12 Blogs #3 Woof.

It was our sons first Christmas in their new school.

They had only been with us for 3 months and as new parents we were so excited to be attending the school nativity.

They were both on stage and the oldest even had a line – well actually a word.

Looking back at those early days of placement one of the strongest memories is just how emotional it all was, it was a bit overwhelming in many ways and it seemed that even the slightest thing could result in an unexpected tear or two. Any conversation about our wondrous new sons – especially when discussing their past – would make us choke up and god forbid sitting down to watch a slushy Hollywood movie or TV programme, no matter how obvious or manipulative we could see they were – they would inevitably became a vehicle to let out all our emotions and would have us in floods of tears every time.

Regardless of that, we (maybe foolishly) had not anticipated shedding a tear at the school nativity.

Just what resulted in this public display of emotion?

It was of course the moment our son stood to say his one line – no, his one word.

Sweet you may think and maybe even not that unexpected, however maybe a little more surprising when I tell you that as he was playing a dog (don’t ask how that fits into the nativity, we are still trying to work it out 5 years later), all he had to do was bark!

‘Woof’ he said – and the tears flowed.

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The Pixies. 12 Blogs #2


This year I’ve tried out an advent calendar. In our house it is a piece of cloth with 24 small pockets, into which I sneak a small item every evening after my son has fallen asleep. Something simple, tiny, unpretentious but special. He’s loving it.

The first week I focussed on stones and the like. One morning he got a biggish stone. Igneous looking. From the depths of the house collection. He showed it to his dad. Who raised his big daddy eyebrows in very real surprise. If not disbelief. ‘You gave him the stone I collected as a young boy from Vesuvius?’ Oups. I guess I did. Which would explain why I couldn’t remember where or when I’d collected it. He soon relented and he likes the beauty of passing it to his son. If only he’d been part of that decision. Not unlike the year I told our son The Santa doesn’t exists.

‘That’s the kind of stuff I think we should agree on as parents – before we tell him.’
That does seem very reasonable to me. Even in hindsight. But the cat was out of the bag. Out and gone. My son now tells a number of other kids that santa is just made up. Apologies if you are a parent of a kid who has met our six year-old myth buster.

That same evening of Vesuvius Gate my son asked me why I had stolen it from daddy.
I told him I didn’t think I had bla bla bla.
‘But mummy you lied to me.’
‘?! What do you mean…?’ I thought I’d been honest. Too honest it turns out.
‘I thought the pockets filled by magic…’
Errrrmmm….
‘You just fill them, Mummy. When I am asleep.’ He was very disappointed. And I was busted.

How to get back from that one??

Turns out there was a way back to December magic. After another few mishaps.

One morning my son complained there was nothing in the pocket for that morning.

‘Are you sure?!’ I remember finding something the evening before and carrying it downstairs. But my son was adamant: There was nothing there. I checked with him. The pocket was totally and completely empty. And my son’s eyes as big as saucers.

Hmmmmm. Puzzled but not deterred I went about my business, grumbling over what may have happened. I distinctly remembered having chosen something small and fine.

‘Maybe we have nisser (Danish for gnomes or pixies)….’

‘Maybe they took it? Like they sometimes take daddy glasses and put them up on top his head so he can’t find them.’

‘Or they ate the last biscuits. Pesky creatures …’

I walked into the living room and there on the mantle piece was the thing I’d chosen. Small and shiny. I managed to sneak it in to the pocket. And soon after I heard a scream of joy:
‘Mummy! The pixies have been! They brought me a crystal!’

Since that morning his faith in the pixies has been restored. Which all together is a better fit for our family than Father Christmas. They’re mischievous and fun. Not good, nor bad, but a bit of both. Altogether more real. They also don’t judge. No elves on our shelves!

