Our First Family Day Anniversary

Yesterday we have celebrated our First Family Day! It means exactly 365 days ago we have become a family of four through adoption (hence the four turtles). The round number is raising the expectation of me coming up with something smart, something deep, maybe I should come up with some profound truths, give you a few points of why it was worth it despite the incredible lows we went through, how rewarding it is to know that the boys’ first adoption breakdown was not the end of their already sad story, that we are turning their life around…

Yes, these are all true and in fact, each point should deserve separate long posts. But right now all I feel is numbness. I am so incredibly tired and emotionally exhausted that I can’t think straight. So many things happened that the factual summary alone would fill several books. All the cliches that you hear from fellow adopters are all true. When I organise some thoughts I might come up with a skeleton structure onto which I can hang all the things that have changed…

A year ago we were getting ready to meet our future children face to face for the first time at Introduction Day. I wrote about that extensively, please click the link if you want to read the beginning… except, that wasn’t even the beginning, but for the sake of grammar let’s call it that.

Feelingmumyet Family Cake Ninja Turtles Adoption Forever

Our First Finally Forever Family Cake

Right now I am sitting
outside                                     – I have never really been an outdoorsy person before the children came…
in our garden                        – we were renting a fab house, but were told to buy one with a garden before the children came…
enjoying the sunshine     – well, this part hasn’t changed, I have always loved the sunshine…
as a stay-at-home              – I used to work in a job I loved, which I had to give up before the children came…
mum.                                        – this one never gets old! As much as I love them and would do anything for them I don’t think I will ever stop not feeling like an Impostor… Especially when the Other Mother writes to me

Family Cake

So, Familyversary, which demands a cake. A Family Cake. Last week 6 was telling everybody that he is so excited to have our first Family Cake. Naturally people were confused and asked what is a family cake. Duh… For Goofs it was a puzzling question because ‘don’t every family celebrate when the family grows by the arrival of a new child? Oh, that you call it birthday… Fine, but what’s the difference? Just because in your family the birthday and the family expansion happens to be on the same day it doesn’t have to be the same for us too, right? Poor you! You only have 1 cake! In our house we celebrate both dates so, obviously, one extra occasion to have a massive cake!’ There, that’s my son! (*saying it* with all the smugness and pride in my voice that you can imagine – and a little more!)

Adoption Review

We had a slice of cake for breakfast, maybe I should say instead of breakfast, but I am fairly certain both boys had some more food in breakfast club. It just so happened to be the day of our 4th Adoption Review so we brought the cake to school as well. During the meeting we met our fourth IRO (Independent Review Officer), but to my surprise she was totally prepared and was doing a wonderful job of actually looking out for the children’s best interest! We were so pleased with her attitude and dedication to children she hasn’t even heard of until 2 days ago!

It was a very efficient meeting. The Play Therapist gave a report in which they concluded that blablablablabla – lots of long words and specialised lingo. In simple English, and here I am paraphrasing a LOT, she said ‘the boys are fine’ and ‘they do not need such therapy any more so it has come to its natural end’. More pleasantries were shared like ‘nobody expected the boys to heal this fast or this much‘ and the usual ‘it wasn’t much of what we did in those weekly 20 min sessions, but what these superamazingwonderfulincredible parents do on a daily basis‘, there was a nod to Therapeutic Parenting, but ‘stability, consistency and unconditional love‘ were also mentioned. I apologise if I sound cynical, I know these experts meant it. Probably the problem is in my device…

School gave a fab report too. Both boys are super smart and now it’s starting to show. Snoops (7) still has lots of issues and he continues to be a challenging little boy who will continue to struggle, but it was a consensus around the table that eventually his struggles will lessen as we all learn to support him better and he learns to cope with this big evil world better, after all, it’s ONLY been a year…

Adoption Order Application Signed

We didn’t plan it as such, but I think with all our ups and downs we got to the point where submitting the AO application was the right thing to do. We knew from day one that the children will stay (that’s not to say we weren’t ready to throw in the towels on several occasions!) so during the meeting we signed the official paperwork to get the ball rolling. If everything goes fast we might find new Birth Certificates under the Christmas Tree this year…

But I digress again. After the review we had our Final Play Therapy Session. The Play ladies brought cake to celebrate. Ummm, more sugar, yay! Snoops was very happy to see them because he knows it means lots of attention on him. Goofs, bless him, just came out of his second SATS exam and while his classmates could go to the ICT room to play on the computers he had to endure a boring meeting and there weren’t even toys this time! Naturally, he behaved very poorly… We asked the boys what was their favourite memory and Snoops said ‘that one time when the session was in our house‘. All the adults looked around confused, but he went on, described the exact day (in was in last October) and all the details! We all forgot about it. But his little heart treasured it as the dearest memory! We were all taken aback…

After school the boys wanted to play outside with their new toys. In front of our house there is a set of council garages and children often play in that area. We have never let the boys play there unsupervised before. It wasn’t a conscious decision, it just kind of happened. But yesterday I went back to the house and they played happily there for a while. Yeah, things are changing…

Family dinner out

The ultimate test. We have been out with them before, but it was either a buffet or a carvery where you get food right away so there wasn’t much room to be bored and start to be silly. We went to a Lebanese restaurant and these wonderful Arabs loved our 2 little blond boys so much they even let them go into the kitchen, touch things, they answered all their questions and we even got some free pudding at the end. The food was fabulous and all in all we almost had a pleasant time there.

We got home by 8pm. 6 was grumpy because he was tired so we looked past his attitude and tucked him to bed as quickly as possible. 7 also had a meltdown, but for him it was different. Poor little thing was working so hard to keep it all together that by the end of the day his tiny little tummy was so full of emotions that he exploded. He was calling me names and he refused to do anything. I had to do all his bedtime routine (teeth, change of clothes, tidy the room a bit so we can enter) for him. Once in bed he still struggled with big feelings so I just cuddled him as you do with a baby. Our usual mantra (you are safe, I love you, you are not going anywhere, you are my son forever) calmed him down enough to start crying. His tears were the tears of shame for his poor behaviour. I kept on whispering the mantra and eventually he calmed down again and fell asleep. He woke up with another dry night: 8 in a row now! His new record!

Conclusion

Yeah, we are a finally forever family of four (FFFF). No more,  no less! Good night!

What is an Age Appropriate Toy in Adoption?

There is a lot of talking about children growing up too fast these days and they don’t know how to play any more. A while back I wrote about the Power of Play and how difficult it was for our two adopted boys to learn to play. I also wrote about the screen addiction our boys brought with them following their first adoption breakdown and how that hindered them in their healthy social development.

