Monday, October 26, 2020

SUMMERTIME

Fostering throws up plenty of questions such as; "Why did I let myself in for this…"

No, seriously, the questions don't come only from one's own mind. Foster children ask the strangest things, sometimes tinged with enormous wisdom and insight.

Middle one yesterday;

"We put the clocks back an hour? Why?"

Me; "It's to do with daylight saving."

Him: "How does it save daylight? That's stupid. There's the same amount of daylight as before."

Me: "Well not quite, the days are getting shorter."

Him: "So it's just to fool ourselves then yeah?"

Me: "Well it means that children will go to school in daylight and that's safer for them."

Him: "What? Everyone goes by car or bus to school and they've got lights, and the streets have got lights. Queen Victoria's dead dontcha know.."

Me: "Yes but…"

Him: "In any case you say they made you put the clocks back to make it safer for kids to go to school. Bt they did it at the start of most kids half-terms when they er…aren't going to school."

Me: "It's tradition to put the clocks back an hour on the last Sunday in October."

Him: "Tradition? I saw a YouTube where it used to be a tradition in ancient Britain to eat the first born male child but they stopped when they realised the sun would rise anyway even if it didn't get its sacrifice. It's called progress duh."

I'm writing this early on the next morning, the Monday. It's 5.00am, but in my mind it's really 6.00am, we went to bed 'early' or was it our usual  time? Or was it late? I dunno.

He's right, it's silly. So;

I'm plotting letting him have his way and put all the clocks back to where they were. It'll mean dark mornings but light evenings. We work from home at the moment, the children have no reason to get up at the crack of dawn for school. The only glitch will be time checks on the radio and the TV schedules will be an hour out. But the kids don't watch conventional TV anyhoo.

The MAIN THING is - if I do this thing - I've got myself a little thing going. Having a houseful of foster children, your own children, both parents and assorted creatures needs to have something going during holidays, lockdowns, holidays, stay home and isolate, lockdown, holidays...

It might not be much but I can make something of us being the only house in the UK still on SUMMERTIME.

So I will. 

ps;

Oh-oh. I've just remembered the danger of encountering the fussy operator on the switchboard who answers the phone at 12.01pm and goes;

"Good Morni…Oh I'm so sorry, it's after noon…Good Afternoon!"

I'll miss that bridge when I come to it.



Saturday, October 17, 2020

BAKE OFF YOURSELF

 One of the great fallbacks in fostering is cooking. 

On a rainy day, when there's nothing on the TV, when no-one's got any friends, when Contact gets cancelled. It used to get howls of derision;

"Lame!"

But down the years I've learned to jazz it up, like last weekend.

The Saturday had dragged and Sunday started too early, the first "I'm bored!" broke ground before my other half had finished watching the morning re-run of last night's Match of the Day. Actually, I think it might have been other half who let out the all-too-familiar whinge.

Me; "Watch yourself everybody. I smell a bake-off coming on!"

Works like this; kids v parents. I put out flour, eggs, sugar and a bunch of other ingredients - loads of jars and packets and sachets. The whole thing looks exciting and challenging, they usually get sucked in partly because they know they're going to win, they win every time. It's as honest as the Nevada boxing commission.

Each of the two teams goes away and discusses what they're going to make. They're allowed multiple entries, up to one person (therefore two for the parents, five for the children). It works best when everyone teams up. My other half plays the fool beautifully, usually manages to drop an egg on the floor (dog gets it), and get himself told off for using doughy hands to turn on the tap.

I get one of the kids to be Mary Berry and eldest LOVES being Paul Hollywood and/or the wonderful Sandi Togsvig.

For me one of the dark arts is making it last as long as possible simply because a) it's a great activity and b) as soon as it's over, their appetite for entertainment sharpened they're baying "I'm bored!" again.

What am I a Butlins Redcoat?

A friend of mine - another foster carer - gets herself dialed up on Whats All to look at the finished efforts and pronounce the kids the winners.

I do exactly the same for her when she wheels it out.

I wonder if it would work with Landscape Artist of the Year?


Friday, October 09, 2020

IT'S OKAY TO BE SAD

How are you doing with the way the world is right now?

The thing with blogging is that someone will probably read this post some years from now when (hopefully) there'll be a vaccine for Covid 19 and life will be back to normal. But more likely you're reading this with the pandemic in full flow, the second wave kicking in. We have no idea what the Christmas holidays will be like, and few people will be surprised if there's talk of a third wave in the New Year.

