Scotch Eggs

WAF LOGO DEC 14We are sitting having dinner and both our sons are excited because a friend from school is with us, conversation jumps around and one of them makes reference to ‘Mummy’ at which point the friend says ‘you have two Dad’s because your mummy is dead’, ‘no she isn’t they reply in unison’ and then go on to give two slightly different explanations as to her whereabouts.

We are of course very open about their past and talk about birth Mummy and Daddy as being part of their lives, even though we have no photo’s of them and have had no letter box contact from either of them since the boys were placed with us two years ago. They mention very little about their time before Care and although we never push, we do try to make it clear that they can always be open and talk about anything. We feel that it is not actually a reluctance to do so, but mostly because both the boys were very young when they were taken away – just 2 and 3 years old – and have few clear memories. In fact they actually spent longer with their foster parents than with their birth parents and they both talk openly about their life there.

Also, they were with an older sibling in the foster placement and we do feel that some of the little that the boys have shared about life in their original family is probably ‘borrowed memory’ from their sister who was 6 when they were taken from their parents. She was of course far more aware of the reality of their situation than our boys could have been, especially our youngest and she no doubt has very vivid memories that she would have shared with the boys.

Our oldest seems quite ‘unemotional’ about his birth parents, but to be honest he is a very ‘matter of fact’ little boy and hugely pragmatic, so it’s not so surprising. His brother on the other hand is the complete opposite and is clearly hurt and confused about his past, as a consequence he has little time for his birth parents and clearly has a lot of resentment towards them. On being shown an old birthday card sent from them for his 3rd birthday – that we had stumbled upon in a box of ‘mementoes’ that had arrived with them – he declared ‘they are nasty people, I don’t like them’ and threw the card to the floor.

We have tried to reassure them that they are good people who were just unable to look after them, but we have been armed with such little information, and are aware that there may be things that need acknowledging and dealing with that we have no idea about.

So back to the dinner table.

Our youngest’s explanation as to where mummy is starts with ‘she is not here, she couldn’t look after us’ however his brother declares ‘she is in prison’!

‘No she is not’ I correct. To which they BOTH responded ‘yes she is’.

I thought for a moment and remembering them both sharing the experience of being taken away in a police car and going to the police station, I bring this up and say that maybe they thought she was taken to prison, but in fact she was not.

To which both said ‘no, she had to go to prison’ and the oldest continued ‘she tried to give me away and the police said that was very bad and that she had to go to prison’, his brother finished ‘yes, she didn’t want him, she wanted to give him to somebody else’.

Unsurprisingly, my partner and I were somewhat thrown by this and questioned them further. We are now pretty sure that there is certainly truth in what they were revealing and although we are not as yet sure that she was convicted and sentenced, we are now pretty convinced that Mum was at the very least arrested for ‘trying to give away one of her children’ – our oldest son.

We knew that the information we had been given was a bit vague and somewhat sketchy, but we hadn’t really considered that such huge and important information could be missing.

Over the two years we have been together there have been a number of small surprises and revelations from their past, but until now nothing any more revealing than the time we were walking around a supermarket and our oldest became quite animated and with a look of total glee declares ‘Wow these are my absolute favourite’ and proceeds to pick up a pack of Scotch Eggs – something his new vegetarian parents had clearly been depriving him off.

That was about a year ago and although we loved our wonderful sons with all our heart, had been together for a year and we had assumed that we knew them quite well it made us realise how we still had so much to learn about them. The revelation at the dinner table has displayed JUST how much that could be.

A Journey to Parenthood #1

wpid-20141211_190229.jpgHaving adopted through choice (i.e. not infertility (that we know of)) is not something that we talk about any more. It just doesn’t feel appropriate to casually mention to our newfound adopter friends who we appreciate so much, and I have got tired of explaining to others anyway. My partner and I discussed adopting fairly early on in our relationship and talked about how much we would like to do it. We are not religious but I guess we suffer from that middle class, privileged background angst that can drive you in a similar direction. Our adoption assessment was straightforward (our lives were labelled ‘perfect’) and we were matched quickly with our darling boy who was 1 at the time. We adored him from the first photo viewing, when we met him it was all confirmed in our mind. He was meant to be ours. After a short introduction he came home with us and to all intents and purposes seemed to settle really well. My partner was able to take several weeks off work so we got through the first month daze together and learnt how to care for our boy. Then reality hit. The cliquee playgroups, the assumptions I was the nanny, the loneliness, the ‘I just have to get through to the weekend’ mentality and then finally the ground breaking realisation that it was unlikely we were ever going to be a ‘normal’ family. Our son was young but I was his third mother following a neglectful start and a not really adequate foster placement. He was confused, disorientated, grieving and expressed his anger at me freely and relentlessly. We had read the books but nothing could have prepared us for it. Now nearly two years in I am out of the fog and feel I can review and improve my parenting, and rationalise and even avoid the anger outbursts. We chose this path and I’m so glad, I love my boy with my whole heart but the realisation that I deserved empathy and was desperately in need of it so that I could start to empathically parent was what saved us. To all those who’ve shared a kind or understanding word with me, I am so grateful!

