You learn something new every day in fostering.
That's if you have enough of your wits about you, what with putting into practice all the little things you've already taught yourself. Not to mention if you've got enough energy left to keep your eyes and ears peeled and your brain in gear.
The small matter of the peanut butter knife it was, yesterday, that pulled me up sharp and got me thinking.
The peanut butter knife issue.
See, at the moment in our house everyone is able to make themselves a slice of toast whenever they want as long as it's not just before mealtime. Children, especially foster children, love the sense of grown-up-ness from being able to make themselves a cooked snack.
They learn where the small plates are stored, how to raid the bread bin, how to put the slice of bread into the toaster and how to slide down the lever that lowers the bread and gets the toaster grills warming up.
You teach them about the dangers of electricity and heat, not to poke around in a recently hot toaster, not to mess with plugs.
They learn where the marmite and peanut butter is kept (we aren't a jam household and I've always had my doubts about Nutella).
They learn time management; if you get the bread toasting first of all you get 2 minutes to get out a plate, the Flora, the spread, and the knife for the spreading.
These are all bog standard toast-making things.
But what hit me hard yesterday is that there's a bunch of little things which we all do in our house when it comes to toast that are specific to us, they've evolved in our house, and which are so second-nature to us we don't think to point them out. Then when we do point them out, we suddenly seem petty and a tad OCD.
For example; the Flora isn't always in the fridge. Sometimes it gets put in the larder. There's no rhyme or reason to this, except possibly when a person puts the Flora away after making peanut butter toast it's easier to put the Flora back in the larder along with the jar of peanut butter.
The point about the Flora is that it's a family quirk; if it's not in the fridge it's in the larder. But if you're new to our home, it could cause a problem.
Then there's the almost-empty jar problem. When the marmite or peanut butter jar is almost empty we try to remember to leave it out on the kitchen work surface so whoever is going shopping next knows we are out of whatever it is. The empty jar shouldn't go back in the larder because the next person wanting some will have the annoying job of scraping around the contours of the glass.
Ideally, whoever uses up the last of a jar washes it out and inverts it on the draining board so it's ready for the recycling wheelie. Bill and I both try to do this and hope our example rubs off.
Then there's the crumbs. When you make toast there are crumbs. Ideally they should be swept off the work surface into the palm of your hand and chucked in the bin, not wiped into the J cloth. And definitely not left for someone else to discover.
Then there's the peanut butter/marmite knife. Try as you might you can't get the knife completely clean by wiping it on the toast, so it's got a smear. It needs to be run under a tap, dried and put back in the drawer, or maybe put in the cutlery compartment in the dishwasher. It doesn't need to be licked clean. Nor does it need to be left out on the work surface. But, by the time a young mind has got itself a slice of toast all done and dusted it's easy to walk off and leave the crumbs and the smeary knife.
Then there's the plate, which after the toast has been eaten needs to be brought out into the kitchen and dealt with. Not dumped in the sink.
That's merely the making of a slice of toast. A simple enough business. But then again it's anything but simple.
I bet every household has their own variation on the toast thing, and indeed all life's other family activities such as bathroom/toilet practices, use of other people's stuff, whether it's ok to take batteries out of the backup remote to put in the X Box controller...
etc etc etc etc etc etc.......
Difficult enough for a child who has lived all her life in the same household. Nightmare for the new arrival, and funnily enough, a problem for them that gets more difficult before it gets easier.
What do we carers do about this one?
I guess we manage our expectations, stay patient and understanding. While at the same time remembering that it's ok to have our own house rules and practices, and try to teach them as time goes by. And stay flexible and open to new ideas;
After all, it was a foster child who pointed out to me that there's no point cutting a piece of toast in two;
"It just makes more crumbs"