Four Years.

Four years ago today you arrived in our home twinkly and tiny and so brave under the circumstances…
Or did we misread that?
In retrospect you must have been flooded with fear. Your little body stuck in a massive terrifying moment that went on and on. And because we didn’t know you, we assumed arrogantly that your smile was a symptom of calm and acceptance. A sign that we were in fact good parents already who had a good grasp of your needs.
I’m so sorry my darling for our naivety.
I’m so sorry I hadn’t a clue about the trauma you must have suffered.
I wish I could go back and cuddle that baby girl with the insight I have now. But I can’t.
So here we are four years on.
Four years of waking up to your chuckle.
Four years of wiping way your tears
Four years of being called mummy.
Four years of loving you so much it hurts that I’m not perfect at it.
Four big years.
I can remember trying to look forward in time to the little girl you would become but it seemed impossible, scary even. Like the 5 year old you would be a whole new little person I would have to meet and get to know all over again. What if you were harder to win over than the baby in front of me? Who in fact were you going to be?
And yet here we are 4 years on. You are simply you. A bigger, brighter more articulate version of that baby we brought home. It’s miraculous how children grow and develop so quickly and there is so much more of of it to do. So much more to look forward to.
Thank you for our four years.

Best years of my life so far.

Easily.

Here’s to many many more my beautiful daughter.

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.

Always be by your side.

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

A few months back my 4 year old daughter astonished me by suddenly opening her eyes as she was drifting off to sleep and whispering “I’ll always be by your side Mama.” She gave me a sweet little smile afterwards and I was so taken aback that it brought tears to my eyes.

It’s not something I had heard from her before, nor is it a phrase I use so it was surprising and delightful to me. I will never forget it and for a time, it became a bit of a theme for us. We would say it to each other when perhaps previously we would have said “I love you”. It also became something of a weapon in times of conflict… “I don’t love you, and I’m not going to always be by your side” she would emphatically inform me, incandescent with rage over something I had done. My usual response would be “That’s a shame but I still love you and will still always want to to be by your side” But there were no concessions from her at times such as these.

Eventually we forgot about our little phrase and went back to the normal “I love you mama, up to the moon and back” that we had used for years.

And then something happened.

Her grandfather (my father) died and we were all thrown into the chaos of profound grief and bereavement while also attempting the day to day stuff of normal family life. Somehow I was supposed to carry on parenting when I felt like a child myself.
I did try to explain to her that there would times when mummy and daddy got a bit sad over this event and that it was ok if she did too; but this only served to make her feel guilty that she wasn’t as sad as us so I backed off it a bit. I was also worried about the funeral and the carnival of grief that would surround it, but she was surprisingly fine. She admired the flowers, took out her little box of crayons and colouring book, a few My little Ponies and grinned at everyone. She even said “Ooh I like your dress!” to one of my aunties.
For me, it was a day of joyous celebration of everything my father was and in the main I was pretty upbeat and happy to remember him… except for one tiny moment when I wasn’t and I faltered. Quick as a flash a little hand slid into mine and pulled me round to face her. She was smiling so broadly that I couldn’t help but smile back. It totally lifted me and after a second, a little voice rang out “Don’t worry Mama, I’ll always be by your side.”

12 Blogs under the Christmas tree #3

20161223_131940If you could put one thing under the Christmas tree this year, what would it be?

 

A hug from my Dad who we lost three years ago, for you, me and our daughter.  That would be joyous.

 

Merry Christmas everyone.

A letter to the makers of Inside Out

20160929_235344Dear makers of Inside Out,
I just wanted to write and thank you for what I consider to be one of the best films ever made.

To explain, I have found being an adoptive Mum, at times, an extremely difficult and highly charged emotional experience. It is made more difficult by the fact that much of what I am feeling is very difficult to properly break down and understand. For me, your film articulated a lot of these feelings in such simple terms. I found myself in tears from early in the film when the yellow balls (representing happy memories) as core memories for the central character ‘Riley’ throughout her early childhood lead to her being able to build a really strong and positive sense of self-identity. In contrast my girls, without doubt, have early core memories which are blue (representing sadness) and so have had to build their early sense of self upon experiences which are sad and/or frightening. And just like Joy later in the film I can’t change that early sadness for them, I can’t remove it, it is something which is a part of them and which I have to help them to weave positively into their identity.

