Feast

FullSizeRenderI am transported back to when I was about 6 years old and it was a very heavy winter with snow blizzards and freezing ice on the roads. I still trudged to school with my brothers, in our wellingtons and duffle coats and we watched our breath form ice rings as we spoke. It was a giant adventure for us and we took our time getting to school. Making sure our hands stayed in our pockets as much as we could in between snowball making and general tomfoolery. The journey home though was as the crow flies, short and direct as we were going home for a winter feast. I’m sure our mum timed the opening of the oven door to directly coincide with our return to the back door. Wellies off, trousers on radiators, in our pyjamas ready for the feast. So imagine, 3 excited kids who had just trekked through the Arctic Midlands blizzard to make it home safely in time for freshly made buttered scones. The sofa was pulled up to the open fire and we sat there savouring and demolishing lots of succulent and tasty food. I firmly believed my mum was the best cook.

Years on, my son delightfully says ‘you are the best cooker in the world, ever mummy’ I can hear the joy in his voice as he says this without reservation and with complete belief. History is repeating itself and this bit of my childhood I am happy to engage in.

We started cooking together my son and I, as soon as he was able to stir a wooden spoon. He is still content to sit there at the kitchen table eating raisins and stirring air in his bowl whilst I do the ‘work’. He has a firm fascination with food and all it’s wonderful smells and delights. Whenever we are shopping he wants to smell each lemon and loves the fresh herb section, he is happiest reading through the cookery books on rainy days and we plan our next culinary adventure.

We have a menu board in our house which makes my wife feel like she lives in a hotel. I plan the menu on a Sunday and write the shopping list accordingly. Our son is starting to have quite a sophisticated palette and thinks nothing of eating kedgeree or fish en papillote. But his favourite is pasta stars with grated cheese. Making scones, biscuits or cakes with my son, welds me even closer together with him. We share a moment of togetherness which is just magical. When the timer goes off and the food is cooked, we are both jostling to get the first sample tester!

When we start cooking we always say: what’s the first rule of cooking?

Washing hands

What’s the second rule of cooking?

Put our aprons on

So a wipeable Peppa pig joins us on our gastronomic delights and I think she is most happy when we are making chocolate mouse, as there is a big bowl of yummy chocolatey goodness and a wooden spoon to lick before its gets washed up. A good day for us is a chocolate moustache and sticky hands, that means we have had a good day in the kitchen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A call out for words. The Questions.

wpid-img-1407228241252-v.jpgThe well of new blog posts is an ever changing, random business, sometimes overflowing and sometime a little on the dry side so I’m mixing it up.

I know it can be hard to sit down and put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) so we’re off on a new tack with something I have inventively called (drum roll please)…The Questions. 

If you don’t have a burning issue that you are desperate to get off your chest (please share those too though) and are just getting on with the day to day of  family life – This may well be just your cup of tea. It is simply a list of questions about family life. All posts will be anonymous but provide a welcome and sneaky peak into how others do their day to day.

All questions are optional so you can pick and choose or miss as many as you like, and you can even add your own in if you want.

OK, I’m going to kick this off by answering them myself!

How and when does your child/children wake you in the morning

By charging into our bedroom and climbing into the bed with a massive teddy bear called Billy. If we do not wake up and start talking she immediately says “This plan isn’t working. It’s Good Morning time and you need to get up”  It’s usually 9am if I’m lucky. 8am if I’m not. (I know I know… this is quite late..)

Why adoption?

I was interested in adoption for many years but had no real knowledge of how to go about applying. I was under the impression it was a lengthy and difficult process and that may not come to fruition. I’m so  proud to say we have managed it. It is by far the best thing I have done in my life.

From start of assessment to bringing your child home how long did the process take?

I think around 2 years.

How could it be improved?

I think it could easily be made quicker and they could add in some proper preparation for Introductions part of the process which I found quite overwhelming.

What has been the biggest surprise?

How totally fulfilling it is. I constantly have to pinch myself and my heart wants to burst with love.

How was the assessment process? Long but better than I had imagined. Some bits were weird; we were asked to wrote poems.

What’s your favourite thing to do together? My daughter and I like swimming, playing hide and seek in the park and doing  eskimo kisses followed by butterfly kisses (Eyelashes tickling each others cheeks)

What makes you and your family laugh? Mostly our dog but also doing silly faces and voices. Putting each other’s shoes on is popular too.

The best thing about being a parent? Watching and nurturing a little soul.

The hardest thing about being a parent? Coming face to face with your own shortcomings.

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child? Make sure you laugh as much and as often as you can. 

What time do you go to bed? Usually about 10.30 after falling asleep on the sofa.

