Friday, 2 December 2016

Forever rooted in uncertainty

It's a rather depressive post, proceed at your own risk!

7 months into placement I came to realise a few things - in all honesty, my conscious mind knew and expected all along, I even fooled myself and others that I was properly prepared for it. Not happy to accept it all 'sold as is', but was willing to work with it, while deep down hoping beyond hope that our new story together as a family of four will be different than other adopters' nightmares. What was fuelling that feeling in me?

1.) Our Christian faith (here you can insert whatever you want from cheesy Bible verses taken out of context through a loving and understanding church and christian community to the idea of you doing something good and self sacrificial, which God will surely bless and somehow make it work)
2.) The fact that we did NOT want to do it for our own need of 'wanting to be parents' but to help children to get out of the system and find a forever home
3.) Without a doubt our own beliefs that we are very capable people, confident in our relationship, confident in our skills and gifts (and the level of patience)
4.) It seemed we had a good support network around us
5.) Good working relationships with LAs, SWs and other professionals

+ the bonus one: We thought we knew where/what our buttons were!

Surely there are many more reasons, but these were the biggest ones.

We attended a 10 weeks long very intensive training on Attachment, Behaviour and Trauma with the PACE model and other very interesting, eye opening and extremely useful topics so we had a fairly good idea of what we are getting ourselves into. Of course they try to prepare you for the worst and after talking to fellow adopters and hearing their never ending nightmares of adoption I can even say our 2 boys are by far not even the worst! They are happy to attend and perform well in school; we can take them shoe shopping; they manage well in crowds (asda or xmas market), once the tantrums and meltdowns are over both boys are capable of coming back to apologise, although sometimes it takes days to calm down; we have been receiving play therapy and filial therapy for many months now and they do make a difference; everybody can see the improvements in both boys...etc. So, you would think it's going well.

I suppose it's a matter of perspective, but it is very hard to change your perspective. Especially if you feel like your own life is slowly fading away in front of your very eyes!

For the last 2 weeks it feels like the boys with their never ending needs, constant button pushing, several unreasonable meltdowns* EVERY SINGLE DAY, with no time for self-care, with no time or space for quality time with husband also with constant lack of sleep they just suck the life out of me like the Dementors** and what's worse, they even suck the will to fight out of me! I have been sick for the last 5 weeks now with flu and I truly believe this is just my body saying you can't go on like this any more! I have zero willpower in me left to even try to be therapeutic / understanding / patient... you get the picture. All my energy and emotions were channelled into supporting their needs 25/7 and all my tanks are dry now. Just before Christmas, when I will need it the most! :(

Goofs (6) has always been real with us! He really struggled with the new placement and adjustments, he was in full on CPV mode attacking us on a daily basis, running away, screaming 'you are not my real mother' or 'I hate you, I want to leave this house'... the usual stuff. It was bloody hard work, but because we knew this we somehow managed to navigate those very hard and challenging months through with him. Today he is much more lovable and he is turning into a sweet little boy. Don't get me wrong, he still has meltdowns, but I think he was able to form attachments to us and it helps him to bounce back much faster after a wobbly moment. He is building up resilience that will help him stand firm when a meltdown is brewing.

Snoops (7) is much more complex. We still feel that we do not know him at all! Just before he came to us a clinical psychologist had the first accurate assessment on him that said his difficulties come from attachment disorder instead of autism. But now, as we see him every day I think I concur with school who says he is definitely on the autistic spectrum, the question is only where exactly. At the moment I am leaning towards 80-20. It is very strange; from his recent behaviour it seems he is 7 months late and he is only catching up now in terms of starting to push boundaries. What's even more unusual is that he is emotionally well versed (thanks to the therapy he received when he was younger) and is able to say things like 'I am only pushing you now and testing you with my behaviour'. The other day after he screamed at my face that I am not his real mother I said very calmly 'well, tell me news, not history' he had the presence to say 'Why are you not upset now? You should be angry now and cry and say hurtful things back at me'. A fair assessment of him would be to say he might present as a securely attached child, however, even the lightest feather can push him back to the deepest pit and even the most patient saint would not be able to put up with that shit he pushes me through and remain sane, let alone muster up enough will to continue to therapeutically approach him.

I spoke to quite a few older and adult adoptees and while I can't say it was a representative research one common theme emerged: no matter how securely attached they were, how much therapy and support they received over the years whenever they faced a problem their initial response was always to regress back to the old hurts, old feelings of 'nobody likes me / no good things will ever happen to me /  everybody is out to hurt me / you can't trust anybody'...etc. I know we are still in the early stages of this placement, but it greatly distresses me that no matter how much we do for them, it seems very likely they will never be free from this! We can work our socks off, sacrifice e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g (your life, friendships, marriage, health, future, money) and still, it will never be enough. Very depressing thought, I know...

