The Red Front Door

peppaIt’s been a busy year.

My husband has worked really, really hard at his fledgling business.

our young daughter has developed in leaps and bounds needing more and more stimulation and activity.

I have lost a close friend plus had emergency spinal surgery – narrowly avoiding permanent paralysis of the legs. I should just be relieved and happy to have got through it all but really all I can think is Thank God we’re going on holiday because we’re all about to crash with the stress of the year so far…

We booked a hotel in Crete at an all inclusive (something we have never done before, being villa types usually. But we figure with a 4 year old it will be easier for all of us). It looks sublime online. 2 swimming pools, beautiful food and all the reviews rave about its ‘quiet location’ and secret hideaway status. Hmmm…..Not quite true but I’ll put that down as our 1st mistake – failure to properly research our destination.

2nd mistake? – We fail to really take into account how long the journey will be. With a 4 hour flight, journey to the airport, 2 hour check in and 2 hour transfer at the other end, it means that all in all our journey takes approx. 12 hours door to door and the daughter understandably eventually goes into meltdown. It’s all way too much for her little head to deal with and through exhausted eyes she starts crying and shouting ‘Are we in Greece yet? You said we were going to Greece! – Is Greece outside because I can’t see it anywhere’.

The husband and I are trying hard to stay upbeat about our family adventure but we’re also exhausted and maybe she picks up on it because things suddenly start to get a lot worse for her…

Once we get to our room we immediately try to cosy it up for her by putting some of her toys from home on the bed and reading books that she knows and loves, but it doesn’t work. The environment is alienating and it does her in… Desperately homesick and missing our dog  she starts to cry “I miss my home. This place hasn’t got a red door. I want our red front door”. That sounds sort of cute when I read it back but it was heart-wrenching in reality. She was drenched with fear and confusion and really struggling to cope. And this went on for hours…

And this was out 3nd BIG mistake – We somehow failed in epic proportions to prepare her for this trip. We had talked about it for weeks… all about the sea and the swimming pools and the big aeroplane – yet here she was… literally begging us to take her to back to familiarity.

Once she understood that going home that minute was not an option she became inconsolable and seemed to think we were lying to her… and my heart truly broke for her.

A long, long night of mania, acting out, hysteria and crying followed during which I reassured her it was ok to be sad and that we would be going back home soon – until she fell into a fitful sleep around 3am, red eyed and shaky from all the crying.

What followed for us? … guilt and a decision to return home in the morning if things had not improved.

We are now on day 3. She is enjoying it a bit more…splashing around in the pool, playing on the children’s rides in town and staying up later than usual. But when it starts to get dark and she’s finished playing for the day she sidles up to me and grabs my hand. “I miss my home mummy” she whispers, trying not to cry. “I know sweetheart” I say. “It’s Ok to miss it. I do too, but we’ll be back before you know it”. “Yes,” she says. “It’s not the end of the world is it?”

THE THINGS I MISS

2012-07-04 17.27.00Spending a lazy Saturday afternoon watching five hours of international rugby – or watching most of it between napping – uninterrupted, on my own.

Not thinking “I should stop drinking with my friends and go home now” at 10pm.

Spending six hours all told playing golf without feeling guilty.

Driving in my car listening to The Meteors at full volume without being interrupted by “I don’t like it!!”

Lying by the pool in the sunshine for two hours reading my book without constant otherness vigilance.

Having that one more glass of wine at lunchtime knowing that it’s ok because I can sleep if off in the afternoon.

Coming home and saying to my wife, “let’s go out tonight.”

Being out at 11pm and not thinking that we need to call the babysitter and beg for 30 minutes more.

Not holding her when she was born.

The 13 months I spent not knowing her.

Watching her not really blow out the candles on her first birthday.

Her first smile; her first laugh; her first face full of spaghetti sauce.

The mornings I don’t see her wake up.

The evenings I don’t chat to her before she goes to sleep.

