Aaaaghhh here comes Christmas.
This is a hard quarter of the year for carers, and looked-after children; starts with Halloween.
Then it's fireworks, then Christmas. These events are big for our children, and for us. They are about the three pinnacle home events in the child's calendar (excepting their birthday), squeezed into 7 weeks.
For them, each evokes memories of what happened before they came into care, and that means experiences we have to help them deal with that they usually don't tell us much about.
I've just done a Trick or Treat and it was clear the youngest child was simply exhilarated to be out of the house at all, but that's enough detail, sorry. Child accrued enough sweets to last a fortnight, what do you do, the sweets are theirs, so you work a kind of management scheme; "Make them last, don't eat them all in one go". They get a bunch of control, and that's a big thing with looked-after children. If you impose your own rules they come back with what they used to do or get at home, and you have to fathom out if they are telling you how it was, or telling you what works best for them.
Fireworks night seems to last through six weeks, and there's a heap of control going on there too. It's about their entertainment; they know these events are child-orientated; we put the focus onto their enjoyment. They get to deliver the verdict on if it was good. Like they're saying "This was another of my nights. Well, we didn't get to light the bonfire or the rockets, my hot dog was rubbish, this was even more rubbish than Halloween, which was supposed to be all about me." All this is code for "I want to go home, and if I can't then give me lots of actual stuff as well as this love stuff, which is okay, but not as fantastic as stuff."
Which leads us to Christmas. It's a way off, but we're all thinking about it, yes?
Christmas is probably the biggest calendar event for carers. But even bigger for our children. It was the biggest event in my "normal" childhood, I struggle to grasp how colossal it is for them.
About now, November, we start to think out how we're going to manage presents and people. So do they.
Thing is, we know our own children, they know us, we all know the deal about the Christmas budget and the agenda. With looked after children, especially their first Christmas in care, it's fraught.
Budget; I don't know how anyone else structures it, we work on the basis of one big present, a couple or three medium ones, and a bunch of low-budget stockingy things. If you're honest with your sums it usually works out closer to two hundred quid than a hundred, the whole shebang.
Straightforward, it ain't, of course. The big present used to be the bike, now it's more likely the phone upgrade. Aaaaaagh.
Agenda; Heh, this is tricky for "normal" families, what with who goes to whose house and when, and who to buy pressies for, and phone up on Christmas morning. Add a looked-after child or two, with perhaps a separated mum and dad, a stepfather on the scene maybe, a clutch of real brothers and sisters also in care and another bunch of step-brothers and sisters, and the timetable of who sees who, when, and where...well it's a logistical Aaaaaaagh with baubles on.
You have to keep reminding yourself that even if you bought them the entire world, they'd still probably want the one thing they can't get and you sure can't give them; the family Halloween, Bonfire Night and Christmas they dream of with a happy, loving, real mum and dad.
Then it's the big day, and for all their troubles they seem to melt into the whole thing. The one day when everyone in the house is on the same page, no-one's rushing out to work, no shopping. A hot kitchen, people in all the rooms, strangely happy people.
Perhaps my favourite single moment in fostering was about 11.00am one Christmas morning when the foster child looked up from behind her pyramid of gifts, and, through a mouthful of bacon sandwich quietly confided to my partner;
"This feels like a dream".
The Secret Foster Carer