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!

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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.

Always be by your side.

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

A few months back my 4 year old daughter astonished me by suddenly opening her eyes as she was drifting off to sleep and whispering “I’ll always be by your side Mama.” She gave me a sweet little smile afterwards and I was so taken aback that it brought tears to my eyes.

It’s not something I had heard from her before, nor is it a phrase I use so it was surprising and delightful to me. I will never forget it and for a time, it became a bit of a theme for us. We would say it to each other when perhaps previously we would have said “I love you”. It also became something of a weapon in times of conflict… “I don’t love you, and I’m not going to always be by your side” she would emphatically inform me, incandescent with rage over something I had done. My usual response would be “That’s a shame but I still love you and will still always want to to be by your side” But there were no concessions from her at times such as these.

Eventually we forgot about our little phrase and went back to the normal “I love you mama, up to the moon and back” that we had used for years.

And then something happened.

Her grandfather (my father) died and we were all thrown into the chaos of profound grief and bereavement while also attempting the day to day stuff of normal family life. Somehow I was supposed to carry on parenting when I felt like a child myself.
I did try to explain to her that there would times when mummy and daddy got a bit sad over this event and that it was ok if she did too; but this only served to make her feel guilty that she wasn’t as sad as us so I backed off it a bit. I was also worried about the funeral and the carnival of grief that would surround it, but she was surprisingly fine. She admired the flowers, took out her little box of crayons and colouring book, a few My little Ponies and grinned at everyone. She even said “Ooh I like your dress!” to one of my aunties.
For me, it was a day of joyous celebration of everything my father was and in the main I was pretty upbeat and happy to remember him… except for one tiny moment when I wasn’t and I faltered. Quick as a flash a little hand slid into mine and pulled me round to face her. She was smiling so broadly that I couldn’t help but smile back. It totally lifted me and after a second, a little voice rang out “Don’t worry Mama, I’ll always be by your side.”

Beatings

20160728_110151It almost broke my heart. She wouldn’t leave my side to join the hordes of screaming girls running up and down the stairs at the birthday party. And I told her I had to go, at first imploringly, but then a little tinged with anger. She held on to my leg and begged me not to. So I stayed. But not with good grace.

She sat on my feet while the other girls were playing musical chairs and bumps. I pulled her up and pushed her forward to get involved. She pushed back against my insistence. She didn’t want to. She sat back down on my feet, and I audibly sighed. So I jiggled her up and down in time to the music, playfully yes but with a slightly graceless undertone of pushing her forward again. And asked her why she didn’t want to join in. “I just don’t”, she said. I felt sad and frustrated.

She got up halfway through one of the games and went part of the way into the dancing crowd, all the while stealing little looks back at me. I smiled at her. She made the last three and won a sweet.

Then joined fully in pass-the-parcel and won some stickers. She helped a 2 year-old boy sitting next to her to join in the game.

She went politely down into the kitchen to sit at the table with the other girls and wore her party hat, but managed to find herself seated at the end of the table with nobody opposite her. She thanked the hostess politely each time she received some food. The other girls were chatting away; she waved at me and smiled.

After the cake, there were 15 minutes left before the end of the party. I spoke to some adults about Trump and tennis, while she came back into the room on her own and played with the birthday girl’s dolls’ house. By herself.

I felt embarrassed. I just wanted her to have fun and make friends; or I just wanted her not to be the one who wouldn’t join in, the shy girl. I just wanted her to be confident, to be the one the others wanted to play with.

I know she is a little shy. But she’s considered. She’s considerate. She’s exuberant at times and introspective at others. She’s fun and funny. She’s thoughtful, she’s joyful, she feels deeply.

So I beat myself up over my feelings and the way I behaved towards her.

And then we left. She said thank you to the parents and happy birthday to the girl.

On the way home, she was bubbling over with talk about the party and what fun she’d had and told me all about one of her friends who was going to see the film at the cinema that she had seen the day before, and chatted about all the girls and the little boy, and skipped along looking into her party bag and asking me what the things were; she’d had the best time.

