Thursday, December 31, 2020

THE QUICK FIX

I'm not one for quick fixes. Come to think of it I'm not one for anything done 'quick'.

For example you can keep quick drivers. And 'get rich quick' schemes.

Our children are facing the most chaotic academic year since WW2, all down to the covid pandemic.

Government UK seems hell-bent on getting schools opened asap despite the obvious risks. They tell us that if we don't cram hundreds of kids cheek-by-jowl under the same roof the children who were schooled during the pandemic will be disadvantaged compared with children who left school before 2020, and those that come later.

IMHO they're going to send kids back to school too quick, way too quick. 

Not even a 'fix' is it?

There is a solution. It's plain and simple. It levels the playing field and reduces unemployment at a stroke:

Forget the academic year 2020-2021. 

Just scrub it. 

Kids in year 10 right now should start year 10 again in September 2021. Kids who started school in September 2020 start all over again in Septemeber 2021. It means raising the school leaving age by a year which will mean unemployment will go down. Universities will experience a drop in applications but since they're run by people who are necessarily brainboxes they'll think their way out. Will commerce and industry miss a drop in job applications? Not if the avalanche of replies to every situation vacant ad is anything to go by.

Not only will this help stamp out Covid it'll take the heat off children, expecially those facing external exams. Make no mistake they're deeply worried about their future and parents (including foster parents) are having to constantly re-assure them that things will be alright for them. Exams are always a big worry, now they're even more so. 

It'll take the heat off teaching staff who are worried about their own wellbeing as well as getting the right results for the sake of the children, not to mention the matter of the schools targets.

I'd write to our MP but I'm anti-post at the moment, what with having to wipe down everything that comes through our letterbox…

Oh and PS;

BTW this is my own personal wheeze, not the policy of Blue Sky…

…yet. xxx


Monday, December 21, 2020

FLASHBULB MEMORIES

Foster children come and go and we're left with little flashbulb memories of them as souvenirs.

Kate was a big sixteen-year-old girl - I never normally include people's size when decribing them but in her case it was so significant that her social worker told us about it in preparing us for her arrival.

Kate had been removed from an abusive home.The father went to prison and her adult sister was allowed to stay partly to look after the mother who was disabled.

It had been a very abusive home, and it remained chaotic, but it was Kate's home and foster children always (almost always) want to go home.

Kate was allowed to spend alternate weekends at home provided she attended school. A crude deal but it was well meant.

However Kate wanted to go home every weekend. So this would happen every Friday evening when she was due to spend the weekend with us.

Kate would appear and say to me:

"I'm confused." Only she wasn't.

She would then whitter away about the deal, her home, her school attendance and finally come to her conclusion, namely that she was due to go home that weekend. She would always end her pitch with the same words;

"If that makes sense?" Only it didn't.

Thwarted she'd stomp upstairs and slam her bedroom door.

An hour later she would stomp back down in her hat and coat with an overnight bag and head for the front door. I would say;

"Kate, you're not due to go home this weekend."

There would follow a long and often passionate debate which would end up with me reminding her that if she left without permission I'd have to contact Blue Sky's Out Of Hours people and they'd have to decide if the police should be called. That decision would be based on how distressed she was and how vulnerable she might be.

The clock would tick towards 10.30pm which was the time of the last train back to her home town.

So far so bad..then things would look up. I would say;

"Look, I know how disappointed you must be. Is there anything we can do to help you feel better?"

And the answer was always the same;

"A Big Mac?"

So now the race is on because our McDonalds closed at 11.00. I'd hurry into a coat and we'd both jump into the car and hurtle (lawfully) down to the drive-through window.

The flashbulb memory I have of Kate came one Friday night as we were driving home and she'd had her first bite. She suddenly said, to no-one in particular, maybe just to herself;

"Don't the trees look lovely at night in the headlights?"

You've got to have some hapiness in your heart to notice suchlike.

Oh yeah, the reason she was overweight and it was a matter to be understood is that she'd made herself as unattractive as she could to ward off her father doing to her what he did to her older sister.

Dear Kate. I wonder where she is now?

Hope she's okay.


Sunday, December 13, 2020

A BIG SURPRISE FROM ONE FOSTER CHILD

Eldest foster child took a stance about Christmas that surprised me.

Eldest is tough as old boots, has never knowingly done or said anything sentimental in the several years I'm proud of having him in my brood.

I didn't get his stance until I heard someone say something on TV about Christmas and the penny dropped.

The programme was on Sky Arts which we watch sometimes for Tales Of The Unexpected.

It was a discussion between 5 film critics about the best Christmas Films.

There were some surprises; Fargo, for example. There were some obvious ones like White Christmas.

The thing that drew me in was that the film critics were truly enjoying each others company, sat at a mock-up of a Christmas dinner table with a stately home giant fireplace behind them. 

What was refreshing was their sheer love of good films and their shared respect and liking for each other.

Then one of them (I think it was Stephen Armstrong the Sunday Times critic) said this simple thing that stopped me short;

"The reason we love Christmas Day so much is because for one whole day we all step out of our lives."

Isn't that it in a nutshell?

Obvious really, and yet I'd never noticed.

I had spent decades thinking the reason we love Christmas is all the stuff: decorations, tree, presents, turkey, bucks fizz and of course family.

Wrong. They're nice, but they're not the essence.

The essence of Christmas is that for 24 hours we blot out the mundane bits of living, we eliminate work or school.

If we're concentrating on it being Christmas Day we're free of our worries, bad memories, lurking fears.

THIS is why Christmas is such a day of days for foster children.

It's even more important for them to have a day out of their lives than the rest of us, because they have had a much harder time than the rest of us.

Eldest foster child had come downstairs to find me dying a bunch of white socks red. 

"What you doin'?" he asked.

"Making some small Christmas stockings to hang this year."

"WHAT!!!" he roared…"WHY???"

I replied; "The huge ones are too big now, it costs a fortune to fill them and the wrapping of a hundred stocking-fillers is a killer. And I have had to make them because you can't buy small Christmas stockings, not even on Amazon."

He stared at me eyes blazing;

"You CAN"T use anything but the usual ones. Everybody expects it. We love getting all the stupid things like Post-It notes and an orange!"

I gave in quicker than you can say a partridge in a pair tree.

Christmas to him, to foster children everywhere, is a precious day when things are as they should be in their lives, or at least a lot closer to how they should be.

It's the most different day of the year, and yet it must be either exactly the same as all the previous ones or exactly the same as they imagine it will be.

A day of lovely surprises, which are eagerly expected, looked forward to for weeks and cherished.

A day out of their lives.






Saturday, December 05, 2020

FOSTERING FAMILY MONTH

 December is Fostering Family month at Blue Sky.

We (me, my other half, and our children) used to be a family, now we are a fostering family.