If you visit our house for the first time and take notice of the toys we have lying all around the house you would easily make the mistake of assuming we have 2 toddlers. In reality, our boys are 6 and 7; in a few weeks time they turn 7 and 8. So, why don’t we buy them age appropriate toys??

Ducks In A Row Bathroom Feelingmumyet Age Appropriate Toy

Ducks in a row in our bathroom

How do you define age appropriateness?

While I was researching this subject I came across lots of websites that offer guidance and useful articles from Parents.com to WebMD.com (click on the links for the actual articles) just to mention the 2 biggest advocate groups. And because we live in the digital age I also looked at their rating system, which is called PEGI. With PEGI I was very pleased to discover that they emphasise ‘The age rating is not intended to indicate the difficulty of the game or the skill required to play it‘ I think this is the key to understand our children’s playing habits and to know which games and toys will be helpful in their development and entertainment and which will cause more challenges.

Is it too childish?

When I went into a toy shop recently the helpful shop assistant asked me right away ‘How old is your child?‘ so she could direct me to the age appropriate isle. ‘It depends‘ was my response and you can imagine the looks I got.

According to his birth certificate he is 2 weeks shy from being 8. So, naturally the type of toys he should be getting for his upcoming birthday include video games with moderate violence and mild-moderate language, medium level complicated Lego sets, archery kit with sharp projectiles, puzzles over 500 pieces, or board games that require medium complex logical or mathematical skills to be enjoyable. Needless to say, he can’t manage any of them! Just to give you some examples:

  • He came to us with a Nintendo DS game rated PEGI 7 called Transformers. It involves a lot of killing, shouting, bad language, burning people alive… He was so confused he didn’t even believe me that the Autobats were the good guys and all he could think about was ‘torching the welcome wagon‘ and ‘the bigger the damage the more points you get’. All his drawings included weapons and everybody got killed and everything exploded and was destroyed. He was so cross with us when we took it away from him and we were so cross with the Foster Carer who gave it to him, just because he asked for it (‘all my classmates have it, I am almost 7 after all, I promise to be quiet if you buy it…‘)
  • They also had a wii racing game rated PEGI 5+ so we thought that shouldn’t be a problem. Well, our 6 year old often had nightmares in which the ‘giant evil penguin from this game‘ was chasing him. Just between us, there were no evil looking penguins in the game, just some big inflated CUTE penguins to cheer racers in the crowd – but for some reason he perceived it as scary. So this game was taken away as well until later. Together with Batman and a few others…
  • We have a Christmas tradition of working on a puzzle together. For the boys’ first Christmas with us we bough them an age appropriate one; we thought they might be able to manage it with our help. Well, we were wrong. Not just in believing that all those tiny pieces will not be lost in no time, but also in expecting them to sit still for more than 5 minutes (‘it’s so boring, it’s too hard, I don’t understand how to find a match, but these 2 pieces belong together just by their cut out shapes…’)
  • A few weeks ago we visited another church family for lunch. They have an 8 year old boy who had some archery toys. Without going into details my 6 year old managed to shoot him in the eye and then was surprised when the boy was screaming in pain because ‘in ninja turtles they always do this for fun and they never cry’.
wii game PEGI age rating Feelingmumyet

PEGI rating on our wii game

According to his mental and emotional age he is only 4…

He is quite tall and when he is in a happy chatty mood he could convince anybody that he is a brilliant 8 years old young man who knows everything about space and has excellent deduction skills. But a toy, which is designed to entertain such intelligence is usually very hard for him to solve or enjoy and instead of educational fun moments we get deep frustration and angry outbursts, which put him in a state of panic and it almost always results in a massive meltdown.

Both boys have missed out on so many developmental stages and not having age appropriate toys is just another indication of the neglect they were subjected to. So, instead of going to the isle for young men, I headed towards the toddler section. It didn’t take long to find the ducks! 🙂

Until recently they never had regular bath times like normal children do due to the constant wetting and soiling (they got regular showers whenever they had an accident). But a few months ago 6 started to have dry nights so he can enjoy now a bath every evening he hasn’t wet. It seems to motivate 7 as well to listen to his body more and don’t wait till the very last moment so lately he also had some special bath times. I say special, because for these boys it is indeed very rare and special, although it is getting more regular now! So when I saw those colourful plastic ducks (see picture above) I knew my boys will love them! Those ducks came with an age recommendation of ‘under 2’, but since they have never had bath toys in their lives they embrace it now fully. In a sense when I am pushing the ducks towards them in the bath filled with bubbles we not only have a jolly good time, but I am also filling in the gaps in their development. I am sure soon they will think it’s childish, but for the time being they love it!

Colouring in Robot Feelingmumyet

Both 6&7 love colouring in and they love it even more when I work with them on the pictures!

When School and Adoption collide…

Professional blogging tips always include a Content Calendar Planner and I keep planning on creating one, but it seems life provides plenty of things to write about each week so I will just share with you our latest ordeal with school from this week.

The ordeal started last Friday, just as I was writing my post on My Child Might Look Normal, But…, but I didn’t realise it until much later. I will write it in chronological order to help you see how a ‘simple’ issue can all too fast develop into a massive problem and it can ripple through all walks of life and can linger for days for adopted children.

The Background

On Fridays my husband picks up the boys – every Friday. Snoops (7) was in a terrible mood when they arrived home. I was wondering if he had a bad day or if it was something that happened on the way home – it’s a big difference in terms of after effects, though for him every issue constitutes to End-Of-The-World disaster that justifies a massive meltdown! Upon asking he confirmed that he lost all golden time today (special play time they earn each day), he didn’t say why or what had happened. He refused to do anything we asked him to do (like take off your shoes or go wash your hands) and put up fights for everything. There is only that much Therapeutic Parenting one do within 1 hour so as a natural consequence I told him he just lost 5 minutes of his evening playtime.

Feelingmumyet Child Boy Doing HOmework

Child Doing Homework

Usually this is bad enough for him to stop whatever he is doing, but not on Friday. His behaviour and defiance got a lot worse, he was throwing things, destroying furniture so again, as a natural consequence he was told he lost the chance to watch a movie in the evening – this has only happened a few times over the last year; Friday family movie nights are a Thing in our house!

Behaviour not improving, just the opposite! He got very violent so in order to keep ourselves safe we had to take him to his bedroom and close the door. Inside he started to trash his bedroom and I was very worried that he would hurt himself so I went in and grabbed him in a super tight bear hug (meaning he was unable to move).

