Own two feet


Reflections – Part 2
August 14, 2015, 11:06 am
Filed under: Foster care | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

(Reflections – Part 1)

I rarely dwell on the past these days. Increasingly it feels like an old house I have almost moved out of. The walls and floors bare. The furniture gone. The last of what is left in cardboard boxes waiting to be taken away in the final load.

The older memories that make this past are slowly slipping away. Making space for the newer ones. My son navigating the assault course on sports day. Arms and chest pumping. My wife’s face as she takes my hand and places it on her belly, ‘can you feel it?’. Newer books. Newer songs. Newer surroundings. Slowly being in care is getting away from me and I don’t know exactly how to feel about it.

Growing up in care has dug itself deep into my DNA, but increasingly more is pouring into that space. It is getting crowded. Older parts unfamiliar. Lost on the fringes. A part of me says I should be happy about that. The time was hard. Lonely. Incredibly lonely. But it was also giving. Giving of people who wanted to care. Giving of new experiences. Giving of the opportunity to do something different with my life.

There are malignant memories I cut out long ago. I needed to so I could keep going. Other memories I wanted to hold on to, but they had to be edited. A trim here, some extra light there. Characters cut from a scene. New words for old. We all do it, mainly unconsciously. Tinkering and forgetting. Rearranging our own life story. A constant reboot. Unfortunately there were casualties.  I lost some of the smiles, cuddles, laughter and silences where I was happy to be there and nowhere else. I know this because after seeing the Halls again after twenty one years they started making their way back into me.

One of the hardest things about writing this particular blog (I have been writing and changing it constantly for the last 11 months) is it forced me to reflect on my memory and question its authenticity in parts. It led me to question my own authenticity as a person. Where do I fit in all of this? I found the whole thing disorientating.

Over this period I found myself accepting that these memories would never sit still. They would always be on the move. Always changing. Something in them would remain solid, but like clouds they would forever be shifting shape.

I think back now to my meeting with the Halls. Driving in the car and my wife asking if I was ok. I felt as if I hardly existed. Like a stick figure scrawled on a blank page. The markets Jenny Hall and I had once shopped in for my school uniforms and that silver suit I wore at her twenty fifth wedding anniversary with Michael blurred past outside we drove the short drive from my house to the Halls house. I stared ahead not wanting to look at my wife. I didn’t want to feel. I feared her eyes would unlock my own. We moved quickly through clear roads until the sat-nav announced the last turn and suddenly we were outside the Halls’ house. I stopped the car and just sat still for a moment. An emptiness and then a gushing of feelings. I felt like a big man. I have a family, my own home, a job and a car. I can do this. I felt like the small boy on their door step with all his belongings in plastic bags waiting for the door to open. Every part of my body felt heavy. I couldn’t move. I was scared. Excited. Sick. Proud. Alone. Protected. Vulnerable. The man. The boy. Both wrapped up in each other.

“Shall I get Dylan?” my wife asked. Our son sat nervously in his car seat in the back. His big brown eyes darting between me, my wife and outside the window. This new place unfamiliar to him too. “No I’ll get him,” I said, getting out my seat. I walked around the back of the car and felt the heaviness in my limbs leaving. A lightness taking its place. I reached into the car and lifted Dylan out of his safety seat. We grabbed onto each other and held on tight. His little arms and legs flooding me with strength. I remember words running through my mind like ticker tape ‘This is my son and I am his dad,’ as I walked towards the Halls’ front gate with Dylan in my arms. ‘This is my son and I am his dad’. My wife opened the gate and together we all walked down the path.

A knock at the door, maybe the ring of a bell. A curtain flickered to our right and then was pulled back. Jenny on the other side looking out at us. Our eyes meeting. Smiling. Surprise and a softness that I had not remembered she had spreading across her face. The hardness I had always remembered already fading. The door opened and we all hugged each other before sitting down on the soft chairs in the front room. I scanned the unfamiliar room, its contents quickly forgotten. We started talking. I don’t know who or where. Much the hour or so I spent with the Halls is a blur, but what anchors deep in me about seeing the Halls is that a part of me was home, but completely at peace with the Halls. I had left on the worst terms, but now my leaving was just a tiny piece of something bigger and better then I had been remembering over all these years.

