War Horse

20161115_113414Cinema has been a big part of our family life since the boys moved in, they clearly love it and we go as frequently as possible.

They are good in the cinema, even when they first joined us at just 4&5 they understood the need to sit still and to sit quietly. We are proud to take them and love to peek over at them as they watch the film, their eyes wide and often their mouths slightly ajar – or indeed fully agog.

They will watch pretty much anything and get caught up in the tale and visuals regardless of just how good or bad the film actually is. Of course it’s us the more discerning parents who have to suffer when the films are really bad, but the joy of seeing our sons so engrossed and so thoroughly entertained makes up for even the worst offerings… well maybe not the very worst, however in those cases we can always grab a – no doubt much needed – sneaky snooze.

I have always loved the cinema and always tried to see films that I was interested in on the big screen and I have always felt a bit ‘cheated’ if I have missed something when first released and had to watch it on DVD/TV, however with our sons I now realise that there are in fact great advantages to watching a film at home together.

The realisation hit one Saturday evening when as a treat we said the boys could stay up late and watch ‘War Horse’ with us, we explained that it was a more adult film than they were used too and that they may find it difficult or may not enjoy it and that they could go to bed whenever they wanted.

They both stayed up to the very end and were totally engrossed throughout. However, there were parts of the film that were beyond their grasp and being at home they were able to ask us to explain and we could do so freely without interrupting others as we would have in a cinema.

This interaction was actually very pleasing and created a certain intimacy that went beyond the cuddles and lap sitting that we are treated to in the cinema, it felt special and rewarding and much more like a ‘family’ activity than just sitting in silence and I think we all benefitted from it.

So much so that we now actively look out for slightly more mature offerings that we can sit together at home and watch as a family.

A letter to the makers of Inside Out

20160929_235344Dear makers of Inside Out,
I just wanted to write and thank you for what I consider to be one of the best films ever made.

To explain, I have found being an adoptive Mum, at times, an extremely difficult and highly charged emotional experience. It is made more difficult by the fact that much of what I am feeling is very difficult to properly break down and understand. For me, your film articulated a lot of these feelings in such simple terms. I found myself in tears from early in the film when the yellow balls (representing happy memories) as core memories for the central character ‘Riley’ throughout her early childhood lead to her being able to build a really strong and positive sense of self-identity. In contrast my girls, without doubt, have early core memories which are blue (representing sadness) and so have had to build their early sense of self upon experiences which are sad and/or frightening. And just like Joy later in the film I can’t change that early sadness for them, I can’t remove it, it is something which is a part of them and which I have to help them to weave positively into their identity.

For one of my girls in particular who is regularly ‘driven’ by Anger, the film has helped her to start understanding that there are in fact a number of different feelings, that she can name them and that we all have them. She seemed genuinely surprised to hear that I have ‘Fear’ in my head and that I get worried about things. I asked her if she ever worries about anything and she said yes, that she worries about her sister going away. My daughter is 3. We have always thought that she was very anxious about transitions having moved carers 3 times by the time she was 18 months old but it had never occurred to us that she thought that her sister, the one constant, could maybe leave as well.

The film also gave us an easy segue into discussing birth Mum and Dad because at the very beginning of the film Riley is born and first sees her parents looking down happily at her. Happily for us we do know that this happened for our girls and were able to say this – so much nicer to have a visual depiction of it than just trying to explain verbally ‘your birth Mum and Dad loved you very much when you were born’.

And happily for me your film provided me personally with one of the best moments of my life. I was talking with the girls about which one of the little ‘people’ they thought was most like each of them and finally which one was most like me. I asked because I feel like I spend much of my time telling them off, being grumpy and tired so from that aspect I fully expected them to choose ‘anger’, or alternatively because I wear glasses and have a bob I thought they may plump for ‘sadness’. They shocked me by choosing Joy.

With love,
A grateful, re-motivated parent

Realistically high expectations.

20160701_114148I started a Blog a while ago suggesting that adoptive parents needed to have realistic expectations of their children’s school and especially of the child’s teacher. Our children are (usually) 1 in a class of 30 and expecting the teacher to ‘get them’ and to cater for their specific needs is of course a tough ask – especially when we parents can often struggle on a one to one basis at home.

Something stopped me completing the blog and now it is evident why that was so… I was wrong! Which sadly in our case has resulted in us failing to protect our son and failing to do right by him.

Our son displays much of the typical behaviour resulting from trauma that we are told to expect – which can ONLY be controlled through therapeutic parenting/teaching. In his first two years at this school his teachers understood this and did a great job of making him feel secure and valued, however his teacher last year clearly didn’t ‘get it’ at all and this has resulted in a terrible year for our son and as a result of that it has been a very problematic and indeed stressful one for us.

