So Damn Stupid

Photo by Lili Gooch

Up early, well before the alarm. Good, there is never enough time in a day.

Quick shower (it’s so much easier to do this before the boys wake up), dress, make coffee, sort out laundry, put on washing machine, empty… damn, we forgot to put the dishwasher on last night.

Let dog out, wash dog’s bowl, feed her and clean up her mess in the garden.

Second mug of coffee, computer ‘on’. Hopefully a full hour or so of work before the boys wake.

Hear partner getting up, he showers, dresses and comes downstairs. Clanking from the kitchen, too much clanking – the youngest is woken up.

Footsteps as he gets up and leaves his bedroom – they stop at his brother’s door ??? ‘Get out of my room and leave me alone’ I hear screamed moments later. Really? 5.50 am and they are already fighting.

I stop work – nowhere near finished.

Youngest comes downstairs, nothing more than a frown to my ‘good morning’. He has ‘that’ look in his eyes, it’s going to be be of those mornings.

Clearly he has not slept well, he is grumpy, he is defiant and as the morning unfolds he challenges everything and he pushes the boundaries as far as he can.

Partner has prepared breakfast and laid the table, he puts the bins out and sorts out the recycling, he then takes the dog for a walk, checking messages and emails as he goes.

I get the boys school clothes ready and make their beds. I tidy the house from top to bottom as I make my way back to the kitchen. I empty the washing machine, start dryer and unload dishwasher – why use the ‘quick wash’ function when it never does the job, half the items are put back in.

Breakfast is finished and I clean the kitchen and reload the dishwasher.

I set out homework and the boys sit down with me, it becomes clear that the youngest will not engage. He is simply not listening and is continuously distracting and antagonising his brother, the brother is taking the bait and is fighting back. I start to lose my temper and raise my voice – even though I know it will only make things worse.

I’m feeling disrespected and I can feel my anger rising – think therapeutic parenting, think therapeutic parenting I remind myself. It’s not working, I snap and immediately regret it as the youngest visibly closes in on himself. I leave the room before I make the situation worse.

Partner leaves for work after we have discussed what we are doing that evening and what needs picking up for tonight’s dinner. ‘Stay calm’ he says as he walks out the door, which of course just makes me more angry.

My phone bleeps, my first work message of the day. I realise I forgot to plug the phone in last night and I have to search the whole house for the power cable, I discover the oldest has charged MY iPad with it in his room – where screens are not allowed!?!?

I attempt to get back to my work on the computer, but the boys constant bickering makes it impossible.

I let them have screen time (mostly for my sake) and at last there is some calm. I rush through my work to get it finished and prepare what I need for the day.

Teeth cleaned and they are dressed for school. School work collected and bags filled, sports kit cobbled together – where the hell are the big one’s trainers? Shoes on.

The youngest one’s mood is not improving the slightest, everything he says is full of attitude and just on the edge of rudeness (or is it over the edge, but I just don’t have time to admit that?), it is taking every bit of effort from me not to lose it.

At the last minute I realise that I haven’t unloaded the dryer. Damn – not dry, the whole wash is going to be creased to hell by the time I get home tonight unless I take it out and hang it out all over the kitchen. That’s always a good look – and now we are running late and both boys are nagging me about it.

I very briskly walk them to school and the boys fight the entire way. The youngest walks off immediately we reach the play ground and he barely looks back as I shout ‘I love you, have a nice day’, so much for our usual goodbye kiss.

I get my first business call of the day as I am walking away from school, which is actually quite useful as it helps me avoid eye contact with other parents who I don’t have time for. I have to rush to make my first appointment, I am not looking forward to what I am sure will be a hectic day at work.

11am my phone rings, I pick it up and my heart skips a beat – it’s the school. I’m surprised as they haven’t called for well over 5 months now. I answer and I am told that the youngest is ‘not having a good day today’, he has been difficult and disruptive and they are concerned that it seems to be escalating and could get out of hand (as it has many times in the past), they wanted to make me aware of the situation in case I needed to come in. Just what I need today I think, I really thought that they had this under control.

I say that he had been in a difficult mood that morning and that he had been quite challenging. I start to say that he had gone to bed a little late yesterday and was up early, he was probably (not that it excuses his behaviour) a little tired because we had…

and then – and only then – the realisation.

…because we had Contact yesterday.

Contact with his other siblings, the brothers and sisters he doesn’t live with, the brothers and sisters he sees just twice a year, the brothers and sisters he misses so very much.

The ones who remind him of his past life, who highlight the differences between him and his peers. The ones who make him feel vulnerable in his new family – who make him feel like his new life could be temporary after all and that he could be moved on at any moment like each of them have been and just like he was twice before his 5th birthday.

How could I have been SO damn stupid!

Of course he is unsettled, of course he is being difficult and challenging us, challenging the school, challenging the world – of course, of course, of course.

He always is after contact and who can blame him for that? All morning he had been crying out for our love, for our reassurance and for our understanding – in the only way he knows how.

How on earth could I have missed it?