Next year I think I may introduce more of their mischievous sides. You see in Denmark where I grew up you put food out for the pixies. Every night in December. To keep on good terms with them. If you forget you may upset them. And they may play tricks on you and your family. Like dye the milk blue only for you to realise as you pour it over your breakfast cereal. Or they may fill Your pencil case with raisin instead of pens! Which you only find out when in school.

I think my son is ready for some December themed mischievousness. But am I?

10 Missed Calls

Like many today I am somewhat attached to my smart phone and I have it within reach pretty much constantly. However I was recently away on holiday and just decided that I wanted a day without it so left it behind on a trip to the beach. I didn’t miss it at all and in fact I barely gave it a thought throughout the day.

Arriving back at the accommodation it wasn’t sitting out anywhere obvious and I was still happy to be without it, some time later we were leaving to meet friends for dinner so I searched out my phone. I discovered that my brother had called, in fact I could see that he had called 10 times throughout the day as my phone was displaying 10 missed calls. There was also an SMS – ‘Call me bro’. That all seemed a bit keen – in fact it seemed a bit desperate.

Our 79 year old father had recently spent 3 1/2 months in hospital, finally recovered and well he had been moved into a care home just three weeks earlier – so of course I assumed this was about him:

– Had he had another fall and broken another bone or two?
– Had he caught yet another nasty, dangerous infection?
– Had he organised a alcohol fuelled party against the home rules?
– Had he insulted a resident or carer in the home and was getting his marching orders?
– Had he done a runner in his wheelchair?

These and other thoughts ran through my mind as I made the call to my brother. He answered and after asking how the holiday was going, he said ‘Sorry bro, there is no easy way to say this – Dad has died’.

It was a total shock, I had left my father less than a week earlier and although very unhappy to be in the home, he was physically well.

We had already set off for the restaurant and I was walking a little ahead of my family and friends, how to handle this information – most significantly for our two adopted sons – suddenly became the most relevant issue at hand and from necessity it had to take priority over my own emotions. Our sons have suffered so much loss in their short lives and it has clearly impacted our youngest quite severely and I had no idea how this further loss would affect him or his brother and of course being on holiday added an additional dimension and difficulty to breaking such shocking news.

Telling children of the loss of anybody close to them is difficult, however with the extra level of loss an adopted child has experienced it possibly makes it even more of a concern. Our sons knew that their grandfather had been very poorly in hospital, but they also knew that he had recovered and was well and they had visited him a few times over the past few weeks.

As I finished the conversation with my brother I was already aware that I needed to contain myself and to not give any indication of how I was feeling as I knew immediately that I would need to prepare the boys for the news over a period of time. Also, as we were leaving the next day we would soon be home, which I figured would be a much more secure environment for then to deal with the information.

So I said nothing, which of course made for a rather difficult meal and end to the day for me. However, I actually started to realise that I was also allowing myself to process the loss and deal with the shock privately, which I appreciated. I shared the news with my partner and friends after the boys were tucked up in bed and then the following morning I simply said to the boys that I had spoken with their uncle who had said that Granddad had become quite ill again and that we were quite worried, then again the following day when we were back home I brought it up and said that Granddad had sadly got even worse and as he was an old man we were very concerned that he was so weak. On the third day I said that there was no improvement and that things looked very bad – then that evening we told them that Granddad had sadly died.

They were clearly a little upset, but both of them appeared to take the news well. They had immediately started to ask if he was going to die when I first said that he was unwell again and I had answered that it was possible and having a couple of days to process the possibility I think at least helped remove the shock. We have spoken about Granddad almost everyday since and both boys wanted to come to the funeral, where they were very well behaved and respectful of the occasion, which we feel was evidence of them dealing with their emotions.

I am sure they will be processing the loss for sometime now, but it does however seem that they are coping with it. We of course will not take that for granted and will keep an eye on them and hopefully will be able to recognise any difficulties if they arise.