When we were just a family we were typical of many families; we managed to stick together through thick and thin, we had likes and dislikes about being a family, and like most families we didn't pay enough attention to the likes, instead harped on mostly about things that got our goat.

If we got anything wrong big time it was that we never once realised how lucky we were to be a family.

Fostering changed that, totally, and overnight too.

In a trice our being a foster family made us a happier family. Not merely because helping someone less well off than yourself is something that should make everyone feel better about themselves, it went deeper.

They say you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone, well our family didn't have to go our separate ways for us to begin realising how lucky we were. We got to know and understand the sheer horror facing innocent children whose families are no more; probably never were.

We had failed to notice and enjoy the warm feeling of connection you get when you struggle home through the door and someone is prepared to shout an enquiry as to whether you were born in a barn. We missed how lovely we felt when someone moaned that we'd used all the hot water and they wanted to wash their hair. 

Instead we had to imagine what it must have been like to have your single mother screw a padlock onto the outside of your bedroom door so she could go to the pub every night, and burn your toys in the garden on Boxing Day to teach you a lesson. Those things had happened to our first placement, they were there in black and white in the child's case notes.

Such things bring you to the surface with a jolt and make you appreciate the things you've got going.

You can't learn about things like that happening to children and not feel like hugging every one of your family. You also can't help wanting to give the world to that poor kid, every foster child who comes your way, not just because they deserve it but because they help you see your own family in its true light. They help you feel warm feelings for the home you've created.

Fostering is as good a tonic as "It's A Wonderful Life".

Which it is, obviously (a wonderful life). A Fostering Family has a wonderful life twice over, once because of the good we get to be involved in (with Blue Sky along for the whole ride, and as rides go it's the best roller coaster in the world) we also get to realise how lucky we are as a family to have avoided chaos, to have swerved the crash and burn stories of all too many families.

If you're one of the growing number of people who are wondering if fostering is something you might be able to do, now's the perfect time.

Contact Blue Sky the minute you click away from this page.


Sunday, November 29, 2020

TOBLERONE AND THE SWEETNESS OF FOSTERING

 Having been in fostering a while I sometimes risk getting to think I know most of it.

That silly notion comes up and bites me every time.

So what happened a few weeks before the first lockdown was this;

Youngest foster child, who has been with us about 15 months, says they're ready to go into town on their own on a Saturday morning, hook up with school friends and come home as and when.

Didn't actually say "As and when".

The exact phrase was more like; "I'll come home when I'm ready, alright?"

Many foster children need to show a bit of attitude to aid their self-respect, I roll with the little punches;

Me; "Yeah, only it's pizza tonight so you want to text me what you want?"

Answer; "Maybe."

All children reach an age when they start to cross the bridge away from their parents and strike out on their own. It's difficult enough with you own kith and kin, much more complicated when you're managing it with somebody else's child.

I let the child go into town. I talked to our Blue Sky Social Worker and we reckoned it was about right for the child; right for their age and development. Anyway…what you going to do if you want to keep the child home, put a lock on the door?

My own feeling was that it was a bit early for the child. The child is, in my guess, a tad too young, too unstreetwise to deal with being in town without a parent/guardian.

I told the child my misgivings and said that if the child wanted to prove me wrong, stay out of trouble and be home before dark. (I know you see what I did there, it's not rocket science). I told the child I'd worry all the while, and the reason I'd worry is because I don't just care about the child, I love the child). I told the child I don't worry that the child will get it wrong, I worry about other people who can make mistakes about children's behaviour and attitude.

The child went. Walked in. And was gone about four hours. Where the child went and with who was their business, and late afternoon I got a phone call;

"Er yeah can you pick me up?"

"Where will you be?"

"Er yeah like..by the bus stop."

"Which bus stop?"

"The one by the lay by! Obviously!"

I drove down.

Child got in car in silence unless a grunt counts as "Good evening and thank you for picking me up."

When we got home child jumped out of the car, slammed the door and dashed for the front door.

I noticed some forgotten shopping the child had done; not much, a Toblerone. I picked it up and stood it on the kitchen table. Child had disappeared upstairs, not to be seen until tea time. The family began gathering and when he showed up I said;

"You forgot your Toblerone, it's on the table."

And the child shot a look at me like I'd said something ruinous.

After tea everyone dispersed and I was left alone to deal with the debris as is often the case (I find it less hard work doing it myself than trying to commandeer an army of reluctant 'helpers').

The child appeared, or at least poked a head round the kitchen door to whisper;

"The Toblerone is for you innit?"

Child then added;

"Don't get emotional alright?"

And then was gone.

Can't bring myself to eat it yet, it's on the window sill above the kitchen sink so I see it every time I'm there...





Wednesday, November 25, 2020

HERE COMES THAT HOLIDAY

Look, the Christmas holiday is complicated enough in fostering without pandemic fears, lockdown confusion, tiers, masks, distancing etc etc etc etc etc .

Imagine; 

You're a ten year-old who's been separated from their real family and installed in a strange new home with people you've never met before in a house with strange rooms, unfamiliar smells and furniture, a toilet and shower you had to learn to use. Everything is new and unusual.

You're in fear. What did you do wrong to have this happen? They keep saying it's not your fault but all your life everything's been your fault.

All you want is to go home, at least you knew where you stood with the conflicts and chaos. 

You desperately need to know that your parents and the rest of your family aren't ill.

And now here comes Christmas, a time when you got given stuff, sometimes not much, sometimes too much (you don't understand the politics of over-compensation). What will happen this year?

Imagine that.

Or, imagine this;

You're a thirty-something adult whose life in in disarry. You can't make ends meet so you have to scheme and struggle to raise the cash to buy your essentials. Plus the dodgepot who supplies your essentials has just been busted.

Your partner is being a total pain and the police didn't understand your side of it they just wanted to nail you both for something you never did.

Then your kids got taken away and everyone thinks you are a bad parent not that you get to see anyone any more when you're meant to spend all day in your tiny terraced house which the council only gave you because you had kids so they'll probably boot you out any minute.

Imagine that.

Now imagine this;

You're a forty-something foster mum who has to organise some kind of Christmas for your own family while observing the rules about mixing AND organise some sort of acceptable Christmas between the foster child and the child's family. Something that will be (somehow) good for the child, maybe even good for the child's family.

Good luck.

Oh yes, and now imagine this;

You're  a Blue Sky Social Worker whose job (one of many, many others) is to oversee the whole kish and kiboodle not just for the above scenario, but for a bunch of others on your books. All of whom have the same headache only slightly different in every case.

On top of that...the 7 days between Christmas Day and New Years day is the busiest time in fostering with more children having to be taken into care than at any other time. Only this year is likely to be the worst ever because countless families have already got fed up with each other long before the previously welcomed spate of endless days stuck with each other's company comes along.

