Thursday, May 31, 2012

Another Week of Last Things

Back in December I blogged on a week of last things with OB as he prepared to be returned to his family.  This week OB has had another week of last things of a completely different sort - he has had his final contacts with his birth family.  He won't see any of them again until he chooses to, if that day comes.

As I did in December, I find myself reflecting on our situation.  Back then it was me who fully expected to never see him again.  Now it is his birth family.  What a bittersweet turnaround.

I won't say anything about those contacts on here as it's only fair to respect his confidentiality and, anyway, it's time to put it behind us now and look ahead.

But I find that I can't help looking back with a vague feeling that I wish I had known last year what I know now - that OB would be my son and I would be his forever Mummy.  Part of me would like to live that time again with the knowledge that I now have.

What would I have done differently, I wonder?  Would I have cared for him more?  Loved him more?  I don't think that would have been possible!  And yet there's still this nagging feeling that things would have been different if I had viewed him as my own son during that time, instead of knowing that I was taking care of him for somebody else.

I think it boils down to memories.  Looked-after children move around a lot and often end up with people who weren't there for some or all of their earliest years.  I expect we've all eagerly asked our parents for details of our childhood and baby years.  What was my first word?  What was my favourite toy?  It's important that those details are recorded somewhere so that when those questions come in the future, somebody has the answers for them.

So, I worked hard last year to create records of memories for OB.  I kept his daily log, noting important events and milestones.  I took lots and lots of photos and videos of him doing various different things, from the mundane events (such as the first time he tried broccoli - not a success!!) to the once-in-a-lifetime experiences, like the Royal Wedding.

And that's the point really.  I was creating memories for him.  I wasn't creating memories for us.  I wasn't creating a story of a Mummy and her son, I was creating a story of a little boy to carry with him to an uncertain new life with person or persons unknown.

Now I will have to go back a re-write that story; replace the album of pictures of OB on his own with pictures of him with me and the rest of his family and friends, and create a past for him that will match his future - a story that says that whatever happened at the very beginning, from his earliest months he has been part of a family and community that wanted, loved and cherished him.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Getting Approval

This week I had the first of many meetings with the social worker who is going to guide me through the process of becoming approved as an adoptive parent.  I more or less knew what to expect as I had already been told that it's fairly similar to becoming approved as a foster carer.  That process took months, involved many, many long meetings where I told my social worker literally everything about myself, and resulted in a 50+ page  report.

So I was surprised to be told that the adoption process is indeed similar to the fostering one, but is more in depth.

More in depth? I honestly don't think it's possible for me to be able to tell them more about myself than I already have!

But it reminded me that long ago I promised to say more about the process of becoming approved as a foster carer, and it seems to me that the meetings with the social worker are a good place to start.

I had about 14 meetings with my social worker in order for her to create a portfolio of information about me that was more than 50 pages long, not including appendices.  We discussed absolutely everything.  Seriously, my social worker now probably knows more about me, my life and my attitudes to everything conceivable than anybody else.

There is no stone left unturned.  I had to talk in detail about my childhood, what my family life was like, how I was disciplined, my education, my parents' divorce, my relationship with my sister and other family members, other people that were important to me and the ways in which I think that all of that has affected me as an adult.

She built a timeline of all the significant events in my childhood, including when I moved house or changed school.  This ended up being pretty thorough.

In my adult life, she wanted to know about all of my significant relationships, my work history, my interests and hobbies.  I was asked about my attitudes and beliefs in regards to education, achievement, cultural and ethnic differences, sexual relationships and sexuality, religion, managing children's behaviour, special needs and more.

Some things were easier for me because I am a single carer with no children of my own, and who has never been married.  Otherwise I know that I would have had to give permission for my children to be interviewed and also for ex-partners/husbands to be contacted.

