Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tough Love

The two boys (I'm going to call them OB - old boy - and NB - new boy) have been getting used to each other this week and it's been interesting to watch.

NB is a very loving child.  He loves to give cuddles and kisses and is ready with his smiles.  His instinct is to love OB, and he laughs when he sees him in the morning, and often wants to give him cuddles.  Unfortunately, OB doesn't necessarily understand what is going on, which means that NB's enthusiastic hug attempts often turn into pretty intense headlocks that of course end in tears.

There is a ten-month gap between them, so NB can understand a lot more than OB.  This means that he endures a lot more 'No' and 'Gently' conversations than OB, because he can understand and learn.  Unfortunately this means that I often feel as though I am nagging NB while OB is rather getting away with it.  I can say 'No' and 'Gently' to OB until I'm blue in the face, but at his age he just doesn't understand.  Still, we persevere!

Neither of the boys are mean or nasty boys.  They don't throw their toys or destroy things, and neither of them particularly throw tantrums (although OB definitely has the beginnings of one if it's not nipped in the bud!), but they are both very young and not particularly in control of themselves or their bodies.  OB will pat NB on the head in a gesture of love, but actually he's just bashing him pretty hard and laughing his head off. 

Today, OB put his fingers in NB's mouth, so NB bit him.  Hard.  In fact I daresay if I had got to them much later he would have drawn blood because NB had pretty deep teeth marks on his finger.  NB also poked OB straight in the eye - on purpose.  And I've caught him trying a few things when he thinks I'm not looking.  He knows it's naughty to push, so he waits until my back is turned and then gives a quick shove - he's not daft!

But don't worry.  OB gets his turn.  NB has endured a book to the side of the head, several head butts and 'fall-ons' and an awful lot of vigorous 'patting' to various parts of his body, but most often his face and head.

I think all of this is far more stressful for me than for the boys.  I am in a state of near panic about how I could possibly explain an obvious eye-gouge injury to parents at contact time.  They, however, after a bit of squealing, simply get on with their game.  Whatever has gone on the previous day, they look out for each other every morning and giggle with delight when they are finally together.  Cute stuff.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

All You Need is Love?

I had an unexpected addition to the household this week - the little boy I cared for most of last year came back to stay.  It didn't work out with his Mum and so he's back in the system.  Another disruption in an already unsettled little life. 

So often I hear people say that all a child needs is a loving home.  As long as they have a parent that loves them, then other problems can all be solved.  The more time I spend moving in social care circles, the more I realise that this is an idealised view of life and nothing more than a fantasy.  Love simply isn't enough.

A parent can love a child deeply and yet fail to provide stability and security.  A parent can have a wonderful bond with their child and yet be unable to keep them safe from harm.  The best intentions do not always lead to the best outcomes.  Love, in itself, does not guarantee the sort of childhood that every child deserves.

As a society we, quite rightly, engage regularly in soul searching about what the modern family looks like.  Is one parent enough, or does a child need two?  Heterosexual or same sex couples?  Extended families or isolated individual family units?  Working families or stay-at-home Mums?

And in every debate, somebody at some point will make the claim that as long as a child has love then it doesn't really matter what kind of family they live in.  It's a claim that is usually made in defence of a particular lifestyle, and I'd like to know where the evidence is to support it.  How can we possibly know the life a child could have had in different circumstances?  And without knowing that, how can we evaluate the effects of their particular circumstances?

Like everyone else, I have my own opinions about what kinds of family life are ideal for a child, but they are only opinions, subject to change.  What I know for a fact is this: no matter how much a parent loves their child, no matter how much they want that child, sometimes love just isn't enough.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Add and Take Away

Yesterday was by far my most difficult day of fostering.  A new little one came to stay the day before yesterday, but he's not the cause of my troubles - he's absolutely lovely!  No, what happened yesterday was that a wave of 'missing the boy' came crashing over me for the first time since he left way before Christmas.

My first little one was adorable and I had him for eight months.  When he came, he was a tiny bottle-fed thing, and he stayed with me long enough for me to celebrate his first birthday with him.  Plenty long enough for him to become a big part of my life.

But actually, despite my worries, handing him back wasn't anything near as bad as I thought it would be, and the weeks I have spent without him have been fine really. In fact I have spent most of that time looking forward eagerly to my next new arrival.

But now that the boy mark II is here, I find that everything about him reminds me of his predecessor.  They look nothing like each other and are completely different ages, with different routines, different backgrounds, different likes and dislikes, just as you'd expect from two totally unrelated children.  But when I watch him playing with the toys and cuddling up to sleep in the cot, I can't help remembering all the times my first little one did that and my heart aches just a bit.  Even taking the new boy shopping for clothes yesterday nearly caused me to start crying in the aisle!

