Christmas in care is still all about family
Laura Beveridge on her memories of Christmas growing up
I have very little memory of Christmas as a child. In fact, Christmas Day itself was one we all dreaded because it felt so sad.
Mum cried so much because she felt so bad we didn’t have many presents and I carried so much guilt for seeing Mum struggle and because I also wanted gifts so I could just be like everyone else.
Back at school, I would have to make up a fake list of stuff so that I could join in the conversation with the other kids, and as my friends rhymed off the many gifts they had received, I just joined in too.
I told them about the fabulous things I had unwrapped and about the delicious Christmas dinner that we had had.
But none of it was true.
How could I tell them that I got nothing and that our Christmas dinner consisted of a giant pot of hot water, a stock cube and scraps of anything that we could find and that we called dole soup?
But even then, I loved writing and I would write out scripts for little nativity plays that I did with my brother and sister with tea towels on our heads.
We were happy then and even if it was just for a little while, it was so worth it to see my mum smile. That’s something that didn’t happen very often.
Most memories just look grey in my mind and it was always cold.
Violence and fear was a normal part of everyday life. I remember once saying to my stepfather that he hadn’t hit me in a while and I was wondering why.
Mum continually struggled with an undiagnosed disability, struggled emotionally and with little practical support, she didn’t have the strength to leave. I knew something was wrong, but thought that it was a kind of normal because I didn’t know anything else.
My stepdad was never around on Christmas day. I don’t know why but I have no memory of him ever being there at Christmas. In fact, I have very little memory of Christmas at all.
The one Christmas I do remember clearly was when I was around 11 years old. Mum was so excited and stressed in the run-up to the big day and on Christmas morning she rushed into my bedroom at 5.30 with the biggest smile, shouting, “he’s been”.
When my brother, sister and I got up, we rushed to the living room – we had presents! Ripping open the paper in excitement, it was such a happy morning.
Mum had taken out a loan to pay for Christmas and afterwards I remember hiding behind the couch whenever the ‘provi wumin’ knocked at the door.
When my stepdad left, it was a mixture of heartbreak and relief. Our family was broken. With no support or guidance, my mum couldn’t cope, and we went into care.
When I was 12 years old in my first foster placement, I flourished, and so did my writing. For the first time, I had a safe place to call home, and after years of abuse, neglect, endless tasks and responsibility, I felt like I could be a child again.
My first Christmas with them was one that I’ll never forget. I got up from my bed and went downstairs. The living room was filled with gifts. I felt completely overwhelmed. I didn’t know what to say. Tears ran down my face when I thought of my mum.
Then my foster mum presented me with one more gift. It was a large box in red Santa paper. I had no idea what it could be! I couldn’t believe my eyes as I carefully tore back the paper: a typewriter!
I treasured the typewriter and wrote so many happy stories with it.
But my happiness was short-lived. Another child placed with the family started blaming things going wrong on me and soon I was being branded a liar and accused of stealing.
My world was falling apart and no one would believe me. I’d wake up with a fright every night as my foster dad ran into my room shouting, “stop that typing” even when I wasn’t typing. I thought I was going mad.
Then one day I was at my mum’s for a visit when the phone rang. The social worker told her that the foster family didn’t want me back. My heart was broken.
I was put into a home and when the social worker arrived with black bags and boxes of my things, the first thing I went to find was the typewriter but when I opened up the box, it was full of dolls.
I searched through all the bags but couldn’t find it. I phoned my foster mum to ask if I’d left it and she said, “it belongs to the house, not you”.
Christmas is never about presents for me, it’s about remembering what a family should be and what I remember most now is how it felt to see my mum smile at my silly little nativity plays.
That, for me, is what Christmas is about, remembering that in among all that chaos, sadness and fear, there was some joy.
The greatest gift we can ever give is an unforgettable moment.
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