Parenting Part 1 – Creeping Out Of The Lion’s Den

After an hour of mind-numbing, pinkie-numbing waiting, your little baby or toddler or teenager is finally in the land of nod.  Just one thing left to do before you open the wine and watch TV that needs a PIN number …

Our guide to lion-taming continues with a step-by-step guide on how to escape without being heard.

Step 1 – Do Not Wake the Lion

Shhhhhh.

Do not even breathe.

Listen instead.

Listen with every single hair on your skin – the hairs that are now standing on end, straining to catch a sign that the lion is awake.

I focus on the vertical strip of light from the door and listen intently.

I have sat in his room for twenty-seven minutes, gently hushing him until he pretended to sleep for long enough to actually fall asleep.  But Nibbles is a canny one and given how tired I am, he might not fall asleep before I do.

Just the other day I crept into his room to find him grasping onto Andy’s finger through the bars of his crib, whilst Andy snored softly on the floor beside him.

Step 2 – Be Certain The Lion Sleeps Tonight

I think he is asleep.  It’s hard to tell because Nibbles sleeps so soundlessly (unlike his snoring beauty of a sister).  As he falls asleep he wriggles a little and sometimes his legs twitch involuntarily until he goes still and so soundless, sometimes I worry he is no longer breathing.

His sister is definitely asleep – I can hear her gentle whistling through the walls.

Nibbles has ceased to make any movements or obvious noise, which does not categorically indicate that he is asleep, for I have fallen for that assumption many times, only to discover as I ease the door shut that he is far from asleep and I have to start the whole process over again.

Step 3 – Stay Very Very Still

I sit with my back against his cold radiator, wondering why on earth we don’t have a nice comfy armchair in his room for this nocturnal waiting game, and also knowing that if I was more comfortable that I would fall hopelessly and deeply asleep.  Potentially waking him with my nonsense mumbling.

I wait a few more minutes (probably ten or more), just in case, until I am nigh on certain that he must either be getting much better at pretending to be asleep, or is actually in the land of nod.

I want to sigh with relief.  I want to cheer at winning this game, but I dare not make a noise, because for the life of me I do not want to start again.

Step 4- Ready?

I ease my aching limbs and back from my sitting position onto my hands and knees.  Not that fast though.  It takes several minutes to sit upright, then tip a little, then manoevure one buttock off the floor, then twist slightly to adjust my weight distribution, then lift the other (and so on).  No I won’t describe it in real time, as you will leave and read another blog instead.

Uh oh.  A creak.

Not just my joints (my knees are the worst) but the floorboards in this old house.  Why do we live in a wonderful Victorian house that is a minefield of creakiness?

I wait silently in each new position, listening for a sound or murmur or rustle of his sheets that might indicate that he has woken or was never really asleep.

….

Nothing.  Not a sound.

So far, so good.

Step 5 – Set? Slow…

I am now in a hands-and-knees snail-speed escape position for a turbo exit.

I ease my right knee forward in delicate synchronisation with my right hand.  A ballet in super slow-mo.  I hover in this position, then gently, oh so gently slide them onto the floor, tensing in case of another groan from the floorboards.

After every movement I wait a little, straining to catch a sign that I have blown my stealthy parent-ninja exit.

There’s only a few metres to the door, yet those eight or nine movements take what seems like a lifetime to complete.  I get to the door – knowing that I have completed stage one and have three more ahead of me.

Step 6 – Open the Cage

Today, I nudge the door open with my nose.  Wondering if the increasing light that now illuminates his room will jolt him out of a light slumber.

I wait.  Listen.  Nothing so far – half way there.

I ease myself through, still on my hands and knees, going at a fair lick in comparison (although no Olympian’s record is in danger) and once I am wholly out of his room in the hallway, I allow myself to stand up.  I stretch and turn back to the door.

One more thing to do.

Step 7 – Close the Cage

My hand moves to the door handle and I slowly pull the door to, watching as the light in his room dims to near darkness.

The handle is firmly down (I am not making that mistake again, as I once ruined the entire ballet with a hasty door slam) and close it with barely a whisper.  The finale is seconds away, I slowly and carefully release the door handle until the door is firmly shut.

Step 8 – Make Your Escape

I do not, despite the impatient urge within me, now run or even walk at normal pace away.  For he can still wake up and then I have to return to lion watching.

I creep.  I gently slide across our blessed carpet, listening every few steps for the slightest sign that my presence is detected.

It is only as my hand alights on the top of the stair bannister that you would hear me breathe again.  Cautiously I come downstairs, and I allow myself a sly smile of self-congratulations.

For tonight I got one over on the lion.

Long may the lion sleep tonight.

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Letter To Their School

The tears rolled down my face this morning as I dropped Nibbles and Bubbles off for the last time together…  For in September, Bubbles moves to Junior school and this well worn path we have walked over a thousand times will change forever.

And tears continue to drop silently onto my desk as love and pride pour out in this letter to their school and teachers.

Thank You For Helping Me Adjust

Thank you for friendly children who enveloped Bubbles in a curious entourage when we first visited the school over four years ago now.  For finding me lost in the staff car park and welcoming me to your school.

Thank you for being astonished at how well my newly adopted children had settled [Head] for that moment of connection meant the world to me and helped me know that this was the school for them.

Thank you for gradually helping me to let go of Bubbles as she joined your pre-school when I was far from ready, when I worried about her, when I wanted to keep her at my side, when everything was so new.  Thank you for calming my fears those first few months when I felt disconnected from my child who had only so recently entered my life.