The age range that I was choosing to foster (0-3) also affected the questioning.  There was less emphasis on issues such as peer relationships, sexuality and teaching children to stay safe than there might have been had I been fostering older children.  But I still did face challenging questions on issues such as religion - for instance I was asked to provide evidence that I wouldn't attempt to impose my beliefs on children in my care.

For each of the answers to these questions, evidence was required.  It wasn't enough for me to say that I knew this, or thought that.  I had to provide evidence from my own life and professional practice that these truly were the values and attitudes that I espoused.  I think this might have been easier if I had children of my own - a lot of my ideas about raising children were purely theoretical!

Each of these issues were discussed in a lot of detail at meetings in my home that often lasted for two hours.  In between meetings I was given a booklet which showed all the areas that were up for discussion and I was invited to make notes on the relevant sections in advance of each meeting.  Frankly, it was quite a lot of work for someone who never uses one word when 20 would do!

I think that the level of detail required in these interviews is something to really think about if you're considering fostering or adoption.  I am thankful that I am comfortable talking about myself and I don't really have unresolved issues in my life waiting to ambush me, but if I did, I would have had to submit to having them examined under a microscope by a person who was basically a stranger.  My adoption social worker even suggested that she would come in the evenings if the subject matter looked like it was going to be sensitive so that we could discuss it with the children out of the way.  They obviously expect to be stirring up emotions.

I also need to be honest about the sort of pressure you feel when answering all these questions.  Most of the time there's a nagging feeling in your mind that if you give a 'wrong' answer then it could all be over for your application.  I don't know if this is how it works, and they reassure you that there is no 'wrong answer' but still, it's hard to shake the feeling.

I'm expecting a whole new set of questions when it comes to the adoption process.  Granted there can surely be nothing left of my personal life to uncover, but taking on a child for life is a completely different proposition to taking them on for just a few months.  Certainly we'll need to discuss issues relevant to older children that we sidestepped last time.  I'm already trying to formulate honest but measured answers to some of these in my head - the last thing I want is to be caught on the hop and accidentally say the 'wrong' thing.  Turns out I simply don't believe that old 'there is no wrong answer' line!

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Great Escape

OB is an escaper.  Whenever there is an open door, a clear exit or a loose safety gate, you can be sure he'll notice and head towards it at surprising speed.

And he's tenacious with it!  Usually he can easily be distracted.  I've lost count of the number of times he's come running across the room with his arms outstretched for a cuddle and then at the last minute noticed a toy and veered off to investigate.  But that never seems to happen when he's on an escape mission.

Today we ventured to the song and rhyme session at the library for the first time in weeks.  It's always a bit of a challenge keeping OB in the room at this session.  The area of the library they use is not enclosed, but instead they place little child-height barriers across the opening.  Unfortunately, OB can easily move these out of the way, and once he's through, the automatically-opening doors to the outside world are just a few steps away!

This is part of the reason I haven't been for a while.  The play part of the session is significantly less fun for me when I spend most of it standing by the barriers like an angry guard dog, or chasing OB all over the library, so when other things have come up on Friday mornings I haven't been too disappointed to miss the library.

But there we were this morning with nothing else in the diary, nice weather for ducks and two restless little ones and I decided that we'd go back to the library.  After all, we did have three library books that are about two months overdue!  I reasoned that OB might have forgotten about the easy exit by now, or might have grown out of his need to escape.

Not so much.

With 15 minutes of arriving I looked up from NB's salt dough masterpiece to realise that I couldn't make visual contact with OB at all.  Scanned the room.  Nothing.  Ran out past the barriers and scanned the rest of the library.  Nothing.

Then I heard a voice from behind the library desk say, "Hey, there's a child out there on the street!"

Sure enough, there was OB merrily making his way down the ramp outside the front of the library on a mission for the road!


Anyway, he was rescued without incident, although I did wonder whether some of the many library assistants hanging around behind the desk might have helped me out a bit by raising the alarm earlier, or perhaps shifting their behinds off the comfy desk chairs to stop him before he got through the two sets of double doors!

