Friday, March 25, 2016

Getting Away With It

This evening, OB's tea ended up on the floor. No need to go into the details, but suffice it to say it was intentional and it wasn't really about the tea. Around an hour later, I served him another tea. It was an exact replica of the one that got destroyed earlier.

My pre-parenting 'ideal parent' self would never have sanctioned that. I would have called it 'letting them get away with it' or 'rewarding bad behaviour'.

These days, in the messy chaos that is actual parenting as opposed to 'ideal parenting', I'm often drawn back to an incident from my own childhood where I, to all intents and purposes, got away with it.

I was around 12 years old. It was a lunchtime at school and we were all hanging out in our form room. Those were more relaxed days when apparently it was considered absolutely fine for 30 kids to 'supervise' themselves for most of the lunch hour. A group of lads were throwing a half-deflated leather football around and, at some point between one laughing boy and another, it hit me full on in the face.

It did hurt, but what I think made me see red was the blurry vision of laughing faces that I saw once my eyes started to clear. I chased the boy with the loudest laugh and the pointing finger. I wasn't speedy. He made it out of the door in no time, and jeered at me mockingly from the other side of the classroom window. So I punched him in the face.

The huge, plate glass window shattered, spraying itself liberally over both of us, on the floor, on the desks. There was a lot of screaming and a little blood, and before I knew it, I was being swept along to the Head of Year's office on a tidal wave of twittering tween girl drama.

The Head of Year was a stern, blonde-haired lady who was universally called 'Wiggy'. I can't actually remember her real name. In all the confusion created by my squealing, drama-loving entourage, she initially believed that I was the victim of the window smashing rather than the perpetrator. Once the truth was revealed, and the small cut on my wrist was attended to, her sternest face appeared. She informed me that I would have to see the Headteacher. I would be told when he was ready for me. I would probably have to pay for the window. Then I was sent back to class.

I was relieved to find that the boy I hit had escaped injury from the flying glass, but the day passed interminably slowly. There was no call from the Head's office. I went home on the bus with a weight in the pit of my stomach that day, and waited for my parents to arrive home from work. My mum asked me if anything happened at school, and I remember pouring out the story breathlessly, ending with a rash statement: "I'll pay for it out of my pocket money!"

"Yes," said my mum. "You will."

And that was the end of the conversation.

It took a week for the summons from the Head's office to come. That was an appalling week. I fretted about the window. I wondered how much it could possibly cost to replace. I tried to imagine how I would get the money together out of my tiny weekly allowance.

On the fateful day, three of us stood before the Headteacher: me, the boy I hit, and the boy who threw the ball. We were all invited to tell our stories. I told the truth. There was no other realistic option. 29 witnesses had seen exactly what had happened.

Our Headteacher wore an academic gown over his suit. It was that kind of school. I had been at the school for over a year, and this was the first time I had seen inside his office. This was the first conversation I had ever had with him. He heard us out and then looked us up and down over the rims of his glasses.

Eventually he passed judgement. He felt that the two boys should share some of the blame, but that I bore the biggest responsibility for the broken window. I nodded. My cheeks were burning and I was no longer able to lift up my head to look him in the eye. The hammer was about to fall.

"The fine for breaking a window in school is £2. As the responsibility is shared, the boys can pay 50 pence each, and you will pay £1. Please give the money to your form tutor by the end of the week. You can go now."

I found myself outside the door without knowing how I got there. The boys were laughing, but I wasn't. I was so totally overcome by relief I could have cried. Later that day my form tutor said, "You look as though a weight has been lifted off your shoulders!".

Looking back on it as an adult, and a teacher, I'm pretty sure there was no set fine for breaking a school window. Nobody would consider payment of £1 to be an adequate consequence for deliberately smashing a huge window while attempting to punch another person in the face. It wasn't the fine that did for me - it was the torturous week of awaiting my fate.

