Children are forever asking questions where we have to stop and think carefully how to answer.
We have just had 7 days abroad, we took one of our foster children, the holiday was timed to coincide with the other two having a joint spell away from us.
I'm sitting at the table on an apartment balcony killing half an hour while partner traipses to the Supermercado for bread and milk, playing poker dice with the child, like you do, but don't tell social services, they'd have to pretend they'd disapprove.
Then she says "Why do you love me?"
Get out of that without moving then, as they used to say in the playground when they had you in a headlock.
Thing is, I can't ever remember saying "I love you" to the child. Not that I don't, in some way or other, it's just that it's a sixty-four thousand dollar phrase and you keep it under lock and key.
I remember saying "Lots of love" more than once at bedtime, at the end of the ritual
"See you in the..."
"Lots of love"
And if you got "Lots of love" back, you felt you were making good progress with their attachment and emotional intelligence.
As for answering the question "Why do you love me?", blimey, what do you say?
"Well," I said "Because you are a great kid, and kind and funny and generous."
Okay you can see what I'm doing here, I expect the child can too. I'm flanneling.
"And, you know, when you get to know somebody, who lives in your house and kind of becomes part of the family, well you get a really good type of feeling going where you put up with the other person's bad times. So I put up with yours and you put up with mine."
She could sense I was trying to get somewhere.
"It's called unconditional love."
"Un,,, what love?"
"Unconditional love. It's when you care about someone and understand they are human and you care about them no matter what."
Short pause then she said;
When you have to show passports with a fostered child you get given a letter by Social Services stating that the child is in your care. The woman at the airline gate at Gatwick wasn't up to much. She made a thing about it.
"Yes, I noticed the names on the passport were different."
Bully for you.
"So who are you then darling, are you a foster child?"
WHAT! In a queue of a hundred people this uniformed twerp is showboating her Sherlock Holmes?
"Are these people your foster carers?"
The child looked down like she'd been rumbled for being a lesser person; and mumbled "Don't know..."
Then the woman says "Don't worry darling, all you have to do is say Yes I'm their foster child okay?"
Then she looks up at us and says "It's difficult for us, you know, you get grandparents with different names, even parents on their second marriages and that."
I smiled while mentally writing a letter to the airline. I understand the value of vigilance against children being trafficked. It looks to me the airlines go through the motions to satisfy some guideline or other, regardless of the pain it causes the child. The child didn't answer, looked shaken, the letter could have been easily forged. The woman didn't apply any nous, she banked we were kosher, she just wanted a bit of interest and interaction in her otherwise mind-numbing job. It didn't cross her tiny mind her crassness would knot up a child's insides.
But maybe it was that little unpleasant episode, or another similar moment of awkwardness (fostered children are exposed to so many moments when they are made to feel different by bozo jobsworths) that made her feel loved by us. Or want to be loved by us.
She is loved by us, even though I've never said it, although the day may come when it's right to say it. Right for her, not us, right for her.
If I do write a letter it'll be to ask how much good their watching out for children with different surnames has achieved. How many kidnaps they've intercepted. Compared to how many children they've upset.
The Secret Foster Carer