Thursday, November 29, 2018

CHRISTMAS AND FOSTERING


There's a multitude of experiences that make fostering one of the best things you can do.

There are a multitude of little moments;

There's the first moment a foster child calls you 'mum' or 'dad' (their real parents will always be their real parents, but sometimes they choose to call me mum and that's for them - and it makes me feel proud). There's the moment they refer to your house as 'home', the moment they slip their hand into yours without being asked when it's time to cross a road, the moment you first hear them chortle a carefree laugh.

A multitude of big moments;

Their first holiday with you, first trip to the corner shop alone...

Then there are the huge moments, such as when your Social Worker helps you see how much progress the child is making and what a great job you're doing.

But of all of the great times in fostering, nothing beats Christmas, in fact nothing comes close. IMHO.

Hey, Christmas in fostering is not seamless joy and harmony, but then Christmas isn't like that for anybody except the cardboard folk on the Christmas movie channels.

Looking back on my years of fostering the Christmases just get better and better. I'm going to enjoy telling you why, but I'm sure to shed a few sweet tears, because Christmas in fostering is very emotional.

There was the foster child who was going home for Christmas. She was 16 and the deal struck was she could go home on Christmas Eve and come back to us on the 27th. Christmas Eve is always a special day, but this one was doubly so.

We'd helped her buy presents for her family. Her budget was tight so we'd slipped her a little extra to buy the things she wanted for them.

Okay, just so you know, I'm filling up right now because I know what happens...

So it gets to about 4.00 o'clock on Christmas Eve afternoon and we're due to set off to drive her over to her home. She had her bag of presents from us to her which we expected her to take to open on Christmas morning, but no. She said she wanted to open them with us. So we got together around the kitchen table and she opened her smellies from the Body Shop, her new phone cover, her box of Quality Street and so on.

I knew why she wanted to open them with us; it was because she didn't expect the presents at her home to have the same currency (I'd built that into my calculations about what to buy for her). But it showed an emotional intelligence - a kindness - in her that we'd been working on.

Okay, so we climb into the car and it's getting well dark. And she's going home for Christmas.

I knew what she'd been through and what memories she had of her home (I won't detain you, trust me you don't want to know), yet here she was, absolutely made up to be going home.

Talk about the triumph of hope over experience, but it's something you see a lot of in fostering. The kids can be so inspirational in their desire to re-unite their family and make things alright again.

OK, I had to take a moment there and dab eyes, honest.

So now we're in the car and I put on a CD of Christmas songs my other half had recorded.

There was one I was itching to play for her, so I fast forwarded to it, and she loved it.

And she pressed replay over and over for the whole 50 minutes it took us to drive her home.

Driving Home For Christmas.

Driving Home.

Imagine her happiness.

We had another child one Christmas who had never had a Christmas - not for religious or high-minded reasons, but simply because the adults in the house were too disorganised, too swamped. I could add 'too self-absorbed' and 'too self-serving', but hey in the spirit of Christmas I won't. The thing is that this poor mite KNEW that everyone else was decorating trees, buying gifts, planning food, fretting over visits from aunties and all the other excitements.

For this kid, Christmas Day had been just another day. Another Tuesday.

Imagine.

He picked up the whole thing so fast it was obvious he knew what he'd been missing. And the joy he exuded throughout December was the best present I'd ever had. When we all agreed (as we do every year) that this particular Christmas had been "Our best Christmas ever", I resisted shooting him a glance but I will hope for ever that he took us to mean that his presence was the clincher. Because it was.

Many people in fostering will have a different kind of Christmas for any number of good reasons, and I feel sure they'll have a good Holiday, I hope they do and I wish it for them. Many will have their own celebrations at other times of the year which are no less joyous, maybe even more spiritual.

But for me Christmas -  with all its famous flaws of commercialism, expense and indulgence - offers us an abundance of profoundly pure feelings if we reach for them.

Perhaps the best feeling of all is to give our children the chance to enjoy themselves. Enjoy the build-up, the anticipation of great things to come. Gifts yes, but also happy people, people enjoying each other, people free from the yolk of hard work for a couple of nutty days of dressing well, seeing bowls of nuts and crisps put out straight after breakfast and serious cooking smells starting around 10.00am.

Christmas is about giving, but not the giving of socks. It's giving our kids memories of childhood Christmases which will stay with them all their lives. And that goes double or treble for our foster kids.

And when they're old and need a stick to get from the sofa to the Christmas table they'll help the child next to them pull a cracker and put on the paper hat and spend a moment transported back to happy Christmas memories when they were fostered.

Transported back to a happy place.

Driving Home.

For Christmas




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