Tuesday, July 28, 2020

LIFE'S PURPOSE

Wow the pandemic is causing waves in every direction including us fosterers.

I had to go to my doctors with my new persistent backache; I thought it might be kidney stones - I've had them before so I know what they feel like.

She said it was probably just a muscle spasm or a rip or the like.

She asked me how were things, what was going on at home. I reminded her I fostered.

"Ah," she said "Enough said."

I asked;

"I suppose you have a few other foster carers on your books. How are they doing?"

Her reply was interesting;

"Well they seem to be doing better than most."

Me:

"Really? How come?"

She explained that GPs up and down the country are starting to get waves of patients coming to see them suffering from the mental effects of the pandemic. She said it seemed to be turning into a big problem particularly for people stuck at home with time on their hands.

"Some people are experiencing too much 'think-time'. They pace around the house, go to the shop where everyone is dressed like a bank robber and can't talk to anyone. They miss people."

She went on to say that perhaps people who foster have got plenty on their plate and are too busy to start listening to their own thoughts all day. 

"People's thoughts turn to death and disease and their loneliness. If they go out everyone seems to look hostile. Pedestrians give everyone a wide berth with a look of suspicion. All you can see in the supermarket are shoppers' eyes and they seem to dart around menacingly."

I saw the point; in a typical day I don't get more a than 5 minutes here or there to think. If I'm lucky I have a Houseparty half-hour with the same couple of friends on my iPad. I've got a Blue Sky long distance training session tomorrow, my social worker is coming the following Monday. Every day I've five different breakfasts to make at different times of the morning (and sometimes the afternoon…). Each meal is a battleground; this morning it was over butter v margarine because eldest FC (Foster Child) didn't know they were different and ended up at my throat because he decided after I'd used butter on his toast that he preferred Flora "Because it's vegan" even though the other components of this breakfast was bacon and scrambled eggs, go figure...

Then my doctor said;

"We have patients coming in with depression and anxiety and we have things we can do for them, mainly medication and counselling.  But we also have patients who are questioning the very point of their existence. They feel their lives are on enforced hold thank to the pandemic, but they also question if their lives were on hold anyway - before the pandemic."

Fostering keeps you busy.

It also gives your life a clear and burning purpose.




Tuesday, July 21, 2020

SOCIAL WORKERS

We've had fantastic support from our social workers at Blue Sky through this pandemic.

Really, I'm not exaggerating, I won't embarrass the person - in any case I've every reason to believe that her level of support goes across the board for all Blue Sky Foster Carers.

When I talk to friends and family who are dealing with the whole thing on their own; dealing with lockdown, hand-washing, social distancing, masks, and anti-bac wipes I realise how lucky we are to have professional help and support.

Every time we turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper, log onto our favourite news feeds it's all about pandemic fears and dangers.

The absence of certainty about how long it will go on, the concern it may come back bigger and worse, the awful prospect that we may be living with it for…

I'm not going to finish the above sentence it's too awful.

It's easy to think we're all of us in the same boat, right across the planet, but we're not. The vast majority of us are taking it seriously and doing our best, but there seems to be a thick wedge of people who are simply too ignorant to try to get their heads around what's going on. I took a train this week and was shocked at the number of groups who were trying loudly to attract attention to the fact they weren't wearing masks. 

Then there are the people who are letting it get to them so much their mental health is in danger. You see them in the street and the supermarket, mostly the vulnerable, their eyes darting in terror and anger at everyone.

Both these groups have no professional help. They are reliant on Donald Trump and their own inner voices for advice.

Not so for people who foster.

Example;

Our social worker arrived at our house for 'supervision'. We chatted, socially distancing, wearing masks. She said how excited she was going to be wearing a mask, it would be fun. She always starts with "How are you?" - only she means it; it's not a polite extension of "Hello". She wants to know how I am.  And it's no good doing a lazy "Oh fine thanks". Stupid she's not, No-one's absolutely fine, especially not at the moment.

She makes me stop and actually think about how I am. Then I tell her. Then she goes to work to help us both get 'how I am' in perspective. 

I told her I was in a bit of discomfort with a bout of renal colic (aka kidney stones). 

Instead of doing what so many people do when you tell them you've got a bit of gyp "Ooo my grandad had those" or "Yes my rheumatism's bad, is it the weather?" She said:

"Oh no! What happened?"

I told her I'd had them before, after I ran a 10k years ago. A couple of weeks back I decided to get in shape so I started a bit of mild jogging combined with drinking 8 pints of water a day. The result was that one or a few little pesky crystals jiggled free of my kidneys and set off towards my bladder, scraping and jagging my tubes.