So, I have the new addition I hoped and prayed for and, finally, 'the boy' is really being replaced, nearly a month after he actually left.  I know I don't have to forget the boy - how could I? - but I do have to let go of him now or how could I give the new boy the love and comfort that he is craving?

The new boy is a sweetie and I'm sure we'll have lots of adventures together.  I'm sure I'll soon learn to love him, especially as he is so free with his cuddles and kisses.  I know we'll adapt to each other's routines and get comfortable with each other.

But just for a couple of days, I'm going to let myself grieve just a little for my first boy.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

I get offended by people who get offended

Today I was publicly told off by a perfect stranger because I said something that some people might find offensive.  The lady in question was at pains to reassure me that she herself was not offended, but felt obliged to tell me that what I had said might offend some hypothetical third party who might be listening.

So, I apologised of course, because I'm actually a polite person who doesn't want to go around randomly offending people, but afterwards I couldn't help wondering what I was apologising for.

I clearly wasn't apologising to the lecturing lady.  She had reassured me that she wasn't offended, so, no apology necessary.  Perhaps I was apologising to others around who may fit the hypothetical third person criteria and therefore might have inadvertently been offended.  Or perhaps, and I think this is most likely, I was apologising only because I wanted to make the conversation stop and to say what I really thought would have ruined my friend's baby shower.  And that would have offended people!

Because what I really think is this: there are plenty of things in this world to get offended about - I'm thinking about children dying daily because of lack of clean water while we are in a state of trauma because our wheelie bins don't get emptied often enough, for example -  and a casual, semi-thoughtless remark shouldn't fall into that category.  As human beings, are we not capable of choosing not to take offence where offence obviously wasn't intended?

I think that words are just words.  Attitudes are something different.  Words do not always accurately represent underlying attitudes.  Rather they can represent levels of education, social background, different contexts, slips of the tongue.  A person can speak with the most honeyed lips and yet have a filthy attitude just under the surface.  Similarly, a person can used an ill-advised expression and yet completely lack prejudice in their beliefs and deeds.

I think that if people are genuinely personally offended, they should say so and ask for an apology, but if people are not offended, they should not presume to speak for others.

So, what did I say to cause all of this?  I said, "Sorry about that . . . my brain's gone a bit mental today."  Apparently, many people who suffer from mental illness would find this offensive.

I don't know if this is true.  Maybe it is.  I can't say anything about it because I have never suffered from mental illness - although the lady who upbraided me can't possibly have known this!  I do understand that there is a lot of misunderstanding and prejudice surrounding mental illness.  I know people who have suffered from mental illness and have seen them struggle with this in their own lives.  Personally, I think that we need to seriously tackle this as a society, and I don't think that getting offended in situations like the one today is going to get that job done.

I happen to know that there were people present when I said that who have suffered from mental illness.  If any of them were offended by what I said, then I invite them to come and speak to me themselves and we can talk things over.  Other than that, I think it would do us all good to get over ourselves just a little bit and look around us at the incredible injustice and suffering that goes on in the world and perhaps decide to get offended about all of that instead.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


I seem to be experiencing a strange period of non-stressful stress.  I can't say I'm stressed because I have very little to do right now - just a couple of ongoing projects and the seemingly never-ending house project - but nonetheless a sort of nervous tension is setting in.

Why?  Because every time the phone rings, my stomach tightens up a little.  Is it Children's Social Care?  Do they have a child for me?  Will I have to quickly stop what I'm doing and run around getting the house prepared for a new arrival?

When the boy arrived, it was quite a rush.  I was in the middle of decorating the house and when the phone rang I had literally just finished sweeping rubble off the stairs carpet.  They asked me if I could come and pick him up in 20 minutes.  I took a look at my filthy clothes and dust-infested hair and suggested that it might be better for all concerned if I took a shower first!

Within 90 minutes, I had him back at the house.  I had absolutely no equipment for a baby and in the little bag he came with were two very dirty bottles, some formula, a couple of nappies and a few clothes which later turned out mostly to be too small.  I had to sterilise the bottle for his first feed in a pan of boiling water on the stove.

A few hours later, a van turned up with a delivery of equipment arranged by Children's Social Care - cot (self-build!), pram, steriliser, bottles, car seat, etc.  A friend of mine came round with a few clothes and some nappies and wipes, and in this way we managed to get through our first night.  After that, things settled down considerably and we got along pretty well.

I don't know how it will be next time.  Will it be the same sort of rush or will I get some warning? In the meantime all I can do is twitch nervously every time the phone rings, and make all my plans and arrangements in pencil!