A call from School

In the very moment my phone rang; it was School, but I was too busy fighting him so I couldn’t take the call. I hoped they would leave a voice message that I can listen to later…

About an hour later Snoops stopped his destructive behaviour, he was still very agitated, but at least I could loosen my grip around him. I picked up my phone and listened to the message:

‘Hello, I am Snoops’ teacher. I didn’t see you and didn’t recognise your husband so I said nothing to him. I wanted to tell you that Snoops was disruptive all day today, after several warnings he started throwing chairs in class so I sent him out of class to calm down, but he kept trying to come in so I put my foot at the door to block him, there was a struggle, I clipped his finger into the door frame, but he is fine.’

So, before we continue, lets just digest this message for a minute

  • From this message it doesn’t sound like the teacher tried to help him at all! I do not know WHY was he disruptive, what had set him off, if it was his own fault because he was daydreaming and therefore missed the instructions, or somebody said something to him, or he just didn’t want to do the work, or he became anxious about something… SO many things can (and usually does) go wrong with him every day!
  • Ok, fair enough, throwing chairs is NOT OK! But, children don’t just start throwing chairs for no reasons!
  • Although I appreciate that she gave him several warnings, but sending him out of the classroom ALONE is a really bad idea! For once, being alone is the worst thing that can happen to him, he already feels alone, isolated, rejected. TIME OUT DOESN’T WORK FOR LOOKED AFTER CHILDREN. End of! Time IN is the way to help him!
  • Not to mention her idea of ‘calm down’. Have you ever met a person who was very agitated, brain in a Fight Mode, but when he heard the word ‘calm down’ they thought ‘Ok, good idea. Boom. I am calm.’ Yeah, me neither…
  • She was blocking the door with her foot to stop my son from entering the classroom! It really bugs me, because I have spoken to her several times about this and explained why this approach does NOT work, yet, she keeps doing it!
  • I appreciate she has 20+ other children to worry about, but then what on earth the TA is doing??? It is in my boys’ PEP (Personal Education Plan) that he shouldn’t be left alone, especially when he has a meltdown! Once his brain is in that ‘foggy mode‘ as he likes to call it, there is no room left for clear processing, he can’t think straight, he doesn’t hear words, logic, what is logic?, he just keeps repeating the last coherent thought in his head! In this case it was ‘I want to go in!’ So, naturally he kept trying to get back into class! Of course there was a struggle…
  • I clipped his finger… FFS, how can she just mention it so casually? While it would be a very unpleasant experience for ANY NORMAL child and while I appreciate the fact that it was an accident (I have to believe that she didn’t intentionally wanted to hurt him), for Snoops it was so much more! It was a confirmation in his mind that grown ups do hurt children! It was a shock to realise his beloved teacher is not safe to be around! It brought back memories of his own abuse! (we can’t know for sure, but  he had dropped some hints before about his first parents hurting him in similar ways)
  • And my ‘favourite’ part: but he is fine! No miss, he is anything, but fine! He might present as fine, but I can assure you HE IS NOT FINE!

Back to the story

At least now we know why he was so cross. When I asked him about the incident, Snoops kept on lying to us; said he didn’t do any chair throwing so according to our house rules, he lost all his playtime for that night. Naturally he unleashed on us so, again, to keep ourselves safe, we put him to his room. As you can imagine, he was screaming for about an hour, incoherent screams and shouting filled our house…

When the turn happens

My husband and I were sitting outside his door waiting for what comes next. Eventually his screams started to include words and it began to make sense. I don’t think he knew we were right outside, so he was clearly not talking to us! I think he was just processing his thoughts out loud. First he said to himself ‘Snoops, you are not safe here, everybody hurts you‘, but then he started saying he loves it here, I am his ‘bestest mummy ever and even daddy is really the best I ever had’ and he is happy here and he knows his behaviour was bad, he needs to apologise, ‘but I can’t go out, I need to wait till the morning, I wish I could go out to say how sorry I am...’

It was incredibly sad, but also fascinating to hear his monologue. I really wanted to go in to reassure him, but my husband suggested we wait. After 20 min of hesitation, of touching the door handle, but not having enough courage to press it down,  he took the plunge and came out! Right away I pulled him into a big hug and he pretty much said the same things to me.

I kept on reassuring him he is safe, we love him, he is not going anywhere and eventually he stopped sobbing. He was still sad that he missed the movie and snacks, but he understood that it was fair and didn’t fight it. I took him back to bed. We expected a  difficult night, but strangely it never came. He slept through the night and to our utmost surprise he didn’t wet the bed that night!

Sadly though the ripples carried over to Saturday where we had a very rubbish morning with very similar moments like a day before. Sunday was slightly better, but he was anxious about going to school on Monday. I wasn’t surprised! First thing in the morning I called school and had a word with the Head. She promised to investigate. When I picked them up on Monday afternoon the first thing his teacher told me was ‘he had a really bad day‘.  ‘I am not surprised! He is still not fine and he doesn’t feel safe with you any more!‘ She didn’t take it well, got upset and told me I have to discuss it with the Head. I assured her I will.

Long story short, it took him 6 days to get back to ‘normal and yesterday was his first day when he had an OK day. And it all happened because he didn’t finish a sentence in class…

 

My child might look normal, but…

How would you finish this sentence? I know it can be a tricky question even for parents raising their biological children let alone for us, adopters, because, well, how do we define ‘normal’? If my son is not attacking other children in school then he is described as a normal child? Who decides what is considered normal these days? If my son is having a meltdown in the playground and another mother says ‘oh, it’s normal, my son does that too‘ is enough to overlook the underlying issue?

According to the Oxford dictionary  Normal is

a.) Conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected
b.) The usual, typical, or expected state or condition
c.) (of a person) free from physical or mental disorders
d.) A person who is conventional or healthy.

Dear me, so much to unpack here, I am afraid this could be another long post! Where do we start? I think we can all agree that if a child experienced abuse and/or neglect and therefore had an early life trauma then that child is probably not normal (if you follow the above definitions). To keep this post at bay, I will try to demonstrate through 4 recent examples what is considered normal in our family and how far from normal our children really are.

Lego in Soap Feelingmumyet

Lego in Soap Dispenser

Example for (not) reacting like a typical child

I saw a lovely idea on Pinterest; a creative mum put some Lego pieces into the soap dispenser to make it ‘magical’ and to encourage the children to wash their hands. I thought it’s great, my boys love Lego and often forget to wash their hands so let’s do it, what could possibly go wrong here? Well, pretty much everything! When the boys came home from school and saw it they were not pleased. One started crying saying ‘you are so nasty, that Lego was mine, how dare you touched it, my previous FC gave it to me, you took it away from me, I hate you!‘ The other boy was more confused than angry, he was wondering why I ruined the soap dispenser and was worried he will be told off, because ‘I always get blamed for everything’. Needless to say hubby wasn’t thrilled either, he was worried the kids will just think it’s another toy to play with and will waste the soap completely (he wasn’t wrong, 500 ml was gone in 2 days)… A normal child might have enjoyed it, a normal child might have believed that it was magical soap, a normal child might have been tricked into using said soap more often, but for my traumatised children even something innocent as a soap dispenser created massive meltdowns and evoked strong and painful feelings that lingered for days.

