Not surprising, must be scary.
I have a thing where I don't load their plates for them, especially if it's a new child. I lay empty plates and put the food in the middle for them to help themselves. Having control over what's on your plate is a relief for looked-after children; if they don't like mushroom bits in their pasta sauce we can carefully dollop the sauce onto the pasta making sure there are no mushroom bits on the plate. If onions make you sick you don't want to have to look at and smell a little heap of onion on the side of your plate while you're trying to enjoy the rest. And I don't insist on clean plates either, I remember the tyranny of that Dickensian notion from school. Green veg I hide in soups, they don't know they're getting their five a day in my house.
So there we are at the table: me, husband, our children, other people's children and a newcomer.
I'm sitting beside him and trying to get a handle on him. You make quick judgements; does he seem like a talker? Is he desperately shy? Is he ashamed he's in care?
One big thing is where he fits into the new family dynamic.
He's youngest and smallest, plus he's the newest; he'd be bottom of the pecking order then?
Nope. We have a dog. Romeo's one step up from the dog, so he's not at the bottom. It's amazing how relieved and emboldened looked-after children feel that there is a family member who's more dependent on others, someone less privileged than himself (eg dog not allowed to sit up at table).
Romeo's table 'manners' are good. He says "Fank you" at the right places, and knows how to work a fork.
I've never had anyone who didn't know how to use a fork, but fellow foster carers have told me about children who've only had takeaways on the floor, so no cutlery or plates to wash up, no table top to wipe.
I had one who'd never been taught what a toothbrush is.
Silence. Awkward silence. The adults don't want to raise topics the newcomer might find difficult or excluded from so the usual pleasantries are out.
In this case, thank God for football. My eldest says;
"So Romeo, mum says you like football? Who's your team?"
Romeo perks slightly. His shoulders go up a little. The faintest possible smile happens;
Interesting fact; most looked-after children who support a team say "Man U", I think I get why.
"Man U?" says my husband "They're a great team"
My eldest isn't having that;
"They're not at the moment dad"
Dad turns to Romeo and whispers so everyone can hear;
"Ask him who he supports"
Romeo thinks, then trusts Bill that the question is going to work for him, so he says:
"Who do you support?"
Laughter. Romeo wins a small win, my eldest is used to Portsmouth being ridiculed, it's good for his character. I get all this even though I don't quite get why men fall back on talking football all the time, but it came in handy at the table.
After the meal comes the tricky thing of staggered bedtimes. Do we send Romeo up first which might make him feel like the baby? Yes. The youngest is the youngest, you can't pretend otherwise, it's not fair on the older ones who are right to expect to go up last.
I settle him down and tell him, as I always do, that if he wakes in the night and is frightened to put on the dressing gown I've given him and come knock on our door.
I always wonder if I'm instilling in them the idea of waking up frightened, but they don't always wake up.
But he did, at 1.45am...