12 Blogs under the Christmas tree #9

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Under the Christmas tree this year is a new family! Let me explain. As a gay man family has always been a challenge. However, I would like to think I navigated it quite well, until I adopted. Forever family is key to who we are as a family and now my extended family are fighting with each other. I’m not even going to give that story space. But what I would put under the Christmas tree this year is a new extended family.

I’m pee’d off and I would happily un-wrap a new extended family who I could present to my boys as their new forever extended family. It’s difficult I know but it’s often heightened because it’s Christmas.

A Bigger Pack.

20140614_190132I loved my life, I had it good – so much attention and so much affection. The two of them to look after me, to care for me and to make me feel secure and they did a mighty fine job of it.

We had been together for almost 7 years and things were just fine, there was peace, there was understanding and there was love.

Then along came these little ones, not babies for me to get used to and to grow with, but two little people who appeared one day from nowhere. I was used to guests, in fact I rather liked the guests as they usually gave me even more attention, but this time it was different, very different – these two were clearly here to stay.

They paid attention to me, but in a different way – not when I needed it, but when it suited them. Sometimes the attention could be unpleasant, it could be a bit too rough and on a few occasions – like the times I got locked in rooms/cupboards alone for long periods or the time I got pushed down the stairs – not nice at all.

They didn’t seem to like me getting the affection or the attention that I was used to and it felt like they were competing for it – and winning. It felt like they were trying to push me out.

Life at home had changed, the quiet relaxed atmosphere that I was comfortable with was replaced with lots of shouting and screaming. The harmony that I had lived under became chaos: more bodies, more noise, more stuff – SO much more stuff – the floors that were always clear suddenly became an obstacle course of shoes and coats and toys and books for me to navigate around and I got shouted at if I unavoidably stood on things or knocked things over.

Suddenly I got into trouble for doing things that I had always done, like running around excited or playing with the toys left for me on the floor.

Life got confusing and I found it easier to take myself away. I still needed their love, their attention, but I learnt that when their voices were raised and sounding distressed – when I wanted to go to them, to sooth them, to make them feel better – it was in fact best for me to go and hide. Otherwise the shouting was directed at me – and I didn’t understand why.

It’s been over three years since the little ones moved in and in fact they are not even that little anymore. Things are calming down, there is less shouting, less anger, less frustration, less despair – yes, at times I could sense despair and it is good to see that it has just about gone from our lives.

The attention I get has changed too, it’s clear to see that they have stopped seeing me as a threat and they seem to have learnt what I need and are more willing to give it. They want to play with me now, to run with me and sometimes just to sit with me – and that’s nice.

Life is different to how it was before they came, it is good again now. In fact I can see that life is better – better for the little ones who are settled and so clearly happier than when they first arrived, better for the big ones who have grown and changed as their life changed around them and consequently better for me.

It took some time, but now I know that it has all been worth it. Now I am not just a pampered pet, but a proper family dog.

I am one of a bigger pack, I know my place again and I’m enjoying that.

The Briefest Moment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was the briefest of moments, but a moment that has filled me with guilt and which I know will stay with me forever.

It was early days – in fact just five or six weeks into placement – the honeymoon period was over and we were starting to see a different side to our new sons. We were totally smitten with the boys and felt that we had loved them from the very first moment we were brought together, but now we were being challenged and we were finding it hard.

The previous couple of weeks had been tough – very tough – mostly with our then almost 5 yr old, who was angry and upset and confused – which we still see signs of today – and daily we were dealing with that. We were new parents and rapidly discovering that all the experience we had of looking after children seemed to be irrelevant when it came to our own, our own damaged and wounded children.

Our son is extremely short tempered and he will fly into a rage over very minor incidents, it is a rage that was uncontrollable then and grew worse with our feeble and misguided attempts to deal with it. We knew we were in it over our heads and we knew we were just not breaking through. It felt like we were failing and to be honest it felt more and more like we were faced with an insurmountable challenge. However, it was a challenge we were committed to and no matter what it took we would get the better of it. Nobody said it was going to be easy, in fact we had it drummed into us on the prep’ course that it would be anything but.