This isn't a 'Bah Humbug!' BTW.

I still can't wait for Christmas, even though I'm not a Christian. I love the holiday so much it makes me wish I was Jewish and Muslim and Hindu and Sikh so I could get excited about Hanukkah, Ramadan and Diwali. 

Maybe that'll be my New Year Resolution.

Oh wait. I traditionally resolve to lose ten pounds in weight and to stick to a diet.

A resolution which I traditionally trash every January 3rd.



Sunday, November 22, 2020

THANK YOU.

 I've never said this out loud, but I've thought it from time to time;

Thank you for reading this blog.

I thank you because if you're reading this you're either a Foster Carer or someone thinking about it, or a Social Worker or someone else with either a professional or personal interest in a walk of life which is, as you already know, a walk on the wild side.

So I'm saying a personal thank you for your humanity.

We need kindness and caring always, perhaps now especially so.

Middle foster child was awake well into the night last night (a Saturday night, so late nights are cool). But it was seriously way into the night, and I find I don't nod off until the last child is zzzing.

I heard a pad across the bedroom floor. Ten minutes later a bit of music - not loud, but loud enough.

When this happens you lie there wondering whether to knock on the door and ask if everything is alright, but if you do it would show you could hear and they don't want that, don't want to be monitored, fair enough.

I must have nodded off. 

Later, the sound of stairs creaking; someone going down. Probably to the kitchen to grab a clandestine packet of crisps or suchlike. I decided I'd better check up so I put on a dressing gown over my fostering pyjamas (T shirt and jogging bottoms) and timed a trip across the landing as the child was coming up.

"Hey" I said casually as child hit the top of the stairs with me pretending I was heading for the loo.

"Er…hey..." came back.

"You okay?"

'Not really. I've got a dilemma…"

I guessed as much. I said;

"Dilemma. That's a good word."

"Yeah? So what. I've been reading like you lot all want me to do. Jees do you ever 'king pay attention?"

Did I mention, child has anger issues. We roll with the punches.

"What's the dilemma?"

Child told me. If you've got an ounce of humanity this will hurt in a good way. This little person, who has been through more than I am able to tell you, seriously, and is left with emotional scar tissue that will probably never go, but perhaps they'll learn to live with, said;

"I've only got £2.16p in my account."

We're starting this youngster on the road to financial independence, Blue Sky have been great advising on the ways and means. We found a bank that supported an account that we could access as could the child. Pocket money gets paid in. We see the transactions. 

I was surprised the account was so low.

"What have you been buying?" I asked. Of course, I could check up, but it was the logical question to ask.

Child: "Stuff…"

Me:"Oh. What sort of stuff?" I asked, expecting to hear something about gaming and virtual weapons or some rock band's latest merch.

There was a silence, then;

"Presents."

I was a bit surprised, but asked;

"Presents? For…?"

"For you 'king idiots obviously!"

I said nothing. What's to say?

"Shoot! Everything's so 'king expensive!!!"

I said;

"Whoa, listen; Christmas is expensive. You don't have to fork out for the likes of me and dad and all the other folks in this house, we'll help you buying your presents."

Long story short, child did not want help. Child wanted to buy presents using own dough. Told me he'd bought 'dad' (yeah child calls my partner 'dad' but struggles to see me as 'mum' - no problem).

Child has bought his 'dad' a….

….scarf.

Yeah. Bought the foster dad a scarf. On the internet. With own pocket money. You tell me what that means about the child's heart.

Totally true, in case anyone ever thinks I make anything up here, I don't have to, fostering is this good, it's this great.

But back to my point, thanks for coming here, and whoever you are thanks, and may I be the first to wish you a happy holiday.

X






Friday, November 13, 2020

NEW CHILD

Long story short we have a spare bedroom, so we've put ourselves forward to take short-term placements. By 'placement' - if you're new to fostering - I mean 'foster children being placed in your home'.

We've stipulated short term for a bunch of reasons. One; we might need the bedroom back for family reasons (I said long story short…) but we'd get enough notice of that. Two; our unusual family is clicking at the moment and it would be silly to rock the boat.

But, yeah, we've got a new face in the house. I can't say the name, but it's a quaint one..think; "Horace".

The first clue you get about a child is their name. It tells you stuff about the parents. Homes where there's chaos often have children with extravagant names. Don't ask me why.

Horace is ten, very well behaved. One of the boons about short-term is that the honeymoon doesn't get a chance to wear off, so your placements stay good as gold until time for goodbye.

Horace is, however 'picky'. None of his food must be allowed to touch other food on his plate. He insists that meals are served at exact times, and he likes to show up on the dot. He inspects his laundry for any marks that have defied the washing machine. I guess it's about getting some control. I can deal with it, but it makes food preparation challenging.

He won't touch anything green. Tomatoes and mushrooms are out. Of the cereals only rice crispies. The smell of cheese makes him gag. And so on…

I don't consider it a problem, he'll either grow out of it or accommodate it.

Or like some apparently sane and normal adults, make it cause for celebration!

See, sometimes I shop in Waitrose (it's the nearest supermarket to me, the staff are great but some of the customers drive me to the edge - the ones who take some pride in shopping in what they think is a 'posh' shop and want to make sure everyone knows they're there. They do this by barking swanky remarks about how picky they are as if they're gourmets. Some things I've overheard;

Husband: "Shall we have some new potatoes?"

Wife: (very loudly): "Only if they have fresh dill. One can't have new potatoes without fresh dill."

or:

To a staff member: "Why do you only sell quail's eggs in boxes of six? One should be able to buy two."

One woman bought a pound of whitebait at the fish counter and instructed the person serving to: "Clean each of them, and carefully please." Yep, she wanted her her hundred whitebait gutted…

This at the ham counter;

Wife (to husband): "There is no point getting ham off the bone because I'm serving them as closed sandwiches so nobody will know. If we buy ham off the bone I'll have to make open sandwiches and they need napkins. So no to your suggestion, packet ham will be fine."

I often wonder what sort of children they were. 

And frankly I worry more about them and their pickyness more than Horace.


Thursday, October 29, 2020

GENUINELY SCARY HALLOWEEN

Oh dear the tiny problems this pandemic throw up besides the unimaginable ones.

It'll be Halloween in a couple of days!

Every Halloween for the last few decades we've gone along with it, and gone along with whatever our foster children wanted from it. Very few wanted to go out door-knocking. Even fewer wanted to dress scary, for their own reasons. They preferred to stay in, pass judgement on the kids who trick or tretated at our front door, and hold high hopes that our stash of sweets would not be exhausted and that 'someone' would have to help see the sweets off…

But this year...what?!

Do we buy in our usual stash of goodies in case the neighbourhood children are doing it?

