Learning about learning

The boys came to us at age 5&6 with ‘instruction manuals’ and lots of (sometimes contradicting) info on them about their abilities, life skills and personalities. As we became parents overnight we had to learn that there is a natural time to learn certain skills ( and I am glad I didn’t have to do potty training, skipped teething, learning to walk or speak…etc).

We were constantly finding gaps in their ‘natural development’ and we found ourselves filling these gaps as and when we discovered them, not when they are expected to be learnt! We taught them how to shower themselves, how to change your bedding if you wet the bed at night and they learnt it’s no big deal if you wet, we are not going to get upset with you or hit you!

Learning about learning by Feelingmumyet is about separating the developmental delays, attachment disorder and life lessons we all need to learn.

One knew how to ride a bike and has good balancing skills, the other had a bike but had no balancing skills so once he fell off and now he hated bikes. Same with climbing up to trees or to a monkey bar; since with us he conquered his fear of hight – how glad I was I could witness his face beaming with joy when he climbed up the climbing wall the first time! How proud he was! 🙂

Due to their massive neglect and trauma and attachment disorder it was hard to know what life skills they have mastered already and what not. Lately 7 had all these meltdowns related to separation anxiety and his misplaced shame (thinking he is soo bad his mother didn’t want him). Lately we have a new issue, which is related to learning to listen to somebody who tells you something different than what you feel like doing. It took us a couple of weeks to figure it out that it is not the ‘same old same old defiance or lack of trust due to his attachment disorder’ we have seen before. It IS a new gap we have discovered in his socialisation skills!

I would imagine it is connected to learning to trust your parents or perhaps I should say for a child with healthy, safe and time appropriate development it is a given?  I don’t know, this is my first time being a mother to any child, biological or not. But looking at our friends with smaller children I noticed that some of them already mastered this skill, some were still learning it, but most of them had some understanding of the reasons behind mummy’s ‘don’t do it because it will hurt you’ warnings. They more or less got the idea that there is a GOOD reason why the warning has been given to them. Did they still continue? Sure, but that was due to their personalities, may it be adventurous, experimental or just willingly testing boundaries.

My 7 year old somehow navigated his short life without this particular life lesson until now. It is very possible due to his many other ‘issues’ this one got overlooked. Or maybe the professionals knew about this gap, but felt there were more pressing problems to tackle first. It’s also a possibility that until now he didn’t feel safe to ‘let it all out’. Either way, we finally recognised what it is so now we can teach him.

How do you learn to accept suggestions?

For me and my intellectual brain I need to know first who is the person giving me the advice. What are their ‘credentials’. Have they experienced it personally? Do they have a masters degree on the subject? Are they older and therefore wiser than me? (this is a cultural thing, if you don’t share it, never mind). Secondly I want to know why are they giving me this information. What do they know that I don’t? What would happen if I don’t follow it? Yes, I know my rebellious side coming up… 🙂

It so happened that we went out for a family breakfast. Daddy told them not to eat too many ‘freebies’ as the main food is about to come. Did they listen? 8 did, 7 was convinced he can eat a whole lot more so he disregarded daddy. Full English breakfast arrives, 7 ate a couple of bites and declared himself full. Daddy didn’t even have to say a word, 7 knew! He should have listened! He should have done the clever thing and follow the advice. He chose not to and now he finds himself in this odd predicament. We weren’t angry with him at all, but we knew he was very cross with himself. Of course he said nothing, but his faulty internal processes went into overdrive and he started throwing food, jumping up and down on his chair and doing all the ‘naughty’ things. Hubby grabbed him in a super tight bear hug and held him for quite a while.

An hour later we went to get him new shoes (his last pair of new trainers lasted a month and it wasn’t for the poor, cheap quality, but that’s a different story). He was bored so he started throwing shoes off the racks. I told him why it was a bad idea (‘you might hit somebody accidentally’) and what will happen if he continues. Naturally he didn’t listen and didn’t stop until he was told some of the consequences that might follow. He was about to stop, but before he did he accidentally bumped into another shopper and knocked down a display unit. Again, his faulty internal processes kicked in and he was extremely ashamed of his actions. Until recently we would just tell him off, grab him and keep him close until we leave the shop. His mind is already in overdrive he didn’t know how to break the cycle and how to get out of those big feelings so his behaviour got worse by the second.

