Beyond Caring is the story of Aaron. On admission to Templewood, a children’s home, he met Rebecca, his keyworker, but he did not settle, and on Christmas Day he tried to run home to his mother. Since returning he has struggled with his keyworker, met his mother again, lost his pet, had a brilliant holiday, and been let down again and again by his mother. At school, he is uneasy about the teacher and a stranger hanging around. Aaron was sexually bullied, had a tantrum, suffered a nightmare and recovered memories. Now he has learnt that his father is dead. If you would like to read the earlier chapters first, please click here: Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13
Our Kara’s living with some foster family. These are the words Derek’s just spoken to me as I sit on the office settee watching the rain pour down outside. Kara gone, left mum. Derek tells me it really is true. Mum without Kara? Mum loves Kara; Kara’s her baby. I thought Kara was all smiles and sunshine.
“Has Kara been bad?”
“No, Aaron, your mum has many problems as you know; she has had difficulty managing as a mother.”
“How could mum let Kara go?”
“Kara’s placement with a foster family is for Kara’s own good.”
“They won’t know how to look after Kara. They won’t know what to feed her or what she likes.”
“Aaron, Kara is with good foster parents who know how to care for a child; her social worker visits her regularly.”
“She’ll be wanting mum.”
“I don’t know how she feels towards your mum.”
“Kara with a foster family, it’s just so odd. She won’t stay there long; I mean not like Lee has, will she?”
“It is intended as a lasting placement.”
“Fuck, poor Kara.”
And what about mum? Mum with three children to mum with no children, she always said that she can’t be in three places at once but now she’s in no place with any of us. I walk from the office, then pause with one foot above the other on the stairs. A little smile tugs at my mouth and then I carry on upstairs – if mum’s not got Kara, maybe she’s got space for me. Mum might need me now; she’ll be lonely and I could help her out.
The rain taps down outside as I sit at my bedroom table. I carefully fold a large piece of paper in half then take a yellow pen and draw a big sun. I give the sun a smiley face and sunglasses; I draw in its long rays then add a few spikes of hair on top. This card will cheer mum up. Or does it look too happy, like I don’t know or care about her upset over Kara? I rip up the paper and throw it in my bin. I take another sheet; I chew on a pen and stare into the wall until its yellow colour fuzzes and floats towards me.
A letter. I’ll write mum a letter. Shall I say about Kara, how I’m sorry? No, that’s not right; it’s not my sorry. I could say how I bet mum’s missing Kara. But then that might make her feel even sadder. What to tell mum? I could say to mum about dad, how she’s got to stop me being ‘daddy’s boy’. She visited dad, she posted his letter – I could ask her about those things. Why did she never even ask if I wanted to come with her to see dad? I sigh; talk about dad will just make her feel sick and cross.
I must write about how living together is going to work out, how it’ll be the best thing for her, how we’ve got to get planning. I pick up my pen.
Mum, I want to live with you
We need to push for that
‘Push for that’ sounds wrong, I start again.
Mum, I want to live with you
No. Another piece of paper screwed up and thrown into the bin. Perhaps it was best to draw something for her. I fold a new piece of paper into a card then draw a neat heart in its top left hand corner. I carefully colour in my heart and when I’m finished, I draw another beside it. I can fit five hearts along the top. I fill the card with rows of hearts; these will let mum know how I’m thinking of her. I open up the card and write inside.
Mum is cute
Mum is smart
I ♥ mum
with all my heart
It’s best to start with our love, to get close again and if Rebecca snoops before posting my letter for me, I’ve given nothing away.
I must speak to my social worker too. I’ll beg with her until she sees how being with mum is the only life for me. They say I can’t be with mum because she can’t look after me but that’s different now; I’m older, I can look out for myself.
For weeks Rebecca’s been on at me about starting an activity outside of Templewood. Liam used to go to football club; Aaron’s joined a trampoline class. Rebecca made all sorts of daft suggestions until I finally shut her up by saying I’d give diving club a go. Diving was Derek’s idea; he knows I’m good at diving.
Rebecca drives me to the leisure centre for my first session. I get changed and then find myself walking towards a group of children and adults over by the diving pool. They slowly spread out to line themselves around the edge of the pool. They look like a right bunch of weirdoes – all the boys are in blue swimming trunks and most are wearing swimming caps. I’m in black shorts.