Exhibit B – behaving age appropriately or in the expected way

I must confess until I had first hand experiences I did struggle to believe the stories. I had adopter friends way before we started the process ourselves and I got to meet some adopted children over the years. In one particular case the child presented as a lovely and kind person who didn’t mind grown up company. I even looked after said child as a babysitter for a short time once and I thought we had a fab time. Next day the parents told me after I left they had a 2 hours long massive meltdown of shouting, hitting, spitting, name calling and more hatred towards them than ever before, because the child was upset; was terrified of me, was scared of the new situation, was angry for the parents to leave, was worried the parents won’t come back… I was puzzled and didn’t quite believe the severity of the incident. Now, with my two lovelies in my life I repent daily for my ignorant attitude and since we are on the subject, can I just ask everybody who is in contact with adopted children to:

Please believe the adopters when they say their children are NOT ‘normal’!
Once the door is closed and they feel safe they unleash on their parents!
Adopters don’t just try to raise sympathy when they describe the challenges,
they don’t exaggerate to make their work sound more heroic and
they are definitely not ‘just too negative or enjoy complaining’.  

I few months back I wrote about Therapeutic Friendships if you would like to read more on this point and find out what are the not helpful comments that well meaning friends use to drive adopters mad.

Exhibit C – being free from a physical or mental disorder

When you call your child’s name or extend your arms (for a cuddle), does your child pull his neck in and starts shaking like a leaf? Mine does. He was conditioned to be afraid whenever his name is mentioned, simply because the only time he heard his name from his parents was when he was blamed for something so the punishment was imminent and inevitable. Even after years of therapy and almost a year with us his mind is still in Flight Mode whenever somebody lifts a hand or an arm towards him may it be a stroke on the face, buttoning up his uniform or take out a plate form a cupboard behind him.

What others see is a child who is very friendly. Professionals would describe him as overly friendly – especially with strangers. What onlookers or casual acquaintances don’t realise is that this is a preemptive move on his side: he runs up to people to give them a hug, desperate for getting into people’s good books immediately as a way of protecting himself. In his mind if he is lovely and cute and kind, chances are good people will not hit him like his parents used to. It took me months to re-train his brain that instead of hugging strangers just extend his arm and shake hands. There is no telling if I will ever be able to re-train his first instincts…

Exhibit D – a conventional person

Get a glimpse into our new normal through a dead flower in Snoops’ (7) room. After about 6-7 months with us we thought they were ready to manage a quick trip to a shop – before that we did all our shopping either online or during school hours. So we went to B&Q to look at some flowers. Snoops was amazed that you can buy pots of flowers to take home to grow (should have been my first clue) and after I explained that flowers not exclusively grow outside he was begging me to buy him one. I thought a pound might be well spent here, especially if I can teach him to take responsibility for something (would be the first in his life – should have been the second clue) and make sure the pot is protected (as in not broken – third clue) or that the bulb will get watered so we eventually see the Hyacinth. Long story short, he promised the moon, but before we got home the pot was thrown to the floor twice because he didn’t like being told to wash his hands; the bulb never got watered by him because trashing the room is more important; the pot got knocked down on several occasions, well, just because. However, despite all this ordeal, the flower started to grow. And grow. And grow. at the end it was over 40 cm tall! It was beautiful and smelled amazing! Snoops was so proud of it! He told everyone in school that he is a master gardener because nobody can grow such huge flowers as he can.

Dead Flower in Feelingmumyet blog

Dead Flower in Snoops’ Room

Weeks passed by and the flower started to fade. Naturally, it was MY fault for destroying his flower and he hated me for it. I tried several times to explain these flowers don’t stay pretty forever, but he wouldn’t have any of it. A few more weeks passed, but I was still not allowed to touch it, because ‘it’s mine, you are not taking it away form me!‘ So, the dead flower is still in his room. Removing it would just remind him of the many times he had to say goodbye to familiar things/ faces/ places and before I know it, his trauma is back in full swing. On the grand scheme of things he believes that he is not going away from us ever again and this is his finally forever family home, but his horrendous past keeps haunting him and finds ways to torment him in seemingly insignificant ways.

As I said, this is our new normal…

How (not) to do Sibling Contact well

It is not uncommon to have siblings placed in different foster or adoptive families. The reasons vary widely from practical or logistical to special needs or complicated family structures or – like in our case – after their first adoption breakdown the children’s placement plan was changed.

Even though the siblings are developing new roots and creating a new history in separate adoptive families it is really important to facilitate regular contact with each other to deepen those all-so-important first roots. We have facilitated a few already (the last one a few days ago) so I thought I jot down a few observations.

My 9 point list is:

Regularity
This is usually agreed upon in the new placement plan with keeping the children’s best interest in mind. Ours was originally quite a lot; 6 times a year. That means every single school holiday! However, when Sibling was placed they needed more time to settle so the first few meetings were cancelled. Then our boys came to us and we embarked on our own turbulent adventure and it was decided that meeting up at this time would not serve the boys’ best interest so a significant time passed before the siblings saw each other again.

The other factor was, of course, the feelings of the children. 1 boy was missing Sibling a lot and kept asking for a meeting, while the other boy hated the idea of meeting up because it reminded him of their chaotic past. He was quite vocal about it and his behaviour deteriorated a week before the meeting and lasted for days after Contact. Eventually their SW agreed that direct contact wasn’t in his best interest so he didn’t have to attend any more and could just write a card instead. Logistically it was a nightmare to take only one, but not the other. Not to mention the fact that even though he didn’t come, he was still thinking about it and then he would end up with a meltdown anyways…

Sibling Contact

Distance
Distance was also a deciding factor in reducing the number of contacts. It is not easy to coordinate 2 families’ diaries for every single school holiday or agree to a location that is acceptable to both families. Sibling’s family has already moved once since we started meeting up and there is no guarantee we won’t end up at the opposite sides of this country before our children turn 18.

Location
So, we finally nailed down a day that works for everybody and even agreed on who will drive more. Now, onto the next challenge: should we meet in a park or a playhouse; indoors or risk the British weather; should we go to a place with free entry or is it ok for both families to pay entrance fee to a place? Luckily, we both have annual passes with National Trust so it was one less thing to worry about, but for the last contact we went to Beamish open air museum with a family entrance fee of £50 (you can only purchase yearly passes).

