12 Blogs: A Ghost of Christmas Past.

The Day is done.
The presents have been opened.
The Turkey has been eaten and the chocs have been scoffed.
Leafing though photos of the festivities on my computer I stumbled across an old folder I hadn’t opened for years.
Clicking on it, out tumbled hundreds of images of me and my husband as novice parents and our first Christmas together as a family. Our daughter must have been about 15 months old and it took me straight back to the early days.
I could remember looking at that little smiling face in the pictures worrying that I wouldn’t be good enough; that I would somehow let her down. And I was oddly freaked out because at the time I couldn’t quite picture the little girl she would grow into. I don’t know why it was so important to me but I needed to be able to look into the future and see us not just as the parents of a baby but also parents of a little girl and I couldn’t. Every time I tried it just got hazy. Maybe it was just the general anxiety of becoming a parent for the first time but there seemed to be so much to worry and think about!

Fast forward five years and surprise surprise here we are. No longer the parents of a baby but yes, parents of a little girl.
I hadn’t needed to worry about it after all because like most things in life – it just happened. It evolved.
For me it was a timely reminder to try to let go of things that I cannot control. To try not to waste any more time worrying myself into the future.

Easier said than done I know.

12 Blogs 5: When was your best Christmas ever?

When was your best Christmas ever and why?

Easy – The one when my dad came back.

It was 1976 and my parents had recently separated.

As a small child I must have missed the more obvious signs of what was to come but i do remember being woken up in the night by sound of my mother crying and when morning came my dad was gone. It was a strange feeling.

It followed close on the heels of the hottest summer imaginable. My dad and I seemed to practically live up at the outdoor swimming pool and I can remember laughing my head off with him over and over again in the water, as well as brilliant family BBQ’s where we were allowed to stay up late in the heat. I thought everything was perfect.

Then Autumn came and he was gone and the atmosphere in our house became confusing- and sombre.

Memories of this tine are like snapshots…

Day Trips out with my dad – when it slowly dawned on me that he was willing to buy me whatever I wanted! Brilliant! That had never happened before…

Catching my mum crying when she didn’t know I was watching…

Teachers suddenly paying me much closer attention and asking if I was ok.. apparently I didn’t have to stay at school all day if I didn’t feel I could manage it.. Again – brilliant! That had never happened before! – I thought I was OK.

Then Christmas was on it’s way and my Grandparents arrived much earlier than usual. That’s when it hit me. It suddenly dawned on me that my dad was not going to be there on the big day and I can remember an unleashing of sadness and fear that I had somehow managed to suppress up until that point.

Christmas without my dad seemed awful. Wrong. Unthinkable.

Nonetheless festive preparations carried on and as the tree went up and presents appeared underneath it, there was an inescapeable atmosphere of something being missing, and as a child I felt the overwhelming need to try and fix it. It felt like my life depended on it but I didn’t have the tools to do so.
So instead I just worried and worried and watched.

Then Christmas Eve came and there was a knock at the door. My mum said “why don’t you get it?”

It was my dad! He was back! They’d sorted things out.

What I remember most of that night is him lying on the floor laughing while me and my brother crawled all over him in a marathon wrestling session because we couldn’t get enough.

It was the best Christmas ever because my family got back together but it has also stayed with me for another reason.

I soaked up everything that was going on in that house in the lead up to the best Christmas ever and it has been with with me ever since.
And I have come to realise that this is what children do. we cannot protect them by telling them what’s going on is not their fault, it doesn’t go in. Doesn’t compute because it is not a conscious decision to worry. It just happens…

I remember this Christmas more clearly than any of the others and I’m sure a big part of that is because of the fear and worry that things were not right. I was vigilante the entire time and it imprinted on my memory.

Whatever we’re going through, it seeps into the very being of our children and leaves a mark.

If I hear songs that were popular around that time, I still get taken back to the time my dad left and the feeling of deep uncertainly I learned to live with.

Memories are physical as well as mental and we carry them around good and bad. As do our own children on daily basis.

12 Blogs #4 A Blog about Christmas


Would I like to write about Christmas?
Well, I would but I’m sorry as it won’t be all sparkle and joy. I have found myself having to dig deep to find even a little Christmas spirit this year and it feels like it has been like this for some time, I wish it were different.
Once upon a time I looked forward to Christmas with childlike wonder and excitement. I was the queen of Christmas cheer. I loved the anticipation of decorating the tree, singing Christmas carols, writing and sending out Christmas cards, spending time with friends and family, the giving of gifts I had either lovingly chosen or even handmade. Where has the sense of delight and magic gone.
I long for those Christmases gone by and wish I could bring the energy, enthusiasm and pleasure back to life, into the here and now.
Before parenthood, I dreamt of celebrating Christmas with my own little family, I fantasised about watching our little cherub open presents on Christmas morning. In my mind’s eye I saw that little person smiling in delight, happy and easy going amid the Christmas goings on (turns out that last bit was some fantasy, trauma is rarely easy going!).

That said I have the family I dreamt of. The cherub I wished for. But after our first forever family Christmas some years ago the gloss and shine of those Christmas hopes and dreams has worn thin. It is reflective of an accumulation of hard times across these years.
Maybe I need to cut myself some slack. This year has been particularly hard. I am incredibly tired… drained, drawing on Christmas spirit and goodwill feels like a huge effort, I have little left to give, I am spent!
That said, those who meet me on the street will be none the wiser, I will still put on my Santa hat, I will find a smile and I will create some Christmas magic, for our cherub, our little family and memory making.

