When I was 9 or 10, I made a new friend at school called Judith. I don’t remember at all when she told me that she lived in a children’s home, but I do know that when I asked her why, she simply said that it was because her mother couldn’t look after her. I didn’t understand then what this could possibly mean.
One day she asked me to go to her house for her birthday tea. She was only able to invite one friend, I think because there wasn’t much room around the kitchen table already crowded with children in care. The highlight of the tea for me was the cheesy footballs. We were given maybe half a dozen each. I’d never had them before and I thought they were delicious. Nowadays I buy them as a special treat for myself at Christmas and no one really understands why I like them so much.
One of the children wasn’t there for the birthday tea, so they set aside a plate of goodies for when they got back. As we left the kitchen, I snuck one of those delicious cheesy footballs from their plate and stuck it in my mouth. But I’d been spotted. There was a bit of a tut tut, not really unkind, but enough to make me feel deeply ashamed. That shame stayed with me.
One day not long after, Judith didn’t turn up at school. In fact she never returned. My new friend just disappeared off the face of the earth and no one explained to me what had happened to her. I hoped that she had returned to the care of her mother but I never knew for sure.
I thought of her this week when I watched Wanted: A family of my own. It’s a new series which looks at the adoption process in the UK, where thousands of children are waiting to find a permanent home. During the first programme, they sat in on an approval panel meeting, where prospective adopters were interviewed and approved to become adopters. It stirred memories of my own approval panel. There, more than 30 years since I’d last thought of Judith, she came suddenly to mind, unbidden, and I spoke of that experience of finding a friend and then losing her suddenly, inexplicably, sadly.
It also made me think of my son J’s own experience of leaving foster care, which was so perfectly planned and executed. He had a leaving party at school, and a leaving party at his foster carers. Every minute and every detail of the two week introduction to me was considered and planned. J, and everyone around him including his friends at school, knew what was happening, and there weren’t any surprises. None of his friends went to school one day to find that their friend had disappeared.
Today, nearly nine years into adoptive motherhood, I wonder whether Judith did return home, or if in fact she spent the next six years in a succession of children’s homes, with nothing at the end of it to call home.
This post is linked to the Adoption Social’s Weekly Adoption Shout Out, #WASO week 64.