Thank you for guiding me through the school process, with your meetings and resources to update me on how schools have changed in the forty years since I was in primary school/ reception/ rhinos or whatever it is called now.

Thank you for helping me get to grips with phonics instead of the names of letters, even if I have never really got the hang of U and Y – but not for making Dr Seuss books almost impossible to read since they no longer rhyme.

Thank You For The Music

Thank you [teacher] for your guitar and singing, for the music you have brought into my children’s lives – for the guitar strumming and mix of well-known classics like “She’ll be juggling with jelly when she comes” and the modern – how my eyes welled with tears as the year two children sang “Shine” at their leavers assembly.

I will never forget walking Bubbles to school in the run up to Christmas she she belted out “Go tell it on the mountain, that JESUS WAS HIS NAME” at ear-splitting volume, waking all the neighbours with her evangelistic singing.  Bubbles and Nibbles both love to sing and I thank you for weaving music, rhythm and song into their lives at school.

For Loving and Caring About Them

Thank you for being there when my children fell or got hurt, for calming them, for loving them, for caring about their tears and their pain and sticking on plasters.

Thank you [teacher] for the way you looked with kind concern as we discussed why she was taking her snack to the toilet in preschool and I told you about her food insecurity.  Your face was filled with sadness that a little girl could have experienced such a thing in her young life, and I could tell from your reaction that you cared about my little girl, and it meant the world to me.

Thank you [teacher] for the emotion in your voice when you let me know that Bubbles had nearly choked on her carrot and how you told me that it had kept you awake, for I knew then that there was more love in your heart than sometimes you let on.  And it made me love you more.

Thank you for correcting their mistakes with kindness and patience, so that they could find the way to rewire their brain and take on board all the new things that they were learning.  Thank you for the books to read, the messages of encouragement in their journal, the time you take every term to talk to me about my children.

Thank you [chef] for caring that Bubbles got a good meal, even when the menu said fish or curry, neither of which she likes, so you made her something special.  Thank you for giving them the power to choose, for letting them pack cucumber and peas onto their plate and ensuring they had fruit every day for a snack.

For Helping Them Grow

Thank you for praising my children with stickers and rewards and the new dojos, and for the moments when I shed tears of pride when they won prizes for being Star of the Week or for their manners or writing.

Thank you [teacher], for being astonished at Nibbles’ knowledge of ice and his fabulous Union Jack colouring – it blew me away and he came home standing taller, feeling proud, brimming with confidence.  Those times have been emotional and unforgettable, and every time I have shed tears of joy and love for my precious children.

Thank you for the nativity plays – for the joyous celebration contained therein, when I struggled to know whether to laugh or cry or both (I did both).  When Bubbles wouldn’t stop waving and was so surprised when her Daddy turned up late that she nearly forgot the one line she had to say.  How it turned my heart to marshmallow fluff.

Thank you for the baking, for my children love to bake and to eat and how it lit up Nibbles’ face when Bubbles left her class with a paperbag containing something delectable which they shared on the way home, except that one time when they put salt in instead of sugar and neither of them would eat more than a nibble.

Thank you for the adventures they have been on – the coach rides, the picnic lunches, the sports days, the trips out to farms or landscapes or even just to the local train station.  They always came back bursting with enthusiasm and things to tell me.

Thank you for your patience in teaching them maths, english, art, science and more. It is when I sit and read a book with them, guiding them through the phonics, the letter sounds and helping them to join them into a word that I realise that I am not cut out to be a teacher, and I thank God that someone else is.  That you are.  That you have made a choice to teach these young lives, to guide their first steps in learning with all the stresses upon you.  You are amazing.

For Giving Them Gifts To Last A Lifetime

Thank you for the hours you spend every day, every week, every year with my children.  For the heart, body and soul that you pour into their days, that lights up their evenings and weekends, as they become more confident, more sociable, more capable and grow into little people.  I am not sure I am ready for them to grow up this fast, but they do it despite me.

Thank you for giving Bubbles a love of reading and books.  She has become a voracious reader (she can read several Easy Reader books every evening given a chance).  Just last weekend she wrote

‘I love books because they are full of imagination’

I couldn’t ask for more.  Bubbles loves to sing and dance and run and do maths and draw and more.  She can talk about the ozone layer and what that means to our planet, Noah’s Ark and Barbara Hepworth, lifeboats and more.  You have fed her mind, body and soul for four years and there are not enough words in this blog to say thank you properly (and I am crying again).

You have fed Nibbles love of superheros and animals and making things, leaving me with a house bursting with egg box, sellotape and glitter creations, and we had to make two more tissue-box guitars so he could copy his song-singing teacher.  He is always coming home with facts about animals to surprise me

Mummy, did you know that crocodiles have rocks in their stomach?

He has thrived in his first year at school and continues to skip in (when we don’t take the imaginary unicorns and have to gallup all the way), excited to be with his teachers and friends and really looking forward to year one.

Your love and kindness, your patience and your encouragement, your welcome and your creativity have changed my children forever.  I have only homemade jam to give you, and yet you have given them everything.  I hope these words make up for the shortfall.

Thank you.

From the depth of my heart.

You have changed our lives forever.

(now crying so much I can’t see the keyboard)

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I Came Out Of Your Mouth Mummy

In the year or so that the children had been living with us, we had taken lots of opportunities to talk about being adopted, what being fostered meant and where they came from – what is known as “lifestory” work.

An Organic Process

It turns out that there are lots of times when you can chat through what is happening and use it to reiterate and help embed their understanding of their lifestory.  Without making a massive song and dance about it.

