Our most recent arrival, Romeo, has been with us about a month.
So honeymoon over.
The 'Honeymoon', if you're new to fostering, is the period of the first few weeks during which the child is comparatively co-operative, polite and even-tempered. The professionals use the term 'compliant'; it's more than that in my book.
Cynics use the phrase 'familiarity breeds contempt'. In my book, that one couldn't be further from the truth.
In fostering familiarity (and it's exactly that - think about if: family=familiarity) breeds the opposite of contempt. But love has a funny way of showing itself in foster children.
Once they are confident you can be trusted they push your boundaries. They need to know how far you'll stretch, and what happens when you snap.
It's the Big Cahuna of fostering.
How far do you stretch?
I took Romeo to his first Contact since he came into care. Normally they go weekly to meet a significant family member, starting week one, but Romeo only has his mum, and she's been in serious rehab after overdosing.
Don't get me started on Contact. It's a government-devised law, part of the Children's Act. It means well, but hell, everybody says they mean well and this device needs flexibility. It ain't got any, so foster parents the length and breadth of the land have their job wrinkled by this dictat that we take the children to meet the people who fell short with running a family once a week and we have to pick up the pieces afterwards.
Romeo had spruced himself up and was excited/anxious all the way there. The Contact was happening at a Contact Centre. A Contact supervisor would be present.
I got my first glimpse of his mum, not the frailty I'd imagined, quite a sturdy-looking person, some sort of blue in her hair, tattoo peeping over her collar.
I sat and waited for an hour. The Contact had been scheduled to happen during school hours so I didn't have to worry about finding a sitter for my other charges.
Afterwards Romeo came out and walked towards me looking untouched by the experience. I got him into the back seat and strapped onto his booster.
"I've put your favourite on the seat". A banana. He's discovered he likes bananas. They aren't his absolute favourite, that would be Orange Fanta, but you don't want to throw petrol on a fire.
Golden Rule of Contact for me? DO NOT ASK HOW IT WENT. Contact is too painful, too punishing, too tender to have it's complex intimacies invaded by a stranger (which, for a few hours after Contact, is what the foster parent is reduced to being; a stranger).
In fact, Contact often reduces the foster parent, in the foster child's eyes, to being less than a stranger; you are part of the dark forces that are swirling around them; an embodiment of their troubles. Maybe they sometimes think you are to blame.
So we drive off in silence. I try my distractions;
"Spag Boll tonight" ( A big favourite)
Reply: "Don't care"
"It's only two o'clock. You ought to go back to school really, but I think we'll call it a day. So when we get home you can have the X Box to yourself"
"I hate the X Box!"
A banana is chucked, with controlled force, against the back of the front passenger seat. Harmless enough, but when you're driving you have to be on red alert.
A bunch of rude words later the poor lad is squirming in his seat. Writhing, almost, the crossed seat belts suddenly seeming more like a straight jacket than a safety thing. Not hysterical, just wound right up. Then he retched.
"Gonna be sick!" I find a safe place and pull over. He's been sick once before, so I always take two plastic carrier bags (5p each), an old towel and a kitchen roll stashed in the door compartment.
His car sickness is caused by everything in his life, although as we all know, children who are prone to car sickness are especially troubled by being in the back seat.
My other children will be getting home in just over an hour, I can't stay in this lay-by much longer, I've just noticed it's actually a bus stop, and the bus will kick up a stink if I'm parked here when it turns up.
Foster children should always be transported in the rear of the foster parents car. It's more than a bit of advice, it's kind of a rule; Blue Sky are keen on it.
However; there are mitigating circumstances and safety is the key one.
"I think" says I, "We'd better get you into the front seat".
It was as if I'd waved a magic wand. He was going in the front seat!
He. Romeo Tovares, age eight, of no permanent abode, without father or family unless you count a mother who may have behaved God knows how in front of him at Contact twenty minutes ago.
He; someone who the universe had decided could not matter less...was going... to sit in the FRONT SEAT.
THE FRONT SEAT!!!
We drove home in silence, but a dignified one. I knew what he was thinking, beside's hoping that lots of adults would notice this eight year-old man sitting up front. He was thinking that if he behaved himself he might get to sit in the front seat more often.
And I was thinking; watch out for more bouts of car sickness in case they are a ruse to sit in the front seat. But, while some foster children can turn on real tears like they said Shirley Temple was able to, you can't fake being actually sick.
But mostly I was relieved to get the journey home done safely, and calm some of Romeo's angst. Until next time...