"What do you want for Christmas?"
A bike? An xBox? An iPhone?
But every summer they are given 6 weeks off school; they are at home for a month and a half.
Blimey, weekends can be challenging enough for foster parents; 48 hours of back-to-back fostering, sometimes with youngsters who perhaps lack a good friendship group, are anxious within four walls, aren't even great company for themselves.
Then suddenly BANG! You're a Butlins Redcoat for 6 weeks non-stop.
The question we never ask is "What do you want for the summer?"
Blue Sky pitch in with a bunch of activity days; these get better and better in my view, but it can't fill the whole void, that's what it is; a huge vacuum, and a gigantic sea change for foster children.
They want to go home, mostly. They want a normal life whatever that is.
Being stuck in their foster parents home for 6 weeks day and night brings their plight home more than anything else in the year.
It's taken me quite a few years of fostering summer holidays to fully grasp what they want for the summer.
Yesterday, a typical ordinary summer holiday day, I had a hundred of those little jobs to do around the house, ranging from the daily ones like clear the sink of other people's mugs so I could soak the dried bits out of the dog's bowl to one-offs like try to identify the new mystery stain right in the middle of the sofa so I could try to get it out using the right Mr Muscle v Vanish v Febreeze clash.
On a normal school day it would be about 10.30 before I have a chance to go to a higher plane and see what's in the laundry basket, get the washing machine going in a fight with the dishwasher, and walk the dog before a supermarket/One Stop run depending on whether we need a proper shop or a loaf and a litre of milk.
Then maybe on to paperwork; fostering records, bills to pay, mobile phone contract to try to improve. Delhi keeps calling with polite but vacant voices.
Listen, you know all the above because pound to a penny it's your Monday to Friday too.
But not for the 6 weeks of the summer holiday.
The question "What do you want for the summer?" Would be answered with one word;
They want your undivided attention. And they deserve it.
Yesterday I spent most of the day sitting on a kitchen chair specially placed next to our downstairs desktop PC. Placed there by a foster child so I could watch. Watch them play a computer game. A game in which they are either the counter-terrorist or the terrorist doing battle to prevent a bomb being set off. At least I think that's the point. I was not allowed to offer any help or advice, which I couldn't have done anyway because I hadn't a clue what all the various bits of information being flashed up meant.
My job was just to watch.
Watch, watch, watch.
I kept myself from nodding off by wondering why?
Why is being watched so huge?
My own children liked me to watch them, but not as much as foster children do.
Obviously it has something to do with loneliness, the need to feel the safety of company in their empty world. Another insight into what their world must have been like before coming into care; the abscence of a big strong parent-figure who was there 24/7 to protect them from the big bad world, to hold their hand in the sometimes terrifying journey towards self-sufficiency.
You see it often when they trip over or bang their elbow on the bannister; their intense need for their 'injury' to be given every sympathy and investigation.
For us in fostering it can be draining.
And the jobs mount up. The sink fills, the crumbs cover the kitchen floor. The dust collects, the laundry gets put off, the dog gets put off; your home is going backwards. For 6 weeks.
You just have to let it go, roll with it.
Get into Combat 84 or whatever it is they want you to watch them do.
I will never forget one little mite who stayed with us twice. One Saturday morning we took him to the skate park to see if he fancied having a go. For any other child the hankering would have been for a skateboard or a scooter or a BMX, the boys and girls in the park were doing magic tricks.
Not this lad, he was nose up against the chicken wire, didn't take his eyes off what he could see for a long time.
Then he said something out loud, as God's my witness which haunts me to this day;
"If I got good at this..."
He said out loud, for nobody's benefit but himself and the Universe;
"Then mum would watch me"
Those were his exact words.
So today, for me, during the summer holidays, I'm watching someone.
That's my job, and a bloody good one it is too.
I remember that gay rights campaigner Quintin Crisp, who proudly never did any housework, saying "After the first three months the mess doesn't seem to get any worse...