Friday, 3 June 2016

Sadness and resentment about events long-ago.

Walking back to St Albans railway station after saying goodbye to my former foster mother was a horribly sad thing to do. I had thought and hoped that seeing her after so long would help me deal with the crossness and sadness that had been inside me for over 40 years but I knew it hadn't.

Part of the problem was St Albans itself. My parents are both buried in the town and seeing their worn and hard to read graves was quite emotional. It was the same seeing the places where Jane (my late-wife) and I had had such fun in our courting years. I have such mixed feelings about the town that I don't have the skill to put into words.

When you are a grown up it seems silly to complain about things not being fair but sitting in the three different trains going back home to west Wales that was exactly what I was doing. Inside my head I was having a conversation with my long-dead foster Dad telling him how his meanness in refusing to pay for my school uniform all those years ago had changed my entire life. Which was true.

If I could have stayed on at school I had the brains to go to university and then into a proper job. But all these possibilities were stolen from me by the meanness of one person and the weakness of my social worker who should have stuck up for me.

I was sitting in the train feeling sorry for myself when something strange happened. I felt my dead wife Jane was sitting there beside me. I have never had any time for supernatural things so this was an ever-so curious feeling to be sitting beside a ghost. I think what must have happened was that I dozed off and I was having a very vivid dream.

Jane told me that if I hadn't left Care when I did I would never have met her and wouldn't have had all the happy years we later had together in Woverhampton as a married couple. She was right of course, Jane usually was!

Sometimes life is like an amazingly complicated maze. There are hundreds of different paths you can chose to go down or be forced to go down by outside events. A Father I don't remember, a Mother who got ill, Foster Parents who didn't care much were just a few of the junctions in my life and it is just chance that they are all associated with a childhood in St Albans and Harpenden.

Friday, 8 April 2016

Sadness at another parting - being fostered is like that!

I had been in something of a blue funk about talking to my former foster Mother about my last few weeks living with her and her late husband. I was quite ashamed of how I felt cross and sad more than four decades after the event but that was just how it was inside my head.

You see one quite small piece of financial meanness by my foster Dad made a life changing difference to me. If I had been able to stay on at school I'm as sure as I can be that I would have qualified to go a university or a polytechnic when I was 18. There was a course at Hatfield Polytechnic that looked really interesting and it would have been easy to commute there from St Albans where I was living.

The trouble was I needed a new school uniform and nobody was prepared to pay for it. Without the uniform I couldn't stay on at school and move up into the 6th form as I wanted to. It really was up to my foster parents to pay but my foster Dad absolutely refused to do so. Nobody was willing to stand up for me and so I was pretty much forced into employment and out of the foster home with almost no notice.

In the 1970s going to university meant a lot and pretty much made it certain that you would be able to get a well paid job in a proper career. Without a degree you were nothing special and you were in competition with loads and loads of other teenagers.

So for most of my life as an employee I worked mainly with my hands and far less with my brain. Apart from the first few years when I worked in a factory I worked as a school technician in Design Technology. It was quite frustrating to see young teachers earning far more than me when if my life had been more settled I could have been a teacher just like them.

Looking back perhaps I could have studied with the Open University but for some reason I never thought of doing that. I think too much of my self confidence had slipped away in the troubled years I had between going into Care at 14 and getting married to even think of pushing myself forward like that.

Anyway right at the end of the meeting with my Foster Mother I talked about the time when my Foster Dad was so mean. I thought it would upset my Foster Mother, and it did. But I felt that I needed to say the thoughts that had been inside my head for so long.

When everything had been said I said my goodbyes and off I went back to my other life. I'm glad I bothered to go meet with her after so many years but I don't have any strong wish to stay in touch with her. Perhaps if I am ever in Hertfordshire again I might suggest a meeting - but perhaps not!

Friday, 4 March 2016

More about my Foster Mother 40 years on.

My Foster Mum and I had different views about my time in foster care. She really thought that I was very unhappy most of the time that I lived with her and my Foster Dad and that quite a bit of the blame for that should be directed towards the two of them.

I was able to tell without having to make up anything to spare her feelings that most of the time I was happy enough and when I wasn't happy it was far more to do with things that had happened at school or it was straight after a visit to my Mother in the mental hospital.