A Simple Equation

I was at an adoption prep group recently talking as an established adopter and mentioned that even after being placed with us for 3 years our youngest son still clearly struggles with the turmoil of his past, I said that we frequently suffer the consequences of that in his difficult behaviour and how tough we were still finding it. A social worker paused me for a moment, asked how old my son was and said to the group –

‘This sounds quite typical and is to be expected, there is a very rough guide that we use which is the age of the child when they come to you representing in years how long it will take before they are likely to fully settle’

IF this had been said during our prep course or any time during our adoption process we had both forgotten it and hearing it now was wonderfully reassuring.

For a large part of the time our son has been with us we have been waiting – and worse still expecting – for there to be a very obvious and significant improvement in his behaviour, waiting for the signs that he had indeed settled and that he had let go of his hurt and anguish and that he had embraced the love and more importantly the security he now had in our family.

And we have been worried, sometimes very worried that we could not see definite signs that we were close to being there or indeed – on some days – that we were on a path leading there at all.

We do know that things are better, there are of course unquestionable signs of improvement, but we were not sure if some of that is just maturity – regardless we still feel that we are a long way from things being easily manageable.

But now we know better.

Now we know that we have been harbouring unrealistic expectations and that we are still likely to be a way off him being fully settled and his behaviour reflecting that.

You know? Being aware of that helps tremendously. It helps us to relax and helps us accept the behaviour so much more readily – and that’s a huge positive for our parenting and for our family.

Update –

Amazingly this blog has been sitting around unfinished for almost 2 years and our son has in fact now been with us for almost 5 years – his age when he joined us.

So is the equation right?

Well we still deal with difficult behaviour so I could instinctively say NO, but in fact would not be true.

The behaviour we struggled with is now quite rare and there is no question that there is a huge change in him, in fact I do think it’s clear to see that he has very gradually settled into his new life and indeed continues to do so. I would say without question that he is far more secure in our family than he was when I started the blog originally and the difficulties we face today are more to do with his diagnoses of reactive attachment disorder, which we have learnt to deal with therapeutically and which has resulted in far more calm for all of us.

What we have learnt is that there are no short cuts and that as adoptive parents we have to embrace the difficulties for what they are and to allow time to heal the scars that our children arrive with, we have to give them time and we need to have realistic expectations along the way – and trust me it’s worth every bit of effort that takes.

3 horsemen

The twisted briars cloud my vista
I only see the dark and tangled past
It’s upon me the 3 horsemen
It’s crowding me
Drowning me
Making me twist and feel like I’m failing
Flailing, shivering in my nest.
I stop. I stare. I implode. I scream.
The journey of my youngest feels
Like a weighted stone and doubles
The pain of my childhood.
I see my mother’s wrinkled face and don’t feel love.
I don’t feel compassion. I don’t feel joy.
I only feel sad. Sad like a bag of rocks weighing me down.
It slips into my childhood disease and makes my stomach churn.
My cheeks burn with embarrassment. I feel guilty, I feel shame at this.
I have to resolve this.
I need to move through it.
I can’t go under it.
I can’t get over it.
I need to go through it.
I try and see open doors but I only feel brick walls.
The prospect of drowning in this is a fingertip away but I need to find a path which allows me to see the wretched past and the matriarch and allows enough light in so that the flowers can bloom. So that I can become the mother to my 2, that they need me to be. So I can be brave. So I can let it go. I am not my mother. I have time to be a brave mum to my 2 as they need me to be brave, to fight for them. To be their advocate. They chose me to be in their lives and I will get on these horses and I will pound down the walls and find those open doors.

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.

Smother them with love

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We had a number of friends and family say in advance of our sons moving in that we would just need to ‘smother them with love’ and all would be OK.

It was then repeated by others when they met the children as if love was a ‘cure all’ in the world of adoption.

And yes SO much of what needs to be achieved can be done with love. They need to feel secure and feeling loved is such an important part of that, they need to attach and to bond and again love is essential – however love alone is clearly not enough and I wonder if love is relevant at all for some of what we have to deal with. In fact as an adoptive parent of over 4 years I can now confidently say that the ‘love conquers all’ theory feels quite misguided as it doesn’t take into account our children’s individuality and their personal history and worryingly I fear it could stop adoptive parents focussing on the bigger picture.

Regardless, In some cases the children have indeed come from families that had love. They have been loved – and often continue to be loved – by their birth parents, yet that love was anything but enough. Their past is not always about a lack of love, it’s just a love that was overridden by lack of care, lack of consideration or lack of ability.

Now there is an abundance of love not just from us, but from our families too: their new grandparents, new aunties, new uncles, new cousins etc and it’s wonderful to see that love and to see how they are flourishing from these new relationships.

Most of all though there is our love – a selfless, unconditional and endless love. We adore our sons and we feel that we fell in love with them from the very moment we were brought together and that is a love that we can see has grown deeper than anything we had experienced previously or anything we could have anticipated. We reassure them daily of that love and I know they understand it and truly feel it – yet we can see that the love alone can only achieve so much.

It is painfully clear that no matter how intense the love they are surrounded by, it has not and can not erase the damage that the early years have inflicted. It gives us strength and greatly helps us deal with the troubling behaviour that is a result of their past, it reassures them that no matter what we will always be here, but it doesn’t change what they have lived through or the resulting hurt, anger and confusion.

How we wish it did, how we wish it was that simple, because smothering them with love has been the really very, very easy part.

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.”

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.