Seen and not heard

We had friends staying for a long weekend, a childless couple as well as a family with two children. It was fascinating watching the couple suddenly knee deep in four kids 24/7, one of them was clearly more at home than the other and it was really interesting to watch the other’s expectations of how he felt the children should behave unfold as the weekend progressed.

What became apparent was that the expectation was pretty much that all children should behave at all times. It was clear that the occasional wrong doing, curt reply, moan, bicker, sulk, back chat, snide look or minor display of disobedience or rudeness etc – were surprising to him.

I think I understand where he is coming from as we are both of an age to have had the mantra of ‘children should be seen and not heard’ quoted to us regularly by our parents and older adults around us as we were growing up and he has had little, if any reason to question that.

Thankfully that kind of parenting is a thing of the past and nowadays that approach is generally recognised as an outdated and somewhat ignorant attitude to child rearing – at least by those of us with children.

However, in various Memes and Social Media posts that regularly do the rounds I am conscious that it is not just my child free friend who feels the way he does, it’s apparent that certain people – possibly of a certain generation – do yearn for the days when it was so and when in their eyes all children were so much better behaved and the world a better place as a result. I would suggest that they do tend to be the same people who share posts about smacking children and the subsequent downfall of society now that it not allowed.

So it has got me wondering about the children of the past, did they all just sit around for hours on end saying nothing and not interrupting the adults around them, did they all behave so well out of the fear of being smacked?

It doesn’t take much thought to realise that the answer is in fact a huge, resounding…NO.

Of course children were heard, of course children misbehaved regardless of the threat of a smack. Of course children were children – just as they are today.

So what is different? What is it that makes certain adults feel that children today are less well behaved, less respectful, less well mannered?

In a word my conclusions is… proximity.

Nowadays children – especially (but far from exclusively) those growing up in cities or towns – tend to be around adults the entire time. In the ‘good ole days’ doors were opened and children went out to play for hours on end, they were free to run and shout and indeed to misbehave – all away from the judgement of adults. They were able to ‘let off steam’, to run and jump and skip and to ride around on bikes, on scooters etc, they played football in the streets and were involved in other sports and games – endlessly releasing all the energy today’s parents have to deal with at home.

There was not only far, far less interaction with their parents and other adults around them, but when they were indoors they were calmer after all the physicality of being outside.

Of course modern parents make sure that their children get to run around, to play and get to be involved in sports, but surely with far more limits on time and ALWAYS under adult supervision.

We know with our sons that when we have failed to get them to release all their energy we suffer the consequences and their behaviour is more troublesome. We could scream and shout at them and insist that they be seen and not heard – but that would hardly be fair considering it is our fault that they are ‘full of beans’ from being kept cooped up in doors all day.

So today’s parents learn to be more patient, more relaxed and more tolerant – because we HAVE to be.

To develop and to find themselves children need to be able to express themselves, they need to be loud and to be playful, they need to challenge and to question, they need to ‘let off steam’ and if they can not simply open the door and go outside to do all this – they need to be able to do it around the adults surrounding them and without being in constant threat of being reprimanded – just for being the children that they are.

So in conclusion, contrary to popular belief I am pretty sure that children are no worse behaved today than they have ever been. There always have been challenging, rude, disrespectful children, just as there have always been wonderful well behaved ones.

As indeed most of our children are today – if we can only allow ourselves to see it.

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Projection.

What do you do when suddenly you don’t recognise the child standing in front of you? He has the same blonde hair, the same slightly chubby, ruddy face, but the smile is gone and in its place is a snarl that seems so grotesquely out of place on a five-year-old.

When suddenly from being the loving centre of his world you are the meanest, cruelest person he’s ever encountered?

When instead of a warm, small hand sliding lovingly into yours, an open hand crashes into your arm, a tightly curled fist into your chest again and again, accompanied by a scream that emanates from so deep within them that you cannot believe it doesn’t contain all their truth when it bursts out in a stream of “I hate you; you’re mean; I don’t like you any more; I don’t love you.”?

And when you explain this to other parents and they tell you it’s just a phase, they all go through it, when your heart is hurting and when you cannot get them to understand that it’s different when your child is adopted to hear those things for the first time because it makes you project into your future when your child will say in anger “you’re not my real Dad.” And to some, and to a little bit of you, it will be true and that is your worst fear realised.

When your experience thusfar has been mostly love and laughter and joy and of course the odd tantrum, but never this well verbalised because now they have the vocabulary and it really hurts as opposed to being slightly irritating. Because now it’s not about ice cream or not wanting to share a toy, it’s about how they really feel in that moment about you?

I don’t have any answers. It just hurts. And I pray that the projections are very, very wrong.

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.

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.

My sons smell.

I am sorry to disappoint anybody who thinks this blog will be about teenage boys and their personal hygiene habits – or rather the lack of.

My sons are still only 7 and 8 years old and ‘that’ blog is hopefully still a few years away. Thankfully they are so far not showing any signs of being ‘allergic’ to soap and water, in fact quite the opposite as they really seem to enjoy their nightly shower and are evidently pleased to emerge from it smelling of some weird and exotic aroma that is current ‘en trend’ in the shampoo and shower gel industry.

In fact it’s one of my favourite things to sit down with them all showered and in their pyjamas for our nightly read together, all three of us huddled together with the odd whiff of coconut, honey, lime, Bamboo Milk… Amazonian pigmy chestnut marinated in Himalayan sesame syrup.

