12 Blogs: A Ghost of Christmas Past.

The Day is done.
The presents have been opened.
The Turkey has been eaten and the chocs have been scoffed.
Leafing though photos of the festivities on my computer I stumbled across an old folder I hadn’t opened for years.
Clicking on it, out tumbled hundreds of images of me and my husband as novice parents and our first Christmas together as a family. Our daughter must have been about 15 months old and it took me straight back to the early days.
I could remember looking at that little smiling face in the pictures worrying that I wouldn’t be good enough; that I would somehow let her down. And I was oddly freaked out because at the time I couldn’t quite picture the little girl she would grow into. I don’t know why it was so important to me but I needed to be able to look into the future and see us not just as the parents of a baby but also parents of a little girl and I couldn’t. Every time I tried it just got hazy. Maybe it was just the general anxiety of becoming a parent for the first time but there seemed to be so much to worry and think about!

Fast forward five years and surprise surprise here we are. No longer the parents of a baby but yes, parents of a little girl.
I hadn’t needed to worry about it after all because like most things in life – it just happened. It evolved.
For me it was a timely reminder to try to let go of things that I cannot control. To try not to waste any more time worrying myself into the future.

Easier said than done I know.

12 Blogs #11. Unleashed

It was our first Christmas together and we were spending it away from London, in a house in the country.

There was great excitement all around, from the boys who we had been working on for weeks filling them with expectation and from us looking to make our first christmas together special and memorable.

However, something that we had not considered was the weather – which was quite simply horrid. It rained constantly and apart from the gloom that it brought about, it prevented the boys from going outside as it was very cold and the garden (as well as the surrounding countryside) were quite literally a mud bath.

It took us a while to realise what was happening, but regardless of out attempts to keep the boys busy and entertained we started to notice that they were getting restless and were becoming more and more difficult to cope with.

By the end of day 4 things were bad, their behaviour was getting out of control and we had little patience left. They were sent to bed early amid tears and anger.

The following day – Christmas Eve – started pretty much how the previous day had ended and the prospects of having to deal with two increasingly uncontrollable little boys on top of preparing for the big day tomorrow was quite simply looking beyond our ability.

My sister – a far more accomplished parent – phoned to ask how things were going and I shared our distress, the conversation went something like this:

Me – We have had enough, the boys are clearly unsettled being here and none of us are enjoying it, in fact the boys are driving us mad.

Sister – They have been couped up for 4 days, it sounds like big time cabin fever to me.

Me – Could be, I hadn’t considered that. (duhh)

Sister – You need to get them out to release some of that energy that’s just building and building.

Me – We can’t, the weather is just too terrible’ I think it best that we just go home.

Sister – Don’t be silly, you have everything planned and set up for Christmas there, why don’t you take them to a soft play area.

Me – What’s a soft play area?

Once she had finished laughing at me – the oh so clearly novice dad – she educated me into the word of indoor play and advised that there was a great centre about 50 mins away and that it will be a journey I would be very grateful of.

51 minutes later we are paying to get in and I could see the boys positively ‘chomping at the bit’, waiting to be let loose. Armbands on wrists the gate was opened…

And they were off, immediately running into the thick of it without looking back, we found seats and made them aware of where we were and they did not come to us for over 30 minutes (and these were still the very early days when they never seemed to leave our sides).

They ran, they climbed, they jumped, they slid, they shouted and they laughed – before they even thought about us. When we did finally come to mind they ran to us for a quick drink and then they were off again and it was like this for the next two hours or so.

I have described it as being like letting a dog off a lead – you could see the ‘need’ they had to get rid of all the pent up energy and it was actually a delight to watch.

Our sons are quite active little boys and of course four days stuck indoors was going to drive them mad – and by default us too – it is just shocking how oblivious we were to the blindingly obvious – even as it unfolded around us.

We live and learn and as painful as we the parents can find the hour or two in a soft play centre it saved our Christmas and has become a regular part of our life since.

12 blogs #10 Christmas Day 2017

I am sitting in the quiet of the kitchen in candlelight listening to the whirl of the dish washer. It’s peaceful after all the hullabaloo of the day. Cold sprouts, roast potatoes and the turkey are still on the table.

My six year old son went to sleep asking if he could pull a cracker tomorrow with our 82 year old neighbour. “Mummy I’ll let her have the present inside as she’s so old”.

He spent much of Christmas singing the same carol over and over again (jingle bells with the bit about Uncle Billy losing his ……, eating as many mince pies as he could find and then ripping open presents like he was being timed for the olympics. This year it was filled with “thank you Mummy and Daddy – wow I love this!”.

These comments wouldn’t have seemed possible this time last year. It has been like two years in one. My son has gone from a frightened hyper vigilant five year old kicking, swearing, hitting and screaming to a calmer more playful six year old. Last year he couldn’t attend the last few days at school as he couldn’t cope. He was running around the corridors wildly and I had to piggy back him out of a school sports cupboard back home. It was a relief to have him out of an environment which he clearly wasn’t coping in but I wondered how this year would pan out.

His behaviour had been triggered by events for sure – the change of the timetable with the nativity rehearsals and his LSA being off sick plus countless different people then replacing her. He felt neither safe nor secure . He had an EHCP which stated he must have consistent care but it wasn’t happening.

This year his LSA has not been away for even a day’s sick leave and the difference is huge. Our son now runs into school happily. He has gone from 10 mins in the classroom to 4 hours a day. We’ve had every treatment in the book from AIT (Audio Integrative Therapy) to Cranial osteopathy and Primitive Reflex work (INPP). We’ve also had therapeutic parenting sessions. We have begged, borrowed and stolen the therapies getting discounts where we can and using the Adoption Support Fund. Without them I don’t think we could have survived.