So, it's decided.  We won't be going to the library session again until either OB is a lot older and has grown out of his great escape obsession or they've got something a bit more secure to keep the kids in their places - like chains and maybe a cage!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Assumptions and Presumptions

It's Foster Care Fortnight right now and so there have been a lot of news reports and editorials on the subject.  As usual there are the many, many stories of people who say they really wanted to foster but were put off by something or other that social services said to them, fuelling the debate about whether it's simply too hard to get into fostering and adoption.

I've blogged around these issues before, but I'll say it again: if you find the process of being approved as a foster carer too much like hard work, or too intrusive, then you're probably better off not doing it.  This is no criticism.  Fostering isn't for everybody and there's no shame in saying it's not right for you or for your family at this time or maybe ever.

But let's be realistic about the children we're dealing with here.  These are children who, at the very least, will have experienced the trauma of being recently separated from their families, their friends and their homes, not to mention what might have gone on before that.  These kids need more than a place to live or someone to feed and clothe them.  It is not enough to take care of a child's material needs - they have serious emotional needs as well which will take a toll on the families who take the challenge of caring for them.

On today's 'You and Yours' on Radio 4 a person had emailed in complaining that, as a single male carer, he had been put off from continuing with his fostering application when he discovered that he would be expected to give up his work and look after a foster child full time.  In his opinion it would do a fostered child a lot of good to be around somebody who was actually working.

Let's leave aside for a moment the assumptions inherent in such a view, and unpack this idea of fostering a child while holding down a full time job without a second carer.  Supposing he had fostered a child of school age.  No problem, you might think.  The child would be at school for most of the day.  Maybe so.  But even if we assume that this carer had a regular 9-5 job with, say, a half-hour commute, then we can see that extra childcare is going to be needed in the early evenings, not to mention during the school holidays.

So this fostered child would be removed from the family and friends they have known (and this is a trauma for children, regardless of how awful we might consider their situation to have been) and placed in the home of a total stranger with habits, rules, food and a lifestyle that are completely different.  While they are still getting used to that they will be introduced to another stranger - the person who will care for them after school while the foster parent is at work.  Another strange environment to get used to.  And then maybe another new routine in the school holidays.  For a child already at risk of attachment disorders this might all be a bit too much to handle.

And that's just part of it.  The majority of fostered children have regular contact visits with family, usually during office hours.  How can that be organised if the carer is at work?  Fostered children have more medical appointments than other children, and foster carers are often called into school to deal with problems that might arise there.  All very disruptive if you are trying to hold down a full-time job.

Most of the objections I hear people raise on these call-in shows seem to basically boil down to this: social services wouldn't let me have it my way, so I gave up the idea.  The suggestion seems to be that if social services would only agree with the assumptions and views and requirements of the totally unqualified prospective foster carers then there wouldn't be such a shortage.

I'm not denying that dealing with social services can be a complete pain, but many of their ways of doing things that seem so strange to us are based on years of research, studies, reports and experience.  They don't always get it right - that much is obvious - but alternatives to these methods need to be based on something more robust than "well, it's common sense, isn't it?"

There is very little about the situation of looked after children in our country that is common sense.  It's not common sense for children to be neglected, abused and brutalised and yet it goes on all the time.  If we are going to make a real go of helping these little ones then we are going to need to abandon our presumptions and preconceived ideas and really, truly put their needs first.

Monday, May 14, 2012

No Such Word as Can't?

I must admit I felt guilty and a little bit naughty when I first approached social services about adopting OB.  There's a stereotype of the foster carer who simply can't give up a child they've looked after that I don't really want to fall into.  After all, I have given OB up once already, so I feel like I've more or less proved that I can.  The truth at this point is that I simply don't want to.

And I think that's the truth about a lot of things we say "can't" do, especially those things we feel like we emotionally can't do.  Perhaps there are some things we physically can't do.  I might have said that a person who is paralysed "can't" do the London Marathon, but then Claire Lomas has blown that out of the water recently!