To make matters worse we were exhausted, emotionally and physically. We had not slept a full night since they joined us in our home, jumping up from our bed at the slightest sounds from their bedroom next door, lying awake for hours considering the day we had just had and worrying about what the day ahead would bring.

In addition nothing could have prepared us for the sheer magnitude of the emotional roller coaster ride we found ourselves on and just how weary that would make us.

From the moment our son woke that morning we knew it was going to be ‘one of those days’, there is a look in his eyes, a little extra swagger and attitude in his interaction that we were already able to spot and identify, but to this day we have no idea what determines that mood. It was not a good start to the day and with my partner and older son leaving early we were left alone. My gentle reprimanding of our sons constant challenging increased, and as he and I sat down after breakfast to play together it was clear that all of what I was saying was falling on deaf ears.

Gradually my anger was growing and getting more and more difficult to control as he persisted in his mis behaviour and his determination to ignore my attempts to bring it to an end. Finally a very stern warning that one more time and he would have time-out (a last resort then and of course eliminated completely now) which predictably was immediately followed by the action that spurred the warning.

With far too much anger he was lifted from the floor and stood in the time-out spot, from here on in the situation just deteriorated totally out of control, with my anger continuing to grow – and the volume of my shouting increasing with it – as he refused to stay for time-out, the more I shouted the worse he got and we were in a vicious cycle going absolutely nowhere.

With time we were to learn that he gets worse as we get angrier as of course it destabilises the security we are building, but way back then we were a long way off that realisation and I just saw a defiant and naughty little boy determined to ‘get one over on me’. How crass and ignorant that statement sounds now.

He was refusing to stay on the time-out spot and I was sure that giving into that would be the beginning of the end and that he would never listen to me and my discipline from that moment on, so I repeatedly lifted him back into place. His anger continued to build and soon it was completely out of control and there I found myself, on my knees, face to face with my 4 year old son trying to hold him in place, his face blazing red from absolute fury and his spit covering my face as he simply stood and screamed at me.

And then that moment.

I gave up. I accepted defeat and realised that I couldn’t do this. I had failed. I was not a parent and could never be, which of course meant only one thing – he had to go back. Back into Care.

That briefest of moments.

And then thankfully it was gone and I pulled myself together. Could this 4 yr old really get the better of the 50 yr old me? Of course not – that is NOT what this is about. Then the realisation that this was in fact all about me, not his naughtiness or his anger, but my handling of it. I didn’t know the answers, but I knew it was about me finding them.

Totally ashamed at the thought that had run through my mind and with my heart breaking for him – my beautiful SON – for even thinking what I had, the anger drained from my body. I let go of him and I stood up and he of course immediately ran from me and he hid under the table. Calmer now, I lowered my voice to little more than a whisper and told him that ‘under the table’ was the new time-out spot and his 4 minutes were starting from now.

He stayed – thank goodness he stayed – I am sure it was because he was as relived for the ‘out’ as I was. The – very long – 4 minutes passed and I attempted to calm him and to get some kind of order back in place. He was having none of it and refused to move from his spot where he stayed for quite some time. When he did finally come out he would not come to me or allow me to hug him, which of course I desperately needed to do for my own sake as much as his.

He stayed angry, hurt, upset and distant and then finally my partner arrived home. Initially he resisted my partners efforts to console him, but he was in such need of comfort that he did eventually allow himself to be picked up and I stood and watched as our little boy crumpled into my partners shoulder and sobbed his heart out.

This had been tough on me, but my goodness it was now very clear to see how tough it had been on him and I was responsible for that.

Things had to change – and they did, or should I say WE did.

Nearly three years on we still have an angry little boy, but episodes as extreme as this are now rare and we are hopeful that they will soon be eliminated completely. We have learnt how to handle him much better and in doing so we have became more like the parents he needs and my goodness so deserves.

Far more importantly though, there has never been a repeat of my thoughts in that moment, but as a parent those thoughts will always haunt me and shame me.

We are a forever family and families come as they are – for good and bad – and one thing is for sure – being adopted does not make you any less forever than a birth child and to even think so for the briefest of moments is surely unforgivable.