Potty Blues

I thought I was prepared. I had had the Gina Ford potty training bible by my bed and religiously read and re-read. I even got Barley to look at the pages in the hope some of her words of wisdom would infiltrate Barleys subconscious.

I planned it down to the day. I wrote off two weeks in the calendar, and ensured I had cupboards full of food, store cupboard back ups and lots of laundry detergent. I had prepared Barley with lots of dialogue, specialised book, dollies for role play, I had checked off his ‘is he ready yet’ points and armed with superhero fireman Sam pants I thought we were ready.

Cut to 4 days later, severe tantrums, nightmares, patchy sleep and loss of appetite. Barley’s spaghetti bolognaise pride of place on the kitchen wall. I handed the potty training mantel over. I was beat. My son was traumatised. Gina Ford was defriended.

On reflection I figure the art of me being, what I consider a good parent. Is that I listen to the alarm bells and revaluate a plan, according to what is happening right now. Just because the book says he should be at this stage now, really doesn’t meant that much to me anymore.
So my plan is to ask him if he wants to go on the potty. Not Gestapo style bolt him to the potty every 15 minutes. I will venture out the house and carry on a normal routine but he will wear pull ups. I will keep his clothes to a minimum and keep in mind that it is more sensible to think he will wee more in his pull ups than in his potty for a while. I think at some point it will click for him and somewhere down the line he will even want to wee in private! Without all his animals and his mummies watching every twitch. So this relaxed approach starts tomorrow and my mantra is don’t sweat the small stuff.

Barley is a bright and capable toddler and at each passing week, his quest for independence grows – it’s a rites of passage for any child and soon we will be onto the next milestone.

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Dadda

I’m a Dad. Actually a “Dadda”, which I prefer and  wish to hold on to because a large part of me doesn’t want the progression from “Dadda” to “Daddy” to “Dad” to “the Old Man” to “see him – that mumbling, shuffly old geezer in the corner”. And Dadda-Dancing somehow conjures more sweet rather than cringe-making images than Dad-Dancing. At least to me; self-delusion is an excellent quality to possess.

This isn’t a particularly worthwhile blog. It’s not meant to give any insight into how to handle your child chucking food on the floor in disgust at your painstakingly prepared, properly “chefed-up” meals or not wanting to go to bed even though they are out on their feet, or how to deal with the relentless, overwhelming guilt when funny dancing turns to dizziness and laughter which turns to falling over and head-bumping and angry, bewildered, blaming tears. Or even how to deal with the loss you feel when you walk out the door early in the morning not having seen your child knowing that tonight by the time you get home they will already be in bed.

So it’s not particularly helpful. Sorry.

I’ve had a burning desire to be a Dad four times in my life. The first aged 19 and in the throes of a with-the-benefit-of-hindsight foolish infatuation affair where the image of my older self (21 or 22 maybe) driving my sleeping partner and child in a white convertible Triumph Stag over the crest of a Swiss mountain road as dawn broke and the sun glinted on their golden hair and an eaglet circled overhead as I was on my way to lead my world-famous band out on the European leg of their sold-out tour. Or something like that.

The second time in a stark booth in a fertility clinic trying desperately to get interested in some fleshly images while being able to hear word-for-word the “she didn’t”, “she did too!” of the laughing nurses through the paper-thin walls while my wife waited patiently in an upstairs ward, all the while unhelpfully recalling the damning story of Onan told to me by a bearded monk/tormentor from my schooldays. 

The third time a few weeks later, staring in awe at two fertilised eggs lounging about on a petri dish and wondering how on earth that was supposed to translate into bouncing babies (I had failed my biology O-level, of course).

The fourth time reading PeepO to a 13-month old stranger while she slowly fell asleep leaning against my stomach.

And every day since then.

She sleeps in our house now.  Sometimes in her own bed, sometimes over my shoulder causing me spinal erosion for fear of switching positions and waking her,  sometimes prone on her Mummy’s tummy when she’s not feeling well, but always, I like to feel,  somehow innately secure in the knowledge that however many times she tries to playfully poke the dog’s eyes out with Upsy-Daisy, no matter how often she throws up on my suit, or screams the house down because we gave her what she asked oh-so-politely for but a millisecond later randomly decided was the worst abomination any parent has ever inflicted upon a child, or however many times she decides that strawberry yoghurt and honey is actually better as a styling mousse than a food substance, or terrifyingly further down the road how many totally unsuitable (i.e. actually existing) prospective partners she brings home for us to meet, she is and will always be loved. And that’s what it’s like being a Dad(da).

If only I had the Stag my life would be complete.

Perfect Parents

Perfect parents

All the adoptive parents I have ever met have been resourceful people. They have actively chosen and pursued parenthood through raising someone else’s children. An act that demands lifelong courage, perseverance and empathy.

