It seems counterintuitive to use words to describe touch, something so personal and often fleeting. But I am going to have a go. It is so central to the communication between Digger and me.

When Digger first moved in, I spend a lot of time pondering over how and when to touch him. It felt awkward at times. As if I was invading his privacy. Which of course I was. Touching him now seems so obvious that I don’t really think about it.

In the early days, diaper changing was very much slower than he was used to. His forever mummy and daddy were amateurs compared to his fostermum. Once the allotted diaper time slot had run out, he would start wiggling and whining. Now of course, we can whip a diaper off and slam on a new one on in no time, almost without him noticing.

Three months in, I enjoyed a first proper hug from him. And I noted that he touched me in a new and different way. More intimate and loving. And then I realised I too touched him differently. This week I had the same realisation. It happened when he stroked my hair, gently in long soft movements. Like I do his hair. He smiled as he did it. Enjoying it – probably not nearly as much as I did.

Negotiations about lifting him, moving him around – especially since he couldn’t really walk yet – has become quicker over time. Only a split second of showing him my intentions, something like holding out my arms, lifting my eyebrows, making a rising noise or saying ‘Let’s go?’ All those careful manoeuvres were concertinaed down, in time and movement. He knew what was coming. And he would allow it, or not. Or sometimes he just wasn’t quite ready yet, but a few more minutes would do it.

Now we are 18 months in and the movements are yet again different to what they were. He is longer, leaner and stronger, and hugs like no body else I know. He nestles into my neck when I hold him, and make a series of cosy noises, any times of the day, when he need refuelling. He does that in the morning in his PJs, at the playground covered in mum, while we watch TV, reading a book, getting a drink, or just when, and just because… The recognition of our evolving touch feels like a wonderful acknowledgment of how my son and I were getting to know each other. Of the continual strengthening of our bond.

Now when he falls asleep at night he turns in towards me, and lies as close as he possibly can. Often with his little legs pulled up under him. He is snuggling tightly up against me.  I am his source of safety. There he can let go of the day, and fall into the deep sleep that will take him through to the small hours of the morning.

My husband and I enjoy our bedtime routine. With three (or more) books, a couple of songs, and if he still isn’t quite ready, then a little made up story in the dark of the room, after lights out. Turning towards us is that last movement before he falls asleep. We lie for a little while longer, and then gently lift him into his cot. I often add the words ‘I love you, little mouse.’ Hoping the words will worm their way into his unconscientious self, and deepen his sense of safety.

Digger needs reassurance during the night – not as much as the first few months, but still once or twice. Just to know that we are still there. Now all that is needed is one gentle stroke of his otherworldly soft cheek and his curly mop, and he goes back to sleep. No need for any words, like ‘safe’, ‘mummy’ or ‘right here’.

I nearly melted the first time Digger padded my back as I held him on my arm. Just like I pad his back, for comfort, for closeness, out of a habit. I hadn’t even noticed I did this, till he padded me back. Sometimes it is request for mutual padding, sometimes because that’s what happens when you are in mummy’s arms.

And then there are the rough touches. The rough housing, which he loves. Like being carried around upside down, or flung over a shoulder. Or blowing great big raspberries on his tummy. He is very good at blowing raspberries on us, might I add. That said, I feel that both tickling and blowing raspberries should be done in moderation. It can be too much. A big person inflicting something rough on a little one. I remember my own dad doing it to me, too much too hard. It didn’t always feel nice. And sometimes it was even scary. It could spoil the moment. He wasn’t a bad man, he just often wasn’t on our wavelength.

There are also the assertive parental touches. The ones that accompany sentences like ‘Nope, Digger, I cannot allow you to touch that rotary saw.’ Or getting down to his level, and saying ‘When mummy says STOP, she mean STOP.’ There is also the firm hand on his arm if he lifts his arm to hit, or on his leg if he kicks. Again it is accompanied by ‘no kicking of people’. And if I have the presence of mind ‘shall we go kick some ball?’ As a mum I am more likely to assert myself through my voice than by touch.

Respect of boundaries is a part of touch, my respect of him, and his of me. Respect shown through touch. Knowing when to and when not to. Mostly we both get it right now. Like Fred and Ginger.

All these movements, and our familiar touching each other are for me the ultimate signs of love and attachment. And I can’t get enough.

Equally Best

A short while ago I was listening to talk radio and the discussion was about an estranged birth father’s fight to overrule an adoption order as he had not been contacted and made aware of the adoption. I was amazed at just how many people phoned in saying variations of ‘blood is blood, they are his children of course he should get them back’. This was often said with complete disregard for the adoptive parents and it made me realise how for many out there we adoptive parents will always be seen as second best.