Meanwhile we will continue to talk about Granddad as still being very much part of our lives and we will share the many happy memories we have, hopefully the loss is then wrapped in warmth and love and positivity. I have learnt for myself that the best way for me to cope with loss is to always think of something happy, wonderful and positive about the loved ones who are no longer with us in a way that warms my heart and with each of those thoughts comes a smile – a genuine smile from deep down – and it’s very hard to be sad when you are smiling. This I am trying to pass on to my sons, for the loss they are suffering now and indeed for the loss they have suffered in the past.

Yearning for secure attachment

I assume that most adopters feel that the most crucial aspect of our relationship with our child/children initially is getting them to attach. I think it’s fair to say that we feel that attachment proves that we are doing a good job, that we are creating real security and that we are ‘getting it right’, in fact that we are unquestionably becoming a ‘complete’ family – and the sooner that it is achieved the better.

It’s only natural that we all yearn for that child/parent bond to be significant as quickly as possible, the bond that we are enviously aware is no doubt automatically there with birth children, yet is one that we have to work hard to achieve as adopters – after all we are competing with the ghosts of birth parents, foster parents and other parental figures that have been in their life prior to us, maybe even a teacher or a grandparent, aunt/uncle or older sibling.

Our children arrive as strangers and although they reassuringly turn to us right from the start we know that it is as their care givers and that it is led by circumstance and need – not emotion. We take what is on offer and as time goes by maybe even start to kid ourselves that it is real even though we know that it is too soon and more than we should be expecting, regardless we know that we have to keep trying, keep doing the best that we can to win our way into their hearts.

And gradually we see change, we see a increasing level of closeness, an intimacy that is new and of course so very rewarding. We feel that all our hard work is paying off and we allow ourselves to assume that all those fears of damaged attachment that the social workers planted in our minds throughout the preparation course and beyond are indeed unfounded – even for those of us who may have children who have been diagnosed with attachment disorder. We feel fortunate to have escaped the issues we were told could so clearly be a part of our life – forever.

Or maybe not! Maybe our child/children are not as settled as we hope for and maybe we are dealing with difficulties, with challenging behaviour, behaviour that we are truly struggling with, maybe there are clear signs that the attachment is questionable, signs that I think many of us chose to disregard or play down in attempts to convince ourselves that they have indeed attached, or at least started to attach.

My partner and I certainly did, we saw clear signs that our sons had attached from quite early on in the placement, or more to the point – we felt it. We felt the love, the bond, we felt the attachment and it seemed so real – and in the case of our oldest son amazingly it seems that it was.

However for our younger son, it is now evident that we really have been fooling ourselves. We certainly knew he had issues, which we always put down to the trauma he suffered. We knew that he was diagnosed with attachment disorder and that he displayed behaviour reflecting this, yet we still believed that there was true attachment. We feel his love, we see his joy when he interacts with us, we see his need for us and the unquestionable security that we bring.

Yet now we know that it is just not enough and that we still have a way to go regardless of the more than 5 years we have been together and we also know – and now accept – that there may never be full secure attachment.

Because of behaviour problems (mostly at school) he recently underwent a phycological assessment in view to undertake ‘theraplay’ and we have been truly shocked by one set of results in particular.

The therapist had asked our son to draw a circle and then a larger circle around this and the same again and again. She then asked him to think of all the relationships he has had and currently has in his life and starting in the centre circle write the names of the people that are most important to him and then work his way out as the relationships feel less important.

Our son wrote just 5 names, 4 in the centre and one in the second circle. These names include the one constant in his life – his brother – as well as his one and only friend and the family dog. Shockingly these 5 names did not include either myself or my partner.

They also did not include birth parents, long term foster parents (of almost 3 years), other siblings (who we are still in contact with regularly), a new aunt who he was especially close to until her death 3 years ago or any other of his new extended family – other than Granddad (my father), who we have not witnessed a particularly close bond to and who sadly has just died – adding to our son’s loss.