Jenny, Michael and Rebecca are part of a fragmented family I carry inside me. A rich tapestry that I am forever patching together. A fabric, as strong as blood. Carers in children’s homes like Leonard and Carol that gave me more time than just their shifts; friends and their families who have shared their tables and Christmases with me; Ken who went from being a work colleague to a mentor to my hero because he loved me unconditionally; my wife’s family who have always embraced me, even though for a long time I found this hard to accept, but they were understanding and I love them more for that.  I look at this beautiful, complicated, messy tapestry that is my life and I see the Halls and my heart hurts in that good way.

This was supposed to be the end of this blog entry, but it didn’t feel quite right. It needed more, but I had lost the detail, so I asked my wife, whose memory is far better than mine, about the day we met the Halls and what she remembered.

I remember the glazed look and then the smile of recognition from Michael when you first walked in.

I remember the yapping dog running in between all of us as we sat awkwardly on the sofas all facing each other….Dylan and the puppy were the focus for about 20 minutes whilst everyone eased their way in.

I remember Jenny was sat next to you and kept on looking at you with a big smile on her face. Michael was regal in his comfy chair to your left, and flitted between benign smiles to glimmers of recognition and joviality with you and Jenny. 

I remember it was you who started the reminiscing game. You would say a name of someone you all had known, some I recognised, some I didn’t, and Jenny would fill you in on what they were doing, who they were married to, what trouble they were in. The conversation seemed stilted at first. You jumped from person to person to keep it flowing, and then slowly it became about you all. First all of the good memories. Some of the films you watched, you mentioned Christmas and the pork you would pickle in jars for days before. You talked of your memories of the extended family, and the house itself. You talked about your brother and you all laughed about him and the trouble he got into. Michael came alive when he heard his name. He would look at me across the room and smile and occasionally said “they always take the mick out of me”.

I remember the one cup of tea we both had getting cold, and Dylan getting restless. I remember feeling like I was an outsider looking in, but for once not feeling annoyed that you didn’t help me penetrate the conversation.  I remember Dylan outside running around their beautiful garden, and Jenny standing by the back door watching him, saying what a lovely little boy we had.

I remember there being mainly laughter… I don’t remember any bad stuff being spoken of. I remember the glint in your eye when we left, and squeezing your knee in the car driving home. I remember thinking you might cry with relief, and I remember wanting to cry myself but holding it together for you.

I remember taking the picture in the garden of you all, and thinking you all looked like a family. I remember your very long and lingering hug with Jenny, and thinking that it was almost medicinal for you and the darkness you had felt about the Halls when you and I first met. I remember being moved by the intensity of the goodbye. 

I do remember you walking on air for a few hours afterwards. It was a lovely sight.

I also remember Dylan eating crisps but that does not seem important.

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Reflections
November 4, 2014, 3:45 pm
Filed under: Foster care | Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I stare into the full length mirror. Thirty-six years rewinding to reveal a fifteen-year-old boy. This echo I still collide with from time to time. This is the same boy who slid himself out of the back window of their Toyota mini-van and ran. I blink and twenty-one years pour back into the mirror. What will they think of me now?

I have not seen Jenny and Michael, the Halls as I would refer to them down the years, since that night. Since the argument about the little girl from The Cosby Show dancing and singing in her first music video.

‘You can see what she is going to be like when she grows up’ Jenny says. I have been waiting for this moment. The slow deterioration between the Halls and I had been leading here and had quickened in recent weeks. Breaking point had been brushed while on holiday in Jamaica. Something about a shower. Did I or did I not have one? I said I had, but they didn’t believe me. We all stopped talking for the rest of the holiday. I remember eating pizza with an American couple who were staying in the same hotel as us. They thought it was madness. Did I ever have that shower, I sometimes wonder.

When we returned to London I was asked to apologise for the incident. I refused. Apologise for what? I had had enough. Enough of them, enough of me with them, just enough of it all. This had to be broken. Smashed to pieces. I was good at breaking things.

