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?

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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.

He is not my friend

A pet peeve of mine is children and parents describing their relationship as a ‘friendship’.

I’m in my 50’s and I am aware it may be a generational thing as I hear it an awful lot from younger parents – and I appreciate that I may well be a bit of a ‘Dinosaur’, but never the less I can’t stop myself from wincing internally every time I hear a parent describe their child as ‘my best friend’ or vice versa.

I understand that it is often just terminology and not literal, but regardless for me there are such clear distinctions between being a parent and a friend that even casually blurring the lines feels wrong.

Personally I feel that getting on with your child, having a wonderfully close relationship, sharing certain interests, being able to open up and share your feelings with them and encourage them to share theirs with you is not friendship – it is just good parenting.

So it is somewhat ironic that I quite regularly hear my 8 year old son declare that my partner is ‘not my friend anymore ‘ when he is angry or upset with him.

It usually follows a reprimanding of said son and no doubt my partner having raised his voice – which our son always struggles to cope with as he immediately perceives it as a sign that the security he has with us is under threat.

He is comfortable using the word ‘love’ and he declares his love for us daily – as of course we do to him – and I know for sure that he sees us as his parents , yet I question if he truly feels it 100% and understands yet that it is forever.

And maybe that is where the idea of a ‘friendship’ with us comes from, I guess it’s easier for him to relate to the word ‘friend’ and to see his relationship with us as such – even though we have never suggested anything of the sort.

I think that even with the constant assurance of our love he is confused by our anger when it arises and he sees it as being decidedly ‘unfriendly’.

I’ll let it go – for now – and as he grows and settles more and more I will hope that it will slowly disappear. If not and he continues to see us as friends then I’ll accept that and even consider it to be an achievement under the circumstances. However, rest assured he will never hear me using it in return.

My sons smell.

I am sorry to disappoint anybody who thinks this blog will be about teenage boys and their personal hygiene habits – or rather the lack of.

My sons are still only 7 and 8 years old and ‘that’ blog is hopefully still a few years away. Thankfully they are so far not showing any signs of being ‘allergic’ to soap and water, in fact quite the opposite as they really seem to enjoy their nightly shower and are evidently pleased to emerge from it smelling of some weird and exotic aroma that is current ‘en trend’ in the shampoo and shower gel industry.

In fact it’s one of my favourite things to sit down with them all showered and in their pyjamas for our nightly read together, all three of us huddled together with the odd whiff of coconut, honey, lime, Bamboo Milk… Amazonian pigmy chestnut marinated in Himalayan sesame syrup.

But this blog isn’t even about the multitude of artificial smells created to make us part with our money, this blog is about their natural smell.

Yes, they smell.

As a new parent this really surprised me and I can’t help feeling that the surprise was all to do with being an adoptive parent. I now assume that all children must smell and that it is something that I was totally unaware of – or am I misguided and should I be rushing my boys off to a specialist to have them de aroma’d?

I am also assuming that babies and children must carry the smell of their birth parents and consequently the smell goes unnoticed, at least on a conscious level. However to an adoptive parent the smell is new and alien and I will be honest, at times when particularly pungent not all that pleasant and it can take you by surprise.

It is only really noticeable in the early mornings when they are fresh out of bed, having been cocooned under the warm bedding I guess the smell has accumulated and intensified. It is not sweat as that would need to be washed away and this smell simply leaves their body (or no doubt it dulls down and is unnoticeable) as they wind up for the day.

Yes it is certainly a touch of ‘morning breath’ , but the intensity of that clears before they have brushed their teeth too which suggests that it is most definitely not just the regular bad breath we adults wake up with – and inflict on our partners daily.

It is a smell from within and it seems to literally seep from their pores.

I think that maybe we underestimate the importance of smell to us humans and that in fact we are more in tune with this sense than we are aware.

I know that before adopted babies are moved in with a new forever family, the new parents are asked to sleep with a cuddly toy so that the toy takes on their odour, it is then placed in the crib at the foster home, familiarising the baby to its new parents in advance. The theory being that there is then a connection that will comfort the baby in otherwise totally new and alien surroundings.

That’s quite powerful stuff when you think about it and yet so totally obvious too.

We spend so much effort – and indeed money – trying to erase or mask our natural smell that I think perhaps it has misguided us about its importance, maybe we need to use less manufactured odours and look to embrace the natural which is within us all far more readily.

Having said that, it has been a long day and I so need to go take a shower, where did I put that Amazonian pigmy chestnut marinated in Himalayan sesame syrup shower gel?

Letter Box Contact

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com.

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com.

Yearly letter box contact has been agreed and we diligently get the boys to write Christmas cards for birth Mummy and Daddy – regardless of indifference from our oldest and huge resistance from his younger brother – in addition we put pen to paper and write a letter updating them on the boys past year.

