Friday, 29 April 2016

Cats - but not the famous musical!

In December 2014 I wrote

"Regular readers will know the story of our two refuge cats Romulus and Remus. They did everything together and it was somehow fitting that fate had brought them into our lives. So it is with great sadness I have to tell your all that Romulus died of old-age last Thursday and that Remus was put to sleep by the vet this morning.

Romulus had been fading for a while now but wasn't unhappy or in pain so while that was true we didn't think anything needed to be done. Romulus went to bed at the normal time on Wednesday but died during the night. Poor old Remus then stopped eating and drinking and was so distressed that after talking to the vet it was agreed that the kind and merciful thing to do would be to have Remus put to sleep.

The two of them have been buried in our back garden, side by side in death as they were in life. They will be greatly missed.

If anybody tells you that the death of a family pet isn't a big issue then they are flat out lying - or horribly insensitive. Even our husbands, normally the sensible ones, are feeling sad.

Nicola and Alice (both 2) have noticed that Romulus and Remus are missing. Ella told the girls that the cats had gone to live with an animal doctor and they seemed to accept this in a rather matter-of-fact way. I think they are too young to understand the concept of death so there wasn't any point even trying to explain the idea to them.

At the moment the cats' bed is still where it has always been. Perhaps at the weekend we will be brave enough to move it down into the cellar because I don't think we want to throw it away just yet.

In life Romulus and Remus were never more than a few feet apart and in a strange way burying them so their limbs were intertwined made perfect sense. Now they are at the Rainbow Bridge they will have been restored to full health so the other cats and dogs better watch out!"

Well now, 16 months later, we have got two cats again. Both are refuge cats that used to belong to an old man who died a few weeks ago. Nobody at the refuge seemed to know their names so we have named them Tom and Jerry. They are oldish - probably about 12 - and are said to be siblings. They are slowly and cautiously getting used to their new surrounding but they seem placid and friendly and should fit into our fairly hectic lives quite well.

Ella and I are not dog lovers but cats can take you or leave you without a thought and in a strange way that seems to echo the way people treated us in the past.

Friday, 22 April 2016

Abdul - The Children's Home Manager

Abdul was the manager of our Children’s Home. He was of mixed Scottish and Bangladeshi origin and he used to be a teacher before taking on this even more taxing role.

He was the one who had to sort out appropriate sanctions when somebody misbehaved and co-ordinate searches for contraband in our rooms. Contraband was a sort of catch-all phrase covering anything from food through, I suppose, to class A drugs. He was spectacularly bad at searches!
Anything we wanted to the hide from accidental discovery went in our knickers drawer which he and/or the lady assistant manager would just look in rather than rummage through. Sometimes we would feign indignation at him touching our underwear just to unsettle him.
Anything important like chocolate went in the box of "female hygiene products" which we left open and in full view. Nobody ever looked there properly. Certainly it was never emptied out and Abdul never seemed to notice it. Actually we didn't have much to hide anyway it was more the principle.
Getting contraband into the home could be trickier. But Ella was an expert at going up to a male member of staff, it had to be male, and saying, while trying to look slightly embarrassed and with one hand on her tummy, “I REALLY need to go to the ladies” It worked every time, into the toilet, hid the goodies and come back later. The staff used to go maddest if you brought glitter into the home. My finest hour was smuggling a (medium sized) tube of glitter into the house “internally”. Only the once in my wild youth - honest boss!
If somebody misbehaved in a minor way they would be given jobs like cleaning the cookers (usually boys) or sweeping up the leaves or cleaning the windows (girls) but Abdul always gave you a choice of 2 different punishments to pick from. His wife used to take us shopping sometimes although she wasn’t really an employee of the home. I think she must have had a soft spot for us.
Not very long after we left the Home Abdul went back to Scotland to a similar job. He was popular with the young people in his care and it was something of a mystery why a decent leaving event wasn't organised for him.  Ella and I would certainly have gone along to say goodbye and thank you.

I haven’t heard anything about him in ages, which is a pity because he was a good bloke.

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Happy days

Something very unusual happened last Saturday - my birth parents came to lunch and tea and everything went happily and well!

When they first announced they were coming I wasn't optimistic. At least twice before they have cancelled on the day of a planned visit and once my Birth Mother made so many pre-conditions that I withdrew the invitation.

They were due to arrive at 12:00 and sure enough at 11:58 their car drew up in front of our shared house. Greeting them is always something of a lottery because neither of them are "into" showing emotion. I thought it was sensible to let them make the first move and straight away it was obvious that they were determined to make the visit a success. The little ones were a bit shy at first because they hardly know my Mum and Dad and in any case neither Alice or Nicola is entirely convinced that Mummies and Daddies have parents of their own!

Young children are good ice-breakers and quite quickly they were taking my parents to explore the house - with special emphasis of the bedroom they share and the toys that guard them when they are asleep.

Lunch was a leg of lamb, purchased at vast expense from the local supermarket. Ella had cooked it to perfection - she has far more talent than me in everything to do with cooking. My BPs had plainly decided in advance on a list of safe topics to talk about over lunch and so none of the flashpoints from the past were raised.

