Instant Dismissal

Four words.

Four words that would provoke a collective groan/sigh from adopters. Four words that tell us that you aren’t listening, that you aren’t interested in our concerns and that you don’t want to admit that my child is not like other children.

Four words that write dread on the heart of a parent desperately trying to get help.

“All Children Do That”

  • Gah!
  • How dare you?
  • Are you even listening to me?

A statement that isn’t even true. For the only things that ALL children (around the entire world) do is breathe, eat, drink and communicate.

The global nature of those four words sends shudders down my back, because one adopted child is not the same as another one.  How dare you lump every child into a one-size of policy, one way of rewarding or redressing behaviour, one way of motivating, one way of teaching them fits all.

I suppose that treating a class as one amorphous mass of children enables the teachers to feel able to cope, perhaps to kid themselves that they are doing their best, even if they are failing individuals within that group.

Not that every global (never, always, all, none) statement is detrimental – when we changed our language in line with advice from the fabulous Helen Oakwater to say our children’s birth parents ‘Couldn’t look after any child’ it removed any hint that our children were part of the reason they were removed, so in that instance, global is great.

A Category of One

But my children belong in a category of one. Yes they are both adopted, yes they were both separated from their birth parents and then from their foster carers. But they are fundamentally different characters, and as the eldest, Bubbles was with her birth parents for longer, and experienced more neglect.  It is likely that her brain is not wired the same as children who experienced care, love and attention in those first few months.

So whilst other children get frustrated, giddy, find Christmas overwhelming, meltdown in the middle of town, the reasons behind them and therefore the solutions for them are not the same. As a society we may have realised that corporal punishment is no longer acceptable, but we are a long way off having P.A.C.E. embedded into the way adults respond to children in schools and nurseries.

‘All [nouns] Do That’

Imagine attending a doctor’s clinic with a strange rash on the back of your hand. It is itchy, painful, dry, and it is driving you crazy. You have rubbed on a bit of hand lotion. When that didn’t work, you tried slathering it in E45 cream, and whilst it got a bit better, it has started to get worse again.  Clearly there is no easy answer to this rash and you might need something a bit more specialist. So you go to the doctor, someone who knows about these things and might be able to prescribe a cream to mend the problem.  But they only half listen, and then declare:

‘All hands do that’

What? Would you be happy with such a generic response, such a dismissive response, such disregard for your pain and suffering?

Me neither; I would be fuming. Livid. How dare she not take my pain seriously? ‘But my other hand isn’t like that‘ I might retort, only to watch a slow head shaking as if I am the person who is out of order wasting this person’s valuable time.

If it’s not okay for a doctor to dismiss the uniqueness of a patient’s experience, how come it is okay for adoptive parents to hear this time and time again?

Woe betide the next person who tells me ‘All children do that’ when I reach out and admit that I don’t know how to help my child, when I am desperate for someone to listen to the challenges that being an adoptive parent brings, when I just want to be heard.

Because the truth is that all children don’t do that.

 

 

 

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Hell Yes – Adoption UK Conference

Being an adopter, being a parent can be a lonely business, as you struggle with the change in your identity, battle for the right support for your children and immerse yourself in learning about parenting, trauma and attachment. Yet I was still nervous at attending my first Adoption UK Conference this weekend. I had no idea what to expect…

Four Hundred Fold

The room was packed with around 400 adopters, educators and social workers, in what can only be described as cosy seating, but we smiled as we bumped arms and legs. The speakers were incredible, knowledgeable, inspiring and more. And every so often they would tap directly into the mood of the room, and be rewarded with a simultaneous groan, sigh or laugh from 400 people, like a warm hug of shared experience.

When Nicki Campbell told of people asking if he’d ever searched for his ‘real’ mum, the room rolled its eyes and tutted, murmuring our assent as Nicky corrected their language, stating that his (adoptive) mum is his real mum.

When Daniela Shanley’s (of Beech Lodge School) slide said “Can I have a word?” we groaned, and felt that blushing embarrassment as she described the walk of shame.

The experience of the people in that room, their struggles to be heard, their fight for support for their children, their desire for their children to be given the same chances in life, just being part of that crowd of warrior woman and men was an inspiring and uplifting experience.

A Little Bit In Love

Amongst a host of incredible speakers, all of whom blew me away with their insights, their research, their experience, their passion and more, there were three that stood out on Saturday.