  • It’s Bubbles’ birthday. How old are you now?  How many birthday’s have you had now then? Can you remember what you did last year and who you were with?
  • Christmas. It snowed last year, when you were with Ken and Mary – do you remember building a snowman? What presents did you get? Shall we see if we can find any photos of Christmases you have had in the past?

Whenever they expressed an interest in their lifestory books, or the ones we gave them to introduce ourselves (post matching and before introductions), or the ones that Mary made about their time with their foster family we would go through them and look at the photos and answer any questions they had.

When I asked Bubbles about her lifestory, she replied confidently that she used to live with [BM and BD], then with Ken and Mary, now she lives with us.  I would feel glad that she understood what is a complex sequence when you are just a young child and by asking an open question, I could correct any errors that had crept in.

Sometimes, she would ask me questions about her birth family and foster family, and I would answer as best I knew.  We started simple and built up depth as she got older.

But Just Because Bubbles Understood…

I imagined that because Bubbles was clued up on her lifestory, that somehow Nibbles would be too.  He seemed to understand the various characters involved and even if he had no real memory of Ken and Mary, the way Bubbles did.

I presumed, naively as it turned out, that he was similarly well versed in his lifestory. Then one day, we are walking to pre-school to collect Bubbles and he blurts out something that bursts my bubble.

“I came out of your mouth, mummy”

I stop in my tracks.  A smile spreads across my face as I imagine a very wide mouth and then I shudder a bit at the thought of the aftertaste.

“No you didn’t sweetheart” I reply.  Then I wonder which bit of ignorance to tackle first.

“Babies don’t come out of ladies’ mouths, Nibbles, they come out from their tummies” I say, without explaining the exact exit route in much detail as I segue straight onto point two. “And you didn’t grow in my tummy, you grew in [BM’s] tummy.”

And of course, there followed an organic lifestory lesson, where I clarified just how all these names and people fitted into his short lifespan and how they would fit in his future.

It’s Not Just About The Books

Many adopters are given lifestory books by their social workers, and they can be useful in those early days, when adopters are finding their feet as parents, as a prompt. I have sat down with my children and read these lifestory books through with them, and they like them mostly because the books are about them.

But for me, the best lifestory opportunities arise in everyday conversation.  When we are going to visit Grandma and Bubbles adds “she’s your mummy, mummy” and then we have a quick chat about the mummies in their life.

When you first adopt children, getting lifestory work right can feel like a big deal. How do you broach the subject? What do you say? What do you hold back until they are older? How often do you read their books? I remember feeling afraid of getting the lifestory bit wrong and affecting our relationship further down the line.  But I needn’t have worried.

Lifestory work happens all the time (not every single day, but frequently).  And the more we, as adopters, can relax about their history, the more our children can relax about it too and see it as no biggie.

When we make it just part of their story, it’s just history.  Like where you lived when you were one, or the houses you have lived in.  It becomes a part of who they are and where they have come from.  It isn’t a big deal, it isn’t something to be afraid of, it is just pieces of a jigsaw.

And I guess it is working.  Because last year, Bubbles asked to take a photo of Ken and Mary into school for Show and Tell, and talk about who they are and being adopted.

I couldn’t have been prouder.

How do you use every day prompts to remind your children of their lifestory?

 

 

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I Am Not Her Best Friend

The school door opens, the kids trot out and my eyes search the stream for the faces that I love. It makes me smile the way their faces light up as I collect them from school.  My son beams and runs towards me, then slows down with feigned indifference just before he reaches me, and I scoop him up into my arms despite his pretence at not caring.

Then my daughter comes out.  Her smile illuminates up her face and she says “mummy!” as if I have been away, as if I haven’t been there every day for three years.  I get hugs, kisses before the predictable question: “what’s for tea?”

As we potter home, his hand in mine, they gush and stammer over their day at school, at the jobs or tasks they have ticked off, the stickers they have earned, the new grazes or plasters on their knees and the classmates who said or did nasty things.

Best Friends

“I invited Annabel to my birthday” announces my daughter.  A birthday that is still just a date in the diary and has no plan or booking or venue.  I don’t “woah” her or “hold on” or “what birthday?” for I have learnt that these invitations are as fickle as their love of their fidget spinner.

These invitations are scattered like sprinkles on a cake, and then taken away seconds later. They’re playground shorthand for “today I like you, but tomorrow I might not.”  I can barely keep up with the every changing nature of who is in and not invited.

My son’s list is pretty constant.  He has a little entourage of nice boys that he likes and plays with and he knows whether they have a spinner, how many Lego cards they have and their favourite superhero.  No-one too loud, too brash, too physical, no-one who bites or spits or hits.

It is my daughter’s list that saddens my soul.

They Were Inseparable

In pre-school and her first year full-time, Bubbles had a best friend, Izzy.  They were the youngest in the year (born a few days apart), both small for their age and they stuck together like dried on Weetabix on a cereal bowl.  They did everything together and since Izzy’s mum was fun, we had plenty of playdates.

Then before Year One, her best friend left to be home-schooled.

I thought it would be okay.  That  Bubbles would quickly make new friends.  Upgrade her friendship with Izzy 2.0.  But despite my hopes, things haven’t turned out like that.

One day she is best friends with Jessy, but the next she is mean.  She flits from friendship to friendship, and I don’t know if I am overreacting, or if she is over exaggerating when she says she has no friends.  But my heart goes out to her.

I love my little girl so much.  She is inventive, creative, playful, fun and I want the world to love her too.  When she comes home and says that “Mary wouldn’t let me play with her today” or “Rhianna stole my friends” or “Chloe insists that I am always the baby when we play, I don’t want to be the baby” I feel so helpless.