Seriously though, there are some things that are out of our reach, and I'm not one of those who believes that with positive thinking we can achieve anything we want.  But I do think that the emotional "can't" isn't as powerful as it seems.

Many people have said to me since I began fostering that they could never do that because they'd get too attached - they'd not be able to give the child up at the end.  But is that really true?  Surely we can overcome our emotional can'ts.  If social services had said I wasn't allowed to adopt OB, what would I have done?  Run away with him to a foreign country?  Of course not!  I would have done what was necessary - I would have given him up, regardless of the pain and disappointment I would have felt.

I am thankful that I have rarely, if ever, experienced true suffering.  When I hear stories of people who have gone through dreadful tragedies or terrible illnesses I often wonder how these people manage to get up in the morning, how they manage to keep breathing and putting one foot in front of the other, and yet most of the time, they do.

No, when we say "can't" about an emotional decision, what we are so often saying is that we don't want to.  We don't want to make ourselves vulnerable.  We don't want to open ourselves to the sort of pain that might result from our actions.  We don't want to have to see if we've got what it takes to push through and come out of the other side intact.

It's Foster Care Fortnight right now, and new foster families are desperately needed.  If you have ever thought about fostering and then decided that you "can't", then please, please reconsider.  Motivated by the thought of the immense difference you could make in a child's life, can you take hold of your emotions so that you are in charge of them instead of them being in charge of you?

Because if you do that, what you will probably find is that you can.  You can make the tough decisions.  You can do what's right even when it's hard.  You can do whatever it takes.  And, most importantly, you can be the person that changes someone's life forever.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What's in a Name?

A recent Daily Mail online article entitled 'Scandal of the babies parents won't adopt because they're called Chrystal and Chardonnay . . . and the social workers who won't let them change their names' has raised a predictable storm of comments on all sides of the debate.

Basically, this is a whistleblowing article from a serving social worker claiming that there are babies who are not being adopted because their names don't fit the middle-class ideals of prospective adopting parents.  Suitably inflammatory for the Daily Mail, one might think.  But then the article goes on to talk about the thorny issue of how many rights the birth families continue to have once their children have been put up for adoption.

Did you know that these days adoptive parents are usually required to maintain some sort of contact with the birth families on behalf of the child?  This could take the form of an annual letter describing what the child has been up to that year, perhaps accompanied by a photograph.  When the child is older, they are encouraged to participate in this letter writing to help them maintain links with their birth families.  The idea is that it helps them to maintain a sense of their identity by not losing touch with where they came from.

The concept of  adoption as a completely 'fresh start' for a child seems to have fallen by the wayside.  I have been told that once a child has been adopted, they are 'always on social service's radar'. Name changing is frowned upon as a child's name is another important link with their roots (and I have spoken to adoptees whose names were changed who did indeed feel that this was to their detriment).  Closed adoptions are practically unheard of now - gone are the days when an older child could accidentally find out that they were adopted at birth, with all the accompanying anguish that such a discovery would cause.

Personally I'm a little bit on the fence about this issue.  I think we do need to listen to the experiences of adopted children who have experienced a complete loss of their identity.  But from the point of view of an adoptive parent I can completely understand why someone would want to change the name of a child that they have adopted.  Adoptive families want to be families.  They want their children to feel absolutely part of the family and not to always be reminded that they were adopted.  This is particularly important when there are existing birth children in the family.  There is something to be said for minimising that feeling of 'otherness' that might make it more difficult for an adopted child to truly become part of the fabric of the family and the community that they have been brought into.

In many communities and cultures, names are significant and laden with layers of meaning.  Couples that have struggled with infertility for years will have named and re-named hoped-for babies so many times.  Naming a new child is an important part of welcoming that child into the family, of making them belong, but adoptive parents are denied that opportunity when the children come ready-named. 

