It’s all child’s play

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I get back from Calais absurdly happy to see my family and determined to see this fostering thing through to its conclusion, to its beginning.

It’s just as well because we are straight back into things. It starts with the small matter of a trip to the doctor for our medical assessments. Eastern Fostering Service (the fostering agency) provided us with the forms which we filled in and dropped to the surgery. An appointment was given and hey presto, I find myself slightly sleep deprived, weeing into a pot and answering the usual bland health questions. The long and short of it is that I am fit and healthy and so, it turns out, is my husband Jim. It’s all very routine. Right up to the point, that is, where the doctor seems to make some clandestine analysis as to the completeness of my mental faculties. Evidently he finds my faculties lacking.

‘Your children are still quite young. Deep breath. It’s a great thing to do of course. Breathe out. Very challenging though. Another one. And your children are young still aren’t they?’

I’m pretty certain what he means is: ‘Your kids haven’t even hit puberty; you think you’ve got this parenting thing sufficiently licked to take on another child. You’re deluded. You know nothing. You’re in for a shock.’

I wonder momentarily if he’d be saying the same thing if I was pregnant with a third child, though I recognise this is not a particularly helpful path to go down at present.

The fact is that I’ve detected this undertone in a few of the responses to the news that we’re hoping to foster. People I’ve known for a long time have surprised me. Some have asked me, in that same constipated voice, ‘oh and what do your boys think?’ As if I’ve somehow bulldozed them with fostering, as if I am doing something cruel. As if fostering were a chastisement and not an opportunity for growth.

So I am relieved when our assessor arrives a day later and announces that this week she’ll be talking to the children. Without us.

The kids are alright

The children spend a nice long time with the assessor and during that time (we later find out) the boys demonstrate an impressive grasp of what fostering involves, a philosophical approach as to what we can all expect, ‘there’s a lot we won’t know until we do it’ and a clear affection for their bulldozing parents. It also transpires that Ben and Theo love and irritate each other as much as they do Jim and I. All normal then.

None of this means that we have the parent thing licked. Of course we don’t. We get things wrong. We lose our tempers. We look back and think we could have done that better. In short, we’re human.

That said, we have involved our children in every step of the process. We have given them the freedom and the space to raise their concerns. We have explained why we’d like to do this and we have been clear that at any point we will stop if the boys are unhappy. We are both aware that children like to please their parents and my boys are no different. They could just be trying to keep us happy. After all, they know how much this means. But that’s a hard game to play for long and we’ll be watching them closely. And so will our assessor. For the moment she is happy.

Jim and I are next.

Mr and Mrs

This week we’re looking at our relationship. Our history. Our marriage. What we think of each other. What works. What we need to work at.

Jim looks terrified. His look says: 'Is this marriage counselling?' He eyes the front door with something like longing.

I guess this is a little like marriage counselling. Once the assessor has spoken to us separately, we all get together and she shares what we’ve both said. As a couple, how often do you sit back and consider the things you like about each other, the tough times you’ve got through, the reasons you work together? How often do you reflect at all? The answer is of course that you don’t. You just get on with things. But today as we laugh about the things we’ve said about the other, there is reflection. There is an acknowledgment that whilst as humans we are imperfect, our marriage is imperfect, we are a good team. And what’s more we like each other, as long as Jim isn’t hanging out the washing and as long as I’m not offering my advice on how said washing could be hung out in a way more conducive to drying. The assessor thinks it’s funny that we have both mentioned the washing as being a source of acute irritation. She thinks it’s funny that Jim cried at Shrek. That he regularly leaves Christmas presents on trains. She even laughs that my tendency towards control freakery is clearly laughed off and undermined at every turn by the three boys of the house. She is determined that all of this will go into our assessment form. The form F.

I start to wonder what that F really stands for.