First was Sue Armstrong Brown, the new CEO of Adoption UK. Despite almost disappearing behind the lectern, her voice and passion carried straight to my heart and I fell in love with her a little bit.

She argued that “adoption needs its champions to be heard” and that instead of just improving the current (flawed) system, we needed to create one that reflects modern adoption, one that is fit for purpose.

She wove in shocking statistics from Adoption UK’s research (summarised in this infographic) whilst never once admitting defeat or feeling bowed by the challenges ahead.  Whilst adopted children are 20 times more likely to be permanently excluded from school, her mood and tone was one of a fight that we will win.

All Behaviour

Then Daniela Shanley blew me away with her dedication to providing a school to suit her child, even if that meant she had to build it herself after being told “this school is not for your son, and there is no school for your son.”

She connected with all the parents who have ever been told that their child is naughty, difficult, disobedient and more. She challenged us to look at adopted pupils in a new way, through different eyes rather than judging and excluding them using inflexible and rigid policies about journals or swearing that are not the right fit for their needs.

If you are thinking “we can’t do that” then look at her school’s behavioural policy (based on Dan Hughes PACE approach) or email it to your child’s school to show them just what can be done to support adopted children whilst maintaining standards.

This quote sums up her ethos:

All behaviour is communication, even when they are kicking the sh*t out of a filing cabinet.

If only all teachers and schools looked at pupils holistically, investigated the triggers that led to a situation, and were more curious about what the child was trying to express before they lent so heavily on policy, judgement, isolation and exclusion.

From Head to Adopter

And finally, I have to mention Stuart Guest, head of Colebourne Primary School in Birmingham. The only man (after my husband of course, better put that in) who made me want to move my life to Brum lock-stock and barrel just for my kids to attend his enlightened school. He introduced his children thus:

These are eleven, seven and four…  we were never very hot on names

How I laughed throughout this presentation. His entire persona of friendly dad, come headteacher, come hater of baths gave him a humanity that I fell for. Never mind thinking constantly “going to use that one” in reaction to the simple, practical tips that he and his wife use daily.

These three speakers stole my heart in different ways that day.

#tissuetribe

The final session of the conference was emotional and unforgettable. Four young adoptees (age 16 to 21) shared their stories and experiences of school. Their prepared answers to questions about how they felt about school, bullying, whether or not they reached their full potential was not easy to listen to, but it highlighted just WHY the changes are so necessary.

Midway through a clear response, a quiver started, C’s words started to stumble and catch, and she turned to her mother for comfort, shaking her head as she couldn’t continue. And every heart in the place reached out to her, felt for her, was there with her, as we recognised the tough times that some of us also experienced in school or that our children are experiencing today.

It was soggiest of the tissuetribe moments. I was overcome by the struggle, the truth of their school lives, and overwhelming desire to be part of the force for change, to be part of the tidal wave that would change the experience of adoptees in the future.

Hell Yes

But it wasn’t just the speakers who inspired. I bumped into a friend of mine (I sometimes forget she also adopted) and stupidly asked her with surprise “what are you doing here?”!  I caught up with some of the lovely adoption twitterati (although their flower/ trainer/ sunset profile pictures don’t make it easy to recognise them, and I ignored a few for which I am sorry), and chatted with many others in snippets or more.

It was hard to wrench myself from the warm enveloping hug of being with a tribe of understanding. As I sat on the train home, I summed up the day with my final tweet:

Today was my first conference – would I recommend it? Hell yes!

The conference was a clarion call to adoption warriors from all parts of society. Adopters, adoptees, teachers, heads, virtual heads, governors, parents, pupils, local authorities, agencies, post adoption support and Adoption UK to work together to create an educational system where all looked after or previously looked after children get the support and help they need to reach their potential.

Joining The Battle Hymn

In the few days since the conference, I have heard phrases and ideas echo through my mind. I have thought about how best to support my children, their teachers and school. I have implemented new approaches and tools at home, with more ideas to be instilled when I get the time to read the slides again. I had a talk with Bubbles about her recent anxiety (chewing through cardigans) that cemented our bond, then used that conversation for a meeting with Bubbles’ teacher, which went well.

I am not the mother I was when I arrived on Friday night, I feel engaged, supported and inspired in a whole new way.

