Kissing

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We kiss our sons – endlessly.

We kiss them pretty much at every opportunity and anywhere that we can reach – neck, tummy, feet, toes, bottom, back, legs, arm, head, back of their hands, all over their faces and of course on their lips. In fact if we are kissing each other in a good morning greeting or at bed time or even an embrace throughout the day it would feel strange not to kiss them on the lips.

My partner and I were kissed as children by both our parents (which isn’t as obvious to some as we may assume) and we don’t think twice about it with our sons. In fact if I stop and consider it at all I would say that we saw it as a bit of a short cut to bonding and attachment and a way of showing them that we were open emotionally to them right from the start.

We were lucky because they are cuddly little boys who are clearly as happy with this intimacy as we are and it was obvious that they were right from the moment we were brought together (of course it may not be appropriate for all adopted children – especially when first placed).

However we have been surprised to discover that some of our friends are a little uncomfortable with our overt shows of affection, especially the kissing on the lips. We are even more surprised that it is in fact our fellow gay friends who apparently have the biggest problem with it.

What’s that about? Thinking about it I wonder if it is the result of years of oppression and a forced need to be discrete with displays of male on male affection, or even worse a reaction against that shameful and totally ignorant linking of homosexuality and peadophilia and a fear that a man kissing a boy could be blurring the lines in the minds of the pathetic, mindless bigots.

Actually here in the UK there seems to be huge confusion about the whole ‘kissing thing’ in general and for the majority there seems to be a reluctance to kiss anybody in any situation.

For me when growing up in the 60’s/70’s kissing on the mouth was very much a ‘family’ thing, extended family all kissed as an hello or goodbye, with certain members stealing locked lipped smooches from us kids any time in between – I guess this was especially true from Grandmothers and Aunties. There became a point/age when the men stopped kissing the kids and this interestingly included my father, but I can’t say I recall exactly when that was, but I would estimate around the time we became teenagers. Do straight dads became scared that it is just too gay or just not manly enough?

Then I moved to London and found myself surrounded by friends from all over the world and I soon discovered that greeting somebody outside the family with a kiss was actually expected of certain cultures – but of course never on the mouth. I also discovered that it had been adopted by the gay community and was a standard greeting amongst gay friends.

I’m a tactile person and I liked this and made a conscious decision to embrace it – at least when greeting women or gay friends whom I encountered throughout my day – and I have attempted to make a peck on both cheeks my form of greeting ever since, which over the years I have become aware of as being taken up by many others Brits.

Yet this now leads to such confusion. My family – especially the older members immediately felt a bit offended that I was ‘avoiding’ kissing them on the mouth and thought that I was going all ‘continental ‘ on them and getting a bit above my station.

English friends who I had never greeted with a kiss previously were clearly shocked to have me move in on their space and plant a smacker on their cheek – it was actually barely a touching of cheeks, but one would have thought it was a French kiss by the reaction of some.

And clearly not all people I encountered were as comfortable with it as I am, but how do you know who is and who isn’t, how do we know what greeting is expected of us? This lack of a standard way of greeting in the UK is frustrating and at times even embarrassing.

So what are we suppose to do? I reckon the only way is to go for it with what you are most happy with and stand your ground, I appreciate that it may be uncomfortable for some, but I do feel that they need to ‘get with the programme’.

I think it’s fair to say that as a nation we have a history of being very sexually repressed which I think is the route of the issue here. However, surely things have moved on and in these times of such sexually abandon where just about anything goes isn’t it confusing that a civilised, human greeting such as a peck on the cheeks is still considered questionable and for some inappropriate?
P.S. This blog was written months ago, but it suddenly seems very topical following the outrage and consequent debate around a beautiful photo (bouncing around social media this week) of Victoria Beckham kissing her 5 yr old daughter – on the mouth.

