In Care : Joy : 1

The waves of pain come and go. I try thinking of other waves. I try to hear the splash on the beach and the sucking gurgle and the pebbles rumbling about as the wave pulls back to try again. I try to cut out the noise of screaming, but the screaming is mine and it is closer and more insistent than my imaginary waves.

Then there’s the voice of the mid-wife, who has no sympathy for me and makes her feelings well known.

“Too late to be screaming now, missy. Should have thought about it when you were at it. Didn’t anybody ever tell you where it would lead? Should have done a bit of screaming then, my girl”.

Beside the sea

I turn my head away and try not to hear her. The pain has eased a bit, so I think of sunny days on the beach, when we went on outings. It was good to run on the sand and splash about at the edge of the sea.

Then there were the sandwiches. They always tasted gritty because somehow they all got sandy. Meat paste, or cheese spread usually. No meals out for us ‘home’ children. No fathers to play cricket and dig sandcastles either. Just five or six kids with a couple of women staff, who sat and watched us and talked to each other.

Sometimes we got invited, or invited ourselves, to play with some of the families on the beach, but either our staff or their mothers called a halt when we were beginning to enjoy ourselves.

Although we didn’t think about it then we must have been so obviously from a children’s home. For one thing we were all so close in age, we couldn’t possibly have been from one family. Then we had cheap clothes and crap trainers. Quite a few of the kids looked a bit odd as well, or behaved badly.

We didn’t have much to do either, because although the staff had to plan the outings they were never very good at remembering balls, or spades and things the other kids had to play with. Perhaps they just didn’t want the hassle of carrying them. But it was one reason why we were never welcome by anybody else for long. Once we got a hand on something decent we didn’t want to let go and most of the kids were no good at sharing, in spite of all the nagging the staff did about it.

What did they expect? If you don’t have anyone or anything you really don’t feel much like sharing when you do get something and you’ll do anything to hang on to it.

Other people’s homes

I suppose that was my problem with Garry. He was the real son of the family where I was moved to after the third children’s home. I had liked it in all three of the homes and hadn’t wanted to leave any of them. But somebody decided that all the children’s homes had to be for special purposes. So I got moved from the first because it was only supposed to be short term. Then I got moved from the second because it was only meant for younger kids. In the end I got moved from the third because I had trouble at school.

When things went wrong

By then I had lost track of how many schools I had been in. It all started going wrong after the infants school. That was OK because my Mum and Dad were together and I always had enough to eat at home, clean clothes, dinner money and someone to see I got to school. Usually my Mum, because Dad used to drive big lorries.

Then Mum had a new baby brother for me. Oh how I loved him. All soft and smelling of baby powder. But it seemed too much for her to look after little Terry and me. The house started to get in a mess and sometimes I didn’t have clean clothes for school, so I stayed at home with Mum and looked after Terry for her.

One day while I was at home and she was asleep upstairs, Dad came home earlier than she thought he would. When he found me with the baby, and her asleep, he started to shout. He woke Terry and he started to cry, although I tried to stop him.

Dad picked him up and went out. When he came back, he said he had been to my school and found out how many times I had been off, when he thought I was there, while he was away. I didn’t know because I didn’t count. I only know I liked being at home and looking after Terry, especially when I started to not understand what was going on in lessons because I had missed so many. I got to be glad not to have to go, especially when the hot water was off and I didn’t always get properly washed. Even I didn’t like how I smelled, so why should my friends?

Sometimes one of my friends’ mothers would come round, but Mum told me we were going to play ‘hide and seek’ and we hid upstairs and had to be quiet. We did the same when somebody came from school and when a lady used to come and put a card through the door. Mum usually tore them up and threw them away, but one day I kept one hidden, and when Dad was sitting there after all the shouting, I showed it to him.

He picked me up and hugged me so hard it hurt. Then he fluffed up my hair. He hid his face in my neck. I thought he was laughing, but I found out he was crying, and I thought I must have done something very bad, to make Dad cry.

We all cried a lot in the next few weeks. Dad would usually do it on his own when he thought I was asleep, but I used to hear him from my bedroom and sometimes I went down and hugged him. Mum seemed to be crying most of the time, but she used to push me away if I went to her. She would say, “This is all your fault, missy. It’s all your fault.”

I wasn’t sure if it was because I kept that card, or because I showed it to Dad, or didn’t look after Terry properly, or didn’t keep things cleaner at home, or wash my clothes, or wash myself, or what. I just kept hearing, “It’s all your fault” from Mum.

Terry cried a lot as well, because Dad really didn’t know how to look after a baby, and Mum kept telling him to keep me away from my brother. What Dad didn’t know was how much I had looked after Terry for weeks, and it seemed like sneaking on Mum to tell him any more stuff about her.

Social work intervention

I suppose Dad must have phoned the lady who left that card, because one day she came back again, only this time Dad was there and he let her in. They told me to watch TV and there was a lot of talking in the kitchen with the door closed. There was a lot of shouting as well.

The lady came in to see me. She asked me a few things about Mum and Terry and school, but I still didn’t want to sneak on Mum. Things were bad enough between her and me already. The lady said she would take me to school the next day, but I let slip, a bit accidental on purpose I suppose, that I didn’t have any school clothes any more. I outgrew the ones I had to start with and Mum just never bought any more. In any case I had nothing that was clean. Dad hadn’t got used to doing the washing either.

Anyway she came ‘to re-introduce me’ she called it. The teachers were friendly while she was there, and one or two of my friends tried to be nice, but really I wanted to be back home, to know what was happening with Mum and Dad and Terry.

When I did get taken back home, because I wet myself to cover up that I had no dinner money, there was another big row going on. I soon found out that Dad was leaving. He said Mum had told him that Terry was not his son and he had worked out that for once she was telling him the truth. I had no idea what he was on about. I was too little to know anything about babies.

I just knew I loved Terry and Dad and Mum really, although now she used to slap which ever bit of me she could reach while she was shouting, “It’s all your fault, missy”. Dad always tried to stop her, but he wasn’t always there when she did it.

I don’t know how long all that went on, but one day a load of cars came with a lot of scowling people in them. One lot took Mum, another lot took Terry and some others took me. Dad just stood by the door with tears pouring down his face. We’ve never been all together since.

This is the first of a two-part account. See next month for the second instalment.

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