Adopters need a voice.  Adoptees need a voice.  And with the help of Adoption UK and other organisations, all these voices will be heard, and not just in a superficial “that’s nice” way, but in a deeply, heartfelt way such that change happens, such that systems and education evolve. Because the future of these young lives depend on it.  The schools and teachers must educate themselves, such that their policies and procedures embrace adoptees and include them, recognise their specific challenges, steering away from the teeth-gnashing “all children do that” denial of the uniqueness of their early experiences, and help them achieve their potential.

We all deserve to the best version of ourselves. 

I became a warrior that day.

Singing the battle hymn of the adoptive mother.

At the conference, I became part of a choir – four hundred voices chanting in unison, raising our voices to the heavens, to Parliament, to whomever will listen, to the media and more, until the current educational approach to adopted children looks as dated as hitting children with a ruler in Victorian England.

It’s time for change. Will you join the choir and have your voice heard.

I am in. Bring it on.

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Halloween – Heaven or Hell?

Yesterday I was not in the mood. It seemed so much effort – squeezing the after-school routine to fit it all in, nevermind buying costumes and then traipsing around in the dark.

We weren’t long back from holiday, and I was feeling overwhelmed by everything I am trying to cram into my already hectic life.  And my brain colluded with my mood, arguing convincingly about the ambiguity of taking sweets from strangers, the nutritional impact of all those sweets (hello type 2 diabetes) and the throwaway nature of all that Halloween stuff that would clog the oceans of landfill sites for decades to come.

When Adoption Focus posted a blog from Daddy and Dad who doesn’t do Halloween (read it here) on their Facebook page, I nodded my head in vociferous agreement and wished that I had thought of going out for a meal and avoiding the whole debacle instead.

Negotiation

BC (before children) Halloween meant an annual party with friends, dressing up and drinking – although we weren’t invited this year. All well and good.  Since I had never trick-or-treated as a child (for I was born in the era before we imported this nonsense from the States) I had no fond memories to give me the motivation to go out into a cold dark night with my kids.

So I prepared an alternative offer:  I would let the kids dress up, we’d snuggle down to watch a scaryish movie and they could buy whatever nutritionally bereft pseudo-foodstuffs they liked – no holds barred.  No going out.  No knocking on the doors. Bliss.

I was ready with my offer, and hopeful that I could swing the voters to my point of view.  As I collected Nibbles from school, I began my lobbying by asking him what he most liked about trick-or-treating (confidently expecting that he would say ‘the sweets’).

Saying trick or treat, Mummy

And with that, my alternative offer died on its arse.

A Change of Mind

Before school, we’d decided (with some encouragement from me) that I didn’t need to waste money on costumes and they would dress up as ghosts: of Princess Elsa and Captain America.

But when push came to face paint, they’d changed their minds and asked to be Frankenstein’s monster and a witch instead.

But I’ve only got red, white and black face paints” I wailed, in my unpreparedness for the fickle nature of children who have spent all day comparing notes with their friends about which is the coolest costume to have.

I sponged Bubbles’ face black to be a witch, but she took one look, scared the beejesus out of herself and changed her mind.  I swapped to white and in the end, they both went as vampires – Nibbles had a black cape and ghost tee-shirt, Bubbles had her Elsa dress and witches stripped tights.  Random

The Kindness of Strangers

With tea eaten, tomato sauce sponged off their costumes and their faces repainted where they had rubbed it off, we left the house, torch in my hand and bags to collect their goodies in theirs. I was still somewhat reticent about there being any fun in this endeavour, but knew it would all be over soon enough.

Nibbles was pointing out the positives: “And you get more steps, Mummy” and “I love going for a walk.” I smiled and I blessed his positive nature and wondered where it was every morning when we walked up the hill to school (“it’s too steep“, “my legs are tired“).

Everyone Is Being Lovely

But then we started in earnest.  A knock on a door, a person or child opening it, their welcoming smiles, their effusive delight in Nibbles and Bubbles’ costumes, and the giving.  About three houses in, Nibbles was holding my hand, and he said with undisguised surprise “Everyone is being lovely, and they are strangers.”

I nodded in silent agreement, as tears welled in my eyes and I hugged him and that emotion tight to me.

There is a simple joy in trick-or-treating: their combined excitement as they knocked on each door; their polite thank yous each time they were given a sweet.  Nibbles’ surprise at the kindness of strangers.  The experience buried deep, the tiredness and resistance flowed out of me and I truly embraced Halloween.