I wrap my arms around her and tell her that she is loved, that she is amazing, that if only her school mates could see what I see. I want to tell her that it doesn’t matter but I know that it does.

I was lonely at school, bullied at times, lost and afraid. I wanted friends more than anything in the whole world and when she shares that no-one played with her today, I imagine her sat, lonely, on her own in the corner, perhaps in the shade of a tree, wondering why she is alone.

I remember how that felt.  How empty and confused I was by their rejection of me. What was wrong with me?  I used to ask myself. I played on my own, but it’s not the same as playing with a friend who gets you.

Bubbles hasn’t found a friend like Izzy.  Someone who adores her and is adored in return.  Two years on and she still asks to visit Izzy, loves Izzy to the moon and back, talks about her with that wistful love in her voice.

There is no Izzy 2.0.

Why Can’t They See?

Bubbles is loving and compassionate, inventive and perhaps a little silly sometimes, but then she’s only six.

I am so confused.  I don’t know what to do, or say to make her popular – I don’t even want her to be popular, I just want her to have one solid friend –  or how to mend my own heart that yearns for her to be happy and loved.  I remember so well the aching loneliness of not having friends and yet I cannot save her from it.

I cannot be her best friend in the playground. I cannot fight that battle alongside her.

My lovely, kind, thoughtful, creative, compassionate girl is lonely and I don’t know what to do to make things right.

 

 

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Confessions of An Average Mum

Why did I do it? I clicked on a link to a Huffington Post article today about parenting and there it was – a long list of stuff that I don’t do for my kids. A bucket of guilt to pour over my head like an Ice Bucket challenge as I cringe and wonder why I am so rubbish as a mum.

I am fed up of guilt.  Fed up of feeling not good enough.  Fed up of the subtle and insidious comparison that comes for free when you become a parent.

Parenting Is Not A Competition

On Bubbles’ third birthday, just a few months after we adopted them, we invited a few other adoptive families for a birthday party since we didn’t know anyone else with kids.

As the children ate/ demolished/ inhaled their finger food, the grown-ups chatted.  I got drawn into seemingly innocent conversations about bedtimes or nappies or mealtimes that became surprisingly competitive.

“I just turn to Charlie, ask him to go to sleep and he naps, even in the car.”  Charlie’s parent then demonstrates this never-going-to-be-on BGT talent.  I was at a loss to know how to respond.  “Um.  Good for Charlie?”

“Julia is amazing, she will eat everything from olives to cauliflower”

And whilst I wish ours were so easy to feed, I am equally unsure how to respond to this, without getting all defensive.

What has happened to us?

A few months ago we were sharing stories of miscarriages and infertility and bonding over our shared tragedies and now I seem to be defending the children we adopted in a game of one-up-child-ship that I wasn’t expecting to be the entertainment at a children’s party.

Should I admit that there were times when I didn’t wash the bedding or towels for weeks, until I winced from the smell when I got into bed, because I was so tired?  Or that I even Googled “how infrequently can I wash bedding” only to find zero articles to inform my lazy laundry habit.

And in typing that truth, getting that admission off my chest, I feel a need to confess, to slough off all the guilt that I carry with me, to admit to all the…

Ways I Am Not Perfect As A Mum

  1. I don’t keep every single painting, sock puppet, toilet roll and sellotape structure that my kids make to create a shrine to their non-stop creativity.  I regularly chuck stuff in the bin to save my house being overwhelmed by pipe-cleaner and egg box models.
  2. I haven’t lovingly pasted the last four years of “worth keeping” drawings and stuff into a scrapbook with dates, washi tape and photos for them to treasure when they are sufficiently old enough to reminisce about their childhood rather than yawn in teenage boredom with it.
  3. By Friday I am all out of caring about homemade organic meals and open a tin, because I made something homemade on Monday and Tuesday, fed them sandwiches on Wednesday, found leftovers in the freezer to serve with jacket potatoes on Thursday and reckon I have banked enough nutrition in them the last four days to serve spaghetti hoops by the end of the school week.
  4. I roll my eyes at my partner and despite our promises never to undermine each other in front of the children, I sometimes butt into his showdowns with the kids because I can’t bear to hear all that noise and arrogantly assume he is doing it wrong.
  5. I refuse to go to the shops, buy ingredients, bake a gluten-free cake, carry it to school wrapped in cling-film, then buy my own cake at the Bake Sale to raise money for the PTA.  I say “I’d rather just give them the money” but then I don’t do that either.
  6. A few weeks ago, I couldn’t be bothered to motivate and help my kids with their homework, which coincided with discovering that it was optional and let them play all weekend instead.
  7. I would rather my kids were on their tablets non-stop for five hours on a long journey than hear them ask “are we nearly there yet” one more bleeding time.
  8. I avoid organising play dates for my kids, because I don’t want to deal with the extra dimension of chaos (he won’t play with me, she hit me, I don’t like her, I want to go home) and watch another kid refuse to eat peas.
  9. I send my kids to school in uniform that has Pollock-inspired pen splodges all over it, because I refuse to buy a new top just for them to draw over and I have yet to discover a magical way of removing it using a strange cocktail of ice-cream and Yak urine.
  10. I feed my kids the cheap milk chocolate and keep the good stuff (dark, 70% cocoa and above) for me, hidden away in my secret place.

In My Defence

And in case you read this list and call in a child protection, perhaps I should fess up to the other stuff that creates our family.

We read them stories every night.