 

A republish of one of our favourites… If I could.. Gifts for you..

2011-09-03 13.04.34The following is a poem that our ten year old birth daughter wrote last week for her five year old sister, who we adopted four years ago.

Her class teacher had set them a task – write a poem for someone you love. Her ‘gift list’ that she’d give her sister moved me more than I can say. Her sister’s reaction, when I read it out to her, was wordless – a shy smile and a big hug. Here’s the poem:

I would, if I could, give these gifts to you…
A bottle full of dreams high in the sky
A spark of light from the bottom of a volcano
A fight for the night
And a songbird that will drop a long feather, as warm as can be

The raindrop from the heavens,
A puppy called Kevin
A pinch of golden sand from the far desert
The wonder of a unicorn

And so these are the gifts that
I would, if I could,
Give to you

The Briefest Moment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was the briefest of moments, but a moment that has filled me with guilt and which I know will stay with me forever.

It was early days – in fact just five or six weeks into placement – the honeymoon period was over and we were starting to see a different side to our new sons. We were totally smitten with the boys and felt that we had loved them from the very first moment we were brought together, but now we were being challenged and we were finding it hard.

The previous couple of weeks had been tough – very tough – mostly with our then almost 5 yr old, who was angry and upset and confused – which we still see signs of today – and daily we were dealing with that. We were new parents and rapidly discovering that all the experience we had of looking after children seemed to be irrelevant when it came to our own, our own damaged and wounded children.

Our son is extremely short tempered and he will fly into a rage over very minor incidents, it is a rage that was uncontrollable then and grew worse with our feeble and misguided attempts to deal with it. We knew we were in it over our heads and we knew we were just not breaking through. It felt like we were failing and to be honest it felt more and more like we were faced with an insurmountable challenge. However, it was a challenge we were committed to and no matter what it took we would get the better of it. Nobody said it was going to be easy, in fact we had it drummed into us on the prep’ course that it would be anything but.

To make matters worse we were exhausted, emotionally and physically. We had not slept a full night since they joined us in our home, jumping up from our bed at the slightest sounds from their bedroom next door, lying awake for hours considering the day we had just had and worrying about what the day ahead would bring.

In addition nothing could have prepared us for the sheer magnitude of the emotional roller coaster ride we found ourselves on and just how weary that would make us.

From the moment our son woke that morning we knew it was going to be ‘one of those days’, there is a look in his eyes, a little extra swagger and attitude in his interaction that we were already able to spot and identify, but to this day we have no idea what determines that mood. It was not a good start to the day and with my partner and older son leaving early we were left alone. My gentle reprimanding of our sons constant challenging increased, and as he and I sat down after breakfast to play together it was clear that all of what I was saying was falling on deaf ears.

Gradually my anger was growing and getting more and more difficult to control as he persisted in his mis behaviour and his determination to ignore my attempts to bring it to an end. Finally a very stern warning that one more time and he would have time-out (a last resort then and of course eliminated completely now) which predictably was immediately followed by the action that spurred the warning.

With far too much anger he was lifted from the floor and stood in the time-out spot, from here on in the situation just deteriorated totally out of control, with my anger continuing to grow – and the volume of my shouting increasing with it – as he refused to stay for time-out, the more I shouted the worse he got and we were in a vicious cycle going absolutely nowhere.

With time we were to learn that he gets worse as we get angrier as of course it destabilises the security we are building, but way back then we were a long way off that realisation and I just saw a defiant and naughty little boy determined to ‘get one over on me’. How crass and ignorant that statement sounds now.

He was refusing to stay on the time-out spot and I was sure that giving into that would be the beginning of the end and that he would never listen to me and my discipline from that moment on, so I repeatedly lifted him back into place. His anger continued to build and soon it was completely out of control and there I found myself, on my knees, face to face with my 4 year old son trying to hold him in place, his face blazing red from absolute fury and his spit covering my face as he simply stood and screamed at me.

And then that moment.

I gave up. I accepted defeat and realised that I couldn’t do this. I had failed. I was not a parent and could never be, which of course meant only one thing – he had to go back. Back into Care.

That briefest of moments.

And then thankfully it was gone and I pulled myself together. Could this 4 yr old really get the better of the 50 yr old me? Of course not – that is NOT what this is about. Then the realisation that this was in fact all about me, not his naughtiness or his anger, but my handling of it. I didn’t know the answers, but I knew it was about me finding them.

Totally ashamed at the thought that had run through my mind and with my heart breaking for him – my beautiful SON – for even thinking what I had, the anger drained from my body. I let go of him and I stood up and he of course immediately ran from me and he hid under the table. Calmer now, I lowered my voice to little more than a whisper and told him that ‘under the table’ was the new time-out spot and his 4 minutes were starting from now.

