The Things Kids Say…

2011-07-12 17.27.34We have two girls – a birth daughter, aged 10 and our youngest, aged 5, who we adopted four years ago…Here’s just a few gems they’ve come up over the years.

1. During a somewhat drawn-out tour of our local secondary school before making the final choices for our eldest daughter for next year, our youngest, after an hour and a half, obviously decided it was time she cut in on the action.

Lightly touching a maths teacher’s arm to gain her attention, and stopping her in mid-flow, our daughter piped up: “I can go to ANY secondary school I want to when I’m old enough…cos I’m adopted!”

“Really?” says the teacher, rising to this magnificently. “That’s great… and I really hope you choose this school when the time comes?”

Our daughter, after a thoughtful pause…

“No. I won’t.”

2. After a particularly (and unusually, these days, I have to say) fractious afternoon recently, wherein it seemed I could do, or say, nothing right by our youngest, I was pretty relieved by the time she was in bed. An hour later, it was time for our 10 year old to go up. Giving me an extra big bedtime hug she said: “My mummy. My only mummy.”

I laughed and said: “Well, I hope so!” And then, after a wee while I added, ruefully: “Though, of course, I’m not your sister’s only mummy, am I? And I sometimes think, especially on days like this one, that she’d probably prefer to be with her other mummy…”

I’d meant it lightly, I thought, but maybe she detected something that needed to be aired? So she considered this statement, solemnly, then nodded and said: “You know, birth mum’s got a huge advantage over you because, basically, well, she gave her life, didn’t she?”

“Yes, good point, love, and that’s just the way it is and there’s nothing I can do to change that,” I agreed.

“But remember, you have an even bigger advantage, Mum – you’re giving her a BETTER life than she would have had.”

3. Our youngest now regularly says she loves us but, recently, she added an extra something: “I love you mum. And I’ll never, in my life, un-love you.”

“Never un-love me,” I repeated, savouring the words and tears pricking my eyes. “I’ve never heard that before – and what a lovely phrase that is…”

She frowned, then: “It’s not a phrase. It’s what I feel.”

4. I got back from a solo overnight stay at my mum’s and the girls wanted to know how nanny’s new rescue dog, TJ, was getting on now? I said how nervous, over-excitable and unpredictable he still seemed, even two months since he’d come to live with mum.

Our youngest put her little hands on her hips, waggled her head and exclaimed, in mock outrage: “Well, whaddya EXPECT mum? He’s been adopted hasn’t he, just like me! And when I first came to live with you, you were just RANDOM people. I didn’t even know you! And really, we’re all still totally RANDOM to him!”

5. A very ordinary teatime, about a year on after we’d adopted our youngest and I’m making boiled eggs. Our eldest casually mentioned how big Auntie V had got now her baby was almost due – and was I that huge when I was pregnant with her? The youngest froze in her tracks and the room seemed to hold its breath: “So, she was born out of your tummy?”

We’d all been upfront from the beginning about adoption and discussing with our youngest her life story, before us. There were no secrets here, we thought. But what we’d not thought of before was her assumption that her big sister was also adopted.

I wiped my hands on a teatowel to give myself time to think and suddenly, thankfully, the words came: “Yes, she was in my tummy,” I said, “and, later on, me and dad and your sister really, really wanted another child to join our family that we could love and look after and keep safe. But I wasn’t able to grow a baby in my tummy anymore. So we decided to find out about adopting a child…”

“And then you came and found me,” she said, a slow smile spreading…

“Yes, we did,” I said “and, I want you to know, although the two of you came to us in different ways, you are BOTH my girls – and I love you just as much as I love your sister.”

I glanced, then, at our eldest, feeling nervous – was this an okay thing to hear, so explicitly? Without hesitation, she came to her sister’s side, smiling, slid an arm around her shoulders, her head against hers. “Yes,” she said, “and I love you too. And now you’re my sister and you’ll be my sister forever and ever.”

Then both looked at me, then, and almost in unison, said:

“Are the boiled eggs ready yet?”

6. On a day out in the park, our youngest, and a close friend of ours, climbed a hill a bit ahead of us, towards the trees. The wind was rustling in the leaves and our friend, in poetic mood, said to her:

“The trees are talking to each other, whispering secrets,”

She didn’t miss a beat:

“Yes. Or it’s the wind,” she said.

