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.

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They f*** you up

lili gooch 1It’s said that once you become a parent you will get to know someone who you have known all your life but never really known. Your own parents. Usually this is said with tenderness and often forgiveness.

Since I became a mum I have got to know mine better too. Only they don’t come out the better for it. It has stirred up a lot of deep seated resentment and anger.

You see … I was the compliant one. I did well in school and at after school activities. I never caused much trouble. I had self-obsessed parents, who lived knee deep in their own problems. They simply had little time for me. I definitely got more attention from them if I did well and was helpful.

Our home was a good middle class academic home. Liberal, tolerant and forward thinking. Members of the chitteraty. You can tell them by their unfailing and superior persuasion. My parents imparted a lot of knowledge. Mainly about astrology, politics, STD and contraception.

My parents got drunk at parties and it being the seventies had multiple partners. Before I turned 14, I had had 3 stepdads, 3 stepmums, not counting the lovers. I could tell these lovers by their unnerving, disproportional interest in me, and then they’d suddenly be out of our lives again. I also had 6 stepsiblings, some of whom I never saw again after our parents split up. This did not faze me too much. This was normal.

One day a week I would cook for the family. Thursdays. I started aged six and stopped when I moved out aged 18. There was a purse to go shopping for ingredients. If mum forgot to put it out I would cook from whatever I could find in cupboards and the fridge. I painted my first wall in our new house aged 8. From aged 10 I cleaned the house every week. I babysat for people in the neighbourhood and my younger siblings from aged 12. And so on… None of this ever seemed unusual to me. Until I became a mum. Now I think blimey, I was a kid. I also think it strange that my siblings and I spent so much time home alone.

My siblings never really learned to cook or clean. They spent their time getting angry and shouting at the grown ups a lot. They wanted to be seen. I reasoned with them, telling them our parents loved us but agreed they could be silly. That they – my siblings – should grow up, stop shouting and stop expecting things of my parents that they would never get. But they just kept on slamming doors and moved out as soon as they could. I now cringe at what I said to them.

As a good adoptive parent I read a lot about parenting and trauma. But I’ve been surprised at how much I seem to be reading about my own family rather than about my daughter. I understand that my parents had awful upbringings. I see their pain. That they did try to do their best. But at the moment this knowledge does nothing but anger me. For crying out loud they had four kids with ten fingers and ten toes. Who have all done reasonably well in life.

My parents were well educated and affluent. I flirt with the idea that they had a moral obligation to get themselves sorted. Instead they indulged in decades of extended adolescence. Once they became parents why did it not dawn on them to try?? My mum did. But in effect this meant that she spent my adolescence in therapy. Emotionally unavailable. She was licking her own wounds. I get that. But I’ll be damned if she didn’t inflict a few new ones.

I could tell my mother’s mood from the way she turned the key in the door when she got home. And usually it meant I would get out and stay out of her way. Turn off the music, gather my things and go to my room if I had been daring enough to spread out and enjoy the living room.

It seems more customary to get angry at your parents in your teens and twenties. Not in your forties. I admit these thoughts and feelings of mine are puerile. I’m having my teenage go at my parents in my late forties.

But that’s where I am.

Really really f***ed up at my parents.

I’ll be damned if I want to repeat those mistakes.

I’m working so hard at understanding my past. I am especially trying to turn certain knee jerk reactions around. Like the short sneer at my daughter or a quick scolding of her when I can’t contain her needs and demands. Those moments strike me with pure fear. Because I remember how it felt on the receiving end. So I work at our relationship. Moment by moment. Event by event. And I apologise to her when I mess up.

Being an older parent and having waited for so long to become a mum, I used to think it was a weakness, but now it seems it is a strength. I’ve done career, I’ve proven myself – of sorts – to others, I have a mortgage, a car, I can decide my own bedtime and what is in my fridge. By all accounts I’m a grown up. My parents were children when they had me. They only just finished school. I was a whoops. Born just before free abortion…

My daughter is the focus of my life.

I am very happily resigned to being second forever more. I want to be a mum till I leave this mortal coil. As a child, I often felt we were in the way of our parents’ happiness. Their sighs were a give away. I know they loved us, but did they like us? Do they?

I am determined to do it differently, better preferably.

Playing has been an excellent place to start. Enjoying each other.

Getting to know my daughter.

The Questions #9 A peek into how we do family.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHow and when does your child/children wake you in the morning?

usually around 8pm if I don’t set his alarm. He runs in with his ‘by’ his big fleece blanket bundles into bed in between my husband and I and demands the duvet on him. If it is early he will fall back asleep. He is a 12 hour kid sleep wise.

Why adoption?

we always had thought about it and liked the idea. Surrogacy wasn’t an option for us.

From start of assessment to bringing your child home how long did the process take?

1 year, very quick, thank goodness

How could it be improved?

Our process was so straight forward and we realise how lucky we are having now met lots of families. We were matched just before we went to panel so that part was so quick.

My son settled very well, a few ups and down, he was incredibly easy and so loving. I heard of a therapy service that provides therapy work during those first few months of placement, which are key, I think this would be so helpful to help families bond and children to settle.

What has been the biggest surprise?

Suddenly realising this little person solely relied on me to look after him and fulfil his needs constantly, every day.

How was the assessment process?

easy, straight forward. Great social worker. Can’t complain

What’s your favourite thing to do together?

Everything really. I think laughing, he is great at it and so am I. Making silly faces, chatting, cooking together. Just being together. I will miss him a lot when he starts school.

What makes you and your family laugh?

one another

The best thing about being a parent?

watching this little person grow, change, experience new things and giving my son a family that love him to the moon and back. We feel truly blessed.

