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.

12 Blogs under the Christmas tree #8

20161223_131840If you could put one thing under the Christmas tree this year what would it be?

We are away for Christmas so we’ve brought some of the presents from home and the rest are at home waiting to be opened when we get back. Despite my best efforts for a low key event with few gifts and more family time we’ve still had the usual hoopla. It’s far too easy to get buried under piles of food, seasonal experiences and family days out. It’s the first Christmas we have officially been a family of 4. Last year we had a court date in December that we had hoped would finalise the adoption, but a tiny overlooked detail meant that the judge deferred the decision until January. It wasn’t what we had hoped for, but he was still with us and as far as we were concerned he was one of us. It just wasn’t official yet.

So this year he is spending his first proper Christmas with us. The first time he was only a few days old and his second was with his lovely foster family. They do not celebrate Christmas, but at his birth family’s request they took him to see Father Christmas and put up a tree for him. Then he was with us last year and we kept things simple with a meal at home and visited grandparents and of course spoiled him with presents galore. Now he’s big enough to sit up at the table all by himself. He eats yorkshire puddings, he loves sausages and we hope he will enjoy pulling crackers, wearing a paper hat and telling awful jokes as much as we do.

Since he came to us it’s been testing and trying and with both boys we have been challenged at times to what we felt was beyond our capability. Only other adopters really understand the anguish I feel when I wonder if we’ve done the right thing for both our children. The one who was already in our family who thought he wanted a brother until he turned up and he was walking and shouting and taking his toys and not wanting to be a younger sibling. The one who had already had a big move when he was only a few months old and who for at least a year didn’t trust us to not leave him behind whenever we visited another house.

When anyone asks what he’d like for his birthday or Christmas I struggle to think of anything. He has so many toys and clothes, he loves books, he came with plenty of building blocks. He already has a scooter, a trike and plenty of sports kit to play with. I’ve bought the boys a table football game as they seem to love it and it’s something I hope they will do together – other than fight and annoy each other that is.

Of all the things that I’d like be able to put under the tree for Baby Boy this year it would be his life story book. We have been so patient and are still waiting for anything that might fill in the gaps for us. Seeing the family who cared for him between his birth family and us is the closest we get to this. We meet up with his foster carers in early December and as they don’t celebrate Christmas it’s not as emotionally charged as it could be. It’s a chance to catch up and for them to see how he’s doing and for us to ask them about the things we still don’t know about him.

As time has progressed I feel I can ask more about how he was when he came to them. More than I could have coped with when he first came to us. That early period when he couldn’t settle at night and he would cry and miss them terribly. I felt as though they didn’t trust us to care for him and they didn’t want to let him go. In fact I’ve realised that because of his early experiences of neglect they wanted to be sure he was in a caring and loving family who would be able to support and nurture him.

If it weren’t for their kindness and devotion to caring for our little boy he wouldn’t have joined our family. Maybe we have to accept that the only life story we will have for now is the one that they are able to share with us.

All the while we are making our own life story with him. One in which he is very important.

We Are Family Blog 2015 in review!

Here it is! Everything you ever wanted to know about the blog in 2015!

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 32,000 times in 2015. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 12 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas #1: Twinkle in the Sky

20121201_130647Christmas can often be a time for reflection on what went before.

“Auntie, your baby is a twinkle in the sky.” had said my beautiful, little freckly niece soon after my summer wedding.
I will never forget those words. The winter that followed was tough. It was freezing, the country covered in snow.
I sat at my office desk, consumed in my own darkness of winter blues and post wedding blues, but mainly coming to terms with my doctor’s news that having children of my own would not be a good idea. I had no idea a twinkle in the sky was about to enter this world, my son, and in the hospital just around the corner from my work.

There are no words to truly describe those days of introductions. Those moments that are like gold dust to me now.
The moment when I first saw this smiley, beautiful, brown eyed boy. When I stroked his soft black hair. How he didn’t mind getting in the car with two complete strangers to go to the park for hours at a time as we all got to know one another. How it felt to hold his small, warm hand in mine and the moment when he held out his other one to my husband and we walked those first steps together, hand in hand, as a family. Or how his cheekiness started to emerge when he bent down and tickled my feet, saying “ickle, ickle!”.

But there is one moment I will never forget. We were coming to the end of our bedtime routine.Having finished our story, usually Perter Rabbit, my son in my arms, him gulping back the last of his bottle while holding his essential fleece blanket. As I starred into his chocolate eyes I began to run my fingers along his brows, gently over his eyelid, his little nose, stroking his soft chubby cheeks. His eyes didn’t leave mine.
Then he lifted his own hand and ran his small fingers along my brows, touching my eyelids, nose and face.

The tear drops which trickled down were filled with boundless love for this child, for my son, and they were also tears of my grief and darkness leaving me.

My niece was right! My baby was a twinkle in the sky, the brightest and twinkliest one; and with the hands of many, it landed in our laps, into our hearts and is our world.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Fostering issues

Picture 033I found the prep’ course that adopters go through to be quite comprehensive and of great value, it’s hard to imagine that in the past adopters were offered none of this information to prepare them for what in some cases are huge challenges, but for everybody is something new and unknown.

