The First Time

I never thought I could love you more than when I first saw you sitting in the school room working hard on your literacy. I then took you on an aeroplane and realised there was even more love to give!

When I found your profile you were 5 years old and I fell in love instantly  they say you know when you find the one, but to be honest I didn’t believe them. I then had to fight for nearly a year to persuade your social worker that I was perfect for you making you 6 and a half before I finally got to meet you. I would lie if I didn’t say that your age worried me to begin with. Worried that I would have missed out on so much. In the weeks leading up to that meeting I struggled with these thoughts: I would never get to rock you asleep; never hear your first words; never change your nappy (maybe I should have rejoiced in this!) never take you to school for the first time; not be there when you first swam a stroke. If I thought about all the firsts I would missed I would have become overwhelmed and maybe started to wonder if I was doing the right thing. Then a very wise lady reminded me that there would always be things I had missed, but there was so much more that we could do together.

We have been together 10 months now and I have been thinking of writing this for some time; our firsts are coming thick and fast now so it’s now or never! Of course I got to rock you asleep, of course I got to bath you, of course I got feed you as you regressed and let me. Then we had a first birthday together; A first Christmas together; first New Year together; First Easter Egg hunt with your cousins and my first Mother’s Day.

Then I got to experience so many firsts: The joy and pride you showed when you swam your first stroke, was only beaten by my own joy. The excitement when you mastered a backward roll and then a handspring; when you first learnt to ride your bike to school. Then there are the small ones that bring me so much joy: Your first bus trip, your first train trip, your first boat trip. Getting your first passport.

The ones that surprise me: When you came back from swimming with my best friend – beyond excited – about “that thing that moved us and we had to hold on”. You were laughing so much with your arms and legs all over the place, knocking things off the side but I was still totally confused! Then i was reliably informed there was a wave machine. It had never occurred to me you had never felt or seen a wave! The following weekend we went camping; your first holiday and they joy you expressed (even for a compost toilet!) You helped set everything up, searched for wood, built your first fire, toasted your first marshmallow or smarshmellow as you call it. I may not have heard your first word, but I have your smarshmellows, skirils (squirrels ) startcastic (sarcastic) and menember (remember) which I will treasure for ever. I will never forget your amazement when your first came across seaweed and walked in the sea with wellies. We spent hours touching it, smelling it and squishing it all for the first time and then second time the following day. You were 7 years old, but lapped it up like a woman having the first glass of wine at a weekend or a toddler tasting chocolate for the first time.

I am a traveller and adventurer and thought my ruck sack would have to be hung up. But the first thing you told me was that a “real mum would get you a passport & take you on loads of holidays”. So after 3 camping trips and a caravan holiday in the U.K. and many stop overs at friends around England to check you can cope with nights away from your bed (and you did amazingly), I bit the bullet and am now taking you on your first aeroplane and overseas holiday. They even let you see the cockpit and you felt honoured. So now as you sit next to me on your first flight, staring out the window – stunned at the sight of clouds and the feeling in your tummy. You told me you are a “10 out of 10” and that’s before you get to swim in your first outside pool in the sun, feel hot sand through your toes for your first time, build your first foreign sand castle, swim in the sea with your snorkel for the first time (that you have been practising with in the bath). These are all the things you are excited about, not forgetting your first buffet breakfast where I have agreed you can have whatever you want!

If I didn’t know it before, Miss AAK, I am totally honoured to share my travelling life with you for the first time. Anyone out there who is worried about missing out on all those firsts – create your own. Yes, I cried when we took off and you squealed with joy! I may not be the first person you ever called mummy, but it really doesn’t matter!

My mum’s sausage rolls.

I grew up with avid foodie parents who loved nothing more than trying to outdo each other in the kitchen.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times my father demonstrated how to crack open and dress a crab. Seafood was his speciality and our Sunday tea usually consisted of crab, brown shrimps, winkles and cockles, salad and brown bread and butter and was utterly delicious.

My mum was a different story. Much as she tucked into the seafood with us, her heart was elsewhere and her absolute speciality was and still is making the most perfect shortcrust pastry you have ever tasted. It is a simple thing but done correctly is a thing of beauty.

She created numerous pie and tarts but the thing we loved most as a family – particularly my dad – was her sausage rolls. He was crazy about that combination of shortcrust pastry and filling.

It’s more usual to make a sausage roll using flakey or puff pastry but mum always favoured shortcrust and I have to say I still definitely prefer it.

Other essential ingredients are of course a good quality free range pork sausagemeat, pinch of mixed herbs and a grated onion, and a beaten egg for glazing.

Needless to say, this recipe has been passed on to me and my daughter now loves them the same way my father did. If she sees me making them she will let out a squeal of delight and rush over to try and ‘help’ me roll out the pastry (most of this ends up in her mouth). I imagine she’ll be making them herself before too long. Maybe with her own daughter.

Time marches on and my father sadly died this year but at the end of last year when he was getting frail and not eating very much, he and my mother came to stay and he asked if she would make some of her famous sausage rolls. We were both so pleased that he wanted to eat something – and seeing that my mother was tired I immediately jumped in and offered to make them instead.