I began to really enjoy the adventure – searching out pumpkins and decorations that whispered “come in, you are welcome.” One lady, with no decorations to indicate she was taking part, was washing up at her sink, saw us walk past and beckoned us in.  She was dressed in gym gear and said she was about to go out, but opened her bag of goodies just for us and poured sweets into their hands.  We have never spoken before, but in that thoughtful gesture, I felt a shiver of connection.

As we walked, I knew that this was a memory in the making.  Something that my kids would remember for ages.  A part of our family’s history.

A few houses down, I said “there’s a pumpkin at this one, let’s try it“.

Nibbles looked around and shook his head.  He asked in a confused tone “where?” and when I shined the torch on it, he jumped out of his skin. “That was scary Mummy, don’t do that!” I hugged him close and giggled silently.

Playing It Forward

And then we came home to wash Halloween off, and as their shoes were kicked off, there’s a knock at our door and I was nearly knocked over as both kids rushed to the door to open it.

They were fighting over being generous and kind.  Asking if they could be the one who gave out sweets.  We marvelled at the costumes of the little ones, used our gentle voices and crouched down to welcome the toddlers who seem unsure, and shared joy in sucrose form.

A meagre few treats, bought in a last minute panic on the way home from school.  And yet the way it lit up their faces was a delight to behold.

The night continued. with more knocks interrupting bathtime (no you can’t go down in the nudey), and during tele time, there were more mad rushes to the door.  And I am bowled over by the extra joy in being generous (and a plan for next year starts to form…)

There was a connection made yesterday, with strangers and neighbours that I hope in my heart might last a little longer.  New people to nod at when I see them walking down my street.

And as the final Treaters turn to leave for the next house, I say “Happy Halloween” and I mean it.

Perhaps all I needed was a reminder that the world is full of kind strangers, that a gift of a sweet can light up a child’s face, and that joy is all around me, if only I am prepared to see it.

Happy Halloween everyone.

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Adopting Siblings – Bravery Optional

‘That’s brave’

It wasn’t the first time people had said we were brave to be adopting siblings, but coming from a social worker during our preparation groups, it filled us with foreboding.

  • I didn’t feel brave
  • I wasn’t sure I wanted to be brave
  • But I did want to adopt siblings

Was brave shorthand for that’s crazy?  Out of seven couples at our prep groups, we were the only ones considering adopting siblings.  Really?

I was shocked.

To us it seemed logical. We wanted a family, not an only child.  We knew that siblings were harder to place and so why not invite a set of brothers and sisters to join us? Did they know something we didn’t?

Both Andy and I had siblings and knew we wanted at least two (me), if not three (Andy, who would be going to work) children.

Do You Need To Be Brave?

Four years later, I can answer this question honestly.  Was it brave?  No.  It was definitely hard work taking on two toddlers at once.  They arrived and turned our life upsidedown in an explosion of nappies, spoons, toys and routine.  Even simple things like bedtime or a meal became logistical headaches. And then there was the lack of sleep from two children waking at different times, for different reasons for many many nights.

It was hard.  It was tiring.  It was exhausting at times, but it wasn’t brave.

It Was Joyful

Right from day one, the relationship between Nibbles and Bubbles is crammed to the rafters with joy.  During introductions, she was chasing him around the park, as he tottered in tiny circles and she dashed this way and that, more steady on her feet.

He was besotted with her, and everything she did was magic.  The way she looked after him, hugged him, helped him reach things, pretended to read to him, fed him – it was a cornucopia of sibling love and caring.

It Was Giggly

Put the two of them in swings.  Swing them as high as you can.  Then listen.  They would blow raspberries, sing, make nonsense noises, and giggle their heads off.  I recorded them time and time again, because I knew that this time would pass as they gained words and new ways to make each other laugh.  Listening to it now, it still makes me laugh uncontrollably.  So cute.

There isn’t a day since we adopted them when they haven’t made me laugh.

It Was Love

When we first saw their photos and information during matching, both Andy and I knew. Don’t ask me how I knew, but it was like an angel (or God if you wish) shouted deep into my soul and heart that these were the children who most needed me to be their mummy.

Their love for each other is huge.  Enveloping. Magical.  They love each other to the moon and back, then Aunty Sally’s and back and even to the splash park if they remember.  She always wants a hug from him as she goes into school and has to say goodnight each night to her wonderful brother.  Add that to the love they get from us, from their foster family Ken and Mary, and from everyone lucky enough to be a part of their lives and the love that surrounds our family has never been so ginormous.