Jenny’s comment about the Cosby Show Girl hung in the air for a moment. Before I would have stopped myself. Swallowed the sentence. Respect your elders. But elders are not always right. Deep down the fear of being moved again to the unknown often forced me to resist the urge to speak my mind. I had been in other foster homes and children’s homes. They were not all like the Halls’. I may have struggled there at times and that comes with being in care, but I also remember the excitement of Christmas they conjured, Sunday nights watching ‘That’s Life’ with Horlicks and running around the common with Michael covered in dust and dressed in half his work clothes.

Towards the end I constantly found myself tipping over the edge of their many boundaries. The same boundaries I am currently laying for my own son. There seemed to be so many of them.

I had come from a place almost without limits. Here they were everywhere. Boundaries for behaviour (there will be no punching, pushing or kicking). Boundaries for eating (just one packet of crisps and a funsize chocolate a day (and you must eat fruit)). Boundaries for speaking (we will not accept swearing or the use of the word ‘ain’t’). Boundaries for what time you had to go to bed (simply cruel). The most painful boundary of all was the front door.

At home it might as well have been non-existent. Back then, when I got in from school, if I even came home, I was immediately back out through the front door. The estate was my playground. Now I was trapped. I never saw then the dangers the streets sometimes conceal from a mad little boy desperate to climb about building sites and hang out building camps in garages.

My mum had tried her best to set her own boundaries when we lived together, but I never cared. She was weak and we both knew it. The shouting and screaming never made a difference. I just laughed at her. She was struggling to control herself. What chance did she have with a little boy who thought he was already a man.

The Cosby Show Girl’s video had finished, but I was just starting. ‘How do you know what she is going to be when she grows up? What kind of stupidness is that!?’, I said. By now we had walked outside and were heading for the mini-van to drive home.  More words flew between us, but Rebecca (Jenny and Michael’s daughter) had had enough. ‘Just be quiet John!’ she shouted. More ammunition. I didn’t hesitate and shouted back. ‘Shut yer mouth!’. It was a phrase Jenny and Michael hated.

Throughout the argument Michael had kept his silence. We did not call him Mr Miyagi – the calm and wise mentor to the Karate Kid – for nothing. It wasn’t just he looked a bit like him, it was also that he shared his serenity and good nature.

But this was no Hollywood film and Michael had also had enough. He jumped out of the driver’s seat, opened the side door of the van I had just climbed into and grabbed me round the collar. He pulled me towards him and was shouting words that just washed over me. There was a fraction of a second where I just knew I had done it. This was the breaking things part. It was a relief. There was no coming back and in the heart of such an angry situation I felt peace. A couple more tugs and I was back in the real world. I pulled away from Michael, who was already releasing me with what looks like regret in my memory’s eyes, though I could be wrong. I had one last look and then dragged myself out of the back window and ran.

I had arrived at the Halls’ as a ten year old with my brother with just a few bags and a lot of baggage. They had filled my life with so much more than I could have experienced if I hadn’t have ended up on their doorstep. They were human. There were mistakes, but they cared deeply about me. I stayed with them for almost four years over two different periods. It ended with me running away from them in that van. I ran back to my mum’s house, where I would stay briefly before going to live with my best friend for the rest of my time in someone else’s care.

I stare into the mirror. In one hour I will be meeting the Halls again. ‘Are you ready John? I think we should go now?’, my wife shouts from downstairs. I don’t know if I am.

To be continued…



They took me

The place I ran. The place I rode. The place I screamed. The place I shouted. The place I laughed. The place I stole. The place I said sorry.  The place I would not. The place doors slammed. The place footballs flew. The place camps grew. The place I fought. The place I kissed. The place I held. The place I let go. The place of swings. The place of struggles.  The place of scaffolding. My mum. My brother. My friends. The place of games. The place I won. The place I lost. The place I called home.

They took me from that place. They took me somewhere else. From SW15 to SW16. Just a single digit difference, but a world away for a nine year old.

Everything I knew, for good, bad and all else that slips in between, slowly faded behind me. All my roots that cut through the concrete surfaces of the estate and embedded themselves deep into the ground were hacked at, but never severed. As much as I was flesh and bone, I was also the concrete tower blocks and metal railings of the estate I still see when I sometimes drive it. I was still the curly hill I would skateboard down and I was still Ali’s shop over the road and up the slope where mum could buy things on tick. I’m still that place.