“Come for a trial? You must be Aaron,” this man in shorts with muscular hairy legs calls out at me. “I’m Mike.”
People stare at me; I clasp my arms around my chest; I want to be anywhere but here.
“Make space for Aaron,” Mike says.
A scream and I just catch seeing this small boy toppling into the water; he must have been pushed because Mike’s starts telling off this other boy.
“Tom, I’m warning you; repeat how you were last week and you’ll be out of my club.”
The small boy comes splashing through the water and pulls himself out of the diving pool. He’s a mini version of Tom – same haircut, same pale white skin.
“I’ll get you, Tom, I will,” he calls out.
“Settle down,” Mike says. “Now warm up first.”
“You from around here?” a girl says to me when Mike tells me to stand next to her.
I can’t answer and she doesn’t repeat her question. I watch how the boy beside me stands with his feet slightly apart and pointed out, I place my feet in the same position. Mike starts calling out instructions and people stretch from side to side. I study one boy on the opposite side of the pool and try to keep up with what he’s doing. I bend down but realise I should have gone up, then as I stretch to the right my arm flicks into a boy. I snatch my arm back. The boy does not hit back; he just carries on exercising. I try again to copy the movements of everyone else.
It comes to the time to start diving. Mike calls out names and people dive one at a time into the pool. Some people’s dives are all right. On Tom’s turn, he throws himself sideways into the pool, a mess of splashing arms and legs. Someone laughs.
“Best ignored,” Mike says. “Aaron, your turn.”
My go. I stretch my arms up, bend my knees, lift up, arch over then plop into the water. I come back up to the water’s surface and somebody else is already diving in. Mike says nothing to me; that’s because my dive wasn’t good enough. As I quickly pull myself out of the water, a girl grins down at me.
“What you staring at?” I demand.
And my words stop her silly smile.
I go and stand alone in a queue of people by the diving boards; the children are talking to each other. I don’t know what to say; I hope no-one speaks to me. Two girls near me are laughing. The instructor says to quieten down and form a neater queue. Everyone obeys, except Tom who’s fidgeting around like he can’t stand still. I keep quiet and stay in line. The girl in front of me pulls off her swimming cap and long blonde hair falls down from her pony-tail. Does she know the kind of person she’s standing next to? A boy who no-one wants, a boy with anger, a boy with a dad who is a murderer.
I see Rebecca sat on a spectator’s bench; she doesn’t look up from her book. On another bench, three woman are sat chatting together. The girl with the long blonde hair is leaning over stuffing her hair back into her cap. I watch people diving from the boards and the line in front of me slowly disappearing. The girl does a perfect dive and then it’s my turn to climb the steps. I move along the length of the board in three long leaps. Up I go but then I’m losing balance and tumbling over. I see the hard barrier of water; my face and belly slap into it; I topple over and water injects up my nose. I sink down, staying hiding underwater until a rush to breathe has my body exploding upwards towards air. I’m still gasping as I get out of the pool; cold air stings my red chest. I head towards the changing rooms.
“Have another go, Aaron,” Mike’s voice calls me back.
I continue away from the group.
I feel eyes on my back and then Mike’s looped around to stand right in front of me.
“I know you can do better than that,” he says.
I glance back, I see the boards, see how everyone looks at me. I think of mum, I imagine her watching me. I march past the queue of children by the diving boards. I go to the front. I climb the steps. I walk along the board then stop high above everyone else. I run the final paces to the end of the board and throw my arms high. My body grows as I fill myself with air and space. I leap up and then arch over, a moment’s flight before I’m cutting through the water. The water’s softness surrounds me as I slide into its depths.
I rise back up; I find the noise is Mike giving me a clap. He comes over to me, tells me I could be very good with some training and he’d be happy to have me join his club.
We get some free time to swim in the water and warm up. I like keeping myself sunk at the bottom of the pool blowing out bubbles but then I start thinking of mum and the time she took me swimming. I rush to the surface and do ten lengths of front crawl without stopping.
When diving club is over, I follow the others to the changing rooms.
“Lighten up, man,” Tom says leaning towards me. “Don’t get so serious over diving.”
