Saturday, April 22, 2017

THE TEA CUP PROBLEM


A teacher in our family says that two of her best friends and allies at school are her selective deaf ear and blind eye.

Same in fostering.

She says that if she picked up on every single thing that the students shouldn't be doing or saying she wouldn't get any teaching done.

And I find that too, especially with our latest placement.

He is pretty much an adult, but because he's dealing with depression there are all sorts of small not-quite-right behaviours which I'd discuss with most children, but which I've found myself ignoring with him. Because if I picked up on them all he'd be crestfallen and that could lead to black dog moods which set him back weeks.

The teacup issue is the absolute case in point.

THE TEA CUP ISSUE

It doesn't seem like a big deal, but then again it is. See, we use rounds of tea in our house to bring everyone together. Saturdays, Sundays, school holidays; the kettle is always warm.

When he first arrived, no-one minded him leaving his cup wherever he put it down after finishing. For the first week or so we didn't want to start nagging; he was in a strange house, he'd had a bad time. He has low self-esteem and over-reacts if he thinks he's being criticised, not in an aggressive way, just withdraws into a cocoon of silent sadness.

He's been steadily improving in most respects, but the tea cup issue must soon be considered.

I've got past being annoyed. Even when, one day, there were only three of our tea mugs available and clean in the kitchen. Several brown-stained ones in the dishwasher. I did a hunt and found two hidden out of sight on the floor next to the armchair he uses, three dotted around the computer room and FIVE up in his room.

One in the back garden and one under the tree in the front garden where we suspect he might hide to have a crafty roll-up even though he swears he doesn't smoke.

Therefore The Tea Cup issue is bigger than I thought. After all, he usually takes his plate up to the sink after a meal. He puts used clothing in the laundry basket.

So; 

WHAT IS THE TEA CUP ISSUE?

Is it an unconscious longing to be an infant again, wherein all things are done for him by the adult? Or at least they should have been done for him, so maybe he's having a miniature re-childhood and experiencing the right feelings of being looked-after. Or perhaps tea-drinking is a mark of adulthood and he doesn't want to be there yet? Doesn't want to be an adult until he's had a proper childhood?

Or is it an unconscious rejection of his new foster home? Does he recognise the symbolism of our relentless; "Who' wants a cuppa?" as a way of saying "We are family" and, grateful as he may be for our support would rather be with his own chaotic clan.

Then again; possibly it's to do with the fact that his mind is always teeming, so that at most given moments he's a million miles away, turning everything over and over in his head so that he's oblivious to the fact he's just finished a cuppa and ought to do something with the empty like everyone else does.

WHAT TO DO ABOUT THE TEA CUP ISSUE

Well for starters here's what I'm not going to do; I'm NOT going to say;

"Would you mind taking your tea cup out please, and put it in the sink." 

Because;

a) that's only a half solution, I really want him washing it up, drying it and hanging it on its hook. 
b) he'll twig that it's been an ongoing thing and his mood will likely plummet when he works out we've had a long-term grievance and put up with it because he's not well (he is resistant to the idea he has a mental health issue, ask Prince Harry about that). 
c) Bottom line; it wouldn't work. I just know it in my gut, we'd be back to square one on day two.

What I MIGHT do is;

Buy a set of individualised mugs (many of ours are matching) so that everyone has their own mug. It would mean he'd get something he's probably never had, namely ownership of a household item. It would lead to jokes about why is dad drinking out of mum's cup, is there something he wants to tell us?

I might put the communal cups in a cupboard, it's not as though we ever have  two dozen people around all wanting tea.

What I PROBABLY WILL do is...carry on as before, picking up his mugs as I go along and washing them up for him. And feeling a bit like a butler. But also, feeling a bit like someone who's doing all they can for him, showing as much care and love as can be done.

Because I suspect that, bottom line, a piece of him loves testing how much we care and feeling safe when he gets the re-assurance, and if the Tea Cup Issue is giving him that, then bring it on buster!

And;

I'll try to pay enough attention to myself so that when the day dawns that he takes his cup to the sink, washes it out, dries it and hangs it up, I'll notice, say nothing, but do three mental cartwheels for joy. And happen it will.







Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A LONG GOOD FRIDAY




Sometimes you can tell right from the off if a day isn't going to go well.

Children in foster care occasionally get out of bed on the wrong side and there's not much can be done.

I learned the hard way to have my antenna twitching from my first  cheery 'Good Morning!'. If there's no reply you know what you've got. Or maybe you get a grunt back, and have to assess what the grunt means, and what's the level of grump.

When it happens you have to concentrate to get things right and avoid a build up.

When I started fostering, having brought up my own children who by comparison (or so I remembered) were models of consistency, I was a bit affronted when a foster child ignored me or  made dismissive noises that translated as "I don't know/care" if you asked what they'd like for breakfast.