Tempted to, just in case they call. Why shouldn't children's life go on?

Will we put the candlelit pumpkin face in our window, which tells the kids we're up for Halloween?

Possibly, just in case.

We're wondering about putting a saucer with a few treats on a table two metres away from our front door, telling them to help themselves, then replenish it for the next wave.

If a 'wave' comes. The sensible me hopes nobody does it this year, the sentimental me worries that some child will go to great lengths with great excitement (the supermarkets are selling pumpkins and witches accessories…) and be disappointed.

"What about masks?" I asked absently in the presence of sharp-as-a-tack eldest foster child.

"Mum…" he said (yes he calls me 'mum', it's his call too, I'm so proud) "Duh. It's Halloween. It's the one night of the year when everyone wears masks…"

He made a decent enough point. I didn't argue that wearing a rubber werewolf mask is not necesssarily in line with face coverings, but that would have been an argument that would have run until Christmas.

Speaking of Christmas…

Oh let's not go there yet…

Happy Halloween, whatever that means!


Monday, October 26, 2020

SUMMERTIME

Fostering throws up plenty of questions such as; "Why did I let myself in for this…"

No, seriously, the questions don't come only from one's own mind. Foster children ask the strangest things, sometimes tinged with enormous wisdom and insight.

Middle one yesterday;

"We put the clocks back an hour? Why?"

Me; "It's to do with daylight saving."

Him: "How does it save daylight? That's stupid. There's the same amount of daylight as before."

Me: "Well not quite, the days are getting shorter."

Him: "So it's just to fool ourselves then yeah?"

Me: "Well it means that children will go to school in daylight and that's safer for them."

Him: "What? Everyone goes by car or bus to school and they've got lights, and the streets have got lights. Queen Victoria's dead dontcha know.."

Me: "Yes but…"

Him: "In any case you say they made you put the clocks back to make it safer for kids to go to school. Bt they did it at the start of most kids half-terms when they er…aren't going to school."

Me: "It's tradition to put the clocks back an hour on the last Sunday in October."

Him: "Tradition? I saw a YouTube where it used to be a tradition in ancient Britain to eat the first born male child but they stopped when they realised the sun would rise anyway even if it didn't get its sacrifice. It's called progress duh."

I'm writing this early on the next morning, the Monday. It's 5.00am, but in my mind it's really 6.00am, we went to bed 'early' or was it our usual  time? Or was it late? I dunno.

He's right, it's silly. So;

I'm plotting letting him have his way and put all the clocks back to where they were. It'll mean dark mornings but light evenings. We work from home at the moment, the children have no reason to get up at the crack of dawn for school. The only glitch will be time checks on the radio and the TV schedules will be an hour out. But the kids don't watch conventional TV anyhoo.

The MAIN THING is - if I do this thing - I've got myself a little thing going. Having a houseful of foster children, your own children, both parents and assorted creatures needs to have something going during holidays, lockdowns, holidays, stay home and isolate, lockdown, holidays...

It might not be much but I can make something of us being the only house in the UK still on SUMMERTIME.

So I will. 

ps;

Oh-oh. I've just remembered the danger of encountering the fussy operator on the switchboard who answers the phone at 12.01pm and goes;

"Good Morni…Oh I'm so sorry, it's after noon…Good Afternoon!"

I'll miss that bridge when I come to it.



Saturday, October 17, 2020

BAKE OFF YOURSELF

 One of the great fallbacks in fostering is cooking. 

On a rainy day, when there's nothing on the TV, when no-one's got any friends, when Contact gets cancelled. It used to get howls of derision;

"Lame!"

But down the years I've learned to jazz it up, like last weekend.

The Saturday had dragged and Sunday started too early, the first "I'm bored!" broke ground before my other half had finished watching the morning re-run of last night's Match of the Day. Actually, I think it might have been other half who let out the all-too-familiar whinge.

Me; "Watch yourself everybody. I smell a bake-off coming on!"

Works like this; kids v parents. I put out flour, eggs, sugar and a bunch of other ingredients - loads of jars and packets and sachets. The whole thing looks exciting and challenging, they usually get sucked in partly because they know they're going to win, they win every time. It's as honest as the Nevada boxing commission.

Each of the two teams goes away and discusses what they're going to make. They're allowed multiple entries, up to one person (therefore two for the parents, five for the children). It works best when everyone teams up. My other half plays the fool beautifully, usually manages to drop an egg on the floor (dog gets it), and get himself told off for using doughy hands to turn on the tap.

I get one of the kids to be Mary Berry and eldest LOVES being Paul Hollywood and/or the wonderful Sandi Togsvig.

For me one of the dark arts is making it last as long as possible simply because a) it's a great activity and b) as soon as it's over, their appetite for entertainment sharpened they're baying "I'm bored!" again.

What am I a Butlins Redcoat?

A friend of mine - another foster carer - gets herself dialed up on Whats All to look at the finished efforts and pronounce the kids the winners.

I do exactly the same for her when she wheels it out.

I wonder if it would work with Landscape Artist of the Year?


Friday, October 09, 2020

IT'S OKAY TO BE SAD

How are you doing with the way the world is right now?

The thing with blogging is that someone will probably read this post some years from now when (hopefully) there'll be a vaccine for Covid 19 and life will be back to normal. But more likely you're reading this with the pandemic in full flow, the second wave kicking in. We have no idea what the Christmas holidays will be like, and few people will be surprised if there's talk of a third wave in the New Year.

Everywhere you go everyone is putting on what they think is their brave face but inside it seems to me that we're all incredibly sad.

Are you? Maybe not all the time, and there are plenty of times when we are so busy with responsibilities we don't realise we are sad.

How could we not be sad when we're trudging around in face masks, banned from get-togethers, working alone at home and frightened that we're going to get a disease that can kill us inside a month?

Loneliness was a problem before the virus, now it's a hundred times worse.

I'm positive that after the Covid pandemic will come a pandemic of a different kind; a wave of PTSD for which there'll be no preparedness and no easy cure.  Not only post traumatic shock disorder but all sorts of mental ills such as;

Friends and family of those struck down may suffer survivor guilt along with the guilt that they may have inadvertently passed the virus on to the victim. This is especially likely among the people who seem to have an irrational fear of masks.

All the inevitable job losses and financial hardships will heap massive stress on families - we managed a trip to the pub before the latest round of restraints kicked in and couldn't help overhearing the man at the next table (2 metres away) saying to his friend;

"They're going to wait until last thing on Friday afternoon to tell us all, so that we'll have the weekend to calm down."

The nation's news-aholics - people who turn on the news every chance they get - will surely end up addled beyond belief as they dine on endless images of bad news Covid briefings, test and trace failings, empty high streets and reporters in masks. 

Our GP told me that patients are contacting her and asking "What's the point?" My elderly neighbour said to us "I don't want to die like this."

