Family Hug

It’s been three years.

Our anniversary was simply acknowledged with a family hug, the four of us embracing – as we have on so many occasions throughout those three years – in a circle with our arms wrapped around each other and squeezing as tight as we can until somebody complains that it’s too tight or that they can’t breath and then (and only then) we loosen our embrace.

It’s a bit of a family ritual that came about from those early days when we were thinking of anything that we could do that incorporated the word family, anything that would help us bond together and get the boys feeling that they belonged and that we were indeed a family.

It’s a simple – but actually quite intimate ritual and on this occasion it certainly belied the true magnitude of what we were celebrating.  We had been a family for three years which meant that both our boys had spent longer with us than with their birth parents or their foster parents .

Three years and we could finally reason with ourselves that they unquestionably saw us as their parents and their only parents, no more sharing with ghosts of the past, no more fearing that although they clearly loved us that they in fact loved other people who have parented them more.

We know that they were probably foolish fears, but we carried them with us regardless and it felt good to finally let them go.

It has been an amazing three years, not easy by any stretch of the imagination (but nobody said it was going to be) and in spite of the tough times what we remember most are three years full of hugs and kisses and of laughter and of love and of learning.

For the boys: learning about us, about who we are, about our rules, and about our expectations.

For us: learning about who they are, what their – very different – needs are and well… just learning how to be parents.

Part of that learning was just how much a hug can mean – especially a family hug.

So Damn Stupid

Photo by Lili Gooch

Up early, well before the alarm. Good, there is never enough time in a day.

Quick shower (it’s so much easier to do this before the boys wake up), dress, make coffee, sort out laundry, put on washing machine, empty… damn, we forgot to put the dishwasher on last night.

Let dog out, wash dog’s bowl, feed her and clean up her mess in the garden.

Second mug of coffee, computer ‘on’. Hopefully a full hour or so of work before the boys wake.

Hear partner getting up, he showers, dresses and comes downstairs. Clanking from the kitchen, too much clanking – the youngest is woken up.

Footsteps as he gets up and leaves his bedroom – they stop at his brother’s door ??? ‘Get out of my room and leave me alone’ I hear screamed moments later. Really? 5.50 am and they are already fighting.

I stop work – nowhere near finished.

Youngest comes downstairs, nothing more than a frown to my ‘good morning’. He has ‘that’ look in his eyes, it’s going to be be of those mornings.

Clearly he has not slept well, he is grumpy, he is defiant and as the morning unfolds he challenges everything and he pushes the boundaries as far as he can.

Partner has prepared breakfast and laid the table, he puts the bins out and sorts out the recycling, he then takes the dog for a walk, checking messages and emails as he goes.

I get the boys school clothes ready and make their beds. I tidy the house from top to bottom as I make my way back to the kitchen. I empty the washing machine, start dryer and unload dishwasher – why use the ‘quick wash’ function when it never does the job, half the items are put back in.

Breakfast is finished and I clean the kitchen and reload the dishwasher.

I set out homework and the boys sit down with me, it becomes clear that the youngest will not engage. He is simply not listening and is continuously distracting and antagonising his brother, the brother is taking the bait and is fighting back. I start to lose my temper and raise my voice – even though I know it will only make things worse.

I’m feeling disrespected and I can feel my anger rising – think therapeutic parenting, think therapeutic parenting I remind myself. It’s not working, I snap and immediately regret it as the youngest visibly closes in on himself. I leave the room before I make the situation worse.

Partner leaves for work after we have discussed what we are doing that evening and what needs picking up for tonight’s dinner. ‘Stay calm’ he says as he walks out the door, which of course just makes me more angry.

My phone bleeps, my first work message of the day. I realise I forgot to plug the phone in last night and I have to search the whole house for the power cable, I discover the oldest has charged MY iPad with it in his room – where screens are not allowed!?!?

I attempt to get back to my work on the computer, but the boys constant bickering makes it impossible.

I let them have screen time (mostly for my sake) and at last there is some calm. I rush through my work to get it finished and prepare what I need for the day.

Teeth cleaned and they are dressed for school. School work collected and bags filled, sports kit cobbled together – where the hell are the big one’s trainers? Shoes on.

The youngest one’s mood is not improving the slightest, everything he says is full of attitude and just on the edge of rudeness (or is it over the edge, but I just don’t have time to admit that?), it is taking every bit of effort from me not to lose it.

At the last minute I realise that I haven’t unloaded the dryer. Damn – not dry, the whole wash is going to be creased to hell by the time I get home tonight unless I take it out and hang it out all over the kitchen. That’s always a good look – and now we are running late and both boys are nagging me about it.

I very briskly walk them to school and the boys fight the entire way. The youngest walks off immediately we reach the play ground and he barely looks back as I shout ‘I love you, have a nice day’, so much for our usual goodbye kiss.

I get my first business call of the day as I am walking away from school, which is actually quite useful as it helps me avoid eye contact with other parents who I don’t have time for. I have to rush to make my first appointment, I am not looking forward to what I am sure will be a hectic day at work.

