We foster carers all have our individual big things, the surprise things that blow up because every child is different; they are often bigger than Christmas.
But the number one generic OMG is Christmas. There are other generics of course. Contact (where your looked-after children meet their significant others every week) is a huge one, and nowadays the Internet is a close second.
But nothing beats Christmas. I’ll explain, and I’m looking forward to explaining, because it’s a Christmassy kitchen I’m sitting in, and I’m tired and overly sentimental. And I’m probably going to make myself make the pleasant little blub noise I make during It’s A Wonderful Life.
Christmas for foster carers is fraught with difficulties we haven’t come across before, at least not on the same scale. Here are some of the Christmas situations we’ve encountered.
We had a 15-year-old lad stay with us one Christmas. He had 11 siblings, each of whom had a different dad. He said it worked for the kids because those whose dads were still in contact all tried to outdo each other with presents. The kids all had around £500 spent on them. They received the latest Playstations and games, the best possible bike, tickets to football matches and so on. Love, guilt and good old competitive parenting.
While living with us, what the lad wanted most of all was to have a normal Christmas Day. We choreographed this for him, right down to stockings and turkey and watching a Bond Film with limitless nuts and ‘eat me’ dates.
Love and toilet rolls
Then there was the girl who wanted to go home for Christmas. Her dad was in prison, so it was safe for her to be under her own roof.
Last year her mum had gone to the corner shop on Christmas Eve and filled a carrier bag with crisps, a TV magazine, an energy drink and, strangely, four toilet rolls. She presented them to her daughter on Christmas Day with no wrapping paper and in the carrier bag.
There may have been a lot of love in that carrier bag, so before we gave her a more traditional bag of presents we talked it through at home and with our social worker.
Then we went to the Body Shop and Accessorize and the rest and wrapped everything up beautifully. On Christmas Eve she opened all the presents. She particularly liked the hair extensions and wore them home.
Cashews not humbugs
One lad had never had a Christmas. His parents said the whole thing was a scam. That’s a thought I share with myself every Christmas – who doesn’t? But when you look back on your own childhood, assuming you are a subscriber to this particular cultural quirk, there’s something good about Christmas lurking behind the Port n stilton and tinsel.
Wasn’t it just lovely those few days when you’re all at home, no jobs or school, happy people coming and going?
We woke the lad on Christmas morning, he’d been sceptical right up until then. We sat around the tree, took it in turns to be postman, opened stockings and tree gifts while a real log fire crackled and candles flickered on the mantelpiece and carols rang out on the stereo.
Sometime, about mid-morning, he’d been playing a computer game with my biological son. He had snacked from each of the bowls of cashew nuts and kettle crisps. We were all putting coats on to take the dog for a walk before Christmas dinner when he whispered these words: “This all feels like a dream, and I don’t want to wake up.”
It’s a Wonderful Life
When you go into fostering, it’s largely for moments like that. And you get most of them around Christmas. It charges the batteries, freshens the spirit, hardens the resolve.
Remember the bit in It’s a Wonderful Life when George’s daughter Zuzu says an angel’s got their wings? While Christmas might not actually turn looked-after children into angels, they do fly. For a while, they fly.
- Read more from The Secret Foster Carer