To Sum Up…

But if there was one word that summed up my experience of adopting siblings it is adventure.

A great big, hair-raising, heart-racing, breath-taking rollercoaster of an adventure, a proper Indiana Jones style adventure, which has taught me a great deal about myself, about strength, about siblings, about friendship, about connection, about laughter, about playfulness, about love and most of all about life.  And I am still learning, every single day.

So let me take Helen Keller’s words and re-write them anew, in honour of the fantastic siblings that have made my life incredible…

Adopting [siblings] is either a daring adventure or nothing at all.

These four and a bit years have definitely been a daring adventure.  Packed with new experiences, new places, new faces, new giggles, new joy, new love and more.  Long may it continue.

If you are up for an adventure, perhaps you might consider adopting siblings too?

To celebrate National Adoption Week (16-21 October 2017), the Kindle version of my book is available for just £2 (in honour of the two incredible children who have made my life into an even more daring adventure).  Get yours on Amazon here

 

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Two Plus Two Equals More – Adopting Siblings

This year, the focus of National Adoption week is siblings – as around half the children waiting for a family are siblings.

I’m not going to tell you that adopting siblings is easier than adopting one, that would be crazy. It isn’t.

When my husband returned to work I was scared. I felt woefully unprepared to cope with two children vying for my attention. I needed eyes in the back of my head, a nose like a sniffer dog, seven pairs of hands and was worn out by it all.  My life felt like an exhausting roundabout of nappies, meals, tidying up, refereeing fights, supermarkets, naps, bottles, laundry, nappies, trying to understand their sort-of-words, more tidying, another meal, more nappies, baths, stories, bed and more.

When Bubbles went to pre-school for a few hours, I suddenly experienced how much easier one child would have been.  Not just a little bit easier, but soooo much easier.  With just Nibbles, there seemed more space, more time to do things, more time to even think, less to do. So I can understand why you might be thinking of adopting one child.

But there are upsides.  Things that you can only get if you adopt siblings.

LOVE

They’d only been with us a few weeks and Nibbles was upset.  We had no idea why he started crying in the car and nothing we said or did, not even my most soothing rendition of “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” was working.  Two-year-old Bubbles asked him to “hold my hand.”  She stretched out towards him, touching fingers between the car seats in a moment of joyful tenderness I will never forget (captured in the photo above).  The impact was immediate.  His tears stopped and he smiled.

When everything else was strange, unsettling, weird, when their new home didn’t feel like a home at all, they had each other, they had love and that helped them feel safe.  Their love for each other is massive, unbounded, magical. With siblings you get share a love that goes to the moon and back.

HISTORY

Their lives and the people in it have changed so much in the few years since they were born. They’ve experienced trauma and separations. But one person has always been there for them, always been part of their lives.  We were somewhat late to the party, but Nibbles and Bubbles have always had each other. Their history started and continues together. And through this history, they’ve learnt that you can trust some people to be there for you through it all.

SUPPORT

“What did he say?” I would ask her, all confused. When Nibbles spouted sentences of jumbled consonants and vowels, when I had tried all the combinations I could think of and was running out of patience, Bubbles would often know exactly what he was trying to say.

She was our go-between and not just for translation.  When he was confused and upset in those first wobbly weeks, in a way we could not mend, a big hug from his sister was all that he needed to know that things would be okay.

INDEPENDENCE

Nibbles and Bubbles are inseparable (most of the time). They invent make-believe places and games that take them into the depths of their imagination, with a healthy borrowing from films and things they have read. Together they play, they explore, they invent, they create, they cut and stick. They learn interpersonal skills when they are too noisy or boisterous, don’t play nicely and learn the consequences when they hear the dreaded “I don’t want to play with you.”  They learn to compromise (if often a little late).

It feels safer when they are together, because they look out for each other, so I relax and give them leeway, to stay in the park on their own for a while, to grow to their capabilities (rather than being limited by my fears).  Sometimes their gang of two isn’t open to me, and yet as much as I pout, they are growing faster together.  They need me less and less, because they have each other as a co-adventurer.

GROWTH

With a big sister, Nibbles has run to keep up.  Sometimes literally, sometimes with his words, with behaviour, eating, skills and play. He wants to copy her and she loves to help him with his reading, or things he struggles with (it used to be zipping his coat up), getting washed or showing him how to dry up a sharp knife without hurting himself.