So to reflect on the points above:

1.) yeah, right, in your dreams perhaps... :(
2.) it surely helps, but everybody breaks at one point. Mine just took a little longer...
3.) you don't know how rubbish you are until you faced with this. And then there is only down from there...
4.) ummm, hello, is anybody out there? Can anybody hear me or just see the smiling children and think 'she is just complaining too much and too negative' but in reality they don't bother to ask me a direct question or run away before I start to answer
5.) oddly this is the only one that's actually remained the same and continues to go well with most parties involved.

+ 1.) FFS, I didn't use to swear! I never had the inclination to hurt anybody (verbally or physically) until now. Husband was the epitome of patience and I used to like him...

Happy Advent, Everybody!

*yes, yes, yes, we know it is not unreasonable, that it makes perfect sense in their heads, that it is triggered by something that happened in the past

** for explanation click here

Friday, 4 November 2016

Meeting Birth Mum...

The most dreaded meeting of my life was finally happening. We knew that at one point this meeting might happen, but we were hoping Social Services might deem it unsafe and cancel it. It got postponed a few times, but today we actually had to shake hands with that woman.

I have read a lot about how you guys felt during this super awkward meeting, but it's like with so many things in our Big Adoption Reality (BAR): knowing it and experiencing it is so very different! When we read the children's CPR there was no picture of her, but her life was there in great detail. Yes, she was in care herself; yes, she was very unlucky always getting mixed up with the wrong crowd; yes she was in a wrong place at the wrong time; yes, she has made several poor choices. BUT no, none of these justify why she was abusive towards her own children, why she inflicted physical and emotional pain on her little ones; no,  none of these are good enough reasons why she constantly refused help from Social Services. I can see her as a victim, too, don't get me wrong. But sharing a cuppa with her, having a very pleasant conversation with her, chatting and laughing about MY children... well, HER children... well, OUR children - you get the idea that it was very confusing, right?

We got there before she arrived. Oddly nobody thought about the sign in book we had to fill in. What's the point in being all secretive about names and locations if we put all our details into that book only for her to see it when she arrives a minute later??? So I signed us in as Mickey and Minnie Mouse. I doubt anybody noticed... We were sitting in a conference room with our SW and my pre-approved questions. The children's SW walked in and THE Mother was behind her. To be honest, we had no idea what to expect. Based on the description and the horror she inflicted on her children I did not expect such a meek, polite and pleasant woman, just the opposite. But she looked just like Goofs! I could have picked her from a line of 100 almost identical women! My brain still doesn't compute that the woman sitting in front of me is the same who caused all that trauma to the boys...

She was very civilised and we went along with it. She had a few questions about the boys and we responded sometimes in greater detail, sometimes in vague terms. She was very pleased to hear I signed up the boys to their respective after-school clubs, because she thought both were gifted in those respective areas. We did talk to her about some of the activities we did with them since they moved in and she said 'I am so glad they get to experience those with you, sadly I couldn't offer those opportunities for them.' I know I was supposed to feel compassionate about all that, but I kept thinking I spent only 50p on the pumpkin he carved for Halloween, she had spent a lot more on the pan she used to hit him with! We always have choices!

Sitting there listening to her stories felt very weird. She came across as a person, who KNOWS of the birth mother of my boys, not as somebody who IS the birth mother herself. I suppose that is her way of coping with this tragedy of loosing her children. She emotionally distanced herself from everything that happened and created her own new history in which they were a very happy family of X and everything was peachy. I honestly didn't expect her to say 'I was a rubbish mother' or anything along those lines, but I think I could have liked her a bit if she said something like 'I tried, but...' and gave me excuses. Choosing to focus only on the good bits is something I totally get and even admire in my/her/our boys, but for the boys it was the only way to survive those years while she is now conveniently forgets that she was responsible for most of the bad stuff!

Hubby and I managed to keep our cool and ask all the usual questions from the story of their unusual first names to their favourite foods and toys as babies and toddlers. She even talked about the father quite a lot. We did have moments when she shared something about one of the boys and I was smiling and nodding saying 'yes, he still does that' and vica versa. I said something funny and she added 'he was always like that, he got it from X'. The only time I almost lost it was when she admitted 'they witnessed some bad bits, but I am hopeful they won't remember any of it'. This was after we had said something about Snoops remembering a ball being kicked over his head when he was younger and BM said that his father had done that when Snoops had been 6 months old.

