Wednesday, October 15, 2014


I like Ellen Degeneris, the American comedian/talk show host. I found out the other day she was picked to be Phoebe in Friends but there was a contract problem, so they hired Lisa Kudrow instead, who's brilliant.

I always think of Ellen whenever I hear the phrase "you should put yourself in their shoes", which is something I've tried to do with foster children coming into our house on day one.

When I was a child I went to stay with various relatives and friends for a week here or a weekend there. My parents were brilliant, but I have to say that I never really knew why I was going. Something to do with breaking up the school holidays or "the experience will be useful". 

I don't know if it did me any good, but I do know the feeling I had going into someone else's house with a bag of stuff that included...pyjamas.

Children are pretty well used to going to someone else's house for the day. From an early age they visit gran and grandad, get hauled over to mum's friend's house for the afternoon. They get used to the going there, the arriving  there, the leaving there; all on the same day.

I remember really vividly aged nine arriving at an aunt's house in a place in south London, near Brixton, to spend a week. She had two children about my age, so the idea was we could all play together. Could we heck. They were older boys, had a massive electric train set, their 'game' was I had to sit and watch while they choo-chooed engines around. Then they got bored and started putting plastic soldiers on the tracks and running them down with the deisel. Everything they wanted to do they could do because it was their house.

The family had a big black labrador. Unbelievably they had named him 'N*gger' (this was the late sixties, people weren't unkind, just simple). Every evening my uncle took me and the dog for a walk on the common where he would stand looking out over Brixton shouting "N*gger! N*gger! Come here N*gger!" 

You may be thinking I have an imagination, but every atom of the above is true.

The memory that sticks out is of the feeling I had that I was not just having tea in a very strange house without the familiar faces of mum and dad and sibs; I was going to have to go to bed in this strange house. Work out how to adjust to this strange house. And wake up in this strange house.

I'm trying to get a bead on what that feeling was, exactly. Ever had it happen to you when you were a peewee?

I felt: abandoned, isolated, lonely. I felt empowered by independence, freedom and a new maturity.

Most of all, I felt I was in someone else's domain. I didn't have ownership of anything except the stuff in my bag; my toothbrush and spare clothes.

It was traumatic, but I'm glad I went through it.

It doesn't help much with trying to imagine how shocking it must be for children to suddenly find themselves removed from a difficult home to a total stranger's home.

At least my family weren't in chaos, and I knew the family I was staying with, that the boys would give me a hard time, and the dog was called N*gger.

Foster children deserve a medal for getting through the day they come into care.

And the Ellen Degeneris joke that always comes to mind:

"If someone is giving you a hard time walk a mile in their shoes. Then at least you will be a mile away from them. And you have their shoes."


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