After years of waving her off at at the door, he couldn’t wait to start school, to do the things she has done.  And one day, as I keep hinting, he will be faster than her.

SPEED

We always wanted a family, Andy and I.  Not just a child but a family.  And by adopting siblings, we created a ready-made family overnight.  It wasn’t easy, but it’s what being a family meant to us.  Andy and I were a little family; Nibbles and Bubbles were a little family; and then we became a new family of four.

Within six months, we had got over the early wobbles and were finding our feet. But when they ask you at Matching Panel why you want to adopt siblings, don’t say “because it’s quick”!

CONNECTION

They share their very DNA.  They don’t look the same, yet there is something in their make up, a connection beyond skin, beyond looks, beyond shared experiences.  They will always have someone to talk to about being adopted (I might want it to be me, and it might not be).  Someone who understands what it is like to be them.  Nibbles and Bubbles know they belong with each other (and now with us), and they ‘get’ each other in a way that only siblings can.

Being with each other, feels like home.

AND MORE…

The way they play with each other is infectious and before you know it, I am shouting “giddy up” as we canter to school on the back of imaginary unicorns.  They might be double trouble, but they’re also double the hugs, double the happy-tears of pride in their achievements, double the joy, double the giggling at jokes too. With a child in each hand, I feel balanced, rooted through their touch to my life at a whole new level. They have multiplied the love and laughter in our home many, many times over.

It wasn’t until I wrote this list, when I sat down and really thought about all the magical and incredible ways that these two lives, these gorgeous people have added to my family that I really understood what it was that we did when we adopted siblings.  I wouldn’t change it for anything. They are my family and I am their mummy and I have never been prouder.

Happy tears.

Adopting siblings is the best thing I have ever done.  Maybe you could consider it too?

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Is The Future of My Family Bleak?

Yesterday, Adoption UK and the BBC published a survey of over two thousand adoptive parents in the UK.  The results were sobering.

On The Bright Side

An overwhelming majority (percentages not supplied) of adopters said that they were glad that they had adopted.  A bright light after some more troubling statistics.

The Dark Side – Violence

Almost two-thirds of adopters had experienced aggressive behaviour. For some this is serious and sustained child-on-parent (CPV) violence.  I was shocked. How do parents cope with that? I struggle with being screamed at.

Then I remembered a friend whose young birth son was violent towards her over a decade go.  She struggled to get anyone to listen never mind believe that she felt abused by her child.  Has nothing changed?

Is CPV a taboo, a hidden problem in our society, ignited by traumas of all kinds?  Where it is the only outlet for some young people who find this busy, noisy, overwhelming world of contradictions too much to deal with?

And yet despite two-thirds experiencing aggression, only one quarter were in crisis, suggesting that many parents cope (somehow) and do not suffer breakdown. But a quarter is not a figure to celebrate, although it contrasts strongly to other research (over a 12 year period) stating that only 3.2 % of adoptions disrupt or breakdown.

And I wonder if I should have let Bubbles take kickboxing lessons this term.

The Teenage Threat

Being a teenager is no easy task. It is time where young people are trying to answer the question “who am I?” and find their own identity, one which is complicated by adoption, trauma, separation, neglect and more.

There are ten times more disruptions in the teenage years, which tells me that we are not doing enough to support adopted teenagers.

How do we equip all children, including adoptees to deal with the teenage years – what needs to be done before they get there, before the hormones and bodily changes complicate everything so that they have the tools to cope?  What do we need to give adoptive parents so that they can heal their broken children?

Forewarned is forearmed. But is it really that bleak?

A Pinch Of Salt

Clearly an online survey will only capture some adopters.  Not all might have seen the invitation to participate or felt they wanted to. With over five thousands adoptions a year, two thousand responses is a small fraction of those who have an adopted child in their household over the years.

Perhaps those most likely to respond are those parents who are struggling – who most need their voice to be heard, who most need the support systems to wake up to the reality they are experiencing, who most need things to change so that they can mend their problems and stitch their family back together, those who most feel unheard and unsupported in their time of crisis.

Regardless of how representative the survey is, around 1300 families have experienced aggression, and nearly 500 are in crisis, which is too many and means there are many more out there needing help.

Are we as a society content that adopters struggle to get support, to get therapy (one adopter on twitter said the waiting lists were too long for the therapy she needs to help her family – a tragic state of affairs), to get the advice, training, help that they as adoptive parents and their children need?