Tiara

Wearefamily logoIt’s early and as usual I am up first and I’m watching the news on TV. Our 6 year old comes downstairs and after the briefest of ‘good morning’ hugs and kisses goes into the play room and busies himself.

His brother is up minutes later and comes and joins me on the sofa and starts asking questions about the news, I would love to think that at 7 he has discovered a real interest in current affairs, but in fact I have worked out that it is his way of getting me to give up on the news – which I am now missing big chunks of – and agree to switch to CBBC.

I do and we are watching something together when the younger brother walks back into the room, I look up as he enters and immediately notice his posture and his slow, determined walk – it’s positively regal – and then I see that he is wearing one of his favourite possessions – his Tiara.

It is not one of any value – well monetary value anyway – just a cheap plastic affair with brightly coloured plastic ‘jewels’, but he loves it with a passion and keeps it safely stored away for special occasions – and apparently he has decided that this is exactly that.

He takes a seat beside us, he is sitting very upright and has just a touch of a smile and is radiating a look of total contentment.

Not a word is said by any of us. I was somehow touched by the moment and I take the opportunity to snap a photo and post it on Facebook. The boys watch their 30 minutes quota of morning TV and joined by my partner we go for breakfast.

My partner’s question of ‘it’s a Tiara kind of morning this morning is it?’ was simply answered with a huge beaming smile.

He decides to remove his Tiara and return it to it’s special place on the way to breakfast and it doesn’t reappear for a couple of weeks or so.

Although the Tiara is his pride and joy he has a fascination for all jewellery and has amassed quite a collection of cheap and cheerful bits – which he calls his treasure – given to him by various family and friends who have been so touched by his interest in it. He plays with his treasure and wears certain pieces as he pleases.

We are gay parents and having our son show such an interest in what others may call ‘girly’ things is of little significance to us and in fact barely registers most of the time – he clearly knows what he likes and neither of us would consider for one moment trying to stop something that obviously brings him so much pleasure.

In our 2 years as a family we have never questioned his choices and never pointed out that some things that he enjoys so very much are ‘meant for girls’, We have a general attitude of ‘people are people and that’s cool’ and it’s expressed whenever we see the boys notice somebody ‘less normal’, which in London is wonderfully frequent. In the early days it was with some regularity, but now I am proud to say that it is hardly at all. They just don’t notice ‘different’ or ‘unusual’ the way they used to.

We have never said ‘we shouldn’t judge others’ because somehow in stating that you seem to be setting yourself apart as somebody who has the right to judge, we just want them to feel that everybody is equal – no matter how they come or what choices they make. We want them to feel that they can indeed follow paths that they feel are right for them – no matter how ‘non normal ‘ they may be.

Do we feel our son’s interest in girly things is a sign of him being gay? Not for one second.

It’s true that many gay men had an interest in girly things as children, but many – like myself – didn’t. Equally many boys who enjoyed playing with their sister’s dolls and the like when young turned out straight, so it’s certainly not an indicator of sexuality.

Do we think we could be turning him gay by allowing this behaviour?

I think we are maybe the exception to the rule in embracing the behaviour so freely and those parents that don’t, who force their children into ‘appropriate’ gender roles don’t manage to stop their gay offspring being gay by making them play with cars – so no we do not, not all all.

I would also like to say that regardless of how comfortable we are as gay men we wouldn’t choose it for our sons. It’s a misconception to think that prejudice against gay people is a thing of the past – I would argue that in some respects it’s getting worse – and of course we want to protect our children from anything and everything negative – however, not by trying to make them into something they are not.

Do we consider that it could be a sign of ‘sexual identity disorder’? Again no, he has as many ‘boy’ interests as ‘girly’ ones and there is nothing at all suggesting to us that there is a stifled little girl inside our son trying to break out. However, we are aware that he had almost five years before we became his parents of being conditioned by others and may already feel a need to hide or pretend in order to suit the values of those around him, so we will always be observing him and will keep an open mind.

If there is something that he needs to come to terms with then we need him to know that we are not questioning that or judging him and certainly not putting up any barriers. We need him – and indeed his brother – to know and to be sure that we will support them no matter what. Literally – no matter what.

I guess it’s obvious that we are trying to do what our parents – as most parents of gay children back then – sadly failed to do, to prevent the pain caused when they fail to understand and accept their offspring for who and what they are. Even worse when they try to change and shape them into something they are not, just to suit their own bigoted or ignorant view of the world.

We know what that pain is like and how tough it was for us and there is of course no question that we would want to be responsible for that in a child of ours.

