Kept safely on a low shelf inside my wardrobe are 3 very special books:
One is a book crafted by my own fair, dextrous and creative hands. Lots of perspiration and profanity went into its fine production.
The book is a veritable Who’s Who of the Permanently Pickled household. It holds pictures of me, OH and Gherkin, the Olds, the animals, the car, the house. Surgically sutured into the back of the book is a DVD, containing a short clip of moi (as the protagonist) standing in the doorway, rather awkwardly and gawkily offering a warm welcome to Casa Chaos.
From the hallway, I glide towards the living room with all the gracefulness of a bag of bricks and, à la Anthea Redfern, present my loving family – just as my cousin quickly dives out of the way of the lens.
It’s cringe-worthy. It’s god-awful. It was a horrid reminder of those not-so-halcyon days of GCSE drama.
But there was a damn fine reason for putting myself into such an embarrassing position. This book and – soon-to-be-acclaimed – DVD were to provide Pickle with his first glimpse of his new forever family. The foster carers adeptly used them to drip-feed information to Pickle, so that when we finally met he would have some sense of familiarity with the random strangers he was to call mummy and daddy.
The second book is an album of photographs meticulously compiled by Pickle’s foster carers, charting his time with them. This was the most useful book to us in the early days following his transition. It made Pickle feel warm and safe to look back on the good times with the foster carers when he was feeling uneasy and at his most insecure and vulnerable. He would also understandably cry a lot and miss the sanctuary of their home. It could be difficult to sustain animated enthusiasm and a jolly tone when a frightened and anxious child was crumpling in your arms.
The final book is Pickle’s Life Story Book. Assembled by the infinite number of professionals who have flitted in and out of his life. Ultimately, this is the most important book. It’s my link to Pickle’s babyhood. It tells me the place and time he was born, how much he weighed, the circumference of his head. All those specifics that you naturally absorb at the moment you hold your newborn in your arms.
It’s factual and to the point, if not actually that detailed. It’s an honest account of the reasons that Pickle can no longer be in the care of his birth parents.
Up until now, we have only ever looked at the photographs in this book. Photos of him as a tiny baby. There are only 3 or 4. Taken on a mobile phone. Grainy with very few intricacies, like cute dimpled cheeks and knees. I’ve tried squinting my eyes to see them.
I hadn’t therefore expected him to hand me the book last week and ask if I could read the words to him. I wasn’t ready or prepared, but I duly obliged, siphoning off the inappropriate and unnecessary, and watering down the complex language. He then blurted out “Why can I not live with Mummy X and Daddy Y?” I really hadn’t expected THAT question just yet.
But what both flummoxed me and gave me the best feeling ever was when I explained to him about how he came to live with us, about how he was specially chosen. He maturely put his arms around me and asked me where was heart was.
He kissed the place.