Big little girl

20160728_110230And so it begins… This week, this long awaited week was your first at school. I can barely believe it as I type the word- school! the very idea seems quite preposterous for someone as young as you are.

We have had a summer of ice-creams, holidays and adventures. But also of nights with you a wriggly, sleeping starfish in MY bed, me alternating between snatched snippets of sleep when you are at rest, and holding the little hand that migrates frequently into mine. We’ve seen a lot of the moon this summer.

Although outwardly you seemed sanguine about the big move up, and could become quite animated when reeling off the list of “things to look forward to about reception” that your nursery teacher so thoughtfully prepared with you before you left her class, occasionally you’ve let slip little clues about your anxiety.

I find your anxiety painful, and want to make it go away. I am aware though that reassurances aren’t really enough for someone for whom the earliest changes involved suddenly and unexpectedly losing literally everything and everyone you knew. Having gone through this twice, it is unsurprising to me that you are constantly attentive to the slightest ripple in routine, and acutely alert at times of change. So whilst many of those around you, myself included, have been gaily chattering about “big school”, sometimes in an attempt to habituate you to the idea, sometimes to offer reassurance, I know that for you, the undercurrent to this summer has been apprehension that has kept you from sleeping soundly, and peacefully as I know you can.

But you’ve done it, the great unknown has this week begun to become the new normal, and tonight as I tucked you up in bed, you looked so small, but I felt hopeful that as you grow older, and we go through more and more of these big changes, you’ll develop a deeper understanding that you can depend on me being there, and there for you, and that your confidence in the permanence of your place in your world will grow. Oh, and also I hope you’ll spend more time in your own bed.

Scared of Water

fullsizerenderI am sitting besides a pool watching my partner and sons play in the water. It is loud, excited, fast and furious play, lots of splashing and swimming, jumping and diving, so much fun, so much joy. It is a great pleasure to watch and I soak up every minute.

We were on a similar holiday 18 months months or so ago, lots of sun and lots of chances for the boys to use the swimming pool or play in the sea, however things were quite different then. There was fun and excitement, but none of the carefree abandon of today, sadly underlining it all was a huge amount of fear, fear that stopped the boys really letting go and enjoying themselves.

Neither of our sons could swim when they came to us, but I guess at not yet 5 & 6 that was not such a surprise. We think that our oldest’s fear was little more than fear of something new and he took to the water well and with us beside him he did quickly relax and start to enjoy himself, by the end of the holiday he was much more confident and clearly happy in the water.

However, his brother’s fear of water was quite shocking, he was so afraid he would not even take a shower. Up until he moved in he had only bathed sitting in a bath of a few inches of water and insisted we continue that. When it came to washing his hair it was a huge drama and we had to work out ways of rinsing off shampoo with minimal amounts of water making sure none splashed his face. A damp face cloth gently wiped over his face was the very most he could cope with.

It took quite a bit of time, energy and effort to get him to even consider the shower and when he finally did it had to be totally on his terms – shower barely lukewarm, shower head held down below his waist, and water totally turned off while he was soaping himself up and absolutely no water was to get on his face.

Slowly we worked on his fear, each evening in the shower we tried to get him to relax his ‘rules’ and little by little he did. Gradually we got him more used to water to the point that when we did go on that first holiday he had already come on a long way and we were amazed to see that he actually wanted to be in the pool – with arm bands and with us beside him to grip on to. He was still truly scared, but clearly felt confident enough with us and safe enough with us to allow himself in. Mind you, all hell broke loose if his head went underwater and it wasn’t much better if his face got splashed.

The 18 months between holidays have been put to good use and weekly swimming lessons have seen them both come on hugely and swimming is now simply a part of their lives. The youngest has continued to be fearful, but now has more confidence in himself to trust being in the water.

However, even with the lessons he still needed somebody by his side pretty much constantly. That is until now. What I am witnessing today is a total revelation – it is evident that the fear has gone.

On the first day we noticed a different attitude from him and a very surprising willingness to put his face down into the water – as this was still something he was refusing to do. By the end of the day he was actually ducking under the water and holding his breath for a second or so.

Since then there has been no holding him back and he is jumping in and actually swimming under the water.