It seems to me - and I'm no psychiatrist although I have an appetite for people and their problems - that the only thing to do when a sadness overwhelms us is to be sad, and say to ourselves;

"Of course I'm sad today, how could I not be sad?"

This is the advice I give my family, including the foster kids, all of whom get plenty sad.

Actually, to be honest, it was one of my children who woke me up to this way of staying mentally fit. He'd had some ups and downs so Blue Sky began making arangements for him to talk to a councillor (via Zoom). But it didn't happen. The boy came to me and said;

"I'm sad. It's alright to be sad. If I wasn't sad there'd be something wrong with my head. There isn't. I'm just sad, and I know it. And so long as I know it it's okay."








Sunday, September 20, 2020

FOSTERING AND FOOD

So; Sunday morning quite early I was standing at the sink trying to work out how to clean out a peanut butter jar of those smears you can't get with a spoon, because I've just found out you're not supposed to put anything with food attached or even to which food has been attached (eg pizza boxes) in the recycle bin.

Complicated? Still it's for the best.

I had a kettle boiling to try to melt the stuff off, I'm standing wondering why the peanut butter people chose a jar which has an inside lip which stops you getting the last remnants of peanut butter out to smear on one last slice. I bet there's a YouTube on it. I found myself remembering that the mustard magnate Colman said that his fortune depended on the fact that over half of his mustard got put on the side of people's plates then scraped off after the meal uneaten.

Don't stings like that make you uneasy? Some things we discover are not for the best.

So I'm standing there feeling a bit, yeah, less than 50%.

Then eldest sends me a text message from his bedroom, this is eldest foster child. 

Eldest was neglected as a baby, as an infant, as a child. As Foster Carers we're trained to know that sometimes neglected children are enhanced by their neglect because they need to develop strategies earlier than children who are cared for properly. Is that theory true? Read on…

Eldest texted;

"Can I have a bacon baguette?"

See that? Not just a bacon sarnie or a bacon roll, no…a bacon baguette.

I sussed that this was because child had seen the French stick I'd bought on my Saturday shop, just for fun. But he'd had one before.

So I set to work, fished a pack of back bacon out of the fridge.

Child needs all the white fat cut off the bacon before it goes in the pan, and while it's cooking I have to be standing by with kitchen roll to dab off any blobs of white stuff that bubble up on the bacon which I told him were just water (I hope they are), but child still insists on zero white stuff.

While the bacon is cooking I slice the baguette lengthways into two separate pieces (child doesn't want hinged baguette, says they are hard to close without stuff spilling).

Eldest, estimating the time the bacon baguette will take to be ready, arrives in the kitchen two minutes early and says;

"And can it be a BLT?"

I replied yes. Then he said;

"Is the lettuce an Iceberg?"

I replied that it wasn't. I said that I'd had to chuck the last of the Iceberg last night as what was left of it was going brown. So he asked how I was going to come up with a BLT. I said;

"There's a couple of little gem lettuces in the fridge. He said;

"Little gem? Are they like Icebergs?"

I replied that frankly, lettuce is lettuce. A bag of water for 90 pence yeah?

"Wrong!" he said. "Some lettuce is more…"

I waited. Silence. Then I said;

"More what?"

And he replied;

"More…profound."

Gobsmacked by this insight I stuttered;

"Profound?"

"Yes!" he said, "Deeper, stronger, more…lettucey."

"And you don't want that."

"No"

So I ended up trimming off the darker green flowery ends of the little gem so all he had were the crunchy white stalks and the insipid pale yellow part of the leaves that mimicked the Iceberg.

He took the creation up to his room. 

A couple of hours later he brought his plate down. Which, by the way, was big. It was like;

"You did the work on the baguette = I bring the plate down."

By which time I still hadn't fathomed the peanut butter jar problem.

But I'd had another reminder why I love this fostering thing.

Catch a niff?


Thursday, September 10, 2020

SHIPS THAT PASS IN THE NIGHT

She came to us at very little notice...it was either our house or she'd have to sleep in a police cell, would you believe, aged seven.

I have never found the police to be anything other than fantastic when they are involved in helping children. All the same our spare bed was better than a night in a police station, with who knows yelling what in the next 'suite'.

My phone had rung at about 11.30pm, it was the emergency officer at the local authority. I didn't know the young social worker but she seemed to know me, she said;

"It might only be for one night Mrs ******, we'll do the placement process in the morning. Do you want me to call Blue Sky and let them know?" 

Blue Sky are 24/7, but whichever Blue Sky person is on duty might as well slumber on, all was well. I sent them a text message.

The main thing is to get the child a roof over their head, a full tummy and a warm bed. We can do the paperwork when offices open.

The police car was outside our house not ten minutes later. The officer's had got the go-ahead from the local authority and brought the little girl up our path. Two officers, one male one female, both being so soft and gentle it made the heart glow.

They handed her over, she was feigning being asleep or semi-conscious, so I took her straight upstairs and got her into bed. Her name was Rachael. She had nothing apart from her T shirt and leggings. Bare feet, cold hands. The officers had put a few bits of clothing in a carrier bag. She didn't want anything to eat. I tucked her in and said some kind words.

I dashed downstairs to catch the officers and see what they could tell me about what had happened, but they'd told my husband everything they knew so they left and the two of us had a cup of tea and he filled me in.

There'd been a 'five fencer' and the police were called. A 'five fencer' is a domestic that can be heard five houses away. 

The police turned up to find a rolling conflict between several adults. Two or three of them scarpered when the blue lights arrived. This was on an estate not far from us which has a reputation, probably well earned, for upheaval. 

The first police unit called for backup as they were outnumbered and in the meantime started de-escalation. They told my husband they suspected from the off that all of the adults were affected by alcohol and probably by substance abuse. The officers spent the time until their colleagues arrived smiling and agreeing with every outrageous accusation that was put to them, calming things down.

The adults were asked if anyone else was in the house. One of them said something about a niece but that she was 'someone else's problem'. One of the officers carried out a house check, looking in every room and calling out. Nothing. 

Two adults were handcuffed and put in a car, their arrest being on the basis that blood had been spilled and that those whose blood had been spilled were more likely to be the victims, so an ambulance was called for them. 

You could see what the officers were doing; they had to move things on. They couldn't spend all night piecing together events in search of the truth, not with a bunch of angry inebriates. So; two to the cells, two to A+E, a third adult who apparently was not the worse for wear, went with the 'victims' in the ambulance to support them.

At that point the original two officers were left with an open house, lights blazing, TV blaring. They went in to make the house safe, and one of them did a final sweep of the house. 

Upstairs, under a pile of rank old clothes and a soiled single duvet, she found a cowering trembling little girl, Rachael.