It made me realise that the issue is clearly not just a gay one and that it is quite definitely all about sex, from reading various ‘opinions’ and listening to the subject being debated it was obvious to me that those who have an issue with it do so because of their inability to separate a loving and affectionate parental kiss from a kiss of passion between sexual partners.

To us ‘kissers” this is shocking – and indeed pretty offensive – because of course there is absolutely NO sexual connotation – on any level – to us kissing our children, just as there isn’t when parents touch their children or hug their children – both of which are surely as much a part of a sexual embrace as kissing.

According to a physiologist (who I heard discussing this on the radio) kissing on the mouth is almost exclusively to do with upbringing, if you were brought up being kissed on the mouth then chances are you will continue that.

I have to say that from my perspective I feel very lucky to be in that group and to be able to pass that onto my children.

I feel that our world is SO much richer as a consequence.

Dancing on a tightrope.

20150502_154014Five years old, the books tell me, is an age when my daughter is not going to be that interested in her life history and experience tells me that’s true. But it is also the age when children start noticing the world around me, hence the various conversations I have had in recent months around the theme of “my child was asking why your daughter doesn’t have a daddy. What should I tell them?”
I know I should have the answer to this ready and waiting but I just don’t seem to get the right words. Firstly, which daddy? Her birth daddy, who as far as I know’s only contribution was biological, or the non existent adopted daddy which I choose not to give her? But even if I can give them the language to explain adoption to their child, is it my place or theirs to do this. I want my daughter to start controlling her story, but 5yrs is such a tricky age. I have shared with her what I know, in terms that she broadly understands, but this doesn’t mean she is ready to answer all the random questions a 5yr old kid can come up with, or to filter what she wants to share and with whom. Plus, 5yrs is also the age of imagination and she is filling the gaps in her understanding with fantasies – one time her father is dead and another time he is looking after another family because “if he isn’t looking after me he must be looking after someone else”. I want to correct her fantasies but I don’t have an alternative story to offer that will make much sense to her, never mind her school friends.
As if that wasn’t enough, her imagination is being supplemented by fiction. I had never realised before how much children’s films deal with issues around abandonment, search for parents, orphanages and adoption in one form or another. I had already mentally reserved any exposure to ‘Oliver’ and ‘Annie’ until she was much older but it is impossible to avoid – from Hercules to Kung Fu Panda to Despicable Me to practically every superhero it is constantly catching me unawares. In some ways it can be helpful to show her ‘good adoption stories’ but so many of these stories aren’t. I don’t know how much my daughter draws comparisons to her own history or whether it goes over her head. So do I raise the parallels and open up things she isn’t ready for (those same books tell me she would start thinking about her ‘alternative family’ much later in her childhood) or say nothing and follow her lead?
As always, I feel that building my daughters understanding of her life history is like dancing on a tightrope, two steps forward, one step back, trying to keep it all in balance.

Dear Sons

20160621_102206Dear Sons,

We have known for a while that you think we moan a lot and that you feel that we are telling you off all the time, in fact it’s clear to see the frustration and the anger that it sometimes generates in you. Regardless of that, if we ever doubted it those doubts were washed away when you became old enough to voice your feelings, which you now do so well.

We know you think that it is tough on you, but it’s clear that you don’t see that it is not easy for us either.

You may not realise it, but this parent business is quite difficult and we try so hard to get the balance right: To give you freedom of expression (to help you find yourselves – your true personality), whilst at the same time instilling the values and behaviour that you need to become good, fair, considerate and empathetic adults.

You have not yet learnt that when we are being relaxed around you this is not a sign for a ‘free for all’, not us eliminating boundaries and rules from our lives forever, but us relaxing them for you to show us that you understand and that you can deal with that – which evidently is not yet the case.

We are tired of the moaning too, we are tired of our rules – or rather, of having to repeat them constantly. We understand now why many parents give up and ‘spoil’ their children, just letting them have their own way and letting them do things on the child’s terms – that is the easy option and trust me it’s one that looks so appealing and becomes more tempting day by day. Yet we KNOW how damaging that can be.