Something amazingly positive we have learnt from the above Tiara episode is just how wonderful the people around us are. We both have great families and have clearly chosen our friends well, the Facebook post got nothing but positive comments and more ‘likes’ than anything else I have posted. It’s heartwarming to see that those close to him embrace our son for exactly who he is and not what they want him to be or indeed need him to be.

Swimming in new waters: my first year and a bit as a single adopter of a 7-8 year old

Wearefamily logoFifteen months ago I held a not baby shower at our local lido. The not is important. I was neither having a baby nor wanting a baby shower. But it seemed fitting to mark the start of my new life, and bid farewell to the old one. It was a lovely gathering in which close family and friends shared their tips for the future. Two weeks later I headed west to meet my seven year old daughter for the first time. All I wanted from that initial encounter was to feel it would be ok. That neither of us would repel the other. It was better than that. She overcame her initial shyness quickly, raced me to the swings and smiled a lot. I returned to my digs, opened a bottle and contacted my family in upbeat mood.

Swimming was to play a major part in the months that followed. On the third day of knowing my little girl, let’s call her Marin, we went to an outdoor pool where it poured down, but there was no talk of an early exit. Instead we sheltered under foam floats and laughed about it, then warmed ourselves up with hot chocolate. This was a lifesaver after a downer of a day two, when we’d hung around a pub over lunch with the foster family, a disconnected group of adults and children each in her own world and struggling to converse. I subsequently came to feel very warm towards those people, whose wise words I still hear in my head, and I am eternally grateful also to the teacher who recommended venues for the intro period and calmed my fears before we met.

Back in London ten days later, we began our lives together, Marin and me. It was the start of the summer holidays, which was great for bonding before the return to school, but pretty intense for two newly matched people with independent ideas. The lido became our shared haunt, a refuge from the heat and a place to play. I’d taken my nephews swimming since they were babies and dreamt of bonding in the water with my own child. Sometimes we played a game in which I’d wrap Marin in a towel and unwrap her like a parcel in which I could express my delight while she acted out the role of a frightened animal despatched to its new owner, squirming and squeaking fearfully until she could learn to trust and relinquish control, and then she let herself be soothed and cuddled. Sometimes we would start the game before she’d say she didn’t want to play any more and I’d struggle to hide my feelings of rejection. In the real world the attention and touch of complete strangers were less threatening than the affection of the new mum who was bursting to bestow it. The literature suggests this can be about pre-empting rejection, maintaining control and avoiding closeness, because adults you get close to become frightening, or leave you, or both. But it’s hard not to take it personally. In adoption that’s a lesson you have to learn.

Alternating between pool and shower, Marin sought interaction with any remotely responsive adult or child. I tried to keep her close and struggled to achieve it without seeming like a control freak myself. Without those early years in which you are the one that smiles at her, feeds her, changes her nappy and rejoices in her first steps your authority in those first months comes only from the rights bestowed upon you by social services with the agreement of the court – an institutional arrangement through which, overnight, you have become mother to a child who has already been in the world for seven years, has other ideas about how things are and will be, known other mothers and lost them. And who doesn’t call you mum.

One day, in one of the many episodes in which I take no pride, but from which I’ve learned and about which I have cut myself a little retrospective slack, I found myself playing ball at the lido with a little boy we’d seen several times who seemed to enjoy my company, while willing Marin to experience a pang of jealousy that would push her in my direction. I’ve studied attachment theory. I’ve done the classes, reading and the thinking (though there’s always room for more). But nothing can ever prepare you fully for how it feels in the moment. It can be a struggle to stay in adult mode at times. Another day Marin left my side to befriend a family on the train while I was guarding the luggage. I went over. She pushed me away and started climbing on to the father’s knee. Thankfully he did not let her. Others were less resistant. They didn’t like her to feel unwanted and they liked to be wanted themselves. I do understand that, but I wish they could have understood what she and I were experiencing. Other people and adoption is a big topic, as blogs here have eloquently shown. Another day I’ll write about it. But for all her smiles and the apparent exuberance that gained positive comments from others, Marin often seemed vacant and disengaged.