The unbridled joy on her face at riding her scooter for the first time.

This afternoon when she saw a picture of herself at 13 months being held by her new forever Mummy and said, “I could look at that forever.”

Just a little bit of sadness.

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

I love my sons utterly and completely and I love my life as a parent, they bring so much joy and a level of happiness unlike anything I have experienced before, however there is one thing that stops my joy being 100% – the fact that my mother never got to meet the boys and that they don’t have her in their lives.

She died 14 years ago – 11 years before we adopted – and at just 62 was way too young, her death has of course left a huge hole in my life and indeed in the lives of all those who were close to her and she is still missed greatly most every day. Her death was before it became possible for gay people to adopt so from the day of my coming out she had never even considered that I could be a parent and I was always aware how deeply upsetting and painful that was for her. Consequently I know how elated she would now be to see me as a father.

I guess most people think that their mothers are ‘ the perfect mother’ as they were taught what mothering is about by them, however some mothers are just more… well… motherly and my mother was one of those mothers who are the most motherly – and indeed grandmotherly – of all.

She lived for her children – or indeed anybody else’s children if allowed – and then when we were grown and my siblings had children of their own – she lived for her grandchildren.

She was a fantastic grandmother and was adored by her grandchildren, an adoration she so deserved as she put so much time, effort and thought into the role and it saddens me that my children don’t have that in their lives.

My partners mother is a wonderful grandmother, but lives 6000 miles away and consequently her relationship with our boys feels limited.

They have missed out on so much in their short lives and although we try our hardest to make up for that, I am so aware that a totally committed and unconditional grandmothers love on a day basis is just something we are unable to provide.

The Questions #17 A peek into how we do family

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooc

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

Pixie usually comes in about 4am either tapping his mouth and saying “Dee” which means his dummy has dropped out and he cannot find it or holding out his arms and making his “pick me up” noise. Either way, he then ends up snuggled in with us for the next couple of hours.

Why Adoption?

Nothing else felt like the right way to have a family.

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

One year- and that was with approval panel being delayed twice!

How could it be improved?

I don’t think we had any complaints over assessment or matching. My real issue now is the current legal climate: upper court judges treating adopters like unpaid foster carers and returning children to birth families who have been previously found by lower courts and experts to be unsuitable to parent. Four times in the past seven months, this time last year it had never happened. In my view, no due regard is given to how this will traumatise the children and too much emphasis appears to be given to birth parents’ rights. I think these upper court judges should spend some time on the front line of child protection and talking to adopters about the special kind of parenting these children need. I am very close to being put off adopting again.

What has been the biggest surprise?

How amazing it is. We keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, how can we have been this lucky?!

How was the assessment process?

Like free therapy! We did struggle a bit when panel was delayed but overall we had it easy.

What’s your favourite thing to do together?

Anything we do with him that makes him giggle- chasing pigeons, kicking a football, cuddles, tickles, you name it.

What makes you and your family laugh?

Him- so cheeky, he gets this glint in his eye when he is about to grab something we don’t want him to have and then he runs off cackling.

The best thing about being a parent?

Watching the bond between us grow and seeing his trust and reliance on us develop.

The hardest thing about being a parent?

Re point 8- keeping a straight face and not encouraging him by laughing!

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child?

Try to keep as curious as you can about your surroundings for as long as you can.

What time do you go to bed?

About 11pm.

They f*** you up

lili gooch 1It’s said that once you become a parent you will get to know someone who you have known all your life but never really known. Your own parents. Usually this is said with tenderness and often forgiveness.

Since I became a mum I have got to know mine better too. Only they don’t come out the better for it. It has stirred up a lot of deep seated resentment and anger.

You see … I was the compliant one. I did well in school and at after school activities. I never caused much trouble. I had self-obsessed parents, who lived knee deep in their own problems. They simply had little time for me. I definitely got more attention from them if I did well and was helpful.