The term ‘spoilt’ is such an appropriate one and children brought up without firm boundaries and without an understanding that they can not always get their own way become difficult adults who struggle to maintain healthy relationships, they become selfish adults with an expectations that they deserve their own way – no matter what the cost to others around them.

We want you to be generous and open, to have qualities that people are attracted to and appreciate, we want you to love and to be loved and to have successful relationships with people who value these qualities. That is what we are trying to achieve – for your sake.

Yes we want nice, polite, well mannered sons who we can be proud of. Yes we want people to think that we are doing a good job and raising our children well and it would be disingenuous to suggest that this is all about you guys, but it is not all about us – and we fear that this is all that your 8 and 9 years allow you to think.

I guess that you are simply too young now to ‘get it’ and to appreciate it – so here is a blog for your future. Maybe one day, possibly during your teenage years (with tensions no doubt building between us) I can pull this out and hopefully you will be old enough and mature enough to understand it and to acknowledge its value.

Then again – maybe not. And do you know what? – That’s just fine.

A Birthday Wish

IMG_4105It’s your birthday, it’s your birthday.
Last year we didn’t see you.
But we thought of you so much.
All day, every hour.
Wishing you fun and laughter and cake with a candle.
We took ourselves to the beach and played in the sand, amused ourselves on the penny slots and ate lots of ice cream.
We wondered exactly what you were doing. We tried to see into the future.
To see if we could connect with you, almost transcend time.
I sat in your newly painted room, I rocked myself and pretended you were here with me on my knee.
I willed you in my life. I desperately imagined what life might be like with you.
I felt I couldn’t bear to be without you for a single day, even though I had not even met you yet.
But dear daughter, it really didn’t matter, as soon as we glimpsed you from behind the door, all those anxious moments, melted away. Our hearts were open and you jumped straight into it.
So my dear, on your birthday our wishes have all been answered as we have you in our lives forever and you darling can wish for the stars.

Playground

Photo by lili Gooch

Photo by lili Gooch

If you had not screamed at my partner in the school playground, he could have explained.

If you had not embarrassed him in front of the school staff, the other parents and in front of the children – most especially our sons, he could have reassured you that we are aware of the problems, that we are dealing with them, that the school is involved, that we have a therapist for our son – that we are doing everything we can.

If your anger had not caught him by surprise he could have reasoned that our son’s past and the trauma he has suffered means that things are different for us, for him. He would have told you that our little boy is not a ‘bad’ child, that he is in fact a sweet and loving and thoughtful little boy who doesn’t look for trouble, but that he doesn’t know how to respond to confrontation which he always feels threatened by. He would have told you that his experiences have left him with self esteem issues and that his anger is a self defence mechanism.

If you had not verbally attacked my partner and shocked him with your aggression he could have told you that our son responded to provocation by your daughter – who is simply not as pure and guilt free as you like to think. He would have said that this is not an excuse, but that it is a reality.

If you had given him a chance, he would have apologised regardless, because we know that our son’s issues are not your issues, we know that it doesn’t make it right for him to upset your daughter.

If you had allowed him time to catch his breath and to think about his response it would have been more measured, more reasoned and it would have felt less confrontational, but you didn’t – you assumed and you attacked and you were unnecessarily aggressive and no matter how upset you were this was unacceptable.

We realise that people don’t know, that they have no way of understanding or appreciating our difficulties and that’s fine – but at least give us a chance to inform you and to help you understand.

Is that too much to ask for?

Things I want you to know dear daughter.

20160618_154814Dear daughter,

I’m writing a letter to you to be read when you’re a little older.

I’m writing it now before I forget all of the emotions and events that whirl past me at a hundred miles an hour as I attempt to mother you to the best of my abilities.

Hopefully writing will become  regular thing from me to you but for now, this is what I want you to know.