We just about paid and got back to the car. 2 minutes into the car ride out of nowhere he said: ‘Mummy, daddy, I am sorry for my poor behaviour in the shop. I should have listened to you.’ And Bad Mother reacted without missing a beat: ‘Yes, you should have!’. Good Daddy jumped in with ‘Thank you for saying that. You are forgiven!’ And then the most amazing thing happened. 7 informed us with a wonderful and happy smile that ‘it wasn’t that hard at all!’

Suddenly we realised that he has learnt another lesson(s)!

  1. Saying sorry is an excellent way to kill those big feelings!
  2. Listening to your parents is (sometimes) a good idea!
  3. You don’t need to feel ashamed for not listening.
  4. You CAN break the cycle!

A successful day in Parentville.

Learning about learning by Feelingmumyet is about separating the developmental delays, attachment disorder and life lessons we all need to learn.
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How to work with a Social Worker

Whether it’s fostering or adoption or special guardianship cases, we, ordinary people, have to deal with Social Workers for a shorter or longer period of time and so far I haven’t met anybody who described this time as overly positive.

During the assessment process when the SW is asking all those probing questions and I am honestly revealing my deepest, darkest past, if the SW is any good it’s easy to feel like I am talking to a close friend. This is mistake number 1! She* is NOT your friend, she might be able to sympathise with what you are saying, she might even reassure you that ‘we all make mistakes, but don’t worry it will not affect your chances of being approved’, but pay close attention: she is not revealing any personal information about herself! You become an open book to her and she will make sure she reads all the fine prints twice about your life, but she will not make herself vulnerable to you – which is usually the basis of mutual trust that can develop into a close friendship! It’s so easy to miss the point and look at her as a trusted friend, tell her things she might ‘hear’ differently as a close friend would and it’s quite easy to get into trouble because she often needs to act on things you ‘just casually mentioned to her‘ between dipping two biscuits into the tea in your living room.

Social Worker Enemy or Partner in Adoption by Feelingmumyet

Power dynamics

As soon as it becomes clear that your future family growth depends on how good she is at assessing you and writing up the report you become very aware of the power she has over you and you reconsider your next words very carefully. I am a fairly confident person, but I got quite uneasy several times when I answered a  question and she went ‘hmmm, ok? Tell me why?‘ or when she asked something, I started talking and she started writing. I politely stopped so she could catch up, but she just motioned with her hand for me to carry on without looking up. It filled me with confidence…not.

At the Panel she was our advocate. Her job was to convince the suspecting jury that we are nice people who know what they are signing up for. Once we got approved, we both looked at her as our champion who fought for us and won the battle for us! Then she disappeared…

Is the Social Worker the Enemy?

Following the fiasco with the Life Story Book and me going over the head of the SW to file a complaint with her supervisor obviously put us in the opposite corners. We argued if she had the common sense – since she clearly lacked the training to deliver such a sensitive work, and here lies the problem! For the SW it’s ‘only’ a piece of work they need to do before they can close the case once the adoption order is granted. For us, parents it’s another traumatic event that can (and did) poison our family dynamics and caused massive problems, while she was on holiday.

I spoke to the boys’ therapist who agreed that the children deserve an apology and explanation and most importantly reassurance so she decided to give a script to the SW. I suggested they make it into a letter that the SW can read and give to the boys to keep.

Is the Social Worker our partner?

By definition Social Workers are team players so why is it so hard to look at HER and ME instead of US. We are connected because we both have the same child/ren’s best interest in mind and at heart! When I wrote to her manager I underlined the fact that I do believe she cares for my children and that she didn’t deliberately wanted to hurt them. Lack of training, lack of resources, her managing far too many cases all at once… I do get it. Until very recently I was one of the few people who actually liked working with the Professionals (SW, therapist, School), because I love learning and I welcomed their informed inputs. I didn’t always agree with them of course, but I believe their is wisdom in council therefore I was always proactive in contacting them for advice or guidance.