The social worker who picked me up from a neighbour’s house was answering the call my mum made. She could not cope. I was put into the state hands and the state did what it thought was best. A family was found via a short stay in a children’s home. A good Christian family. A family with a mum and a dad and sons and a daughter and two dogs. They had two bathrooms and thick carpets. They had a garden with a shed and they even had a basement.

I remember being amazed when I first arrived at the foster home. The quiet road lined with trees. The tiny room when you first walked in to hang coats up in and put your shoes. The red wine stairs that climbed high to the first floor and then kept climbing beyond. The welcoming faces…but this was not just SW16, this was another country.

They spoke a different language. They kept picking me up about my dropping of ‘t’s’ and my use of the word ‘ain’t’. They dressed differently. They ate different food. They went to Church. They prayed. They went on planes. They filled the trolley to bursting in Sainsbury’s. They sat round a table at meal times.

Some of these things I fell into. So many of them brand new. I liked the material things. Things I could touch. Things I could taste. Things I could hold on to. Things I could keep. In my file I would later read that the foster parents questioned my desires to possess things. It was seen as shallow, but if one looked a bit deeper they would have understood when the most precious things are taken away from you, possession of things in itself becomes important.

But what I wanted more than anything was to go back home to where I belonged. Where I fit in. Where people understood me and where I understood them. It didn’t matter that I didn’t have the words to express all these things because we didn’t need words. We just were. In between the struggle we held on to each other and we helped each other. Even when we were fighting.

In the end though my mum couldn’t hold us all together. She was not strong enough. She needed more help and support and unfortunately either it was not there or she didn’t know how to take it.

A decision was taken early on to slowly sever the link between my mum and I and the estate. After each visit I suffered. My temper would flare. I did not have the experience, the strength, the understanding to contemplate what was happening to me. My head was a constant riot. So much noise. At night I would sometimes sit in the dark thinking about everything and it would become too much. I would wake up in wet sheets and just lay in them hoping they would dry and nobody would know. They always did.

The dislocation from where I had grown up hurt me profoundly. It was not just the distance between me and my mum, but it was the distance that was allowed to open up like a chasm between me and my friends and the estate that was home.

I remember once my friend Brian coming to visit me. Both of us just boys. It is a memory that has recently returned to me. I was so ashamed. He was my best friend and I was ashamed. I think that was the last time I saw him in my childhood.

A home is more than what lies behind your front door. It is more than a family. It is the paths you pass through every day. It’s the two steps you always jump over at the end of the stairwell. It’s the bunches of daffodils you hurdle every summer. It’s the pissy lift you help make pissy. It’s the anti-climbing paint on your hands. It’s the concrete pavement slabs you scratch ‘I woz ere’ on. Home is where you lay your life.

It saddens me to read that children taken into care are still placed in foster homes and children’s homes far from the places they once called their own homes. Sometimes this in other far flung parts of the country. I do appreciate for some children this distance is necessary and in their best interests, but ultimately adults need to remember that even a couple of miles can seem like a huge distance to a child.

It took me a long time to accept I was not going home, but I believe the separation could have been handled much better if people had taken the time to listen to me and to ask the right questions. Time should have been taken to help me through that process. It was, and at times, still feels like a bereavement. One day I was running around on the estate feeling like a king and then the next I was in care, in a foster home asking if it was alright to get a drink of water.

I benefited from being taken into care and although my placements did breakdown, as it did with the family in SW16 after the second period I was there, I have understood it was best for me. That is sometimes hard to reconcile because it has hurt my relationship with my mum and destroyed my relationship with one of my brothers. Still, I know the alternative is I would have likely ended up in a place I do not want to look too deeply into.

I just wish the adults that were tasked to look after me could have looked a little deeper, been a bit more patient and tried to stand in my scruffy trainers. 



The magic of Christmas
December 19, 2013, 2:22 pm
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I remember the lights and colours and stacks of presents under the tree with their tiny tears. Peeking was as much a part of Christmas as turkey and sprouts.

When I look back to those Christmas’ before I went into care nostalgia takes hold and pulls me under. It takes me all the way down to a place that is free from the times that followed. That place is still pure. Perhaps purer then it ever really was. It is a sanctuary that I am now allowing myself to return to because for a long time I banished it from my mind.