He strides off; I get dried and dressed quickly. Rebecca’s waiting for me outside the changing rooms, she’s all smiles.
“You can be proud of yourself,” she tells me handing me some crisps.
“I want some crisps too,” the girl with long blonde hair says to the woman she’s stood with.
“I’ve got a snack for you in the car,” the woman says. “Now rub your hair dry; it’s cold outside.”
“Fuss, fuss, fuss! Mums!” the girl tuts raising her eyebrows and smiling at me.
I look from her to Rebecca.
“Aaron, isn’t it?” the girl continues. “See you next week.”
I rush Rebecca out of the leisure centre before she can tell on me and explain the way I live.
The following Thursday, I’m sat eating my fifth biscuit when Narinder comes charging in and dumps her school bag down on the table. Emma’s behind her with the ring of the car keys hanging off her finger.
“Letter came for you today,” I hear Derek tell Narinder as she walks over to the kitchen sink.
I watch as Narinder rips the envelope open then holds up a piece of pale blue paper. Her face slowly opens up into a smile. I hate the post for not bringing me mum. Every day it teases me and every day no letter comes for me. Nothing. Mum must have got my letter. Is her reply somewhere in the post between her, my social worker and me? Or is today the day she’ll write back?
“Oh sweet,” Narinder says to Derek. “It’s my foster mum telling me what we’ll be doing after I move in with her. Look.”
Narinder’s had her visits with her foster mum. We’ve heard all about it; she talks of nothing else. It makes me wonder what Kara’s foster family might be like.
“She’s going to take me shopping,” Narinder says.
I take another two biscuits.
“I think you’ve had quite a few of those biscuits now,” Rebecca says to me. “Time to get your swimming stuff.”
I stuff the biscuits into my mouth, crunch on them then spill out the crumbs as I go up to my room. I find the new blue swimming trunks Rebecca’s bought for me; I sit down with them in my hand. I suddenly feel tired and can’t be bothered to look for a swimming towel. As I sit there, it comes to me that I never asked mum to write back. I go to my table.
mum is cute
mum is smart
I ♥ mum
with all my heart
P.S. Write to me
I can make everything all right now
I hide my letter away in an envelope ready for Rebecca to post it. I close my eyes tight and try to reach out to mum across the space that separates me from her. Mum, if you haven’t done it already, sit down now, pick up a pen and write to me. Please. You will write won’t you?
“Aaron,” Rebecca shouts as she opens my door. “… What? What are you doing? Come on.”
“Post this for me.”
“Aaron, come on or we’ll be late.”
“A letter, why are you writing a letter now? Look we’ll be late. Have you got your swimming stuff together?”
“Well come on then.”
“Aaron, look your new trunks are out on the bed.”
“I’m not going.”
“I don’t want to go to some stupid diving group.”
“Look we’ve got to get going; we can chat about things on the way there.”
“I’m telling you I’m not going.”
“You’ve been looking forward to it. We’ve brought you new trunks. It was a success last week; build on that.”
“I’ve done it.”
“Yes one session and I won’t go again.”
“I don’t feel like it.”
“Oh for goodness sake! Just get going!”
“You can get as cross as you like; you won’t change my mind. I’m not going.”
I thought I wanted to go again but now I see how that would be a mistake. I’ll always be the odd one out and they’ll soon find me out.
The hall is still full of Narinder’s luggage even though her social worker and Derek have already loaded half of it into the car. Narinder rushes past, the word ‘babe’ sparkles on her tight T-shirt. She’s dipping in and out of her bags; she pulls out some books then puts them straight back in the same bag.
“Narinder’s my friend,” Shelby shouts out. “Who’ll talk to me now?”
“I will miss you,” Narinder says.
“Wait …” I say as Narinder comes past me.
I’ve just given her a stupid present of two chocolate bars; I wish I’d got her something she’d have really wanted. It turns out that she’d saved up weeks of pocket money to buy us all new computer games.
“… Tell us about your friends, about school.”
“I’m off now Aaron! Moving up to a new school, going to make new friends.”
I feel the pen in the shape of a lipstick that’s in my trouser pocket. No, I can’t give it to Narinder; I bought it for mum. Derek comes back in; he’s off crutches now but he still walks with a bit of a limp. He bends down to pick up one of Narinder’s boxes.
