It would be easy to read my blog and place M in the title role as ‘the difficult child’ and J as the easy one, especially when you add in normal concerns an average hormonal teenage girl would have. Neither child is difficult, but they both have difficult pasts and their earlier experiences arise in all sorts of ways.
Recently the news was full of the Little Aleppo Boy (Omran Daqneesh), covered in rubble dust and blood in a shell shocked state in the back of an ambulance, and J’s history leapt out in his questions. We don’t leave the rolling 24 hours news channels on as M is obsessed with terror events and is convinced the world is a scary dangerous place.
In the last term of school, M and her fellow Year 10 pupils had a compulsory PSHCE Day where they covered terrorism; how unlikely it is be involved in a terror act, why people commit such acts and what to do if you are involved. It’s sad they have to cover these things at school but it did seem to put things into perspective for M.
Even though the Disney Channel seems to be permanently on, J did see the Aleppo Boy and I was immediately touched by his compassion for the child. He asked lots of questions revolving around ‘why?’ which isn’t uncommon for J, and I do normally spend 75% of my day answering questions such as ‘why don’t dolphins have fur?’ and ‘if Spiderman was bitten by a wasp, would he be Stingerman?’ .
However, he also asked questions which showed he was transposing his own experiences onto the awful situation. He wanted to know ‘where the little boy’s mummy and daddy were’, ‘why didn’t they look after him’, ‘was he a bad boy’ and the most heart breaking was ‘would he go into foster care now if nobody wanted him?’.
The questions came thick and fast, so I didn’t have time to immediately form answers for all of them on the spot, but it was important that J knew that he wasn’t a bad boy and him being in care wasn’t his fault. He accepted everything I said and immediately asked me a question about stars and the night sky, which I think is going to be his new hobby, but I could almost see the cogs whirling in his head.
J is old enough to understand that lots of families are different, and he has many friends who live with their mummy but not their daddy or vice versa, and several friends who have new step brothers or sisters. He has a friend, Prakash, who lives with his Grandma and another who’s been adopted and is very open about it. J is with us long term and we’ve made a commitment to him. His social worker, who has known him since he came into care, has spoken to him about living with us until he is an adult and we’ve told him this many times.
He accepts and says he understands, but then says things that show he is still insecure about his future. We are thinking of moving and have involved all the family; we talk about staying at the same schools, that they’ll both have more room and they both get excited about the prospect.
However, J’s insecurities run deep, as when the tragic Italian earthquake hit this week he asked where people would live as their homes were destroyed and out of the blue. Right in the middle of trying to answer his last thought provoking question, he asked me ‘when we move, will I still live with you?’.
I’ve been careful to say things to J that show him we expect and hope that he’ll be with us until he’s ready to leave as an adult. Last week we talked about learning to drive as he’s got an interest in cars and only yesterday I spoke about exams and girlfriends, which made him roll his eyes at me as apparently girls are disgusting. It’s become apparent that no matter how many times I try to reassure him that this is his home, he still feels he could be ripped from his bed at any time and taken away from everyone he knows. After all, it happened before, so in his world, which fell apart in 24 hours, it could happen again. Children may learn to live with their traumatic past, but it never truly leaves them.
Photo courtesy of Mustafa al-Sarut.