Saturday, April 13, 2013

You know that moment at the end of a meal, where you're all sat around the table with empty plates. Somebody (and it used to be me) will start stacking the plates. Scraping any major leftovers onto the top plate. 

Then the pile of plates gets carried to the sink for the washing up. Only, not any more. Not in our house anyway. Maybe not in yours any more after I explain.

We've got a child who's not had the experience of table meals, so the child comes to table dining with a fresh eye. Child occasionally helps with the washing up. I start stacking the plates and the child says: "What are you doing it like that for? All you're doing is getting ketchup and gravy all over the bottom of all the plates, so that's twice the washing up."

Child is right.

You feel like you're in the presence of one of those beings from another planet who's landed here and is astonished by some of the illogical things we do.

Another: we require out children to wear clean underwear every day. And we change their pyjamas every week. Child goes: "I wear my underpants for 12 hours all day and have to put on new ones next day, but I wear my pyjama bottoms all night and only change them once a week. It doesn't make sense."

It doesn't.

Then, from a position of strength, the same child moves on to bigger things. Such as bedtime.

"Why do I have to go to bed at eight o'clock if I never go to sleep for hours? It's boring and a waste of time. I get cross, then everyone gets cross. Why can't I go to bed when I'm tired and ready for sleep?"

Me: "Everyone in the world who is your age goes to bed at this time. When I was your age I had to go to bed at this time, the bedroom light was turned off and I had to wait until I went to sleep."

Child: "You didn't have all the things that have happened to me happen to you, so you didn't get frightened when you're just lying there for hours thinking about your life and worrying that it all might happen again. That's why I like to be doing things until I'm really tired and don't have any time to think about things."

A great thing, a sharp mind. But, as this child has discovered, a sharp mind can turn against you. 

Child is now allowed to stay up, in the bedroom, in PJ's and dressing gown, playing, reading, drawing until feeling tired enough to sleep, then child gets into bed and turns out light. No problem; child has a fresh eye and a sharp mind every morning bright and early. 

One of the mistakes I made when I started fostering was to believe you should start every new child off with a full set of normal rules and boundaries, right from the word go. Now, what we do in our house, is to stick to all the safety things, but get to know the child, and  start work on a one-thing-at-a-time basis. And stay flexible and approachable about things that may seem like small beer to us, but worry the bejasus out of them.

We've ended up with just two absolute rules:

1) When visitors leave, wave until they are out of sight.
2) Do everything I ask.

The Secret Foster Carer

PS In case you wonder why I haven't got around to one of them new-fangled dishwashers? We bought one, but it's been chucked. Reason? I like to get everything done in the kitchen before I can sit down and relax properly, and I found myself drumming my fingers impatiently waiting the half hour for the dishwasher to finish the cycle so I could put the crockery and cutlery away, then relax. 

Like I say, it's a great thing a sharp mind, but it can turn against you.


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