A few weeks ago after a very upsetting day Snoops decided it was time he shared stuff with me about her. The poor kid was shaking from top to bottom as he struggled to utter the words, he was choking on his own tears as he recalled some of the horror she subjected him to.

I so wanted to scream at her: 'Bloody hell, woman, did you just listen to your words??? They both remember every tiny detail! Of course they do! Why do you think they both have night terrors every night? Why do you think they are in constant flight/fight mode? Why do you think they have massive anxieties, challenging behaviour or lack of trust towards anyone? Why do they need years of therapy? Why do you think they HATE you? Because they remember! You created this alternate reality where you are all fine, but I have to pick up the pieces every single time! They are nasty to ME, violent towards us because YOU screwed them up!'

But I just sat there quietly looking at her. I thought if I loose it now chances are good she will contest the whole adoption process again. Instead I told her we will make sure the boys won't forget about her. She said thank you. We took a picture of the 3 of us, shook hands and she left. Hours later the children's SW called to say she thinks I was brilliant. Apparently BM is very pleased with us and how well the boys are settled. She also thinks we are wonderful and she promised not to contest the adoption order. So, was it worth it? Definitely. Will I be able to explain the boys why she couldn't keep them safe? I don't think so...

Friday, 28 October 2016

When the ice-cream licks you back...

I don't fancy Pain Au Chocolate as a breakfast treat, but the boys love them so from time to time I do make them. Yesterday Goofs (6) noticed my dislike for the first time in 6 months and he turned to me with his kindest smile and used his best mummy imitation voice 'Just try it, you might like it!' :) I was speechless and all I could think of was 'well played, son!'. So obediently - and also to show a good example - I ate my pastry and I even managed to muster up a smile. His pleased expression was probably a perfect copy of my pleased expression when I can get him to try something. Again, I have only myself to blame if blame needs to be assigned to somebody at all. His logic is sound!

I shared this snippet on Twitter and soon fellow adopters shared similar funny stories. One person added 'we don't even say that!', which got me thinking. We often talk about the invisible backpack our adopted/fostered children come with, but until now I somehow didn't consider the different parenting styles these little ones had to get familiar with in each placement. I always focused on the loss and trauma, the neglect and abuse or the rootlessness and always having to start everything from scratch. I didn't think much about the positives each placement (with the new carers, extended family, school, Social Workers or friends) adds to their overwhelmingly sad stories. And just like each and every one of us have different parenting styles I often wonder how incredibly confused these children are having been experienced various house rules, boundaries, sense of humour, levels of expected independence or responsibilities...

I love it when our boys, as a way of introducing themselves, say 'we can't sit next to each other because we mess around too much'. Or when they sat in our car for the very first time during introductions and as soon as they heard the satnav's female voice say 'turn right' they stopped fighting and almost simultaneously told me 'everybody must stay quiet now so the driver can hear the directions'. We couldn't contain our giggles and say our quiet thanks to whoever insisted on this rule.

We were open to talk to the boys about previous placements, Foster Carers, even birth family if they brought it up so it was natural to hear about some of the rules they had to get used to. We only met their last FC and the more time we spent with her the more we realised how much of her tone, sayings and mannerisms are reflected in the boys' words and behaviour. We know quite a lot about their previous FCs because they enjoy sharing stories. It amazes me so much how resilient they are and consciously or subconsciously, but they choose to remember the good bits! They even remember their house rules as positives!

The age old question of nature vs nurture comes to mind and I can't help noticing that our boys pick up more and more of 'us and our ways' each day. They are quick to point out if we do/expect something differently than their previous imprints, but eventually they agree to do it our way, which I usually take as a good sign of them wanting to attach and be integrated to our family. We always try to listen to their previous experiences first and if reasonable, we make adjustments to our expectations and house rules; partly because we are humble enough to admit if somebody knows better (not to mention FCs usually have more experience than us, beginner parents) and partly because we do not want to confuse them any further. If it's not fundamentally necessary to change it, we accept the boys' imprinted nurture as their new default nature and work around it...

All hail Fusion Parenting!

Thursday, 13 October 2016

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 <demonstrated> and she loves me back <looking expectantly at me>. 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!

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Smile-worthy snippets

After the past few heavy topics I think a lighthearted post is due so here are some fun moments from the last 4 months. Some of those I have shared already on Twitter with the #GlowMo. A few weeks ago we were discussing a good tag with fellow adopters (to share not just the hardships and questions but those occasional good bits as well) to help us re-focus and somebody came up with this hashtag and it kinda stuck...

