It’s only my second blog post and I’ve suffered writers block already, typical! Tonight I have asked my fiancée Scott for his thoughts on what I should blog about. He is the decisive one of us both! Without a pause for thought he tells me I ‘should write a blog post about R’ (one of his favourite foster kids). ‘Ok’ I agree, ‘what shall I write about her’ I ask him? ‘Well’ he tells me ‘you must tell everyone how she kept trying to aggressively bite us’ (she did)’ but that now she is such a lovely little girl very happy, sweet and caring’ (she is). Thanks’ Scott!! Never a truer word said as oh my god could that girl bite! OUCH! I won’t even mention the hair pulling or scratching. But goodness me this is a blog to hopefully encourage people to foster so I am not going to get into too much detail on all the bites and scratches we acquired from this little one!
Writing about R who was 18 months old when she came to us is, I guess the perfect way to address one of the most difficult aspects of fostering which is saying goodbye!
People often say to me they couldn’t do fostering because they couldn’t cope with the goodbyes. Well they have a point!! It’s actually brutal and I wish I could say otherwise!
Goodbyes can be incredibly hard and incredibly sad. Fostering kids can, and often does, mean parting ways eventually. Children living in your home as part of your family, calling out your name when they get hurt, crying for you through the night, screaming for you first thing in the morning, having you as their world and their soother and cleaner and chef and taxi service and cuddler and joker and everything else that comes with children living as part of your family in your home………and then they have to leave! How is it possible to actually cope with that you may wonder? I don’t have the answer to that and it’s a question I have often asked myself having been through 9 goodbyes to 9 lovely foster kids.
“Showing foster children how to say goodbye and how to cope with goodbyes can be just as important as teaching them not to be afraid in life”
For me, with my foster children each goodbye has been as sad and as hard as the last. I believe that with most things in life our little ones learn from us and even with something as ordinary as a goodbye, the way it’s done prepares them for life which can often be full of goodbyes. We all have to die sometime, most of us will leave a job, a school, move to a different neighbour, split with a partner etc etc. Goodbyes, loss and bereavement surround us throughout our life. Remembering that foster children may have experienced traumatic goodbyes in the past perhaps being taken away from parents or split from siblings, mean it’s even more important that time and effort goes into each and every goodbye in foster care. Showing foster children how to say goodbye and how to cope with goodbyes can be just as important as teaching them not to be afraid in life, teaching them happiness, self-care, confidence and kindness. An art form, a tradition, a rite of passage, a greeting I am not even sure what exactly a goodbye is but one thing I do know is that for foster kids moving on its surely a right that they get one! As foster kids look back on their childhood they need to know that somebody cared enough to make that effort to give them a goodbye! That someone cared enough to be sad they were leaving! It’s not much to ask for is it?
“She was our second foster child and I felt sheer disbelief that we had been entrusted to such a tiny little person of only 18 months old.”
R was with us for 9 months it felt like she had been with us forever. Let me start at the beginning in order to get to the end and yes sadly there is an end and a goodbye!
As is often the way in fostering we didn’t know anything about R before she arrived and she quite literally out of the blue turned up on our doorstep one spring afternoon! Accompanied by two social workers, a few plastic bags, a suitcase of cuddly toys and a smile to light up the whole of London.
That grey Vauxhall Corsa pulling into our driveway, me peering through the car window in to the back seat and seeing a little cheeky cherub with chubby cheeks, ginger curly hair and a big angry red rash on her chin peering back at us with a huge beaming toothy grin. It’s like it was only yesterday!
She was our second foster child and I felt sheer disbelief that we had been entrusted to such a tiny little person of only 18 months old. That evening when Scott my fiancée came home and saw her sprawled out in the cot I had temporarily installed at the bottom of our bed he confessed he felt totally shocked too! She was just so tiny and so delicate it wasn’t possible to be more in awe of anything or anyone in the world. We both sat gazing at her for at least two hours as she slept. What we wouldn’t do to be able to go back in time and have that time all over again.
We didn’t know much back then other than she had been taken away from her Mum for neglect and then placed with a foster carer who hadn’t been able to meet her needs and then she was passed to us. An incredibly sad state of affairs for a little girl not yet two and it was quite understandable that she was very confused, frustrated, aggressive and quite wild!
“Where’s my Amee I want my Amee” she would say when I wasn’t there. “Lut you Amee” she would tell me at bedtime as she couldn’t quite pronounce love.