Our home was a good middle class academic home. Liberal, tolerant and forward thinking. Members of the chitteraty. You can tell them by their unfailing and superior persuasion. My parents imparted a lot of knowledge. Mainly about astrology, politics, STD and contraception.

My parents got drunk at parties and it being the seventies had multiple partners. Before I turned 14, I had had 3 stepdads, 3 stepmums, not counting the lovers. I could tell these lovers by their unnerving, disproportional interest in me, and then they’d suddenly be out of our lives again. I also had 6 stepsiblings, some of whom I never saw again after our parents split up. This did not faze me too much. This was normal.

One day a week I would cook for the family. Thursdays. I started aged six and stopped when I moved out aged 18. There was a purse to go shopping for ingredients. If mum forgot to put it out I would cook from whatever I could find in cupboards and the fridge. I painted my first wall in our new house aged 8. From aged 10 I cleaned the house every week. I babysat for people in the neighbourhood and my younger siblings from aged 12. And so on… None of this ever seemed unusual to me. Until I became a mum. Now I think blimey, I was a kid. I also think it strange that my siblings and I spent so much time home alone.

My siblings never really learned to cook or clean. They spent their time getting angry and shouting at the grown ups a lot. They wanted to be seen. I reasoned with them, telling them our parents loved us but agreed they could be silly. That they – my siblings – should grow up, stop shouting and stop expecting things of my parents that they would never get. But they just kept on slamming doors and moved out as soon as they could. I now cringe at what I said to them.

As a good adoptive parent I read a lot about parenting and trauma. But I’ve been surprised at how much I seem to be reading about my own family rather than about my daughter. I understand that my parents had awful upbringings. I see their pain. That they did try to do their best. But at the moment this knowledge does nothing but anger me. For crying out loud they had four kids with ten fingers and ten toes. Who have all done reasonably well in life.

My parents were well educated and affluent. I flirt with the idea that they had a moral obligation to get themselves sorted. Instead they indulged in decades of extended adolescence. Once they became parents why did it not dawn on them to try?? My mum did. But in effect this meant that she spent my adolescence in therapy. Emotionally unavailable. She was licking her own wounds. I get that. But I’ll be damned if she didn’t inflict a few new ones.

I could tell my mother’s mood from the way she turned the key in the door when she got home. And usually it meant I would get out and stay out of her way. Turn off the music, gather my things and go to my room if I had been daring enough to spread out and enjoy the living room.

It seems more customary to get angry at your parents in your teens and twenties. Not in your forties. I admit these thoughts and feelings of mine are puerile. I’m having my teenage go at my parents in my late forties.

But that’s where I am.

Really really f***ed up at my parents.

I’ll be damned if I want to repeat those mistakes.

I’m working so hard at understanding my past. I am especially trying to turn certain knee jerk reactions around. Like the short sneer at my daughter or a quick scolding of her when I can’t contain her needs and demands. Those moments strike me with pure fear. Because I remember how it felt on the receiving end. So I work at our relationship. Moment by moment. Event by event. And I apologise to her when I mess up.

Being an older parent and having waited for so long to become a mum, I used to think it was a weakness, but now it seems it is a strength. I’ve done career, I’ve proven myself – of sorts – to others, I have a mortgage, a car, I can decide my own bedtime and what is in my fridge. By all accounts I’m a grown up. My parents were children when they had me. They only just finished school. I was a whoops. Born just before free abortion…

My daughter is the focus of my life.

I am very happily resigned to being second forever more. I want to be a mum till I leave this mortal coil. As a child, I often felt we were in the way of our parents’ happiness. Their sighs were a give away. I know they loved us, but did they like us? Do they?

I am determined to do it differently, better preferably.

Playing has been an excellent place to start. Enjoying each other.

Getting to know my daughter.

The Questions #16 A peek into how we do family.

20140315_120934How and when does your child/children wake you in the morning?

