The wonder years

The assessment is underway and we’re starting from the beginning, or as the form F calls it, the Early Years. Our assessor has sent us a list of questions as homework in preparation for her next visit this weekend.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier blogs I work for Eastern Fostering Services but I am also a ghost-writer. Specifically, I write people’s autobiographies for them. I ask my clients all manner of questions about their childhood, their parents, their experiences; their journey. I am rarely more comfortable than when I’m listening to people talking about themselves, and generally I don’t enjoy talking about myself to the same degree.

So for me this is a little weird.

The worm and the tables have both performed their rather clichéd manoeuvres. The shoe is well and truly on the other foot. And guess what, it seems to fit. I discover that I quite enjoy dissecting my childhood. I find that it’s sobering to see myself, however fleetingly, as a product of my parents. In examining your childhood, you examine how you were parented. In examining how you were parented, the hard-earned successes and the inevitable struggles are brought into relief. This, in turn, allows you to quietly muse on your own successes and to shine a light on the things that you struggle with.

I’m neither a believer in nor a fan of detoxes but this feels like a detox for the soul and one that might actually be constructive. I have a sudden picture of myself, breathless at the side of a winding road, hands on hips, looking back at the terrain I’ve covered before turning towards my destination as it unfolds, little by little, before me.

And it’s while contemplating this figurative journey that I am reminded of another journey. Not my own. But one that is a small part of my narrative nonetheless…

Out of Africa

I’ve developed a particular interest in journeys over the last couple of years. From life’s ever changing journey, in general, to more poignant journeys in the personal realm. I have watched as the media has spewed out images of journeys, most borne of desperation, all shocking in their nakedness. I have met and worked with children who have undergone journeys that would make your hair stand on end. I’m easily able to see how any one of us could, in the blink of an eye, find ourselves on a desperate journey. In fact it’s because of a journey my Nan made almost 70 years ago that I have been able to empathise with men, women and children journeying to flee war, poverty or persecution. It’s partly because of her journey that I have been so moved by their journeys.

When my mum was three years old, my Nan took her and her brother and left their home in Zimbabwe. My Nan was married to my mum’s father who was a game warden. It’s not my story to tell so I won’t go into details, but suffice to say things in Zimbabwe were bad enough to convince a young mother to travel thousands of miles, under a cloak of secrecy, back to the UK. Fortunately for Nan, she had parents who loved her and who agreed to take her and the children in. She must have been incredibly brave, bearing as she did not just a demanding journey from Africa to Northumberland with two children in tow, but equally the judgemental stares and concealed whispers of those who frowned upon such a refugee: two kids and not a husband in sight.

Well, times have changed and my Nan’s story is different to many of those who are staking their all on desperate journeys in today’s world. But one thing is clear; a journey is proved worthwhile in its end destination. For my Nan it was the open arms of the parental home. For many unaccompanied asylum seeking children it’s a foster family. I hope one day that we, as a family, can prove the worth of a journey conceived in desperation, in secrecy, out of hope for something better.

Back to basics

But first we have to go through the assessment and the small matter of getting Jim to answer questions about his early life. If I’m sold on detox for the soul, Jim is emphatically keen on constipation. Encouraging him to give answers that exceed one syllable is going to be interesting. Like me, Jim had a happy childhood but he is uncomplicated in his approach to it: ‘I always knew I was loved and I’ve never had to think about my childhood in any greater depth.’

I suddenly feel very grateful to my Nan and very sorry for our assessor.

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