During that time, though, we also began creating our bank of shared memories. We cooked together from children’s recipe books, drew pictures and visited the library – what a Godsend they are. She began to gain confidence on her bike and tried out her scooter in the skateboard park. We developed our little routines, alternating between sugary breakfasts and healthy ones, between her choice of radio and mine. One day when I badly needed soothing background noise I tuned into Radio 3, thinking she’d object strongly. Instead she said: “I like this classic stuff.” Somehow at that moment this was marvellous. I couldn’t stand any more Heart FM. Along with half the living room, dedicated to play, she put her stamp firmly on each room, rearranging the cutlery drawer, delineating her section of bathroom shelf and sticking pictures on my bedroom door. For my part, I loved arranging her artwork on the kitchen walls and began to smile when I found her stickers in the strangest places.

Gradually our bond has developed. Fragile at first, but growing ever stronger. She began to call me mum when she went back to school and has done since, and often now I’m Mama and Bubs! During the last year and a quarter I have done some grieving for the life I had, for all its imperfections, and for the life I’ve never had. But I have also experienced great joy and delight and a renewal of excitement in events and sights I had stopped getting excited about. We have our own expressions and songs, we share a love of practising accents and I’ve relished her enjoyment of some firsts, most notably holidays, at home and abroad. I am, of course, very annoying to her several times a day and she tells me so. But she’s engaging with me when she does. Sometimes I can’t believe it’s all happened, but those rights bestowed on me are also a massive privilege. It can still be incredibly hard, but we have something underneath us that let’s us bounce back. My daughter is an incredible human being.

One summer on and the sun is shining. “I know what we can do”, I say, and her eyes light up. “Go to the lido”, she says. I am thrilled. Afterwards she makes me the most treasured card I have received from her, which seems to have an authenticity about it that is different from before. It has blue and yellow on it and says: “A day came round at the lido. To mum. I love you.”

We are Family – A Post Adoption Community

This post first appeared on the 1st April on the brilliant The Adoption Social. No, it’s not an April’s Fool.

Today’s post from We Are Family tells us how they are building a post adoption support community and their hopes for the future…

WRF LogoAs any parent will tell you,nothing can prepare you for parenthood. Adoptive or not.

So why are we, as adopters, so alone when it finally happens? Alone in our new role with one, or possibly two, grieving children?

There is no NCT for adopters, no baby massage, no mummy and tummy yoga for adopters. There are places where wide-eyed mums with tiny infants can meet other wide-eyed mums. But by the time we come along with our tots, biological mothers of children the same age as ours have been meeting months, if not years. Many biological mums just aren’t that interested in establishing new friendships at that stage. Particularly while (or because?) we are catching up. And that is to say nothing of the dads out there.

I see the early placement period is particularly fertile ground for creating good, stable, nurturing families, based on mutual love and respect. These are the days when support would be really, really useful.

Centrally to this argument is the word containment. We have it drilled into us that we need to contain all the turbulent emotions of our up-rooted children. That’s our primary job. But who contains us? At the best of times parenthood is the most exhausting and unrelenting 24/7 job you ever had.

Blogging has made it much easier to speak of the difficulties of becoming and being an adoptive parent. At sites like, and connected to, the Adoption Social feelings like anxieties, depression, confusion, being overwhelmed are discussed regularly. These are by no stretch of the imagination unusual feelings. But to many they seem dangerous to acknowledge. Especially at first. No wonder that Post Adoption Depression Syndrome is rife. These feelings are recognisable to biological parents too. My point here is that we are a minority type of family. As newborn families our needs are different from birth families of a newly born child.

Meeting and talking with other adopters can offer respite. The gratification of recognition can feel like opening the curtains on a summer morning, letting the warm sunlight stream in. Letting go to feelings stuck in the system, or identifying the help you might need, may become clearer as you share and listen. Feelings are funny and stubborn like that; they wont let go of their vice-like grip until they have been properly acknowledged.

I don’t think mankind were ever meant to do parenting on our own. Although we all have to find our own way of raising our children.

It’s said that it takes a village to raise a child. But then, that village is no longer there by default. We have to make it for ourselves, with people how are like us, and hopefully also a lot that are very different. And that is what we have done in We are Family.

We dream BIG dreams in We are Family. We dream of a free NCT for adopters, across the UK. We hope we will one day go viral, with or without our nametag. We are working on toolkits and sustainable ways of supporting more local groups. We are enthusiastic and motivated. But we are young. Barely nine months old. It is our hope that our three London networks will be blue print groups to inspire others to do the same. We hope to work out successful formula that can be replicated elsewhere.

We are painfully aware that we need to have good working models before we expand ourselves too far. Having said that support is needed across the country right now. So here are a few ideas for you all, while we get our ducks row.

