.  


AVOIDING THE RED-HOT LAVA

A volcano has erupted and the entire floor is red-hot lava. They must get from A to B without touching the floor. And they do! Yay!

MOUNTAINEERING

Kids love climbing. Devise a 'mountain' in the home that's challenging but safe. In our house a good one is to climb the stairs without touching the carpet (there's a sturdy skirting board on one side and gaps between the bannisters on the other). Again, the trick is to make it You versus Them, the dimension of them winning adds so much more.

THE EYES OF DEATH

This is brilliant. You take a position somewhere in the middle of the house and open the front and back doors. They have to sneak from the bottom of the back garden to the front of the front garden without you seeing them. Obviously you are selective in how often you 'see' them with your peepers of doom. I find I can play this one at the kitchen table while doing my fostering paperwork!

You just have to think on your feet, all the time. I've done others I won't recommend, merely mention to illustrate the lengths I've gone to in the past while remaining responsible and sensible (just).

DR TOXIC

This was a twist on baking cookies. Normal baking is good, but one foster child we had found it twee, refused point blank. Hmmm. The challenge became; who could cook the most obnoxious stew/cookie/pie (okay it's a sort of a waste of some ingredients, but no more a waste than paint and paper). In went his pet hates; tomatoes, onions, mustard, brown sauce, parmesan. This game was largely dependent on a good sport (my partner), being willing to 'taste' the results and decree that the kid's concoction was the winner.

BURGLARY

Okay you can see why I'm not recommending this one, but it's no more irresponsible than 'playing' pirates or cops and robbers. 

Years ago we'd bought some motion sensors and an alarm after our garage was broken into. You can move the sensors around, they're battery operated. The players had to close their eyes while I placed the sensors in different parts of the house and challenge them to 'steal' the prize - a Harry Potter book - the location of which I'd tell them.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

FOSTERING THROUGH THE SUMMER HOLIDAY



Part One

Summer holidays aren't the easiest time when you foster although for concentrated hectic-ness Christmas takes the beating. The summer is a bit of a long haul.

If its sunny that's one thing; the back door can stay open and the floor space available for play is increased. If it's cloudy or raining the foster parent is up against it.

"I'm bored!"

People my age reminisce that when we were children we used to wander off and mess around in the meadows, and there's some truth in that. Parents weren't so pre-occupied with potential dangers.

The big challenge for us in fostering nowadays is how to combine the essential household jobs that must be done with keeping our foster children organised and (relatively) happy.

Look, I'm no expert. But I've picked up plenty in my years of doing this, and some of below might be useful.

1. Tell them it's good to be bored. Ask them what they'd be doing at 9.45am on a Tuesday IF IT WAS A SCHOOL DAY. They will stop and tell you, and be suddenly happy in their boredom. This buys enough time to clear the breakfast dirties and straighten the kitchen.

2. Hold meetings to discuss what they would like to do. Generally they can't come up with anything themselves, or if they can it's unrealistic ("Alton Towers?" "Go-carting?"). If you want to try suggesting your own ideas, fine, go ahead, but expect to see noses being turned up right left and centre. Take charge yourself.

3. Say; "Okay, here's the plan for today; after hot dogs for lunch we're going to...!". It doesn't matter what you say the activity is, as long as you say it with enthusiasm and authority. And if you haven't thought of anything yet, say it's going to be a surprise. This trick buys you enough of the morning for bedroom-tidying, laundry etc. It trumpets that lunch is going to be fun in itself (foster children generally love food, especially fun food). It implies that the whole day is structured and because you have stipulated that after lunch everyone (including yourself) is going to join in whatever it is you have in mind, the rest of the morning will feel like free time to them and, 9 times out of 10 they will idle the morning away making their own entertainment, which is actually good for them as well as you. Most important of all is the word "WE'RE". You don't say "After lunch YOU'RE..." Because remember, big golden rule I find;

             The most important plaything in the life of a foster child is their foster parent.

Doesn't matter if you actually play the game or not (I am getting quite good at football BTW), all you have to do is be present and participate with your attention "Well done!" "That was good!" "No, I don't think it's broken, but you might have a nice little bruise in the morning."

4. Household jobs done, hot dogs cooked and eaten, time for the 'entertainment.

5. Yes, God has given us board games and skate parks, He has given us sports we can play in the garden or the park such as footy and cricket. He has given us clay and paints. He has given us the cinema and the bowling alley. So go get 'em sister (or brother)!

But.