The hardest thing about being a parent?

worrying if you are doing saying the right thing. Always weighing up whether certain behaviours or phases are adoption related or just simply ‘normal’

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child?

laugh, be happy, have fun, be wise, explore the world

What time do you go to bed?

11pm, too late for us! but bed time routine is taking several hours at the moment so our evening ends up starting much later and we need down time.

Feast

FullSizeRenderI am transported back to when I was about 6 years old and it was a very heavy winter with snow blizzards and freezing ice on the roads. I still trudged to school with my brothers, in our wellingtons and duffle coats and we watched our breath form ice rings as we spoke. It was a giant adventure for us and we took our time getting to school. Making sure our hands stayed in our pockets as much as we could in between snowball making and general tomfoolery. The journey home though was as the crow flies, short and direct as we were going home for a winter feast. I’m sure our mum timed the opening of the oven door to directly coincide with our return to the back door. Wellies off, trousers on radiators, in our pyjamas ready for the feast. So imagine, 3 excited kids who had just trekked through the Arctic Midlands blizzard to make it home safely in time for freshly made buttered scones. The sofa was pulled up to the open fire and we sat there savouring and demolishing lots of succulent and tasty food. I firmly believed my mum was the best cook.

Years on, my son delightfully says ‘you are the best cooker in the world, ever mummy’ I can hear the joy in his voice as he says this without reservation and with complete belief. History is repeating itself and this bit of my childhood I am happy to engage in.

We started cooking together my son and I, as soon as he was able to stir a wooden spoon. He is still content to sit there at the kitchen table eating raisins and stirring air in his bowl whilst I do the ‘work’. He has a firm fascination with food and all it’s wonderful smells and delights. Whenever we are shopping he wants to smell each lemon and loves the fresh herb section, he is happiest reading through the cookery books on rainy days and we plan our next culinary adventure.

We have a menu board in our house which makes my wife feel like she lives in a hotel. I plan the menu on a Sunday and write the shopping list accordingly. Our son is starting to have quite a sophisticated palette and thinks nothing of eating kedgeree or fish en papillote. But his favourite is pasta stars with grated cheese. Making scones, biscuits or cakes with my son, welds me even closer together with him. We share a moment of togetherness which is just magical. When the timer goes off and the food is cooked, we are both jostling to get the first sample tester!

When we start cooking we always say: what’s the first rule of cooking?

Washing hands

What’s the second rule of cooking?

Put our aprons on

So a wipeable Peppa pig joins us on our gastronomic delights and I think she is most happy when we are making chocolate mouse, as there is a big bowl of yummy chocolatey goodness and a wooden spoon to lick before its gets washed up. A good day for us is a chocolate moustache and sticky hands, that means we have had a good day in the kitchen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A call out for words. The Questions.

wpid-img-1407228241252-v.jpgThe well of new blog posts is an ever changing, random business, sometimes overflowing and sometime a little on the dry side so I’m mixing it up.

I know it can be hard to sit down and put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) so we’re off on a new tack with something I have inventively called (drum roll please)…The Questions. 

If you don’t have a burning issue that you are desperate to get off your chest (please share those too though) and are just getting on with the day to day of  family life – This may well be just your cup of tea. It is simply a list of questions about family life. All posts will be anonymous but provide a welcome and sneaky peak into how others do their day to day.

All questions are optional so you can pick and choose or miss as many as you like, and you can even add your own in if you want.

OK, I’m going to kick this off by answering them myself!

How and when does your child/children wake you in the morning

By charging into our bedroom and climbing into the bed with a massive teddy bear called Billy. If we do not wake up and start talking she immediately says “This plan isn’t working. It’s Good Morning time and you need to get up”  It’s usually 9am if I’m lucky. 8am if I’m not. (I know I know… this is quite late..)

Why adoption?

I was interested in adoption for many years but had no real knowledge of how to go about applying. I was under the impression it was a lengthy and difficult process and that may not come to fruition. I’m so  proud to say we have managed it. It is by far the best thing I have done in my life.

From start of assessment to bringing your child home how long did the process take?

I think around 2 years.

How could it be improved?

I think it could easily be made quicker and they could add in some proper preparation for Introductions part of the process which I found quite overwhelming.

What has been the biggest surprise?

How totally fulfilling it is. I constantly have to pinch myself and my heart wants to burst with love.

How was the assessment process? Long but better than I had imagined. Some bits were weird; we were asked to wrote poems.

What’s your favourite thing to do together? My daughter and I like swimming, playing hide and seek in the park and doing  eskimo kisses followed by butterfly kisses (Eyelashes tickling each others cheeks)

What makes you and your family laugh? Mostly our dog but also doing silly faces and voices. Putting each other’s shoes on is popular too.

The best thing about being a parent? Watching and nurturing a little soul.

The hardest thing about being a parent? Coming face to face with your own shortcomings.

The piece of wisdom you would pass on to a child? Make sure you laugh as much and as often as you can. 

What time do you go to bed? Usually about 10.30 after falling asleep on the sofa.

 

A republish of one of our favourites… If I could.. Gifts for you..

2011-09-03 13.04.34The following is a poem that our ten year old birth daughter wrote last week for her five year old sister, who we adopted four years ago.

Her class teacher had set them a task – write a poem for someone you love. Her ‘gift list’ that she’d give her sister moved me more than I can say. Her sister’s reaction, when I read it out to her, was wordless – a shy smile and a big hug. Here’s the poem:

I would, if I could, give these gifts to you…
A bottle full of dreams high in the sky
A spark of light from the bottom of a volcano
A fight for the night
And a songbird that will drop a long feather, as warm as can be

The raindrop from the heavens,
A puppy called Kevin
A pinch of golden sand from the far desert
The wonder of a unicorn

And so these are the gifts that
I would, if I could,
Give to you

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.