It is an unlikely friendship. He's pushing 90, blind and not as quick on his feet as he used to be. She's not yet four, and until recently rarely said a word. Now she has found her voice and she has plenty to say for herself. Within moments she is holding the elderly gent's hand and he is laughing out loud. If he's not careful she'll soon be helping herself to the cake from his plate.
The season to be merry is in full swing, and all around us people appear to be having a great time. As a family we love Christmas and everything it stands for. We celebrate with close relatives and friends, reflect on the year that is drawing to a close and to make plans for the year ahead. But as foster carers? Well, it is complicated, isn't it?
As she runs off to play, I contemplate the wondrous capacity of the human spirit to overcome adversity. Just a few weeks ago this same child did not know me, and had never set foot in our home. All this is new and alien. She has been removed from everything she has ever known to become a looked-after child in foster care, with no sense of how long this might last.
We are fostering again. Our home is filled with the sounds of children playing. Umpteen pairs of little shoes and wellies are piled around the front door, coats and jumpers are draped over stairs and chairs. There are toys in every room. Our foster children come in twos and threes, and sometimes it feels like being hit by a tornado.
I count my blessings. This week I had the privilege of attending the Mind Media Awards and Fostering Excellence Awards in London on successive evenings. Both events are born out of human frailty but celebrate the extraordinary kindness and resilience of ordinary people in the face of often appalling circumstances.
We take so much for granted. At our grandson's first birthday party we meet some of our daughter's friends. Now parents themselves, they gather with their babies and toddlers, sharing stories about broken nights and nappies, first steps and playgroups. Our home fills with the laughter of children and the accompanying chat of watchful parents. As hosts, our role is to make sure there is plenty of food and drink, so we spend a frantic, if joyous, couple of hours on the go.
The keys to our success are our amazing foster carers. They do a fantastic job providing the love, care and support needed by children and young people who have too often had a very tough life. The stability those foster carers provide can make a huge difference to the futures of the children they support, in so many ways: in education, health, career, family life.
One day children who have been in our care will ask questions about their past that simply cannot be answered in a memory book. Above all, we hope that they understand that they were loved and cherished. And we hope that they know that they can come to us for those elusive answers. We are, after all, merely custodians of their memories.
As for our own child on the beach, he is safe and well. Life will never be easy but he is strong and bursting with energy, and with support and guidance his future is full of promise. He visited us recently, and was received with an extra strong hug, in memory of Aylan. We promise he will never become a refugee in his own land.
Parents chose to become foster carers, and their children, to one degree or another, go along with that choice. They may not do so with the same conviction, even if they understand its value. But their consent is absolutely essential: they may not realise it, but the success of a placement is down to them as much as it is to the adults, and often even more so.
Foster carers have been unsung heroes during the Calais migrant crisis. Hundreds of migrant children have been taken into care and placed with foster families. Many of these families live in Kent but children's services are already having to look beyond the county for support because it is increasingly difficult to find suitable placements.
Foster care would be that little bit easier if you could press a 'pause' button on your own life. What would we not give for some sort of arrangement to put everything on hold, as we work to resolve the seemingly intractable problems of the children who come into our care? But the reality is that our own lives carry on: stuff happens to us too, with no regard for the children and young people who have been entrusted to us.