We have tons of ideas. But they all boil down to the same basics model:

to created informal local networks of adoptive families to meet and connect regularly! With their children and without.

Not once or twice a year. But once or twice, or even three times, a month, if not a week. All for free, with only voluntary donations toward playgroups etc.

We recently coined the term ‘organic buddying’, meaning that once you provide the opportunities for people to meet and make online contact buddying will follow.

‘I have made friendships in this group that I hope and think will last a lifetime.’ Those are the words of one of our members; she voices the sentiment of many others.

In fact we have learned that connecting via email and social media is an important part of the identity of our groups. It helps the sense of a supportive community between meetings at the playgroups or the parent support evening, the two cornerstones. Imagine this: you are home for the 10th day in a row with a sick and contagious child; by now you are going stir crazy and need to connect with someone. You child is reacting to you in ways you don’t understand and don’t recognise. You need to ask some questions about ‘Is this adoption? Or is this ‘normal’?’ So the phone or going online are your options.

With regard to meeting in person the playgroups seem easy to establish – our model is to tag onto a welcoming and well-run existing playgroup. In this way not only do adopters meet other adopters with their young children, a local playgroup will help them meet other local families with children of the same age, thus easing the way in to the community with a child.

It is the adults only support group that appears to be more difficult to set up, but such groups are just as direly needed as the playgroups. These evenings are where the parents can spill all their beans, through all their toys out of their prams, and be heard and feel understood while they do. You could, of course, always just meet in a pub over a pint… But this is very different to the undisturbed and concentrated discussions of the parent support evening.

On top of these two main initiatives, there are now a plethora of other initiatives within our groups such as social events, family parties, clothes swaps, one-to-one play dates, coffee mornings. Much is done via email or text, and it is always informal. Much of it driven by the members themselves (as opposed to the head of the groups).

 So far we have found the following values helpful and essential:

  • If you want to set up a local network, make sure you are not doing it alone. Have at least one sparing partner.
  • Listen. To what the needs are.
  • Be reliably regular – no cancellations, especially early on. Do have your plan Bs ready. Members should know they are never far from meeting with other adopters.
  • Have no expectations of any one turning up – and don’t be disappointed if that is the case. It can take couple of months for a group to get going. It is important that people do not feel pressured to come, but only come of their own account (if they like the playgroup, they may try to change their arrangements so they can come).

However, if no one turns up for a good few times in a row, it could be that the time and day is not good for the people you want to reach. In which case consult with them and your sparing partner.

  • Be inclusive. Open to all faiths, race, shapes and sizes.
  • Keep your initiatives free and open to all. Avoid exclusivity – We all know how we don’t need that!
  • Beware of data protection and safety. So encourage online aliases and be careful about who and how you disclose your group. Consider the security of the chosen venues the initiatives.
  • Work closely with local SW in LAs or charities.

Currently all three groups are working with local Social Workers. In Hackney/Islington we are operating on consortium level with a dedicated working group, and we are moving towards this is the other areas. This is in recognition that we cannot do this work on our own, and that we are stronger if we can collaborate constructively and closely with our local adoption authorities around issues such as post adoption support and life story work. We ask them to steer new adopters our way, so we can welcome them into our midst when their children arrives. That is if they haven’t made contact already.

A crucial part of the network is of course for our children to have the possibility of growing up with other adopted children.

I am not fond of the word, but in want of a better one: A support network like We are Family will help normalise the adopted family, and integrate them into their local environment. We don’t want to create an adoption bubble. We want to support people while they find their feet and we want to continue to be there so throughout their lives as families.

We are not competition to existing group and networks. We just believe that there could be much more post adoption support for all adoptive families, no matter how old their children are or when they moved in.

This may well be premature to promote our community at this early stage. But we are in it for the long haul. And we will keep you posted…

We are Family made our villages in three parts of London. Your village is next.

Connect with We Are Family

Twitter: @wearefamilyadop

#takingcare

OPen nest

Last Saturday the charity Open Nest held their first conference ‘Taking Care’ in York.  A host of august adoption speakers were there. I am proud that we were invited too. It was a room full mainly of adopters, but also of adoptees, social workers and other professionals.

The short version of this review is that Taking Care was a resounding success.

 

Amanda Boorman’s vision and the team with her pulled together a tremendous day with profound, practical and real lessons shared. The talks were extraordinary, and varied in their presentation. The most profound voices, however, were no doubt those of the adoptees, Jazz Boorman and Fran Proctor.