The therapist gave her this letter to give it to the boys. She picked them up from school and I only saw them just before bedtime routines were to start. Both boys wanted to share the letter with me so they read it out loud. I was quite impressed that how it was worded. Children seemed to be happy with it and agreed with the content. I was thrilled to hear both boys thought it was a good idea to put the Life Story Books into the loft and never to look at it again!

The apology letter the SW was forced to make

Once the children were out of sight the SW was quick to clarify how unhappy she was about the content of the letter. She complained that she wasn’t part of the preparation, but for the sake of the children she didn’t say anything to them. She went on saying how unfair it was that the therapist wrote the letter and added the SW’s name to it without the SW having any input. I was about to respond with ‘well, you shouldn’t have gone on holiday’, but thank God my wise husband interrupted my less-than-helpful comment and said ‘we really appreciate you doing it despite your reservations, thank you’. Yes, I am glad he was so gracious!

It seems we still have our major differences and she still doesn’t appreciate the fact I tried (still do) to tell her how to do it differently in the future, but we can put those aside and work together as part of the team that has only one goal in mind: the happiness of our children!

That said I am very much looking forward to the day she no longer has to see us…!

PS: Both boys slept well tonight with no bed wetting or night terrors! BOOM! The apology and reassurance was very much needed!

Social Worker In Adoption Is Enemy Or Partner Feelingmumyet

*Both our and the children’s Social Worker are women so I will just use she instead of he/she

Update: This post was feautured on 21st July 2017! Thank you!
Lucy At Home

Night Terrors terrorise my family

Most expert say that Night Terrors isn’t something we, parents cause – in other words, we don’t do this to our children. It is often said that night terrors might run in the family. Perhaps. For us, adopters, this is something we can neither confirm nor deny. 😦

But I do wonder if my boys’ difficult past somehow plays a part…

My 6y old boy has night terrors almost every night.  Sometimes it’s ‘just‘ screaming, sometimes it’s screaming and sleep walking, sometimes it’s screaming and sleep walking with eyes wide open! I remember I freaked out so much the very first time it happened! I couldn’t believe he was not awake. I didn’t know why was he crying. I only saw that he  was trembling, his bed was soaked with sweat and his face was wet with fresh tears. These days we know what’s happening so we try to catch him before he comes down the stairs, we gently guide him back to his room, push his head back onto the pillow and he goes back to peaceful sleep in no time with no recollection of it the next day.

Night terror Feelingmumyet adoption

There are nights when we don’t catch him in time so he comes into the front room and starts talking to us. His eyes are open, he comes to the settee, sits down and says words or sentences that usually make no sense. Sometimes they do – once he and I had a proper conversation; I asked something, he responded, he asked back, I responded and he nodded. It was so odd! The only giveaway way the fact that his eyes weren’t focusing on anything. After a short chat I walked him back to bed. As expected, he had no memories of our conversation the next morning.

Night Terrors are scary!

Not for the child, for us, witnesses. I still struggle to accept that they are completely unaware of what’s happening to them. I looked around on the web to learn more about it, but it seems to be still an area that needs a LOT MORE research. I did find a website called the Night Terrors Resource Center that had some very useful information.

I have asked the children’s Social Worker several times about this, but her only response was ‘It’s no big deal, they don’t remember it anyways, besides, I used to have night terrors as a child and I grew out of it’. At this point I lost my cool and asked back ‘and how is that suppose to help me?’. Even the play therapist said that ‘since it’s not an experience the children remember it’s very hard to tackle it and help the children heal from it’.

Sometimes night terrors are scary even for the children!