He stayed – thank goodness he stayed – I am sure it was because he was as relived for the ‘out’ as I was. The – very long – 4 minutes passed and I attempted to calm him and to get some kind of order back in place. He was having none of it and refused to move from his spot where he stayed for quite some time. When he did finally come out he would not come to me or allow me to hug him, which of course I desperately needed to do for my own sake as much as his.

He stayed angry, hurt, upset and distant and then finally my partner arrived home. Initially he resisted my partners efforts to console him, but he was in such need of comfort that he did eventually allow himself to be picked up and I stood and watched as our little boy crumpled into my partners shoulder and sobbed his heart out.

This had been tough on me, but my goodness it was now very clear to see how tough it had been on him and I was responsible for that.

Things had to change – and they did, or should I say WE did.

Nearly three years on we still have an angry little boy, but episodes as extreme as this are now rare and we are hopeful that they will soon be eliminated completely. We have learnt how to handle him much better and in doing so we have became more like the parents he needs and my goodness so deserves.

Far more importantly though, there has never been a repeat of my thoughts in that moment, but as a parent those thoughts will always haunt me and shame me.

We are a forever family and families come as they are – for good and bad – and one thing is for sure – being adopted does not make you any less forever than a birth child and to even think so for the briefest of moments is surely unforgivable.

Out of the blue – A lesson in patience.

Picture 053My daughter and I are both recovering from surgery.

Mine – not hers but we’ve both been affected.

It happened so quickly that I didn’t have the chance to explain to her that not only would I not be coming home in time to cook her tea, bath her and carry her to bed, but that I would be gone for six whole days. I was just gone, absent without warning and it felt unbearable. In my panic I was sure our bond would be damaged by my sudden departure so I can only guess how it felt for her, and explanations were left to those who kindly jumped in to care for her in my absence.

Now we’re all dealing with the aftermath.

Crucially, I can’t bend down and I can’t lift her. Doesn’t sound that bad but it’s created a space between us that wasn’t there before. Now I tower stiffly over her, my stance so different to usual, essentially talking down at her and she doesn’t like it – I don’t blame her. I wish I could sweep her into my arms, or kneel down and kiss her face but I can’t. It feels very formal.

Mummy has gone from being a big strong, person she could bounce off, to a stiff, weak temporarily disabled one she needs to be careful around (as everyone keeps telling her!) Despite the constant reassurances that I will be back to my old self in time – a concept she doesn’t understand anyway – she rarely answers when I speak to her and constantly demands toys and presents and sweets – something she was probably given a lot of while I was in hospital. I find it heart wrenching.

I know that life’s not perfect and stuff happens all the time but it feels big. It’s brought loads of stuff up for both of us, for me how I can’t bear to be still and I really struggle to find the patience to recuperate at the right steady pace, and for her? .. Well tantrums and it’s anybody’s guess what else but she’s reacting differently as each day passes. My husband tells me not to worry, that our bond is strong and secure and my presence alone is nourishing and comforting to her. I trust his judgement and try to stay positive. There are encouraging signs. This morning as I woke up she did slip her hand into mine and whisper “Mummy, when you are well you can pick me up again” and gave me a kiss. I’ll just have to wait it out.

 

Is it ok if I don’t love you?

20130330_111946It started out I think as a game, but through it’s gradual insistence I then started to wonder and finally, like water torture, it started to hurt. It wasn’t a “funny thing children say” anymore; it had become unfunny and in my worst moments, cruel. I had been lucky I think to have been the favoured one once upon a time, but as our daughter cemented a lovely bond with my wife and as I became more distant through not being around during the day, there were little signs appearing, warning me to be careful with her affection, be careful with my presence, or lack thereof. She used to go bananas when I came home, after careering with joy at the sight of me, loving being lifted into my arms for a cuddle. But someone, and I think it should be me to blame, took a step back from this. I became perhaps too careful with her affection, looking for signs that might not have been there that my cuddles were not quite as welcome as before and holding back for fear of being too intrusive. I was left with tickling as the means of getting some physical contact and hearing her laugh. But eventually “Stop it, Daddy” was the cry. When she first told me she didn’t love me, I said it was ok, I loved her and always would. But it became a more frequent song, culminating in a frighteningly earnest, “Is it ok if I don’t love you, Daddy?” I said it was; that she must always tell me how she feels, what she’s thinking, feeling myself like the grown-up, not wanting to show her I was upset. But of course I was. What else was I to say? No, it’s not ok actually?