Imagine. Imagine what Rachael had gone through that night. Actually probably not much different from most nights of her life. 

She stayed for two nights, didn't go to school, just in recovery. I gave her every ounce of love and empathy I could but I don't think anything got through. It takes a lot longer. Social services tracked down her mother's sister who they said was on the straight and narrow and would look after Rachel until things sorted themselves out, whether they did or not I don't get to know.

You never forget any of the children who come to you for foster care, no matter how short the time they're with you. You remember everything about them, with hope and optimism. 

These little ships that pass in the night.




Saturday, September 05, 2020

MUMS AND DADS

When a young person comes into your home to live, their thoughts about their real parents are so very important to the whole exercise.

Fostered children have difficult perceptions about their parents, most will always struggle thinking about  their mum and dad.

Who doesn't sometimes?

A few years ago, after my dad died, I found a photo of him I liked. He was a young man of 29 sat astride a big motor bike. I had the photo blown up and took it to a framing shop to get it made up. The young man in the shop looked at the photo and went;

"Wow!"

I said;

"Yeah, that's my dad."

He went;

"It's a BSA isn't it?"

He studied the pic with ferocious intent.

"Yeah definitely a BSA, I think."

I said I didn't know, and added; 

"It's my dad."

He said;

"Cowling is the key, I'll get the magnifier."

He did. My dad was indeed sitting on a BSA. This interested the man no end.

"I think it's a 350." he said, adding "Wow."

I said;

"My dad motorbiked across Europe on it after the war. He rode it all the way to East Germany and tried to defect to the Soviet Union."

The man didn't reply, he was trying to read the number on the bike's petrol tank. I went on;

"My dad was very idealistic. He believed that communism was best for a fair and peaceful world."

The man replied;

"The first number looks like a '3', so It's probably a 350."

I continued;

"Of course back then we didn't know about the terrible things Stalin was doing to his own people. Good job they didn't let him in, or else he'd probably have ended up in a Gulag. And I wouldn't be here."

The young man ended the 'chat' by saying;

"They don't make 'em like that any more."

He framed it for me and it's hanging in the kitchen. I often look at it and remember my dad.

I also remember the young man, who had such an impossible task getting his heart to wake up to the concept of 'dad'. Why was he deaf to the word 'dad'?  It was worse than deaf, it was almost a dead word to him. Why did the person in the picture mean nothing to him compared to the machine?

I expect his relationship with his dad was what we call 'normal'; probably fair to average. I doubt he'd been taken into care or anything drastic, but it reminds me how difficult it must be for fostered children to think about their parents - if a 'normal' lad struggles to picture someone else's dad but instead displaces the concept in his head with motor bikes.

Bottom line for me in fostering is this; I never, ever ask. If they mention their folks I'm happy to go along but what we talk about and how we talk is in their control.

Even so it's a fair bet there'll be some anger shortly afterwards...



Thursday, August 27, 2020

A LEVELS AND FOSTER CHILDREN

There's this flippin' TV ritual every summer, happens about halfway through the school holidays. As a foster mum  it's started to get my goat.

Happens every summer, usually a Thursday, 6.00am. A level results come out. Breakfast TV sends cameras and reporters to schools for pictures of delighted kids, proud parents. By lunchtime it's still a 'hot' story because the 'experts' have crunched the numbers find an issue, maybe; this years results are up (they always seem to be) and by how much (not a lot, usually). Whatever, they transmit plenty of footage of well-to-do kids (sorry, they always are) all excited about their results.

The results are still the big story come the evening news with an "Education Correspondent" on hand to 'analyse' things. More shots of well-groomed kids all ga-ga  about their results.

The following morning's newspapers carry 'news' of the exam results in the form of opinion columnists along the lines of 'are our exams getting soft' or some other stirring up of things. And images of ecstatic kids, who've done good

What gets my goat? It's that the whole reporting buys into the shaky presumption that good A level results=your choice of Uni=a good degree=a good job=lifelong security and … happiness.

That's why A Level result day is TV pictures of squealing kids opening envelopes and jumping with glee, lads sagely reflecting on a future with British Steel then a proud parent steps into the shot to hug and kiss and imply their everyone's dream has come true. 

I used to do a bit of journalism; the "A Level Results day" news story is a sacred one for newsrooms for two reasons; One, there's not much else going on in August. Two; the 'news' is selected and served up by journalists; people who themselves have A levels, people who remember their A levels and have children or family who are going to sit, have just sat, or recently sat A levels. It's a big deal for them personally so they reckon the rest of us are similarly wrapped up in them. Plus they can spin it as a 'positive' news story (did TV ever show a kid look at the bit of paper and fill up saying they blew it?)

I'm not impressed because my foster kids aren't bothered, in fact the exact opposite.

The succession of shiny kids from comfy homes with supportive  parents is great. Good luck to them; though they need less luck than the rest. It's galling for the kids who got no start in life and find the gap between themselves and the fortunate ones already too big to close. 

The kids in care.

Where's the coverage of them and their crossroads in life? The kids who have no exams, no tag onto life because their home life was rubbish? Not ever in the news. Tucked away in 'documentaries' scheduled against Eastenders and Coronation St.

Where's the reporters outside their door going; 

"Well done for staying out of jail this year."

The proud parent saying "Yeah she done really good, so proud of her for staying off drugs and looking after her gran."

Which is often a bigger achievement than an A level B grade…





Tuesday, August 25, 2020

FOSTER CHILDREN AND THEIR MUM

He was worried about his mum. He didn't come to me and say 'I'm worried about my mum', you have to work these things out for yourself.

He was late home after going out to see friends. The late thing was no big deal, worth a word but he barked back;

"Fer f's sake, gimme a break!"

You never know what's boiling up in foster children, nor do they generally.

I could have said something like;

"Don't talk to me like that!"

or:

"Language!"

Stupid to go there, so I went something like;

"Alright fella, sort yourself out, I can warm up your dinner, about half an hour?"

He'd been knocking round with a bunch of mates, hanging round places like the high street War Memorial - not many other places to go at his age - then getting an invite to go to the house of one of the gang and hang.

The mum was in the house.

He talked to me about her when dinner was done.

"Yeah," he said, "She was cool. She made us some sandwiches and juice. When she went out to the kitchen we made some jokes about how she was like y'know and, yeah, one of us was inappropriate, not me."

We talked for half an hour, it's the heart of fostering. 

He knew that his mum was somehow not right about men and so males talking in a certain way about females made him feel uncomfortable, but not in a way he understood.

The thing was this; I knew there was no way that in the short space of talking about how he felt about his friends talking about mums the conversation was going to nail anything for him. But it could be a start, so I kind of said;

"Complicated, sons and their mums."

He got up and walked upstairs, saying; ".."

What I mean by the above is he said nothing, but the way he shifted his chair behind him and buried his hands in the pockets…those things were enough.