We have no idea what has brought about this change so abruptly or so completely, but it is heartwarming to see. I have always enjoyed swimming and to my partner it has been quite a big part of his life and knowing that we can now be together in the water without concern for our sons fears is a great step forward.

We have no idea if their fear of water was a result of some kind of ‘water related’ trauma in the birth family and neither of the boys have shared anything to suggest such. We think it was more likely just through lack of them being introduced to water as babies, you assume parents bath and clean their babies daily and make the most of what should be quite an intimate parent/baby experience – the likelihood of that not being the case for our children is just one more thing from their past that we have to come to terms with.

Reflections on loving a boy

Do you want to go to nursery, or shall I just give you kisses and cuddles all day long?”
We laugh. “I want to go to nursery”
“OK then”
“But you can kiss and cuddle me when I get home”
I love my boy.
On the way we crunch through fallen leaves.
I don’t like Winter because the trees are bare.
You like the Autumn because it cools you down.
We have the Spring to look forward to.
I love my boy.

When did I finally become a mum?
Most mums know the day, the hour, the minute, maybe even the second.
Can I pin down the day, the month, even the year?
Wow I’m a mum.
I love my boy.
I live in a house where the only shared DNA is between the cats.
Our respective birth parents come from five countries.
We are so different but somehow we are the same.
How does that make me feel? Hopeful for humanity.
I love my boy.
At times it can be hard.
A troika sharing feelings of anger, loss and helplessness.
Conflict has extra layers of meaning in our family.
But we work through it.
I love my boys.

I know that the future is full of laughter.
You will develop, grow and learn, as most children do.
You will have to face some realities that most children don’t.
We will be there.
Because we love our boy.

Dear Son: Not such a big ask.

20160803_182409Dear Son,

We are confident that you know how much you are loved. We know that you are happy living with us and we can see that you have attached and that you are settled in your forever family, yet we are also aware of a sadness that pains us to our core.

We think that it is no longer directly to do with the memories of your difficult start in life and the losses that you have suffered, but that it is all to do with what has been left behind by these experiences.

We can see that your past has robbed you of self esteem and self confidence which manifests itself as an inability to play nicely and to make friends – which is desperately cruel for a child who clearly needs them so much.

We see you try SO hard – much too hard – with the children around you and we can see how your attempts are misguided and how they achieve the exact opposite of what you want them/need them to and you simply push your playmates away.

The hurt that this causes you is so evident and we feel helpless in our inability to stop that pain.

We want to teach you that no matter how important friends are in our lives that you can be happy all by yourself. That you are loved and cherished with every ounce of our being and that the great happiness we share as a family really can be enough for now – if you let it.

There is plenty of time ahead of you, time to build up your confidence and to make friends who appreciate you for who you are.

If you could just allow yourself to be happy with what you have then this is what will attract friends, this is what people respond to and then you will not have to try at all.

But how to make you understand or indeed appreciate this?

You are 8 years old and just want to be liked by your peers and have even one person who you can call a friend because you genuinely feel like they are.

I can appreciate that no matter how tough we can see that it is, in your world it is just not such a big ask,

Dear Son.

IMG_9516Dear Son,

You are the apple of my eye.

My sunshine.

The bee’s knees. And I love you. More than I could ever say.

This is summer 2016, we are on holiday and the Olympics are just about to start in Rio.

‘You do know what this means to me, don’t you?’ Your dad said when it was announced on the radio. I nodded. Because it means the same to me. It means ‘meeting our son.’

Four years ago, during the Olympics we were frantically finishing our daytime jobs and getting the house ready. For you. The Paraolympics provided the background to our matching panel and introductions. All in London. Our London. So our hearts still swell at the sound and sight of the Olympics and Paraolympics. Sweet with memory.