I walk them to school everyday on time, for reading before class starts.  I ask them about what they did in school, praise their learning and cry when they win prizes in assembly.

I feed them – sometimes with wholesome balanced meals and sometimes with cake and crisps.

I encourage them to play, to think, to share, to treat each other with respect (we’re still working on that), giving them more responsibility as they grow.

I expect them to participate, to play their part in the family – putting their plates in the dishwasher, sorting out the laundry, putting their clothes away, drying up, laying the table. They moan but I don’t give in.

I feed their minds and souls whenever I can, even if I have to ask Siri for the answer.

I tell them how amazing they are, I praise them when they are lovely and kind.

And more than anything else, I love them.  I tell them I love them.  I hug them.

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The Pros and Cons of Adoption

As an adopter, I didn’t have a choice between giving birth and adoption, I found myself in the Land of Adoption because the giving birth route didn’t work out, like many others I have met and connected with since.

But adoption is a secretive and tricky land to live in, because people don’t understand and come out with all sorts of unhelpful nonsense.  My mum once suggested that adoption was “just like being pregnant” and I nearly spat my drink out.  Just like being pregnant?  In what way?  I fumed for a while after that I can tell you.

That said, there are differences (some more obvious than others) between adoption and giving birth and this morning on twitter, the lovely adoption twitterati (sparked by a comment from @feelingmumyet) shared their pros and cons about adoption.  It morphed into a wonderful celebration of what it means to adopt and what we miss out on:

  • Pro – you can pet lambs and eat soft cheese without damaging your child
  • Con – there’s no birth to help lose half a stone of “baby weight”

 

  • Con – you can’t get your cracked tooth done on the NHS or free glasses
  • Pro – your body doesn’t swell out of shape and you don’t need special stretch mark cream

 

  • Pro – You don’t have to suffer with sore boobs
  • Con – You don’t get big boobs either

 

  • Con – people don’t give you their seat on the train or bus
  • Pro – you can go on a boozy holiday just before the child arrives

 

  • Pro – you don’t have to pee every hour after having them
  • Con – you never get to pee on your own/ without an audience again

 

  • Con – no stories to share when other mums ask “how was your pregnancy/ labour/ childbirth”
  • Pro – plenty of stories about PAR and panel and matching to share on twitter

 

  • Pro – there is no morning sickness to deal with for weeks on end
  • Con – no-one tells you how much adoption “suits you” or that you are “glowing”

 

  • Con – you can’t wallpaper social media with photos of your new addition(s)
  • Pro – you don’t have whispered tales of what happened “down there” that send shudders down your spine as you remember

 

  • Pro – you can wear high heels until they move in
  • Con – you’ll only wear trainers once they have

Pro – you get to meet and become friends with incredible people on twitter – which is where this blog post was born.  But this isn’t everything, there are more pros and cons on the wonderful “Feeling Mum Yet” blog, click here: Feeling Mum Yet: Pros and Cons Part Two

Adoption was not like being pregnant one little bit, but I did eat lots more cake to make up for it.

Thanks to the adoption twitterati including @field_erica, @stillfreckled, @adoptingstorks and @webuiltahome for their pros and cons that I have used in this blog.

What Pros and Cons would you add to these lists?  

(my own list of the pros and cons of adoption can be found in my book “And Then There Were Four” soon to be published on Kindle)

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What I Wish I’d Known BEFORE I Adopted

Dear Prospective Adopter

I remember being where you are now – the heady excitement of what is to come, the giddy nerves of the all-important Panel, the heart-melting magic of Matching. It is one fabulous adventure.

When I took my children home I was over the moon and under prepared.  If only I had known then what I know now, those first few weeks would have been easier and more joyful – which is the aim of this blog.

May it help you through the first unsettling months when it’s weird and your life feels unreal and you’re not yourself and keep wondering why won’t they just eat their tea/ sleep/ stop screaming/ love me?

1. GREAT SLEEP IS YOUR TOP TRUMP

The children are important.

But they need a parent who is confident, capable and can access all their brain.  And that only happens if you’ve had enough sleep. A half-asleep, over-caffeinated parent with the emotional stability of dynamite is destined to create a day where you end up blubbing “that could’ve gone better” as you scrape pizza off the ceiling and tears off your chin.

Grab sleep greedily and without apology whenever and wherever you can.

  • Your child is napping?  Nap.
  • Your child is in bed – go to bed early.  7.30pm early if you need to (I did).
  • Your child is watching TV?  Snooze on the sofa.
  • You keep waking up in the night?  Use earplugs if you need to.
  • You can’t get back to sleep once woken?  Put your partner on night-duty.

Get as much sleep as you need to wake happy and raring to go.

Sleep is more important than ironing, hoovering, tidying, watching your favourite TV shows, mowing the lawn, answering emails, cleaning the bath, painting your nails, shaving or going on Facebook to let people know you are still alive.

The best mum or dad you can be is a well slept one.

2.  YOU ARE NOT ALONE

God bless Twitter.

I was a bit “meh” about twitter until I discovered the adoption and fostering twitterati (thanks to @First4Adoption).  If you are struggling with any aspect of parenting, adoption, Panel, Matching, Introductions, food fussiness, sleep or potty training, there is someone who will help on twitter.

Open an account – with some vague name like “adopter73.” No-one will ever know who you are (and your social worker can relax). Then load twitter onto your phone, follow a few people (I’m @emmalgsutton, check out who I follow and follow the ones whose posts you like) and join in.

Just recently a brand new adopter, on day 2 of her forever family asked if it was normal for her children to “feels like little strangers”.