So, yes, I suppose I got away with it. I paid the 'fine' out of my pocket money and the broken window was never mentioned again, at home or at school. And yet, surprisingly, I did not become a serial window breaker. Nor did I make a habit of punching people in the face. Sometimes we don't need a hefty consequence to bring home to us the reality of what we have done. Sometimes we are ashamed enough of ourselves without having others add to it.

And so, on this occasion, I made OB another tea. And after he had eaten that, I cracked open the trifle that was in the fridge ready for Easter Sunday, and we both had a massive bowlful.

Friday, March 18, 2016

I Dust Off My Cheque Book

In December 2012 I used the first cheque from my current cheque book. The stub for cheque 01 is simply labelled "Adoption £165". That was for OB.

A few days ago I filled in the stub for cheque 09 (you can tell I don't write a lot of cheques!). I wrote "Adoption £170". That was for Birdy.

Apart from the effects of inflation, there have been quite a few differences between the process I went through for OB and that we have all endured for Birdy. Both were difficult in their own ways. Both, at times, reduced me to tears of frustration, or stirred me up to moments of incandescence. But only Birdy's process actually had me in genuine fear that it might all fall through.

It's a while since I gave up writing about Birdy's adoption process. The whole thing simply became too Dali-esque to properly express in words. There were so many emails and phone calls back and forth, so much confusion on all sides, and so many fingers pointed elsewhere that, in the end, I found I could not write about my frustrations for fear of taking it out on the wrong person. Better to just grit my already gritted teeth even more and plough on through.

I still don't really understand how we have reached this point, or whose decisions have been at play. I find myself sending off an adoption application form without most of the accompanying paperwork required and with no input from my LA's adoption team, and just crossing my fingers that somebody at Family Court will take pity on me. The helpful lady I spoke to on the phone was optimistic that they would.

The theme for this week's Weekly Adoption Shout Out at The Adoption Social is 'Moments to be Treasured', and I must admit, I did take a moment as I wrote cheque 09 to treasure the experience. For the adoptive parent, these are the equivalent of our pregnancy test moments, our scans, our first time of hearing the heartbeat. This is how we become parents, and it's hard and long and sometimes painful and sometimes wonderful, and totally worth it.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Fostering: Actually it IS a Job

A headline floated across one of my social media accounts this week. It was something like, "Fostering: It's not a job, it's my life!". I didn't read the article (which may well have been balanced and sensible) because I was so irritated by the headline.

I understand why such a headline is used. It does not sit comfortably to think of earning a wage from caring for vulnerable children. It feels much better to think of this sort of caring as an act of altruism, of love, of compassion. Somehow 'money talk' sullies that as if it's not possible to be compassionate and also be paid a living wage.

Except if you are caring for vulnerable children as a social worker . . . I suppose it's ok if they get paid. What about a doctor or a nurse? Yes, they should get paid, probably more than they already do, don't you think? Oh, and I suppose teachers must care for their fair share of vulnerable children too. Well, we should definitely pay them. Childminders care for children too; they even have them in their own homes. They definitely get paid.

But that's it, right? We should draw the line there? I mean foster carers do care for other people's children in their own homes, seven days a week, 24 hours a day, but that's not a job, right? Oh, and they attend mandatory training both before they are approved and then several times per year, including gaining nationally recognised qualifications, but still, not really a job. Of course they maintain confidential records, work with teams of professionals, attend planning meetings, liaise with birth families, manage challenging behaviours, undergo annual appraisals, meet regularly with managers (aka supervising social workers) to set goals and manage situations, keep up-to-date with the latest developments in their field . . . . but still, is it really a 'proper' job?

Oddly, despite apparently not having a job, I have in front of me a job description. It includes phrases like:

  • Observe and assess children; record observations and assessments on a regular basis
  • Advocate on behalf of children in a manner which promotes their rights whilst supporting multi-agency working
  • Attend meetings and ensure professional participation and contribution
  • Support children and families to understand issues around attachment, loss and bereavement
  • Assist at training events and foster carer recruitment events
  • Support the fostering service and contribute effectively to the development of the service
Note that none of those descriptors relate to any actual care of the child. All of that is included of course, but the above is just a few of the things a foster carer might be expected to do in addition to caring for, feeding, clothing, playing with, and, you know, loving a child.