Amanda began by welcoming us and gave a short introduction to her charity, The Open Nest. And then… well … then she showed us a short documentary about her life with Jazz, her adopted daughter. It was edited down from hundreds of hours of film made over the course of their journey as a family. It was filled with love and heart ache. It was heart breaking. It contained a vignette of Jazz meeting her birthmother. Her voice trembled loudly with laughter and tears, powerful super sounds to remind us all of a hole in our children that we can mitigate, but never fill. Seeing and hearing this pain was an insight that I think shall never leave me. This film has to be seen. And heard. For obvious reasons it is not on general release, so keep your eyes and ears out for a chance to view it.

Al Coates was possibly the only person who could have followed this film. His delivery was slide less, just a man leaning on the lectern or moving about while he spoke with luring elegance and deceptive humour about his own journey and views. He released the mountains of tension in the room with laughter. He made us roar with his penetrating critique of the system and support services, both of which he deemed no longer fit for purpose. He should know. He is a social worker and, with his wife, the father of six. He delivered reams of one-liners like: ‘Coming home to find that the woman you love has been beaten up by a four year old.’ or ‘Telling a Social worker about attachment. Well… That’s bollocks.’  Who could disagree? Bottlefeeding his four year old turned a corner in their relationship, one that could have been turned much earlier. It happened after attachment had been mentioned only in passing, this is after months Al enduring physical abuse from the same child every. single. day. in the small hours of the day. This is to say nothing of how that child felt during all of this!

Al made the same point that Amanda has made earlier: he is not anti adoption (yes he and The Open Nest has been accused of this), not at all, he is just PRO SUPPORT.

Fran Proctor, mother and adoptee, followed with her story of a broken heart and trust, and how she rebuilt her life. In her soft voice she recalled the support that had been helpful, and that which had not. I will not retell the story here, as it is hers to share, but I will say that I am in awe of how – when she finally met her biological mother, facing her greatest fears – she had the strength to listen to her mother’s version of events, only to finish it with ‘I am nothing like you. And I never will be.’ And she could walk away. That doesn’t mean there aren’t scars, or that she isn’t working on them – she is – this was the first time she ever stood up to tell it. It is a powerful reminder that adoption is lifelong. Sally Donovan introduced Fran by telling us how much she herself had learnt from Fran, about her own children. It was clear to see that Fran has much to share, and we adoptive parents much to learn from her. If ever I had been in doubt about the importance of listening to our children, Fran reaffirmed, while speaking on what can go wrong despite the best of intentions.

Sally Donovan, adopter and author of No Matter What fame, delivered another of her deliciously practical talks on self care and how to speak to the schools and education. Sparks were flying from my pen as they noted useful suggestions that could make a real difference to our children in school. She addressed us parents at eye-height. ‘Just. Say. No.’ She told us. To extra duties, like PTA. ‘If you don’t feel you have the energy, step away from it.’ She taught us about ‘me-holiday’, of lower (i.e. no) household standards, ready made meals, day time TV and so on. ‘It’s ok…. Really.’ Because if you don’t there could be consequences, like what could happen if you have been running on fumes for a while. Burn out. Or Secondary trauma. Which is what brought Sally’s own family to the brink. Take care of yourselves! A friend had ventured that the world consists of two types of people: the radiators and the drains. Stay clear of one, and gravitate to the warmth of the other. And all those things you do for the kids… like letting them have ice cream, watching a film etc, treat yourself in the same way. Because as a parent you are the pillar of the family and if you crumble, so will the family. Self care is family care. Everyone benefits from it.

At this point I will be honest and say I wasn’t quite sure I could deliver my own talk, such was the gravitas of what had been delivered. But I went on and reeled off what I had prepared. The feedback from the talk showed that there are many self-made adopters groups out there, and it is clear from them and us, and from the conference as a whole, that we parents really can support each other in ways no-one else can.

After a break with homemade cookies (!), Ella Harris, an adoptive mum and actor, introduced us to her brain child Open Space and made us all brain storm at our tables of 8, on topics and issues personal to us. The lists were long and inspiring. Sally collected them all, to appear in due course – probably via Twitter.

