Tuesday, May 15, 2018


I have a friend who is sort of Buddhist, nice.

She makes a point of looking back on any job done and appreciating what has been achieved. I keep forgetting to do it, but when I do it's great, for example;

Last Sunday morning, waiting for 10am to come round so I could do the supermarket run, I cleaned the kitchen, top to toe. Punished it. And afterwards took 5 minutes to look and feel pleased with my effort. It made all the difference.

My friend says that the right sort of pride is a good companion.

It's terribly important that foster parents remember what they do, and feel good about all the good things...

Feel proud. Not in a smug way, but where appropriate we should dwell on the positives. Replay the good bits in our minds. Polish happy memories for our old age.

We're usually so busy we scarcely notice the highs. It can be that our social workers come into their own by using supervision to remind us about the progress a child is making, or the time we spotted them with a look of peace, or hearing carefree laughter coming from somewhere in the house.

I had a social worker way back who used to remind me of some wondrous words a foster daughter once said to me. The SW would throw the child's words into the conversation at the right moment whenever I was relating the difficulties and challenges of fostering.

What happened was this;

I had a foster daughter, Natasha, who'd had the hardest time at home. Her father, who was completely without hearing had been sentenced to 10 years in prison for what he'd done to his eldest daughter. Natasha was a few years younger.

She was very overweight. Her social worker told me privately that she had tried to make herself as unattractive as possible in order to avoid the attentions of her father. She was taken into care because the mother, who was also profoundly hard of hearing, couldn't perform any of the essential household functions such as cook or clean. 

Natasha hated school. She was bullied about her size, and had bullied others back. She was regularly sin-binned (the school had a small stand-alone building for pupils who disrupt lessons, they called it ’the inclusion zone’). 

At the beginning of her stay getting her to school at all was a challenge. Sometimes - and in fostering you have to think outside the box - she'd agree to go only in return for a McDonalds on the way.  Her diet was dreadful, and I had a programme in place to get her onto better eating, but fast food was her thing. One morning we arrived at McDonalds only for her to announce that she didn't want a McDonalds breakfast it wasn't enough. She wanted the full big Mac.

I pointed out they didn't serve the full menu until 10.30am. She began to weep quietly in growing desperation, as if the entire world was lining up to take potshots at her. In no time she was in no state for school. I wasn't going to sit in a McDonalds car park for two hours with a distressed child so I called the school and spoke to the Senco (special education needs co-ordinator).

Natasha, I was gently advised, was to be sin-binned that day and on the verge of being excluded; so we agreed everyone would be better served if she spent the day at home.

When we got home Natasha forgot about McDonalds. She changed into her onesie (a comfort thing because it symbolised not having to go out into the big bad world) and turned on Jeremy Kyle.

Ans I was stuck with a shopping problem; I'd planned a Tesco run on my way back from school. No way was I going to leave her alone in the house, and no way would she accompany me to the shops. Nothing in the fridge or larder was to her tastes; I feared trouble ahead.

I'm not going to claim that my way out of the problem was a stroke of genius on my part; it was a case of needs must. Pretty much the only food in the house was the family's supply of sensible stuff; Quorn, oatmeal and the like.  I decided to give her quantity and quality. (or at least the illusion of quality). I laid the kitchen table as if the Queen was coming; plates and side-plates, knives and forks, water tumblers, condiments, napkins. And began to rustle up a banquet.

Everything I could find I cooked and put out. A  whole lettuce and some mousetrap cheese became a salad niciose. Half a loaf of stale white plus garlic became roast garlic bread. Pasta with Dolmio Parmesan and yoghurt was Pasta Carbonara. I buttered some Ryvitas and spread them with Branston.

You get the picture. I went the extra mile with everything, and called out;

"Tash! Brunch is up!" 

She hauled herself off the sofa, took one look at the groaning table and lit up. It wasn't her kind of food, but it was more than plenty, made with love and served with style. She went;

"Bloody hell. Feast or what!?"

But wait, those aren't the words my social worker liked to remind me about, Natasha whispered those a bit later.

She sat down and began assembling her plates with great care, arranging her piles of food carefully, then tucked in. The napkin was sidelined. I did the same. Just her and me at the table.

I can't remember how it started, or who started it. I know why it started; because she felt cared for. As we ate Natasha began telling me her life story. 

I said nothing, just listened.

And listened and listened and listened. Every so often I said things like "Poor you" or "That must have been terrible".

"You're so brave" "And no-one knew" "Who wouldn't feel sad?"

Then her tears came and the napkin finally came into play. 

Poor Natasha sobbed silently as she finished the story of her dire life thus far by revealing her hopes to one day work with animals, who are better than people.

By this time we were finished eating and she sensed that at any moment I would start to clear up.

So she spoke, out of the blue. In a clear voice, quiet but strong, she uttered an almighty truth;

"No-one has ever listened before."

The expression on her face was one of relief. Maybe gratitude and respect too.

My face, at the time, was all sympathy. It still is whenever I remember her.

But I also feel a rush of pride that I got the chance to get something so important so right. That I made a little lost girl feel part of the human race, helped her on her way to believing that not everyone is only interested in themselves.

Fostering can do this.

You don't get to feel proud in many callings, but in fostering, provided you take time to notice, a gentle and decent pride takes you by the arm.

A good companion alright.


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