A couple of months into the year we became aware of issues in class and we went into the school to discuss the situation, we attempted to point out our son’s history and his needs, but we were shut down by the new assistant head with ‘of course we know how to deal with adoptive children, we have plenty of experience and in fact we have about a dozen adopted children in the School at the moment’.

We accepted this at face value, as adoptive parents we often feel that we are ‘one step behind’ and we thought that it was perfectly reasonable to assume that professionals in a professional environment would be better equipped than us.

Yet it is now clear to see that these were hollow words and worse still that we were accepting them from the wrong person.

For 6 plus hours a day our children are sent to school and left in the care of another adult – this is likely to be as much time (or indeed for some – more time) than they spend awake with us the parents during a 24hr period – this is huge and the importance of this relationship in their lives can not be underestimated. It is imperative that we make sure that the teacher – and indeed any teachers assistants – caring for our child know their needs and know exactly how to deal with them.

Regardless of what the school thinks it knows or how good an understanding it feels it has, it is the direct relationship with the teacher that is most relevant and it is OUR responsibility to make sure that they do indeed understand and have the skills to cope.

My thinking that we should make allowances for the difficulties that teachers no doubt face – although empathetic – was naive and on reflection very foolish. They have a responsibility for our children and they have a need to ensure that our children are being treated appropriately.

Quite simply our son was not, his teacher failed him, the school failed him and we failed him too for not being on top of the situation.

Now we know better and this new year will be different, we have regular meetings with his new teacher and we have made her very aware of his needs and how to deal with him, in addition we have furnished her with books and handouts that we feel will help her in her understanding.

Sadly it is evident that quite a bit of damage has been done and we can see that our son’s relationship with the school, the teachers and in a broader sense adults in general has been badly affected. Great efforts now need to be made to address the issues – and the resulting challenging behaviour – that the year has brought about in him and we are making sure that his teacher is very much part of that process.

Ask the Kids #13

boy-1298788_1280Our only daughter, (8 y.o.) took this questionnaire very seriously and replied in full and long sentences on my recorder, so I’ve cut her replies down just for informative purposes.
I asked her about myself and her daddy (who wasn’t present) and it’s obvious from her replies who is disciplining and teaching more; and who is more mucking about. ☺ Also I think because he was not around, her answers about him were more cheeky.

About mummy
1.What is something I always say to you? -You want me start listening to you.
2. What colour are my eyes? -Greyish / bluish
3. What makes me happy? -Me, making you laugh, when I tickling you.
4. What makes me sad? -Me, when I am not listening to you.
5. What is my hair like? -Long, silky.
6. How do I make you laugh? -Saying random things or exclamations in foreign language. (She means when I pronounce English words incorrectly /make them up or swear in a foreign language.)
7. What do you think I was like as a child? -Playful and also helpful. (See, it`s working! She believes it!)
8. How old am I? – 47
9. How tall am I? –like 2 feet tall…? (No idea what is it and where it come from. We use cm and m system at home and I am sure I am much taller)
10.What is my favourite thing to do? -To help me to learn staff from school.
11. What do I do when you’re not around? -Clean house. (Great! She doesn`t know about TV!)
12. What am I really good at? -Doing things, which I don`t know how to do and teaching me that.
13. What is something I’m not good at? -Sometimes you not good at walking in my room when its messy and you stepping on my little toys.
14. What do I do for a job? -Work from home as a business woman.
15. What is my favourite food? -Salmon and oysters. (Right about salmon, wrong about oysters. Probably, she meant I love to eat food, which daddy and her would never eat)
16. What do you enjoy doing with me? -Playing.

About daddy
1. What is something I always say to you? -Copying my words
2. What colour are my eyes? -Blue
3. What makes me happy? -When I let you kiss, squeeze and hug me
4. What makes me sad? – When I hurt you
5. What is my hair like? -Short, greasy and grey
6. How do I make you laugh? -When you start laughing yourself
7. What do you think I was like as a child? -Very playful with your sisters
8. How old am I? –at the moment you are 57
9. How tall am I? –3 feet tall (wrong, he is taller but right about he is taller than me)
10.What is my favourite thing to do? -Tip me around and shake me
11. What do I do when you’re not around? -Work at your office
12. What am I really good at? -Picking me up and put on your shoulders
13. What is something I’m not good at? -At stopping on time when I told you to stop
14. What do I do for a job? -Working in business
15. What is my favourite food?- Fish and chips
16. What do you enjoy doing with me? –Playing and being silly

My heart swells.

photo-1470394056006-130bc90c012bMy heart breaks when I think of their past, when I think of them suffering, of them left uncared for, for every day that they went hungry and for each cry that went unanswered.

