Tonight I sat watching The Pride of Britain Awards and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in blubbing my way through the whole thing. Awards were presented to brave people who put their lives on the line to save others, children who’d battled illnesses and went on to help others, and not forgetting Supergran, the lady who belted the jewellery thieves with her handbag until they retreated! Heroes each and every one of them and a huge inspiration.
It got me thinking about a lady I met thirteen years ago. I’d just had my second baby and since my first was only fourteen months old, life was hectic. This particular day, I had to bring the baby to the clinic at the hospital for a check up. I arrived, feeling very sorry for myself after a particularly sleepless night. Roisin had been cranky and demanding and nothing had managed to quieten her cries.
While I was waiting (and grumbling!) in the overcrowded waiting room, a woman with a baby in a pram made a grand appearance at the door. I guessed her to be in her fifties and assumed she was the child’s granny. A large woman, with an equally big voice, she commanded the attention of the room as soon as she came in.
“I’m after coming all the way from Bray on the Dart,” she said to nobody in particular. She proceeded to organise herself, taking the rain cover off the buggy and shaking it before folding it up. That made me even grumpier. I was now wet as well as fed up.
She began to talk to the baby in the buggy, who was about five months old. “Look at you, ya big lump, you’re a bonnie thing, aren’t ya? Wait until the doctor sees how much weight you’ve put on.” I found her irritating. I could feel my head starting to pound. I wanted to tell her to be quiet, but I could hear my mother’s voice ringing in my ears mind your manners!
She continued to talk to nobody in particular and in our typically Irish way, we all shifted uncomfortably on our seats and avoided her eye. “You wouldn’t think this fella was only a couple of pounds when he was born, would ya?” she said, lifting a little red-haired bundle from the buggy. “A tiny little thing he was when they brought him to me.”
When they brought him to her? Okay, so now I was interested! There was a noticeable hush in the room as people began to tune in to what the woman was saying. “So he’s not yours then?” asked the woman sitting beside her. I thought it was a bit cheeky, to be honest, but she was only asking what every single person in the room wanted to know.
“No, love,” said the granny-type woman. “I’m just his foster mother. Me own family is grown up and gone and I love to have kids around me.” You could have heard a pin drop in the room.
“That’s amazing,” said the cheeky one, watching the older woman in awe. “So is he your only one?”
She laughed at that – a big booming laugh that could have been heard down at the labour wards. “There’s never only one, love. I have four more at home at the moment. One is severely physically disabled – but he won’t be going anywhere. We adopted him.” A ripple of gasps travelled through the room.
“And how long do you keep them for?” asked a woman who was sitting on her other side. “What about this one?” She indicated the baby who was sitting happily on his foster mother’s knee.
“Ah he’ll be gone in a few weeks, I’d say. He’ll be a hard one to give up. They all are, to be honest. But that’s what you take on. No matter how many we have, we always have a good cry when they leave.”
I wanted to ask her a million questions but I found myself shrinking into a ball of inadequacy. Here was a woman who’d raised her own family but was still giving everything of herself to nurture and care for other people’s children. For me, that alone was a reason to hold her in awe and I promised myself I wouldn’t moan over the small things any more.
Then somebody asked her a question, the answer to which I’ll never forget. “So how many children have you fostered? Has there been many?”
“He’s the eighty-second, love. And I’ll keep going as long as they let me.”
Selfless, generous, inspirational, amazing. She was, and still is my hero.