Shining a light on issues definitely helps – it sparks debate and further research, so that people know the truth of adoption.  But experts, therapies, support, groups, training, they all need funding.  Cold hard cash, if anything is going to change.

Do I Tornado-Proof My Family?

What does our future hold?

My family does not experience child-on-parent violence.  The nearest we come to a ‘crisis’ is when Bubbles can’t find her bunny at bedtime.

Andy and I are truly glad we adopted.

Yet this survey shook me up. Am I supremely naive as an adopter? Am I living in adoption fairy-land, hoping that we will buck the trend and live happily ever after? I want to believe that this will all work out, that our family will be just like other families out there, even if my children arrived through an unusual route.

As I walk the children to school in the morning, hand-in-hand, should I continue our chats about unicorns and the Haka, or start digging into therapeutic parenting to prepare for the coming storm?

Relax, Enjoy, Read

For now, all I can do is enjoy the time I have with my children.  My beautiful, fascinating, surprising, giggle-inducing, warm-hugging children.  Snuggled into the bliss of our family life peppered with the odd tantrum or meltdown over something and nothing.

And yet whilst I sit in the sunshine and read, it might just be a book by Dan Hughes (as recommended by @mumdrah) just in case.

What are your thoughts on the survey?

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Why I Am Not A Teacher

Nibbles has a Friday spelling test, so we’ve spent a few days rehearsing…

Tuesday (teatime)

Me: spell CUP
Nibbles: Cuh Oo Puh
Me: lovely

The first eight go brilliantly, all correct, yippee, I think I have adopted a genius and swell with impossible smugness.  Oh how the mighty are about to fall…

Me: Spell STEM
Nibbles: Suh Duh …
Me: Not Duh, listen again, STem
Nibbles: Suh Duh
Me: No words in the English language start with a Suh Duh (too much information here, I know), try again STTTTem
Nibbles: Suh Duh
Me: It’s Suh Tuh
Nibbles: Suh Tuh Eh Mmm
Me: Well done! Great. High Five! We Got There.

Tuesday bathtime

Me: let’s spell those two tricky words using the bath letters
Nibbles (see photo)
Me *sighs* It’s not a Duh… Try again
Nibbles: WHY?
Nibbles: this is boring
Nibbles: it’s tooooo hard!!!!!

Thursday

Andy comes home and works on his spellings.
As with Nibbles’ conviction that STEM is spelt SDEM, with QUIZ, he is determined that it starts CW and any form of correction seems doomed to failure.

Andy’s patience is sorely tested, but we think Nibbles has deleted the SDEM and CWIZ spellings in his brain and installed the new (correct) versions.

Friday (on the school walk)

By now, I am confident that all this work we have put in will be paying off…

Me: Nibbles, let’s just do those two final spellings, how do we spell STEM?
Nibbles: Suh Duh
Me (silently) ARGGHHHH
Me (out loud): not Duh, can you think what else it might be?
Nibbles: it’s tricky
Me (silently) I can tell
We try again..
Nibbles: Suh Duh
Me: not Duh
Nibbles: Suh Duh

I lose the will to live and make my hands into a letter T (he guesses correctly given the MAHOOSIVE clue that is inches from his face).  I then trace the entire spelling one letter at a time onto his hand, so that every possible mode of learning has been covered.

We spell out again, together, then him on his own and I think he finally has it nailed.
Me: one more time, just to check, how do we spell STEM?
Nibbles: Suh Duh

He will not stand down from the D position. 

And part of me admires his determination to stick to his original idea.

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Siblings Are Sophie’s Choice

As I walk away with Nibbles, a hollow feeling invades me. It starts small, in an ignorable way, but with every step it grows, louder and more insistent until it’s almost painful.

What Have I Done?

It is the first day of the new term and as capable and organised as I am, I cannot physically be in two places at once. Yet Bubbles starts at junior school today, Nibbles is at infant school and the schools are half a mile apart.

I have abandoned Bubbles in the playground with the hurried consent of another mum.

Abandoned

I have let my “never be late” religion (if you’ve read the book, you’ll know) override the sort of mum I want to be to Bubbles.

I want to be stood with her.  I want to hold her hand and look into her eyes and embed the “it will be okay” thought that sits on the tip of my tongue (perhaps I need to hear that more than she does).

My legs feel like lead. As if every step towards Nibbles being on-time is a betrayal of my daughter. As if I am putting him first, that his needs are more important, demonstrating a blatant form of (blasphemy coming) “favouritism”.

