But actually, I'm even bored of myself going on about that all the time, so instead I thought I'd share a few things I have learned since Twinkle has been living with us. It's been quite the learning curve.
- Twinkle is the oldest child I've fostered - well, the oldest on arrival anyway. She was just a few days short of her 3rd birthday when she arrived (cutting it fine for a foster carer who's only supposed to be fostering children aged 0-2 right now!). So for the first time I had a fully-fledged, fully-charactered, fully-speaking individual arriving. It's quite a lot to take in. It takes a fair amount of flexibility to accommodate her into our home and routines, and also throws up a few unexpected moments of confusion and hilarity. For instance, she insists on calling her knickers her "Nickynackynockynoonoos" (or something like that) which I find more irritating than endearing, I'll admit. Also there's the thorny question of what we call her 'private parts'. I won't share here what word she uses but, suffice it to say, it's not one I'd ever have come up with and it took a fair bit of getting used to!
- I've been introduced to the world of fostering a school-aged child through Twink's sisters who are both at school and living together with another foster family. Struggling through traffic to contact three times each week at school run time, and then back to pick up at rush hour before hastily serving a meal to stave off the near starvation of 3 kids while Twinkle is practically falling asleep at the table is frankly enough to remind me why I prefer pre-schoolers and babies and their lovely daytime contact schedules!
- This is the first time I've fostered a child with siblings, and so arranging sibling contact separate from birth parent contact is a new experience. It seems that this is largely left to the foster carers to sort out between us but I'll admit, between the sisters' school schedules, my other children's schedules and the three contacts a week with birth family, it can be a real challenge to also fit in sibling contact once each week.
- Twinkle has taught me a lot about 'checking in', and the different ways it happens. To begin with she was my shadow, following me everywhere, crying outside the door when I went to the toilet, panicking if I even went near the stairs. Now she must be feeling safer, so she checks in verbally instead. Here are some of the 'check-in' phrases she uses, none of which really require a sensible response: "When are we there? When are we going? Is that mine? Am I having one of those? Can I have XYZ? I need a wee! I've done a poo! (Yes, really!). Whose is that's? What are you doing? I'm hungry! I'm thirsty! I'm tired! Is it my turn? Can I do XYZ first? Can I be quickest? When is it breakfast/dinner/tea? Are you making my breakfast/dinner/tea? Why aren't you making my breakfast/dinner/tea?" Obviously some of these also betray her underlying fear that her basic needs won't be met, but they tumble out of her almost constantly in a nonsensical order and sometimes totally out of context. It is not uncommon for her to announce that she is hungry while she is eating a hearty meal. She asks "When are we there?" many, many times per journey, sometimes before we've set off. Today we stayed home all day. While I was emptying the tumble dryer, she shouted "[My name]! When are we there?" from the other room!
- Each new child brings new experiences, new challenges, new behaviours. With Twinkle, I have learned a lot about sensory-seeking behaviours, and behaviours driven by insecurity about basic needs. We have had a lot of ripping and tearing, exploratory dismantling, faeces smearing, intentional vomiting. There has also been a lot of compulsive eating, inability to leave food on the plate and, once, eating leftovers out of the bin.
- For Twinkle's sake, I have learned to carefully ration fun, playfulness and high jinks as too much of any of these leads to dangerous levels of silliness and out-of-control reactions.
- I have learned, or perhaps been reminded, of the difficulty of getting at the actual child underneath all these behaviours. She's there, and she's sweet, vulnerable and funny. I like her.