And I realised that the sadness and frustration, embarrassment and lack of grace were all my own. I realised that I just didn’t want her to be me.

Whose story is this anyway?

20160621_102226It’s bath time.

There’s Quackers, Chloe the Cat, Minion, Turtley-Turtle, whose head moves in and out of his shell when he walks (wheels, to be technically accurate), and the Frozen Diamond Necklace, the brightest necklace in all the world, so bright that it’s impossible to look directly at it without burning your retina.

Chloe the Cat lives permanently and precariously atop a Pez tube (empty naturally), inside an invisible house just around the corner from corner of the bath. Chloe the Cat is very accommodating, if not an easy touch. She’s quite large, which makes the Pez tower wobble violently during waking hours, but when she sleeps, tucked between some white enamel and a knobbly knee, all is at peace.

Quackers, who shares a house with Chloe the Cat, is in fact secretly a jewel thief, with an underwater cavern, created from an unnatural kink in a foot-arch, which quite often goes into cramp, far away from prying eyes, where she stores all the sparkly things she has purloined. Quackers is a night-owl and literally a cat-burglar – she steals the Frozen Diamond Necklace every night from under the nose of the sleeping Chloe. She is also prone to weeing on people for fun.

Minion of course loves bananas and bapples, He lives across the sea from Chloe and Quackers on top of the second knobbly knee. He is a very good swimmer. Minion is a police (sic) with a heart of gold; he’s not a massive disciplinarian, not a believer in prolonged incarceration and sometimes “forgets” to lock the door of the prison, tucked between the water’s edge and a bony elbow, so that Quackers can escape to steal again.

Turtley-Turtle just loves birthday cake. That’s pretty much it. Apart from being able to induce squeals of delight with his in-and-out head.

Days in this land last about 45 seconds. This gives the cast of characters at least 20 opportunities to live through the drama of a jewel heist before the water goes cold and the knobbly knees, cramping feet and wrinkle-tipped fingers call time on their adventures.

I did try tonight to change the plot to give Turtley-Turtle a larger part, but was told quite firmly that it’s not my story and that I will, perhaps, get to do my story one day.

I’m hopeful that will happen before it becomes inappropriate for my knobble knees to act as housing at bath time.

12 blogs under the Christmas tree #10

20161223_131101My one special present under the Christmas tree would be a mini, pocket sized version of our family therapist. I could then pull her out to consult at those moments when I’m a bit lost as to how to respond to our daughter’s more dysregulated moments, or am just in need a bit of a confidence boost. We’ve been so incredibly lucky to find her and to have had six months worth of Theraplay and family support sessions funded by the ASF. We certainly weren’t in what I would call a ‘struggling’ place, so I’m sure we wouldn’t have qualified for support pre the fund. We would have just kept on trucking on. But having our therapist come to work with us with her warmth, expertise, experience and support has been transformative for our family and to my confidence as a mum. Our daughter is bubbly, outgoing, very bright and seemingly coping with everything fine, so many of our non adoptive family and friends couldn’t see any issues – it was a case of ‘oh she’s fine, all kids do that’. But our therapist immediately spotted the challenges our daughter has with hyper vigilance, emotional regulation, control and being extra demanding of me, as her mum, having been let down by so many mum figures in her past. Talking to our therapist made me feel like I wasn’t going mad, there were some problems we could get help with and it was okay to find things difficult. The games we play seem so innocuous and often silly (you should see me with a foam soap ball on my nose!) but gently and subtly they are nudging all of us towards healthier ways of relating and allowing our daughter to truly and deeply accept the loving parenting we so much want to give her.

12 Blogs under the Christmas tree #3

20161223_131940If you could put one thing under the Christmas tree this year, what would it be?

 

A hug from my Dad who we lost three years ago, for you, me and our daughter.  That would be joyous.

 

Merry Christmas everyone.