You are my brown-eyed, curly topped, soft skinned, chatterbox, chart-wheeling, miracle of a son. You give hugs I didn’t know existed. And kisses that are transporting. You are a time machine, that at once slows everything down to the here and now, and speeds everything up, because I don’t know where the time went. Four years?! Where’s our big baby? The one who said ‘mama’ for everything for two years. It mainly meant ‘I want…’. You didn’t really need to be able to say much more. We doted on you and tried to read your mind, and preempt your every wish and want. Now those days of few syllables are gone. You toy with words and ideas all day long. And even in your sleep. This morning you declared to me that ‘Today, I am 100% happy.’ You know those smily to sad faces you can press on the ‘How did you find the toilets today?’ and so on? You always want to press them. And you always press the smiliest one. ‘Kerbose, I’m are happy.’

Sometimes though you are not so happy. Sometime you despair, and feel ashamed. These two feelings can be strong in you. But even when they take hold of you, and you feel I may not love you anymore, I do. Always. I’m always here. Right here. Remember when we put those plastic pirate tattoos on your shoulders? And I said, if you miss me when I am not there, just touch the tattoo. And remember I love you. Can you feel it? That’s one way that I will always be with you. When you start school again, we’ll stick some more on you. But first it’s holidays. We are together with daddy all the time. Yeah!!

Sometimes you get angry and you cry. These are two other states of yours that I am well familiar with. It’s usually LOUD. I have learnt to sit through this with you. To hold you till you are calm again. If you’ll let me. I’ve found much calmness in myself that I didn’t know I had, because you have asked for it. Or rather demanded it. There was no option but not to try to find it within me. I am definitely a better person for knowing you. You open avenues in front of me to a life I could not have imagined. And it just keeps getting better. As we grow up together.

You grow and develop with such lightning speed and I have never been more interested or fascinated by anybody in this way. You are a curious soul. The world is your oyster. There for the taking and exploring. These days you are into bugs. You’ve got X-ray vision for small creatures when we are out walking. You bend down ‘Look, mummy, look! A lady bird!’ ‘A centipede’ ‘An ant!’ You know your bugs. And you teach me to slow down, and look with you (well, mostly). Because it is fascinating. Especially with you.

I didn’t give birth to you. I didn’t breastfed you. I wish I had. But you would not have been you if I had given birth to you. You have two other parents out there. They made you. The perfect you. The soft skinned, giggling, sunny, strong-willed boy that is you. Your dad and I could not have made you like this. So we are so grateful to your other parents that they did. Sometimes I think about what they are missing. And it makes me sad. Adoption is a wonderous thing. It is both beautiful and very sad. I hope your dad and I can give you much pride in what you had before you came to us, because it is also what made you you. I wish we could show and tell your other parents, how well you are doing. I believe we can share that pride in you with them. I hope one day we may be able to share your life with them – somehow. I don’t quite know how. But we can think on that. Meanwhile, I keep writing letters to them.

The fact that you are not my flesh and blood I find endless fascinating. I know what your mother looks like and I see her freckled auburn beauty in your face. We don’t know what your dad looked like, but I have a sense of it. The colour of your skin, and your curly hair for starters. Yet in the end whatever they gave you, you are you. A world upon itself. I see my own mum and dad in my flesh, and more so as I age, but you are so different to those genes. So I see you. And it makes me curious precisely about you. And what you are all about.

No one who knows you has not at some point been impressed by your physical skills. It is a primeval force that makes you excel at climbing, cycling, jumping, dancing and much more. I look on, often in dazed amazement. I’m getting so much better at not showing how nervous I am at times. My stomach no longer turns (as much as it once did, possibly never more than when you first started walking). I am better at showing you I trust your judgment. And when I do, you show you can handle it. When I step in to say ‘I can’t let you do ___’, you listen. And you stop or move away. We make a good team. As you reminded me when we were schlepping our suitcases home 200 yards at a time from the tube. ‘We can do this, mummy. We can! We are a good team.’ I don’t know where you got this mantra from. But I love it. And I agree. We are a good team. We are a good match.

A few months after you arrived, we had some friends around for dinner. We were all sitting around the table. You were sleeping calmly upstairs in your cot. Your godmother asked us what the biggest surprise has been in adopting you. Your dad was ready with the answer:

‘The Love.… Definitely the Love … I have never felt love like this and I have never loved anyone like this before. Sorry, darling…’

He looked at me. I nodded.

‘It’s ok. I know what you mean. I feel the same.’