Often the dream of parenthood has been chased for years before a little stranger, or two, moves in and takes over. Years spent in abstract pregnancy. Plenty of time to work on that perfidious image of Perfect Parents, to Perfect Kids. Which of course we know doesn’t exist. Hehe. But does that stop us from striving to be perfect? If only we try hard enough… After all, that’s how we did well in school, in sports, made our careers and so on. That’s how we were brought up. How could parenthood be any different?

On the road to adoption, we’ve looked a number of social workers straight in the eye, and unblinkingly promised that we can do this parenthood thing. Just nodded. Committed to a future with ridiculously limited knowledge of our prospective children’s background, and no insight to how we as individuals might gel. Hope and a good deal of will (stubbornness?) to succeed had brought us thus far. The Perfect Parents ideal is within reach.

And then transition arrives. Placement happens. And we are on our own. To get on with the life enhancing, unrelenting task of parenthood. I imagine that all adoptive parents felt a little overwhelmed, at some point. For me it happened one day as I saw the door close behind the social worker on a post placement visit.

Am I right in sensing that adoptive parents often forget ourselves? During the first few months (amongst many other thing and feelings) I forgot many meals, which led to a lovely weight loss, which sadly hasn’t lasted.  I think adrenalin helped me through a lot. The focus was 100% on our son. And our new role. A role that cannot be played, only lived.

Unsurprisingly, there were no real answers in the wealth of related literature out there, that I am still ploughing through. I’ve found a lot of inspiration, ideas, approaches and lots more from books and blog – but that’s for another time. What I mean is that no one will step out of the pages to rescue you.  You still have deal with which ever tricky situation you were trying to find an answer to. Trying to hard to follow any of one set of strategies, I think, has the inbuilt danger of distance, as it may leave you to play the role of – rather than being – a parent. And even in therapeutic parenting, that can’t be a good thing. It still has to come from the heart. If it doesn’t, the children surely feel it. And that is not what they need.

It’s said that you won’t know guilt until you become a mother. Touché! I think adoptive parents are more questioning and tentative than most, because we chose to become parents. I dream of a break from that questioning muscle that seems to want to flex itself all the time.  Although I am getting better at cancelling out the noise it makes. Better at not noticing the strides of the 6 foot 5 super parents with their calm and interesting babies in as they visit us on Planet Earth from their Planet Perfect. Our foster mum warned me that I was going to meet parents who would make me feel insecure. Now when I meet them, I take a deep breath, and observe them and their paraphernalia as a source of inspiration, acknowledging the feeling of insecurity below – Hallo old friend. A feeling I now know will pass. I once bought a nice water bottle inspired by such a person. And a very nice water bottle it is. But it hasn’t change the way my son drinks.

I cannot tell you how tired I am of this Perfect Parent and Perfect Kid syndrome in the media. Do you know how much Make-Up these kids are wearing?!? And I am not thinking of the psycho US toddler pageants. What I dislike most about it is that it is so unbearably patronising. And that we do not need as parents, adoptive or not.

Does advice help us on the road to perfection? Nope. The volumes of unsolicited advice directed at all parents show that people judge. Usually, from a well-meaning, but solipsistic perspective. Truth be told I have been known to have an opinion on other people’s parenting. ‘Why don’t they just calm the child down…?’ I might … possibly … once … have thought when witnessing a tantrum-on-public-transport. The answer is: because it doesn’t work that way. Now I vow to smile to every parent in that situation. Knowingly and supportively, in recognition.

I hereby want to apologise to all parents I inadvertently have been insensitive to before we had our son. But perhaps most unreservedly to my mum. My body snatcher. She turns up regularly, much to my surprise, from the inside, speaking and moving my body. It is shocking and filter-less. But also reassuring. Like remembering how she would wipe my chin when feeding me yogurt, or how she would be stroking my hair, mindlessly, endlessly. These are physical memories that presents themselves when I do something similar to my son. Sometimes these knee-jerk reactions are helpful, sometimes they are not. In my short stint as a mum to date, I have learnt that becoming a parent is self-development on a scale I could not have imagined. It forces you to look back, tidy up and make peace. Which clearly is not done in a day. And, I have a sneaky feeling, not even in a lifetime.

Perfect Parents do not exist. Really, they don’t.

Perfectly Human Parents do. They are all around. In my book that is the one who also has bowel movements, snaps, gets bored or impatient. The type of parent that need recharging; enough sleep; dietary variation and long hugs from her husband. The one who’s love is unquestionable.

There is lots of good advice to be had. Especially if you don’t feel the need to follow it. But there is one piece of advice I think adoptive parents should follow: ‘Every night when you go to bed, pad yourself on the back for a day well done. No matter how it went.’