The Twitterati replied that it was normal for them to feel like strangers and that love takes time. Maybe that helped her sleep at night, maybe it just took a worry away, maybe she could then step back and think “that is totally normal, we are going to be fine”.

  • If you want to know what to feed a fussy child – ask twitter
  • If you are having a bad day – tell twitter, we’ll sympathise and send hugs
  • If you want to know if continued contact with foster carers can work – ask twitter
  • If you feel like something is out of kilter  – tell twitter and we’ll share our experiences

Sound off, ask for support when you are feeling low, share your concerns, your worries, your hopes, your dreams and build a community of people who know what you are going through.

I only wish I had found them four years ago when I started my forever family, they would have made my life so much easier.

With Twitter, you don’t have to do this on your own.

3. LOVE IS NOT LIKE MAKING A CUPPA

Loving your child isn’t as quick as making a cup of tea. Your family appears “ready-made” when the children come home for good, yet love takes longer to blossom.

As giddy as I was about dating my husband (way back then), it took months for us to truly fall in love, and it will take time for you to love your child/ren. There’s no timetable. There’s no rush.

My daughter loved my husband and rejected me for a while. Despite my confident assertion at Panel that we would ‘deal with any one-parent attachment issues as they arose’, it still had me crying in the morning when she shouted at me to get out of her bedroom.

  • You might love one of your children first. That’s okay. The love will come.
  • Your partner might fall in love before or after you do.  Still okay.
  • Your children might love one parent before the other.  That’s normal too.
  • With two parents and two children, one day you will all love each other to bits, but it won’t happen on the same day nor overnight.

Let love grow.

4.  WHAT YOU SEE IS NOT WHAT YOU GET

During Introductions, the children played contentedly on their own. They were content, happy and only approached their foster carers Ken and Mary when they needed help or food.  They pottered around the house and we shadowed their move from one area to another. They read, played in the sandpit, chatted to us, not all that bothered whether or not we joined in. They were independent, confident, outgoing.

Yet children we’d seen in their video and at the foster carers’ house were not the children who moved into our house.

They became dependent, cautious and stuck to us like chewing gum to hair. They whined and Nibbles went ballistic when we said No, spinning around on the floor like a Catherine-Wheel whilst Andy and I stared at each other in awe and shock.

The move changed our children.  And we hadn’t expected it.  I naively presumed that we could transfer the children from the video to our home.  But they needed more reassurance, more attention, more of us than they had ever needed during Introductions and that took some getting used to.

It took months before Nibbles and Bubbles were like the children we saw in their video.

5. ONE THING AT A TIME

It is all to easy to try to create a perfect family from the moment they move in. Don’t.

I tried to be the best possible parent I could be – with homemade cakes, delicious and nutritious meals made from fresh ingredients, lots of playing together with stickers and playdough and trips to the library and park, with little TV, no shortcuts, no giving in, clear boundaries, walking places without using the pram, whilst constantly battling the influx of toys into every crevice of my house (and even once in my bra).  All from Day One. I made myself miserable.

Choose happy over everything: laughter over tidiness, bouncing on their bed over fears of them falling off, messy fun over tidy boredom, reading over ironing, cuddles over clean clothes.

  • So what if you feed them spaghetti hoops for every teatime for a week or a month?  In ten year’s time will that have caused any long-term damage?
  • So what if you let them watch TV for an hour every morning so you can shower without an audience?  Yes I know you don’t want to set a precedent (I can’t tell you how many times I worried about that), but is it really setting them up for a life of crime?
  • So what if they don’t have a bath for a week because you don’t have the right bubble bath?They might pong a bit, but baby wipes work wonders and do you really want to fight that battle just before bedtime?

Don’t let reporters in the Daily Mail stoke your guilt about feeding them fish fingers and drinking wine of an evening. Do what needs to be done and leave the rest until you have got this bit sussed.

Build your family one solid foundation at a time, and start with love and laughter.

Go for happy.  And that includes YOU.

YOU MATTER

It’s easy to focus on the children when they turn up in your family.  How can you not, when you’ve waited this long to become a mum or a dad?  Yet when we forget about ourselves, when we let our own needs slide, then we are doing our family a disservice.

Sleep, food, laughter and love. Those things matter far more than how much you spend on a pram, or how tidy your house is, or if your ironing gets done.

Make your life simple.  Make it easy to be happy.  Make your kids and yourself smile, as often as you can.

What do you wish you’d known before you adopted?  Comment below and they might make it into “what I wish I’d known… part two”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You’re My Mummy

I gaze down at the tiny girl, almost swamped by her own curly hair and feel her fingers wound around my forefinger like a boa constrictor.  She peers up at me, her eyes twinkling with wonder.

Just as I’m about to make some bland small talk about a leaf or something…

“You’re my mummy” she says, her eyes locked unwaveringly on mine; a huge grin spreading across her face like the sun rising over the horizon,

I nod gently as tears of joy spring to my eyes. Speechless.

A Wish Come True

She’d wanted a mummy and here I am; her wish come true.

For the last week, she has looked at our photos and watched the video we sent every tea time. She knows who I am.

I can’t quite believe it (I might be in shock).

You’re My Mummy

Maybe she reads the doubt etched on my face.  Or maybe she is so thrilled that once is not enough.

You’re mummy, you’re my mummy, you’re my Mummy

Overnight I’ve become a mummy to two children.  Children I met just ten minutes ago. Despite all the preparation, the interviews, the training, the gradual disclosure of information since matching, I don’t feel like her mummy, I feel like a fraud.

“You’re my mummy”

How long will it be, before I feel like her mummy, until you could cut me in two and see Mummy painted inside like Blackpool through rock?