Duration
For the first meeting we just met in a park for about an hour. We knew there will be challenges and meltdowns and we didn’t want to prolong the time. On the other hand I was trying to put myself in their position; how would I react if I could only see my closest relative for a short time every 2 months… It’s very difficult to plan, especially since most of our children don’t do well with unpredictability so you can’t ‘just wing it’.

For our latest contact we (as in the 2 mothers) agreed to spend the whole day in the same place and meet up a few times, but also allow time for each family to enjoy the day separately. This seemed to work really well for our 2 families and it also gave us opportunities to put some distance between the siblings when they were getting close to being overwhelmed. I think all in all we spent about 3 hours together and 2-3 hours apart.

Activities

We planned to meet at the gates and go in together;  with 4 adults and 6 children it is quite a task! We laughed when all four adults said it almost simultaneously ‘Toilet first‘ before we went outside. We took the train to the old town and sat on the hill for a joint picnic. It was interesting to see the children were excited to see each other, yet they kept their distance and it wasn’t a question in their minds weather they should sit with their ‘old family’ or ‘new families’. After lunch the kids played tag together so the grown ups could catch up and compare notes.

In previous meetings we tried to ‘push the siblings together’ to play a ball game or in the sandpit, but eventually we had to conclude that it will not work. We have to give them space and time to get used to the idea that they are together again after a long break. Even after the ice is broken it takes time for them to actually invite the Sibling to join in whatever game they are playing. Snoops (7) is perfectly happy playing alone and can entertain himself for hours while shutting the outside world out completely. He learnt over this last year to let Goofs (6) join in, but Sibling really struggled to break in and join them. Consequently, Sibling played with new siblings instead, where at least Sibling was familiar with the children and their playing habits.

Naturally we took lots of pictures and before we said good byes we posed for the compulsory group photo – again, the children stood close to their new respective families. To onlookers it seemed two families, who are friends, decided to hang out together. In reality we don’t know much about each other and frankly we don’t force the friendship too much either. We are polite and kind to each other, we know the names of all their birth children (whom our two boys refer to as cousins!), but that’s about it.

Build up

Once everything is sorted the question comes: ‘When to tell the children about the upcoming Contact?‘ For Snoops I said it as soon as we agreed to it because I knew he was very much looking forward to it. I also made him promise not to say it to Goofs. I even tried to reason with him ‘you know he always gets upset and we don’t want him to be upset for  days...’ but Snoops just can’t keep a secret and he really enjoyed the power dynamics of ‘I know something that you don’t and I am not telling you haha…’ As you can imagine, it didn’t go down well for anybody; I was cross with him for saying it, Goofs was cross with him for saying it; Snoops was (at the end) cross with me for telling him in the first place… Needless to say we didn’t have a lovely drive to Beamish. The only thing that made it bearable for Goofs was that I promised him he didn’t even have to say ‘Hi’ to Sibling if he didn’t want to and we told him we will do lots of discovering without the other family.

Before previous Contacts we noticed a definite build up of Big Feelings in his little body. He was feeling all sorts: happiness to see Sibling; sadness of not seeing Sibling for so long; sentimentality when he remembers the happier days together with Sibling; anxiety that the all too familiar chaos will return too if he sees Sibling; anger that he and Sibling are separated; gratefulness that we take him to see Sibling and confusion because all these feelings didn’t make much sense. No wonder he felt his tummy was exploding… These are the moments when a  small sweet treat works like magic! To alleviate some of his worries I always go through the same mantra: ‘We are just going to meet up for X minutes. We will all be there trying to have a good time. When the X minutes are up, you, your brother, daddy and I will go back to our car and go back to our family house. Nothings is going to change. We love you very much.’

Hello

We arrived to the car park almost at the same time by coincidence. Sibling and Snoops almost got ran over by another car; they just couldn’t wait to hug each other so they ran across the car park. It was a very sweet moment. Goofs was hiding behind me, but as soon as Sibling came over he was over the Moon – so much for him not wanting to be there…

In the past we tried the formal greeting etiquette and say hello to everybody properly. These days we just enjoy watching the children hug each other. Each time I am reminded how complicated their imaginary family tree must look like in their heads and how bittersweet each meeting is. It’s really heartbreaking to see how happy they are to see each other if  the long and tight hugs are anything to go by.

Goodbye

Nobody likes saying good bye. Especially when you don’t know when will you see them again. For children even ‘next week’ seems light years away, let alone ‘in 2 months time’. Not to mention they are still not trusting us that there will be a next time at all! To help them prepare for the departure I keep giving them warnings ‘you have 10 more minutes to play’, ‘we are leaving in 5 minutes’. I always discuss with the other mother ‘who is leaving first. It’s important so one family can pack up and start the goodbyes and eventually walk away, while the other family very clearly will not follow them.

In the beginning we made the mistake of lingering around for one last photo / a group hug / a quick chat to discuss the next meeting and it just created lots of prolonged anxiety. Now we just look at the time, say our quick byes, the children hug each other and we very swiftly disappear from each other’s view.

Aftermath

Naturally not all feelings get to be processed while the meeting is on so the car ride home is always a time of reflection. I usually asks them questions like ‘What was the best part about meeting up?’ ‘What made you happy / angry / sad / nervous today?’ We also go through the pictures on my phone, while I keep verbalising happy thoughts like ‘how wonderful it is to see Sibling’ or ‘today was a good day, because you got to play together with Sibling.’ Sometimes it takes days to recover from seeing Sibling and move on from those stirred up emotions. Goofs’ behaviour is a good indicator of where is he with processing. I usually give the teachers the heads up of what happened over the weekend and so far they have been very understanding in managing potential meltdowns, which normally would be very difficult to explain otherwise. During these days we try to spend even more time together as a family, eat their comfort food for dinner and keep repeating our mantra.

Well, these are some of my experiences. I would love to hear what works for you guys!

The best 3 adoption messages from Kung Fu Panda 3

For adoptive parents – especially if your children were old enough to remember their Birth family like our two boys – it’s getting tricky to go to the cinema as most films nowadays seem to have some kind of adoption related theme, which may upset your children or your delicate family balance. For a long time we were resisting our children’s nagging to watch Kung Fu Panda 3 (trailer here), but today we decided it was time. It came out a while ago so I don’t think I am spoiling it anymore by mentioning the story line and linking it to our adoption story. Roll on a rainy Good Friday and here is what happened.