This has taken place three times so far, but sadly the boys have received nothing from either Mum or Dad – who are no longer together.

I understand that the situation must be tough for them both and I appreciate that it could be easier for them to try to erase the past and to get on with their lives. However, we hope that social services have explained the importance of this contact for the boys and for us as a family and that they are constantly encouraging both Mum and Dad to be doing the right thing and put their feelings to one side for the sake of the children. If that is happening then it’s clearly not getting any results, but actually I wonder if it is at all, after all this is the agency who have supplied very little information of ours sons past and have failed to get a photo of either birth parent regardless of many requests from us.

Of course all correspondence must go through social services and it is checked for anything inappropriate or upsetting to any party. Awareness of this ensures that we give extra consideration to what we say and how we express it, consequently we were most surprised to have our most recent letter returned to us.

We had written two things which social services had an issue with. Firstly we wrote that the boys were looking forward to meeting their new baby brother when contact was finalised for the baby to join the twice a year contact that was already set up for various siblings. Apparently the term ‘looking forward’ was deemed to be inappropriate, we have been told that as having the new baby removed from birth Mum would be a traumatic experience anything ‘positive’ in relationship to that would be hurtful and disrespectful.

Secondly, we have been told that our comment that out youngest was ‘still struggling to come to terms with the changes in his life’ and that we were dealing with difficult behaviour as a consequence was insensitive as it could be seen as judging them and commenting negatively on their failures at parenting.

Really?

I responded saying that we have absolutely no animosity toward birth Mum and Dad – in fact maybe surprisingly quite the reverse – and that we would never attack them in any way in what we wrote. I went on to say that being open and honest is an essential part of adoption and that I was confused that we were being asked to edit out truth and to sugar coat reality.

They stood by their original criticism and insisted that the letter was edited at it is not acceptable in its original format.

This has angered me as yet again as an adopter I feel that we are the ones expected to ‘make it work’ for everybody else. I have often felt that social workers expect too much from us and have been frustrated in the past at being judged unfairly and being expected to tow-the-line regardless’ of us clearly disagreeing.

Maybe I’m just being a bit over sensitive and a bit touchy, but you know even if that was the case I think we have a right to be occasionally and wouldn’t it be nice for social services to respect that and acknowledge that?

As an adopter I don’t expect any kind of gratitude – in fact it embarrasses me to even consider that – but I do expect respect. Not for adopting, but for being a parent of a traumatised child or children and everything that comes along with that. In addition most of us have relationships – put under pressure since the children moved in, work to prioritise, homes to run, finances to juggle, we have to deal with schools, child minders, play dates, friends, illnesses… the list is endless. Yet on top of that social services expect US to put the feeling of the birth parents over our own and to pussyfoot around reality – a reality that we have to deal with and live with every minute of every day.

There was a time when I was angry at the birth parents – for the neglect, for the resulting damage and for the lack of any responsibility, but I am long over that and now I am not even angry at the fact that they fail to write or send a card once a year, in fact in a perverse way I am just grateful for them giving the chance for us to be the family that we are – a family that feels like it was meant to be.

Yet I feel that social services are threatening that ‘harmony’, the resentment and anger at the birth parents that I felt Initially could indeed return and not because of anything that they have done (or not done), but because of – what I feel is – a huge injustice and imbalance from social services.

Surely that would be bad for ALL concerned.

P.S. it’s somewhat ironic and very frustrating that the letter to us pointing out our suppose lack of consideration towards the birth parents was sent a month AFTER Christmas, apparently our correspondence which was sent to social services two months early had sat forgotten about on a desk. If only social services could always show the same consideration and respect that they expect of us.

Just Her

7A65C10A-761D-4661-84A0-2E9EAD37C988I can remember reading Sally Donovan’s blog ‘Fake mummy’ and loving it.

I totally identified with it and it reminded me of my fortune cookie mantra just fake it till you make it, and that’s exactly what I do. I Force feed myself with trips to soft play hell, and weekends rammed with kids parties.

Kids parties are a breeding ground for insane, extreme and completely crazy behaviours at the best of times – not just from the kids but from anyone within a hundred mile radius – but it was pure embarrassment that drove my wife and I home after the last fiasco.

We were both asked at different points in the evening by the same person how old our daughter is, and we both gave different, inaccurate answers.  Somehow we just couldn’t get it together and she probably thought we stole her.

In retrospect we realised that we were remembering her at the age she was when we were introduced to her, but 5 months have  flown by since then and we hadn’t added this on.

To complete the scenario, the same lady had also asked us when her birthday was and when I gave her the month, I saw her mentally calculate the age, realise we had given it wrong the first time, then choose not to correct us. She was simply too polite to tell us that we the parents were half a year out. What parent makes these mistakes? It’s embarrassing, and from now on, we plan to arm ourselves with relevant facts and figures before leaving the house in the hope we can quell any suspicion that she is in fact stolen.