This worried me and left me feeling outside her circle of love. I brought this up at the WAF get-together and, lovely supportive people that were there that night, felt comforted after sharing my concerns.

And they were right. One night after reading the made-up hand book stories a mish mash of Frozen  and Brave – odd worlds that Walt et al would not recognise – as she lay there eyes closed, apparently asleep, she reached her hand over, placed it on my arm, stroked me for a while and said, “I do love you really, Daddy.”

Fostering issues

Picture 033I found the prep’ course that adopters go through to be quite comprehensive and of great value, it’s hard to imagine that in the past adopters were offered none of this information to prepare them for what in some cases are huge challenges, but for everybody is something new and unknown.

However, in our case something I think that it lacked was more information about the importance and affect of Foster Parents on our children.

Our boys spent almost three years in one foster placement meaning that our youngest actually spent longer with the foster parents than with his birth parents and at a very crucial age – from 2 to almost 5.

They are an older couple with grown up children and grandchildren of their own, as a result they have all the children in their care call them Nanny and Grandad. Actually I think this can be very helpful as I know that many children in foster placement refer to the carers as Mummy and Daddy and can grow to see them as exactly that, making the eventual split from them all the more confusing and difficult for them to deal with.

It is especially good in our case as my mother and my partners father are both dead and ‘Nanny and Grandad’ slot quite nicely into those empty positions in our family.

Because of the time spent with them and the long term relationship they had, It was recognised by all that an ongoing relationship with the foster parents would be healthy for our sons, especially as their older sister was staying with them in long term fostering. Twice yearly contact has been agreed, along with a younger sister and her adoptive family.

It was clear that along with the foster parents maturity – she is 60, he a very sprightly 70 – came a certain type of parenting that is best described as ‘old school’. They are strict – very strict – and run a very tight household, which I can see is essential as they not only had our boys and their sister, but also a fourth child in care as well as their 14 year old granddaughter. In addition two older children who at 17 and 18 had left their care, came almost nightly for dinner.

Our boys – at not yet 5 and 6 – tidied behind themselves, made their beds (to a fashion), bathed themselves, dressed themselves and even took their dirty laundry to the utility room… and separated whites from coloureds.

In addition the children were separated from the adults at meal times and sat at a ‘child’s’ table and not allowed to utter a word.

Although we can see the huge benefits for the household, we can also see that it somewhat defies social services guidelines or expectations on parenting looked-after children and is somewhat out of skew with what would be consider more up to date parenting or pastoral care.

Their parenting style has gone on to create issues for us, the adoptive parent. We are taught to maintain as much familiarity to the life that the child would be leaving to help with transitioning into their new life and indeed time is spent with the foster carers in their home watching and learning the parenting we are suppose to emulate.

In prep’ group we were told to expect to have to deal with the issues of bad parenting, neglectful parenting, lazy parenting – the parenting that resulted in the children being removed from their parents and not the parenting of their foster parents. However in our case all of this had been dealt with by the foster parents, we had to handle quite different challenges.

Introducing discipline and order into a chaotic life must be tough, however it’s starting at a point and heading in one direction – towards instilling good behaviour and values where there has been none.

We actually had to head ‘backwards’ as we were/are so against much of what the foster parents instilled into the boys, which has caused them – and by default us – quite a few issues.

The best example are mealtimes, they are important family times for us and of course the boys sit up at the table and of course we converse. It’s a time to talk about their day, their thoughts and about issues they may have. A time to share and a time to really be a family. Introducing this to our boys was very unsettling for them, without the strict regime they were used to they just didn’t know how to behave.

They found our relaxing of rules to be an invitation for a ‘free for all’ and suddenly we found ourselves with children who need constantly reprimanding at the table, constantly reminded of the manners that they came to us so adept in.

There are other lesser examples, but this has been the one area that has really impacted on us adversely and 2 1/2 years on we are still battling with the fall out.

Something else that we are not taught and is worth mentioning is the difficulty that foster parents sometimes have at letting go. It was not an issue for us, but I have head of many examples where they have bonded very strongly with the child and consequently have a degree of resentment towards the adoptive parents. Considering we spend a chunk of transition in their house it can make for a great deal of discomfort. I have even heard of situations where the foster parents have even negative about the adoptive parents in front of the children.

As it takes about 9 months for a child to be removed from its parents legally and before it can be put up for adoption, I guess ALL adopted children have spent at least this time within a foster placement, as is the case with our sons it can be years. They are an important part of their lives and it surprises me that they get a little over looked by social services, for us adoptive parents it would be very useful indeed to be better prepared from the impact they can have on our children and indeed on us.