I don't blame my Foster Parents for the lies I was told about my Mother. I still think it would have been much kinder if somebody could have told me "the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth" about her condition. When you are young you sometimes hold onto even the tiniest crumbs of false optimism so when a doctor or nurse says something about being hopeful about a new treatment or drug they were planning to use on your Mother I used to leave the hospital expecting that she would be cured and then released to come home to me quite quickly. Of course that never happened and she spent the rest of her life in hospital not even knowing who I was.

I got used to living in somebody else's house, living by their rules and knowing that I wasn't particularly welcome. Looking back none of rules were unfair and nobody ever said to my face that I was not wanted. There was just a small amount of tension all the time and so I realised that it was so much easier to keep out of my Foster Dad's way as much as I could. We never argued because I avoided speaking to him except about really routine things.

Of course it would have been nicer if I could have friends round sometimes but that was just something that was never going to happen. My Foster Dad didn't like young people so after a while I worked out that my friends wouldn't stay friends for long if they ever had contact with him. I have said it before but I would like to say again that he never hit me or even threatened to hit me. That wasn't his way. Yes there was a cane kept in the cupboard under the stairs but it was never used on me. Anyway I expect there was a rule about not hitting foster children? 

I was 14 when I went to stay with the two of them and 16 when I left. At that age I didn't really think too much about my future. I knew that I was quite brainy because I always came towards the top of my form in exams, especially in subjects that involved numbers or science. On the very, very rare occasions that my Foster Mother talked about the future I always felt worried that she was going to ask me to leave so I tended to give her the answers I thought she wanted to hear rather than say what I was actually thinking.

I'm pleased that I was able to make my Foster Mother feel less unhappy about the whole middle section of our time living together.

Friday, 5 February 2016

Meeting my Foster Mother after over 40 years (2)

I didn't know what to expect when I met my former Foster Mother after so long. I certainly didn't expect that she would remember as much about those two years we shared as she seemed to. I also thought that she would only want to talk about the good parts of our time together and all the things where there had been problems would be ignored. Well I was wrong and it serves me right for being such a pessimist!

Almost the first thing she told me was how sad she was that my time living with her "hadn't worked out" and that "Those two years nearly destroyed my marriage.". She told me that her husband had never been keen on fostering and that he had only gone along with it to stop her nagging and because it brought some extra money into the household. He was a proud and stubborn man who was, just about, prepared to accept the income from having a foster child but certainly didn't want any of the expenditure.

He valued his privacy and hated having what he saw as a stranger living in his house. It was never personal - he didn't particularly dislike me and she thinks that it would have been the same whoever it had been. It wasn't my fault.

She could remember my first few days really well and it was good for me to hear a different perspective on that difficult time. I had arrived in the late afternoon not knowing that my foster Mum and Dad had had a furious row that morning about me coming to live with them that had ended with him storming off to work leaving her in tears.

When the Social Worker drove off after doing the introductions it was all very difficult. I didn't know what the house rules were or even what I was to call my Foster Parents. After tea I helped wash up like I always used to do when I was living with my Mum but then I had no idea what I was supposed to do. The two of them sat in the lounge watching the TV and I didn't know if I was allowed to go in to sit with them or not and anyway if I was allowed to go in where would I sit? There wasn't a spare chair and I didn't want to sit on the floor like a dog would. I went upstairs and read a book in my bedroom feeling rather lonely and abandoned. All the time I was sitting there my foster Mother and Father were having another row downstairs with him saying again and again that it was bad enough I was living in his house without having to share his lounge with me. Perhaps it was a good thing that I didn't know what was going on!

I think we were both upset, even after so many years, walking about those times back in the late 1960s. Now I am old (60+) I can look at things in a different way to the way I did when I was just 14. But even now I don't understand how I came to be placed with a couple with one of the pair totally against the whole idea of fostering! It was almost bound to end up badly and of course that is exactly what did happen. It would have been useful to hear my foster Dad's memories but he died in 2009 without ever talking about me to his wife. 

More next time - when my Foster Mum and I talked about the middle 18 months of the two years I lived with her in St Albans.

Friday, 29 January 2016

Meeting my Foster Mother after over 40 years

Just before Christmas I found a message waiting for me on Facebook. It was from somebody in St Albans who had read my blog and who thought that her aunt was possibly my foster mother! It seems that at a family event a few years ago they had been sitting at the same table for lunch and somehow the topic of adoption and fostering had come up. Her aunt mentioned that she had done some fostering for a young lad whose father was dead and whose mother was in a mental hospital. My blog reminded her of that conversation so she decided to write to me.