So here we are, 2nd child adopted and well into the initial settling in period.

I had thought it was just about safe to venture out to some groups and join the rest of the community, but I had completely forgotten what it feels like to be the new kid/Mum on the block.

The dry mouth. The stumbling over the birth date, and the histrionics that fly so effortlessly from other mums mouths but not mine.

I managed 6 groups in total then gave up.

The last one we went to completely threw me. My daughter and I had arrived in the middle of winter, wrapped up in a cazillion layers, and overheating as soon as we entered the threshold of the venue.

A dozen NCTers in full throttle greeted us. Breast feeding, cooing and swaddling new borns with near perfect post pregnancy weight loss.

Then there was me.

I looked like the Michelin mum carrying a screaming, overheated baby. A baby who on paper is in my care, but from whom there is no invisible strand of golden bond linking up to me the mother. No bond. No relationship. No eye contact.

There is nothing visible to demonstrate we are mother and daughter and it feels like a tragic comedy. If I could have stopped crying internally I would have laughed because to say it out loud it sounds hilarious.

What am I doing?” I silently wonder as I wait for the 45 minutes of the session to slowly tick by.

It does not feel good. It is raw but you know what – it’s real. It’s real life and it’s my life.

Then I realise that this moment is pivotal and my whole head does a u turn.

Parenting adopted children is a completely different kettle of fish and I was unwise to believe otherwise.

I was foolish to dupe myself into believing that I could fit in when actually it’s really like putting a square peg in a round hole. It won’t bloody fit. I don’t fit. We don’t fit. We are not in sync and she doesn’t even look at me when I call her name. Ahhh the agony of it, but then the empowering realisation: I DON’T NEED TO DO THIS ANYMORE! And I made a decision there and then.

I went private and brought the teachers to me and my new daughter.

We now have shiatsu, massage and yoga weekly sessions in our home and it’s a whole lot better. My daughter is relaxed and confident in familiar surroundings and the therapists have built up a fantastic rapport with both of us.

We are still in very early stages but at 5 months in, my girl is definitely my girl. She is smart, sassy and very funny.

I have learnt a very humbling lesson of late, loving her and exactly her in this moment.

Not what we want her to be, not what we expect her to be, not what the red book dictates.

Just her.

I look at her, and I love her in that moment. Now, I can feel the warmth of the invisible strand of golden joy pulling us, binding us together. Fully.

Wonderful Reassurance

IMG_4583I think we are possibly in a very rare and what feels like quite a privileged position to be able to watch the first children our agency presented as a possible match for us growing up with their new family. At the time there was no guarantee that the new baby brother would be taken from the mother and as we were determined to adopt two siblings, the uncertainty was enough for us not to take it any further. However, as with the other children we went on to consider – even briefly – before we found our sons, the memory of the two brothers who could have become our children stayed with us.

A year or so after our boys joined us and we became a family we had a call from the agency to say that another couple were in the process of adopting siblings and would we mind being put in touch with them to discuss our experience and how things were working out.

We met and were surprised and delighted to discover that they were in fact adopting the siblings that had been discussed with us – the baby having since been taken into Care. We got on well and stayed in touch and after their sons had been placed and settled we met again and have become good friends. Our children now know each other and play together and we parents have much to discuss, compare and indeed complain about our experiences as new parents.

The first time we met their new sons did seem significant and we were curious to see how we would feel meeting these two little boys who we felt a certain affinity for. We were by then over a year into being a family and we had felt like such from the very first moment we met our boys, consequently we didn’t feel that we would be ‘comparing’ the children or even considering ‘what could have been’, because that was now quite irrelevant, our sons are our sons in every way possible and any kind of alternative is simply unthinkable.

I think the most important thing about that meeting was just seeing the children that – for no reason to do with them – we felt we were unable to move forward with, now adopted. To see them happy and settled in a loving and secure family, which thankfully they most certainly are.

Choosing children is one of the hardest parts of the adoption process we faced, every child deserves a loving a home and every photo that we looked at had a face pleading to be chosen, but some just spoke to us in a way others did not. We have considered and discussed this and I do think it boils down to the vanity of recognising yourself (or indeed your partner) in the face of a child, it was certainly never our intention to adopt ‘mini me’s’ as my partner and I had put no real restrictions on the children we would consider and we were certainly open to children of different race and ethnicity, but in fact we have two sons who are surprisingly similar to both of us – in appearance and more amazingly in character too.

There are of course lots of children who you simply skip passed and others who you may consider even briefly, however they all touch your heart and many leave a memory that I guess will stay with us always. Wondering what became of them is hard and I guess unsurprisingly it has left us with a degree of guilt.

Having contact with these two lovely little boys and seeing them loved and cared for in a beautiful family is wonderfully reassuring in every way and we are truly grateful to have that in our lives.