Romeo is settling in well, has slept through the night since the first night hiccup. We keep seeing little flashes of life in his previous home coming out in his behaviour. I heard him say to the dog when no-one was around;
"Listen mister. You do exactly what I say when I say. Or else. And you know what 'Or else' means".
When you get a new arrival there are quite a few practical things to get done.
Stuff like signing the child up with your own doctor, booking trips to the opticians and dentist. The local authority sends a nurse to give the child a check-up.
I don't know if these things throw the child or make them feel cared for, I hope the latter, not that anyone likes going to the dentist.
The child's school has to be notified, obviously. A PEP has to be arranged. A PEP is a Personal Education Plan for the child. The Plan is constructed to meet the child's needs. It starts with a meeting either at the carer's house or the school. It's attended by; yourself, the school, your Blue Sky social worker and the child's social worker. Sometimes the local authority sends an additional officer with special knowledge of education.
It always does my heart good to see so many people gathering with one aim in mind; to help a lost child. These are the sort of things our country should be proud of.
Everyone involved tries to keep the child at the same school if possible, but the school's office need to know someone else will be picking the child up from school, plus a new address and phone number. New email address too.
Whinge alert: Don't schools send out loads of emails with attachments where the attachment could have fitted in the body of the email and saved a pfaff?
All the mechanical business can divert your attention from the main job, which is getting to know the new arrival so you can make things better for them.
Sleep patterns. Play skills. Clothing whims. Bathroom habits. Conversational levels.
It's a whirlwind forty-eight hours.
A big part of getting to know them is food preferences.
Romeo, like most foster children, likes red food; pasta, pizza, baked beans, tomato sauce (on everything). Anything red, except tomatoes.
Absolutely no salad stuff.
So; I can slip carrot and red lentil and tomato soup past him when he's not on vegetable alert by calling it 'Superman Soup', but to begin I feed them just whatever they can and want to eat. I have heard carers say they like to start as they mean to go on, but I'm not one for forcing a child who's just been wrenched from their family eat a plate of cabbage.
I ask his favourite food; McDonalds, and we will have a McDonalds, maybe at the weekend, why not? All things in moderation.
Food is huge for looked-after children. They are often underweight even in this day and age. I give Romeo a snack the minute he gets in from school; a cheese sandwich with a few crisps on the side and...three cherry tomatoes. No fork. Eating with fingers increases the chances of food being eaten by 50%, don't ask me why. I put a dollop of mayo on the plate and said; "Goes well with the cherry toms".
First day he left the tomatoes until last, but the business of dipping them in the mayo lifted the whole thing; he ate them. Yesterday he ate the (five!) toms first.
If you told a stranger that the biggest thing in Romeo's first two days was that he ate 5 cherry tomatoes they'd think you had low expectations.
These are the tiny, almost microscopic improvements in a child's chances that make this fostering game the thing it is; a continuous challenge to enhance every tiny aspect of their lives.
Oh yeah; maybe one day Romeo will go to Oxford or play football for England, but right now I'm as proud as you like that he's eating a salad vegetable albeit disguised as party finger-food.
Is Romeo sad or angry about what the world has done to him?
Not outwardly. Children the world over don't know when they are getting a raw deal, they think that whatever is going on around them, however awful, is the norm.
Inwardly though, he's incubating stuff, of course.
One of the many mistakes I made when I started fostering was to assume the child would be eternally grateful for a calm, fair household and return the goodwill with interest.
I knew to logically expect some behaviour, but my heart kept hold of this idea that they'd never bring it out on me; not me, not lovely earth-mother saviour ever-loving ever-patient me.
Romeo will need to get some things off his chest. In the meantime I'm enjoying the calm before the you-know-what and seeing moments of a child at some kind of peace.
An eight year-old who has discovered tomatoes.