We always find one thing hard about holidaying with foster children. We notice it more when we are on holiday than the rest of the year, but it helps remind us of something that foster children find hard all year round.
When you're on holiday you're surrounded by other families, and they all seem so normal.
On holiday there are family units everywhere you go consisting of Mum, Dad and the Kids. Maybe there's a Gran and Grandad thrown in for good measure. They appear to all be blood relatives, and they all appear happy with each other (They are on holiday after all, indulging themselves, spending more than normal on fun things, of course they look like happy families!).
Most of the year round foster children don't have their noses rubbed in their rotten bad luck. Whether they are at home in their foster home, or at school, or knocking round the park or the high street, they don't have to watch an endless parade of other people wallowing in the most important thing in the world as far as children are concerned; a proper family.
Of course, we adults know there's no such thing as the happy family that most families present to the world. Scratch the surface and there are all sorts of difficulties, tensions and problems.
One of those enormous Russian novels, I forget which one, starts with a memorable line;
"All happy families are identical in their happiness, all unhappy families are unique in the causes of their unhappiness"
I wish the author was still alive (so does he, come to think of it) I'd email him and ask him where are all the happy families he refers too. Look at the Royal Family, they've got more reason than most to be happy, and look what they've been through.
But you'll never get that message through to a foster child. When they look out through their grey-tinted glasses at everyone else they see families that are at least together, even if they are having a mild ruck over melted ice cream on mum's shorts or dad wanting to nip off and watch the football somewhere.
The families are together.
And we foster carers must remember that being together with their family is not merely something every foster child wants, it's everything they want and they want it with all their heart and soul and a bit more than that on top.
I find that foster children are not always good as gold on holiday, and if one's not careful one can find oneself wondering if they're being a bit up themselves. After all, you tell yourself; they're getting a lovely holiday somewhere nice, we're eating out every night and they're all getting treats right left and centre.
It must be hell for them at times, noticing all the families that are better off than them. Better off because they are under the same roof.
I have a friend whose daughter was in a wheelchair from an early age, she used to tell me that one evening she took her daughter to the theatre for a Christmas pantomime. They allowed her to park the wheelchair on the end of a row of seats and mum sat on the theatre seat next to her. At some point during the show she looked out over the sea of heads of families whose children were able bodied and cried her heart out inside. She cried for the loss of something she and her daughter and her whole family had been denied, through no fault of their own. She loved her daughter with all her heart, she was the light of her life, but her family would always be different from others, different from the family she'd dreamed of.
The point being that for the rest of the year she was able to block that thought out. It was only when the realisation of what her family had to deal with on a minute-by-minute basis was staring her in the face that it overwhelmed her.
Taking a foster child on holiday can be like that for the foster child.
How to deal with this, I don't know. Often foster children work things out for themselves.
One of our foster children tried to buddy up with another child, only the other child's dad wasn't so keen. Turned out he was a single dad, the family was broken in half by an acrimonious divorce and the dad got to see his children one weekend day per fortnight and got five days holiday with the eldest per summer, that was the deal the solicitors had hammered out. The reason the dad wasn't keen on his child making a friend was because he wanted the child to himself as much as possible.
Explaining this to our foster child seemed to bring a small smile to the child's mind. Not in any spite about the other child's sadness, but in the realisation that many of the other 'happy' families are just putting on a brave face.
So; we had a decent holiday, pity there wasn't more sun.
And a bit of useful fostering happened, like it always does if you keep your eyes and heart open.