Goofs with 'his'roots

Goofs with ‘his’ roots

We always knew the boys remember all the bad things that had happened to them – lots of it were inflicted on them by their own birth family themselves so neither boys harboured any positive feelings towards them. But watching the panda’s father just show up one day in Po’s new home made us all pause and think… For me personally, this is my worst nightmare: anybody from their birth family showing up at my door! For the boys, naturally, it evoked a few positive memories of their first dad sharing his coke with them or first mum watching tv with them. As much as I personally don’t like hearing these stories I know for my children they are very important so I listened carefully. I even made comments (compliments even) on their dad being kind in that instance. When we got to the end of the story I hit play on the movie again. The story progressed and we got to the adoption messages:

Adoption gives MORE for our children!

When Po discovers his panda daddy is back in his life, Po’s adoptive dad is not happy, but eventually he comes around and says: ‘First I thought it will be less for me, but now I know it will be more for him!’ Adoption gives my boys more of pretty much everything! More parents, more grandparents, more opportunities, more exposure to different life style, food, religion or world views, more memories, more love! What a positive message!

I must confess though, I am dreading the day when my boys turn 18 and can legally look for their birth family. I hope they won’t, for selfish reasons… But as a mother who wants the best for her children, I hope they will find the courage in their hearts to look for them one day, to ask all those questions that keep them awake at night, to learn more about that side of their family history and perhaps to find nice blood relatives whom they can develop an adult relationship with. All these will add more to their lives!

Adoption helps the children discover who they really are!

During the final battle Po is wondering about who he really is. ‘Am I a son of a panda? Am I a son of a goose? A student? A teacher? It turns out, I am all of that!’ When it comes to my boys they do have their birth parents’ DNA; Snoops has his mother’s face, Goofs has his father’s eyes. But Snoops also has OUR love for everything geeky, Goofs has MY love for music! All these together makes them who they are! We create their personalities together! We guide their interests, encourage them to pursue their talents and open new windows to their lives. They are not defined by their past as we are changing their story. They might bring a certain set of cultural views and social values with them from their first home, but the string of Foster Carers and finally us as their Forever Family also bring in our own sets and as a result the boys are presented with a much wider perspective on everything! We do challenge a lot of learnt behaviour they have brought with them from a dysfunctional home (like hitting and shouting is not a way to resolve problems) so at the end they will hopefully have a more balanced attitude towards life.

Adoption shows what a Family really is!

Po’s panda dad and goose dad had nothing in common, nothing to do with each other prior to the adoption. It’s the same with me and her! But as part of the adoption process we had to sit down and meet Birth Mum last year, shake hands, even take a picture together that was supposed to go into the children’s Life Story Book. It didn’t for the time being, but that’s a different story.

Recently Goofs (6) told me that in his head there is a big house with lots of people living in it. ‘What kind of house is it?’ I asked. ‘It’s called a Love House for all my mums and dads and me!’ He went on to explain that in this very special house his birth parents, one maternal grandmother who was nice to him, a few of his nicest Foster Carers and my husband and I live there in harmony and ‘our job is to love each other and love him!’ What a beautiful representation of how he was able to reconcile the fact in his head  that he cannot live with his birth family any more!

We also talk a lot about their sibling who was adopted separately into a family who already had children. ‘Naturally’ we explained that those children are considered my children’s cousins! Again, before our boys moved in with us, we didn’t even know about this family and now I am sending cards to them, we talk on the phone, share personal stories about our own lives… just because we consider each other now as our extended families!

When we were searching for a school for our boys many of our friends recommended a particular school. We checked it out and although it did seem like a great place for children, we knew it wasn’t the best place for our children, because it was too perfect! Their current school has a lot of broken families, classmates with half siblings here and there, complicated family structures so my boys don’t stand out! If anything, they stand out for being a ‘regular’ family with one mum married to one dad and all four of us live in the same home!

Our children know sometimes things don’t go as they should; sometimes bad things happen to good people. But they also know the hope that things can get turned around and adoption made this hope into a reality. They also know it’s perfectly OK to have 2 dads (like Po) because there are many types of families!

Musings after my first Mother’s Day

For the first 30 something years of my life Mother’s Day was never a positive one. Buying flowers to my mum and grandma when I was young was a must. Now that we live quite far away from each other I order some flowers and send a card. Until last year it had nothing but negative connotations for me. Every year in church all mothers had to stand up to receive flowers – I could always dodge this. In the second round all soon-to-be-mothers had to stand up to receive flowers and this awkward game continued until every poor person with reproductive organs on the inside had to stand and of course, receive flowers. I have worked in several countries in Africa and the first question was always ‘do you have children?’ No, I used to say. ‘Then we should pray for you even more‘ they responded and continued to feel sorry for me.

But 11 months ago our two boys moved in with us and now I need to take a closer look at my Twitter handle (@FeelingMumYet) and ask myself: Am I feeling like a Mum yet?

 

  • Took Snoops (7) to the GP recently and the good doctor asked me if I was his mum. Bless him, Snoops said ‘yes, of course‘. Then GP asked if I have PR (parental right) to sign a certain paper to which I had to say ‘no’. From the day they moved in and we officially ‘claimed them’ I have all the parental responsibilities of being their mum, but only a fraction of parental rights. It feels odd that I need to check with their SW for most significant things, but the other 23h 58min every day they belong to me.
  • I wrote about my recent one sided row with Birth Mum on which one of us is the boys’ mum – she with her DNA or me with actually raising them. I received quite a few supportive comments from friends and random people who stumbled upon my blog; somebody said ‘many woman can give birth, but only a few will become true mothers‘. I quite liked that sentiment!
  • I re-read some of my earlier posts and again I realised that I am still the only female in the house; I  live with 3 males who fart, burp, eat a lot more than me and always leave the toilet seat up!
  • And then we look at the actual day itself. I know in many adoptive homes (and sadly also in many birth families as well) this day continues to remain a big challenge. Last year our boys just moved in before Father’s Day and the whole day was a disaster that culminated in my husband getting kicked, bitten and attacked by a 6 year old. For poor hubby this was his first ever Father’s Day, but I doubt he wants to remember it…

I guess enough time has passed since then, because the boys do call me MUM and in their heads there is no doubt this is their Finally Forever For Real Home. 6 said it the other day to somebody ‘my favourite colour is red, just like my mum’s!’ So this gave me a reason to hope this time it will be ok and we are not facing an open can of worms…

Hubby took them shopping a day before and the kids could not contain their excitement! On the big day my 3 men made breakfast and kept on hinting that I will receive a present. 6 got me a truly beautiful necklace with Mother engraved on it. 7 got me a lovely china swan that doubles as a ring holder. But the most amazing thing was the fact that they have spent 1,5 months of their pocket money each! I was very touched!