But, surely it's about what's best for the child, not what's best for the adoptive parents, right?  Well, we might sniff self-righteously at snobby middle-class parents who don't want a child of theirs to be called Chardonnay or Chrystal, but the truth is that names do matter.  I can't imagine a child having an easy time in any of the schools near me if they are burdened with a name like Tarquin or Penelope.

I recently heard a radio programme about trans-cultural adoption.  Two women, one black and the other asian, were speaking about their experiences of being adopted into white families.  One of the comments that really stayed with me was when one woman said that she could never have a moment's privacy about her adoption all through her childhood.  Everywhere they went, on holidays, day-trips, even to the corner shop, the difference between her and her siblings and parents was noted and commented on.  Time and time again she had to explain to perfect strangers that she was, indeed, adopted.  She felt like she never had the opportunity to just put her past down and get on with her life.  Although she loved her adoptive parents and was glad to have found a loving family, this sense of being different blighted her whole childhood.

Might this be the case for trans-class adoptions (for want of a better phrase!)?   Would an Emmarald or a Chianti forever feel slightly outcast in classes full of Emilys and Sophies?  I don't know, but perhaps it's worth looking into before we rush to judgement on those who want their kids to have names like all the other kids they know.

And there are other, more serious reasons for wanting to change a child's name.   I have honestly considered whether it would be possible to change OB's name once I adopt him.  This is not for reasons of vanity - he has a perfectly nice name - but for reasons of anonymity.  If the local social services are so concerned for his safety that they want me to move out of the borough, then why not a name change to go with the move?  OB's birth family all know my last name, so protecting his new identity will be out of the question unless some part of his name can be changed.

And this brings me to the second point of the article - the rights of birth families.  In my case, social services are apparently so worried about OB's safety that, in order to protect him from his birth family, I have to move to a different borough.  And yet I will be required to keep in contact with this same, apparently dangerous, birth family through annual letters describing all of OB's latest adventures.  I can't say I'm thrilled at the prospect.  Part of me completely resents the idea that these people should have any further influence in OB's life.  I would never hide the fact of his adoption, and would give him all the information he wants if he asks for it, but I think the decision about whether to have contact with his birth family should be left entirely to him, and not written into some care plan that he has had no say about.  All the 'rights' here should be the child's, not the birth family's in my opinion.

The message coming from social services about identity and links with the birth family seems to be confused.  I was even told that moving away was for our own good because if OB has a row with me when he's older and threatens to run away to his birth family, it will be harder for him to do that if we live farther away!  They rush to get OB's court decision so that he's still too young to have any memory of his adoption, and then they insist that I push the fact of his adoption in his face every single year all through his childhood.  I have to move as far away from his family as possible, but at the same time I am discouraged from changing his name to make him more difficult to find.

Surely a sensible compromise could be found to enable an adopted child to become fully integrated with their adoptive family, while at the same time maintaining enough of a link with the past that a child could choose to explore this further in their own time.  He could have his current name as his middle name.  I could keep photographs and other mementoes of OB's birth family for him to see if he asks.  Having spent a fair bit of time with his birth family, I could tell him about them if he wanted to know.  But surely it should be up to him whether his birth family know anything about him?  And surely we should be able to make a completely fresh start and give him the chance to grow up in a stable family where I am the Mummy and he is the son without the tragedies of his past hanging over us at every turn?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Breaking News

I've been wondering when and how to break this news, but I really think the time has come when evading and obfuscating will soon turn in to outright lying if I don't come clean soon, so I have decided to tell you first, loyal blog followers!

(Well, nearly first - a few key people are already in the know . . . )

At a recent court date, the judge decided to implement the local authority's latest care plan for OB, namely that he be adopted and I should be the one to adopt him.

It's not a done deal yet.  I've had to submit an application to become an adoptive parent and I'll need to go through the same assessment and approval process as anybody else, which will probably take quite a few months, but as of now, the local authority are not looking to match OB with anyone else.