My daughter’s sister.


I had wished and wished for her and then suddenly there she was with her long blonde hair smiling back at me, looking familiar.
The envelope had come from the local authority so I assumed (wrongly) that it was the long overdue contact letter from birth mum but out tumbled all these pictures of a beautiful teenage girl who looked remarkably like my own daughter – but older.

I was taken aback… I don’t know why because we had known for a long time that there were siblings – lots of them in fact – all adopted by different families across the country and for the first year of placement we had relentlessly persued social services to try and track them all down and put us in contact.
We had naively believed that all we had to do was round these siblings up and we would have a real life Brady bunch at our daughter’s disposal. They would write to each other, confide in and and support each other; and she would have six family members to go to with her questions.

Of course it didn’t turn out that way.

Social services did search for us for a long time, but due to the transitory nature of birth mum’s living arrangements (she moved about with each pregnancy) it was a very difficult process and eventually the trail went cold with only a couple of siblings having been identified. Of these two, one of the set of parents made it abundantly clear that they wanted nothing to do with us and were clearly put out about being approached; and the other set – while sympathetic – told social services that their child was way too traumatised by her early life experiences to be able to deal with letterbox contact with a younger sibling. … and so the trail went cold and we accepted the situation.

Later on in our placement I started to see how naïve I had been.
I attended various courses on ‘explaining life story to an adopted child’ and in doing so encountered many parents who had this type of contact with siblings in place and it appeared to be complex at best.
I was very quickly enlightened as to the confusion that can arise from such contact. How I would probably have no control over how siblings might impart upsetting or unsettling information about their birth parents and heritage to my child. It was clearly a minefield, so I stopped feeling sad about her lack of contact and just got on with being her mum.

We have always talked about her siblings but as a tiny child it didn’t mean very much to her, and as she has got older she tells me she doesn’t understand because “brothers and sisters always live together” – and she doesn’t live with any other children.
To be honest we’ve talked about it less and less as there has been nothing really to say as we had no new information…..

Until now.

The letter I opened was from the parents of one of my daughter’s half siblings. They had reconsidered their original decision from six years ago and decided to get in touch. They sent us pictures and a letter describing what their daughter was like.
And here she was. So many images of her. So similar and yet nothing at all to do with me! It was a strange feeling and part of me felt scared because this was not the old me who had happily imagined the Brady bunch all those years ago; this was the new me. The adoption savvy me who is now acutely aware of how my daughter can be thrown by new information. Who knows just how much she had ached for siblings (especially a big sister), and I wasn’t sure now how the reality would be for her.
I knew the first and biggest question she would have would be “When can I meet her?” and in reality I don’t have a secure answer for her, but it probably wont be for quite a few years.

So my initial response was to try and protect her from disappointment and uncertainty so we haven’t told her yet. We will wait till we feel we know exactly how to proceed..
but in the meantime… a little bit of me now is now also starting to get excited…

My daughter’s half sister… The big sister she has always wanted – with beautiful tumbling blonde princess hair, wearing a sparkly red dress – my daughter’s favourite colour.

If we manage this right…It might just make her Christmas!

In the eye of the beholder

​I have just come home from a wedding where one of the guests leaned across the table  and asked “Is that your daughter running around?” When I answered in the affirmative she triumphantly announced to the table “I knew it! She is the absolute image of you! It’s like someone has taken a blue print of you and put it into a little person.” Satisfied with her deduction she grinned at us all and had I been in other company I may have thanked her for the comment without response, but several guests knew of our adoption and it made me self conscious so I put her in the picture.

“Well actually she’s adopted.” I whispered, and then I had to repeat myself as the guest looked entirely bewildered.

“Pardon? … Really?… But she looks so much like you”.

I’m pretty sure I made her feel like she’d said something a bit stupid which was the last thing I wanted to make her feel. Especially as I enjoy people seeing a similarity.

But it got me thinking because so many people are clearly looking out for this stuff. It is by no means the only time it has happened to me, and I hear similar stories from other adoptive parents too.

Only last week I was helping out on my daughter’s school trip and was walking along holding hands with her and another little girl when one of the mums called out ‘How funny! Your daughter walks exactly like you. She’s completely inherited your physicality and way of walking’. This time there was no need to fill her in but it’s clear that spotting a likeness does seem to please people; and I suppose that is why the matching process is so important, although at the time I thought it was absolute nonsense. I couldn’t see why we were told it was unlikely we would be considered as prospective parents for a mixed race child because we are not mixed race ourselves. Or that we wouldn’t be considered for a child of any other ethnicity than our own for the same reasons.

I remember we felt certain we were ready to take on the challenges, and to love and parent a child of any background and culture. But had we been matched with someone who was clearly not biologically related to us would we all now be enduring the opposite responses from people?

Instead of people commenting on our likeness, would they now be constantly asking us why we didn’t look alike? And would that become hard to deal with? And what would that be like for our child? Maybe it would be ok – I get a sense that it would – but it’s not clear cut and I’m not sure how I feel about it anymore..

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!

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.