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

Dear Daughter: Where did the time go?

20160802_131053Dear Daughter,

It’s been over three years now since you came into our lives as a little, bum-shuffling, bottom-swaying, 14-month old bundle of pure energy. We’ve been with you watching you grow through so many different stages and here you are now, a 4 year-old little (or big, as you prefer) girl about to start school.

You are leaving your nursery friends behind in whose company you at first seemed so shy, but who, on the last day of nursery ever, were shouting your name and hugging you and laughing with you as we went through the nursery gates. And to see you shouting goodbye to your teachers, calling them by their names, filled me with pride.

You seem to be taking these changes in your stride now; you’ve grown to have so much more self-confidence. But we know the move to the “big” school is going to be hard on you, as change has ever been thusfar. Except for the day we brought you home; the change from foster home to our home, with your forever family, did not seem to phase you at all. Mummy and I planned to stay awake in shifts through that first night, listening for any signs of distress or unease. But you slept through the whole night and we woke you to receive smiles and giggles. And you’ve slept well and long ever since (with the exception of New Year this year, when you arrived at the top of the stairs at 1.30 am announcing, “I feel left out.”)

We have watched you grow in confidence – a precursor being us wheeling you around in the pushchair at 20 months, you waving and smiling at people as you passed – and with that a beautiful and inspiring sense of fun, and our feeling that you receive so much joy from the world around you. You are kind and thoughtful, careful and caring of others, boisterous and sometimes demanding, but always with a little smile on your lips. When you feel hurt you are not afraid to express it.

Our conversations at bedtime are the highlight of my life and it makes my heart burst watching you and Mummy together, like peas in a pod.

Our love for you is boundless, my beautiful girl.

Your Forever Daddy

xx

P.S. One word of warning, though. If you ever stop reaching for my hand when we are out walking together, I’ll dock your pocket-money.

Dear Daughter: Jelly arms

jelly-37810_640Dear daughter,

Granted, I am quite a bit older than you and that I am not as firm as I once was… Yes, I know that you do spend a fair amount of time in the car being shuttled around and you don’t make much of a fuss about it, and there’s not always that much to look at; but I’d like you to know – in the kindest possible way – that it is not necessary to remind me on each and every journey, that as I drive over speed bumps, holes in the road, etc, that the skin on my arms and legs “wobbles about like a jelly”. I realise that you think it’s hilarious and something you feel I need to know about but I’m here to tell you that I’m happy enough not hearing about it….OK? Good. Glad we’ve got that sorted now.

Dear Daughter

20160803_175122Dear Daughter,

A few things you may never know:
That before you walk into a room it is always less sunny than it becomes when you arrive.

That you genuinely have brought the fun to our dysfunctional extended family.

That I love you more than you, or probably I, will ever be able to comprehend.

Kisses to you my little sunbeam, mama.

Dear Lilly

IMG_2722Dearest Lilly

In a couple of hours John and I will meet you in person for the very first time.

I am incredibly excited!!! Hard to describe – much like bursts of colour exploding beneath the ocean.

There have been photos and many stories and description from your Foster Mum (Tara) and Link worker (Ruth). Throughout this I’ve felt a growing, quiet knowing that I will be your forever mum and with John, your forever family.

I am looking forward to getting to know you enormously!

I can only guess what a huge upheaval it is going to be for you, to move from what you know as your family home with Tara, Oslam and the kids.

I promise to do my best, to be there for you and to help you through any feelings of loss that may arise. As I put on the mantle of motherhood; I wish for you the joy/comfort of a warm, loving family. My greatest desire is to parent in a way that allows you to discover your uniqueness and be (with confidence) whoever it is that Lilly is.

I wish for you to experience the MAGIC! of life and living.

Committed to forever…

Your ‘new’ mummy