I knew from his background notes that his mother was all over the place; drink, drugs, theft, dubious men - she was vulnerable, sadly, but also something of a danger to her children. 

He had every right to resent her for her failings as a mother. Especially whejn he saw another person's mum being okay.

But he loved her and wanted to be with her to protect her; it's a common trait in fostered children and one which we carers find a bit frustrating...at first.

Then we come to see how wonderful it is, how empowering and uplifting.

He even got upset when a mate of his said something bad about another mate's mum, that was the thing.

A while later I reminded him that his mum is okay and that if she had any problems he'd be the first to know.





Saturday, August 15, 2020

COUNTING SHEEP

Some people in fostering stick in the mind. I'm often reminded of one particular foster dad I met a while ago at a support meeting. Blue Sky set these sessions up and a Blue Sky person or two are in attendance but tend to take a back seat and let us foster parents sound off. They hop into the conversation as and when we need a professional steer or a top-up of facts or information.

This dad was nearing retirement age but quite new to fostering. He started talking about the child he was looking after. I think it was his second placement, the first one had been just for a few days. He had previously worked in the NHS, some kind of nurse. 

He was a man who sat arms crossed, chin on chest, talking out loud and not taking anyone's eye. He spoke softly and you could tell that a joke or maybe a gentle twinkle of insight was never far away.

The reason I often think of him is because he said;

"I'm  no stranger to night work. Hospitals don't know night from day so you feel ready for a kip at 2.00 o'clock whether it's 2.00am or 2.00pm. Back when I was  a squaddie I stood sentry through the night in Berlin, first line of defence against the Red menace. That was all nothing compared to fostering this lad. I can go weeks of thinking I've not had a good night's sleep."

He made a good point. When a new carer starts in fostering they often find it hard to get into a deep sleep, what with a largely unknown child in the spare room. Hardly surprising. 

Whenever a new child arrives we make sure they know where we sleep and that it's ok to tap on our door if they wake up frightened, that helps them sleep.

We also make sure the front and back doors are all locked; we've never had anyone wander off but worth being sure. I also keep their bedroom door ajar, even the older ones are fine with that, and the landing light on too. 

I find myself waking up at odd times and instead of turning over and going back I lie there listening, sometimes even get up and sneak a peek into their room to make sure they're okay.

One night I remember well, way back, I couldn't get back to sleep, it was about 4.00am.

I slipped out of bed, put my dressing gown on over my fostering sleep-clothes (track suit bottoms and a tee shirt) sneaked a peek at the sleeping child and went downstairs and boiled the kettle.

Five minutes later, sitting at the kitchen table, I heard the creak of the stairs. It was the child, looking tousled from sleep but plainly, VERY plainly, delighted that someone else was awake and they weren't alone.

I fetched her a bowl of Shreddies and we sat and talked - it was one of those great talks between foster mum and child. No holds barred, everything on the table, honesty was all.

She had been in the process of coming over to us; there comes a passage of time when a foster child feels themselves able to give some sort of commitment to their fostering. It shows in different ways, sometimes a decision to call me 'Mum", taking sides with either me or my husband in an argument about nothing, buying something to enhance their bedroom such as a poster.

This child crossed the bridge that night/morning, I slept better too.

Of course, we all made sure she was ready to cross back to her real family when the time came, which it did.

And a new foster child was with us not long after. 

Back to waking up every couple of hours...









Sunday, August 09, 2020

CONTACT JOY

So we had a strange 'contact' meeting between eldest foster child and a couple of members of his real family.

We had to do it outdoors, so we met up in a park. 

We had to keep our distance so we laid out cushions on blankets 2 metres apart.

We brought some snacks, still in their wrappers, which we sprayed with anti-bacteria and wiped dry as we handed them round.

Sounds like a nightmare? Yes, but it wasn't. It was delightful. 

Much better than normal contact meetings. Normal contact meetings between 'children in care and their significant others' are just as sterile as they sound, described like that…

They happen in contact centres which are either designated buildings or rented spaces with token chairs and used toys and posters blue tacked to the wall informing about the services that social services offer. Or else they get jazzed up by happening at a 'fun' venue such as one of those places with thousands of balls you can dive into.

One way or the other, contacts are artificial. The participants often feel singled out as different from everyone else; because only children in care have 'contact'.

Our meet-up in the park was gloriously the same as everyone else. We didn't stand out at all. No-one would have guessed it was anything other than an extended family having fun and behaving responsibly. I've never heard a better natter between a foster child and his elder sister, they bonded better than I ever thought possible;

"Heard from mum?"

"Nothing. Does anyone know where she is?"

"Nah, you know what she's like."

"I kind of hope she's alright."

"Yeah, I suppose. You alright?"

"Yeah not bad. How's school?"

"Good. I like working at home. How's work?"

"Good thanks, except I have to work every other weekend.."

And so on and so on. Beautiful. 

Then we played a socially distanced game of cricket. Brilliant.

When we got home eldest foster child was happy as could be.

The pandemic is dreadful, spreading death and illness, fear and mistrust. 

All I'm saying is that our last contact was one of the best ever, should be a blueprint for a happier healthier future.





Tuesday, July 28, 2020

LIFE'S PURPOSE

Wow the pandemic is causing waves in every direction including us fosterers.

I had to go to my doctors with my new persistent backache; I thought it might be kidney stones - I've had them before so I know what they feel like.

She said it was probably just a muscle spasm or a rip or the like.

She asked me how were things, what was going on at home. I reminded her I fostered.

"Ah," she said "Enough said."

I asked;

"I suppose you have a few other foster carers on your books. How are they doing?"

Her reply was interesting;

"Well they seem to be doing better than most."

Me:

"Really? How come?"

She explained that GPs up and down the country are starting to get waves of patients coming to see them suffering from the mental effects of the pandemic. She said it seemed to be turning into a big problem particularly for people stuck at home with time on their hands.

"Some people are experiencing too much 'think-time'. They pace around the house, go to the shop where everyone is dressed like a bank robber and can't talk to anyone. They miss people."

She went on to say that perhaps people who foster have got plenty on their plate and are too busy to start listening to their own thoughts all day. 

"People's thoughts turn to death and disease and their loneliness. If they go out everyone seems to look hostile. Pedestrians give everyone a wide berth with a look of suspicion. All you can see in the supermarket are shoppers' eyes and they seem to dart around menacingly."

I saw the point; in a typical day I don't get more a than 5 minutes here or there to think. If I'm lucky I have a Houseparty half-hour with the same couple of friends on my iPad. I've got a Blue Sky long distance training session tomorrow, my social worker is coming the following Monday. Every day I've five different breakfasts to make at different times of the morning (and sometimes the afternoon…). Each meal is a battleground; this morning it was over butter v margarine because eldest FC (Foster Child) didn't know they were different and ended up at my throat because he decided after I'd used butter on his toast that he preferred Flora "Because it's vegan" even though the other components of this breakfast was bacon and scrambled eggs, go figure...