The therapist gave us time to digest the information and then said that she realised that it must be difficult to hear, but in fact was not too surprising. She pointed out that he had left off all the people he has got close to who have in some way deserted him – undermining his attachment. She said that our absence was evidence that he was still not able to fully attach to us because of the fear (probably subconscious fear) that we too would ultimately let him down and leave him – as all these people in his life before us have and as indeed Granddad has now done too.

We know the loss he has suffered has severely affected him, but I guess we hoped that we had broken through that and that the close, loving relationship that we have is proof of secure attachment and that we really had reassured him that we are not just here for him now, but that we always will be.

We just hope more than anything in the world that we will eventually get there. The positive is that we are optimistic and even if full secure attachment never happens, we feel confident that he will always know how much we love him and that we will always be here for him, no matter what.

The truth, the whole truth and not always the truth.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA few months after our sons moved in we went to visit a dear friend who was dying, he had arranged for somebody to buy presents for the boys, he engaged with them and he gave them lots of attention. Even though he was very poorly and in quite a bit of pain he made every effort to smile and welcome them and he clearly left an impression.

Although they saw him only once again they still remember him and talk about him, as far as we know this was the first death the boys had experienced and we did our best to be totally honest and to give them as much understanding that we felt their 5 & 6 years merited.

Of course they had questions, some simple matter of fact queries, others quite deep and difficult to know how to respond to. The most difficult was in response to my saying that death was very natural, that everybody dies and it wasn’t something to be afraid of. To which our 6 year old asked ‘so are you going to die and leave us Daddy?’. They had been with us for just over 6 months at this point and we had been reassuring them almost daily that we were a forever family and that we will always be here for them.

The temptation was of course to say no, which is no doubt what he wanted and maybe even needed to hear, but instinctively I maintained the honest approach we have when confronted with any questions from our sons and said ‘yes of course like everybody else I will die’, but added that hopefully it will be a long time from now when they are both grown up and maybe have families of their own. This appeared to work and seemed to put his mind at rest.

However, the subject of my death did raise its head in little remarks here and there quite a few times over the next couple of months, which made me realise that it was clearly something he was still thinking about and was possibly worrying him.

Eighteens months later the boys experienced another death and this time is was much closer to home when my sister died, she had built a wonderful relationship with the boys and they both thought the world of her and in fact our youngest seemed to have a particularly close bond with his special new Aunty.

Again lots of questions which we answered as honestly as we always have. However 18 months older meant that their questioning had a little more maturity behind it and that they were less willing to simply accept our answers at face value.

My ‘when you are both much older’ was now met with ‘how old Daddy?’ And my response of ‘when you are grown up and both men’ resulted in uncharacteristic on the spot mathematics and them pointing out that I would be nearly 70 when they were 20 and that people died much younger than that, like their Aunty who was only 53.

More attempts at reassurance and I pointed out that both their daddies (we are 2 dads) ate well, that we didn’t smoke, that we drank very little and that we were reasonably healthy which meant that there was nothing to suggest that we would not live until we are in our 80’s and that by then they would probably have children of their own. I also pointed out that their other daddy is almost 8 years younger so would likely be around a lot longer than me.

Again we could see them considering this and then with rather a glum expression we were met with ‘our uncle is older than Aunty and she died first’ A slight pause and then ‘and what if you both die together, who will look after us then?’
At which point we caved in and all our principles disappeared as I replied ‘Don’t be silly, that is never going to happen. I am sure that you will always have both of us and that we will always be able to look after you’.

Not the thruth that I put so much value in of course, but not exactly a lie either. Most importantly though it was clearly the reassurance they both needed as our deaths have not been mentioned since.

