Bringing up children you do everything you can. But sometimes there aren't enough hours in the day, and you let some little things slide, harmless things that barely matter. I find myself doing just a few more of the little things with my fostering than my own children, probably for good reason.
It was twenty to nine last Saturday morning and the child had to be at a church hall 5 miles away in school uniform, smart as possible, for the inter-school choir competition by nine o'clock and the last job is to put on shoes. Found the shoes in the back room where they'd been kicked off in a hurry after school on Friday afternoon but here's the thing, I notice the shoes are scuffed, quite badly.
Look, to be honest the shoes have been scuffing up for weeks, I give them the occasional buff, but slightly scuffy shoes are generally ok for normal school. However child is front row of the choir. What if we only get bronze, would have been silver but for the child in the front row having scuffed shoes.
When I was eight years old my school held a fancy dress day. My mum dressed me as Cinderella-Before-The-Ball. Patched skirt and frayed top. I heard one mum say to another mum it was a shame that I didn't have fancy dress, but obviously we couldn't afford it.
If it had been my own child I'd have taken them to the choir competition with scuffed shoes and if anybody had said anything they'd have me to deal with.
But fostering is different. Don't let them get singled out for anything.
Could we find the shoe polish? We remembered that our eldest had asked for it last weekend to touch up a pair of shoes he was going out in, which meant it could be anywhere.
In the end I painted over the scuff marks with the dregs of a bottle of India Ink that had lurked at the back of the kitchen drawers for 20 years, God knows what it was doing there.
Anyway the child's shoes had been kicked off in a hurry on Friday afternoon because when we got home from school the child had complained of a sore foot.
I'd sympathised and said I'd have a look at it, nine times out of ten the sympathy is all that is required. This time the child was adamant. Splinter. Right on the ball of the foot.
I couldn't see anything. Child persisted.
A splinter's a thing with your own children. There's always anguish when you say you're going to get... A NEEDLE. Sowing needle obviously. But hang on, this is a looked-after child. Am I allowed to remove a splinter? I prevaricated and wiped the foot with a clean wet cloth. Still couldn't see a splinter. Child held ground. Splinter.
Should one call the doctor's surgery and be told you can bring the child in Tuesday after Christmas?
Or take them to the hospital and imagine the Daily Mail headline:
"MP CALLS FOR JAIL FOR A+E TIMEWASTERS"
I remember the second-best bit of advice* any Blue Sky person has ever given us: "If in doubt check the Handbook, if still in doubt use your common sense".
I fish out the magnifying glass from my late mother's sowing basket, and yes, I can see something just under the skin. Looks strangely like an eyelash. Long story short, a scratch with a needle (sterilised with a 5 second burn off the gas ring, then a wipe with antibacterial cream from the first aid kit), a tweak with some tweezers and out from a furrow of pink foot skin comes, well, an eyelash. Or at least, a bit of hair that's about eyelash size.
I've heard about this, never come across it in real life. A sliver of hair nestles into the folds of skin on the sole of the foot and skin grows over it.
More cream on the foot. Lollie for being brave.
New rules in the house. Slippers at all times, no bare feet except when getting into bed. Feet to be scrubbed at bathtime.
Point is I'd have done most of this for my own children. Except maybe heat-sterilising the needle - I got that tip from a training session where we learned how young people self-tattoo, you don't want the details. Well you probably do, okay another time.
Each little thing I did from the scuffed shoes to the slipper rule was ever so slightly (i.e. about 5%) more carefully thought out and done; because they are somebody else's children, and just like you're always that extra bit careful with somebody else's car, you're that extra bit careful with somebody else's children.
* The very best bit of advice was given to me by a Blue Sky person - a fellow foster carer - the day we started; "You're going to need a lot of love."