Then my doctor said;

"We have patients coming in with depression and anxiety and we have things we can do for them, mainly medication and counselling.  But we also have patients who are questioning the very point of their existence. They feel their lives are on enforced hold thank to the pandemic, but they also question if their lives were on hold anyway - before the pandemic."

Fostering keeps you busy.

It also gives your life a clear and burning purpose.




Tuesday, July 21, 2020

SOCIAL WORKERS

We've had fantastic support from our social workers at Blue Sky through this pandemic.

Really, I'm not exaggerating, I won't embarrass the person - in any case I've every reason to believe that her level of support goes across the board for all Blue Sky Foster Carers.

When I talk to friends and family who are dealing with the whole thing on their own; dealing with lockdown, hand-washing, social distancing, masks, and anti-bac wipes I realise how lucky we are to have professional help and support.

Every time we turn on the TV, pick up a newspaper, log onto our favourite news feeds it's all about pandemic fears and dangers.

The absence of certainty about how long it will go on, the concern it may come back bigger and worse, the awful prospect that we may be living with it for…

I'm not going to finish the above sentence it's too awful.

It's easy to think we're all of us in the same boat, right across the planet, but we're not. The vast majority of us are taking it seriously and doing our best, but there seems to be a thick wedge of people who are simply too ignorant to try to get their heads around what's going on. I took a train this week and was shocked at the number of groups who were trying loudly to attract attention to the fact they weren't wearing masks. 

Then there are the people who are letting it get to them so much their mental health is in danger. You see them in the street and the supermarket, mostly the vulnerable, their eyes darting in terror and anger at everyone.

Both these groups have no professional help. They are reliant on Donald Trump and their own inner voices for advice.

Not so for people who foster.

Example;

Our social worker arrived at our house for 'supervision'. We chatted, socially distancing, wearing masks. She said how excited she was going to be wearing a mask, it would be fun. She always starts with "How are you?" - only she means it; it's not a polite extension of "Hello". She wants to know how I am.  And it's no good doing a lazy "Oh fine thanks". Stupid she's not, No-one's absolutely fine, especially not at the moment.

She makes me stop and actually think about how I am. Then I tell her. Then she goes to work to help us both get 'how I am' in perspective. 

I told her I was in a bit of discomfort with a bout of renal colic (aka kidney stones). 

Instead of doing what so many people do when you tell them you've got a bit of gyp "Ooo my grandad had those" or "Yes my rheumatism's bad, is it the weather?" She said:

"Oh no! What happened?"

I told her I'd had them before, after I ran a 10k years ago. A couple of weeks back I decided to get in shape so I started a bit of mild jogging combined with drinking 8 pints of water a day. The result was that one or a few little pesky crystals jiggled free of my kidneys and set off towards my bladder, scraping and jagging my tubes.

We chatted away about it, the focus on me and my aches.

When she left I felt 500% better that someone had cared. Her chat helped me get a stronger perception and understanding of my discomfort. 

Two days later I got a text;

"How are you? Any better? I could tell you were in a bit of discomfort but you were putting on a brave face, like you always do. No-one else would have guessed but then again not many people know you as well as I do. So pleased the fostering is going more ups than downs. You do a fantastic job, as I'm always telling you.
PS If you don't book that weekend break for the two of you I'll do it for you! Don't worry about the children we'll sort them out."

If you haven't got anyone like that in your life at the moment - I'm talking about a professional aide - it's because you're not in fostering.

Yet…?

Monday, July 13, 2020

HOW TO COMMUNICATE WITH A FOSTER CHILD

Middle foster child is supposed to be moving up to secondary school in about six weeks, whether he does or not depends on the pandemic.

Maybe I've been lucky, but foster children seem to cope with the transition better than most, maybe upheaval comes naturally to them.

I've made a discovery worth sharing; it's this; today's generation of teens, the ones my generation tends to think are irresponsible on social media, communicate better with parents and teachers on Whats App/text/Twitter et al than face to face.

When I say 'better' I mean they are more open and more polite. More 'open' to a proper conversation, more 'polite'... speaks for itself.

I noticed it first way back when mobile phones were little more than phones plus texting.

We had a foster daughter who was big and blunt, the best you could get out of her by way of chat was a grimace and a grunt. She hated school and it was a struggle to get her there. One day she had an important exam, I got her there in time for it but when I got home found myself frantic that she'd a) stay there b) do the exam c) avoid causing an incident.

The conversation between us in the car to school had been;

Me: "I'm sure you'll do fine."
Her: silence
Me: "I said, I'm sure you'll.."
Her: "I 'eard! FFssake.."

The exam was set for 9.00am. I was going spare wondering; so when it was morning break at her school I texted her:

Me: "All ok?"
She replied immediately; 
Her: "Yeah. It wasn't so bad actually. I answered about three quarters really well, there was one question I didn't have a clue about but you expect that."

It took me a moment to conquer my suspicion that she had paid someone to write her texts, like pop stars and footballers do. I went;

Me: "Oh good. Are you staying for the day or do you need a lift now?"
Her: "Actually I've got a free until lunch then Art which I like. I might skip Science but Greg's in that class and he's like, y'know, fit."
Me: "OK"

More than "OK" of course, I was totally made up! 

And it's the same only more so with middle foster child. His phone enables him to communicate with me in ways his mouth simply does not. 

Here's one from last week; he's upstairs on his PC. I texted;;

Me: "Tea about five. Do you want Mascarpone and penne or a Cornish pasty and chips?"
Him: "I'm not hungry yet, I can wait until dad gets home and we can eat watching the end of The Winter Soldier."
Me; "Fine. We're having baked potato, you're not keen on them."
Him: "Cover it in beans and yeah."
Me: "Want an apple to hold you?"
Him; "Nah, I'm not religious."

Put simply, that exchange simply WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED AT ALL FACE-TO-FACE.

Not at all. So. How come?

Maybe it's to do with not seeing my face, hearing my voice, not being able to notice anything judgemental coming off me? I don't know.

Maybe it has to do with them seeing in black-and-white what they are about to say written down on a phone screen and know that they might have to stand by it. Once they press 'send' their words are set in stone for ever, a stray bit of bad language or snide remark doesn't disappear into thin air.

I still use speech and all it's add-ons with him. But I get the best off his phone.

And come secondary school I'll get more text chats; he's going to be travelling to and from  school by himself and he'll welcome me pinging messages at break times and lunchtime because a pinging phone makes the owner look in demand. His peers don't have to know it's his mum.

Or even more embarrassing, his foster mum.