When someone plucks up what it takes to apply to be a foster carer, they've probably ticked off the main boxes already.
Spare bedroom, willingness to share the family home with a looked-after child, enthusiasm, and... A SENSE OF HUMOUR.
How do you know if you have a sense of humour? Everyone thinks they have, but this is the kind of sense of humour I'm talking about.
We had a teenager staying with us, he didn't get on at school. He didn't get on with the teachers or the other kids, didn't get on with the whole idea of studying. So he spent plenty of days at home, which was fine. He got under my feet a bit but on the whole he was good company; it can be nice to have someone else in the house weekdays, sometimes I've got a bit lonesome, only Ken Bruce as an alternative to Escape To The Country.
He had very low self-esteem. Didn't think he was up to much. No good at football or computer games, not much of a spark with people. We started looking for something he could be good at, but you have to be careful, kids know if you're bigging them up because they need a boost rather than because they are actually good at something.
So, when he said one morning, out of the blue; "Can I cook dinner tonight?" I said yes, obviously. He asked what he should cook. I told him Bill loved stew. We Googled "Irish Stew" and off I went to the supermarket to get the ingredients, namely some braising steak and carrots. Potatoes we had, gravy powder we always have, for some reason looked-after kids love gravy. Flour and flavourings were already in the larder.
I got back and decided to let him get on with it. How can you spoil an Irish Stew? I kept a discreet watching brief, but got on with housework, and with about an hour to go before dinner time the stew was in the oven and cooking. It smelt fine, and the debris piled up in the sink plus the spilt four and gravy powder and carrot peelings on the floor proved he'd done everything the recipe called for (recipes never discuss how much of a mess the recipe will cause do they?)
As I was putting all the various condiments back in the larder, I just happened to notice a tub of Allinsons Instant Bread Yeast Granules was out among the other ingredients, its top off.
The recipe was still up on the laptop.
Among the usual requirements; "2tbs yeast extract"
Yeast extract. Meaning; Bovril. Marmite. An Oxo cube.
Not bread-making yeast. The stuff that makes pastry rise. Balloon up. The stuff a lot of people can't really tolerate in their system at all.
1 teaspoonful of bread yeast makes a 2lb loaf. He must have put 2 tablespoonfuls in!!!!
Now here's my dilemma:
I either level with the boy and risk blowing his self-esteem out of the water. Or keep the mistake to myself and risk blowing up our intestines.
I tasted a mouthful of the stew while he was watching telly. It tasted not too bad. I laid the table. Bill came home and asked what smelled nice. I told him it was a stew, made by our foster son.
Do I tell Bill? Yes, I did. After all, it's his digestive system.
He was brilliant. Got it in one. Worth the risk for us. What about the boy, suppose it upset his tummy?
We sat down to eat. The boy just watched with pride as we took our first bites. Bill went way over the top; started wolfing it down saying it was the most delicious thing he'd ever tasted. The boy tried a mouthful and mysteriously said he didn't really like it, so he had a bag of prawn crisps. I split the difference, ate a small plateful and murmured "very nice".
Bill even had seconds.
That night at bedtime we lay there listening to the usual occasional tummy gurgle, not knowing what to expect next. Suddenly I got the giggles. Bill started sniggering too. We had to suppress the noise of our hysterics, which made us laugh even more. Pretty soon we were gasping for breathe, doubled up in bed, wiping away tears.
The next morning we were both a bit nervous. I passed Bill on the landing, and we both burst out laughing again. The bathroom saw quite a bit of action that morning, but nothing serious.
Fostering is full of really quite surreal moments, if you are a foster carer yourself, you'll know exactly what I mean. You can either hit the panic button or laugh.
Laughter is the best medicine.
Pepto Bismol is also highly recommended.