We chatted away about it, the focus on me and my aches.

When she left I felt 500% better that someone had cared. Her chat helped me get a stronger perception and understanding of my discomfort. 

Two days later I got a text;

"How are you? Any better? I could tell you were in a bit of discomfort but you were putting on a brave face, like you always do. No-one else would have guessed but then again not many people know you as well as I do. So pleased the fostering is going more ups than downs. You do a fantastic job, as I'm always telling you.
PS If you don't book that weekend break for the two of you I'll do it for you! Don't worry about the children we'll sort them out."

If you haven't got anyone like that in your life at the moment - I'm talking about a professional aide - it's because you're not in fostering.

Yet…?

Monday, July 13, 2020

HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH A FOSTER CHILD

Middle foster child is supposed to be moving up to secondary school in about six weeks, whether he does or not depends on the pandemic.

Maybe I've been lucky, but foster children seem to cope with the transition better than most, maybe upheaval comes naturally to them.

I've made a discovery worth sharing; it's this; today's generation of teens, the ones my generation tends to think are irresponsible on social media, communicate better with parents and teachers on Whats App/text/Twitter et al than face to face.

When I say 'better' I mean they are more open and more polite. More 'open' to a proper conversation, more 'polite'... speaks for itself.

I noticed it first way back when mobile phones were little more than phones plus texting.

We had a foster daughter who was big and blunt, the best you could get out of her by way of chat was a grimace and a grunt. She hated school and it was a struggle to get her there. One day she had an important exam, I got her there in time for it but when I got home found myself frantic that she'd a) stay there b) do the exam c) avoid causing an incident.

The conversation between us in the car to school had been;

Me: "I'm sure you'll do fine."
Her: silence
Me: "I said, I'm sure you'll.."
Her: "I 'eard! FFssake.."

The exam was set for 9.00am. I was going spare wondering; so when it was morning break at her school I texted her:

Me: "All ok?"
She replied immediately; 
Her: "Yeah. It wasn't so bad actually. I answered about three quarters really well, there was one question I didn't have a clue about but you expect that."

It took me a moment to conquer my suspicion that she had paid someone to write her texts, like pop stars and footballers do. I went;

Me: "Oh good. Are you staying for the day or do you need a lift now?"
Her: "Actually I've got a free until lunch then Art which I like. I might skip Science but Greg's in that class and he's like, y'know, fit."
Me: "OK"

More than "OK" of course, I was totally made up! 

And it's the same only more so with middle foster child. His phone enables him to communicate with me in ways his mouth simply does not. 

Here's one from last week; he's upstairs on his PC. I texted;;

Me: "Tea about five. Do you want Mascarpone and penne or a Cornish pasty and chips?"
Him: "I'm not hungry yet, I can wait until dad gets home and we can eat watching the end of The Winter Soldier."
Me; "Fine. We're having baked potato, you're not keen on them."
Him: "Cover it in beans and yeah."
Me: "Want an apple to hold you?"
Him; "Nah, I'm not religious."

Put simply, that exchange simply WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED AT ALL FACE-TO-FACE.

Not at all. So. How come?

Maybe it's to do with not seeing my face, hearing my voice, not being able to notice anything judgemental coming off me? I don't know.

Maybe it has to do with them seeing in black-and-white what they are about to say written down on a phone screen and know that they might have to stand by it. Once they press 'send' their words are set in stone for ever, a stray bit of bad language or snide remark doesn't disappear into thin air.

I still use speech and all it's add-ons with him. But I get the best off his phone.

And come secondary school I'll get more text chats; he's going to be travelling to and from  school by himself and he'll welcome me pinging messages at break times and lunchtime because a pinging phone makes the owner look in demand. His peers don't have to know it's his mum.

Or even more embarrassing, his foster mum.









Thursday, July 09, 2020

POWER TO THE KIDS

Here in the UK, at the time of writing, the coronavirus pandemic is abating. Whether it's on the retreat or taking a breather only time will tell.

Social distancing is easing, pubs and hairdressers are open;  but the big one for parents and foster carers too is simply this; when should our children go back to school.

One news report I read has said that when they go back it will be compulsory on pain of penalties.

I have two questions which haven't been addressed by anybody, any politicians or journalist as far as I'm aware, yet they are huge.

They are;

1) Has anyone asked the children?

2) Is any other group of people in the UK required TO - on pain of breaking the law - expose themselves to possible infection? On pain of breaking the freaking law?

Answer to both, of course; not on your nelly.

It makes me mad.