First and foremost, I love you. I will love you forever. You are the light of my life and the reason I get up in the morning. You are literally the sun and the moon and the stars to me. My world. Corny as it sounds, I still get a shiver of unbelievable joy when I am away from you and remember I will be returning to you soon; The realisation that you are my daughter is like Christmas  come early every single time. Imagine having joy like that on tap! – This is your gift to me.

You came to us as a baby and were so uniquely yourself – even then. You didn’t even cry as we took you on the five hour journey away from the only person you’d ever known and loved. You simply sat in the back of the car, twiddling the same piece of hair you’ve always twiddled and singing along to your teddy bear’s songs. Your expression was open and curious and I wondered what was going on deep inside of you where I couldn’t see.

It’s important to me that you understand we did not go into the adoption process needing to fill a void left by childlessness.

No.

Your father and I simply (and naively at the time) thought that because we got along well together and seemed to have a lot of joy in our lives, that it would be a good thing to share that joy, and this led us naturally to look into adoption. The assessment process was lengthy and somewhat odd. Sadly some of it taught us that when we were truthful about various things – i.e. not feeling a need to grieve not having our own biological children – we were not believed.

But it was true.

We truly just wanted to explore sharing our fun and joy, but could have quite easily gone on living the life we had… taking lots of grown up holidays, drinking a bit too much, going out a bit too much and generally enjoying a fulfilled childless adult life. You’ll understand this bit a bit more when you’re older.

Then we were matched with you, a cheeky 8 month old baby smiling out of a coloured A4 printout in a pair of checked dungarees and we said ‘YES’! …and you blew that old life out to of the water… In a good way.

I’ve still got that original print out with the social worker’s scribbled “Yes” and the date across it – bizarrely my birthday.

In my humble opinion, it’s virtually impossible to describe an experience fully to someone who has never had that experience themselves; so we are all in the dark to a certain extent about things until we experience them first hand for ourselves; and that was what it was like for me becoming  your parent. People tried to tell me how it would be, but I hadnt experienced it for myself so was blissfully unaware.  I didn’t even know I had it in me to feel the way you made me feel… it was like being electrocuted with love and I’ve been plugged in ever since. Seriously, that’s what it’s like!

I know you will have questions and that there will be things you need to explore around your history; I’ll support you as much as I can as and when that happens, but please try not to let it wholly define who you are.

Yes – I know it’s important, and a really big part of who you are, but you are also so much more than just your history. You are also your present and will be your future, and are growing into such an amazing little person.

I want to warn you that people will all react differently and sometimes nosily to the fact that you’re adopted, and that you’ll have to try and develop a thick skin to deal with some of it. You might also have to fight hard to hold on to your own version of things because society will have all sorts of ideas about you.

Yes, I know there is trauma lurking around the details of your birth – and you have every right to explore this and what it means – but that is not the whole story of you. We have always celebrated how our family came together. To us it is wonderful, a miracle even that we found each other and that we now get to love each other every single day. This is a triumph, despite everything that went before. A triumph for all of us.

Sadly not everyone will see it this way. Some people will insist on only seeing the tragedy in it and I wish I could save you from these views but I can’t. Even now at 4 years old a friend has already freaked you by informing you that adoption is ‘a very sad thing because it means being taken away from your home and your mummy and daddy’, leading you to worry you might be taken away from me; something that had never crossed your mind before.

But my darling daughter, I want to tell you that adoption is not a ‘sad thing’ it is a wonderful thingBecause without it we would not be together, and we would not be filled up with the love we share for one another. We would not have our morning times when you climb into my bed and slip your little legs over mine, your hand winding up through my hair as you whisper ‘It’s morning time, get up Mummy!’ or the swimming pool sessions when we race up and down the pool, you riding me around the shallows with your feet stuck through the arms of my costume saying ‘faster faster!’. Or the bicycle rides where I go full throttle over the grassy bits in the park so that you get bounced around in the trailer laughing your head off. We have a brilliant time and truly there is no one I would rather spend time with. No one.