Of course the ideal is that all children stay with their birth parents who will love them and care for them, but we are all well aware that it’s a utopian ideal. We live in the real world and that’s where we adoptive parents come into play. I’m not about to blindly go on about the wonder of adopters and the altruistic act of adoption, because we are human and I am sure there are good and bad adoptive parents out there and I am pretty sure most go into it – initially anyway – to satisfy themselves and their needs to parent.

However I would like to scream that we are NOT second best. We are parents! To the children we are rarely ever called or thought of as ‘adoptive parents’, but simply Mum or Dad, simply their parents. Although we may sometimes use the term adoptive parents to describe ourselves to others it is not how we define ourselves and what we ‘feel’ is that we are of course just like any other parents.

Not ‘second best’ parents, but in fact the absolute best parents our children have had and will ever have.

The radio program also got me thinking about the lack of shared blood with our children and how it has NEVER been remotely relevant – in fact not from the very moment we met.

After a very long and gruelling adoption process it was the night before introductions to our sons and we were at friends for dinner, they asked ‘what if you don’t like the children when you meet them?’ Which is something we had not considered at all, my response of ‘they are 4 and 5 years old what is there not to like?’ Was shot down with various examples of their children’s friends who were apparently anything but likeable.

It did fill us with a degree of trepidation and we went along the next day with a new anxiety added to the many we had picked up during the three year process. We were greeted by foster parents who told us that the boys were in the garden playing and we were sat at the end of a long reception room.

I will apologise in advance as this is where it all gets a bit ‘Disney movie’ and indeed if it wasn’t like it for you (and I understand it’s anything but for many) it probably sounds terribly smug –

The boys were brought in and stood at the opposite end of the room, we were pointed out to them and the foster mother said ‘ there are your new dads , go and say hello’ at which point they literally ran across the room and into our arms and in that very moment both my partner and I fell completely and utterly in love with our sons.

No blood – but total unadulterated love.

How could we be so sure? Well apart from the overwhelming emotion of the moment – trust us it took every ounce of strength not to break down and cry like babies – whether or not we liked them became completely irrelevant, they were our sons and we loved them however they came.

There are certainly moments we don’t like traits in their personalities and we sure as hell don’t like some of the challenging behaviour, but you don’t need shared blood to be able to understand these and respect them as part of the package.

I don’t know the outcome of the father’s legal challenge, and I guess I don’t want to find out. Because if he did win it will feel like such a personal insult – not to mention threat. I certainly hope he didn’t as he wasn’t there for his children when their mother was abusing or neglecting them or even during their time in care. Yet their new parents came along when needed and will no doubt always be there for them – blood or no blood.

The First Meeting

She was so young. She sat opposite us with wide eyes that sometimes stared at us, sometimes straight through us, sometimes looked down at the floor as though abashed, but something told me this might have been a ruse. We had been told there was a possibility that, as young as she seemed, she was quite capable of manipulating our emotions, but as I took more of her in, the scraped back hair, the rosy cheeks, the demeanour of a child, I could not bring myself to believe that.

This was the first time we had met her. We had seen photographs of course but here she was in the flesh; this made her real and therefore some, though not all, of my apprehension ebbed and I began to feel unworthy. The trauma she had been through for someone so young. If you met her without knowing any of her life story, you would be incredulous that the person sitting in front of you had been through so much in such a short space of time. But we did know and therefore our hearts went out to her as she clearly struggled with this meeting.

It was awkward; there was no denying that. We did not know how to behave. We wanted to reach out and give her a hug, we wanted a photographic momento of this first meeting, just the three of us, but how did we bring these things about without seeming intrusive? We wanted to tell her things that, if the dynamics had been different, might make her smile, but we did not know how to communicate and make her understand; we were paralysed by the emotion.

So we sat in silence for a while. I was staring and conscious of it. Every time she looked down at the floor I looked at her, trying to take more of her in without being obvious, trying not to catch her eye as though if that happened a connection would be formed that would be hard to break. Her social worker was talking, trying to break the ice, but although I could hear the gentle inflections and changes in tone and tempo, I could not register any of the words; I was too focused on looking at her, at her clothes, at the way she sat, at the blushed cheeks, at her eyes and lips, trying to see resemblances.

It was a charged meeting. At times I felt overwhelmed by contradictory emotions. There was warmth and sympathy, but there was also anger; anger at a world in which innocence could be taken away so lightly, anger at a world in which a child was not cherished above all else, anger that someone could allow such such a gift to be taken away, anger with her mother, her father, her grandparents, anger with anyone who had ever come into contact with her that did not, could not or would not see she needed help, but above all, she needed love. Not just the word but the action. Security. Nurture. Protection. Who protected her when she needed it? Nobody. Who deciphered, understood and most of all acted on the subtle clues that the child in pain sent out? Nobody. She had suffered alone.

I was furious on her behalf. Our lovely, joyful little daughter.

Was her daughter.

The Weekly Adoption Shout Out