Writing ‘You’re all playing it wrong’ – Anne Griffin

What it’s all about:

Fostering has had its many headlines in the Irish news, each telling of horrific conditions children have endured over long periods of time. Most recently there has been the case of Grace, a child with disabilities who allegedly suffered various forms of abuse over twenty years in her foster home in County Waterford. And then to our shame came the discovery in a wasteland in Tuam, the bodies of hundreds of infants who had lived in a mother and babies’ home in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. These tragedies move like a dark cloud over us, through us, haunting us, pointing their long accusatory fingers.

‘You’re All Doing It Wrong’ is not, nor is this analytic piece, a damnation of the media and its reporting of the negatives – such tragedies need to be told in order that we are shamed into putting things right and into ensuring there are more and more success stories living in the shadows of everyday life.

This story is, however, about the flip side, when a fostering situation with all of its agonies goes somewhat right.  I’ll admit now that I have witnessed at first hand one of those. I have seen the love, the sacrifices and the joy from both sides: the fostering parents and the birth family. I have seen the extraordinary kindness and selflessness needed from all involved to allow the child at the heart have a positive relationship with both families in order that they are able to treasure the uniqueness of having perhaps two mothers, two fathers and four sets of grandparents.

But still within all that has been positive it has often struck me that the lack of absolutes must be torturous for those involved.  Can a birth mother or father always be sure that fostering is the right course, if that choice has been theirs to make in the first place? Is the pain of letting a child go not always there, a thin layer under the surface of the skin, itching away to put things right? And for those who foster and form the strong bonds, do they too also have their fears that some day that awful moment will come when the child is wanted back?

‘You’re All Playing It Wrong,’ is the story of one sister fostering the child of her older sister who has never quite been able to cope in life. It tracks that process from the first night Lorna begs Angie to take her new born baby, Tippy. It follows eight years of stability for Tippy under Angie’s care. All the while Lorna weaves in and out of their lives at odd hours of the day, with her unique whims and vulnerabilities but with a laughter and beauty that both Tippy and Angie know is something special. And then out of the blue the unthinkable happens and Lorna decides the time has come to take Tippy back.

 

In writing this story I knew the themes I wished to pursue. And like all stories where I started from both in content and structure was very different from where I ended up. As writers know, this is how it is, but I have often struggled, particularly in the early days of my writing of cutting anything from my pieces. This fear was rarely about the old adage of the darlings but primarily because I was afraid I didn’t have the talent to rewrite. It’s taken me time and practise and many saved “just in case” drafts to trust a bit more in my abilities.

The other thing known far and wide but worth reiterating is that the eye of another writer is invaluable. This story as with every other I have ever written has had the once over from a peer.  There is nothing like that cold eye of another writer to set me straight and cut out the useless, the superfluous, forcing me to see the heart of the story.

 

Anne Griffin has been shortlisted for the Hennessy Award and longlisted for the Seán Ó Faolain Award. She has been published in The Stinging Fly, The Honest Ulsterman, The Incubator and Bunker, a collection of short stories produced by Cork County Libraries.

‘You’re all playing it wrong’ is featured in Issue Six of The Lonely Crowd, which may be purchased here.

 

© Anne Griffin, 2017. Image © Jo Mazelis, 2017.