I met a foster child who had been with us years before, and I hadn't seen or heard anything about the child for all that time.
He was a boy then, he's a young man now.
I was at a fostering function, there were three hundred people there, foster children and foster parents. One of our foster children was with us as part of the function, so our attention was very much on our child all the time; you want new experiences to be as good for them as possible so you're on your toes all the time making sure they aren't fazed by anything, checking that they've understood how a buffet works, that sort of thing. You get a little glow when you see them talking to children they've never met before, because social interaction can be a big hurdle for children in care.
Then we bumped into a foster couple we hadn't seen for years, pure chance. We knew them because we'd both cared for the same boy in our time. The boy had spells with them, and two spells with us. Then things had gone a bit sour for him and he needed more round-the-clock care than fostering could give him, so he was moved to a special live-in centre. Expensive for the state, but our system in this country is better than most people think.
So we got chatting to the other foster couple and almost the first thing they said was "Darcy's here". They said it in that whisper that people use when they are passing on some big information.
It was big information too, because Darcy had been hard work for all of us, but here we were with an opportunity to see how he was going along.
My stand-out memories of him were of a boy who had every reason to be at odds with the world. He loved fast cars, so every chance we had I used to drive him to a little race circuit and watch the cars go round.
Round and round. Round and round and round and round.
Hours on end.
You do a lot of things with foster children that are borderline tedious but immensely valuable to the child because often they've never had anyone show any interest in their interests.
I remember that Darcy was very average at football but he and I played it in our garden sometime for hours. Him versus me. Him kicking into a goal that was almost as wide as our lawn, me kicking into one so small Rooney would have had a problem. Darcy won every match something like 10-3. In each game it was a silent rule that he had to score first, then second, then third. Only when he was three up could I risk scoring without him getting crestfallen.
I remember taking him up to a meadow for a walk, and at one point where there was no sign of civilisation, throwing his arms wide and his head back and smiling a smile I will never forget, a smile of some kind of almost primitive contentment. He was momentarily free of every vestige of the twenty-first century. There was nothing about the twenty-first century that hadn't caused him grief and pain.
He had anger, and frustration, he was pretty mixed up. But your heart went out to him. You desperately wanted him to be okay.
So there I stood at this function, one eye on my foster child, the other roaming the room for Darcy.
And there he was. Sitting at a table with his current carers. Looking straight at me.
Sorry, but I'm writing these words with a blurry screen, blurred because my eyes are a bit teary. With happiness, thinking about it.
Darcy had his elbows on the table, his black hoodie down, he was looking at me waiting for me to see him.
He wanted me to see him, he was confident I would be happy to see him, confident I would be pleased with how he was growing up. No question about it, that was his mindset, and deservedly so.
He was at the function to accept a big award for his progress and performance.
He was proud. Full of self-actualisation, and that's the name of the game.
I went over, careful to talk and behave like you do to a young man, not like you do to the boy you remember.
"Darcy, nice to see you" says I.
"Nice to see you" he replied, glancing away, suddenly a bit shy.
"Congratulations on your award"
"Yeah" he shrugged, like everyone does, not knowing how to take praise.
I said "We've still got that fox" (He'd been fond of staying up to watch for a fox that came through our back garden every night).
He went back to little boy "Really!"
I wanted to say "Everyone says you're doing really well, and on the mend and putting all your awful past behind you and turning into a well-rounded young man, who still gets sad and even angry, but it going to turn out fine, great even"
But I didn't. Couldn't. Too graphic. So I said "The food's not bad is it?"
I think he wanted to say something meaningful too, but we both knew pretty much what the other was thinking so it wasn't necessary. Instead he replied "Yeah I've been up twice"
So I said "Going up again?" and he chuckled and said "Yeah" and with that he got up.
And up and up and up.
The little boy who had been so very very vulnerable and frightened and confused and was so happy to be distracted from his troubles by watching racing cars and playing garden footy, spotting the fox and enjoying the meadow, he looked down at me and said in a voice that came from his boots:
"Nice to see you" and moved off back to the buffet.
Great moment, I think for both of us. His other other foster carers told us later they'd had the same exchange with him. I keep wondering whether I can allow myself to congratulate myself for any part in his development, because in fostering you need all the self-belief you can garner.
But the honest truth is I feel so much relief that he's surviving well, there's no room for much else.
A week later I still feel relieved he's not gone down the drain. I have some pride about it all, but it's mainly that I'm part of a system which cares for young people who a hundred years ago would have been doomed and hardly anyone gave a damn, certainly not the state.
Like I said, a fantastic experience.
If you foster I hope you get moments like that from time to time.
If you don't foster, I wonder if you have any idea what you're missing...