Looking into each other’s eyes, we smiled. I’d have to add that I love your dad more now, seeing him as your dad. I too think he is the best dad in the whole world.

I hope you feel the love. Because it never goes away. It is. It is a switch that has been turned on, and there is no off button. It’s like my eyes are blue and yours are brown. It just is. Even when I get annoyed, because you … say broke the iPad, or wake up too early and just want to play, when I really just want to sleep a little bit more.

I love you always. When you scream and shout, or cry, even kick and hit, and poo and pee, and fart. Or when you are ill, and we are up with you all night, because you cry in pain, or twist in fever. I love all of you. I once told you it was so with love. And your eyes lit up. ‘Really?!?’ ‘Yes.’ So this is one of our games now. Naming all the things you do, and that I still love you when you do them.

The very first moment I met you I admit I was scared. This was it. Forever. Your foster mum asked if I would like to hold you, and I said yes. I had sat down on her couch to steady myself and she put you in my arms. You laid your head against my chest. We were both silent. And that was it. You were mine. And I was yours. Forever.

I love you, my sunflake, now and forever,

Mummy

 

Dear birth daughter.

20160728_110457I’ll admit, love, that I’ve always found ‘the baby game’ irritating. The game you most often ask me to play with you, usually at the most inconvenient times. A game I didn’t really understand, or the fascination it held for you. At 10-years old, and nearly as tall as me, you’d want to be a helpless, mewling, wriggling little thing, while your adopted sister, although five years younger, was assigned the ‘teenage babysitter’ role or, if she protested too much, a twin baby to you, but one that was ‘smart’, and could ‘do more’ – the one that didn’t need so much attention.

I’d nearly always sidle off and you’d usually end up playing it yourselves, or I’d reluctantly agree to a quick (imaginary!) nappy change for you, before getting on with whatever it was that was more pressing. How could I miss something so blindingly obvious?

A decade before, you were my newborn, mewling baby – on my belly, eyes locked on mine and I’m tumbling down the rabbit hole. But, when your sister came, she was not the helpless newborn sibling that many of your friends had gotten used to in their lives. She was a wary, demanding, mercurial toddler – and as much a stranger to us as we were to her.

Believe me, the urge to parent again wasn’t, in any way, because you ‘weren’t enough’. In fact, it’s because you were, and are, so special that I was greedy for another chance to watch a life develop in front of my eyes – with all the joy, terror, responsibility and sense of fulfillment that brings. That, and, perhaps, not wanting you to remain an only child, as I am, whose ache for the siblings I never had only gets stronger as I get older.

We patted ourselves on the back that you seemed as enthused as we were about the possibility of another child joining our family. When our social worker had a private ‘assessment’ session with you, she felt you had the necessary self-confidence and personal esteem to handle it.

And it’s been three years now since your life changed irrevocably. The other day, dad found some video snippets we made in that heady, eight-day, introduction period with your new sister. Watching them again now, I’m struck by how much has changed – and some things that haven’t. You both look impossibly different – your front baby teeth are missing, you’re at least a foot shorter, and your face carries echoes of the round-faced, doe-eyed baby you were. There’s footage of the two of you bouncing on the bed in the cottage we rented for that week – when your sister got too close to the edge, you laughingly hauled her back; a game you still play to this day. Then there’s the film of you patiently helping her plug the gaps in an early years jigsaw puzzle…a metaphor writ large if ever there was one!

During the tortuous, four-hour, car journey home at the end of that week, the two of you sat in the back – your (new) sister silent and withdrawn, dad and I poleaxed by the emotional intensity of ‘taking’ this little girl away from the people she called mum and dad and you, calm and composed, gently stroking her palm and singing Round and Round the Garden, over and over again.

You were so little yourself – did we expect too much of you? In those early, blurry weeks, we were all punchdrunk with the excitement of getting to know each other. But, as the months went on, you faltered. Your sister would rebuff your hugs; you’d get slapped or scratched. You’d try not to mind about your precious things being messed with, turned out, or broken, but the scribbled notice on the door of your room – ‘Get outt or I will kick your but!’ – told its own story. And whenever you came to me for a cuddle, your sister would knock you out of the way, and cry: “No! MY mummy….!” You never once said what I most dreaded: “NO, she’s not, actually, she’s mine!” Instead, your plaintive wail: “Well, she’s my mummy, too!” showed a care for her feelings that not even your white hot anger could eclipse.