For one of my girls in particular who is regularly ‘driven’ by Anger, the film has helped her to start understanding that there are in fact a number of different feelings, that she can name them and that we all have them. She seemed genuinely surprised to hear that I have ‘Fear’ in my head and that I get worried about things. I asked her if she ever worries about anything and she said yes, that she worries about her sister going away. My daughter is 3. We have always thought that she was very anxious about transitions having moved carers 3 times by the time she was 18 months old but it had never occurred to us that she thought that her sister, the one constant, could maybe leave as well.

The film also gave us an easy segue into discussing birth Mum and Dad because at the very beginning of the film Riley is born and first sees her parents looking down happily at her. Happily for us we do know that this happened for our girls and were able to say this – so much nicer to have a visual depiction of it than just trying to explain verbally ‘your birth Mum and Dad loved you very much when you were born’.

And happily for me your film provided me personally with one of the best moments of my life. I was talking with the girls about which one of the little ‘people’ they thought was most like each of them and finally which one was most like me. I asked because I feel like I spend much of my time telling them off, being grumpy and tired so from that aspect I fully expected them to choose ‘anger’, or alternatively because I wear glasses and have a bob I thought they may plump for ‘sadness’. They shocked me by choosing Joy.

With love,
A grateful, re-motivated parent

Ask the Kids #3

boy-1298788_1280So I thought I’d try the questions WAF suggested for National Adoption Week on my five year old son. I felt a little uneasy with the questions, as some could be seen as loaded. It is like asking children with long antennae what other people think; they are bound to have a view. I was just worried he may be searching for what he thought I might like to hear, rather than what he thinks. What I really want for my son is for him learn to check in with himself and to trust himself and his feelings, what ever they may be. I wondered which route these questions would led us down.

What happened next I didn’t expect.

The first question was lost in conversation.

To the second, ‘What is the colour of my eyes?’, he answered ‘Blue. … Mine are brown.’ We looked into each others eyes as if to check, and smiled. ‘Yep.’

The next two questions about what makes me happy and sad, I thought potentially loaded, for the same reasons as already mentioned. So, I breathed in and asked

‘What makes me happy? Or what do you think makes me happy?’

‘Me.’ (We both laughed.) ‘Yup. You certainly do.’

‘What do you think makes me sad.’ Another loaded question, potentially.

‘Martin.’ 

‘… You’re right. … yes….’ He went straight to where it hurt.

At this point my son turned the tables on me and started to ask a host of questions. We never did finish the questions. This was an important pressing subject and we are still discussing it. Days later. It has taken many twists and turns since the other day at the lunch table.

Martin is a childhood, or youthhood friend of mine, who died after a short and aggressive illness. I didn’t make it back to say goodbye in person. He died only a week ago. And I cried. No, I sobbed. In front of my son, after reading a particularly beautiful tribute to him.

Why did he make you cry, mummy? Because he died?’

‘Yes, it makes me sad that Martin died.’

Why did he die?’

‘Because he got very ill.’

‘But didn’t he go to hospital to get better? Couldn’t the doctors fix him?’

‘He did go to hospital. A lot… But the doctors couldn’t fix him. He died of a very rare illness.’

We talked and talked and talked. He asked and asked and asked. About death, about all of Martin’s family and how they might feel now that he is no longer there. He was particularly sad to learn that his mum and dad were still alive. ‘They must feel very sad that Martin died.’ ‘Yes darling. I am sure they miss him very much.’

He asked what sort of a person Martin was. There a literally hundreds of wonderful stories about him I could pick from, so that part was easy. He was a silly and very very funny person, so it did good remembering. It also did good also to tell my son about some things from my youth.

And then…

We talked some more about death. About us parents. Especially daddy. And when he might die. And my son told me we are all going to die. But not for a long long time. That we would go to the sun to get energy and come back to earth to give it to the doctors so they can give it to their old patients. ‘The morning that daddy turns 100 he is going to hospital so they can fix him.’