How long was it before you felt like their mummy?

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Dear Children On Our Fourth Birthday

Dear Nibbles and Bubbles,

How can I forget the day we finally laid you down to sleep, in cots built months ago that had lain achingly empty?  You’d bounced in them but tonight you would sleep in them for the first time.

A Forever Family  At Last

You watched TV in your PJs then we carried you upstairs. Daddy gave Nibbles his bottle, we kissed your foreheads, turned out the light, slipped out your door and stood in the hall, smiling and pulling silent faces as we waited…

You slept.

Daddy and I grinned at each other and tiptoed downstairs, desperate not to wake you.

We Had Made It

After all the disappointments and struggles, finally we were a family. We could barely believe that we’d made it, that we were now parents, that you were our children.  It didn’t seem real.

How tiny, how precious you were, marvellous in every detail.  Yet we were a little frightened by what we had done.  We had no idea how to be parents. There’d be time to work it out.

Except there wasn’t because two hours later Nibbles woke, cried, screamed and we tried everything: soothing, stroking, cooing, milk, rocking, jigging, hugging, more milk until Nibbles, you found a spot, half-way down the stairs in Daddy’s arms and finally gave into how very tired you were.

A New World

Those first few months, learning how to be your mummy, were the hardest months of my life. I had to learn everything, from how to read to you, play with you, praise you, hold you without dropping you, feed you, cook the right foods, prepare your bottles, bathe you, change your nappies, recognise that John Wayne walk before your nappy burst and get you dressed as your wriggled and writhed. I had to learn to cope with too little sleep and keep an ever watchful eye on you in case you fell, tripped, slipped, choked or ran into the road.

I kept waking up bleary eyed, putting one faltering step in front of the other as a Goldilocks mum: sometimes too hot, sometimes too cold and sometimes, miraculously, just right.

But as exhausting as it was adopting you is the best thing I’ve ever done.

It Goes So Fast

There’s been so much change in these four years:  you started mostly helpless and dependent on us, toddling, muttering words that were difficult to understand (chibley? what’s a chibley?), needing help with everything. I ached from lifting you so much, until my lifting-and-carry-little-angels muscles developed (not the technical term).

Now look at you.  Two amazingly independent, loving children with strong wills and personalities that shine. You love school and reading, you populate imaginary landscapes with dragons, superheroes and princesses in stories you build as you play.  You do your bit around the house, getting breakfast ready and helping sort out and fold the laundry, always keen to mend things (even Daddy’s motorbike) by bashing it with a hammer.

Moments To Make Me Glow

The last four years have been packed with firsts, for all of us.  From that first unsteady walk up the road, where you sat down and I nearly tripped over you and I hadn’t a clue what to do, until you could walk to nursery (with stops), then a few miles, and last year when you climbed up a mountain in the Lake District, aged just five and four.

Do you remember how you learned to twist your socks on so they sat just right?  Trying again and again for weeks, as I patiently helped and advised you (‘stop splaying your toes’), occasionally helping (aka doing it for you) when you found it too frustrating or time/ my patience ran out.

Until one day, without fanfare or ceremony, there was no struggle, no tears, no huffed “CAN’T”s and we forgot how hard it is to wrestle a sock on and moved onto the next skill to master.

When you get it right, when the socks slides on, when you reach the end of a long walk, when your letters are neat and perfect, when you read a whole sentence without stumbling, the look on your face makes me melt.  I am so proud of you both, for all that you have achieved already in your short lives (#glowmo).

Firsts and Lasts

Remember Bubbles, last summer when Daddy and I were busy disagreeing how best to help you learn to ride your bike and you simply powered off and did it all by yourself, silencing our debate? I cheered, high-fived, hugged you, shed a tear and then filmed it again.  I couldn’t have been prouder if you’d just won the Tour de France.

This week Nibbles, you proudly raced in to declare that you were ‘dry again!’ and I delighted in the your reaction and praised you for being so grown up, and we threw your last nappy away to great fanfare with party poppers.  And how now you’re getting dressed every morning, fending off my offers of help with an insistent “I can do it by my own“.

So Much More..

Our lives are sprinkled with more, more shouting sometimes, but lots, lots more laughter. There are giggles, tickles and silliness (and yes, sometimes that silliness drives us bonkers) with your homemade jokes and pranks.

Every day you say things that delight us and make us laugh, like at the wildlife park this weekend, when Nibbles asked:

  • “Can we see the cannibals, mummy?”
  • “Do you mean the camels?”
  • “Yes, the caramels, let’s go”

And who can remember our first trip to the zoo when Nibbles asked if he could see ogres?  How can I not swoon slightly at these surreal and imaginative conversations we have, that I note down and laugh at for months or years to come?

Our BC and AC Life

When you came into our lives, when you completed our family, things changed more than I might ever have imagined.  It was not ‘just us, with two kids’.  Because in adding two children, ‘us’ changed forever.

Yesterday I swam.  Grown-up swimming.  Up and down, up and down.  Quiet, peaceful.  I could hear my breath, the water, my thoughts.

But it wasn’t much fun.

Not like when we go to the pool: when it’s a chaotic, noisy, crowded adventure. When we giggle and jump waves and splash, and queue for our turn down the slide, then scoot down at breakneck speed until we are breathless with delight and need another pee.  For all the noise and chaos, I prefer life as a mad, giggling, frustrating adventure that reminds me what its like to feel truly and breathlessly alive.

I Love Being Your Mummy

Being your mummy is the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.  Utterly unpredictable. Iced with an unconditional love for you both that takes bring frequent tears to my eyes.

