Reawakening – Tiara 2

When booking a recent holiday to DisneyWorld, my partner searched online for recommendations of essential things to do, and regardless of how inappropriate I felt it would be for our family he duly booked ‘Dinner with the Disney Princesses’.

Our oldest son (10) was mortified when we told him and he made us promise we would not tell his friends, surprisingly his 15 year old sister was actually quite excited… as indeed was his 9 year old brother.

Three years ago I wrote a blog about our youngest’s love of jewellery (which he calls his treasure) and the piece he most valued and wore with pride – a Tiara. Over the years since we started to see less and less of his Tiara and he hasn’t worn it for maybe a year or so, in fact he generally seems a little less fascinated by his ‘treasure’ nowadays.

It was the day of the dinner and we found ourselves in one of the dozens of shops selling everything Disney – including princess Tiaras, our youngest with a twinkle in his eye and a smile lighting up his face immediately sees one and puts it on. ‘I think I need this for tonight’ he says. Knowing it will probably be worn once and forgotten about we point out that he has his own money and it needs to be spent on what he thinks will be best value.

The Tiara it was.

That evening there was noticeable excitement between him and his sister as they discussed what was about to unfold. We arrived at the genuinely impressive DisneyWorld Castle and were ushered in and met by Cinderella (for a ‘photo op’), our son was clearly enthralled and stood starring at Cinders with his mouth slightly ajar and a look of true wonder on his face.

We were seated and then our waitress appeared with a wand and two swords, on being offered his sword our son asked for a wand instead and was duly brought one. The dinner is a three course meal, throughout which you are visited by a number of princesses who engage with the children and pose for photos. It was evident that our son was truly taken in by the whole experience, but just how much so was only evident as we left and he beckoned me over and said ‘Daddy can I buy a Princess dress?’.

I am a little ashamed to admit that I hesitated before responding. As I explained in my previous blog we pride ourselves on never judging our sons for their choices and just want them to be happy for who and what they are, but I guess I was caught off guard and by a request that was more surprising than we have seen previously. In my moment of hesitation his sister (with a clearly judgemental look on her face) declared ‘of course not, you are a boy’, and on witnessing the crest fallen expression this resulted in I immediately corrected her and said ‘of course you can, if that is really what you want’ but could not stop myself from adding ‘but only if you are really sure’ – his smile returned as he nodded ‘yes’. Full credit to his sister at this point as she looked at me and said ‘ Wow, I think it’s really cool how you don’t care about ‘that stuff’.

Next morning we awoke and with an ever broadening smile the first thing he said was ‘We are getting my princess dress today aren’t we?’ confirming his desire and decision to go ahead. On entering the park we were dragged to the shop where unbeknown to us he had apparently spied the dresses the previous day – but interestingly had said nothing at the time. It’s a large store and entering from the opposite end we were walking around looking for the dresses and I see a sign above an entrance that says ‘Girls section – Princess Dresses’. Without thinking I point it out and we head in that direction, however our son pulls me back and says ‘Daddy it says ‘For girls’, I dismiss his apparent concern with ‘don’t worry about that, it’s just the shop being silly’ and carry on. However, as we reach the dresses it is clear that the excitement has left him and with a noticeable sign of misgiving from our son we start to look through the dresses. I realise what has happened and I ask if he has changed his mind and he says ‘I don’t know’ confirming to me that he does indeed still want a dress, but has been confused by the sign we have just walked under.

I notice my son looking around and I see a sea of little girls all excitedly running around picking out dresses and various ‘princess’ accessories and I realise that there is not another boy – or indeed father – present. There was a desire to dismiss his concerns again and to try to make him realise that is doesn’t matter about anybody else and that this is about him and his own choices, but I stop myself. I realise that in fact he is now at an age where there is clearly a stronger comprehension of what his choices represent in the wider world around him. Realising that his decision to say ‘he doesn’t want it’ is as important as the decision to say that he does, stops me from encouraging him in a direction he is he now clearly less comfortable with.

I say that we are going to look around the rest of the shop and if and when he feels that he wants to come back and look at the dresses we will, we leave the ‘For Girls’ section and do not return. In fact a princess dress has not been mentioned since.

I feel saddened that he was so clearly ‘shamed’ into repressing such a clear and natural desire, however I do feel confident that it was a decision he reached with a full understanding that we would support him no matter what.

We still feel that his ‘feminine’ side is not at all an indication of any confusion around his sex or indeed his sexuality, from day one we have been acutely aware of his more boyish side too and we have a house full of decidedly ‘masculine’ toys which he plays with and enjoys – in fact as I write this he is upstairs with his brother in the middle of a ‘Nerf gun war’ (so much for our ‘no guns’ policy). He is every bit a little boy and in fact is quite into rough and tumble and is far too handy with his fists which gets him into trouble with some frequency.

I guess he is just growing up and we are seeing signs of a maturity that is leading to new and different decisions. As we were told to expect, being adopted he is young for his age and I think that maybe we were seeing him living out his ‘toddler years’ with us, which sadly he was deprived of at the time.