Both boys got me lovely cards too with a writing YOU ARE THE BEST MUM. To any other child this would be just a lovely cliché, but for my boys this carries a significant message: they had a few mothers and mothering figures during their short lives and among those women I AM THEIR BESTEST! 🙂

So, yeah, thanks for asking, I AM FEELING MUM now!

Letter to me from Birth Mum

It started off as a beautiful day. It was warm and sunny so I planned a walk to the beach while the boys were in school. I was all dressed and ready when the postman came. An envelope ‘Private and Confidential’ from our LA. I didn’t expect anything from them this week so as one would, I freaked out! There was another envelop inside; it was opened. A picture fell out. I picked it up from the floor. IT WAS HER! With Snoops’ smile and Goofs’ eyes! My heart sank…

We were assured she will not write. Even when we met her she told us ‘she has moved on‘. Recently when we needed her for something she was utterly rude to the SW and told her ‘I have nothing to do with the children anymore so leave me alone‘. And yet, I am holding a neatly written letter from her addressed to me.

I don’t want to read it! I don’t want to know anything about her life! I don’t care what she’s up to next! The only thing I want to know is why did she write to me, but for that I have to read her letter.

She is very polite and courteous. She thanked me for my lovely letter to her that was jam-packed with information about the children; their likes, hobbies, achievements in school and sports. She is only responding to my letter in a friendly tone. It stirs up so many puddles in me.

1. We are NOT friends!

This well known quote in adoption circles from Jody Landers summarises my feelings well. The only reason she and I even know each other is because she gave them birth and now they call me MUM.

From the letter you would think we are, indeed, friends. She is commenting on my comments, adding her own experiences, she is asking relevant questions and no doubt she is expecting me to answer them in my next letter. She is communicating with me better than some of my friends! What the heck is going on here???

2. I don’t WANT to become friends with her!

Even though we know she herself had a very difficult childhood, which contributed greatly to her not being able to care for the children I frankly don’t want to think of her as the victim. It is easier to see her as the abuser who hurt the children repeatedly and therefore lost the right to have them in her house and in her life! We have agreed to do letter box contact twice a year, but I was hoping for it to be a one way communication…

3. Nature VS nurture.

I shared with her about the newfound interest Snoops has for science, space and engineering. I’d like to take credit for that as until he moved in with us he had showed no signs of even remotely being interested in that, but in our house he was exposed to books on space and planets, sci-fi geeky stuff, funny science experiments…etc. But now she tells me ‘it is fascinating how much he takes after me, I wanted to become an astronaut and studied science and engineering and space…‘ Baaaaah! When the initial anger subsided I had to conclude it is for the best that I know these things about her. Not just because I want to be in a position to answer Snoops’ questions when the dreaded conversation comes, but also for his sake to know if he has any special gifting in those areas. In moments like this I am painfully made aware that he is not my biological son! And it has two obvious implications: he does NOT take after me and that he does carry HER DNA in which lots of secrets are encoded.

I know it is us who provide him with opportunities to feed his interests. It’s highly unlikely she could have ever taken him to science shows, pay for his coding club, take the time to explain gravitational force to him a millionth time or just listen to his non stop chatter about space and planets. That was all us! But the initial input came from her…

4. Should I tell the boys about this letter?

They have the right to know, simple is that. But the SW also agrees it is not the time to do it! But when is it the right time? The longer we wait the heavier the secret gets and the potential of a future explosion grows exponentially! Xt = X0 (1+r)t  (in case you were wondering. See what I just did there?) From the way the boys behave, if our first recent Mother’s Day is any indication, they are safely, securely and happily attached to us. They do not think about BM, they definitely do not miss her or have any positive memories of her, just the opposite. They do not need their pond stirred at this time. We haven’t told them we met her or the fact that we wrote a letter to her. We even agreed with SW not to include that photo of her and us together in the children’s Life Story Books. So, for now, we wait with this information. If it comes up in a conversation (as in if the boys ask me a direct question) I might include random snippets about her, but then I am sure their next question will be ‘how do you know that, mum?’

For now her letter is tucked away in a locked cabinet and I will not look at it again until it’s time to write my second letter to her, in which I will attempt a friendly (???) tone and respond to her questions so our pen-pal relationship can grow until such time my sons are ready to here about it.

5 Love Languages in Adoption

Caring for children is one of the most powerful expression of love I believe. But just as with birth families and birth children, love has many faces. Love can be classified along countless lines. For now, I will focus on the 5 Love Languages. It’s a concept that helped me over the years to become a better person, daughter, sister, friend, girl friend, wife… and now, mother (all in progress). It’s a never ending process of course. For us, adoptive parents (especially if you, like us, adopted older children) it’s extra hard, because we didn’t have ‘years and years to find out’ nor can we say ‘he takes after me in this regard’.

A quick rundown on the 5 love languages from their website:

  • Words of affirmation (uses words to affirm other people’s worth)
  • Acts of service (actions speak louder than words)
  • Receiving gifts (what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift)
  • Quality time (giving the other person your undivided attention)
  • Physical touch (nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch)

When the boys moved in and we became a family of four after meeting and ‘dating’ only for 2 weeks, we were thrown into the deep end and survival was the most important target. Now, several months later when feelings and emotions don’t run that high any more and all 4 of us accepted the fact that ‘this is how it’s gonna be from now on’ we can look closer into this topic. We have spent now a significant amount of time together so I feel I have a good understanding now about their personalities so I feel I am in a position to narrow down their love languages from 5 to maybe 2?

I say ‘maybe 2’, because in the beginning the situation was way too complex to get a clear picture. It still is. Our family roots still run shallow. With Looked After Children (LAC) who suffered loss, trauma, neglect and separation several times in their short lives, it’s often impossible to get a clear read. They don’t fit into any category, or more accurately, they tick all 5 boxes! Their self esteem was ‘under the frog’s arse’ as my grandma used to say. They were not used to being treated nicely! No gifts, no hugs, no attention to their interests or worries, no time to play with them… They were deprived of all aspects of love!

So, naturally, Well Meaning Ignorant (WMI) people kept on advising us:

‘All they need is love!’

<style=”text-align:left;”>But what kind of love? For the sake of staying focused and keeping the length of this post under control I will only mention some of the most obvious obstacles:

  • lack of trust towards new parents
  • fear of the unknown
  • loss, separation, trauma and their ‘fruits’
  • staying in constant fight/flight mode thus not being in a position to just BE
  • not being in the state of mind to act rationally / age appropriately / ‘normally’
  • having the need to feel safe, secure, settled, attached as overriding emotions
  • not being optimistic about their own future
  • self blame or believing they don’t deserve love or any good in their lives

When I look beyond these massive challenges and occasionally, when I am able to provide a minute or 2 of calmness where the boys feel safe, their lovely personalities start to shine through. I get a glimpse of the real Snoops and real Goofs; the ones they could be 24/7 had they not have their rubbish past that locked those personalities away…

Elimination process?