Steps

20130330_110732That all-important conversation that resulted in our stopping the use of contraception. Our wonderfully spontaneous and abandoned sex life which gradually, gradually morphed into something organised, timed and goal-oriented ! Those scores of expensive ovulation and pregnancy test devices : who’d have known that plastic sticks could be capable of ruling your life and bringing forth such anticipation and deflation ? (One that told us the right story even got gift-wrapped and given to my partner on his birthday……) The absolute faith and certainty in beginning IVF treatments. The abject misery and devastation of each failure. The renewed belief and confidence in success that came with a holistic, natural medicine course. The several pregnancies that couldn’t get past 4 weeks. The hope and hopelessness; the optimism and despair; the expectation and anguish; the longing and tears; the excitement and the grieving. Seven years of these painful steps. Steps that led us to the door of our adoption agency upon which we knocked firmly. Steps that I now, frankly, rejoice in. For if we hadn’t taken them we would never have met and loved our beautiful, comical, clever 3 year old daughter who brings such sunshine to our lives and to those of our extended families. I don’t say this lightly, I mean it from the bottom of my heart, and only you other adoptive parents will believe and understand me : I feel lucky not to have had our own birth child.

Touch Wood

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABefore I was a parent, in fact well before I’d even met my husband, I only had one proper, if somewhat amorphous, goal: I wanted to be a happy mum, eeking out a living from teaching, writing bits and bobs and selling homemade fudge from an old ice cream van at festivals. In between all that and having fun with my family I would be walking the dog, tinkering on a piano and pottering around an easel with a paintbrush in a white house with big windows, surrounded by green grass and trees, wearing only a kaftan and dangly earrings.

So far, life hasn’t quite worked out like that (perhaps fortunately, in the case of the kaftan) but lately – and I shudder to write this, tempting as it does the hand of fate – things have been feeling pretty darn good. You never know, one day soon I could even be ticking some of those wishes off my bucket list.

Since Django changed schools, yes, there have been a few wobbles – it hasn’t and never will be completely plain sailing and there are SATS to contend with for heaven’s sake – but there has definitely been a palpable shift in his mood and (dare I say it?) his resilience. Could it be he is growing up?!

Last night he cooked tea. Not cake, nor bread, nor anything remotely involving flour or sugar. No, he made a salad. And this miraculous salad, which he made following a RECIPE (shock horror gasp), even contained ingredients that he doesn’t usually enjoy eating, like avocado and cold cooked chicken. Still more wondrous, my little Roux-boy consciously made a dish that complemented the meal I had already planned (lamb kofte and new potatoes, as it happens). He worked WITH me, in the Stickleberry kitchen, for nearly an hour with NO anger, NO controlling, NO attention deficits, NO handstands, NO keepy-uppies, NO terrible mess, NO zooming off halfway through to watch the telly, NO refusing to clear up and absolutely NO forgetting to go to the toilet. And the resulting meal was delicious too! I was soooo happy I nearly burst the seams of my ill-fitting, imaginary kaftan.

I don’t want to burst any bubbles at the same time, but the flip side is the effect Django’s change of mood/demeanour/approach has had on Red. In her mind’s eye (and often ours) SHE is the calm, wise, resilient one who knows how to behave, focus, problem-solve and COOK, dontcha know? Django taking on her sensible role leaves her some space to be angry, a space which she is taking up with gusto. Even this has its uses because she does tend to bottle things up but she is also left questioning her usual identity, and so feels doubly lost and fearful. All this on top of and because her older brother, the only one who has always been there, is no longer around at school to protect (or be protected by) her.

But we’re aware of that, and giving her extra love and time too, to counter the meltdowns. The truth is we are all in a far, far better place than we have ever been. I’m even considering inviting some friends round! Our smiles are wider and we’re breathing more deeply – and for however long it lasts I want us all to remember this feeling because like this is just how we want our lives to be.

