Trauma and Life Story Work: You will learn more from Pass the Parcel than you ever will at school.

Episode 5 of Alma’s Not Normal is a brutally funny insight into being ‘care experienced’.

Did you play Pass the Parcel as a kid?

Did you sit, cross legged, in a circle, with friends or family members, in special, smart, birthday party clothes?

Did you watch the parcel go ever so excruciatingly, slowly around the circle?

When the parcel come to you, did you ever so slowly hand it from one of your hands to the other, desperate for the music to stop?

Did you glance over your shoulder at the all powerful adult, willing them to press stop?

Did you sit up straight, hoping that a rigid back would somehow impress the DJ?

Kids’ Parties in the 1970s were heady affairs. Fuelled up with E-numbers and dressed as pirates, we were expected to be high as kites for Musical Bumps, but to sit calmly for Pass the Parcel.

And when the music stopped, and the parcel was in your hand, could you contain your excitement?

Did you rip frantically, or casually unwrap?

Were you the clever kid who knew it was just too soon for you to get the present inside?

Did you do the Maths, and think, there was just a chance, a small chance, that you might get another go?

Had you worked out that there would typically be 5 or 6 layers of paper before getting to the prize?

And if it was your birthday, did you know the unwritten rule that said you couldn’t win?

Perhaps you were the kid who just couldn’t contain themselves, and bounced around the room, ‘helping’ other kids when it was their turn.

Maybe you ‘snatched the parcel’, the worst of all social crimes, and tore into the paper, ruining the game for everyone and bringing shame and scorn on your whole family.

Was the circle of children surrounded by a circle of adults, enjoying the game but also silently assessing the behaviour of the children?

After the games, was there party food?

When I was a kid in the 1970s, there was another unwritten rule that you had to have a sandwich before you had cake.

And only boys could overload their plates. If a girl were to do this, mothers’ mouths would turn to ‘cat’s bums’ in disapproval.

There are probably similar principles in play today, but it may involve humus, breadsticks and gluten free options.

Pass the Parcel is a test of character.

Can you delay your gratification? Can you cope with other people being randomly blessed or rewarded?

Do you have the physique to sit cross legged on the floor?  I think it’s called ‘core strength’.

If your formative years were spent strapped into a buggy, or left in a soiled room seeking scraps of food, you probably didn’t play much Pass the Parcel.

If your parents were heroin addicts, or alcoholics or had significant mental health issues, parties were probably not on the domestic agenda.

Science has proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that ‘Baggy Trousers’ by Madness, is the best song for Musical Bumps.

Last week, our Little Man came into our bedroom breathing very very heavily.

It was about 11.30pm, and we were just on the cusp of sleep.

There’s an armchair in our room.

He sat down.

‘Where I used to live the woman wouldn’t let me have water when I needed a drink. And if you were hungry she said ‘You’ve had enough’, and you couldn’t go for a wee when you wanted. There was a spider and she said it would get me, and then she shouted and shouted, and she said the people would come and take me away. The man was nicer but he didn’t stop her.’

This catalogue of physical and emotional mistreatment tumbled out of his mouth for over an hour.

We lay in bed.

Just listening.

We have learned enough to know that we just need to let these emotions run their course.

Tears ran from my eyes.

This Little Man is quite capable of driving a very very patient person to utter distraction, but when you hear what was done to him, through absolutely no fault of his own, your reserves of patience and love are refilled.

Perhaps you may want to find the perpetrators and bring them to justice. As a Foster Carer, I think you have to put all those thoughts aside, although I do sometimes wonder what happened to people in their own lives to make them so damaged, and then damage a small child in turn.

As The Little Man’s torrent of words slowed to a trickle and finally began to dry up, he finished with the immortal sentence;

‘And they wouldn’t let me watch Pointless’.

Has anyone ever met anyone who has been asked the Pointless questions? And I don’t know anyone who has been part of a Family Fortunes Survey either! I think it’s all a con.

Quite how being denied the pleasure of the BBC’s anchor quiz show can be equated with years of shouting and maltreatment is a question for another day, but it did make me laugh.

And then, the Little Man stood up, and left.

It was nearly 1.00am.

We are not quite sure why he chose that day and that time to revisit his memories and tell us these things.

In Fostering, processing the past is generally referred to as ‘life story work’.

Life Story Work is often scheduled for the convenience of adults, whether they are Social Workers, Therapists or Foster Carers.

I think a child will share when they are ready and on their own timetable.

This kid has been with us over seven years.

Published by

fosteringandadoptionwithphil

Birth parent, Foster Carer, Adopter and Recruiter of Foster Carers for Liverpool City Council

3 thoughts on “Trauma and Life Story Work: You will learn more from Pass the Parcel than you ever will at school.”

  1. I do remember reading this and as usual you are dead right – our experience is the same – those little or very big disclosures of info come at unexpected moments, often when eye contact is not a part of the exchange. Consequently, the upcoming life work we are planning is not so much to invite disclosure, although it might, but to provide information that curious minds are beginning to speculate about.

    We have been putting it off as our experience of life work done by others in the past has been very well intentioned but has not been welcomed by the foster kid – who wants to see in black and white how crap their early life was even if the people involved loved them ‘in their own way’?

    This time we are giving it a go ourselves – wish us luck!

    Like

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