11am my phone rings, I pick it up and my heart skips a beat – it’s the school. I’m surprised as they haven’t called for well over 5 months now. I answer and I am told that the youngest is ‘not having a good day today’, he has been difficult and disruptive and they are concerned that it seems to be escalating and could get out of hand (as it has many times in the past), they wanted to make me aware of the situation in case I needed to come in. Just what I need today I think, I really thought that they had this under control.

I say that he had been in a difficult mood that morning and that he had been quite challenging. I start to say that he had gone to bed a little late yesterday and was up early, he was probably (not that it excuses his behaviour) a little tired because we had…

and then – and only then – the realisation.

…because we had Contact yesterday.

Contact with his other siblings, the brothers and sisters he doesn’t live with, the brothers and sisters he sees just twice a year, the brothers and sisters he misses so very much.

The ones who remind him of his past life, who highlight the differences between him and his peers. The ones who make him feel vulnerable in his new family – who make him feel like his new life could be temporary after all and that he could be moved on at any moment like each of them have been and just like he was twice before his 5th birthday.

How could I have been SO damn stupid!

Of course he is unsettled, of course he is being difficult and challenging us, challenging the school, challenging the world – of course, of course, of course.

He always is after contact and who can blame him for that? All morning he had been crying out for our love, for our reassurance and for our understanding – in the only way he knows how.

How on earth could I have missed it?

Four Years.

Four years ago today you arrived in our home twinkly and tiny and so brave under the circumstances…
Or did we misread that?
In retrospect you must have been flooded with fear. Your little body stuck in a massive terrifying moment that went on and on. And because we didn’t know you, we assumed arrogantly that your smile was a symptom of calm and acceptance. A sign that we were in fact good parents already who had a good grasp of your needs.
I’m so sorry my darling for our naivety.
I’m so sorry I hadn’t a clue about the trauma you must have suffered.
I wish I could go back and cuddle that baby girl with the insight I have now. But I can’t.
So here we are four years on.
Four years of waking up to your chuckle.
Four years of wiping way your tears
Four years of being called mummy.
Four years of loving you so much it hurts that I’m not perfect at it.
Four big years.
I can remember trying to look forward in time to the little girl you would become but it seemed impossible, scary even. Like the 5 year old you would be a whole new little person I would have to meet and get to know all over again. What if you were harder to win over than the baby in front of me? Who in fact were you going to be?
And yet here we are 4 years on. You are simply you. A bigger, brighter more articulate version of that baby we brought home. It’s miraculous how children grow and develop so quickly and there is so much more of of it to do. So much more to look forward to.
Thank you for our four years.

Best years of my life so far.

Easily.

Here’s to many many more my beautiful daughter.

A Simple Equation

I was at an adoption prep group recently talking as an established adopter and mentioned that even after being placed with us for 3 years our youngest son still clearly struggles with the turmoil of his past, I said that we frequently suffer the consequences of that in his difficult behaviour and how tough we were still finding it. A social worker paused me for a moment, asked how old my son was and said to the group –

‘This sounds quite typical and is to be expected, there is a very rough guide that we use which is the age of the child when they come to you representing in years how long it will take before they are likely to fully settle’

IF this had been said during our prep course or any time during our adoption process we had both forgotten it and hearing it now was wonderfully reassuring.

For a large part of the time our son has been with us we have been waiting – and worse still expecting – for there to be a very obvious and significant improvement in his behaviour, waiting for the signs that he had indeed settled and that he had let go of his hurt and anguish and that he had embraced the love and more importantly the security he now had in our family.

And we have been worried, sometimes very worried that we could not see definite signs that we were close to being there or indeed – on some days – that we were on a path leading there at all.

We do know that things are better, there are of course unquestionable signs of improvement, but we were not sure if some of that is just maturity – regardless we still feel that we are a long way from things being easily manageable.

But now we know better.

Now we know that we have been harbouring unrealistic expectations and that we are still likely to be a way off him being fully settled and his behaviour reflecting that.

You know? Being aware of that helps tremendously. It helps us to relax and helps us accept the behaviour so much more readily – and that’s a huge positive for our parenting and for our family.

Update –

Amazingly this blog has been sitting around unfinished for almost 2 years and our son has in fact now been with us for almost 5 years – his age when he joined us.

So is the equation right?

Well we still deal with difficult behaviour so I could instinctively say NO, but in fact would not be true.

The behaviour we struggled with is now quite rare and there is no question that there is a huge change in him, in fact I do think it’s clear to see that he has very gradually settled into his new life and indeed continues to do so. I would say without question that he is far more secure in our family than he was when I started the blog originally and the difficulties we face today are more to do with his diagnoses of reactive attachment disorder, which we have learnt to deal with therapeutically and which has resulted in far more calm for all of us.

What we have learnt is that there are no short cuts and that as adoptive parents we have to embrace the difficulties for what they are and to allow time to heal the scars that our children arrive with, we have to give them time and we need to have realistic expectations along the way – and trust me it’s worth every bit of effort that takes.