When I replied I thought I should only mention the road in St Albans where I lived when I was in foster care. Almost straight away though she messaged me back with the surname of her aunt and it was my foster mother. That was quite a shock to me I can tell you!

I didn't hear anything for over a week so I started to think that the whole business was over. But then I got a much longer message telling me that my foster mother was still alive and well and still living in St Albans. She was in her 80s but she wanted to meet me.

I live in west Wales so it is a long way to Hertfordshire but now I am semi-retired I have more spare time so after a couple of restless nights I decided I would accept the invitation. My mind felt very jumbled up, rather like it did just after my dear wife Jane passed away. First of all it was going to be a long train trip (I get travel sick on buses) with changes at Birmingham and London Euston plus a trip on the Underground. It was also going to cost a lot of money but as I have some "rainy day" money saved up I thought I could afford it. 

We were due to meet on a Saturday so on Friday I caught a train mid-morning and nearly six hours later I arrived in St Albans. I found the Bed and Breakfast place I had booked quite easily. The next morning I had a walk around the town thinking how much some parts had changed and how some parts were just the same. I also visited the cemetery on Hatfield Road to put some flowers on the two graves where Mum and Dad were buried so long ago.

Then I set off to the meeting place for what turned out to be a long and quite sad and strange conversation. I will write about that next week.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

A former foster child asks "Am I doomed to always feeling slightly cheated?"

Am I doomed to always feeling slightly cheated?

My Dad died when I was too young to remember him.
My Mother had mental health issue and so from 14-16 I was in foster care.
My foster parents were never abusive but never showed me a scrap of affection.
My dear wife and I were never able to have children.
She then died while still quite young. She was 54 and died from heart disease.

I posted, for a reason I still don't really understand, this question to a well known website recommended to me by a young friend. I didn't get as many replies as some of the other threads seem to get but those I did get were very helpful.

"I think the circumstances of your parents would be very difficult for anyone to deal with & can see how you would feel cheated. But its not something you can do anything about so maybe try to reconcile it for your own peace of mind."

"You're not doomed to anything ,how you see your life is a choice. Sadness is normal, but feeling cheated...well that's a perspective that causes bitterness, and that only hurts you. I lost my parents young, I've had other troubles. I've never felt cheated. Life is random and fickle and things happen. How you deal with those things is entirely up to you."

"I suppose it depends on whether you wish to actively deal with it through counselling or some sort of therapy. Or if you prefer to try to live with it then regard it as part of life's journey, that good things happen & shit things happen but at the end of it you are still alive & look at what you do have instead of what you don't have? A sort of counting your blessings type thing, although it sounds unbelievably trite!"

I think the third one of these felt best for me. I suppose everybody has good and parts of their lives and I till just have to accept that some of the time I spent living in St Albans will have to be put on the bad part pile. When I was working in schools in St Albans and Wolverhampton I sometime heard such terrible stories about young people who had been abused for years. I never had anything like that happen to me so perhaps I have no reason to feel cheated after all? 

Saturday, 9 January 2016

Long-term loneliness and being fostered

When my late wife Jane was still alive we used to get invitations to a wide range of family events. My problem was that I felt that I was only invited because I was Jane's husband and that was the label that almost everybody at these gatherings attached to me. I felt like a shadowy figure always doomed to be sitting in the corner trying to make polite conversation with other people who were in the same position as me while the "proper family" swapped memories and looked at old photographs. I never gave, I hope, Jane any hint that I felt quite left out at these events. She loved them and I would never have wanted to spoilt things for her.

Jane was very keen on family photographs and one of my favourite memories of her final few months was her trying to understand how to enter information into some genealogy software she had got from a family history magazine. Jane was very organised and she always used to write on the back of photos who all the people were and what event was being photographed. Sometimes she would add extra information years later like "Aunty Floss - died 6 months later"  or "Cousin Frank - the first signs of his drink problem?".

When Jane died I returned most the photographs to her family. I thought they would be of more interest to them than they would be to me as a bit of an outsider. I was worried that if I kept them and then suddenly died the old photos might get thrown away without people thinking. I went through a rather black spell after her funeral and I made some decisions that perhaps were not sensible but returning the photos really wasn't one of them.

I had always got on well enough with Jane's family so it was disappointing that I ended up feeling rather lonely and abandoned after the funeral. I suppose they didn't want to intrude but as I didn't have any other family to help with all the jobs that need doing when somebody dies it might have been nice if they could have made more effort to help me.

Without my best friend Mike and his famous check-lists of jobs that needed doing I don't know how I would have managed.