I feel myself being shaken out of the darkness. The world coming into focus through the face of my mum who is rocking me awake. Her eyes are wide and filled with excitement. ‘Wake up, wake up.’

Soon me, my little brother and mum are sitting underneath the tree. ‘We’re just going to open one each’, she says. The clock says we’ve only just crept past midnight. We open them all.

The memory breaks into pieces and starts to scatter. I can’t hold on to it. Bright reds and greens and golds and silvers swirl. Before it is all gone I see us in our dressing gowns. I am pouring water into the top of the train. I push the switch and we all watch in amazement as it chugs across the carpet pumping out real steam.

Then things change. You have no control. Just a pawn on a board in a game you have no clue about. You hold onto the hope that this is temporary, but as time passes that hope fades. In its place you build walls. You duck down and dig in…and then Christmas comes.

It strips everything back. It amplifies everything in its very nature of being a time you share with those that are the most important to you. The people that you love. Your family and your friends. Even if they annoy the hell out of you, or you find it difficult to be around each other, this is the time you come together.

This can be an incredibly difficult time and, for me, it wasn’t isolated to my time in care. It carried deep into my adulthood. That amplification never went away. It acted as a reminder of what was taken away from me. I know that nostalgia plays its part, but I also know that Christmas was always a very special time at home.

We did not have much, but at Christmas we had everything. Mum moved heaven and earth during that time of the year to make it special and that stays with me. The beauty in that memory however became corrosive over the years. Until I had my son.

This year feels different. I see the excitement in my son’s eyes and it rekindles the same excitement I felt as my mum rocked me awake that night. Together with my wife, we are building Christmas anew. We will create new memories that will amplify their own story as time passes.

Christmas will forever carry an echo of those times I spent away from my family, but as I have written before, these echoes carry the message of how important right here and now is, and that we have to take our own destiny in our hands and build our own future. At this time of the year I want to build something magical for my son. I want him to see the same excitement I saw in my mum’s eyes back at the beginning.



Jobs a good’un

I never really believed I could get the job. After I was shortlisted for the interview there was a moment when hope dared to flutter into my thoughts, but I quickly buried it under my concrete insecurities. The role was far too out of reach for me. I didn’t have the right experience. I would get found out in the interview. My wife and my friends at work cheer led from the sidelines as best they could, but I became increasingly afraid as I thought about the next stage in the process.  

It takes me two scans through my care file to find it. ‘On 3rd October, 1988 [mum] phones Social Services saying she had left both boys with a neighbour and that she had no intention of collecting them as she could not cope’.

I have tried to remember that day a number of times throughout my life. I have even attempted to write about it and have sat my brother and myself on the neighbour’s sofa with our feet dangling over the side. He is crying and I am scowling. The neighbour is in the kitchen washing up and waiting. What must she have felt back then I now wonder. It is a story I’ve told myself so much that it almost feels real.

This was not the first time I went into care, but was the last time. After this occasion I never went back home to live as a child. This experience and all the moves that followed chipped away at a self confidence that was once brutally strong. It was a confidence that had me challenging anyone to a running race in the playground, a confidence to scale up the sides of any buildings clothed in scaffolding and a confidence to run around with kids older than me and hold my own. This all before I reached ten.

In care this confidence was smashed. I became hollow. I tried to reach out, but I did not know how. One set of foster parents, that I spent a considerable amount of time with, wrote in my file that I knew what pleased people and that I could be a ‘bit of a creep’.

I remember them calling me that and at the time it was seen as funny. But things like this only contributed to the distancing I felt – between me and other people and, most importantly, the distance I felt open up between the me I knew, and the me I was becoming in care.

I was embarrassed by being me because I was in care. The fact that I kept being moved only enhanced this feeling and a sense of abandonment, first by my blood and then by the system.

As I get older, my childhood is something I have continuous dialogue with. I admire that boy and that he came through that experience. He is my champion, but there are times when I struggle to make the leap to the man I have become.

On the outside I have crafted a number of roles I play to the world. They even have me fooled from time to time, but still the memory of the rejection lingers.

When I received the phone call letting me know that my first interview and presentation had gone well and that I was shortlisted with one other for a second interview a relief flooded over me.

I had not made a fool of myself.

