People always ask you, when you bump into them, "How are you?". Sometimes you reply "Fine thanks" or "Alright thanks".
Since I started fostering I often reply, "Pleasantly tired, thanks."
It's a phrase I used before I fostered when I'd had an afternoon in the garden or a day painting the spare room. I'd put in a slog, I'm flat out on the sofa, and it felt good; stuff had got done, and progress had been made.
Fostering isn't all that tiring in a physical sense. There's sleeplessness, especially if you're doing a Parent and Child (where you take in what is usually a mother and a newborn baby, and the job is largely making a judgement about if the parent can cope with a baby) and it's a baby that's waking the house up half the night. Or maybe you find yourself waking at 4.00am, can't go back to sleep for worrying about your fostering.
Even when you have a nine year old with some kind of hyperactivity who wants a game of football followed by scooting round the block twenty times (with you trotting along behind), then a visit to the climbing playground, and more and more, you know how to keep inside your limit of physical stamina.
No, when I say to friends that I'm "Pleasantly tired" I'm talking about mental fatigue.
We have one child at the moment who needs constant de-escalating. We attended a Blue Sky training session about de-escalation and got a lot of good ideas about good practice.
Things such as trying to avoid saying "Don't do that.". Much better to say "How about doing this?"
Things like when your child is getting angry inside about all the cruddy stuff they've got bottled up, and is starting to look for an argument or stir things up by doing something they know you don't like, you suddenly suggest a trip down to the One Stop to spend the coppers they have outstanding from that week's pocket money.
When you're fostering you're often on permanent red alert. You radar is scanning the house, you're always thinking "Where is he/she, what are they doing, what are they thinking, what are they feeling?" And it's kind of a covert operation, because they'll probably kick off if they think you're scrutinising.
I find weekends a long haul. Now that I've got my head around the fact that many fostered children benefit from being stimulated with activities and distractions I hit the ground running on Saturday morning with ways of making breakfast more interesting, with choices and involvement in the cooking. The eating is coupled with plan-making about how the day will be structured, working out what we can do, agreeing a timetable of stuff, maybe even throwing ahead to Sunday and getting a bead on how we can break up the most boring day in the week.
But then it goes wrong because the child, trawling around Poundland at 10.30am spots a woman who looks a bit like their mum, and because you've let them wander around the aisle, you catch up to find them tearing open an unpaid for Curly Wurly, and you don't have any idea why, and you're instinct is to say don't be so stupid you haven't paid for it yet, but you concentrate and instead go "Ok, that's £1 of your pocket money, good choice, do you want to check out the toy shelves as well because I saw a Dr Who monster, but I don't recognise who he is and you're the expert."
And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.
But you're burning up the brain cells. Knackering the grey matter.
And at the end of the day, whenever that is, you're cream crackered.
Pleasantly tired, because even if the day has gone mostly badly, you've done something much more than clear the garden of leaves or changed the spare bedroom from Magnolia to Biscuit.
The Secret Foster Carer