We’re going on a bear hunt! We’re going to catch a big one!” Foster toddler found the whole idea of bear hunting very exciting after seeing the famous Michael Rosen book.
Watching her foster family members pretend to squelch through mud and swish through grass helped enliven the experience. But as she grew older and stopped babbling and started talking, she took a particular interest in the various characters hunting the Bear across the English countryside.
“Baby!” she asserted of the infant hanging onto the young man’s neck in the story. And then at the age of two, she’d point at the elder characters in the story book, turn to us curiously and ask: “Mummy?” or “Daddy?”
With language comes questions, as any parent knows. And since foster toddler is sharp as a tack, it was clear that she saw something in that beautiful book that for her didn’t quite ring true.
Her mummy and daddy clearly love her, but she sees them, separately, every fortnight in one case, and once or twice a week in the other, in surroundings very different to the stories she reads at bedtime.
And unlike the brothers and sisters hunting bears together, she plays with her half-sibling for a couple of hours every week in her family’s living room.
We have to be sensitive to all this, and she’s quietly learning and happily getting on with living in a wide extended family including our grown up kids on some days and her own blood relatives on others.
We have to be sensitive to language too, and as her own confidence grows we try and ensure she knows that mummy and daddy care about her very much, even though they only see her every now and then.
Then one day, while hearing again about the happy family hunting the Bear through the long wavy grass (swishy swashy) she carefully studied the man in the story carrying the baby on his back, then looked up at me, apparently remembering the times I’d done the same when she got tired after running through the local woods.
“Daddy!” she said, pointing at me. No, no, I thought in a bit of a panic. “I’m David,” I said quickly, followed by a diversionary “swishy swashy” and turning the page as quick as I could, I said: “Can you see those ducks in the river?”
She looked up at me puzzled again as book ‘daddy’ carried baby over the river, so I pointed at the picture on the mantelpiece of her being cuddled by her dad. “There’s your daddy!”
“My daddy,” she said.
After a few more ‘stumble trips’ in the forest, the scary Bear chased everyone home, and foster toddler and I hid under her blanket so Bear couldn’t find us.
“David!” she said, looking at me. “My David.”
Whereupon I stayed under the blanket to well up for a second, as Bear trudged home to its dark and lonely cave.
For more information about fostering, please visit: https://www.sheffield.gov.uk/fostering.
Main artwork by Denny.