Today is the second day of my 12 year old son’s rehabilitation home after four years in local authority care. And it was a big one – our first overnight stay.
I remember being in the Core Group meeting to plan the rehabilitation programme; Day One seemed “easy” enough – he would be dropped off in the morning and picked up at tea time. It felt doable, and I wasn’t fazed. We moved on to day two and everyone talked about this being the first overnight stay – like it was no big thing. I distinctly recall internally panicking and wanting to shout “I’m not ready!!”. I felt overwhelmed and terrified of moving too quickly, of getting it wrong, of it not working.
I kept quiet and let everyone else speak whilst I soothed and reassured myself that it would be ok. I’ve been a Mum almost 20 years, I know what I’m doing.
I spoke up and told the group I was frightened. They all reassured me, told me it would be ok. The social worker’s team manager said: “we want this to work, we’re not against you”. I listened to my gut and I knew it would be ok. I’ve got this. I’m ready.
My son’s foster carer dropped him off in the early afternoon of Day Two. We chatted by the car, demonstrating our working relationship to my son so he felt safe. The foster carer handed me a box of my son’s possessions; a simple act, but a one that felt deeply symbolic. We waved the carer goodbye and took ourselves inside where the rest of the family were waiting, faces pressed up against the window.
The afternoon passed quietly, everyone feeling comfortable enough to do their own thing. It was difficult not to cluck and fuss and smother everyone; another indication of my lack of confidence as a Mum. My son played his video games in his new room, complaining about “the size of the TV”. I laughed, it was “all I could afford” I told him. We all gathered for tea, my children around the table together, and I realised it was the first Tuesday in four years this had happened.
I have felt completely drained today and it’s been a real struggle to find the energy to keep going. I spoke to my daughter’s father in the afternoon who, after having our daughter overnight, had come to drop her off for me; he said I looked exhausted. Thanks very bloody much, thought I…
I think the amount of preparation work I had done whilst juggling my work and as a single mum of three other children in my care had finally caught up with me and the emotional energy of this hugely significant life event for our family had also finally hit.
The Bedtime Routine began with BabyB’s bath and cuddles, his elder sister’s shower and cuddles and my 12 year old son’s shower. The latter was a slight disaster, partially because I had bought new towels in an effort to impress my son with my goddess-like domesticity, which then – upon attempting to dry himself – moulted black fuzzies all over him resulting in him abandoning said towel and getting back in the shower. “Mam! The towels don’t work!” I heard from the bathroom. I couldn’t get up for laughing.
One thing has stood out so far in this journey of ours; the number of cuddles my son has showered me with. I feel like we are getting to know each other again, and this is something he never really demonstrated much in the supervised contact sessions we used to have. Maybe he felt uncomfortable, maybe the sheer artificiality of the situation meant neither of us felt able to be tactile with each other. Since we have commenced rehab, I’ve noticed he waits until we’re on our own, says “hug” and throws himself into my arms. If I’m sitting on the sofa, he will come and sit with me and put his head on my shoulder. It makes eating a stir-fry a challenge, but it’s worth it. Just being able to touch each other, with no one watching and judging and at any time either of us wish, it’s incredibly precious. I brushed his hair after his shower tonight, I haven’t been able to do that for four years. I realise I’m gushing, but these things matter so much to us both.
His agreed bed time came…and went. He was curled up next to me on the sofa whilst I caught up on a bit of work and he went exploring with Zelda on one of his many beloved electronic devices. Reluctantly, I had to let him go to bed, and followed him up to tuck him in, ruffle his hair, and kiss his forehead. Another first-in-four-years…
I crept up soon after and watched him sleep. I sat on the edge of his bed in the warmth and dark of his room, just listening to him breathe. I could hear BabyB’s breath too – my boys. I felt overwhelmed again. Not this time with fear, but with utter blissful joy. I will never ever forget that moment. I can safely reflect on the truly grim fight I had to get to this point, I can allow myself to feel, in every sinew of my being, the pain I have felt at being separated from both of my boys because every second of fight and pain was worth it to be able to listen to them breathe in restful sleep.
Day Two of rehab…done.
I was up with the larks again this morning, my children filtering downstairs one by one. My 12 year old son was last up; this bodes well, I thought. Seeing him in his jarmies with bleary eyes and messy hair filled my heart and once again I felt incredibly lucky.
The morning passed in a flurry of activity; by 10am I had made four different breakfasts, done two lots of dishes, one load of washing was hanging out in the bright sunshine, I had ironed my eldest son’s Posh Shirt as he had a job interview later that morning, played catch with my 7 year old daughter, and trains with BabyB (who was plodging in the garden after upturning his water table for the gazillionth time) and chatted about something-and-nothing with my 12 year old son. I still felt utterly exhausted and emotionally a bit wobbly as a result.
So – out we went to the local shops and the park. My 12 year old son’s face fell as he realised he had to walk the mile into the town…he’s not used to this much walking he tells me as the foster carer’s have a car. Well, your Mother is too skint for a car, and she can’t reverse park anyway, was my reply.
My confidence started to waver. What if he doesn’t want to come home because life isn’t as easy here as life with the foster carers? I became mindful of asking him if he was ok too many times; his face said he wasn’t in any event. I felt vulnerable, frightened of the answer.
We made our way home after the park, stopping for chippy chips on the way as a treat. I let my son eat in his new room, away from the rest of us, because he wanted “some gaming time” before being picked up within the hour. None of the other children would have got away with that, and we all knew it.
I then received a message from a Facebook friend who, whether it was intended or not, expressed their own judgement on my decision to post pictures of us as a family on my private Facebook page. I was already feeling vulnerable; this I didn’t need. My son’s foster carer then text to say he had arrived and my children said their goodbyes. As I was walking him out to the car, my son said he was “glad to be going home (to the foster carers) because the bed is horrible here” and “the sheets are scratchy”.
I held it together as we walked to the car, and the foster carer and I chatted once again. But my eyes were stinging as I walked away.
The bed is horrible. The sheets are scratchy. The TV is too small. He has to walk everywhere because we can’t afford a car. And someone is judging me for joyously and proudly sharing my family photographs.
Its been a rough afternoon. BabyB went down for a nap, his 7 year old sister was picked up by her Dad and my eldest son disappeared into his room. Alone downstairs, I have cried.
I should have expected this. It’s a major life change. Everyone has had to compromise in some way and people’s noses are out of joint. And I’m not confident yet to challenge; I’m still desperately trying to make everything ok for everyone. My son doesn’t know the work that has gone into his return home, he doesn’t know that his criticisms cut like a knife and leave me terrified he won’t want to come back. And he doesn’t need that pressure, he needs to be free at the moment, without judgement, to just ‘be’.
What if I’m updating this in a week to say I’ve failed and it hasn’t worked? I can only do my best, but what if my best isn’t good enough? I don’t have all of the answers, I don’t know how it will work out and I’m only going to drive myself mad going over it all in my head. I badly need a hug from someone who cares, I badly need someone to tell me it will be ok. I know myself, and tomorrow, after some rest and recuperation, I’ll be stronger. But tonight I’m raw, drained, apprehensive and glad it’s nearly bedtime.
Day Three of Rehab…done.