He can be the sweetest, most charming little boy and we can’t help fearing that side of him could be crushed as the masculine side dominates, that would sadden us and we will always be encouraging him to ‘be himself’ and we just hope that means himself will be one that comes from within and is not too conditioned by the wider society around him.

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Daddies are bad.

Daddies are bad because they get up early and go to work before I wake up so we can’t have a hug and a kiss and even though I said they couldn’t have a hug and a kiss for a billion years and twenty-eight, they could.

Daddies are bad because they say the mushroom pool is closed for swimming because they want to go the heated warm one instead.

Daddies are bad because they don’t sing to me at bedtime like Mummy and when they do they don’t sound as nice as Mummy.

Daddies are bad because sometimes when they tickle me it makes me do a little wee in my pants.

Daddies are bad because they’re boys and Mummy’s not a boy and I’m not and girls are better.

Daddies are good because they let me steal money from their pockets and put it in my money box.

Daddies are good because they hold me upside down and spin me round and make me laugh, but one time they made my nose bleed but it didn’t hurt.

Daddies are good because they sometimes don’t do the voices when they read at bedtime when I tell them not to, but their voices are quite good actually. Excepting for Merida; that’s not good.

Daddies are good because they sometimes pick me up when my legs are tired and then they hug me and kiss me, because that’s a rule, and even though they’re not supposed to for a billion years and twenty eight.

Daddies are good because they do the rough-and-tumble and when I do Number 4 from my rough and tumble book and jump on them, they laugh and say “I submit” and don’t mind when I keep doing it anyway.

But Daddies are bad because they say they can’t do Number 4 from their rough-and-tumble book on me til I’m six. And I really want to disappear and come back again. But I’m only 5. That’s bad.

Not in front of the children.

We were getting to the end of our assessment and panel was rapidly approaching, it had been long, intense and surprisingly emotional. We had a great social worker who we felt we got along with very well and who we found to be professional and very capable.

Suddenly we hit a huge stumbling block and the process came to a grinding halt when our agency received an anonymous and vicious email saying that we were unfit to parent. The content of the email was relatively simple to disprove or render irrelevant, however the fact that we had somebody in our lives capable of sending such an email was of grave concern to social services, our social worker worked hard with us and got us over this significant hurdle and we do feel it could have been far more complicated and I guess even fatal to the process had it not been handled with such professionalism and determination.

A number of the issues raised in the email did relate to us being a gay couple and although we had felt that processing a gay couple was probably reletively new for our Social Worker (as indeed it would have been for many/most at that time) and possibly even quite personally challenging, we never felt judged or criticised in any way.

Except for this once that is. There were a couple of loose ends to tie up before our report was finalised and we received a phone call to give a response to two or three final questions. One of which was ‘how will you explain to your children that you are gay’, with very little thought I responded ‘well I don’t think there will ever be a need to explain it to them as such, they will be living with us and experiencing it first hand’.

The conversation that followed went like this –

SW – Well they won’t understand unless you tell them.

Me – Of course they will, they will clearly see it, it will just be part of their lives.

SW – But how would they know and understand what they are seeing?

Me – Well they will see us living and functioning as a couple and they will see the love that we have for each other.

SW – But how, what would make them understand?

Me – They would see the intimacy, see us showing our love.

Puzzeld SW – but how?

Me – Well, by going about our lives as a couple, by us embracing, by us kissing etc

Shocked SW – but surely you wouldn’t be kissing in front of the children!

It was very much a reactive response, obviously delivered with no real thought and as such it certainly didn’t feel as though it carried any kind of animosity. I think it simply displayed her true comfort level around homosexuality (as opposed to any kind of homophobia) and consequently I took no offence, I responded ‘Well of course we will, just like you and your husband, or indeed any straight couple kiss and cuddle in front of your children’ and this was enough to bring the conversation back on track.

It was one blimp in an otherwise totally professional handling of us and if it was an insight into her true feelings then I feel that it emphasised just how professional she had been over all.

I am sure it was just a lack of first hand experience and I feel sure that nothing of the sort ever happened in any another gay cases she has handled since.

Gay adoption then (7 plus years ago) was still relatively new and social workers would often have been dealing with their first gay adopters – which I think was probably the case with us – so of course it would have been a steep learning curve for many.

As I say, it was just one minor blimp and from conversations with gay adopters who have gone through the process more recently it is the kind of ‘faux pas’ that is now no doubt relegated to ancient history.

Getting it right

I am shamelessly stealing this…

A friend on Facebook posted the sweetest conversation between himself and his son and I really think that it is worth sharing.

If it warms the heart of even one reader out there as it did mine I will stand by my theft.

Father – I really love you
Son – I know
Father – How do you know?
Son – I have known it since I saw you for the first time.

Our children knowing that we love them is so important to us adoptive parents and is surely not something that we can simply take for granted. I guess we all reassure our children constantly and hope that little by little our words and our actions have an impact on them and soon they will understand the depth of the love and indeed fully believe it.

This father has clearly done a wonderful job of that.

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?