Christmas and fostering.
We could be here all day on this one.
The more Christmases I foster the more hard work it becomes because you learn stuff and build it in next year and end up with a bunch of practices the size of Encyclopaedia Brittanica.
And there's absolutely no guarantee it makes much difference; but you try, you try. Every year it throws up the same mystery for me and I suspect many people in fostering.
Can I get something off my chest? I get cross with all the TV cooks making endless fancy Christmas recipes of indulgent stuff with home-made sponge bases and cuts of meat you never see in Sainsburys which they tell you to 'ask your butcher to prepare for you'.
The media generally portrays idyllic family gatherings. You get the feeling you're the only household not hosting 27 laughing back-slapping souls; glamorous sons with noble wives who've flown in from Durban, granddaughters down from Oxford. Cheerful children, twinkling grandparents.
The first thing is to set your fostering sights realistically; foster children are likely to appear greedy and ungrateful. They are neither, of course. Their materialism is no different from anyone's they just lack finesse in going after the goods. And they don't know how to be gracious, not surprisingly.
They might moan about certain aspects of your idea of Christmas, maybe even try to make out that they had a better time before coming into care. In some ways of course, they did; they weren't from a broken up home back then and they often got everything they wanted and more ( I find chaotic parents often compensate for lack of care with expensive treats).
They might get grumpy about your own family traditions. You might want to play Buckaroo on the table at midday because you always do; they'll not get into that will they? Their Christmas traditions might have been that everyone was under the table by midday.
The build-up to Christmas Day is just as fraught. Foster children miss their real home and their real mum and dad more at Christmas than any other time of the year, the Contacts beforehand are tense, the present-swapping is so poignant, the phone calls to family, if allowed, are difficult. They have a wobbly about something trivial, but the real reason is because of what being in care at Christmas does to their insides.
The days after Christmas can be rubbish for them as well; that dead period between Boxing Day and New Year's Eve; toys all played out, weather bad but not actual snow, TV dreadful.
So what's the fostering mystery? It's this;
Every year you know it's going to be a mighty slog, fraught with pitfalls and dramas. But every year you long for it, plan for it, lie awake daydreaming of the best Christmas ever. You shop til you drop, you cook and cover the house with decorations, you go the extra mile to get their presents dead right, you wrap them beautifully and hesitate what to write on the tag ("From Mum and dad"? "Merry Christmas, love...."? "xxx"?).
You slog through Christmas embracing all the emotional carnage, remembering it wasn't much easier before you fostered.
Now you are fostering it's a fantastic stretch of days; you're all together under one roof (you can hyper-foster), you are giving them toys, fancy food, affection and warmth.
Yes there are tears sometimes. But Christmas gives us a chance to do such intense fostering that maybe we should wish it could be Christmas every day.
I know this is true because we've had children stay for more than one Christmas and it's amazing how they remember each detail from the past year and ask if it's going to be the same again:
"Will there be pork pie for breakfast again? Yeeeeugh!"
"Can I put the star on the tree again?"
"The dancing Father Christmas goes on the other end of the mantlepiece!"
Of course, plenty of foster parents and foster children are non-Christian; so when I say Merry Christmas at the end of this post I mean it in every language and in every faith as an expression of goodwill and affection;
Merry Fostering Christmas!