Everywhere you go everyone is putting on what they think is their brave face but inside it seems to me that we're all incredibly sad.

Are you? Maybe not all the time, and there are plenty of times when we are so busy with responsibilities we don't realise we are sad.

How could we not be sad when we're trudging around in face masks, banned from get-togethers, working alone at home and frightened that we're going to get a disease that can kill us inside a month?

Loneliness was a problem before the virus, now it's a hundred times worse.

I'm positive that after the Covid pandemic will come a pandemic of a different kind; a wave of PTSD for which there'll be no preparedness and no easy cure.  Not only post traumatic shock disorder but all sorts of mental ills such as;

Friends and family of those struck down may suffer survivor guilt along with the guilt that they may have inadvertently passed the virus on to the victim. This is especially likely among the people who seem to have an irrational fear of masks.

All the inevitable job losses and financial hardships will heap massive stress on families - we managed a trip to the pub before the latest round of restraints kicked in and couldn't help overhearing the man at the next table (2 metres away) saying to his friend;

"They're going to wait until last thing on Friday afternoon to tell us all, so that we'll have the weekend to calm down."

The nation's news-aholics - people who turn on the news every chance they get - will surely end up addled beyond belief as they dine on endless images of bad news Covid briefings, test and trace failings, empty high streets and reporters in masks. 

Our GP told me that patients are contacting her and asking "What's the point?" My elderly neighbour said to us "I don't want to die like this."

It seems to me - and I'm no psychiatrist although I have an appetite for people and their problems - that the only thing to do when a sadness overwhelms us is to be sad, and say to ourselves;

"Of course I'm sad today, how could I not be sad?"

This is the advice I give my family, including the foster kids, all of whom get plenty sad.

Actually, to be honest, it was one of my children who woke me up to this way of staying mentally fit. He'd had some ups and downs so Blue Sky began making arangements for him to talk to a councillor (via Zoom). But it didn't happen. The boy came to me and said;

"I'm sad. It's alright to be sad. If I wasn't sad there'd be something wrong with my head. There isn't. I'm just sad, and I know it. And so long as I know it it's okay."








Sunday, September 20, 2020

FOSTERING AND FOOD

So; Sunday morning quite early I was standing at the sink trying to work out how to clean out a peanut butter jar of those smears you can't get with a spoon, because I've just found out you're not supposed to put anything with food attached or even to which food has been attached (eg pizza boxes) in the recycle bin.

Complicated? Still it's for the best.

I had a kettle boiling to try to melt the stuff off, I'm standing wondering why the peanut butter people chose a jar which has an inside lip which stops you getting the last remnants of peanut butter out to smear on one last slice. I bet there's a YouTube on it. I found myself remembering that the mustard magnate Colman said that his fortune depended on the fact that over half of his mustard got put on the side of people's plates then scraped off after the meal uneaten.

Don't stings like that make you uneasy? Some things we discover are not for the best.

So I'm standing there feeling a bit, yeah, less than 50%.

Then eldest sends me a text message from his bedroom, this is eldest foster child. 

Eldest was neglected as a baby, as an infant, as a child. As Foster Carers we're trained to know that sometimes neglected children are enhanced by their neglect because they need to develop strategies earlier than children who are cared for properly. Is that theory true? Read on…

Eldest texted;

"Can I have a bacon baguette?"

See that? Not just a bacon sarnie or a bacon roll, no…a bacon baguette.

I sussed that this was because child had seen the French stick I'd bought on my Saturday shop, just for fun. But he'd had one before.

So I set to work, fished a pack of back bacon out of the fridge.

Child needs all the white fat cut off the bacon before it goes in the pan, and while it's cooking I have to be standing by with kitchen roll to dab off any blobs of white stuff that bubble up on the bacon which I told him were just water (I hope they are), but child still insists on zero white stuff.

While the bacon is cooking I slice the baguette lengthways into two separate pieces (child doesn't want hinged baguette, says they are hard to close without stuff spilling).

Eldest, estimating the time the bacon baguette will take to be ready, arrives in the kitchen two minutes early and says;

"And can it be a BLT?"

I replied yes. Then he said;

"Is the lettuce an Iceberg?"

I replied that it wasn't. I said that I'd had to chuck the last of the Iceberg last night as what was left of it was going brown. So he asked how I was going to come up with a BLT. I said;

"There's a couple of little gem lettuces in the fridge. He said;

"Little gem? Are they like Icebergs?"

I replied that frankly, lettuce is lettuce. A bag of water for 90 pence yeah?