A few nights ago 6 had an extremely violent night terror. He was screaming for over 30 minutes and there was nothing we could do about it! He was in his brother’s room – effectively waking and scaring him too – shaking and shouting ‘tell mummy I love her!‘ Both my husband and I ran upstairs and we took him to the bathroom. His whole body was shaking, his lips were trembling and he kept on saying the same thing to me ‘tell mummy I love her’. Now, this is the point where we, adopters get unsure: is he talking about me or about his first mum? There are good arguments for both…

Almost everybody agrees that waking a child in the middle of a night terror is not a good idea. Normally we don’t do it, but he was so distressed that I tried to wake him. I even put a cold and wet face cloth onto his face, but nothing worked. Husband was in the other room trying to calm down his brother. Once he came back he picked our little one up and carried him back to his bed. As soon as he put his head on the pillow he was back to peaceful sleep. The next morning he came to me and said he had a bad dream. He couldn’t recall any details, just a deep sense of worry and fear. My heart was breaking for him. We reassured him he is safe and well loved and said the lie parents often tell their children ‘it’s only a dream, don’t worry about it‘. And he didn’t waste any more thoughts on it. It was only my hubby and I who keep worrying that their past experiences somehow influence their dreams.

As I understand night terrors are not (bad) dreams per se and therefore are not connected to the subconscious mind processing the daily events. But then how do you explain the incident last night?

Night terror can be connected to daily events

Yesterday 6 had a small incident. We were in a park and he went from ‘I don’t need a toilet’ to ‘I am desperate‘ in 5 seconds (as most children would) so we started to walk home. Sadly he didn’t make it to the toilet and he wet himself in the porch. Needless to say he started crying. We kept our cool and told him ‘there is no reason to cry, go upstairs and mummy will shower you‘. He kept on crying. I thought it was because of the shame. It turns out I was wrong. He was crying mostly because he was afraid we will yell at him and be angry. (Birth father didn’t tolerate such ‘stupid behaviour’ and punished both boys severely every single time.) I reassured him we are not angry, but he kept on crying and asking ‘How can you not be angry?‘ We did the whole ‘look at my face, do you see anger’ routine while I try to give him my best smile, but he still wasn’t convinced.

Fast forward to bedtime, I put him to sleep without a problem. 30 minutes into  his sleep we heard a door open, elephant steps marching to the bathroom and then something falling onto the floor tiles. Hubby went up thinking the older one was messing about only to find 6 literally peeing into the washing basket!

He was so shocked for a second that he didn’t know what to do. Then he chose to talk to him. It became clear very fast that 6 was not awake even though he was acting so. Hubby was very cross because all our clothes were now smelling of his wee. I couldn’t stop laughing. Yes, it’s bad, sure, but if you take a step back and look at the big picture it’s pretty funny! It IS impressive for him to wee into the relatively tall washing basket, especially when you think he isn’t even consciously doing it! 🙂

While hubby took the basket down to do an emergency wash I walked my son back to bed. He kept on saying ‘I don’t want to race‘ which had clearly nothing to do with today’s events, but the fact that he took himself to the bathroom to relieve himself HAS TO BE connected to today’s events of him worrying about not getting to the toilet in time!

Do you guys think they are connected?

 

 

Night Terrors are common among children. Feelingmumyet is an adopter mum who writes about a potential link between terrible memories from the past and the intensity of the night terror.

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!

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!

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

Letters – easier than words

This morning was all about letters. We started the day at 5.23 am with a knock on my door saying Snoops wet the bed. After doing the usual things I put him back to bed saying ‘it’s still early so you should sleep and even if you don’t go back to sleep for the love of everything please DO NOT wake your brother’. Of course in 5 minutes I heard both boys were up and being more noisy than usual. When I asked him why he woke his brother Snoops told me it was because ‘I don’t love you‘. This led to a long discussion between him and I and it culminated in him looking angry with me and running into his bedroom slamming the door shut. While I was talking to the little one he passed the first letter to me. ‘My heart is broken’.

When I went downstairs to prepare breakfast he marched down the stairs with another letter that said ‘I hate you mummy!’ (funny though, he only calls me ‘Mummy’ when he is cross with me, in any other times I am merely ‘Mom’)

I don’t remember now which one of you, lovely adoptive dads wrote on his blog a while back about a similar note, but I remember well his actions so I did the same. I commented on how brave he is to say that to me and expressed my delight that he feels so secure and safe here that he can discuss his feelings with me. I put his note on the fridge door and secured it with some of his favourite magnets. Obviously he was very puzzled and just continued mumbling about how much he hates me. I told him ‘that’s fine, but I still love you.’ ‘No, I know you hate me!‘ Before I could respond Goofs chipped in ‘if Mummy really hated you she would kick you out of the house for good’. Well, thanks kiddo, that’s technically true, but not a helpful comment at the moment…