When they want to be my BP's are disarmingly charming and normal and so it wasn't too difficult to pretend that what was happening was just a routine visit rather than something that had virtually never happened before. The weather wasn't very co-operative but we managed to do a trip to the playground and the grandparents did all the normal things you would expect like pushing the little ones on the swings and playing catch and football with them.

One thing they did exactly right was to treat Alice (mine) and Nicola (Ella's) in the same way. We are an indivisible group of 2 wives, 2 husbands and 2 children rather than two traditional families and BPs aren't, any longer, in denial about that. So all in all I would have to give them maximum points for everything they did with us - and that isn't something I thought I would ever say!

I think Nicola and Alice would agree because they gave my BPs a bye-bye kiss without being prompted.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Why respite care is such a bad idea!

When I was in foster care I was never taken on the annual family holiday. It hurt then, it hurts now and it will hurt for ever and ever. Instead I was dumped - I use that word because that is what it felt like - with people I hardly knew for two weeks respite care.

If you a teenager who is even fairly articulate you know exactly what "respite" means! It means temporary relief from something distressing or trying. So having me living in your home is such a burden that you have to be given a respite from me.

Many foster children suffer from low self esteem and nothing about the concept of respite care will do anything to improve that. In fact I can be almost 100% certain that two weeks respite care destroys most of the positive things achieved in the previous 50 weeks.

My foster family wanted to go to Disney World in Florida. For a whole range of reasons it was decided that I wasn't going to be included in the trip and my foster-parents had the "interesting" task of convincing me that two weeks in Malvern with strangers would be as much fun as two weeks in Florida with people I knew. I don't think they ever knew how sad that conversation made me. I was superb at hiding my emotions because I thought that if I made a fuss I would be sent away. And so I bottled up the sadness because somehow I thought if I did God might eventually find me a forever family. I wasn't stupid - I knew respite for me just meant another set of house rules I didn't know and having nobody I knew to play with.

I can never visit the Worcestershire town of Great Malvern without remembering one particular spell of respite care. Not because it was bad, it was as good as I ever had, but because it proves that even at its best respite care just isn't good enough.

I was lucky because the weather was warm and sunny almost every day. This was a blessing because most mornings my Respite Foster Mother (RFM) would take me for a walk. A long walk around this only moderately interesting town or up into the nearby hills. We would take a sandwich lunch and we would talk about all sorts of strange things like church history or wild flowers. There seemed to be an unwritten rule that I wasn't supposed to talk about me - so I didn't. My RFM tried hard but I wanted to be in Florida or at least with my friends but didn't feel secure enough to share that with anybody. 

Eventually the 2 weeks came to an end and I went back to my foster family. Just as I knew would happen they had returned home with loads of happy shared memories and photos. Of course the pictures were admired and some were put on show - and I left feeling excluded and marginalised and third rate.

I am not saying that respite care is always wrong but it needs to be handled extremely carefully if it isn't to do serious harm to the foster child.

- 0 - 0 -

A little while ago I wrote a much shorter piece on the same subject as a blog comment.

The blogger then wrote "Look, I've just read Eve's comment for about the tenth time. If anyone in fostering wants to know how to do this job they have to ASK PEOPLE LIKE EVE."

Friday, 1 April 2016

Happy days on the talent contest circuit!

After quite a long break we have appeared in a local talent contest - and won it! 

We used to do this quite regularly before Alice and Nicola were born but we seem to have been so busy recently with work and family responsibilities that we got out of habit of performing in public. Because of the long break our qualification to appear in the third tier of competition has lapsed so we are going to have to start again at the bottom level. 

The basic format of the completion is just the same - it is the quality of the performers that is rather different.  We had to do two songs, just like before – so we went for Sadeness by Enigma which is in Latin and French and then Simon& Garfunkel’s - The Sound Of Silence but in the Gregorian version tweaked for 2 sopranos and a tenor and with Mark on keyboard.  

Our "Little Black Dresses" still fit us so we used them and Chris and Mark went down into the town and hired white suits. We certainly looked more professional than most of the other performers and I think that makes a difference to the marks that get awarded.  

We were the only act to have a supporting video projected onto the screen behind us and that in combination with the light show made us look rather better than perhaps we sounded. But the key to our success was that we invited loads of our friends to come along to act as our "groupies" who cheer like mad when our performance was over. It takes a very strong-minded judge to resist crowd pressure of this type! 

Of course I'm biased but we were shed loads better than the opposition and we would have been more than a little surprised if we hadn't won. It is a pity that the cash prize didn't cover the cost of hiring the white suits and getting to the venue. Oh dear! 

We need one more victory to move up to the next level and hopefully that will happen over the Easter holiday when we are booked to appear again. Didi will be free to join us for this competition and she certainly improves the average quality of the singing because she is a mezzo-soprano rather than Ella and I who are rather higher than that. We could also do with a male bass singer. 

Many thanks to our new friend Teacher Sally and her boyfriend who offered to provide child care at short notice when our usual babysitter was taken ill.