"Wrong!" he said. "Some lettuce is more…"

I waited. Silence. Then I said;

"More what?"

And he replied;

"More…profound."

Gobsmacked by this insight I stuttered;

"Profound?"

"Yes!" he said, "Deeper, stronger, more…lettucey."

"And you don't want that."

"No"

So I ended up trimming off the darker green flowery ends of the little gem so all he had were the crunchy white stalks and the insipid pale yellow part of the leaves that mimicked the Iceberg.

He took the creation up to his room. 

A couple of hours later he brought his plate down. Which, by the way, was big. It was like;

"You did the work on the baguette = I bring the plate down."

By which time I still hadn't fathomed the peanut butter jar problem.

But I'd had another reminder why I love this fostering thing.

Catch a niff?


Thursday, September 10, 2020

SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT

She came to us at very little notice...it was either our house or she'd have to sleep in a police cell, would you believe, aged seven.

I have never found the police to be anything other than fantastic when they are involved in helping children. All the same our spare bed was better than a night in a police station, with who knows yelling what in the next 'suite'.

My phone had rung at about 11.30pm, it was the emergency officer at the local authority. I didn't know the young social worker but she seemed to know me, she said;

"It might only be for one night Mrs ******, we'll do the placement process in the morning. Do you want me to call Blue Sky and let them know?" 

Blue Sky are 24/7, but whichever Blue Sky person is on duty might as well slumber on, all was well. I sent them a text message.

The main thing is to get the child a roof over their head, a full tummy and a warm bed. We can do the paperwork when offices open.

The police car was outside our house not ten minutes later. The officer's had got the go-ahead from the local authority and brought the little girl up our path. Two officers, one male one female, both being so soft and gentle it made the heart glow.

They handed her over, she was feigning being asleep or semi-conscious, so I took her straight upstairs and got her into bed. Her name was Rachael. She had nothing apart from her T shirt and leggings. Bare feet, cold hands. The officers had put a few bits of clothing in a carrier bag. She didn't want anything to eat. I tucked her in and said some kind words.

I dashed downstairs to catch the officers and see what they could tell me about what had happened, but they'd told my husband everything they knew so they left and the two of us had a cup of tea and he filled me in.

There'd been a 'five fencer' and the police were called. A 'five fencer' is a domestic that can be heard five houses away. 

The police turned up to find a rolling conflict between several adults. Two or three of them scarpered when the blue lights arrived. This was on an estate not far from us which has a reputation, probably well earned, for upheaval. 

The first police unit called for backup as they were outnumbered and in the meantime started de-escalation. They told my husband they suspected from the off that all of the adults were affected by alcohol and probably by substance abuse. The officers spent the time until their colleagues arrived smiling and agreeing with every outrageous accusation that was put to them, calming things down.

The adults were asked if anyone else was in the house. One of them said something about a niece but that she was 'someone else's problem'. One of the officers carried out a house check, looking in every room and calling out. Nothing. 

Two adults were handcuffed and put in a car, their arrest being on the basis that blood had been spilled and that those whose blood had been spilled were more likely to be the victims, so an ambulance was called for them. 

You could see what the officers were doing; they had to move things on. They couldn't spend all night piecing together events in search of the truth, not with a bunch of angry inebriates. So; two to the cells, two to A+E, a third adult who apparently was not the worse for wear, went with the 'victims' in the ambulance to support them.

At that point the original two officers were left with an open house, lights blazing, TV blaring. They went in to make the house safe, and one of them did a final sweep of the house. 

Upstairs, under a pile of rank old clothes and a soiled single duvet, she found a cowering trembling little girl, Rachael.

Imagine. Imagine what Rachael had gone through that night. Actually probably not much different from most nights of her life. 

She stayed for two nights, didn't go to school, just in recovery. I gave her every ounce of love and empathy I could but I don't think anything got through. It takes a lot longer. Social services tracked down her mother's sister who they said was on the straight and narrow and would look after Rachel until things sorted themselves out, whether they did or not I don't get to know.

You never forget any of the children who come to you for foster care, no matter how short the time they're with you. You remember everything about them, with hope and optimism. 

These little ships that pass in the night.




Saturday, September 05, 2020

MUMS AND DADS

When a young person comes into your home to live, their thoughts about their real parents are so very important to the whole exercise.

Fostered children have difficult perceptions about their parents, most will always struggle thinking about  their mum and dad.

Who doesn't sometimes?