That nine months passed by in minutes. We fed her, we changed her nappies, we potty trained her, we took her to ballet lessons, to fairy School, to playgroup, to the park, on holiday to Scotland. We did it all as if she were our own little girl and we let ourselves forget she wasn’t! She changed in front of our eyes and slowly stopped biting and being aggressive. She trusted us and she grew into a sweet kind little girl who loved animals especially dogs. Wherever we went whatever café or restaurant we were sat in she had this terribly embarrassing habit of announcing to all the public that I was “her Amee”. “AMEE” she would start of with when people smiled at her “AMEE” she would tell them and point at me. Then it would turn to “MY AMEE” in a more firm voice as whatever random person had started to show interest in her “MY AMEE” would turn to a warning tone as they ventured closer as if warning them to stay away. It was incredibly heart-warming and so cute and made us laugh so much. Being her Amee made me feel wonderful and proud.
We knew for the last two months of that period that she was leaving us to go home to her paternal grandparents. I guess we tried not to think about it and buried our heads in the sand. We were so happy for her that her family on her Dad’s side had come forward to claim her but so devastated that she was going to leave too.
“Where’s my Amee I want my Amee” she would say when I wasn’t there. “Lut you Amee” she would tell me at bedtime as she couldn’t quite pronounce love. Her love wasn’t just for me either she loved Scott too and often flatly refused to go to sleep until he had come home from work. “SCOTTTTTTT” she would call out from her cot if she heard him coming in “SCOTTTTTTTTTTT” and as soon as he went in her room she would quickly lie down and softly say “nose touch, kiss, chin tickle, lut you Scott”. That was always the routine. Our routine. To this day Scott and I never say the words I love you to each other, we always say “lut you” just like she did.
“We didn’t know how things would work out for her and we felt so afraid for her future that it was so totally out of our control.”
It was selfish of us to want to keep her and I admit we were jealous that her real family were getting her back but in our defence we are only human not pre-programmed robots. Controlling your feelings and emotions when dealing with real live children can be an actual mammoth task, a huge burden and I am not sure anyone can prepare you for the rollercoaster of feelings that you expose yourself to in fostering.
Not a day goes by when we don’t think of her, watch videos of her, and laugh at something she said or did the memory like a ghost just within reach but not quite enough to touch. And it hurts so much but I would do it all again in a second…………Why? Because fostering changes these kids’ lives? It takes them off that twisted out of control path and gets them back on track. It doesn’t work every time I know that but with R it did and we were so proud to have been part of the team that worked incredibly hard to get that little girl’s life the way she deserved it to be.
We didn’t know how things would work out for her and we felt so afraid for her future that it was so totally out of our control. Afraid we may not see her again, and afraid that things wouldn’t work out her at her Gran’s or that they wouldn’t make the right decisions for her future.
“There are so many ways of saying goodbye you only have to use your imagination.”
That final day arrived and I suppose I was in shock more than anything that this little person who stormed into our life like an aggressive out of control tornado was now leaving us as almost abruptly as she arrived. Everything was planned the way it should be when children move on from the care system. Her Grandmother spent a week with us learning her routine and then I spent 2 days with them easing R into life with them. I even spent ages photographing all her teddies and made it into a word document with their names and everything I knew about them so that her Gran would know them all. When R had arrived to us nobody bothered to tell us the names of any of her toys and I had to name them all and give them personalities. The afternoon that I left her there I didn’t know what the future would hold for her. She was two year’s old and I couldn’t explain to her that I wasn’t coming back, that I wouldn’t nose touch her tonight or kiss her or chin tickle her or read her Goldilocks and the bears. I just had to say it that word, goodbye and then leave! I tried not to cry and tried to force myself to smile and be happy so as not to frighten her or confuse her. I left her in the arms of her Nanny. She was happy and surrounded by her aunties, her Grandad and her Dad but not just them she was surrounded by love and it’s where she belonged and I knew that.
At only 2 year’s old it was hard for R to understand she was leaving and that in turn made it very hard for us knowing that she would be confused when she couldn’t find us. Age should be irrelevant and even when children are too young to understand goodbyes must still be put in place as all children grow up and want to know about their early life. There are so many ways of saying goodbye you only have to use your imagination. I would love to know how you have said goodbye to your foster kids or if plan to foster how would you say goodbye when the time comes for your children to move on? For R I wrote her a book a little story. My friend Ellie illustrated it for me. One day I hope R will read her book and know she was so loved and wanted and that we cared so much about her and that we still do. I hope that knowing this will make her feel valued and give her the self-worth to be happy in life and follow her dreams.
Foster care can be the difference between a child at risk and a child with their whole life ahead of them. We were honoured to be her foster carers and be that difference for her.
Lut you R