Sarah and Vicky from The Adoption Social gave a well-pitched talk, a very difficult task to a crowd of people with very different experiences and knowledge of the Ethernet and Tweetland. I think my no. 1 tip for adopters is get an alias account to join Twitter. You’ll soon meet them.  The support community on Twitter were no less welcoming in person. I agree wholeheartedly with Al’s observation that part of the conference was quite disconcerting. Unknowingly I too had assigned voices, fictitious faces even to the adoption tweeters that had turned up is such great numbers.

A common thread throughout the day from all the speakers was the power of being believed and trusted. And just how devastating it can be for a family when that doesn’t happen. All support, and all care, starts right there. In believing adoptive families when they tell their stories and especially when they ask for help.

After the end of an inspiring conference I felt quite physically drained, ready to just go to the hotel to digest and sleep. But once again the organisers were one step ahead of us: The Disco.

Seeing Sally and Sarah shaking it with Jazz and others they were clearly onto something.

May I add that they were rather good too?

Introductions: A How To… Guide

peppaReflecting back over my husband’s and my experiences of the adoption process from preparation and assessment through to being matched and Introductions, it strikes me that every step of the way we would have benefited from some basic tips; a kind of “How To… “guide to get us through some of the more challenging aspects of it all.

Of the many and varied experiences we had, Introductions – when you get to meet your child for the first time and immerse yourself in their world (in our case for two whole weeks) – holds a special place in my memory as I found it a confusing and bewildering time. I felt a bit like the Sandra Bullock character in Speed, when she’s desperately trying to take charge of that massive speeding runaway bus with no idea what she was doing. (Sadly I’m pretty sureI looked a lot more disheveled than she did.)

Here is what I wish someone had said to me before we set off…

You are allowed to be really excited. It’s a massive thing you’re doing.

You have been patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for this moment for quite some time now. You’ve been pinched and prodded by Social Services who have gone through every single thing in your history (some good, some bad. Some embarrassing, some odd). You’ve been CRB checked. You’ve drawn family trees, outlined family values, painted children’s pictures, role played in the preparation group, spoken passionately about violin lessons, swimming, dancing, football etc. You have been matched. Met family finders, seen photos, spoken to foster carers and now you are finally about to meet your child. YOUR CHILD! A new addition to your family! Someone you will love for the rest of your life. Have hopes and fears for, go on life’s twists and turns with and someone you plan to share a rich, challenging, rewarding future with. How much more exciting could it get right?

I know you’re not expecting it but you might feel overwhelmed.

- It really is a massive thing you’re doing.

Your excitement might temporarily desert you and turn into blind panic as you attempt to process an awful lot of information in a very short space of time in a very unfamiliar environment. THIS IS NORMAL! It’s imperative you understand that. You are on a steep learning curve with a small human being’s welfare being placed in your hands, it’s bound to be stressful. To add to that stress, people will be observing you, and most of them will probably know your child much better than you do right now. Will you come across well? What if your new child can see immediately that you don’t know what you’re doing? That you are a blatant beginner? AN IMPOSTER? Your brain might go into overdrive and play tricks on you. It may even tell you you’re not up to the task, but I’ve got news for you, you are! Be kind to yourself and hang in there. You have never been in this situation before. It’s odd and unfamiliar and there is a lot to take in. Deep breaths. You can do this.

 Try not to place expectations on those first vulnerable meetings.

It’s going to be like a blind date of epic proportions.

You might fall in love with your new child on first sight, and you also might not. You might actually be so psyched up that you are numb and can’t feel anything…. Doesn’t matter. There is no right or wrong here so take your foot off the accelerator. You have years of giggling, joyful (and sometimes maddening) getting to know your child times ahead of you. There is no rush.

And finally… you need to know that it’ll all be ok in the end. You will get through this strange process and bring home your beautiful complicated and amazing child who you will love more than you thought was humanly possible. She will continue to enchant and bewitch amuse and confuse you every single day. And your life will be changed forever, in a really really good way.

Lucky?

Wearefamily logoFrom the moment we started introducing our new sons to friends and family, something bothered me greatly and over time my initial frustration has grown.

We are not wealthy, but being older more financially secure parents we have stability and a lifestyle that we have had plenty of child free (DINKY) years to work towards.

We are also very child focused and have the luxury of one of us being a stay at home parent and I’m sure like most new adopters make as much time as possible for our new sons.

I think it was seeing us dedicate so much time, effort and energy to the boys and seeing them with an abundance of love, comfort and the security we could afford them that on meeting the boys many around us would declare ‘these boys are so lucky’.