Being your mummy is a rollercoaster that whips my hair, flushes my cheeks and leaves me struggling to keep up, but I wouldn’t give it up for all the Prosecco in Italy.

Being your mummy has been so much more than I ever expected.

Nibbles and Bubbles, here’s to all the adventures ahead. Here’s to the tears of pride that will fall, to the smiles we will share, the jokes that make us laugh and groan, to the hugs and kisses, the scraped knees and the broken hearts. Here’s to helping you grow and letting you go, to the firsts and lasts yet to come. Here’s to more unforgettable memories. Here’s to more laughter, more love, more joy.

Thank you for being my amazing, adorable, incredible children.

I love you, so much.

Your Mummy

(the woman previously known as Emma)

pass the tissues.

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Shrunk In A Hot Wash

I am imprisoned.  Trapped in a tiny triangle of land, no more than a mile on the longest side.  The corners are my house, school/ nursery and the supermarket.

My Life Has Shrunk

My days involve walking from home to school/ nursery, and back again.  Twice a week, I go beyond that short line with a trip to the supermarket for more cucumber and washing powder, then it’s back to school again.  Five days a week, three times a day, I walk along the same route, and it’s a miracle there isn’t a dip in the pavement where I’ve worn it thin.

Whilst the journey rarely varies, every day it’s different, due to the inventive minds of my children. Yesterday we all rode invisible unicorns to school until mine became lame and couldn’t gallop any more (I was too tired to keep up the pace).

I Have Shrunk

But this house-school-supermarket-arrest preys on my mind – I fear I’ll be infected with village mentality, because this patch of land is an island of little significance in the ‘grand scheme of things’ whose centre (in the UK) is the chaotic metropolis of London.

This tract of land is both nothing (a teeny dot on a map) and everything (my entire universe) and my mind struggles with that paradox.

Every so often I strap the kids into the car and make it all the way across town, celebrating that I have escaped the well-worn rut that is my life. Over the invisible fence by – another mile.  Woo hoo!  I feel like a different woman to the chemical engineer who delivered complex training to big name companies in places like Oslo, Lisbon, Kalamazoo and Dublin.

A New Richness

It’s over a decade since Andy and I moved into this street.  Ten years of nodding or saying hello and that was the sum of our acquaintance with the people in this street.

Yet this repetition creates a richness, a new depth to my experience.  My neighbourhood has come alive again.  I notice the subtle changes from month to month: where the snowdrops grow, the slipperiest corner to avoid if the ground is icy, where the cat with no tail lives and which gates hide barking dogs.

Memories Ingrained in the Pavement

“That’s a fire station” declared Nibbles confidently one morning.  As I look to where he’s pointing, I admit that the red double garage looks a bit like a fire station.  Now I can’t walk past without smiling at the memory.  Over there’s a hole where  Nibbles and Bubbles stuffed all the twigs they could find until it was fit to bursting and I had to convince them to find another.  Here’s the spot they lay down protesting they couldn’t walk another step.

But it’s more than just familiarity and memories.  There are new faces, new names, new connections.  Its the people who bring it this triangle to life.

People Make a Neighbourhood

There’s grandma Dee in her downstairs flat.  We wave to Dee, and talk to her if the window is open, or mime shivering when the weather is cold.  Sometimes we see her at the bus stop on her way to the shops, or sneak a peek at the new wallpaper in her lounge once she has her flat redecorated.  Once she invited me in and we talked about our families.

There’s a couple who sit on their front step with steaming cups of tea and cigarettes.  One day, when we saw them both on the way to nursery and on the way back, Nibbles stated with wide-eyed astonishment “they’re still there!” I laughed and suggested that they had maybe gone inside in the interim.

Karl tells us about his model airplanes, sharing tales of broken wings or tail pieces and things I know nothing about, with his friendly wagging dog who is stocky and almost never jumps up. When the kids aren’t with me, we talk about his legs and the son he hasn’t heard from in over a decade.

Lydia once shouted at Nibbles for treading on the pebbles on her drive (and I frowned with a harrumph and a ‘what’s her problem?’).  But since her initial outburst, she softened.  Now she waves, remarks how well behaved the children are, as she tends the flowers in her pots and dusts her china.

New Roots

For years I just lived here.  My house is here.  That was about it.  I introduced myself to my neighbours when I moved in, or they did, then promptly forgot their names.

But the children kept asking “what he called?” about the man next door, until I gave in and asked (on their behalf). He’s Charlie, but the children call him “Mr Charlie” which gives a sense of grandeur and respect I really like. Until they shout and scream “Mr Charlie” incessantly through the window at him as he’s leaving his house, which I like a lot less.

And in peopling the walk, I have found new roots, a new sense of belonging, a new sense of camaraderie with the streets in which I live and walk.

Get To Know Your Neighbours

Try it.  Walk to the shop every day to get a paper or a pint of milk, and you’ll discover a whole new world, right on your doorstep.  Full of stories, people, smiles, friendships and community.  Stop once in a while and say more than just “hello” and you can unearth stories that will stay with you for a lifetime.

I am so glad I have my children, because through them, I have found a new me.  A connected me.  A me with roots.  Something I haven’t felt since I was a child myself, falling into the pond at Mr Moon’s house and playing with the Blocks next door.

In shrinking the fibres of my life in a hot wash, I have found a new warmth, a new hygge that was here all along.  A felted mesh of memories, imbued with cosy familiarity, inhabited by people I know.  Who knew that shrinking could be so enriching?

 

 

 

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