We are so proud of you and who you are becoming. My parents used to say this to me too when I was growing up and I didn’t really understand what they meant until you came into my life, but it is truly wonderful and an absolute privilege getting to watch you grow from a little bundle into a bright, beautiful articulate person. Maybe you’ll get to experience this joy for yourself one day – the wonder of parenthood, but if you don’t – and this is important  – if that doesn’t happen, it also doesn’t matter; because just as our lives were rich and glorious before you came along, there are just as many joys and discoveries out there waiting to be experienced by you. And here we come to the cliche – but it’s true – please understand that you can be anything you want in this world.

I wish you as much joy, love and happiness as you have brought to me throughout your life.

You are simply, truly amazing, and I will love you with all of my heart forever.

Your Mummy xxxxxxx

Positive, Positive, Positive.

IMG_0681-1I have been blogging for a while now and reading back over the blogs that I have written I realise that I have somewhat focused on the negatives that we are experiencing ,and thinking about that I guess it’s not too difficult to see why this is so.

I have found writing the blogs to be quite therapeutic and it’s the challenges that we are faced with in our parenting that I have needed to get out of my system and to deal with in my writing. I realise that it is this stuff that we seem to focus on and consequently it can feel like we are always either dealing with it directly or else analysing it and discussing it and trying to work out how we should/could be coping with it better.

However, it feels that all this negativity in my blogs – and indeed in most of the blogs of other adopters, who are no doubt blogging for the same reasons – needs to be addressed, as in fact our lives since our sons moved in is full of so much positivity that I feel I have somewhat mis represented our experience, and in a broader sense the experience of adoption in general.

This is especially so with regards to one of our two sons who has been wonderfully uncomplicated and actually very easy to parent. He just seemed to settle into our lives with incredible ease, no drama and apparently no cause for concern – which is of course exactly the opposite of what we are told to expect.

He is an amazingly resilient soul and seems to have been effected very little by his traumatic start in life, he may well be storing up his problems and we will have to deal with them further down the road, but as time goes on and we get to know him better we are less sure that is going to be so.

Since the day he moved in he has been a delight to have around, he is smart and loving and polite and just very well behaved, he is popular at school with his teachers, his many friends and also with the parents of friends who are always so complimentary after play dates.

Of course he is not perfect and he does challenge us in his own way, but we do strongly believe that it has nothing to do with his past and is no more than you would expect from any child. He can be very strong willed and at times he is frustratingly over confident and stubborn, which manifests itself as him believing that he is never wrong and he is certainly not afraid to express that – which can be hugely annoying, but seeing as I’m a bit like that myself I’m sure many would say that it is Karma and I am just getting what I deserve.

One of his biggest and best qualities is his ability to make friends, he is inclusive and very fair in his play and other children immediately respond to this. His younger brother can be very difficult (and consequently is the subject of most of my blogs) and he struggles hugely with friendships and indeed he provokes his big brother pretty much constantly, this is mostly dealt with with quite grown up reserve and even if it does result in retaliation from our oldest it never gets too out of hand.

I also think that only presenting the negatives of our younger son – who is most certainly challenging and can stretch our patience to breaking point and beyond – is misrepresenting a reality as he is also sweet and charming and loving, he has moments of such tenderness and gentleness and he can be a total joy too and we are no less thrilled by his presence in our world than his brother’s.

They came into our lives and stole our hearts within seconds and regardless of any difficulties we face there is not a single day that has gone by when we have not rejoiced at how lucky we are to have been brought together and how perfect the fit is.

We are a family and it’s a family full of love, laughter, fun and so, so many positives.

As all parents know it can be tough, but my goodness our lives are so much richer in so many ways since ours sons moved in and made us the family that we are and it is very evident that the positives outweigh the negatives in every way possible.

I hope that in this blog, that message is loud and clear.