Tuesday, August 20, 2019

"CAN I GET A DOG?"

Eldest foster child is away having a sleepover with a mate - who also happens to be a looked-after child.

House considerably quieter. It's not that he's loud it's that often the presence of foster children in your home means you're always slightly more alert than when you're alone or with your own brood.

Actually, I'll tell you something interesting, quite revealing...

When I say he's not loud I really mean it. He keeps himself to himself. Getting information out of him is like getting blood from a stone. He's the king of the one-word answer, a maestro of the time-honoured teenage one-answer-fits-all; "Dunno" or "Maybe".

eg; the "conversation" just before he left for his friend's house went;

Me: "What time are you leaving?"

Him: "Dunno."

Me; "What are you and Charlie going to get up to?"

Him "Dunno."

Me; "Is it just you and Charlie for the sleepover?"

Him: Dunno. Maybe."

Scintillating stuff!

However, last night he sent me a text message;

"Can I get a dog?"

I texted back; "I don't think dad's up for it."

Cut a very long story short, we spent the evening locked in text conversation. We swapped thoughts about getting him a dog, doing better with his maths, which teachers he likes best and why, what Charlie's family are like, how come Charlie is fostered, what he had to eat for tea - they went out -, what the restaurant was like, what he thought of the film they were watching while he was texting me, and much much more.

A total of 108 texts from him!!! This is a comparative encyclopaedia (remember those?) of information on him.

But it was more than that. The information was gold dust, but the mutual affection was platinum.

The texts were grammatically sound and spellchecker had done its job, which I took to be respectful of him. There were a few text shortcuts I had to look up (eg OOF - meaning "I'm relieved") and never a full stop at the end, which I understand is a signal of intimacy, a conversational trick to welcome a reply.

Our chat got to the stage where my phone pinged every 30 seconds.

It felt SO good, I felt like his mum and his best friend rolled into one.

He was missing me!

It's fashionable among older people to sneer at kids always on their phones. I bet if some long-faced goat had seen my foster lad texting away he'd have had a boring moan about whatever happened to conversation.

Maybe the kids way is better.

If it hadn't been for his mobile phone our relationship wouldn't have risen to a new level.

It was absolutely glorious, with only one minor fly in the ointment...

He doesn't merely want a dog, oh no.

He wants a husky. Yep, a HUSKY. Requiring a garden the size of Wales plus two to four walkies a day, of up to eight miles.

My plan, as usual on the "Can I have a dog/snake/monkey?" request* is to allow it to be forgotten until the next time.

But neither of us will forget that text chat, it was beyond heart-warming for both of us.

Another fantastic fostering moment.



*BTW  So far in fostering I've been asked; "Can I have a..."
...goldfish, tropical aquarium, formicarium (ant house), newt, terrapin, piranha, tarantula, giant centipede, hamster, gerbil, mouse, rabbit, budgerigar, parrot, cockatoo, kestrel(!), dog, cat, Maine giant cat, rhesus monkey, python, anaconda and a two-foot lizard called a blue-tongued skink.

Makes you wonder if maybe Noah was merely a Foster Carer who didn't know how to say no.



Monday, August 12, 2019

'WHY ARE YOU SO NICE?"

"Why are you so nice?"

The above question remains a memorable moment from my early days in fostering. It's up there  among the reasons why I've stayed fostered and keep on doing it.

His name was Kevin.

He didn't like his name, he told me that.

I asked him what he'd like to be called and he said "Jamie".

So I called him Jamie. How hard is that?

Jamie was very compliant the first few days. Then, when he was confident that we would love and respect him even if he let it all out, he had a meltdown. Nothing big; tears at bedtime, toys out of the pram. It was a Thursday night.

I remember with chilling clarity this dear little boy saying to me...

(Look, as the Secret Foster Carer I must ensure no child - or anyone who knows them - can ever identify the child should they happen upon this blog, but if this child ever reads this he might possibly recognise himself and so I apologise to him now and hope he understands that his courage and courtesy is worth passing on).

He said to me...

"If you were away from your mummy and you thought that something terrible was going to happen to her then you'd be frightened."

He was seven years old.

Jamie (Kevin) had learned that his job in the world was to find ways to protect his mum. Aged seven. Go imagine.

If you try to remember your life when you were seven years old, I bet that (like mine) yours wasn't perfect, but compared to having to...what? Stand in the way of men ten times your size? Find tricks to lessen impending violence? Keep your mum from doing another needle? Help her stagger upstairs and get into bed? Talk her out of jumping?

What did he mean? I asked but he was too anxious to tell me.

I reported all to my Blue Sky Social Worker and she and I pieced together that Thursday nights (it had been a Thursday) was a big night in Jamie's house, people had money. Thursday was what they called 'Payday' - when the benefits (as was) were paid out. Thursday night in Jamie's home was probably pub, pick-up, takeaway... back to her place...all the trimmings.. all sorts of goings on.

I tried to talk to Jamie about his home life, and keep him informed that his mum was straightening out. And it slowly dawned on me what he meant about me being 'Nice'.

It wasn't any big thing such as getting an overview on his case and developing a programme of targets and markers aimed at reconciling him with his significant others. That's the job, BTW, right there. That's the scientific role of the Foster Carer.

It wasn't even that I tried to provide a warm loving environment, and re-channelling information about his situation, re-defining his world in such a way as to ease his troubled mind - although that's the humanity of being a foster mum, right there.

It was just that I looked up with a smile when he came into the kitchen. I never said a word if he was late for the table. I cut off his crusts without ever banging on that they were good for him. I tidied his bedroom when he wasn't around and never mentioned the apple core under his bed.

I don't want to be seen to judge other parents, but I've seen a lot of parenting going on.