So, we're going to be a family!  Watch out world!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Is the family becoming obsolete?

This post is a bit more philosophical than I usually go in for, but I have been inspired by a friend's extremely interesting blog post (Relationships and Intimacy in the Modern World).  Among other things, the author discusses how the family and household have become less important in our society since the industrial revolution:

"Business has largely migrated away from the context of the home to the workplace. Family businesses and trades are less common nowadays: the child is less likely to be the apprentice of their parents, being trained to work with them and like them. Education has also largely left the home. Not only is the child less likely to learn their trade from their parents, much of the task of their more general education falls on the shoulders of professionals outside of the home environment.

"With both partners in relationships now frequently working in full time jobs outside of the home, the space of the home becomes a place for retreat into private domesticity. Without a partner staying at home, the home also becomes less of a zone where the cycle of daily community and neighbourhood life occurs.

"At the same time, technological developments have profoundly changed the character of daily family life. Where once shared routines of family life were essential for life together, and for the provision of heat, food, and resources, modern technology has freed us from many of these previously shared tasks. Where once the entire family could have different contributing tasks to the keeping of the hearth and the tending and feeding of its fire, for instance, now we just turn up the thermostat. The onerous and skilled character of tasks such as washing also led to the family becoming a place of differentiated roles in community."

Interesting stuff - do feel encouraged to go and read the whole post!  He goes to on talk about how many family homes no longer have a central focus, e.g. the meal table, the open fire in the only heated room, even the TV (now that so many have TVs in every bedroom) so that shared activities become fewer and fewer and family members increasingly live as individuals in the same house.

I've been thinking about this a lot, especially in view of the amount of time I now spend around families in crisis.  One of the children I care for is months and months behind in speech development, simply because he hasn't really been spoken to enough.  The deficiencies in the lives of some families have apparently become so alarming that a think tank has recently published a report stating that parents should begin a new "5-a-Day" routine with their children:

Read to your child for 15 minutes
Play with your child on the floor for 10 minutes
Talk with your child for 20 minutes with the television off
Praise your child
Give your child a nutritious diet

There has been a lot of discussion around whether this is all a bit too patronising but, in reality, it is hard to make a convincing argument that these are bad suggestions.  Who would say that it not important to talk to their child or play with their child?  The exact timings and circumstances might be open to discussion, but the basic principles seem to be good.

My question is this: how have we come to a place in our society where anybody anywhere thinks that we need a think tank to help families with these basic, and seemingly pretty obvious principles?

Has family life in general broken down to such a point that it is really necessary to explain to parents that talking to their children is a good idea?  And if not, why is there a perception that it has?

Because despite all those who will rail against this sort of 'nanny state interference' in our lives, the truth is that we seem to rely more and more on professionals and the state to do things for us that were once considered the sole responsibility of parents and families.  Every town now has Sure Start centres to support parents of pre-schoolers in all kinds of fairly basic activities (e.g. playing, reading, nutrition, etc.) and I've lost count of the number of times some worthy person has suggested that xyz should be put on the school curriculum because parents aren't doing a good enough job at home.

I can't help thinking that there's something in the idea that a pre-industrial society didn't need help with their family lives because the life of the family was the basis of all community living.  When families were forced to work together to survive, parents didn't need to be told to do things with their kids, they did it because it was necessary.  Now, when life is relatively easy and there is comparitively so much leisure time, we see individual family members intent on pursuing their own agendas in separate rooms, and expensive interactive toys take the place of actual personal interaction.

I have noticed that my two little ones like to do whatever I am doing.  NB loves to use the vacuum cleaner, to help me tidy toys, to use the baby wipes to clean his high chair tray (and other things!).  If I involve him in the everyday things I am doing he gets all the interaction that he needs as well as developing his speech, motor skills and other things.  Of course, it takes me much longer to complete the task, thereby cutting down my leisure time, but it is so valuable in promoting those normal everyday interactions that should be part of the fabric of our lives and not carried out on a schedule according to a prescription.

