We have to get up early because the boys go to a school that's quite far away. It's a school I chose for them when they came to us 19 months ago because it's got such a good language support unit and they allowed Hari to go back a year on account of him being behind educationally. It's not that he isn't bright – but the country he comes from had a war on, which affected his education. It means the boys are in the same year, which is nice for them because, although they're from different countries, they are so close that they feel like brothers.
I'm fully expecting Hari to get some passes in his GCSEs, even though he's done less than the whole curriculum and didn't speak a word of English when he arrived here. Ben is much more practical and I think will do really well vocationally. These are two boys that arrived on the back of a lorry, frightened and traumatised. I'm very proud of how far they've come.
Once the boys are up, they and my 11-year-old daughter, Hazel, have breakfast and get the bus to school. The exception to this is Mondays, when the boys have home tuition in English as a second language. I sit in on the sessions so I learn more about helping them improve their English in our everyday life.
Once my husband, who is a university lecturer, and my daughter and the boys have left, I sometimes do a bit of freelance work or work on my Open University degree in childhood and youth studies. I used to work full-time as a lawyer in a specialist young person's law centre. When I was there, I noticed the kids in the care system who were the most "OK" were the ones who'd been fostered at some point. I decided I'd like to get involved in fostering myself. Other mornings, it's just a case of clearing up the house, doing the washing and so on.
Some days, I'm invited to training sessions run by my fostering agency on issues such as dealing with alcohol and drugs, how to support your children with school work or helping your foster children make secure attachments. They're really helpful, especially when foster carers who have been through these issues do talks. You get to cross-question them in a safe environment. It was a foster carer in one of these training sessions who suggested I do family trees with the boys as a way of getting them to open up about their families, and it worked really well. Other days, I might have meetings with social services or I get on with things like the shopping.
A lot of my time now is spent doing normal mummy things such as cooking and baking bread – a world away from my life as a lawyer, when all the household things were squashed into a weekend. Even on Saturdays and Sundays, and indeed during weekday evenings, I'd often have to do work. It's nice to be out of the nine-to-five rat race, but still feel I'm working – it's just a different kind of work.
My daughter loves it that I'm now here to chat to when she comes in from school. She says home life is much more pleasant. She often brings friends home, which wasn't really practical before.
Hari is a very talented footballer, so he often has football training at this time and doesn't get back until 5pm. Ben really loves the gym, and two or three nights a week he goes there with friends. Other days, they have friends over or go to friends' houses or visit the cinema. But they have to ask first. In the first few weeks of being here, they just used to wander off and not tell me.
If the boys have been out, they come back any time from now onwards, at which point we'll cook together. Part of what I need to teach them as a foster carer are independent skills, and they're now very good at planning meals and cooking anything from bread to pizza. They've taught me to do some of their native specialities too.
One of my few house rules is all sitting down together for a family dinner, unless they have permission because of something like a football match. I also have a rule that we all speak English at the dinner table and everyone has to participate. It was my husband's idea, and, although it was stilted at first, conversation really flows now.
It's the boys' job to load the dishwasher, although they often tease Hazel that, if we were living in their culture, it would be her job to do things like cook and clean up. The three of them get on very well. She was describing them as her brothers within a week of them arriving. Last year, all three of them went on an activity holiday. She would never have gone on her own, so that was lovely.
Everyone gets on with any homework after dinner. I'm around to help if they need it. Then we might watch a bit of TV. It's so nice to see the boys so relaxed. They arrived so anxious and withdrawn as a result of the trauma they'd been through, and now their personalities have really come out. One friend said to me the other day: "It's good to see them being naughty." I know what she means – it's great to see them doing normal things like kicking each other under the dinner table. One thing my husband and I really wanted was for them to have fun.
Persuading the boys to go to bed has never been a problem, although if it's the weekend the boys will often go out. After they're in bed, I have a bit of time to watch TV or chat with my husband. Sometimes we'll have organised a babysitter so that we have an evening out. Or if it's on an evening my daughter is at a sleepover, we don't even need a babysitter because the boys can fend for themselves.
Bedtime for me! I always sleep well.
The boys' names have been changed