Fifty years ago there was a programme on TV called the Black and White Minstrel Show. We now know that was wrong and can't believe our parents and grandparents couldn't see that. It was far from the worst example of racial prejudice. But much of the abuse was out of eyesight for most of the public, the Black and White Minstrel Show was there for all to see, and people did nothing.

Twenty years ago sexism against women was such a thing that the author of Bridget Jones Diaries has just said in embarrassment: "You couldn't write that these days".

Those problem were caused when ignorance gets together with herd mentality.

Amen to the changes in the way we in the UK regard ethnic people and women.

I'm not one for predictions but I'm absolutely certain that in a short time to come people will be aghast at the way ignorant adults continue to treat children like they are the voiceless second-class citizens that ethnic minorities and women were until recently.

We still have a long way to go before racial and gender equality is achieved, but we're on our way and those voices are being heard. But our children remain unheard.

What, they don't have opinions and feelings?

The poor people who were slaves in the kitchen or worse; slaves in the plantation, should have had a voice and people should have seen that.

My foster children are scared of the virus. They don't want to go back, but government will force them to. Force them.

And in a decade or two will be castigated and ridiculed for suchlike contempt.

Contempt? It's borderline abuse.

We'll all have a lot to answer for.

Rightly so.

Power to our beautiful wonderful children!




Monday, June 29, 2020

THE FUTURES OF OUR KIDS

One of the hardest things in fostering - maybe one of the hardest things in parenting generally - is helping children decide what to do with their adult lives.

I remember way back when I was a volunteer helper at a youth club, there was a gang of five girls, all the same age who hung out together every time they were there which was most times.

I remember one was called Maureen, there was a Tina and one had a nickname something like Bibby. The other two I can picture in my mind but can't remember their names. 

They seemed to like me partly because I was, back then, slightly cool, or whatever the phrase was back then. I was considered so cool that when Christmas came round the five clubbed together and bought me a bottle of whisky which they turned up at my flat to deliver on my doorstep because they were bright enough to know such a gift had to be given off premises, as a one-to-one thing between friends, not youth club volunteer/youth clubbers on youth club soil. 

Part of the reason I remember them with great clarity is because of something that happened about a year after I moved on from their YC and never expected to see them again.

In my time with them we often talked about what they wanted to do when they left school.

One of them wanted to work with children, another with animals. One wanted to see the world, another said she didn't want to work so she was going to get married straight away and have a family. The final girl, the most solitary one, said she didn't care what she did but she'd quite like to do something in tennis.

I used to encourage them to have dreams, and have realistic aims and ambitions, and to realise that it takes hard work and a bit of luck to get what you want in life…that sort of mentoring talk.

About a year after I left I walked past our main Tesco which was in the high street. It wasn't huge, just five checkouts. The checkouts backed onto the huge windows so I could see the backs of the women (for they were only women then) on the tills.

Three of the five were unmistakably three of my five girls; the ones who had such very different ambitions.

Made me a bit sad.

But hey, there's nothing wrong with working in a supermarket, and how many of us ever get to fulfil our big dreams? And maybe they were all saving up for colege or to go travelling, who knows.

But there they sat, side by side, left hand on the conveyor belt, right hand tapping the till.

I guess it hurt because I'd shared their aspirations, even dared dream with them.

The thing is that life and work nowadays…it seems even harder to make it sing for our kids.

So from time to time I tell them that there's only one ambition worth chasing, and that's to be happy, and you can do that however you earn your corn.

On another note I went up to town one day, me and a friend had tickets for a tennis tournament. We got there in time for the first match and the place was almost empty as the big guns don't play til last. To my amazement, sitting alone in the stand was the solitary girl. I went over and we hugged. She told me that she had tickets for every day of the tournament. 

I didn't ask her what she did for a living, it didn't really matter. She was doing what she wanted to do with her adult life.


Friday, June 26, 2020

TWENTY-FOUR HOURS A DAY

I guess I'm not the only foster mum with a twenty-four hour house just now.

Computer games are best played with other people and if players can find themselves a group who are up late all the better.

The social group in my house is based in New Zealand, Australia, Germany, South Carolina and Aspen Colorado.

Brilliant!

This kind of stuff is nothing worse than humankind moving itself to the next level, you know; one world etc. Hope John Lennon is watching with that lovely crooked grin.

You get unexpected shakedowns. For example, I woke up this morning and smelled bacon. Lovely. My other half had got up and gone down ahead of me so obviously I was in for a surprise breakfast, something a bit more special than the usual dry toast. I got downstairs to a frying pan upside down in the sink and a blackened empty saucepan on the stove.

Other half was horizontal on the sofa, football is back and he was re-watching the highlights of a game he'd watched the night before.