Things can change and Christmas is a natural hiatus in which to realise the change. He still can’t eat a meal without getting up five or six times and is like a mosquito buzzing from thing to thing but a happier mosquito. I still end up in tears every couple of weeks with the exhaustion of it all but even that is changing.

We all had melt downs on Christmas Eve but the big day has been a success – a lunch with just the three of us, presents under a tree, card games, log fires roaring around the house and ‘Arthur Christmas’ on a big screen We promised ourselves that if we felt stressed to say “nevermind” reach for a glass of vino and put another log on the fire.

I actually read a poem by Wendy Cope out loud at breakfast. No one was really listening but it meant a lot to me.

12 Blogs of Christmas #7 If you could be anywhere.

If you could be anywhere for Christmas where would it be and why?

Home, Home, Home!!!!!

If I could be anywhere for Christmas it would be at home with all three of my boys.

In fact, that’s exactly where I’ll be at home, with my family.

Just because I can and want to be.

Worcestershire cottage would be the only alternative, burning the fire log fire with the boys.

I’ve always loved Christmas and this year all I want for Christmas is to be at home, home, home with just me and the boys.

12 blogs under the christmas tree #12

20170102_170228A little more time.
My parcel under the tree would be – an extra 4 hours at the end of the day.

A gift to my partner, but one that I know I would benefit from too.

24 hours in a day is simply not enough, not enough to do everything you need to do as a parent AND to have time for yourself – and indeed time for your relationship.

We have quite a strict bedtime routine in our house and the boys are tucked up by 7.30/7.45 – which we have reluctantly stretched from 7.00/7.15 after constant complaints from our sons that NOBODY else at school goes to be so early.

I admit there is selfishness in tucking them up early as we feel that we need a little time for ourselves at the end of the day – however I am also a firm believer in early bedtime being good for the child. Our boys wake up when they are ready – it’s a very rare occasion that we have to wake them – reassuring us that they have had enough sleep and consequently they are never noticeably tired during the day.

However, regardless of our early to bed routine – which of course results in early mornings – the time that my partner and I have together is still limited as we ourselves are usually ready for bed by 10 – or worse still asleep on the sofa.

As a consequence we have time for little else of an evening other then to vegetate in front of rubbish TV.

And that’s were those extra 4 hrs would be put to such good use.

Time to properly unwind together, to enjoy each other’s company, to invite friends over, time to remind ourselves of what our relationship was like pre kids.

And dare I say – maybe even time to go out occasionally. Even if we have the will to go out we are usually so exhausted we just don’t have the strength nowadays and surely that exhaustion is mostly down to trying to squeeze everything into a 24 hr period.

So that would be my Christmas gift and I am pretty sure that my partner would relish every minute of it – just as I would with him.

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.

12 blogs under the Christmas tree #10

20161223_131101My one special present under the Christmas tree would be a mini, pocket sized version of our family therapist. I could then pull her out to consult at those moments when I’m a bit lost as to how to respond to our daughter’s more dysregulated moments, or am just in need a bit of a confidence boost. We’ve been so incredibly lucky to find her and to have had six months worth of Theraplay and family support sessions funded by the ASF. We certainly weren’t in what I would call a ‘struggling’ place, so I’m sure we wouldn’t have qualified for support pre the fund. We would have just kept on trucking on. But having our therapist come to work with us with her warmth, expertise, experience and support has been transformative for our family and to my confidence as a mum. Our daughter is bubbly, outgoing, very bright and seemingly coping with everything fine, so many of our non adoptive family and friends couldn’t see any issues – it was a case of ‘oh she’s fine, all kids do that’. But our therapist immediately spotted the challenges our daughter has with hyper vigilance, emotional regulation, control and being extra demanding of me, as her mum, having been let down by so many mum figures in her past. Talking to our therapist made me feel like I wasn’t going mad, there were some problems we could get help with and it was okay to find things difficult. The games we play seem so innocuous and often silly (you should see me with a foam soap ball on my nose!) but gently and subtly they are nudging all of us towards healthier ways of relating and allowing our daughter to truly and deeply accept the loving parenting we so much want to give her.

12 Blogs under the Christmas tree #9

20161223_131135

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.

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.

12 Blogs under the Christmas tree #7

20161223_131548As I take stock as the year closes and assess where we are as a family, I feel acutely aware and quite sad about one very particular thing. I can see both our children have made big strides this year in terms of learning new skills – from “school stuff” like vocabulary, reading, writing and (possibly!) arithmetic to their chosen creative and sporting pursuits. But emotionally I feel, for our son, his reality has evolved very little.

I have to wonder whether – despite feeling overtrained, being professionally supported and having a small library of (albeit partly read) books – we are missing a trick in terms of how we are approaching this adoptive parenting thing – emotional wellbeing is paramount, but skills development in our case seems so much easier to achieve. And in the turbulence of our daily life, achieving some progress feels essential for our own sanity. Perhaps we are not allowing enough emotional space, but with space tends to come volatility, so we keep our time as filled and structured as possible. There lies the circle? Some food for thought in our home over the holidays…

Hence… If we could put one thing under the Christmas tree, it would be a superpower that enables us to access our son’s subconscious – so that we can pinpoint the emotional drivers of his behaviour and perhaps palpably help him to heal and move forward.