One night, you broke down after your sister was in bed and said she had to “go back”, that she “didn’t like you” – and you didn’t like her, either. We explained that wasn’t an option – we were now a family, and we had to work it out. Then it came out – you missed us, your mum and dad, and all the years you’d had one, or both of us, to yourself. It was so obvious, then – in trying so hard to be a family of four, we’d somehow forgotten you needed our individual attention, too. We promised that next weekend, and for as many weekends as you wanted after that, me or dad would do something with you – just you. And then dad shoved his shoe down his shirt-front and did a made-up song and funny jig that made you laugh out loud.

We also made sure you had a separate, later bedtime so you got time with us to have your own story, watch telly or chat about your day. We made sure your sister understood the boundaries of your stuff being your stuff, your room being your room.

Such simple solutions, yet such a profound effect. I knew we’d turned a corner when, one weekend, you said you’d rather not go off with just me after all; you wanted to be with your dad and sister too.

And now yours is the love story at the very heart of our family – exceeding even my rose-tinted fantasies of a sister relationship.

You buy her gifts out of your pocket money; she draws you pictures or makes you something un-nameable every day in school. You cuddle on the sofa and call each other your ‘BFF’. When you do argue, and I intervene, you forgive each other instantly and turn your ire on me instead.

There will probably be times, with a five-year age gap between you, when you’ll grow apart for a while – perhaps a 12 and 17-year-old will struggle to find common ground. But at 30 and 35, say, or 52 and 57 – heck, even 91 and 96! – I hope with all my heart you’ll still be making mischief together, consoling each other, laughing your socks off together, all as you do now, and sharing your memories of family life, long after dad and I have gone.

But that’s all in the future. In the here and now, you’re taking your first, tentative steps towards a new phase in your life – more time spent in front of a mirror, endless combing of your hair, throwing aside favourite outfits and toys now deemed ‘too babyish’. So, just to let you know that I get it, now, and I’m up for playing the baby game, for however much longer you need and want me to. I just hope I’m not too late.

Dear Daughter: You’re Moving on.

20160728_110932Dear daughter, You’re moving on and I can hardly believe it. –
Not moving on from me and your dad but from the first place you ever really learnt to separate from us – you Nursery.
You began there aged 2, a timid little girl who’s dummy filled lip trembled everytime I kissed you goodbye in the morning. And you’re leaving there as a confident four year old who waves me off in the mornings to go and play with her friends, and shouts goodbye to every teacher as we leave at the end of the day.
You have made friends – lots of them and our house is filled with the chattering of little girls as you constantly invite them all over for play dates.
Now you’re about to move on to a new chapter. BIG SCHOOL!
I think I’m more nervous than you and It’s made me quite emotional. I‘m not entirely sure why but there are a number of things it could be. There’s the fact the time has passed so quickly and the little baby I held in my arms has grown into a girl; there is the nursery school which we both love and must leave, with the teachers who have taken every care over your development and who all love you to pieces. There are the wonderful friends you’ve made who won’t be going with you to your new school
And then there’s the unknown – the new big school!
When I first walked around it on an open day I was overcome with the same feeling I had when I started my own big school – HOW TERRIFYING! I can remember my first few days being traumatic with my mum having to peel my hand and fingers off her legs as I refused to let her go. Later of course it was fine but that memory has stayed with me.
I’m hoping things will be different for you and I’m encouraged by something your nursery teacher told me yesterday.
She told me that when she took you (and another little boy you don’t know very well) to visit and look around the new school, the little boy began crying and saying he didn’t want to go. She said you stopped him in his tracks by holding his hands and saying “Are you frightened of the new big school Jo?” When he said yes, apparently you took his hand and said “It’s going to be ok, and I’m going to look after you”. Seemingly, this was all he needed and he followed it up with “Actually, I’m fine now! I’m not scared at all… Come on!” And the two of you ran towards your next chapter.
God luck little girl. XXX