The mother of a close friend was over from Africa and came to our house to meet our new sons; we had made a lot of how far away she lived and that she had taken a long flight to get here. We spoke about Africa and all the wild animals and the boys were suitably intrigued and excited.
It was still quite early days in the boys’ placement and although we felt they had settled quickly, in retrospect it’s clear to see that they still had a long way to go before they really felt any sense of security or permanence.
Our guest was quite taken with the boys and half way through the evening from the opposite end of the room I heard her declare ‘my goodness what wonderful little boys you are, in fact you are so lovely I’m going to take you home with me’.
Innocent words delivered with warmth and a smile, words that to most children would be seen as a tease and do little more than elicit giggles and smiles. However these words to adopted children still in the first few months of placement mean something quite different indeed.
They mean ‘she IS going to take them home’ and the look on our sons’ faces clearly displayed their confusion at the thought of being taken away from their new Daddies and thrust into yet another home with different parents.
Thankfully the moment I heard the words I realised how they would sound to our sons and immediately started to laugh – to ease their tension – and responded ‘oh no you’re not, nobody is taking our sons away from us’.
Oblivious to the confusion she had created our guest continued to ‘compliment’ the boys by firmly stating ‘ oh yes I am, they will love Africa, won’t you boys?’
Shaking my head and continuing to laugh I approached the boys, knelt down to their level and repeated my reassurance that they were going nowhere, but still she failed to see the negative effect her words were having. Thankfully as she again started to insist that her plans were real, our – clearly more sensitive – friend stepped in with a firm ‘no mother you are not taking them anywhere, they are here with their new dads and that’s where they will always be from now on.’
Finally the penny dropped and she immediately assured the boys that she was just joking and that they would indeed always be with us from now on.
It was a difficult couple of minutes. It would have been inappropriate to make a big fuss and make her feel she had done something wrong because of course there was no ill intent – quite the reverse – and it’s no doubt something she had said many times before with other children. However it had needed dealing with immediately, regardless of it causing her embarrassment.
We knew better – not that that stops us making mistakes – but how on earth could she or would she have realised her error without us there to point it out? It was still early days and it made me realise that everybody around us was learning – just as we were.
Later with the boys tucked up in bed, she apologised and we stressed how it was just a simple mistake and that no harm had been done. She went on to say how the incident had filled her with a sadness for the little soles whose lives to date had seen such turmoil that the idea of simply being passed on to another family was very much a reality.
This took place almost 3 years ago and it was brought to mind yesterday when a friend who babysat our sons last week told me of her horror when she did a very similar thing. After an evening of the boys being on – thankfully and certainly not guaranteed – best behaviour she stated ‘you boys have been so good today, in fact I think I’m going to adopt you’, she said their quizzical expressions made her immediately realise her foolish choice of words and she back-tracked by telling them that she was being silly and of course she wasn’t going to be doing anything of the sort.
She was in fact apologising to me for what she had done and was clearly upset; I of course was not and pointed out that it was an innocent mistake and one she had rectified immediately and no harm had been done.
It did make me realise the difference between the two incidents and it was satisfying to see that just like us the other people around our sons were learning to understand them and their situation and as a consequence they are dealing with them in a much more sensitive manner.