The worst of it was over and for a moment I did not care about the job, I was just so happy I had survived and come through it. Then I quickly set about preparing for the final interview with the help of two friends at work that throughout the process shrugged off their support as nothing, but who kept me afloat.

I remember the rugby player Brian Moore once talking about his career as a top rugby player and representing his country and how he never felt good enough, but it was this feeling that pushed him on to achieve so much. He talked about the positive use of negativity and how you can either use it or let it use you.

After the second interview I walked out knowing I had done as much as I could. Again I felt relief that I hadn’t embarrassed myself, but I also felt proud of what I had achieved to get to that point. I still held back the belief that I could get the job, but now it was over in my head there was nothing more I could do.

The next day as I was sitting at my desk the phone went. I knew it was about the job and took the call outside.  I braced myself because in that moment I was so close and I suddenly let it all go and I desperately let myself want the job. On the other end the voice talked about some areas for development and that I lacked certain experience. My heart sank as I agreed on the phone. ‘But taking that into account we would like to offer you the job’. I wanted to scream, but replied ‘that’s fantastic news’.

When I came back into the office my two colleagues who had been so supportive looked up at me expectedly.  I smile stretched across my face and said ‘we did it!’

I know that I will always carry a lack of confidence that I believe was profoundly brought about by being in care, but I also know that it is the war I wage with this negativity that has kept me pushing on into places I never thought I belonged. It is important to add that growing up in care does not give me a monopoly in the ongoing  struggle for confidence. I think that is very much part of being human. We all carry that fear that likes to wake up from a slumber just in time for job interviews, school or work presentations and any kinds of public speaking.

As somebody who has grown up in care, I know there is so much that wants to turn us away from a life we deserve, there is so much that wants to push us towards being a stereotype and being part of the statistics that tell us we are less likely to achieve good grades at school, that we are much more likely to become prisoners and prostitutes and drug users.

But none of us have to become slaves to our experiences.



14
August 8, 2013, 2:46 pm
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My intention for this blog entry was to rewrite something I had composed sitting in my garden way past midnight some time ago. I had just dropped Daniel (not his real name) back to his foster carers. It was the first time he had been to my house. He met my wife. We talked in the garden, ate lasagne and then spent the rest of the night cracking up to Richard Pryor.

When I got back home I went out into the garden and sat on the bench bathed in the light of the security lamp. I was exhausted. That’s when the feeling comes. It comes from a long long way and drags so much with it. It is part of the deal. I accept that. Right now all that text I wrote without much thought sits under the line I am now watching drag itself across this computer screen. Those words down there feel too far away now, like someone I once knew, but have lost touch with.

As always, the beginning of my writing is a struggle. I often start with a voiceless feeling that aches to be more. It aches into a ripple, a ripple into a tide, a tide of words. Words the last gasp of that original feeling and a poor substitute because what I feel put into words is always running away from what I’m really trying to say. Every word dilutes these feelings. I wish I could paint.

How can I introduce Daniel and our relationship? On the forms I fill out after our meetings they say I am his mentor, which makes him my mentee. Both terms jar in my throat and whenever they leave my lips in conversation an apology immediately chases them down.

I know what I am supposed to say about our supposed roles and I could reel off all sorts of things about what my ‘function’ is supposed to be. But we’re just two people in a strange situation and I am trying my hardest to let him know I am here, and I understand.

But increasingly I see I can’t understand like I thought I could. Everybody’s care experience is different. I can read reports and case studies and study statistics, but Daniel has his own story. Whilst it’s true that we share the experience of being in care, that is not always a bridge. He does not want his vulnerability to be put on show.

When I first met him with his social worker, Daniel sat slouched in his chair and looked disinterested. It took me back. I couldn’t help but remember all the times I sat just like that with my ‘I don’t care face’, all the while listening, watching and processing it all. I felt helpless and so out of control. I looked into his eyes as he sat across from me and I wasn’t fooled by his apparent disinterest.

We have got on from the beginning. Laughed and joked. We have set boundaries, but both creep over them from time to time. He tests me, pushes me and when he asks if I have ever taken drugs or if I smoke or asks about women I stumble through my thoughts of what to say.

He stands at almost 6ft and I have to remind myself he is 14, but I also have to remind myself that everything we build is on trust. At the beginning I avoided some of his questions and fell back on the ‘that’s private, I’m not saying yes or no’, but that has faded as we have got closer. He opens up to me and tells me things that make me laugh, but then also scare me.