I am very lucky because my daughter is a late riser. During term time I have to drag her out of bed at 7a.m and in the holidays it can be 8 or later!

Why adoption?
I gave up on waiting for Mr Right and decided to look for a master or
miss – right to have the family I’d always wanted.

From start of assessment to bringing your child home how long did the process take?
I attended a November induction course and finally met and brought home my
beautiful girl 19 months later.

How could it be improved?
I think the time from my daughter moving in with me to her legally becoming
mine could have been shorter. It was 9 long months.

What has been the biggest surprise?
How quickly we settled in to life together and how soon it was before I
couldn’t remember life before she came.

How was the assessment process?
I was lucky, it went smoothly and I had a social worker who was easy to
talk to.

What’s your favorite thing to do together?
Sharing and making up our own stories, baking and hunting for Gruffalos.

What makes you and your family laugh?
She does, she has such a unique view of the world and amazing
imagination and is always saying the funniest things.

The best thing about being a parent?
Seeing the world through my daughter’s eyes and never knowing what will
happen next.

The hardest thing about being a parent?
Being a single parent it can be full on sometimes not having someone to
bounce ideas off or tell you it will be ok.

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child?
Be yourself. Try not to have to many ‘what ifs’ in your life.

What time do you go to bed?
Later than I intend to – usually by 11 on a school night.

The Questions #15

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow and when does your child/children wake you in the morning?

Our boys are early to bed so it’s always an early start for us. On a good day it’s 6am or soon after, on a bad one – especially Birthdays, Father’s Day (we have two to celebrate) or some such event it can be pre 5am. One of our first Xmas days it was 2.10 – less than two hrs after we had dragged ourselves into bed, we learnt a lot from that experience and have adapted accordingly.

The good news is that it’s always a gentle start to the day, I am usually already up and they come sit with me for an early morning cuddle. So no complaints.
Why adoption?

The simple answer – we were inspired by friends.
The moment we met the wonderful new family we knew we wanted to do the same.
Adoption is a little more of an obvious choice for gay couples. However, we had previously tried for a birth child – to co parent – with a friend, but that decision had been led by our friend.
When that hadn’t worked naturally (well as naturally as when a turkey baster is involved) there was no desire from us to go on a long journey of ‘treatment’ to try to resolve the issues and after one round of IVF (which had very discouraging results), we brought it to an end.
From start of assessment to bringing your child home how long did the process take?

Nearly 3 years.
We had a major hurdle to overcome when somebody in our lives tried to derail us with a vicious email to our agency declaring us to be unfit – and listing varying reasons why. Our agency were fantastic and worked with us to overcome the problems raised.
It did however all go into our report and when our agency had no siblings and we needed to look around other agencies we met with a lot of silence and immediate rejection which caused big delays.
How could it be improved?
We have no issues with the process, we feel speeding it up is a mistake, it’s a huge undertaking and time gives you a chance to assess and re assess your decision.
What has been the biggest surprise?

The immediacy and intensity of the love and the fact that we have never considered them anything other than our sons – 100% our sons – from Day 1. We had really expected to have to grow into that.
How was the assessment process?

Understandably intrusive and surprisingly emotional.
What’s your favourite thing to do together?

Holiday. That may be a little obvious, but having time to be together makes anything we do feel special.
However, If you ask the boys they would no doubt say going to the cinema – as much as I love the cinema (although I am rapidly reaching saturation point with ‘kids’ movies) sitting in the dark, staring at a screen doesn’t exactly feel like ‘family time’.

What makes you and your family laugh?

Silliness – usually me clowning around.
However, If you ask the boys I am sure they would say something terrible to do with willies, bums or passing wind (somebody please reassure me they grow out of that).
The best thing about being a parent?

The love and being so completely needed.
The hardest thing about being a parent?

Realising that you are not as good at it as you expected.
The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child?

Be generous. With your time, with your love and with your understanding.
What time do you go to bed?

We aim for 10.00, but are often asleep on the sofa before that.