“Ooh yes please! Can I help?”, came the cry from my daughter peeping round his bedroom door, so off we two went and made mum’s famous sausage rolls.

When they were done and we were all tucking into them around my dad’s bed, he took a bite, turned to my mum and said “Do you know I think this pastry might be even better than yours”…

I’ll never forget the look on her face or the smile on his. Priceless.

Thanks for all the laughs dad.

And Happy Father’s Day.

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.

What I see.

When I look at our sons –
I see confusion over the disruptions in their lives and the difficult heart wrenching changes they have endured.
I see hurt and anger for what they have suffered.
I see the lack of self worth that has resulted and I see a lack of trust in the adults around them.
I see their belief that it could happen to them again and I see their lack of certainty that we really are forever.
I see the fear that this instills in them and I see their doubt that the security of their lives today is real.
But bit by bit I see change.
More and more –
I see bigger smiles.
I see deeper laughter.
I see unquestionable happiness.
I see them settling and I see security growing, proper deep routed security.
I see contentment for the family that we are and I can see the future overriding the past.
I see hope.
I see love.
And most amazing of all – When I look at my sons I see… US.
I see my partner and I can clearly see me.
I see likeneses that never cease to amaze me.
I see our faces, I see our smiles.
I see our mannerisms, I see our expressions and also I hear our words.
From the moment we met we felt that they were unquestionably our children and more and more we can SEE it too.

The smell of Digger.

​The first time I met Digger, I thought his smell was strange, and truth be told, unpleasant, vaguely off-putting. It made me very worried. How could I bond with him if I didn’t like the way he smelt? Was it a fundamental dislike I had sensed? Was adopting him going to unravel because of it?

I love the way my husband smells, and have always done so. I fell in love with it and him at the same time. But with Digger was different. It felt like a barrier I had to break through, and I didn’t know how.

Few months later, the perfume of Digger was as intoxicating and wonderful to me as that of my husband. After a good work out in the park or the playground, it is always that little bit stronger. Especially if the sun is out. I can bury my nose in his soft, wild curls and inhale him. It has become familiar, and completely connected to this little person who I love.

I cannot pinpoint the exact moment when it all changed. I guess I was too busy to dwell it. But by October I found myself in love – he had moved in in August. I imagine I started to like the scent of him sometime in that two-three month window.

Perhaps it was the diet then that initially made him smell so peculiar to me – along the lines of Europeans smelling a lot like old cheese to the Japanese, because of our diary intake as opposed to theirs. And I wonder whether he now smells like us. I guess we smell like a family, The Norwoods. Or perhaps it is simply the love I feel for him. But one thing is certain: It is.

Our Norwood smell would have been an omnipresent signifier of how things had changed. I imagine he must have felt something similar to what I was going through, only he had landed in our world.

No doubt Digger thought we smelt odd at first. As did our house and everything in it. He couldn’t turn away from it.

Digger has a keen sense of smell. Nowhere is it more obvious than when he is trying new food. He is very confident in declaring likes and dislikes. I think smell is at the heart of this. He doesn’t need to taste it to know.

I guess, after a while you grow used to a scent. Or it could continue to grate. Or you begin to love it.

Now when he turns towards me as he falls asleep at night, it is not only the closeness he wants. I sense he wants my smell too. And that it adds to his sense of safety.

In preparation for transition we were told to copy and transfer as much as possible from his foster homes into our house, his new forever home. We were told to begin using the same washing powder and softener as his foster mum, and we did so as soon as we had met her, and continued to do so for months after wards. I still like the particular transition-softener smell very much, and sometimes use it for our towels even now – for sentimental reasons.

I can’t help but to think that it is actually impossible to transfer very much from the foster homes. Bringing the physical things from one home to the new is the easy bit. It is whole context that is difficult to translate and is mostly lost. Because the overwhelming sense and reality of the situation will be changed, forever. This is not to undermine the sound and obvious advice in being very sensitive and in trying. It is to remind myself of just how much these children lose through adoption. As good as everything vanishes overnight. Expect for their little bodies and some physical memories. Smells and scents are but one aspect of it.

We were conscientious to bring some the smell of his foster home with us. And we expected not to wash his bedding for a long while. On Placement Day, the foster mum wasn’t going to let Digger go with dirty laundry, so everything was spinky spam and smelt of her clean home.  We left the bedding on for two weeks. Then he peed on it, which neatly ended the discussion of when to wash it.

Whenever we travel we make sure to bring along something with Digger’s distinct smell on it – his pillow, for instance, or better still duvet. And one (or two) of his beloved soft transition bunnies without which he will not leave the house and cannot sleep (we haven’t really tested this – we trust his judgement on the subject). Bringing these items helps him sleep in a new environment.

The only malodour around Digger’s two-year-old self (well… expect an obvious one) is that occasional pungent waft of a too well-loved soft bunny, when he sweetly offered it to our cheeks for comfort. That can be really hard on the old nostrils – stale regurgitated milk and sleep dripple, and whatever else it has been in contact with over the last few days.

I am grateful to Digger’s foster mum that she always kept everything so very clean, that it is easy for me too to stick everything – bar Digger himself, or my husband for that matter – in the washing machine when it needs it, without fear of losing too much redolence.