Lucky?

Like all adopted kids our boys have had a very tough start to their lives and I should imagine that in their first 4 and 5 years they experienced more heartache and tragedy than most would suffer throughout their entire life. They were badly neglected in their early years – left unfed, uncleaned and uncared for – they were taken away from their parents who of course they loved regardless, removed from their home and everything that was familiar to them, they were put into a tough (but thankfully loving) foster placement where they stayed ‘in limbo’ for almost three years, they were then removed from the security of that home and were separated from other siblings and thrust into a new life with new parents, new extended family, new home, new school, new friends, new neighbours – well, new EVERYTHING.

Their loss doesn’t stop there as recently my sister – a beloved new aunt who they adored – died from cancer. In addition in the last couple of days the family cat -their first ever pet – also passed away.

They have had it tough and it is clear that it has left it’s scars, some of which will no doubt stay with them forever. As social services always tell us adopters – our children are damaged and may always be so.

So ‘lucky’! Really?

In addition to our day to day lives, in the two years they have been with us we have been able to give our new sons experiences that I guess could seem quite grandiose – holidays abroad visiting the other half of our family, a trip to Lapland to meet Father Christmas before it was too late to be totally convincing, Skiing in France at the invitation of French friends as well as other exciting experiences – all wonderful family times that have already given us great memories. Holidays and breaks for the family to enjoy and the boys to learn from and to grow from.

I am sure they will not be repeated with the same frequency ongoing and we know we are fortunate to have been able to do this so far and we also know that the boys are experiencing more than many and certainly more than they could ever have hoped for with their birth family.

But again, even though I know it’s said with the best of intentions people start to use that word – ‘what Lucky little boys’ we are frequently told. I appreciate that they feel it is a compliment and in stating it they are acknowledging the good job they think we are doing, but in fact it feels anything but a compliment.

To add insult to injury many now go further and declare how spoilt the boys are for getting so much – and I’m pretty sure that one’s not meant as a compliment.

Lucky! Spoilt! – Although I can see where the conclusion has come from, I just could not disagree more. However it feels wrong to correct the statement as I know that no ill intent is ever meant.

No matter how I look at what we give them or consider the good times we have, when I think of their past and the traumatic little lives they have endured I just can’t accept that ‘SPOILT’ or LUCKY’ are appropriate adjectives. In fact I would say the exact opposite – that they are in fact unlucky little souls indeed and that they just happen to be having a much better life now.

No matter what we can do for them, no matter how much love we give and how happy we can make them, we can never erase their past.

Our sons are settled now, we bonded quickly and it’s clear that they are attached and indeed happy with us. They love us, they love the new family that we are and they love their new lives. Of that I am sure, just as I am that they would not NOW choose to change it – not to go back to Mummy and Daddy or even the foster parents who they had grown to love, however that’s got nothing to do with the trips away or any of the other ‘spoiling’ , that’s all to do with the love we have smothered them with and the security we have built for them. Proper life long security – the first they have ever had.

I am sure that any young child – no matter how tough their life may be, given the choice of staying with their birth parents or swapping them for parents who can give what we can give will of course choose their own parents, no matter how bad their life was as a consequence. Had our boys been asked back then of course they would have chosen not to be removed from mummy and daddy regardless of what could have been promised to them.

So what if there was a magic wand, with the wondrous ability to turn back time and to make our children’s lives with their birth parents all OK. Would we use it?

Selfishly I instantly say NO – absolutely no chance, the thought of taking away the opportunity for the family we have been given, to deprive us of our amazing, beautiful, so very special sons – it’s unthinkable.

But then I stop thinking about myself and consider only the boys and in fact the answer is then a very different one. If I had the ability to take away all the bad that they suffered, if I could repair the damage by making it never happen, if I could give them the happy life they so deserved from day one – then how could I not? How could I deprive them for my own selfishness?

So I guess I would wave that magic wand and suffer the unthinkable consequences on my life. Isn’t that what parents do – put our children before ourselves?

However, if that wand is as good as I have presented it to be, it will also give the parents the ability to give the boys everything that we can and they will miss out on nothing. Hey it’s my fairy tale, so I get to make the rules.

There is of course no magic wand and my goodness how we adoptive parents benefit from that. I guess it’s not too selfish to be relieved that we are not in a fairy tale and maybe even to admit to being pleased about it. Regardless of the horrible reality that we have benefitted so greatly from our children’s suffering.