And blimey, don't some parents go on? On and on;

If I had a pound for every time I heard a lazy mum or dad look round from their chats with each other at the school railings and shout "Oi! Be careful!" because their child is running I could upgrade our Peugeot.

When I say 'lazy' I mean they don't take the trouble to understand what information the child can take on board and process what they say so that it doesn't come across as constant rebuke.

That is the world of the average child - whether they're in care or not. An unending chorus from adults of what NOT to do and what they have most recently done WRONG.

You see it over and over again when you take a foster child to Contact and their real parent claps eyes on them. Nine times out of ten their first remark is telling, here are a few genuine ones I remember;

"Look at your hair, forgotten how to use a comb?"

"Stop that disgusting sniffing, where's your handkerchief?"

"Come straight here. Now! Stop wandering everywhere."

"Charming. No nice hug for your mum then?"

Parents will say that they mean well, but I've always thought that defence is a cop-out.

All they have to do is show they care, really care. Show it so the child feels appreciated.

When Jamie's mother barked at him to get down from the foot-high wall which lined the stairs leading up to his Contact Centre I saw his spirits fall. 

When we left, just him and me, I said to him;

"You've got fantastic balance. See if you can walk down the little walk."

So he did. Got to the  bottom without falling off, and jumped down the six inches to the ground with aplomb.

Job done. Great job too, is fostering.







Sunday, August 04, 2019

THE PROBLEM HIERARCHY

It was a red letter day in the Secret Foster Carer's kitchen this morning!

Something I have been working on for about 30 years finally fell into place; to perfection. Absolute perfection. A perfection that can only be reached with non-human affairs.

Human relationships never seem to fall exactly into place - especially within a family.

And that can go double within a fostering family.

Let's not beat about the bush; family affairs are very... how shall I put it? Let's try "uneven". You never know when you wake up every morning who is going to be up and who is going to be down, or why the downs are downs and what if anything can be done.

I have a friend who tragically lost a son. It was a while ago now, and she and her husband and remaining children are making the best of it. I drop in for a cup of something every so often and we talk. We talk all over the place, but almost always find a moment to talk about their loss.

Last time I was there she explained how her wider family (her parents, brothers and sisters) were having trouble with something, a syndrome that my friend heard about from her counsellor (she sees someone once a week, finds it very helpful).

The thing her family were having trouble with is called the Problem Hierarchy.

The Problem Hierarchy works like this; within a family group,  even if the members are scattered around the home, even if separated  by work or school or because they live apart, they are aware of their own personal selves and their own feelings, especially their fears and problems. More to the point they are aware of how their own personal problems square up against those of the other members of the group. Because humans are social animals we crave company, especially company which offers us sympathy and support. We learn from an early age that a great way of getting what we need is to let people who are close to us know that we have problems.  This understanding comes to us at a very early age when we discover that skinning a knee gets lots of sympathy.

I've been to Blue Sky training sessions where we discussed how it's a good idea to reward a child who has played happily by herself by approaching her and showing interest, otherwise the child will learn that the only way they get your attention is by initiating a problem and getting upset.

My friend told me that her family were becoming uneasy because there was no way any of them could go to her with their problems because the loss of a child is so high up the Problem Hierarchy they fear they would appear thoughtless.

All this leads me to how the Problem Hierarchy affects us in fostering.

It's simple; it's highly unlikely that anyone else under your roof will have day-to-day problems that outweigh those of any foster child in your care. So you have to manage things accordingly.  Perhaps the foster child is aware of this and takes comfort in knowing that they have the broadest back, and that nothing that is going to be discussed at the table will match what they're dealing with.

The permutations are endless, and as with most things in fostering the Carer simply has to be on her toes all the time. There are moments to let the foster child have centre stage, and moments to ask the foster child to advise your own husband on what he should do about the neighbour who works noisily on his car until eleven o'clock at night.

As I said earlier, human relations never fall exactly into place. You can measure a child's height, but their emotional disposition is not only impossible to gauge, but it can change dramatically. A foster child can be 9 foot tall one minute and 3 inches tall seconds later. Only there's no easy way of knowing their emotional size at any given moment especially as you haven't seen them develop from day one, a factor which helps spot the feelings within your own brood.

Problem Hierarchy is another giddy challenge for the Foster Carer, another reason why this job is so fascinating.

But back to my big news. What was the achievement of a lifetime in my kitchen this morning?

Well, I finally managed something I have been accidentally working towards ever since I first had a kitchen to call my own. What happened was;

On my supermarket run this morning I had bought some fresh ground coffee (one of my foster children's nurse is visiting later and she prefers proper coffee to instant, and I enjoy a hit of fresh caffeine now and then too.

When I got home I needed an airtight Tupperware container to put the coffee in and store in the fridge.

I went to the back of the cupboard where my Tupperware lurks, and there it was; piled and ready to reveal to me my shining achievement. Which is that...

...my collection of assorted containers and lids (about 20 pieces in all) consisted of NOTHING but unmatchables.

Yep, every single container had lost its matching lid, and every single lid had lost its matching container.

I closed the foil coffee pack with a peg and as I put it in the fridge reflected on two of my human frailties. One; I will probably NEVER throw out the 20 useless pieces because a small voice tells me that maybe their partners will somehow turn up (stupid). Two; I felt a curious satisfaction that a measurable perfection in the world of objects, that could never be achieved in any human affairs, had at least come into my life this morning, namely that my Tupperware collection was 100% useless.

Not 50%, or even 90%. It was a watertight absolute.

And, thought I'm convinced there are no absolutes in human interaction, and in fostering you'll never play a perfect game, but I'm pretty much 100% certain that in fostering you're part of a perfect game.