It breaks for the unfair start that they had in life and for the fact that I was not there for them – to care for MY sons and to protect them as a parent should.

Do those feelings ever go, do they – can they – ever leave an adoptive parent?

Will I one day be able to let go of their past and focus only on the positive that is their life today and on what the future has to offer?

They now have the unconditional love and care that they should have always had, they have protection, they have security and they have hope. They have come a long way and are different little boys to the ones who first joined us, but they are still the same children, they still carry their past within them and they always will.

And it feels like I will too.

However, it most certainly doesn’t dominate, as mostly my heart now swells.

It swells with pride for the amazing little boys who call me Daddy. It swells with each smile and with each achievement – no matter how small – and most of all it swells with love: pure, unadulterated and total love.

My heart swells for my sons and the joy that it brings is what I focus on and what I now live for.

Assumptions make an ass out of you.

Assumptions make an ass out of you.

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It’s a shame you left it so late in life to start thinking about having a family.
Ass.

You must have been desperate to have a child, so you adopted.
Ass.

It’s shame you couldn’t have a child of your own.
Ass.

You must be grieving having gone through IVF with no baby to show for it.
Ass.

Adoption was your last resort.
Ass.

She’s lucky to have you as her parents.
Ass.

I’m quite tired of people, some of whom should know better, making assumptions about my life and my motivations, my background, my feelings; I am tired of people not finding room for nuance. In some ways, the age we live in with the hashtag, the tweet, the text-speak, the “here we are with your 30-second news update”, is responsible for our lack of depth. Why bother taking the time to find out how someone really feels when you can hashtag it instead, reduce everyone and their feelings down to 40 characters or an all-emcompassing two-line slogan or even an outright lie? When did it become acceptable to tar everyone with the same un-nuanced brush? As a species we have spent generations, time and effort, lives even, to fighting against the simple, to allowing for complexity, to stop generalisation being the hegemony.

As adopters we all must have been desperate to have a child. As adopters we are buying into a conservative cultural and social, exploitative imperative to form a “traditional” family by whatever means. That as adopters we are putting our own selfish needs ahead of the child’s; that we are supporting the enforced break-up of families to succour our own selfish desires to be parents. Adopters = Desperate, exploitative, selfish.

No nuance.

So here’s some nuance.

I’ve had my script flipped. I’ve recently been thinking that I am not a real parent at all, but a time-limited guardian. That I am only looking after my daughter as an interim step to her eventually being reunited with her real family. It’s a complex switch from certainty in my role as a father, to a somewhat uncertain role as a guardian. It has nothing to do with love; it’s not possible for me to feel a greater depth of love (nor a deeper connection) than I do for my daughter. It has something certainly to do with my age, that of my partner’s; the likelihood of us being alive much beyond our daughter’s 35th birthday being statistically slim. It has something to do with the ties of blood that I certainly feel for my siblings, that my daughter may well feel for hers when she is old enough to understand that she has them. It has something to do with reading about, and seeing, reunions of adopted children with their birth parents and birth siblings; the adopters are ghosts at best in these reunion stories, references to 30 or 40 years of parenting fleeting.

I know that’s the point of these stories; that’s the editorial.

But it came to me as I visited my own father’s grave. Actually, that’s what we all really do; prepare our children not to be with us anymore, however we arrived at parenthood. We love and care, nurture and teach, to let them go, wherever their life’s path takes them. Then our role is to be the net below their life’s tightrope; we catch them if and when they fall.

We are all just guardians, as were my parents, as my child may well be. But done with love, that’s the most important job of all.

Ask the Kids #12

boy-1298788_1280

As part of National Adoption Week we asked for contributions in the form of a list of questions and answers supplied by our children on the subject of us – their parents.

Having received quite a few sets of these answers, some parents have chosen to omit certain questions in order to keep the responses within safe boundaries; and others have run with every single one of them and each and every contribution has been so gratefully received.

If you’d like to contribute, please feel free to play around with the format and customise it to suit your own family and forward your answers to me.

1 what is something I always say to you? I don’t know
2 What colour are my eyes? pink ( worrying …)
3 What makes me happy? watching something
4 What makes me sad? hitting ( true !)
5 What is my hair like? black
6 How do I make you laugh? watch something again ( hmmmm there is a theme …) or tickle me
7 What do you think  was like as a child? don’t know
8 How tall am I? this big
9 What do I do when you’re not around? work
10What is my favourite thing to do? play
12 What is something I’m good at? gymnastics ( what ?!!!!! )
13 What is something I’m not good at not handstands ( again what ?!!! )
14 What do I do for a job? work
15 What’s my favourite food? goulash ....( never ever had this …!!!)
16 What do you enjoy doing with me? going to school on my bike