Don't get me wrong.  I do think there is a need for this advice.  I have seen for myself that there are families where these things never happen, to the detriment of the children.  But it makes me sad to think that what should be natural, normal interactions in the family home are now so rare that we have to work hard to make them happen.

Recently there has been some discussion among the powers that be about whether NB should attend nursery for two mornings each week to encourage speech and language development.  I was all for this until someone at a recent meeting put forward a different point of view.  She argued that NB should be able to get everything he needs at home, interacting with the adults and children I introduce him to, and that staying at home or going to activities with me would have the added benefit of encouraging him to form healthy attachments, thus benefitting his emotional development.

If I'm honest, this viewpoint was like a breath of fresh air.  It is so unusual these days to hear someone say that a child is better off at home.  Instead all we hear about is how important it is to get them into nursery for their 'development' and then to get them to school at an age much younger than most of our European counterparts begin formal education.  Once they are in school we find that early-bird and after-school clubs are promoted as wonderful opportunities for 'enrichment', and then there are the holiday clubs and so on.  Once you add in the homework that kids seem to get even at the youngest ages, then there hardly seems to be any time for families any more.

It's almost as though someone, somewhere, thinks that families have nothing to offer children, as though everything of value happens outside the home and the whole concept of family is basically obsolete.

Well, maybe some families leave a lot to be desired, but it seems to me that when people are discouraged from doing things for themselves then they soon lose the ability.  In time they forget they ever had the ability and are forced to rely wholly on others to do things for them that they used to be able to do quite easily for themselves.

Perhaps it is time to focus on and promote the full potential of family life before we as a society forget how it works altogether.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Thanks, Nice Old Lady!

A while ago I wrote about the awkwardness of dealing with the 'are they twins?' questions about the boys and how I am sure that people are thinking terrible things about the single woman with two babies so very close in age!

We had a perfect example in a restaurant this week after NB had been particularly whiny over his meal:

Me (to diners on neighbouring table):  Sorry about the noise the children were making.  I hope it didn't disturb your meal.
Apple-cheeked old lady: No, no.  How old are they?
Me (pointing to each child in turn):  This one is two, and this one is 16 months.
Apple-cheeked old lady: Oh!  Well, at least you know how you get them now!


Family Fun

We've just come to the end of ten wonderful days of having my parents staying at the house.  Of course, it's been great for me to see my parents and spend time with them, not to mention the fact that they literally do everything for me while they are here!  I haven't had to cook a meal, make a brew or get up at crack-of-dawn-o-clock with the boys for over a week!

Honestly, though, I think it's even better for the boys than it is for me.  With more doting adults around the place, there are plenty of knees for everybody, and somebody to dole out love and attention every hour of every day.  All the stories, talk, songs and games have really brought the boys along and they've learned new things that I wouldn't normally have had time to do with them.  With the best will in the world, I just can't always give them the time they want - it would be nice to spend the whole afternoon endlessly drawing fish, birds and trains on the etch-a-sketch only to have them instantly erased, but sometimes I just have to do the laundry or make the tea or some other humdrum necessity.

Even better, with an adult to child ratio of 3:2, we've been able to let the boys out of the pram to run freely far more than I ever can when I'm alone with them.  It's simply impossible to keep tabs on two toddlers who tend not to come when called.  They do seem to be intent on running away in different directions!

But with two extra pairs of hands, we've been able to go to the park twice and to the seaside where the boys have had no end of fun running all over the beach and climbing down into the holes we dug in the sand for them. They've probably had more exercise in this last week than they have had in the last month!

This is why social services lay such an emphasis on support network when they consider an application to become a foster carer.  Yes, as a single carer I can love them, care for them and provide them with a safe home and plenty of interaction and stimulation, but for those wonderfully necessary extras, it's always good to have a few extra pairs of hands around the place!