Naturally, given my age, I do not remember much about living at home with my mum and dad or my early years in care. Of course, this lack of cognitive memory does not mean there is not an emotional one. Nothing makes me rock with anger more than when I hear someone describe an obviously traumatic experience in a child’s life and then make light of it with anodyne phrases like: ‘It’s ok, she was far too young to remember.”
Still, I have a few memories – flashes really. They are mine – not things that I was told later and incorporated into my own narrative. I can be certain because they are not those kinds of events.
They are not anecdotes from family gatherings and they were unknown to social services – whose records I later relied on to fill in some gaps. I am not sure exactly how old I was when taken into care, I was definitely two years-old but whether I was just turned two or two nearly three I do not know. Still…the following memory must have happened when I was under three:
I come downstairs and my dad is lying on the sofa, under a blanket. A washing-up bowl is on the floor. Mum is shouting at Dad – demanding to know why he is sleeping on the sofa. Dad tries to explain he was feeling ill and did not want to disturb her. Mum shouts some more – something about him using the washing-up bowl. Dad starts to cry. I say something to Dad – I can’t remember what but an expression of concern. Mum shouts at me – instructing me to sit at the table and eat my breakfast. I comply.
I have no memory of being taken into care. No traumatic scene of being torn away from my mother. One day I was living with her and one day, I guess, I was not. But I have some memories of living with those first foster carers. I definitely remember their names and it irritates me that I cannot name them (expose them) here. I will call them Paul and Jan.
Paul and Jan had two children of their own, a boy, who was the same age as me and a girl who was the same age as my brother. I do not talk about my brother much in this blog because it is OK for me to discuss my own life but not to discuss his. My brother and the girl were just old enough to go to school; the boy and me stayed at home with Jan while Paul worked.
I remember Jan taking her son and me to the bakers to buy marshmallow ice cream cones covered in chocolate sprinkles. I think this was a fairly regular thing but may have been just the once. I sometimes crave them now. I remember watching “Bod” – a short, rudimentary, children’s animation, which I enjoyed – every afternoon. I have a particularly strong memory of receiving a large Tonka fire truck for my third birthday and playing with it in the garden – I think my Dad had sent it.
I remember my brother and I were not allowed to eat with the family and had to wait until they had finished before eating separately. I remember I was made to sleep in the bath every night because I still wet the bed. I remember often being made to run the bath so Paul could hold my head under the water. This was a regular punishment but I can’t imagine that I did much wrong – I was terrified.
My Weetabix each morning would be covered in something that looked like sugar but wasn’t. I am certain now it was salt. I remember crying and being forced to stay at the table until I had finished. I have a vague recollection this was connected to wetting the bed as well.
I remember Paul as tall, thin and balding. I am pretty sure thin and bald are correct, I am not sure about tall but he was definitely a great deal taller than me. One day we are all standing on the pavement waiting to get in the car. I have something in my eye and am becoming distressed. Paul comes out and Jan informs him what is going on. I remember the fear – certain he is going to be angry. But he waves his hand in front of my eye and as if doing a magic trick and says some silly words – everyone laughs.
It works – my eye is clear. I remember feeling relieved – relieved that my eye is clear and relieved he did not hurt me.
I do not know how these events affected me or how they helped make me the person I am now. I just know that they must have. I only feel angry about it now if I see a small boy, think about how vulnerable he looks, and imagine it happening to him.
I have no insight to share with you, no learning or theory. I don’t know what would cause someone to behave that way to a small child – a child they had chosen to look after. It makes me think of animal cruelty – fair enough if you don’t like dogs but, then, why buy a dog?