“This has been the best home I’ve ever had, thank you,” Narinder says to him.
“It’s been our pleasure to have had you here,” Derek says.
“I was such a mess when I came here; this place has given me a chance.”
I’ve never seen Derek’s eyes light up before with a smiling laugh.
“Now I just need it to all come to something for me. I think it’s a good foster family you’ve found me. It has to be.”
“Your visits have all gone well.”
“It just seems right with them. And my new mum and I, we get on.”
A new mum? Kara will be wanting her ‘old’ mum, our mum, always mum. No need for a ‘new’ mum. I turn away and then watch from the kitchen as the pile of luggage in the hall gets less and less. Shelby’s brought back downstairs by Rebecca; he’s holding a bag of Narinder’s.
“What are you doing with my bag?” Narinder asks him.
“Don’t be cross with me.”
“I don’t want you to go … come back, don’t go Narinder.”
“Oh Shelby, I’ve got to go.”
“Come back … Come back if you don’t like your new place.”
“There’s no coming back; my time here is up.”
“Take me with you. You always said I was like a little brother to you.”
Shelby rushes to Narinder and throws his arms towards her then I think he’s about to punch her but Rebecca pulls him off and holds him tight.
Narinder just leaves – the door shuts behind her and that’s it. We’ve lost her. I know she can’t wait to get on to her new life and forget all of us here. I wander towards the office and come across Derek.
“Everyone’s pissing off to a foster family,” I tell him.
“Is a foster family what you’d like?”
“Would you consider going to a foster family when it comes to your time to leave here?”
“Are you trying to get rid of me?”
“No, Aaron, your leaving from here is not for many months. No one wants to see you go, least of all Rebecca, but we’re a group set up for a particular age range; we won’t be the best place for you as you get older. That’s why I ask you if you’d like a foster family.”
“No way, I’ve got mum. Poor Kara, they parcelled her off to some foster family and now you’re trying to send me off.”
“I gather via your social worker that Kara is doing well.”
“Doing well? No way.”
“That’s what I’ve been told.”
“She can’t be all right.”
“She’s relaxing into living in her new home.”
“How could she be okay?”
“I can’t speak for Kara’s feelings.”
“Me, I’ll always stick by mum. I would never leave her for another.”
“Aaron, living with your mum is not reality. I think you do know that even if you were allowed to live with her, it would not be the best option for you.”
“I don’t know that.”
“I think you do but it hurts to acknowledge it. You have faced up to a lot this last year or so.”
“Look, just because my social worker and Rebecca blabbed to you about me fighting a little with mum on my visit, it doesn’t mean a thing. Fuck, all children argue with their mums. You never watched it on the telly? It’s what happens. And with mum and me, we make up, we never stay cross with each other for long.”
“Aaron, what’s happened in your past is very different from day-to-day arguments with a parent which, as you say, can happen in any family house. There is going to be no return to living with your mum for you.”
“It’s not up to you to decide that.”
“We will need to look at alternative options.”
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing for free – I hate foster families. I never fitted in with any of my foster families, I never knew what any of them wanted of me; I’d be stuck in their stupid homes with their stupid rules.”
“Here in group we have rules and boundaries that you live within.”
“It’s not the same here; it’s bigger, more space and there’s no foster mum to bug me.”
“You have formed a good relationship with Rebecca; that is a good pattern for a foster mum.”
“Foster mums aren’t like Rebecca. Look, get it: foster families don’t work out for me.”
“This time a foster family could be very different for you. You are older and now you would be part of the process of choosing a foster family. You’d meet any potential family, help decide whether they were suitable for you.”
I stand up.
“Aaron, I personally think a foster family could really work out for you.”
I walk out on Derek and go to my room. I’ll do whatever it takes, I’d suffer anything, give up everything, just to be me and mum together. I find a pen in my drawer and dig its point deep into my arm then start on my letter.
mum is cute
mum is smart
I ♥ mum
with all my heart
P.S. You and me belong together
I’ll be so good for you
WRITE TO ME
I fit this letter and the lipstick pen in an envelope. I seal it down. I don’t care what I’ve given away because even if Rebecca opens it, she still has to send it on to mum.