A few years ago, after my dad died, I found a photo of him I liked. He was a young man of 29 sat astride a big motor bike. I had the photo blown up and took it to a framing shop to get it made up. The young man in the shop looked at the photo and went;

"Wow!"

I said;

"Yeah, that's my dad."

He went;

"It's a BSA isn't it?"

He studied the pic with ferocious intent.

"Yeah definitely a BSA, I think."

I said I didn't know, and added; 

"It's my dad."

He said;

"Cowling is the key, I'll get the magnifier."

He did. My dad was indeed sitting on a BSA. This interested the man no end.

"I think it's a 350." he said, adding "Wow."

I said;

"My dad motorbiked across Europe on it after the war. He rode it all the way to East Germany and tried to defect to the Soviet Union."

The man didn't reply, he was trying to read the number on the bike's petrol tank. I went on;

"My dad was very idealistic. He believed that communism was best for a fair and peaceful world."

The man replied;

"The first number looks like a '3', so It's probably a 350."

I continued;

"Of course back then we didn't know about the terrible things Stalin was doing to his own people. Good job they didn't let him in, or else he'd probably have ended up in a Gulag. And I wouldn't be here."

The young man ended the 'chat' by saying;

"They don't make 'em like that any more."

He framed it for me and it's hanging in the kitchen. I often look at it and remember my dad.

I also remember the young man, who had such an impossible task getting his heart to wake up to the concept of 'dad'. Why was he deaf to the word 'dad'?  It was worse than deaf, it was almost a dead word to him. Why did the person in the picture mean nothing to him compared to the machine?

I expect his relationship with his dad was what we call 'normal'; probably fair to average. I doubt he'd been taken into care or anything drastic, but it reminds me how difficult it must be for fostered children to think about their parents - if a 'normal' lad struggles to picture someone else's dad but instead displaces the concept in his head with motor bikes.

Bottom line for me in fostering is this; I never, ever ask. If they mention their folks I'm happy to go along but what we talk about and how we talk is in their control.

Even so it's a fair bet there'll be some anger shortly afterwards...



Thursday, August 27, 2020

A LEVELS AND FOSTER CHILDREN

There's this flippin' TV ritual every summer, happens about halfway through the school holidays. As a foster mum  it's started to get my goat.

Happens every summer, usually a Thursday, 6.00am. A level results come out. Breakfast TV sends cameras and reporters to schools for pictures of delighted kids, proud parents. By lunchtime it's still a 'hot' story because the 'experts' have crunched the numbers find an issue, maybe; this years results are up (they always seem to be) and by how much (not a lot, usually). Whatever, they transmit plenty of footage of well-to-do kids (sorry, they always are) all excited about their results.

The results are still the big story come the evening news with an "Education Correspondent" on hand to 'analyse' things. More shots of well-groomed kids all ga-ga  about their results.

The following morning's newspapers carry 'news' of the exam results in the form of opinion columnists along the lines of 'are our exams getting soft' or some other stirring up of things. And images of ecstatic kids, who've done good

What gets my goat? It's that the whole reporting buys into the shaky presumption that good A level results=your choice of Uni=a good degree=a good job=lifelong security and … happiness.

That's why A Level result day is TV pictures of squealing kids opening envelopes and jumping with glee, lads sagely reflecting on a future with British Steel then a proud parent steps into the shot to hug and kiss and imply their everyone's dream has come true. 

I used to do a bit of journalism; the "A Level Results day" news story is a sacred one for newsrooms for two reasons; One, there's not much else going on in August. Two; the 'news' is selected and served up by journalists; people who themselves have A levels, people who remember their A levels and have children or family who are going to sit, have just sat, or recently sat A levels. It's a big deal for them personally so they reckon the rest of us are similarly wrapped up in them. Plus they can spin it as a 'positive' news story (did TV ever show a kid look at the bit of paper and fill up saying they blew it?)

I'm not impressed because my foster kids aren't bothered, in fact the exact opposite.

The succession of shiny kids from comfy homes with supportive  parents is great. Good luck to them; though they need less luck than the rest. It's galling for the kids who got no start in life and find the gap between themselves and the fortunate ones already too big to close. 

The kids in care.

Where's the coverage of them and their crossroads in life? The kids who have no exams, no tag onto life because their home life was rubbish? Not ever in the news. Tucked away in 'documentaries' scheduled against Eastenders and Coronation St.

Where's the reporters outside their door going; 

"Well done for staying out of jail this year."

The proud parent saying "Yeah she done really good, so proud of her for staying off drugs and looking after her gran."

Which is often a bigger achievement than an A level B grade…