It’s the time of year when your social media page fills with summer pictures of your friends on holiday, sunburn photos and drinks on the patio. Summer holidays officially started 10 days ago and we’ve already had M’s birthday party, work experience and our annual summer holiday. Like any parent dreading the long summer holidays filled with ‘I’m bored’ and endless rain, foster carers are no different. There was no post from me last week as we were on holiday in Portugal and we took advantage of M’s work experience schedule to go a few days earlier than the rest of the planet. M’s work experience was uneventful and the biggest excitement for her was getting on a different bus. Her placement was in our local veterinary surgery and M seemed to feel that her time would be wasted if she wasn’t performing complex surgery on a dog by the end of the week! She was alarmed to receive a letter before her placement stated outlining rules such as no mobile phones (she turned to me with a horrified look and said ‘are you serious? How am I supposed to keep up with stuff?’), what to wear and other details. The working day was only six hours with an hour’s break for lunch but again this got another look of horror. I explained that this was a taster into working life and a normal working day is much longer but she wouldn’t be placated and rolled her eyes at me.
Work experience turned out to be boring. M complained they got her to do menial duties which included filing and making tea, washing the reception floor if a dog had widdled in fear or excitement and stocking up the animal food on sale. Apparently, she wasn’t going to be performing complex brain surgery on a dog after all and she powered down and just got through the week. Getting information out of her was like pulling teeth and she volunteered no details. M feels powerless if she divulges personal information about herself and thinks it may be used against her so I know from past experience that when she’s ready, she’ll talk to me.
We left for our summer holiday in Portugal the day after work experience ended, flying out very early the next morning. It had been booked and planned for months. I had gone over the details again and again about the schedule as both of them suffer insecurity and anxiousness when routines change, J particularly so when M didn’t come home from work experience, our plans were thrown into disarray. Only that morning I had reminded her to come straight home and finish packing so alarm started creeping in when she was an hour late. She didn’t return any texts or calls and by 7pm I was frantic. I phoned and text Claire, her best friend and other school friends I thought maybe she’d be with but no one knew where she was or they weren’t telling me. I’d been trying to get her to pack before her last day at the vets but she refused being unable to decide on what outfits to take and it felt like she was butting heads with me on every aspect of the holiday. Just when I was making the decision to phone my social worker and report her missing M finally turned up as if nothing was wrong. She looked at me and said ‘what?’ with a big dramatic sigh and after expressing my relief that she was ok then anger at her not communicating with me, I had to let it go as I didn’t want the big theatrical drama during the journey that I knew M was capable of.
I expected M’s behaviour to dictate the tone of her attitude to the holiday but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Whilst still being a teenager capable of dripping sarcasm and disbelief that she has to share planet space with us mere mortals, she really enjoyed the holiday. She spent most of the week working on her tan (with me telling her constantly to put higher factor sun screen on) and flirting with boys. However, it was J that struggled with the change of routine and environment which surprised me. J has never been on holiday with us before due to the complex situation with his court order and passport and he was really excited about going away and being on a plane for the first time. He talked about the pool non-stop, planned which sports he wanted to try and what foods he definitely wasn’t eating. He had seemed positive and enthusiastic throughout the research, booking and planning, constantly referring to Portugal, the weather, flying and the sea so when a difficult, sullen J stepped off the plane I was a little thrown. I assumed it was tiredness (we had a long delay at the airport) and I expected after a nap he’d throw himself in the pool and start playing. The reality was so far from that I can’t believe I didn’t see it coming; J’s insecurities and family tension became the defining factor of our holiday. J didn’t like the pool, hated the food, thought the sun beds were ‘stupid’ and the kids club was a no go. He didn’t participate in any activities and refused point blank to go to the sea side. Hubby was fantastic – he saved our holiday as I was stressed and thrown by J’s behaviour. I tend to be the main carer doing a lot of the practical things; organising and planning and am also responsible for discipline and rules. However, Hubby stepped in and reminded me this wasn’t about us, this was all about J and his apprehension about anything different.
The new environment J found himself in threw him back into an old life full of change and trauma and Hubby reminded me that distress and past bad experiences don’t take a holiday. He managed to coax J out of our apartment and into the pool at least once every day and on the last two days, he even got him into a local water park to play on the slides. Once J was in the pool he was fine, flinging himself about in the water without a care in the world but getting him out was another matter and he would revert to a silent resentful child. J is normally so good natured it was a surprise the see that anxious side of him again.
After a stressful week away we returned to the UK and within hours of touchdown, we had the old J back again. Settled back into his room, he was once again asking endless questions about the universe, why is grass green and who would win a battle between Iron Man and Spiderman? We have been back two days, the holiday laundry is done, I’m catching up with emails and Hubby is on a course, leaving me with M and J until he’s home again in three days. M is back on social media involving herself in her friend’s love lives or drama and J is drawing up a spreadsheet of Superman’s foes in rating of deadliness. I’ve already had ‘I’m bored’ twice since we got back and M draped herself over the breakfast bar this afternoon declaring that life is not worth living as Drake is no longer at Number One in the charts. As I’m force fed the Top 40 on repeat like torture, I knew exactly who she was talking about and offered a shoulder to cry on. It’s going to be a long hot summer.