We had a family gathering at our house at the weekend. We did the refreshments run in the morning; big salad, ham, bread rolls. Sparkling water, cordials, a few lagers, red and white -we use the boxes when it's a 'do' - and four bottles of non-alcoholic beer.
There are always some awkward things about family gatherings. Four bottles of non-alcoholic beer is somehow awkward. Looking after foster children at a family gathering; awkward.
Family get-togethers seem to happen mostly around Christmas and during the summer, and they make for interesting ocassions for people involved in fostering.
When I say 'people involved in fostering', I can only speak first-hand of how it is for the foster parent, because thankfully I didn't have to be cared for as a child.
But foster children are involved in fostering.
I'm grateful for some very thoughtful contributions to this blog from some people who have been in care themselves. Their comments remind me to think harder about how things are for the foster child.
I'm not saying I don't think about them enough, I guess my point is you can't think about things from their point of view too much. You can't overdo putting yourself in their shoes. The more you think about how it is for them, the better you can care.
Can be painful though.
So take the family get-together as a 'frinstance.
Take yourself back to when you were ten or twelve and remember.
Be honest, bit of a nightmare no?
Doesn't make much difference whether the gathering is home or away; our last one was at our house so I'm remembering family gatherings at our house when I was little.
What was my main thinking in the build-up to the gathering?
Mixture of excitement and foreboding.
Excitment because it was a day out of the ordinary, and eating and drinking was big. Party food. Fizzy drinks for us kids, so that was all good.
Foreboding because adults were coming en masse, and almost all of them would be looking to do a quick 'howdydoodie' with them kids, ain't they scamps. For some reason I found it toe-curling.
Yet these were adults I knew; uncles and cousins. The fact I knew them didn't make it much easier.
Most adults don't speak childese. They tower above children and either demand a hug or a sloppy kiss or boom something banal about your haircut or your T shirt, roar with laughter either at your response or their own awkwardness, before moving off in search of a full-blown person to talk to.
Several times I'd get asked how I'm doing at school. What I wanted to do when I grew up.
Us children would usually try to go off by ourselves or at least keep a low enough profile not to attract any comments or attention.
Then some auntie would try to coax you to tell her your story about why you gave up pony lessons and you'd hide and everyone would go; "Aaaahhh, she's shy". Which was meant to be kind but made you feel pathetic.
On the whole, when I was small, I was proper relieved when they were over, even if the end of the day meant getting roped into going round and collecting up plates and glasses.
I found it hard.
Imagine how much harder for a foster child even if the gathering is at your place, a place they've started to feel comfortable with.
It's an invasion. An invading army of adults and other children who all know each other. If a child ever felt like an outsider in their own foster home, for the foster child the family gathering can be the pits.
Foster children feel different every second they are in care and there's not much the foster parents can do when throwing a gathering to prevent that sense of being different from being magnified.
All those people who go back to the day they were born.
Then there's you. Who's been attached to this family for a few weeks or months. Even if it's years, you can still feel a bit of a cuckoo in the nest.
The worst bit; the worst bit is when they start talking about you. Because they inevtiably do. They don't mean any harm, they are just curious, but they want to know how the foster child is settling in, what's he like. What's his background.
They do. They do. They do.
The voices get a bit hushed in one corner of the room or around the barbie.
They want some details. About you. People you've never met, probably will never know properly, are talking about you and your problems and your mum and dad's failures.
Jees, I just had two minutes just then, trying to get the feeling of what it must be like for the foster child on the way to an away family gathering at; someone else's house.
Ouch with knobs on.
Ours went alright at the weekend, it wasn't a huge gathering.
I had had a quiet word with family to let the foster children come to them rather than the other way round. The youngsters played computer games in the back room for the first hour, then ventured out when they heard the sounds of an impromptu game of football going on. It ended up Family Athletic v Fostering United.
My mum was there, she's not too well at the moment.
After everyone left one of our foster children gave me a hug. Never done that before, ever. An absolute beauty, a crusher. Another one of those fostering moments you know you'll take to the grave.
"I don't know why I did that" came out before the child turned and fled.
Maybe it had been the sight of me supporting my mum to the loo twice, seeing how a parent and child can be. I don't know.
So these family ocassions, parties, dreaded barbecues, anniversary and birthday events, aren't unproductive for foster children, but they're still damned hard.
And when everyone's gone, you're always left with the washing up.
And those four awkward bottles of non-alcoholic beer.