In the week that I have been told that my fostering allowances (we don't get paid a salary - it's not a job, right?) are to be cut by £80 per month, I am here to tell you that fostering IS a job. And it's not just me saying that; it's my bank manager, my mortgage provider, my utilities providers - after all, since, as a carer for under 5s, I am not allowed to work outside of the home, fostering is what puts food on the table. Oh and tax credits. How clever of the state to basically subsidise itself.

What's more, it's an important professional role - see, the word 'professional' actually appears in the job description above - which requires a serious and varied skills set. I take my professional development seriously, seeking out additional training (some of which I pay for myself), buying books, researching articles on the internet. I know that I am not alone in this.

So, yes, in case you are in any doubt, fostering IS my job.

Oh, and it's also my life.

Friday, March 4, 2016

How Do You Like Your Eggs?

Since she was teeny tiny, Birdy has struggled with her skin. Her eczema, which once smothered her arms, legs, scalp and face, has now thankfully receded to the usual places - wrists, creases, behind knees and, unfortunately, still on her face but only her cheeks. It has improved partly because we have finally hit on the right combination of creams and lotions and partly because of various anti-scratch strategies. I also suspect that there might be some level of dairy intolerance, the effect of which has lessened as she has been weaned and dairy has ceased to be the majority of her diet.

We have also recently been referred to the asthma clinic after several incidents, including two hospital visits. She's too young for an official diagnosis of asthma, but the prescriptions for Atrovent, Salbutamol and Monteleukast tell their own story really.

And then this week we all went over to the immunology department at the local children's hospital for allergy skin testing. I didn't know what to expect from the appointment really, although if I had suspected we would be there as long as we were, I'd have brought more entertainment with me for the kids! The doctors were wonderful, and very thorough.

Long story short, Birdy has severe allergies to peanuts, several other nuts (basically, avoid all nuts!) and egg. The peanuts I knew about. In fact when I described 'the peanut butter sandwich incident' to the immunologist he told me that she had experienced full anaphylaxis and I should really have called an ambulance. Presumably prompted by the stricken look on my face, he then said brightly, "Not to worry. It was all fine in the end!"

The egg allergy was more of a surprise, and also something of a relief. Birdy has experienced allergic reactions to a seemingly unconnected range of foods at different times, ranging from red cheeks and watery eyes, to full on wheezing, coughing, swelling and hives. Now I know the culprit: eggs, hidden and unheeded in so many foods.

Unlike peanut and nut allergies, the egg allergy can be worked on at home. The more processed the egg protein is, the less the allergic reaction. I have been told to continue giving her any food containing egg that she has had before without a reaction. At the moment, this includes small amounts of cake, and some biscuits but not others. Continued safe exposure builds tolerance.

After a few months, we can try an 'egg challenge'. Egg-containing foods are listed on a visual 'egg ladder'. Basically, over the course of a day I give her tiny but increasing amounts of something on the next rung of the ladder and watch for reaction. If there is a reaction, we stop. If not, we keep going until she eats a child's portion of the food. If there's still no reaction, we can then include that food in her diet. After a few months, we try something from the next rung of the ladder and so on.

As for the nuts, well, apparently when she's about four, they will bring her in to hospital as a day patient and give her a tiny crumb of peanut to eat and "see what happens". I have been instructed not to try this at home!

So, we will be entering the unfamiliar world of the epipen (not yet, but before she starts nursery), and reading the bold words on the ingredients lists, and storing the nutty foods away from the un-nutty ones. I weep for the massive jar of peanut butter languishing in the fridge.

Oh, and a final thought . . . in preparation for becoming a parent, I decided to learn to bake cakes, which I thought a suitable earth-mummy type activity. Now I have one that doesn't really like cake, and one that can't really eat it! I need new skills!