A few months ago I started to experiment a bit. Following the approach used in play therapy when they have a hypothesis and then they test it, I also assumed Goofs’ primary love language is Gifts. This is a tricky one as children do want lots of things and can nag us for a new toy. But I have never really met any 6 year old who would do a happy dance when I told him I have bought his favourite spinach leaves…

I noticed that whenever I bought them new socks or a treat or new colouring books he was always more excited than his brother. Often he would say ‘you got this for me because you love me, right?’ Well, yeah, but I also do colouring in for hours with you or give you praises or wash your clothes because I love you. But apparently, those seem insignificant in his eyes. Deep down he knows we love him, but for him to feel loved, he needs to receive gifts. So now I try to make a point every time I buy something to reinforce it with words and say it back to him ‘I got this to show you I love you’. You only need one glimpse on his beautiful face to see it light up like nothing else… 🙂

His secondary love language might be physical touch; it’s hard to know as even grown men would put this first when asked about their love language and only after careful consideration are they willing to admit that actually words of affirmation are, for example,  more important than an (intimate) touch. But my 6 year old Goofs loves sitting in my lap or play with my hair or come up with new ‘clever’ game ideas that would somehow make me wrap him in my arms. He can concentrate on basically any subject as long as my arm is touching his or we sit very close to each other. He often insists on a play when he is ‘a baby who just came out of you and is so cute you want to cuddle me and feed me‘, but again, this might just be his way of trying hard to attach to me and not an actual representation of a certain love language.

Different children – different issues

Snoops is (as with everything) less straight forward. He was often used as a scapegoat and he truly believes that he is ‘stupid, worthless and beyond hope’. He said these words so many times we are certain he is repeating what he was told regularly, proving that affirming words (or the lack of it) can linger for a lifetime. Even though those words were said quickly and in anger, they will not be forgotten anytime soon.

My approach with him at this stage is still the same as on day one: to show love in all 5 languages, because, frankly, he needs all the messages he can get! I do buy his favourite things and both boys get told the same thing. I also make a conscious effort to grab him randomly for a nice long hug and we play the ‘tickly game’ a lot (and to be honest this does require lots of effort on my side as this is not my love language!). As part of our therapeutic parenting we give compliments and recognise little things in excessive ways. Extended comments like ‘wash your beautiful face so I can see how handsome you are’ go a long way with him! Even though he is 7 he really enjoys colouring in with me and I noticed he is much better at staying within the lines when I am working on the same picture with him. So, is it quality time then? I so hope so as this is MY love language so for me this would be the easiest way to show him how much I love him. The fifth one is acts of service; I think at this age they take it for granted that mummy does everything for them (make food, clean their room, change their wet sheets, wash their favourite t-shirts, fix their broken toys…etc), but because of their complex history it’s hard to see clearly and this might develop into a dominant language in the future!

As a mother my job is to fill my boys’ Love Tanks because if it’s full, he can truly develop into his Best Himself, which will translate into better behaviour, higher achievements, healthier self image and a more hopeful future for all of us!

Time to Say Goodbye

As Andrea Bocelli sings his heart out my two boys react very differently. One is crying, the other one is looking forward to it. I am sitting in the middle of their bedroom surrounded by piles and boxes and we try to negotiate our way through the problem.

The matter at hand: removing outgrown and unused clothes from their respective wardrobes.

Why would this be such a big issue, you ask.
Why did it take the whole day of Saturday to go through a small number of torn trousers, holey socks, permanently marked jumpers, all too small onesie pyjamas and stretched t-shirts?

How do you relate to your clothes?

What memories have you attached to specific clothes? How do you pick which is your favourite item? Most of my clothes are just what they are; clothes that cover my body and keep me warm. I have a few that I bought because I liked the colours or because they looked good on me. Some are non negotiable and follow the work dress code, some I got for specific occasions like a wedding so naturally when I look at it I remember all the fun I had at that specific party.
But when it comes to our children, each clothing item carries extra added attributes. At this age the boys are not too bothered about how the items look on them. They often don’t remember why they got them at the first place (unless it was a Reward for something) or where they wore them first. What they remember is WHO gave it to them.

Sitting among piles of clothes both boys were able to piece together a pretty accurate timeline of their short lives purely based on who gave them which t-shirt and from that they were able to estimate the dates. We did have a few clothes from birth mum (BM). I never, for a second, suggested we get rid of them, but still it was extremely difficult to convince the boys to put those items into their Memory Box instead of their wardrobe.

We did find a few t-shirts that were given to them by Andy / Adam / Alan / Andrew*. Who are they, I asked. ‘Well, other children we stayed with in the various foster placements.’  I understand all the emotions and memories they have attached to those clothes: for them they are not just clothes; they are part of their life story; some of the few tangible memories they have left from their tragic past! How can I ask them to just throw those away? Most of them are too small already and all of them had marks on them. I have bought tons of nice, new clothes for the boys that fit them. Still, they really struggled to part with the old ones… As a compromise I suggested they each pick the 2 most precious ones (whatever makes it precious for them) and we put those back in the bottom of their shelves. The rest will ‘go to charity’.

When it came to the way too tiny trousers Goofs (6) showed a little more understanding and reluctantly agreed to give them away to children who need it more. Some of Snoops’ (7) old trousers fit his brother now. I got to the typical parental dilemma: is it good parenting to give older brother’s outgrown clothes to the younger brother and buy new clothes for the older one only (thus save money too) or treat them equally and buy new clothes to the little one, too? Just another thing to consider when you have same gender children…

Thank God it was easier to get rid of broken socks and very old underwear. I was not in the mood to negotiate on this matter so as a preemptive strike I had bought them lots of new and cool stuff. It worked! 🙂

There were confusion about some hoodies that I know I have bought for them. Yet, Goofs argued that his last Foster Carer has purchased them. It was no point arguing about it. Instead, I asked why did he think she had bought it? ‘Because she loved me!‘ What can I say to that? He is projecting feelings into clothes! ‘Oh course she does! You know what, you are probably right, silly mummy got it confused…’

At the end we managed to put only a small amount of clothes into the ‘give away’ pile, much fewer than I hoped for. For me, it was only a practical exercise to reduce the mess in their wardrobes. For the boys, it was a highly emotional experience that stirred up lots of memories. This was their first ‘culling’ and I promised them we will do this only once every year. I hope and pray, in time they will be able to see it as a painless, practical exercise and nothing more…

*names obviously changed