I poured some hot water over a teabag and said;

"Bacon for breakfast?"

He replied;

"I thought that was you…"

We had a moment. A nice moment. The pans were still warm. It had to have been eldest foster son.

He'd cooked himself a proper breakfast. Scrambled eggs and bacon. A first. He'd never done such a thing before, never asked how to do it. But he'd done it, and taken himself off to his room with it on a tray, I bet it tasted as good as anything he'd ever eaten.

Before we could talk about what a great thing it was that he was reaching out for independence we heard his steps coming down the stairs. He brought the tray and his empty plate. He said;

"Morning you lot! Alright?"

And as he spoke he placed the plate in the sink and slid the tray were the trays go.

The insensitive person would have no idea why this felt so fantastic, but we were all of us on a different planet. Eldest foster child was reaching across the bridge they talk about between parents and children. He was making plans to cross it and become one of us.

So many children who come into care never find the impetus to go forward, we had our doubts about his guy, but here he was, wanting to get into the world.

He announced that he was exercising his option not to go into school it was a waste of time and went back to bed to sleep until about teatime.

Not before informing us we were going to be watching the second of the Marvel films, the one after Thor! later that evening.

All this, probably due in no small part to the turmoil of the pandemic and the shake-up it's caused that has worked for some people.

I made myself a second cup of tea and settled at the sink to scrub thick black scrambled egg off a saucepan that's probably beyond saving.

Who cares? This fostering keeps bringing happy tears to my eyes, truly.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

CRISIS FINDS CHARACTER

I can only speak for my own foster children, although my Blue Sky social worker and others at the office say that my experience is not uncommon;

It's this; the rest of us can learn a few things from the way children in care are dealing with the whole pandemic thing.

Really.

I've noticed many adults going one way or another depending on their general disposition. Glum people have got glummer, cheery people get cheerier. I remember someone saying at a training session; crisis experiences don't so much build character as find character out.

Lots of children in care who've been through terrible times at home - and let's be blunt, being in care in someone else's home, no matter how kind the carers, no matter how lovely and calm the home, being fostered is also a stressful thing - these children can teach us a thing or two about staying steady in difficult times.

They are, on the whole pretty matter-of-fact about the whole virus/lockdown/social distancing thing. Well, compared to many of us adults.

I'm not minimising the stress and hardship, not to mention the agony of those struck down and their families and friends. 

I'm also well aware the children tend to be less at risk of serious consequences should they contract the virus.

But looking beyond that there have been other aspects of these strange times where fostered children just rise to the occasion.

Take lockdown for one. Our eldest foster child could have been quite within their rights if they'd gone stir crazy with a vengeance. We were ready for anything. How can one expect a teenager with normal energy levels and hunger for interaction to spend weeks, then months in the same four walls. How did he do? He flew it! 

Social media helped of course, he stayed in touch with the people who matter to him. He played his games just as before the pandemic appeared. It was almost as though he was enjoying a holiday from the pressures and stresses of having to be out and about with friends; hanging around outside the chip shop or behind the trees in the park.

He's done whatever schoolwork he feels is right for him. From what I can tell he's done most or all of it in the subjects where the teachers have reached out to him, half or less than half of the set work in subjects where the teachers haven't connected with him, and next to none in the subject where the teacher 'hates my guts'.

It will be very very very interesting for schools to get the stats on which teachers are getting good responses to their electronic lessons and which don't. And why.

Our foster children seem happier learning at their own speed, free from the fear that they are going to be reprimanded or made to feel stupid or left behind in front of their peers. 

It's me that ends up feeling those things every time I'm asked to help with a maths problem; it's stuff that's new to me. This I don't get, because while certain subjects keep on the move, such as science, history and even geography (I did a project at school on Yugoslavia only to wake up one morning to this on the news; "Yugoslavia no longer exists.."). What I don't get is how something that's older than mankind ie 2+2=4 can change so hugely in a couple of decades.

Then there are the big changes to contact. 'Contact' being where every looked-after child has to be taken to meet a significant other, mainly a parent, sometimes a sibling. It usually happens once a week. It almost always causes emotional disruptions and not just for the child. The virtual impossibility of contact during the lockdown played a big part in helping many foster children get through it, in my view. I have no doubt that having non face-to-face hook-ups with their significant others will not cause alienations if and when the families are re-united. 

That's not to say we haven't had a few scenes. But we've also had some great shared experiences. I now am up to date on the Avengers, and am able to answer questions on The Night Manager. 

We all hope and pray the worst is behind us, but more and more people I meet agree that while it would have been infinitely better if the pandemic had never happened, some good things may come of it.