Denial

2015-12-13 17.21.56Due to increasingly difficult behaviour in school – which is now very much spilling over into our home life – my partner and I have been reassessing our son and the behaviour we are facing and we have concluded that he does indeed suffer from Reactive attachment disorder (RAD). This has resulted in me thinking back over our adoption process and how we dealt with the information being presented to us, information which is now evidently appropriate and true. Yet information that at the time we could be somewhat dissmissive of – even after further research on the topics being raised.
On reflection I think it’s fair to say that we were quite simply in denial and it is a denial that has continued well into placement.
Athough we could very quickly see that our son was troubled and that we were dealing with some very challenging behaviour, we put it down to anger brought about from the trauma he had suffered or from being removed from a secure, long term foster placement and it has taken us a good while to open ourselves up and to stop denying the full reality of our family,
And I am wondering if that denial is typical of many adopters? I think it is often a very difficult path that leads to adoption and for some adopters it is a last opportunity to become a parent. Consequently that desire to parent possibly overrides all else and whilst being processed I feel we could be subconsciously denyng anything which could get in the way of us becoming the family we so desperately want to be.
All new adopters are repeatedly and relentlessly warned by social services of the issues that the children in their care could have – or indeed are likely to have – and in many cases when it gets to the matching process there can be clear information about our potential children presented to us that I guess we allow ourselves to doubt. In theory there are no secrets and all the known facts are laid out before us – and indeed information about what could be unknown. This is all information that could possibly have most of us running for the hills, yet we don’t run, we hold fast.
I remember clearly thinking ‘but they are just kids and kids are kids’, ‘The social workers are making too much of this’, ‘they need to exaggerate, to present the worse case scenario’, and more incredibly ‘we can handle it’ without truly knowing what it would be that we would need to handle.
In our case there was in fact a professional diagnoses (RAD for both our sons) that we were very willing to question because of factors that we felt discredited it – in our defence this did include our sons family finder and social worker saying that they felt the diagnoses to be ‘surprising’ and to be fair to them we do still feel that the diagnoses for our older son to be totally wrong.
I am not saying that we ignorantly blanked out the information put before us, I think we were just somewhat selective in how we allowed it to impact on us and our decision making. I think we were in denial.
I think it is fair to say that it is a rare adopter who can knowingly and willingly take on a physically disabled or a severely disturbed child, most of the rest of us may not be looking for ‘perfection’ when it comes to the children we chose, but in fact I am pretty sure we are hopeful of a child who will be physically and mentally healthy – and this is regardless of being told that it may be a rarity amongst adopted children nowadays.

As was the case for us, I think possibly those adopters who feel that they are willing to take on children with (what we see as manageable) issues, do so with a belief that the impact will be minimal and that all will be OK.
Not blindly – but hopefully.

More denial.

On reflection I tthink that all of this denial is a wonderful thing, because without it I fear that so many of us would not be the families that we are.

Our children move in, we become a family and the love and the bond develops and grows. They become part of us They are our children and then whatever reality we are faced with, we deal with – as any parent would.

Just as the vast majority of birth parents would never turn away from their child if the child became ill or disabled or very challenging – neither do the vast majority of adopters.

We are there for our children, we learn to understand their problems, to understand their needs, we learn to be the parent we need to be.
We learn that it doesn’t matter that they are not ‘perfect’ , they are ours and they come as they are and we are a family that is meant to be.

Don’t get me wrong, we did not deny our son had issues, there was just an instinctive desire to ‘play them down’, regardless we still had to learn to parent therapeutically and to give him the special care he requires. The only difference now is that we have to acknowledge that it is likely to be a much longer road ahead of us than we thought we were on – and that is perfectly OK.

P.S. I am very aware that many reading this will not relate on any level and I stress that the blog is about my experience as an adopter and my assumption that it could also be true for many, many others.

12 blogs under the Christmas tree #11

20121201_130647A Friend.

That would be my Christmas gift for under the tree – if there were no limits and if anything was possible, that is what I would buy our son.

A friend.

A child his own age who will understand him and forgive his many challenges, a child who will not judge and will not question the difficulties he has with other children”

A friend who he can rely on and who he can always trust will be there for him. A friend he feels secure with.

My Christmas gift would be for my son and it would be the friend he doesn’t have.

The friend we worry he may never have.