I. You have found your thing. Like many people I'd never found my niche in life. I had various jobs, but that's all they were, jobs. Nothing sang. My family was the one thing I felt driven from inside to try to get right. Then fostering came along; it was as if I'd been working towards it for years without realising. Now I do something worthwhile that suits me down to the ground.
2. The look on a little face. You only allow yourself to feel good in yourself when you know the child feels a bit better in him/herself. It's all about the child. In my earlier blog about the 10 Hardest Things I mentioned a weekend respite with a child who was the limit. He was a real handful. But in truth he wasn't the limit, because three months later we agreed to have him for respite again. When he arrived at the front door half hidden behind his regular foster mum's skirt, I saw this little smile, a very real one. He appreciated that he'd been asked back. Ordinary humanity is of immense value to children who need it.
3. You astound people. People who matter, who are worth astounding. Professionals. Life is messy, fostering can be uncertain. Are you doing the right things? Then your social worker visits. They can't fake it when they bow to your work. If your work needs a tweak they double chuff you by congratulating your will to succeed, for the child.
3a. You astound yourself. I have never met a foster carer who knew they had it in them.
4. When your foster children say nice things to you.
"You're the first person who listened"
"Maybe my mummy could come and live with me here"
"I've never seen so much food"
"Now I know what a mum should be like"
"How is my bed made every day?"
"Can I come back if I want to?"
5. You have something to say. I used to be a bit invisible at weddings and christenings, parties and barbecues. Other people's husbands and wives would hold court about their jobs and the state of the country, their family news. Since I started fostering I have news and views. I don't wear a badge that says "Foster Parent". But if I hear someone talking guff about society or schooling or refugees or child-rearing they can pin back their ears because what I have to say I've seen with my own two eyes, not read about it in a red top.
5a. Fostering broadens the mind. Twice we've been asked to take refugee runaway children from Afghanistan. One child did not know how to tie his trainers, but knew how to renovate a Kalashnikov rifle. True.
6. And you get a cheque. Every fortnight. Tax free. Technically half is yours, half for the upkeep of the child; food clothing, gas and electricity, their contribution to Council tax. Basically you budget it yourself, with Blue Sky holding your hand. How does it feel to get money for fostering? It feels damn right. Surgeons get money for saving lives, it's the same thing. It means I can pay the car insurance up front instead of monthly, or if I prefer, buy a new bag and shoes. Ta da!
7. Passing the test. They test you, some foster children. They test to see if you can keep your equilibrium. One child, a big glum teenage girl, she tried it on one Saturday night, wanting to "Go and meet someone", we said no. Argument. She refused dinner. She stomped downstairs at 10.30pm and announced she was starving. I asked what she wanted. "McDonalds". As she had kept her half of the bargain and not gone out, I drove her to the nearest late night one. Nineteen miles away. She knew our local one closed at 10.30pm. She was testing. One the way back she suddenly said, through a mouthful of cheeseburger; "Isn't it beautiful the way the headlights pick out the trees?"
8. You laugh a lot. The big girl I mentioned above was doing media studies. She came home one afternoon and said "What's the first thing a media studies graduate says at work every morning?" I said "I don't know, what's the first thing a media studies graduate says at work every morning?" Answer "Do you want fries with that?"
9. People ask if they could foster. Often. About a third of people who find out you foster want to know if they can too. I had a cold phone call, a bod doing a "survey" wanting to sell me home insurance. I answered the question about who lives in our house and the survey stopped dead. "I've been wondering about becoming a foster carer" And off we went talking about it for twenty minutes.
10. It's the best thing you can do. Some people do nothing. Others tilt at windmills: world peace, world hunger. Some people write a best-selling novel, or top the charts. If you foster you get to do something huge that has a real chance, makes a real difference. No offence to the United Nations, Band Aid, JK Rowling and Madonna. Foster parents are doing a real thing, perhaps the most valuable thing in the world.