Tonight I put my gorgeous little foster baby to bed for the last time. Tomorrow he goes back to his Mummy and we'll have just three short visits together before I say my last goodbye to him.
And so my thoughts are turning to a question I've been asked many times since he came in April, and to which I've always been unable to furnish an answer: how will I feel when he leaves?
Honestly? I still don't really know. How can I know? How could anybody know what their reaction would be in advance. I can imagine various scenarios but, even at this late stage, I still can't honestly say what will happen on Friday when I hand him over to his Mummy for the last time and I know I'll probably never see him again.
Over the last six weeks of his transition my thoughts have mainly been about sufficiency. Have I done enough? Have I played with him, read to him and talked to him enough? Have I given him enough love, patience and security? Have I prayed for him enough?
But today, a day of so many last times, I have been thinking not about my experience, but about his, and about the experiences of the others who have meant so much to him over this last eight months - my family, my friends and my awesome church.
There has been a constant stream of last goodbyes, kisses, cuddles, prayers and love. He surely has been made to feel as though he is a very special boy, and I'm glad of that. There have been a few tears too, and a few brave faces.
Despite all the training and serious talks with social workers and others, I never really appreciated how difficult this might be for those not obviously directly involved in the process. This smiling, loving little boy has giggled his way into a lot of hearts over the months, and there's almost a sense of disbelief that we'll probably never know the outcome of his story. He is part of our lives today, and tomorrow he is completely gone. My friend's two-year-old son greets me with 'Where's ****' every time I go to the house. I don't know how long that will go on for. I certainly never gave much thought to the effect that the appearance and disappearance of these transitory playmates might have on the other children in my life. And then there's my family who, even at a distance, have welcomed and loved this little boy as one of their own.
And then there's 'the boy' himself. He went to bed like a lamb tonight, blissfully unaware that he would never sleep in this cot again. I've taken him to his Mummy's home so many times and always, always been there to pick him up later. How will he process what happens this Friday when I drop him off and then just never come back?
I can't answer that question any more than I can answer the questions about myself. I can't know the effect on him. I can only commit him to his heavenly father and then trust.
Parents experience a lot of 'last times' when raising a child. The last time in those newborn clothes, the last milk feed, the last time in the cot before getting a big bed. I've experienced many last times with 'the boy' already, but paid little attention to them because I was always excited for the 'first times' - first time eating solid food, crawling, walking.
This week, it has been all last times with no possibility of any first times. If nothing else, it has made me make each time as special as possible. Perhaps we can all learn to pay more attention to the last times, even while we look forward to more first times.