As I’m pushing the pram through Costa, a concerned man informs me of the blanket trailing on the floor. I pick it up, smile and thank him. I sit down and the 16 month old toddler in front of me indicates that she wants to come out of the pram. I see no harm in this so I unclip the strap and lift her out, at which point the pram immediately tips backwards. Two women rush to my aid as I try to keep hold of the child and remove the bags from the back of the pram so it will stay upright.
Finally, I sit down and give her my phone in an attempt to keep her sitting still. She knocks her drink bottle to the floor and I can’t quite reach it with her on my knee, so I just think to myself that I will have to pick it up later. A kind man gets up and passes it to me, whilst reassuring me that he’s ‘been there’.
It suddenly strikes me that I must look like a slightly stressed out mother struggling to even have a peaceful cup of coffee. But I am not her mother. I am her sister, and a temporary one at that.
My parents are foster carers, and more often than not, when we’re out in public, I am mistaken for the baby’s mother. Even more so when she shouts ‘mama’ at me. A lot of the time though, I just let people think that. They don’t need to know her story.
We’ve had three babies now, and they have all been totally different. I have seen a tiny baby boy’s first smile and gone on to see him become a stocky and boisterous toddler. I have seen a poorly baby who couldn’t even sit up turn into a strong and brave little girl who inspired us all to believe that no matter the struggles we face, it is possible to just keep smiling.
And now, I am getting to know a toddler who doesn’t like the word ‘no’ and has a habit of throwing herself on the floor and screaming when she doesn’t get her way. But she is slowly improving her behaviour as we give her discipline, praise and encouragement, and despite her troubles, she has so much more kindness than I thought was possible for a one year old.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from babies when my parents first became foster carers two years ago. How do you look after a newborn? How do you tube feed a child? How do you tell a toddler no? I have learned all these things and more during the time we’ve had our three babies.
The main thing I have learned about our babies is how surprisingly strong and adaptable they are. An 8 month old who had only ever known us went to live with his Auntie and Uncle, and is now a funny and happy little boy despite not living with them from the get-go. A tiny, poorly seven month old girl got better and happier, and she’s even happier still, now she’s gone back to live with her mum.
An unruly toddler who was untrustworthy of strangers, is now getting braver and better behaved and even more thoughtful towards others. And now, as she spends more time with her dad, we know she won’t be living with us for much longer.
But for now we read with her, we play with her, we watch Baby Shark with her, and we love her until someone else can do it forever. And then we can make room for the next baby who needs us.
Artwork by Freya.