Annie was three when she came to live with us. I was 15 and on the brink of independence and believing I was all grown up.

Annie was going to stay with us for three weeks, while her foster carer had another baby. We met her a few times first, took her to the park, and learnt the important things about her. Such as, she ate mint sauce with every meal, she loved dogs and couldn’t ride a bike.

Annie moved in with a small case for her stay, it was summertime and her tiny legs and knobbly knees hanging out of little blue shorts stood by the front door. She must have been scared then. She didn’t show it. She was tiny and brave and quite remarkable. She made a massive impact on my life.

When the three weeks were up, she didn’t go back home to her carer. I wasn’t party to the whys then. At least I didn’t remember, I just wanted her to stay. I watched her grow.

She learnt to ride that bike and she started school and learnt to swim.  She grew like she was being stretched. Tall and leggy and her blonde hair turned white the next summer and again the next. For Annie didn’t leave for years.

I can remember with absolutely clarity the feel of that fragile hand in mine. Her face does not leave my mind. It is held in my memory like an imprint. A picture of this tiny thing that was like a precious gift to our family. But she wasn’t ours to keep.

She never was.

When she was 7, it became clear that Annie would be adopted. And not by my parents. I was leaving home, my siblings growing up and my parents were clear. They did not go in to fostering to adopt. They had been blessed with four wonderful children. There were families who deserved and were waiting for a childlike Annie to make them complete.

It is a line I often use, but that is because it is true. There was a family out there for her.  A family that found her. A wonderful caring and kind family with an older son and a space for one more.

I am not sure who cried the most. It was probably me. Overwhelmed with emotion, and not the practical considerations, I waved her away. Her face at the window. I hated the fact there was no mint sauce at the table. I missed hearing her voice. Reading her stories, and holding her hand. She was my first real loss.

The bedroom she occupied was filled with within weeks, with children just as small and as vulnerable.

Then those feelings dulled and were replaced though. I realised that every bit of the joy she had given us, she was now sharing with her own family. One that had been waiting for her and that had chosen her. We saw Annie occasionally for a time but eventually it just stopped.

She would be in her twenties now. I wonder about her. I wonder if she remembers us. For we were just a small part in a way.  She might look back at her birth family, or even her first two foster families. I wonder what she thought of the part we played.

I am very grateful to her for what she gave to me. I hope she feels the same.