"It's gonna be a GREAT race!" - Transition II
Transition week always gets better. Beyond the awkwardness of the first few days spent as interlopers in the foster parents' home, there is the period of orientation with the child in your own home as they become familiarised to their new surroundings.
During the transition of our son this meant an hour's drive to the foster parents home to collect him each morning and then, each evening, to drop him back again.
The journey time was elongated by both the time of travel, which inevitably coincided with the rush hour, and the road conditions resulting from the snow and ice that persisted throughout our transition week.
We realised after taking our son back to the foster home after his first day with us that these journeys had the potential for additional stress. Given the season it was dark by the time we left home, that limited options in terms of how to entertain our little boy during the car journey. There were only so many nursery rhymes we could sing and jokes we could tell.
Having dropped our son back to the foster family, we made a detour to the toy superstore on the way home. My idea was to find a toy that would provide sufficient distraction for him to make the journey back and forth pass more quickly for our little boy.
I found what appeared to be the ideal thing, a racing helmet that linked wirelessly to a mini steering wheel that affixed to the back of the car seat in front. The bonus was that it was also on sale and therefore less than £20!
Our journey between the foster home and our own house therefore passed much more easily for our son, who donned the helmet and steered wildly on our journey. Our expectation of it turning the trip into a much more calm and peaceful experience sadly wasn't met.
Upon purchase of the helmet/steering wheel combo I hadn't checked whether it was silent or not. It wasn't.
As we headed out for our home the next morning this strange American voice rang out in the car:
"It's gonna be a GRREAT race!"
I looked at J and our son trying to work out which of them had suddenly started speaking in a strange Mid Western accent.
"Foot to the floor!" Shouted the American voice amidst squealing tyre sounds.
The helmet spoke. Loudly. And it's racing instructions actually made my blood pressure increase slightly as it urged me to overtake, go faster, race for the line despite being in rush hour traffic jams.
Our son loved it though, which was the most important thing.
The rest of the week progressed without incident. On our penultimate day we had dinner at our home with our son and bathed him before taking him back to the foster home in his pyjamas.
The evening before he was to leave foster care permanently, his foster family had arranged a farewell dinner and so we took him back to them mid afternoon.
Prior to that point I hadn't properly appreciated the impact of transition on a foster family. Not only were there the foster parents themselves, who had cared for our son as if he were there own, but also a much wider circle of people. Albeit that our son had only been with the family for a few months, he had already made an impact on many people's lives.
There were other children in the foster home, placed with the family on a long term basis, who not only faced the loss of a member of their family with whom they had become used to playing, fighting and connecting. The fact of transition also reminded them that this was not happening for them.
Both children in the foster placement were a few years older than our son and therefore were able to understand well the opportunities a new Forever Family held for their friend. We got to know the children quite well during that week.
On that final afternoon, when we took our son back to the foster home, J had a truly heartbreaking conversation with one of the children. The little boy had been drawn to J in particular over those few days and asked, in a very matter of fact way, why we couldn't take him too and why he had not been offered a new family.
The wider members of the foster parents' family also felt the loss of our son moving on. The foster parents' grown up children, their toddler grandchildren, all had seen our son frequently, had shared Christmas with him, knew him well and liked his company.
We therefore left that afternoon aware, really for the first time, that for this group of remarkable people our joy at our so coming to live with us would be mirrored by a profound sense of loss.
I've said before that foster parents are the unsung heroes of the adoption system. I think this small part of the story gives an indication of why that is the case.
The morning to collect our son for the final time arrived. We had agreed to collect him from the foster home a little later, after the school run was over and he and the foster mother had the house to themselves.
We had progressively transferred his few belongings to our home over the previous few days, so all that remained were a couple of bags of clothes.
Ringing the doorbell we could hear him thundering down the hall to open the door. His excitement was clearly off the scale. We had been advised by our son's social worker that the best thing would be to collect him and go, she was there to support the foster family once he had left. A short and 'clean' farewell was, in her experience, better for everyone concerned.
I've mentioned in the first part of this story of transition, that this was the first time B, his foster mother, had transitioned a child on to adopters. She was stoic, but clearly struggling to hold things together as she hugged him and promised to talk to phone our son in a couple of weeks time as we had agreed.
As we packed everything into the car it began to snow again. B finally broke down as our son climbed into the back of the car and donned his racing helmet. She was clearly distraught standing on her front steps and I therefore tried to encourage, for her sake, our son to wave goodbye.
"Just drive," said J.
"We can't," I replied. "Wave to B, blow her a kiss," I said to our son.
"I can't see her," he replied, his view being obscured by the racing helmet.
I needed to move to a position where our little boy could see B better, put the car into reverse, began to move backwards only for there to be a dreadful scraping sound as I hit a lamp-post.
"Oh, she's gone in," our son said, "can we go now?"
J assumed his rolling eyes facial expression, "let's just go," he said.
And so we took our son home, who upon arriving took his bags to his room, helped us unpack his clothes, played happily all day, ate a hearty dinner of fish fingers and chips, had a bath and went, happily, uncomplainingly, remarkably to bed.