I'd make the big mistake; I'd try to fix things for her. I'd make her favourite breakfast, compliment her hair and choice of T shirt, dangle a treat;

"Would you like to go to the cinema on Saturday, or bowling?"

And somehow my efforts seemed to make things worse.

I learned the best thing to do every morning is to be neutral. No overblown good cheer, no singing along to the radio, in fact no radio. Just a calm, measured household. No fuss when they show their face, sometimes they seem to wish they were invisible. Or maybe not exist at all.

I stopped digging to try to find out what the matter was. The reason I gave up was because they themselves didn't know.

It happened this Easter;

Good Friday morning. A bit of a lie-in for all, but he clearly didn't want to get going. At half past ten he appeared, scurrying to the bathroom then back to his bedroom.

I made a bowl of cereal and took it up.

'Wassat?'

"Coco Pops"

"Don't want it."

What I've found is that it's all down the next things you say or do.

I DON'T say anything like; "There's no need to be like that" Nor do I say "Well what would you like instead."

I MIGHT say "I'll leave it here in case you change your mind".

I DON"T say "What's wrong?"

I WON"T do anything that might be construed judgemental such as pick up socks and pants off the floor or even open the curtains.

I MIGHT say something like; "It's going to be a quiet house today, but if you want a lift to town or a friend's just ask." And I definitely wouldn't mention friends unless I was sure there hadn't been an argument.

I find that if you avoid trying to take control, and definitely avoid getting into a discussion/disagreement/argument, just become a piece of furniture, that's your best bet.

It's frustrating because you want to get to the bottom of the low spirit, maybe even solve a problem.

But you can't; it runs too deep. They have to be permitted to feel glum from time to time, surely to goodness.

The Good Friday grump turned out to be a Short Good Friday grump (apologies to Bob Hoskins).

I tried to suss what had brought it on; maybe bad family memories of Easter, no Easter eggs or egg-hunting games, maybe a child shocked at the story of a man being nailed to a cross, maybe he got busted on a computer game, or someone hacked him off online.

I'll never know. All I know is that by biding my time and picking the right moment to use my secret weapon, distraction, we started to climb upwards. I said;

"Do you remember your April Fools Day joke on dad? When he was in the bath and you knocked on the door and told him there was someone on the phone for him?"

His mind filled with a happy moment, and we were up and running.


Monday, April 10, 2017

MONDAY MORNING PURPLISH BLUES



People often ask me why I started fostering.

It's a hard question to answer, but only because if I decide to answer it honestly it ends up sounding as though I'm actually asking whoever has asked the question why they themselves haven't started fostering.

So, seriously;

"If you haven't started fostering, my question is why not?"

Look, of course it's impossible for some people. They might not have the space or might be having a turbulent time. 

And some people probably aren't cut out for it.

But if I find myself talking to someone who had a spare bedroom - especially for example if they are going through 'empty nest syndrome' - and their family life is reasonably settled, and (crucially) they like children...then yes, I truly wonder why they aren't doing it.

Not that I'm critical, don't misunderstand; I recognise it looks like a big step, scary even.

But take a typical Monday morning. We're all a bit downed by it, I'm just back from the supermarket, the lady on the till was all Monday morning. 

Only I wasn't. I went along with the game, because it's a good game, Monday morning moaning, but my heart wasn't in it.

I love Mondays, especially when the schools have broken up.

The house is a home; full of people who are happy (or at least happier) because there's no school.

One of mine has got a big day planned with a friend, all mapped out; several firsts (first solo bus trip, first visit to a sit-down cafe,) and is excited, nervous and proud. And I get to share it (at a remote distance).

Another of mine intends to stay in bed until about lunchtime, because he can.

Tomorrow I'll get "I'm bored" right left and centre and hey, that's great, because they are asking me to play with them, or at least come up with stuff to do. Baking, painting, hide and seek, chase, pirates, living-room-parkour, den-building - and that's just at home and in the garden.

Fostering beats away the Monday blues even on a school day, there's so much to do you can't start feeling sorry for yourself.

A lot of people feel sorry for themselves because deep down they suspect they haven't fulfilled their potential.  The lady on the supermarket till, I mentioned to her that one of my real children is worried about not doing anything in life. She replied "God I know the feeling, I'm 53 and I haven't done anything in life!"

When we're young we dream of being pop stars or millionaires. As we grow we realise that (though that would be nice), it's even more rewarding, more uplifting, to do something substantial for someone else.

That's fostering, that's largely what drew me to it.

When I look back I remember the first time I learned that there was such a thing as fostering, and thought to myself;

"I bet I'd be okay at that, I reckon it would be tops, wonder if I'll actually ever do it?"

Well, I think I am okay at it ( no more than that, no smugness here), it is tops (yes it has its bottoms moments too) and yes, I did do it, and I'm skipping this Monday morning because I did actually do it.