But this relationship is much harder than I ever thought it would be. In the training before I started they warned me that it would be tough at times. There would be let downs and the relationship could possibly break up. This is not for the faint-hearted or the fleetingly altruistic.

There are times when you want to give up because you feel you are not making a difference and it can really hurt. You can give a lot and get nothing back, but as Angela (who runs Stepping Up UK who I mentor through) said ‘he keeps turning up doesn’t he? So you must be doing something right’.

Those words carried me a long way. I have to admit at the beginning I thought it would be different for me as somebody who had grown up in care. I thought I could clamber my way through all the barbed wire that I knew would be between us at the beginning. But, of course,there are no free passes. Trust takes time and lots of hard work. Trust is probably the most important thing to somebody in care; trust and time.

I am getting used to long silences and one word answers to questions. I also constantly remind myself he is 14 and this comes with the territory. I am getting good at stealing smiles off him through my own stupidity. He is teaching me to be a better father to my son and also how to listen better.

We both take turns to teach and learn, though I wish I could have more influence on him. He has so much potential. Words that are plastered on all my school reports. I was too busy trying to get through my childhood to realise that potential. I regret that now, but also understand why he rejects school at this stage in his life.

I hope the future will look after him, and give him time and education like it did me. There are people around Daniel that care about him and want him to do well, so he has a chance. He is intelligent, but like so many of us is afraid. I keep trying to tell him we all carry this fear, but what separates people is what they choose to do with it. Again, I have to remind myself he is just 14.

Mentoring is a challenge. Working with young people in care can be incredibly hard whatever role you play, but Daniel’s life has been hard, harder then most. Some of us are lucky enough to fall into our families when we fall. It’s something many of us take for granted. Why wouldn’t we?

But to wake up in another person’s house and to be raised by people that do not share your history or your dark brown eyes can be isolating. Instinctively the reaction is to withdraw. When you’re young, feelings can often be hard to articulate, so we say little or nothing at all. Our care experience can sometimes seem to pollute our identity and corrupt our memory of our childhood.

Of course there are people where the total reverse is true and being taken into care can act as the turning point they need in their lives. It is the breath of air, the ray of light, but even in these situations to be uprooted from what is, ultimately, home (no matter what the outside sees) is incredibly difficult for a child to process.

I have to tell myself these things a lot now. I have to take myself back and remember. So when I sit across from Daniel in a restaurant and I can’t get him to speak I have to think that is ok because in the end no matter what the most important thing is that I am there and he keeps coming. It doesn’t matter if we don’t have the words, as long as we have each other’s presence. There will be time to talk when and if he wants. My role is to be there.

I am, as always when writing this blog, a little bit lost. So I am going to finish it with some text from the original blog entry I wrote, as I feel closer to it now:

‘I care about him. I have told him, but it’s difficult to convey that to a child. I’m tempted to delete that and say ‘young person’ because that would probably be more politically correct, but even though he does go out to all hours and does drink and does smoke, he is still a child and that should be protected.

‘He would hate that, because he wants to escape childhood as quickly as possible, but I feel there is a responsibility to try to let children be children. In care you have to grow up too fast. You see too much. Feel too much. It is hard to see the child in him, but we need to help them hold onto that for as long as they can.

‘I want to do more. Help him more. Sometimes I feel weak and helpless. Sometimes I just want to hug him because I can feel that hurt, but I don’t. It is a kind of hurt that doesn’t want to be hugged. It wants to be buried. It’s taking time, but I’m starting to learn that I can’t fix him. I thought after my experience I could. I was blind. But it’s not about fixing. It’s about presence and being there. Especially when they act like they don’t want you there.’



I opened the letter

I opened the letter. It was from a solicitor. There had been a crash. Somebody had been hurt. I was the driver.

Wait a minute.

I was the driver.

I read the words back. There must be some kind of mistake.

Or maybe I was the driver.

I scanned my memory. This was too big to forget, even with my sieve like memory, but still I wracked my mind and kept questioning it. No this was a mistake. The letter stated the accident had happened early in the morning. I never drove in the mornings. It was a week day. I checked my diary. I was at work.