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: Epiphany

DSC_4359PHEWee. It’s over. One by one we take the decorations down and pack them carefully into boxes that will be lifted into the loft not to be seen for the rest of the year. The cobwebs of Christmas are being swept away and the house will feel brighter, cleaner and airy again. Normal life can be resumed. Until next year, when the magic can begin all over again. What is left is the thought of the birthmother who must have missed her child at Christmas time. Our son’s birthfather is unknown, but I wonder whether he too didn’t think of his child (we know he knows there is a child). There are many times during the course of the year when I pause to think of his birthparents, not least round Christmas when the farewell meeting took place. Our joy is their loss. I wish I could tell them how much he enjoyed Christmas. How excited he got. How overtired he got. How happy he was. How many silly and highly flammable things he made in the run up for it. How many Christmas songs he can now sing. How cute he looks in wings and a halo. How many more cuddles, giggles and kisses we got as his parents, because we have been together as a family 24/7 for nearly two weeks. It has been special for all of us. Everyone has taken many photos. One day I hope he our son can share stories and memories from his childhood with his birthparents. The childhood they for many reasons couldn’t share with him.

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: I wish it could be Christmas every day.

Image 7I wouldn’t be at the office; I would be at home morning, noon and evening with my family. Tick.

I would respond bleary-eyed to the dawn shouting of my child and get to see her just after sleep and get to hear her stories of what happened during the night when she wasn’t sleeping, ever. Tick.

I would get to bring my wife her morning coffee in bed, served with tons of kisses and cuddles from a snuggly child. Tick.

I would get to have porridge for breakfast with my daughter and we would muck about all morning. Tick.

I would get to see her wonder at the Father Christmas Tree lights and the wrapped presents underneath. Tick.

I would get to sit down to a scrumptious lunch and hear my daughter negotiating skilfully on the amount of vegetables she has to eat. Tick.

I would get to put her to bed for an afternoon nap and read her stories. Tick.

I would get to pretend to sleep in the armchair in her room while she pretended to close her eyes. Tick.

I would actually fall asleep for a while listening to her gentle breathing as she succumbed to the energy sapping of the morning’s activities. Tick.

I would get to spend some quiet alone time with my wife downstairs. Tick.

I would get to play with her before tea and sit with her while she ate, discussing what happened yesterday (could actually be yesterday or could be a year ago), and what she wanted to do tomorrow (could be tomorrow, could be next year). Tick.

But hang on.

I would have to eat turkey and sprouts, Christmas pud and cake, chocolates, crisps and nuts, Quality Street, drink champagne, wine and beer every day, spend all my money on scooters and Ben and Holly DVDs, listen to Fairy Tale of New York and Noddy Holder constantly, watch endless repeats of Only Fools and Horses. I would get super-sized in no time. I would never leave the house and eventually they would have to take out the living room windows to get a crane in, use huge levers to wedge me out of my armchair while my child looked up with fleeting interest from her puzzles, to see me being winched out of the house and into a waiting transport to a mental institution.

So I’m glad it’s not Christmas every day. Except for the stupendous joy that it would be to dance crazily around the living room every day with my daughter to the Strictly Christmas Special while my wife laughed her head off at us. That would be good.

 

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: The Smarties Telephone

Image 2When I was little My mum took me out one Christmas for lunch with one of her friends and her very well behaved daughter.   As we arrived at the venue I caught sight of a toy telephone filled with Smarties in a nearby shop window and I practically had a religious experience…. I mean I NEEDED that telephone more than I had ever needed anything else in my life. I was transfixed and nothing else mattered. After being pulled away from the shop window and into the restaurant I can remember my mum attempting to chat with her friend while I tugged and tugged at her skirt trying to let her know how important the telephone was. She needed to understand that if I didn’t get it my life would be meaningless and empty. My poor old mum coped well for a while as I bombarded her with begging and whining and crying. She reasoned with me and eventually made it abundantly clear that the Smarties telephone was not going to be joining us on the journey home. Outraged, I cranked it up and threw a proper tantrum while her friend’s daughter sat meekly at the table displaying  all the characteristics of a perfectly behaved child. – What was wrong with her? – Hadn’t she seen the telephone? Before I had a chance to ask her these questions we were up and out of that cafe in a flurry of anger and exhaustion on my mum’s part. Her friend and her daughter left at the table with party hats, Christmas crackers the an uneaten Christmas dinner as my poor old Mum dragged me kicking and screaming away from the cafe and the Smarties telephone for ever…

My daughter is similarly strong willed and determined. She is beautiful but can go into meltdown over any little thing like being given her juice in the wrong colour cup, or having to wear a hat or gloves in the cold or not being allowed to stand on a chair to stir the contents of a boiling hot saucepan. Yesterday it was because although she had just been given a teddy bear, she saw a toy cat and realised that she needed both in order to feel fulfilled! Christmas ramps it up and I keep trying to let her know that Father Christmas probably won’t bring every single item she has listed in her letter (that should be letters – she has written three so far).