But this blog isn’t even about the multitude of artificial smells created to make us part with our money, this blog is about their natural smell.

Yes, they smell.

As a new parent this really surprised me and I can’t help feeling that the surprise was all to do with being an adoptive parent. I now assume that all children must smell and that it is something that I was totally unaware of – or am I misguided and should I be rushing my boys off to a specialist to have them de aroma’d?

I am also assuming that babies and children must carry the smell of their birth parents and consequently the smell goes unnoticed, at least on a conscious level. However to an adoptive parent the smell is new and alien and I will be honest, at times when particularly pungent not all that pleasant and it can take you by surprise.

It is only really noticeable in the early mornings when they are fresh out of bed, having been cocooned under the warm bedding I guess the smell has accumulated and intensified. It is not sweat as that would need to be washed away and this smell simply leaves their body (or no doubt it dulls down and is unnoticeable) as they wind up for the day.

Yes it is certainly a touch of ‘morning breath’ , but the intensity of that clears before they have brushed their teeth too which suggests that it is most definitely not just the regular bad breath we adults wake up with – and inflict on our partners daily.

It is a smell from within and it seems to literally seep from their pores.

I think that maybe we underestimate the importance of smell to us humans and that in fact we are more in tune with this sense than we are aware.

I know that before adopted babies are moved in with a new forever family, the new parents are asked to sleep with a cuddly toy so that the toy takes on their odour, it is then placed in the crib at the foster home, familiarising the baby to its new parents in advance. The theory being that there is then a connection that will comfort the baby in otherwise totally new and alien surroundings.

That’s quite powerful stuff when you think about it and yet so totally obvious too.

We spend so much effort – and indeed money – trying to erase or mask our natural smell that I think perhaps it has misguided us about its importance, maybe we need to use less manufactured odours and look to embrace the natural which is within us all far more readily.

Having said that, it has been a long day and I so need to go take a shower, where did I put that Amazonian pigmy chestnut marinated in Himalayan sesame syrup shower gel?

Please don’t fix me just hear me out.

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com.

There is a strong current in our society to fix our surroundings. Mainly if they evoke negative feelings. Or if someone just sticks out.

Like my son who likes ballet. Eeeeuw say other five year olds, quick learners. Even adults are stunned. Really? Whose idea was that?? Karate sits better. With boys. But not with girls. We may let these things go. As just not important. We stand up for our children when they are the odd one out. That’s not too difficult, if it is only the after school activity.

What’s more difficult than to keep brushing off unwanted advice is the need to fix raw emotion. Especially anger. I can get angry about stuff. And I can rant. My husband and son can attest to that. And then I just need to vent and rant till I am done. I don’t need the ‘oh, well, never mind’ or the myriad of variations on that. I just need it to be acknowledged.

I fix my husband too. He once shared something with me that really troubled him. And when he finished I ventured how hard it must have been. For the other person. His eyes widened in incredibility. Without a word he turned on his heels and walked out of the room. I thought I’d opened the discussion. When in fact I just shut it down. Oh well… I’ve made many similar mistakes. So it’s not like I don’t recognise the urge. To advice, gloss over, change subject, to keep it light. As we grow up we learn to swallow many a camel. Of un-aknowledged anything.

It’s just that I’ve just about had it with blooming fixing. It stands in the way of so many things. Mainly relationships.

‘NO, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND’ my son will shout if I’ve assumed I know how he feels. Assuming too much, or even at all, if talking to an upset person, is just adding fuel to the fire. Pouring gasoline on the fire.

‘Sorry, you’re right. I just tried to fix it. I’m sorry.’

‘Is that a question or an assumption?’ Is an effective, if firm, way of getting things back on track. Depending on tone it may be a downright F U. It generally is.

I’ve learned to defend or deal with unwanted comments and advice. For the most part. I assume people mean well. I assume positive intend. I’ve made a mantra out of it. I sing it to myself when I meet ignorant or rude people. Lord knows I can be ignorant and let’s hope only unintentionally rude.

But sometimes, just sometimes, ignorance just really gets to me. I’m reaching another saturation point.

At the moment it is about the finer details of adoption. Please don’t say it’s all normal. Or that you best friend in childhood was adopted, and you know exactly what it means. ‘He will hate you when he grows up. Because you are not his real mum’ ermmm whatttt? ‘Just you wait. He will.’ And don’t get me started on thing like ‘So he has been with you for 4 years? Then he’s fine. He has forgotten everything.’

Next time you feel that urge to jump in with your opinion. Next time you need to interrupt to get your point across. Try to pause and listen. Don’t correct. Just hear it out. Chances are you may learn something. I tell myself this too. It’s hard. I know.

Ok. Chances are also you’re not interested. You’re just trying to cancel out the noise. Fine. I’ll move on.

But if you are dealing with my son, and hurting him by insisting you know better, soon it’ll be me who shouts

‘NO, YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!’

Please don’t pretend that you do.

And please don’t just put me down as a fuzzy overthinking mum. Who reads too much. That most definitely isn’t the whole story.

It really does at times feel like listening is too much to ask.

I’m still working on myself on this one. And continue to shallow insults borne of ignorance. Often I’m itching to have the last word. Or explain so people will understand.

Oh well, never mind. They probably won’t. Probably never will.

Really?! Is this where this ends?