Big but...many designated activities cost, and we are not a bottomless pit. In any case those activities are bog-standard and lack the essential novelty and spontaneity you want to try to instil in your kids. You want them to be able to make play out of nothing. And the only way to do that is to improvise, and not only show them you're improvising but encourage them to contribute.

NB.If you have more than 1 child to amuse try to include team-building in the games.

In Part Two I'll throw in a few suggestions.







Wednesday, August 09, 2017

GLEN CAMPBELL

Sad news Glen Campbell died, I'm not a huge Country fan, but Gentle On My Mind was absolutely brilliant.

I remembered that someone once told me Glen was fostered so I Googled him, turns out he wasn't.

But the search threw up some interesting geniuses in all sorts of fields who were fostered;

Business: Steve Jobs


The man who founded and made Apple the world's most successful company. Driven. Considered impossible by ordinary business types - bad tempered, intolerant, explosive, rude, unpredictable, but worth it. He glowed in the dark. Lamented (movie of his life).                    Died young.

Hollywood:...(Female) Marylyn Monroe


The greatest of cinema's great icons. Driven. Considered impossible by ordinary movie types - impulsive, fragile, impetuous, unreliable, but worth it. Lamented. 
                                                         Died young.

Hollywood:...(Male) James Dean
 
Cinema's most lamented young genius actor. Considered challenging and enigmatic by ordinary movie types - unreliable, impulsive, arrogant - but worth it. Driven. Lamented. Died very young.


Music:...(Male) John Lennon
The voice of dissent in the greatest band ever. Considered troublesome by ordinary music folk, but worth it. Driven. Lamented, cherished. Died young.

Music:...(Female) Cher
Massive show business star of music, TV, and movies. Driven. Troubled - how many marriages? Still doing it. Cherished.

People who were fostered aren't all like the above. For example, did you know Nelson Mandela was fostered? Mind, I suppose the apartheid government thought he was difficult...

And he's very much lamented. And cherished.

I don't think any of the foster children who we have enjoyed in our house will be stars of business, politics or entertainment (mind, you never know). 

What I'm reminded of, looking at the lives of the famous people who went through fostering as children, is that it's a massive experience for them which leaves them out there. Not quite gripping onto life in the same way they might have done in a family that held together and held them dear.

But at the same time I'm reminded that - provided we foster carers accept and celebrate the quirks they are bound to bring with them - they have a chance to go on and do alright.

Or even better than alright.

Whatever; while they are with us they are cherished.














Sunday, July 30, 2017

LOVE ISLAND...




So here's another thing we foster carer's have to think about in 2017:

It's 2017, not 1977, or 1987, or whatever the year was when we were kids.

There have been massive changes and we have to roll with them.

What got me thinking was this; one of our foster children has become a massive fan of a certain type of TV show. The interest started with "Bargain Loving Brits In The Sun", a look at British ex-pats living in Benidorm on a tight budget.

They live on caravan sites, drink and smoke a lot, laugh big time, duck and dive their way around, always on the lookout for a dodge. They're all loudly proud of 'living the dream', in other words their lives, though lacking outward success, are, they state categorically, exactly what they want them to be.

I suspect the foster child who watches this show every night sees something of his own adult family in many of the people on screen.

It's great because the child shows up in the living room bang on time and we watch and talk and share thoughts.

It's not that long ago families always got together a) for meals and b) to watch TV.

My generation used to sit round the same table and eat the same food. Everyone was home and ready to eat around 6.00pm. We'd talk about anything and everything, share.

Remember the nightly gathering in front of the goggle box? We didn't know at the time it was a priceless cementing of the family, watching whatever.

The getting together was more important than the food or the entertainment, ask anyone who remembers it. But times change, and change they have.

If you have a placement who is willing and able to eat the same food as the rest of the family, good luck. In our home not only do the foster kids have fads, our own children do, and to be honest so do I (trying to lose 7lbs for the beach).

Once the meals are split into different diets it's easy for the eating times and venues to get separated. People start wanting to eat by themselves. You have to make sure it remains a treat, not the norm.

The TV, however, even in 2017 with all the alternative gadgets, occasionally brings us together. Usually it's something that social media has highlighted such as Eurovision, the X Factor, Big Brother or... Love Island. 

I won't diss it; if I was 14 I'd watch every frame of it, trying to work out my own appeal and what appealed to me about other people. 

So it's been brilliant for the last few weeks; an hour of pudgy toothless old Brits in the Sun followed by an hour of sleek young Brits in the Sun...

We've had an amazing breakthrough in our family and it's down to the TV and I find it hard to process. Not that I care about the whys and wherefores, in fostering if it works go with the flow.






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...