However, in our case something I think that it lacked was more information about the importance and affect of Foster Parents on our children.

Our boys spent almost three years in one foster placement meaning that our youngest actually spent longer with the foster parents than with his birth parents and at a very crucial age – from 2 to almost 5.

They are an older couple with grown up children and grandchildren of their own, as a result they have all the children in their care call them Nanny and Grandad. Actually I think this can be very helpful as I know that many children in foster placement refer to the carers as Mummy and Daddy and can grow to see them as exactly that, making the eventual split from them all the more confusing and difficult for them to deal with.

It is especially good in our case as my mother and my partners father are both dead and ‘Nanny and Grandad’ slot quite nicely into those empty positions in our family.

Because of the time spent with them and the long term relationship they had, It was recognised by all that an ongoing relationship with the foster parents would be healthy for our sons, especially as their older sister was staying with them in long term fostering. Twice yearly contact has been agreed, along with a younger sister and her adoptive family.

It was clear that along with the foster parents maturity – she is 60, he a very sprightly 70 – came a certain type of parenting that is best described as ‘old school’. They are strict – very strict – and run a very tight household, which I can see is essential as they not only had our boys and their sister, but also a fourth child in care as well as their 14 year old granddaughter. In addition two older children who at 17 and 18 had left their care, came almost nightly for dinner.

Our boys – at not yet 5 and 6 – tidied behind themselves, made their beds (to a fashion), bathed themselves, dressed themselves and even took their dirty laundry to the utility room… and separated whites from coloureds.

In addition the children were separated from the adults at meal times and sat at a ‘child’s’ table and not allowed to utter a word.

Although we can see the huge benefits for the household, we can also see that it somewhat defies social services guidelines or expectations on parenting looked-after children and is somewhat out of skew with what would be consider more up to date parenting or pastoral care.

Their parenting style has gone on to create issues for us, the adoptive parent. We are taught to maintain as much familiarity to the life that the child would be leaving to help with transitioning into their new life and indeed time is spent with the foster carers in their home watching and learning the parenting we are suppose to emulate.

In prep’ group we were told to expect to have to deal with the issues of bad parenting, neglectful parenting, lazy parenting – the parenting that resulted in the children being removed from their parents and not the parenting of their foster parents. However in our case all of this had been dealt with by the foster parents, we had to handle quite different challenges.

Introducing discipline and order into a chaotic life must be tough, however it’s starting at a point and heading in one direction – towards instilling good behaviour and values where there has been none.

We actually had to head ‘backwards’ as we were/are so against much of what the foster parents instilled into the boys, which has caused them – and by default us – quite a few issues.

The best example are mealtimes, they are important family times for us and of course the boys sit up at the table and of course we converse. It’s a time to talk about their day, their thoughts and about issues they may have. A time to share and a time to really be a family. Introducing this to our boys was very unsettling for them, without the strict regime they were used to they just didn’t know how to behave.

They found our relaxing of rules to be an invitation for a ‘free for all’ and suddenly we found ourselves with children who need constantly reprimanding at the table, constantly reminded of the manners that they came to us so adept in.

There are other lesser examples, but this has been the one area that has really impacted on us adversely and 2 1/2 years on we are still battling with the fall out.

Something else that we are not taught and is worth mentioning is the difficulty that foster parents sometimes have at letting go. It was not an issue for us, but I have head of many examples where they have bonded very strongly with the child and consequently have a degree of resentment towards the adoptive parents. Considering we spend a chunk of transition in their house it can make for a great deal of discomfort. I have even heard of situations where the foster parents have even negative about the adoptive parents in front of the children.

As it takes about 9 months for a child to be removed from its parents legally and before it can be put up for adoption, I guess ALL adopted children have spent at least this time within a foster placement, as is the case with our sons it can be years. They are an important part of their lives and it surprises me that they get a little over looked by social services, for us adoptive parents it would be very useful indeed to be better prepared from the impact they can have on our children and indeed on us.

I’m your baby, mummy

fillipo lippi V&CRecently, our son’s foster mum was visiting with her son. A much-loved, plum and delicious boy of six months. We all hunched over the little miracle, admiring his being. I thought it a lovely moment and added: ‘When you were this little you lived with Rosa, my friend.’ My 3 year-old looked me in the eye and corrected me:

‘I am your baby, mummy. I was with you.’

‘Yes, my darling, you are my baby. And when you were very little you lived with Rosa.’

But he would not hear it. ‘No, mummy. No, mummy, I am your baby.’

He maintained shaking his head. He stood up and repeated the words. ‘I am your baby!!’

Rosa turned to me, speaking softly she said: ‘This is all so complicated. Perhaps we better leave it for now.’

We did. But his stance stayed with me.

A few days later, I brought the subject up again. I took out a book of photos from his life with Rosa and her family, and we sat down on the floor of his room. We flicked through the pictures, something he normally loves. But this time he got angry with me.

‘No!, Mummy. I am your baby!’

‘Yes, my darling, you are my baby. And I love you very much. This is just pictures of the time when you lived with Rosa.’

He stood up and put both his hands over my mouth shouting: ‘I AM YOUR BABY!’