What to do in these situations? Ride it out I suppose. Maybe some parents are a lot better at distracting their children from these flash points than I am, but any suggestions would be gratefully received … I certainly have a newfound respect for my Mum and how she coped in those early years now that I’m a mum myself.

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: All I want for Christmas

Image 9All I want for Christmas
It’s become part of family lore that when our eldest daughter was about 4 or 5, Dad got lost driving during a snow storm and we ended up, after dark, in a forest festooned with twinkly lights, where elves were waiting to greet us, and Mother Christmas had gingerbread men that needed decorating and her husband was snoozing by the fire in his cosy little hut, waiting to hear what she wanted most of all on Christmas Day.

Believe me, it worked a treat. The (real) snow was a fortuitous, if unexpected bonus (the hairy drive from London to Kent notwithstanding) and everything else, in the four hours we spent in that magical forest, sealed a belief in the big beardy guy in a red suit that has not waned, even though our eldest is soon to be 11.

I’m fully aware that she may be going along with it, still, for our benefit, but I don’t actually think that’s the case – I think our eldest daughter has an ingrained belief in magic. Richard Dawkins can huff and puff all he likes about the dishonesty of promoting myths and the supernatural to kids but, for her, it’s made every Christmas since just that bit more special – and for us, too.

So when our youngest daughter came into our lives, four years ago, it’s been our aim to recreate that magical experience ever since she heard about it, in breathless wonder, from her older sister. But, for one reason or other, I’ve never pulled it off – for her first Christmas with us, it was just too soon; another year, we had a family bereavement to cope with. But, most often, it was the prosaic reason of not having booked early enough – this gig tends to sell out in early November!

Don’t get me wrong – we HAVE taken our youngest to see Father Christmas at some venue or other, every year. But, last year, after a particularly disappointing specimen, her world-weary verdict afterwards of: “Well, he was just an actor in a suit, wasn’t he, mum?” gave me a lump in my throat for all the wrong reasons.

She’s five years old.

This year, when Christmas started to appear in all the shops, and she said: “I wish daddy could drive and get us lost so that we find that forest with the real Father Christmas!”, I could hardly keep the smile off my face – this time, we were booked, well in advance.

So, yesterday, we set off; the special, personalised invitations for each child safe in my bag, we told the girls we were going for a family day out to the zoo. Neither wanted to go – why were we going to a zoo on a cold, damp day when they could go to the indoor play centre down the road? We bundled them out, still moaning and sulking, and off we went. An hour and a half later, they’re beside themselves with contempt when Dad said he’s lost and the satnav has stopped working.

“Let’s just go back HOME!” protested the eldest.

But by then we were in the forest, and I pull the trump cards out of my bag… “Well, actually, we’ve got a special appointment, girls…”

Our youngest couldn’t read her invite but she recognised the guy’s picture on the front, along with her name. Our eldest was squealing at such a high pitch that only (husky) dogs could probably hear her now.

So far, so special…then:

“You know what I’m going to ask Father Christmas for, Mum?” breathes our youngest, her eyes shining.

“I’m going to ask if I can meet my birth mum, again – even before I’m a teenager.”

Her dad and I glanced wordlessly at each other but we kept the smiles on our faces.

“You can ask him that baby, sure,” I said. “But I don’t think he can make that happen straightaway, you know. Besides, I hope he doesn’t think that you’re asking that because you’re unhappy living with us?”

Why on earth did I say that? This wasn’t about how good a family we were; we’re not in a competition, here. This was my OWN need for affirmation that shouldn’t impact at all on what my child feels about her situation at any – maybe all – given times of the year. And at least she was sharing it with us, rather than burying that (probably) ever-present longing down deep for fear of how we might react.

Fortunately, she considered my statement with a maturity that had temporarily deserted me. “Yes, I’m happy living with my family,” she nodded. “But I just want to see my birth mum again before I’m 18.”

“Well, we’ve said we’ll help you with that, baby,” I said, “but when you’re a bit older, though.”

And then suddenly we’re tramping through the forest, back on track in every sense, and it was just as magical as I’d remembered from before and hoped for this time. Sitting in a fairy-lit glade, with a wise-cracking elf hanging his socks on a washing line between the trees, our youngest turned to us with THAT expression peculiar to Christmas time – full of wonder and glow and glee.