Snoops was so terrified of the possibility that his suspicions (I hate him) were correct that he was covering his eyes and could not even look up, let alone look at me. I went through the whole therapeutic damage control of  ‘of course I don’t hate you, I love you very much, you are safe here, you are not going anywhere, you are having some big emotions at the moment, it’s ok to feel cross or upset, it doesn’t mean you don’t love the other person‘…etc – the usual stuff I am sure you all know and use on a daily basis.

He kept on saying ‘what you say is not true, I know you hate me and I hate you back’. I told him that makes me sad that he feels that way, but that’s ok. He then dropped his spoon and ran upstairs. I didn’t go after him as I suspected another letter is coming soon.

This latest note said ‘I love you so much, but that is not true, I just say it to make you happy.’  Again, taking another deep breath and ‘oh, that is a lovely note! I really appreciate your honesty and you are such a kind boy who wants to make me happy, that’s very thoughtful of you, I love you and I love this note so thank you so much’. I put this letter next to the other one on the fridge.

Goofs felt left out of the morning drama so he told his brother ‘now which one is it, really? You can’t hate and love Mummy at the same time. Look at me, I love Mummy so I kiss her and she loves me back . After I kissed his cheeky little face he continued ‘Mummy, he needs to choose one, right? The other letter should go to the bin!’ If I wasn’t in the middle of this I would smile at his comments; he clearly wants to fix the problem and doesn’t get it that it’s not his task, but mine…

Putting on my best therapeutic voice I asked him to go brush his teeth and turned to his brother. We went through the same routine as above and I tried my very best to look at him with love and a smile on my face. He stole a few glances at me and you could almost see the cogs going overdrive in his head. He wanted to believe what was said, but he knew better! Grown ups always lie, they always hurt little ones, nobody likes me, everybody leaves me and there is no way out of this. Ever. EVER!

I kept on talking about the too many big feelings that will make his stomach sick and the ‘I wonder if you are feeling…’ guessing conversation to show I know how he feels and let him know there is a way out. We eventually got to the point where I could look him in the eye and say ‘maybe deep down you love me and you are upset and you feel ashamed and now you worry even more and a good solution would be if you said you are sorry for saying hurtful things to me, I would say it’s ok, I would tell you I am not angry, I love you and I forgive you, we would hug and suddenly your big feelings in your stomach would go away…’ 

Boy thinking hard if it’s worth the risk…
Hours (seconds really) pass by silently…
Boy looks at me over his shoulder…
‘Mummy, I am sorry…’

We hug for long minutes, when he sees it in my eyes that I truly am not angry/sad/upset/cross the floodgate opens and he jumps back into my arms sobbing like never before. You could literally hear this heavy burden roll off of his heart and absolution taking over! Then suddenly he ran away again, which was good timing as I was about to burst out crying myself. These are the moments I am reminded again and again why we chose to adopt children. With love and determination it IS possible to change their stories!!!

A minute later he returned with this note: ‘I love you Mummy very much and I hope you will have a lovely day (lots of hearts), I love you so much!’ And I know this time he meant it with all his heart!

And it’s not even 8 am yet!

Decisions decisions decisions

In Medias Res* as the Ancient Greek dramas would deal with stories.

To Initiate a Disruption Meeting or Not to, that is the question in our bedroom lately. A week ago we would be leaning towards ‘no, we can still manage it‘ but after the weekend we got very close to pressing the big red button.

Goofs (6) had a particularly bad week and it culminated in him trashing our dining room completely. When he was finished downstairs he went up to his room and started throwing things out the window. He was so worked up and so beyond himself that he didn’t even care what he was throwing out – his own toys and stuff included, not just his brother’s or my stuff! This is something I have heard of before from other adopters or foster carers, but somehow I could NOT allow myself to believe it. I knew those people were telling the truth, but as they say only ‘seeing is believing’. Well, I saw it all.