On the phone to the insurance company I was guilty until proven innocent, though they told me not to worry as the insurance claim was going through.

But I wasn’t the driver I continued to protest, and no I didn’t own a Renault Megane. I was then told I also owned a Mercedes.  It sounded great, except parked outside my house was a very boring VW Borra.

The man went onto say that the Megane and the Mercedes had been insured under my name at the address where I was living for almost two years. I continued to protest my innocence and it was at that moment the memory flashed.

The last time I had seen my brother.

Or, at least, almost seen him.

There had been an angry conversation outside my house. “I can’t find you,” he said, “where are you?… Come down and meet me.”
“I can see you… Just park where you are now… you’re right here.”
“Look just come down and meet me on the road.”

I could see him from the kitchen window, but I wouldn’t go down the four flights of stairs. I was always going to him. Always the one trying. Always doing the running. “Well fuck you!” he shouted and the silver Mercedes disappeared.

I called him.  After the denials came desperate pleading. “But I’m your brother…you’ll send me to jail again… just say it was you, come on the claim is going through”.

“Why didn’t you come to me at the time…no way am I saying it was me…you’ve gone too far this time”. I begged him to go back to the police and tell them the truth.

His pleading quickly turned to rage. “You’ve never changed…this is just you rejecting me all over again”. What was his betrayal now became an opportunity to drag up the past and a decision I had made as a 14 year old boy. He threw as much as he could down the phone and then was gone.

As kids we fought. When I say fought, I mean I bullied. It is only in recent years I have been able to accept that. So many memories I have hidden. Not only from other people, but also from myself.

I remember outside our tower block stripping him naked. Other kids on the estate were laughing and egging me on. I wanted to please them more then protect my brother.

I think I was eight or nine, which would make him five or six. Stripping him was not humiliating enough so I forced his mouth open and spat in it.

I could try and defend myself. try and paint a picture of some of the things we had both experienced or seen.  But it doesn’t matter because nothing can take that moment away.

Still as much as we fought, we loved. The love is still the same, I think for both of us. It is a wild, passionate, confused love that wants to belong, but doesn’t know how. It rages that it wants to rest, but cannot sit still in each of our hearts or heads because it never had the opportunity to mature.

It was never nurtured because as soon as we went into care I turned on him. I turned on him because he was my only memory of the lives we had had taken away from us.

His face and presence were a constant reminder of everything we were losing. It is fair to say we needed to be taken away from the lives we had. Mum was very sick and getting worse. We were getting into increasing trouble at school. His dad was non-existent and my dad intermittent in our lives.

Leaving probably was for the best, but it was our home. It was all we knew. It was where we belonged.

I went into care permanently at the age of nine. Some days it’s easier to remember being in care, but other days it’s like staring into a black hole. What is always constant in my memory, however, is the utter shame I felt. That shame was magnified in my brother’s presence. He kept reminding me of home.

I missed my mum and my friends. I knew I had to destroy them all and the hope of ever getting back. My brother was the strongest link so my effort was concentrated here. The fighting and arguing increased. Everything he did annoyed me.

At the time I couldn’t understand why, but now it is all so obvious. I threw all the pain at him, the one person who knew exactly how I felt. When he needed me the most I turned my back on him.

We were finally split up when I was 14. We’ve never recovered. I have moved on from my care experience in so many ways, but this is the one area that has never healed.

Perhaps the damage was too great and too deep for us. Before our most recent split after the car incident it was impossible to escape our past. It was always there in the room with us in opposing corners.

I wish our care experience could have bound us tightly together, but it had the opposite effect. What saddens me is that more was not done to support us as brothers.

We needed the adults, foster parents, carers at the children’s homes, social workers, to help us build the bridges we needed to find each other so we could face this new world together.

But the quick fix was always king, and I fear it still is. For years I blamed myself, but slowly I came to the realisation: I was just a child.

My brother and I needed more help then we got and today there are many other children like us in the care system.

In a recent speech MP Edward Timpson spoke about children in care in the context of the new children and families bill., He said ‘How would we feel if these were our own children? We’d almost certainly be outraged. Spurred into immediate action. So what’s the difference with the children in the care system? The truth is there is no difference. They are our children.’

We need to do more.




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