Then, when he cracked open a wooden door to the main attraction – the forest dusted with snow, lit only by fairy lights in the gathering dusk, and winding paths where special ‘herders’ were walking actual huskies, her grin was a mile wide.

But while her sister galloped on, taking it all at face value, our youngest felt the fir trees between thumb and forefinger. “It’s not real snow, mum,” she whispered. “I think it’s made of paper.”

“That’s because it’s magic snow, love,” I whispered back.

Then, later, with the elves in their toy factory: “I don’t think they are elves, mum – I think they’re grown ups dressed up. And why is my invite from Father Christmas printed and not actual handwriting?”

“Well, he has to write to a lot of children, love, so he’s probably got a printer to save him time.”

We’ve been aware from very early on that our daughter tells it how she sees it and that there’s a cynicism in her world-view that is not apparent in her older sister. Whether this is simply a personality trait or informed by her early years experience of being let down by the two most important people in her life, we don’t know. Maybe it’s a mixture of the two. But surely every child needs to have one moment of believing in magic, don’t they?

And, eventually, we’re knocking on the door of the main man’s hut at the end of a long, winding, snowy path. We’re ushered in by an elf and even I feel a lurch back to 40-odd years ago when I believed in magic. I gasp back a single sob that comes out of nowhere. The kids sit beside him, awe-struck. He knows their likes and dislikes; their hobbies; their pets. He shows them their names on his ‘good’ Christmas Eve list. He asks our youngest what she wants most of all and I hold my breath, ready to pitch in if I need to.

“I’d like a tree that grows diamonds!” she announces. “Or a doll’s house….”

On our way out, she confides in me as we walk along, past grazing reindeer and a parked up, red and gold sleigh: “I don’t think dad really got lost driving here, mum, and the elves and snow aren’t real – but Father Christmas is. Can we come again tomorrow?”

I laugh and say no, but he’ll be visiting us on Christmas Eve – and I’m really glad she’s finally got to meet the real Father Christmas.

Silence. Then: “I love you, Mum”.

And there, knackered and a bit muddy, trying to find our car in the dark in a forest car-park, was the magic of Christmas.

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas: 2014

Image 52014 has been tough.

2014 was the year we lost three houses we tried to buy – including a ‘dream home’. It was the year we had to put our home life on hold after making an offer in January – not to complete a purchase until the end of November.

2014 was the year stamp duty changed and we completed on our new home just before the new rate. It was the year we paid £10,000 more because we missed the change by a week and a half.

2014 was the year the banks changed their lending criteria making it almost impossible for me to run my company through absolutely no fault of my own. It is the year when I have been forced to reconsider my future.

2014 was the year our son’s older sister’s placement broke down and we had to turn down taking on a third child as we felt it could destabilise the boys and threaten the family we feel we are still building. It was the year we had to make a decision that we know our sons could resent us for in the future.

2014 was the year that our cat died, it was the year that we lost our beloved pet of almost 14 years.

2014 was the year my brother went into hospital and stayed for over 8 months. It was the year he was diagnosed with a very rare blood disorder – complicated by an even rarer secondary disorder – and had treatment that 1 in 5 simply don’t survive.

2014 was the year that mid way through his treatment my brother picked up an extremely rare infection that attacked his spine and resulted in total paralyses from the waist down. it was the year that we thought he would never walk again.

2014 was the year our sister died, it was the year the cancer really took hold and we had to watch it eating away at her until her untimely end.

2014 was the year I had to collect my paralysed brother from his hospital bed and drive him over 2 hrs to say goodbye to our dying sister who he had been unable to see for months. It was also the year when it was impossible to have my brother with me at our sisters funeral.

2014 was the year my widowed father lost his daughter and almost lost his son. It took the wind out of his sails, and has taken away a big chunk of the reason he has to get up in the morning and has left him a broken man. It was the year he has became more reliant on me.

Putting it bluntly – 2014 has been the worse year of my life.

However – 2014 started 1 year and 3 months into us being a family.

2014 had –

365 days that started and ended with kisses and cuddles from our 2 amazing sons.

365 days when our sons have given us the need and indeed the reason to smile.

365 days when we had to put them first regardless.

365 days when we had to put on a brave face and to protect them from the difficulties and the sadness around them.

365 days of our sons giving us perspective.

365 days of our sons making it ‘all alright’.

365 days of us loving the wonder of being parents.

365 days of love – So very much love.

Maybe 2014 wasn’t so bad after all.

However –

Here’s to 2015.