He developed a ‘whatever‘ attitude and a new vocabulary; we believe he picked some of it it up from school. I guess he also overheard in the park older children (and here I mean 8-9 year olds) shouting the F word at each other and now he keeps using it (I doubt he knows the meaning, but it’s only a matter of time). His response is now either ‘Shut up you idiot‘ or ‘I don’t have to tell you anything’ or my personal favourite: ‘You can’t tell me what to do‘.

His aggression level and defiance got to new heights and we got to a point where nothing works any more. He is not bothered by long hard walks, toys being taken away, privileges withdrawn, punch-y pillow punching, shouting competition, distractions, sanctions or consequences… He is a very strong child and I already struggle to collect him into a super tight bear hug or to pin him down in order to keep MYSELF, MY HOUSE, HIMSELF or HIS BROTHER safe! I can’t imagine what we will do in a year’s time…

Snoops (7), his brother, on the other hand seems to be flourishing here. Even according to the play therapist he has no anxiety or doubts about his future. He loves his parents and his life, he knows and feels that he is loved and supported, that he is safe and understood. He gained so much confidence and knowledge that he is now easily the smartest boy in his class! He is still an introvert, but he is so mature emotionally that he is very able to say when he needs some ‘me time‘ or when he is ‘so angry that I need to go to a different room for a few minutes to calm down‘ or ‘at the moment I can’t say sorry, mum, for accidentally knocking your flower down, because I am so ashamed of myself so I will come back a bit later, ok?‘ and guess what; he DID come back later to apologise!

And here lies our dilemma! We signed up for adoption to offer a home and a future to a sibling group of ‘hard-to-place’ older brothers. I felt complete without being a mother; we felt our family of two was complete without children. We applied because we felt it was our Christian responsibility to help these children and change their stories!

After having them in our life for 4 months or better to say the boys have us in their lives for 4 months now (with Intros), it’s time to face the music and talk about some hard questions.

We are offering the same for both boys and one is settling in beautifully while the other struggles big time. To get a fuller picture it needs to be said that both boys went through the same massive trauma, loss and separation before they were taken into care many years ago and at that time for whatever reason only Snoops received play therapy. It’s very clear to see now that all the efforts his ‘play lady’ invested in Snoop’s life back then pays off now and you don’t have to be a genius to see the results of ignoring Goofs and his needs just because he didn’t present to have any issues back then…

Clearly their personalities and interests are very different and it would appear that Snoops is a perfect match for my husband and I. The IRO and all SW involved agree that he settled in so well here you can’t even tell he wasn’t born to us! And that’s wonderful! But when it comes to Goofs it’s an entirely different story. He suffers from ambivalent attachment disorder, which makes it very hard for him to form any bonds with anybody. In his better moments we see some hopeful signs, but those are very few and far in between. In his worst moments, however, we see the full damage that it is done to him and therefore the damage he is able to inflict on everyone and everything around him. He really is at a point (in his mind) that he has absolutely nothing left to loose or fight for and that’s such a tragedy that I can’t even type this without welling up again.

And here is one of our biggest (Christian) challenge: It is easy to love somebody who is lovely, lovable and loves us back. But how do we love someone who is constantly destroying us in every possible way on a daily basis 24/7 and who is not able** to love us back?

Another challenge hubs and I constantly torture each other with is what would happen if we call in a disruption meeting. We already had a pre-pre disruption meeting and next week we will have a pre-disruption meeting (don’t ask, the SW called it like that). In flower language we discussed the possibility of separating them and the effect this decision would have on everybody. They keep saying that the boys came as a ‘package deal’ and therefore they need to stay together and honest to God that’s what we want, too! Following their first breakdown the original plan was already changed and obviously this is not a route the LA wants to even consider again. We fully appreciate it, we really do, but the question remains. If this placement breaks down because Goofs’ needs are too huge for us to manage is it really in Snoop’s best interest to jeopardise his future as well by removing him from this house?

To return to the Christian angle, we do believe that God knew what He was doing when he placed these two into our home and in a sense that WAS their last chance as a ‘package deal’ to have a better future, but what if we can only help one of them? What if we overestimated our own strength, the unity of our marriage, the support network of our friends and church and grossly underestimated the challenge this ‘package deal’ would present to us?