We sometimes talk about death. I know he knows loss. And so talking about death and other difficult things is a part of our lives. It is more a matter of how than if.

When I cried, I could have answered ‘Oh, sweetheart, it’s nothing. Mummy just got something in her eye…’ But we would both know that wasn’t true. In effect I would have been lying. Straight to his face. Over time I might even teach him to lie to himself, and negate his feelings.

If there is one thing I wish for my son it is for him to be true to his own self. And that he can hear and express his inner voice as freely and respectfully as possible.

He reminds me daily that it is possible, necessary even, to speak of difficult subjects. Such as death and loss. Two very intertwined issues.

In his little body he knows what loss is. There is no shielding him from it. It has happened. More than once. Losing everything he knew overnight. Not talking about loss and death is like pretending it didn’t happen to him. It’s like not discussing the fact that he is not our flesh and blood, even if he is our son. Discussion on the other hand feels like acknowledgning that life is complicated. And for him more than most. It is certainly not all children that you can have these discussions with.

We are often told to shield our children from bad news and feelings. Our society are so quick with the fixes. ‘Have you tried …? It works a treat.’ Anything from insomnia to broken cups or relationships. Sometimes it sits better with me just to let the bad and uncomfortable feeling be. Not to quash it in fixing. Acknowledge it. Squarely. Show that we can contain it. Especially as parents. Modelling what we do with those feelings. Because none of us are shielded, and the kids watch our every step anyway.

My son has recently been voicing a lot of things about his own history. For the first time he has initiated talks about this birth mum, and to me more significantly, used her name. He has long remained silent or refused to speak of his background. Well that has all changed over the past month or so.

Very sweetly when I mentioned to him that a friend of his was adopted too, he asked if she too had lived with his own fostermum? He was very excited about this prospect of sharing history. Clearly, she is the place all adopted kids go to before they land with their adoptive families.

So the discussion around Martin, and death and loss are continuning. Several times every day. Now they have morphed in to musings and pondering about being adopted. I feel for the first time that my son is verbalising something very deep and painful in him. Like a prism he is looking, thinking, wondering, pondering and feeling around it.

Asking so directly what made me, his mum, sad, somehow opened lines of communication about what makes him sad. I feel he knows from the strength of my own feelings that I would understand his strength of feeling, or at the very least contain difficult issues and feelings, such as grief which of course is at the very heart of this.

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas #10: The most wonderful time of the year.

ImageThis is tough time of year for some people. Adverts telling us we need to buy this or that for our loved ones; tinsel and Christmas decorations adorn every nook and cranny; Christmas songs stream relentlessly through pipes in every shop and down the high street, telling us it’s the most wonderful time of the year. And for most of us, it might well be, once you factor out the stress of it all.

But for some, it’s a tough time. It’s the anniversary of my Dad’s death; my uncle died a week ago; my sister is spending Christmas in hospital.

These are not things that impact only me; my wife knows and understands how this time of year has become somewhat difficult for me, but it’s hard on her especially when a few years ago I would have been jumping around with excitement in the run-up to Christmas and now she might feel that she has to top up the excitement quotient for both of us. Don’t get me wrong – there is excitement, particularly for our daughter, but it’s been tempered for me somewhat by the coincidence of circumstances.

But if I think about what this time of year actually means to me, underneath all the glitz and shimmer and food and drink and merriment, it’s about sparing a thought, or doing a deed, for those who struggle with the gaiety of Christmas, who are harbouring sadness or grief, who are putting a happy face on loneliness, depression, heartache or day-to-day struggles, and reminding myself of the blessings in my life. It’s about truly being with the ones I love, even if not all of them can be there. It’s about relishing those moments when I see joy on other people’s faces and allowing that joy to banish all other feelings. It’s about remembering the happy times with loved ones no longer with us and the warmth and comfort those memories bring; it’s about being in the moment and embracing the joy of this special holiday.

Oh yes; and it’s about getting that Ferrari my daughter said she would buy me with the change in her money jar. It’s the thought that counts.