Fostering takes it out of you, no bones about it.
Yesterday I was making one of mine their school lunchbox.
The Holy Grail of the lunchbox is one which comes home empty.
Never happens, not with this particular child. Took me ages to work out why; it's because he was starved at home, used to raid the kitchen bin and hide scraps in his bedroom, so for security needs to keep some food available for emergencies.
So here I am making a sandwich, that's all - I could knock up a sarnie in my sleep, blindfolded. In ten seconds.
Not for my foster son's sandwich, oh no.
First up is the bread, it must be white. But I cheat slightly in the name of healthy eating and use the off-white 50/50.
I spread the Flora with ridiculous care. Not too much to make it sloppy and top heavy with dairy - I scrape the margarine evenly into the perforations in each slice and use any excess on the knife to spread it right up to the crust edge.
Then a slice of ham. It's cheap supermarket packet ham, but it mustn't have any honeyroast edge to it, that's disliked.
Then a sprinkling of cheese. Grated cheese, not sliced or cut. I buy packs of ready-grated (mild) cheddar rather than grate it myself, their machines do it so neatly and it saves washing up the cheese grater which is always a pfaff.
I press down the other slice on top, now comes the tricky bit.
Trimming off the crust.
Bread has an annoying contour of curves, so there's an annoying amount of waste. Annoying because I usually snack the trimmings which doesn't do the waistline any good but it's easier than carrying the bits over to the pedal bin and anyway I don't like wasting food.
That done I have to manipulate the two halves into a sandwich bag which calls for care or else the assembly falls apart.
Next; make another one. Because foster child said he liked the sandwich yesterday (he's been mainly on shop-bought sausage rolls all year but I forgot to buy some and it was too late to get to the shop so I made him a sarnie instead which he said he liked but it wasn't filling enough so he asked for double).
Repeat the procedure all over again.
Sandwich took ten times longer than normal.
Does all that attention to detail matter?
Yes, yes and yes again.
If you know why, either you're a foster parent yourself or you would make a great foster parent.
When I take this child to Contact with his mother she complies with the requirement to bring her child something to eat. She buys the cheapest plastic-wrapped sandwich from the corner shop near the Contact centre and gives it to him in the carrier bag.
No love in that, in fact it's an insult to him in my eyes. I want to tell her but it's not what you do at Contact, your job is to promote the parent to the child, or at least protect the relationship from deterioration.
Whether he knows or knows not the pains I go to to make his lunchtime food by hand - and with love - I know not, but giving love in as many ways as possible is what it's all about.
I think of him around midday and wonder what he thinks when he opens his lunchbox. And when he gets home one of my treats is to open it and see how each day's menu went down.
The Holy Grail, an empty box, will one day be mine.
Words can't express how much it will mean, not merely his appreciation of the food, but the arrival of a sense of security in the child that he will always be properly fed, in my house at least. And that someone cares.
But like I say, fostering is taxing because you're trying that hard all the time to help in every tiny way.
And like they say, nothing worth having is easily come by.