Many of you reading this know exactly what I am talking about. You do, because you personally have experienced it through adoption or foster care. You know how to support us. You give your ears to us and not your lips! Some of you shared far worse stories than ours and still carry on carrying your cross. A dear adopter friend told me ‘for me this is what it means to be a Christian; to die for myself and live for my child‘. What a beautiful representation and what an almost unbearable task! What a great example you are to me and a source of silent encouragement whenever I think of you and your family!

So for now, the big red button is untouched. For now…

*    meaning ‘into the middle of a narrative; without preamble’
**  obviously he is capable and we believe that deep down he wants to, but currently he is his own worst enemy and his untreated disorder prevents him even the seed of a hope that things might be OK in the future

Birth Mum’s contesting…

We did expect it. We were prepared. Or so I thought…

Things were progressing so well. Met the Foster Carer a few times, exchanged notes with the medical advisor, visited school, SAW THE BOYS from a distance, sorted out adoption leave cover for my work place and then BOOM. 1 phone call from the SW and suddenly everything was on hold…

Suddenly everybody was asking me how do I feel. Some assumed I was angry, some thought I was disappointed or sad or even devastated. I guess, I did have those feelings, too. But thanks to this wonderful community on Twitter I was overwhelmed with encouragement and positive messages from strangers whom I never met, yet I felt the closest to already. Adopters who have been there, done that sent me messages and hearing their stories my initial negative attitude was transformed into one of feeling sorry for Her. I also gained a whole new appreciation for Her as a mother who was not giving up on her children without a fight! When I shared these thoughts with our SW she was very impressed (and probably relieved that she didn’t have to give a motivational speech or pick me up from the floor). She more or less assured us that BM won’t be able to get her children back, but we can’t assume anything so we need to wait it out.

We expected the court date to happen soon, but sadly the judge picked a date in April, which was still a month away. This meant the boys would definitely not move in with us during the Easter break as originally hoped. Despite the encouraging news that the judge didn’t ask for a re-assessment on BM we were naturally anxious and irrationally worried. I say irrationally because all the evidence, practice and really, common sense dictated that there was NO WAY the children would return to Her home and stay safe. But I couldn’t think rationally. My mind went into panic mode and the ‘What ifs’ took over.

The weeks dragged on slowly and finally the dreaded Friday arrived. Needless to say I couldn’t focus on work or on anything, really. The only think I could think of was the fact that in these very moments a judge is making a decision ABOUT MY LIFE and I can’t even be there to hear it, let alone contribute. I know, the judge was not even considering me at that moment, just assessing BM, but still; if the decision is for the boys to be adopted, chances are very good they will come to us thus it will influence the rest of my life. On the other hand if she decides the children should stay in the Fostering system, in a sense they will be unavailable for us, prospective adopters… Not helpful thoughts!

A whole day was blocked out so we expected a decision to be made on the same day. By 2 pm I was sufficiently full of chocolate (forever grateful for an amazing colleague who constantly fed me sweets all day!) I was in the middle of a telephone conversation, when my mobile phone rang. I saw the name; it was my SW calling. I only said ‘hello’ to the phone when she started: ‘Good news, I have good news. Hi, it’s me calling.’ I will always love her for not beating around the bush and she just said it right away!

And suddenly the mind returned to the rational reality… But of course the plan is still adoption. Who in their sane mind thought the children would be returned to BM? No judge would have ruled that in a million years! So, the plan is still adoption and we are still the only family considered!

We shared the outcome with out friends and naturally they assumed we were over the moon. Yes, we were very pleased with the decision, but I couldn’t help feel sad for Her. She  put up a good fight; she believed that she had made sufficient changes in her life and she genuinely believed she can have her children back. Deep down I wish that was the case! I wish these two lovelies could grow up with their loving birth mother, because that is how it should be. But sadly that’s not in their best interest and they wouldn’t be safe. It will be MY job to keep them safe!

FeelingDadYet (a.k.a my lovely husband and always the practical one) celebrated by buying 2 children’s beds! 🙂