I closed the book, and hugged him close.

‘Of course you are.’ I whispered into his neck and kissed him. ‘You will always be my baby.’

I left it at that. I felt him relaxed in my arms.

Hmmm.

My husband and I discussed these incidents at length and agreed we both needed to throw a few more pebbles in this little pond of his. So far he has shown no interest what so ever in his life story book. So we haven’t forced it. That said we have never shied away from his background either. We are quite open about the fact he is adopted. To him and to the world at large. But perhaps we hadn’t spoken with him about his early life lately, we wondered, in a way that made it accessible to him.

There have been other times when I’ve been surprised at his urge to be born by me. From very early on in his life with us. At no more than 18 months, he wanted to come out of my tummy. We played it over and over. Him hiding under my nightie and popping out into his bed. But the time with Rosa and her little boy was the first time he had voiced the need to be my baby so strongly. Of course it is a great sign of his attachment to me, and I guess to my husband and our little family unit of three. ‘Mummy, Daddy, Digger. Mummy, Daddy, Digger.’ as he likes to chant endlessly. But I was taken aback by the strength of his feeling. And perhaps a little fear of denial.

We left the subject for a while. Placed the book of baby photos within reach so he could look at them if he felt like it. He didn’t.

A couple of weeks later we happened to be in an area I know his birth mother used to live and work. We were walking down the street hand in hand.

‘When I come to this area I often think of your birth mother. She used to live here, you know.’

Long silence. He didn’t look up, but his attention to my words was clear.

‘Would you like me to say you her name out loud?’

He nodded without looking at me. I said her name aloud. Our eyes met and we smiled.

‘This can be our little secret: we both think of her when we come here.’ I suggested.

He nodded again and smiled.

Not long after his foster mum came round again, and somehow we’ve managed to wiggle his early life with her into the fabric of the day. Just little things like: ‘When you used to live with me, you looooved ice cream too. You’ve always loved ice cream. Especially chocolate! You got so messy! You got it all over your face! And your clothes!’

I feel we are back on track. Integrating the stories and details of his first year into the every growing tapestry that is his life.

Until the next time we need to do some adjusting.

Ask the 8 year old.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe had been processed and passed by the adoption panel for two children and as first time parents we really hadn’t even consider taking on any more. We originally saw the details of our sons – where it was stipulated that they had to be placed together – with no reference to other siblings.

Of course when their full CPR came through their siblings and half siblings were included, as indeed were details of the close relationship the boys had with their older sister. It was explained to us that as they had not found an adoptive placement for the three together, the sister had been asked if she would like to stay with the foster parents in long term fostering, freeing up her brothers for adoption together.

She was just 8 at the time and she was being asked if she wanted to stay in the home she had known for – at that point – over 2 yrs with people who cared for her and offered her the only real security she had ever really known – at the expense of staying with her brothers. Or to continue to wait for… well, the totally unknown.

She obviously chose to stay.

Good news for social services, who’s life just got a lot easier as placing a 4 and 5 yr old together – although not easy – is a whole lot easier than when there is a third aged 8.

Good news for the boys as it gave then a better chance of finding a forever family,

And of course good news for us.

It seems the only one with not such good news is the 8yr old who’s decision made it all possible. She will never be adopted and technically at 18 (although at the time it was still 16) be ‘family less’.

The foster parents were caring, but quite elderly (60&70) and very old school, they were very strict and although great for short term fostering they seemed to have little understanding of the ‘pastoral’ care looked after children so require.

We were aware of this and if I am to be brutally honest I have to admit that we chose to ignore it. We had already been building an attachment to our future sons and didn’t want to complicate matters, anyway surely Social services knows what’s best.

Also, if we decided not to proceed because of the sister, that would not result in the three being kept together, but in social services finding other parents for the boys. The boys who were already starting to feel like our sons.

Regular contact between the three and also their baby sister – born after they had all been taken into Care – was arranged twice yearly with both sisters and their families. It was tough at first for our boys, but it did mean we maintained contact with their foster carers who they were very attached to.

Although not perfect, all was fine until 2 yrs later when the foster parents declare that they are giving up the sister because ‘she has become too much to deal with’. They site various episodes, but basically it boils down to an understandably troubled 12 year old defying their ultra strict regime.

We are angry. Angry at social services for not addressing what was clearly a problematic situation before the inevitable, angry at the foster parents for not respecting the commitment they made and angry at ourselves for sitting back doing nothing while it suited us and also now, not being able to take on the older sister because we just don’t feel ready or able.

In addition we are angry for all the children, the sister for the horribly raw deal she got and for our sons and their baby sister who experience yet another family breakdown.

The sister has now been moved to another long term placement and is apparently settling. There has been no contact now for almost a year and the boys are missing her terribly, it should resume soon.

We have said that we want more contact and that we want to take the sister away with us when we holiday, but we have no legal connection with her and social services have no reason to acknowledge us – and they don’t. They have ignored our letters of complaint and so far our requests to be involved in the child’s life.

To us that is a mystery, but no doubt they have their reasons.

Let’s just hope the new long term foster placement the sister in now in will prove to be the happy home she so deserves