I want to turn back. My gut screams “turn back” in order to untwist the knots within it. I almost turn back. Not just once, but a few strides later, then again as I wrestle with the blisters between my actions and my conscience. I tell Nibbles that I have made the wrong choice, but he reminds me “we don’t want to be late” and I heed his palliative words.

With one of me, and two of them, I cannot be there for both of them at every single event.

Sophie’s Choice

I remember when we’d first adopted the children, and Andy had gone back to work.  Whenever we left the house, I’d be faced with impossible choices, created by the unsafe limbo between the car seats and the shopping trolley, or the car seats and the front door.

I would unbuckle my strap, and get out of the driver’s door.  And open the door nearest the pavement and ask myself – who do I unstrap first?

  • In the car seat, strapped in tight, they were safe and secure.
  • In the hallway, they were safe(ish) and secure.
  • In between those places, in the seconds it took to unload the shopping or their sibling, they were at the mercy of some child-snatcher (or their birth family) who might swoop down the second my back was turned and steal them

Which One Would I Pick?

Whichever child I picked, what did that say about me?

For one would be held tight in the loving arms of their mother and the other one left abandoned in the car, with the door open, the car unlocked, vulnerable and defenceless.

Did I pick Nibbles because at least Bubbles could scream loudly and kick up a fuss that I could understand?  Or because he was youngest?

Or did I pick Bubbles because she was more confident on her feet and could be left to toddle up the path on her own, so I could look after Nibbles who needed me more, whilst effectively abandoning a two-year-old to a solid stone walk-of-death?

The Choice Haunted Me EveryWhere

  • Which child to pick out of the bath first, whilst leaving the other to drown?
  • Which child’s nappy to change first, when they sychronised their poo-xplosions, thus leaving the other child swimming in their own filth?
  • Which child to carry to the safety of the car whilst the other walked out, unsupervised, in front of a two-tonne lorry?
  • Which child’s plate of food to pass first whilst delaying the other for a few seconds of screaming, bawling, “I am starving” distress?
  • Which child to run to first if they played piley-on in the park and both hurt themselves, whilst trying in vain to wrap myself around both and “there there” them in equal measure?
  • If both screamed in different rooms at the same time, who did I run to first?

And everytime I chose I would ask myself if I had chosen that child too often already, if they had already won the “favourite” crown from their sibling, if Bubbles had picked up on the disparity with her observation of every minute detail of my barely adequate parenting.

Like she did with “maybe”. Informing me one day that it never meant “yes” and it always meant “no” and I knew then that she would pick up on every single thing I said and did.

Why is it so hard?

I Denied My Needs As Her Mum

Yet was it really Bubbles that needed me on her first day at school?  I worried she might get upset, that she might be scared, that she might need me. And I let those fears gnaw at me all day after I failed to turn back.

She was smiling and happy at the end of the day, excitedly sharing her day, liking her new teacher (because she rides an electric bike to school) and delighted with her lunchboxes with notes from mummy saying “I love you, have fun xx” and a host of (nutritious) food she loves.

Maybe I’m not ready to let her go. To let her grow up. To let her not need me anymore.

The truth is that I wanted to be stood beside my little girl. To be there for her. To squeeze her hand and let her know that she mattered to me more than a late mark. I am ashamed now of my order of precedent – that an unblemished record of zero late marks made to choose to leave her on that first day.

I will never have that chance again. To be there with her, to stand alongside her proudly as her mum.

I feel bad because I denied what I truly wanted to do. I wanted to turn back. I wanted to recognise my mistake and act on it. To show her (and him) that when I make mistakes, I mend them. But I didn’t.

Why?

Because I didn’t want the grown-ups, who had already seen me leave, watch me come back, as if Bubbles isn’t strong and brave enough to be left alone.  I worried more that the mums and days would think of me if I turned around than what my daughter thought of me. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

Never Again

If I had that day again, I would go back. Even just for a few seconds. Just until I was certain she was okay, to let her make the decision, to let her grow at her own pace.

When I get that feeling that I’ve chosen badly, or wish something was different, I will do what I can, as soon as I can to change that decision and mend it. There and then. I will show my children that I am fallible, human, that I don’t know everything and don’t always get things right, and I will show them how to change their mind and learn. Regardless of what anyone else thinks or says or mumbles to others under their breath.

For I didn’t deny her needs that day.  I denied mine.

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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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