Hubby and I are both geeks and have lots of sci-fi stuff in our house. As soon as the boys moved in they each grabbed a Star Wars plush toy (R2D2 & BB8) from the huge toy box as their new favourite sleep buddy. Even though they have never seen Star Wars they can whistle the theme songs and Goofs' favourite character is 'Dark Vader' (sic). Snoops can give you a lecture on the story (well, mostly made up version), but it's highly entertaining, when you can keep a straight face.

Both boys are very polite! Even when they are angry! It's really hard to remain unmoved when they shout at me in anger: 'Mummy, could you please shut up?'

When Snoops came out of his RE class his first question was 'Are we Muslims?' 'No, we are not.' I replied. He let out a breath he was holding and the weight of the world rolled off his shoulder. 'Oh, thank God, I could NOT pray 5 times a day!'

Snoops wanted to watch a film with me sitting next to him. 5 min into the movie he says 'Mummy, while I watch this movie can you make my snacks? You are such a great COOKER.'

We were playing with foam noodles. Hubby used it to knight Goofs, who of course copies everything and wanted to do the same to me. He didn't quite catch every word correctly though... He told me to 'knee down, because hereby I unite you to Sir Mummy. You may rised up.'

Snoops saw a car driving too fast in front of school. He raised his hand and shouted after him 'you will be under arrested and next time I go to London I will report you to the Queen directly.'

We took the boys to a geeky convention where many people were wearing home made costumes (cosplay). Snoops went up to a guy who wore a St Johns First Aid uniform and dead seriously he asked him 'excuse me sir, I don't recognise your costume. Which film are you from?'

Snoops farts constantly regardless of what food/drinks he takes. He thinks it's funny and his 6y old brother laughs too so it's hard for me to keep telling him it's not OK. After one particularly loud and long fart he looked at me and said 'Mummy, from now on just call me Sir Snoops Pump-a-lot.'

Snoops praying before breakfast: 'Thank you God for making daddy's brain pancake-y today' (what he meant to say was he was happy my husband thought about making pancakes for breakfast.)

Snoops has some funny prayer comments too. Last night he finished praying by saying 'aaaaand I hope you God can have a good and relaxing day tomorrow.'

Snoops was preparing food during a session with his play therapist and when she wanted to eat her imaginary pancake he slapped on her hand shouting 'stop! We haven't prayed yet for the food!'

Snoops is quite good at playing alone and coming up with self-entertaining songs. Once I overheard him singing to himself 'I love my beautiful mummy'. When I went in he denied it of course...

I took up therapeutic art classes once a week. I have never painted in my entire life, not even in school so I really didn't have any expectations. Naturally I was the most surprised when I managed to create a dormant tree that I actually liked. I brought the painting home to show it to the boys. Before I could say anything Snoops said 'wow, that is very nice. Where did you buy it?' Me: 'Do you like it?' 'Yes, I love it.' 'Well, I am glad, because guess what, I painted it!' At this point his toy fell out of his hand and he gave me the most incredible stare, wide eyes, open mouth, the whole thing. After he recovered he said 'wow, I actually really like it. I mean it, mummy, I am VERY impressed with you!'

All the time we do something that's a FIRST for them, Goofs always declares to the whole word 'this is officially the best day of my life!' When we had BBQ in the garden, when we took them on a double decker bus, when I made them chocolate-in-banana dessert over the fire, when we went to the Lego shop...etc.

Goofs realising that I don't fit his idea of a female carer and when he bumped his head or got knocked down by a big wave I was THERE for him to keep him safe and him saying 'I am ok because my Mummy will keep me safe'

We were at the playground and when Snoops and other boys were 'working on the hyper drive of the spacecraft' I was the only mother who knew what a hyper drive was, how does it work, how to fix it and I was the only adult who actually climbed under the playground equipment to fix it. My son was running around shouting 'my mummy fixed the hyper drive' while other boys looked sadly towards their parents who saw nothing of it because they were too busy starring at their phones. I felt smug!

Snoops coming to me one evening saying very sincerely 'Mummy you are so beautiful I can't look at your face without smiling!'

Snoops approaching me with a cheeky smile and great expectations in his eyes: 'Mummy, did you not know I have lots of space on my face for kisses?' Needless to say I tested out those places and we both loved it!

Snoops is VERY good with building/creating things may it be Lego, play dough or actual bricks. While we were waiting for his brother he built a proper square foundation with piping and wiring of a tiny house. Even the head teacher was impressed!

Snoops is very observant. We were playing pretend-cooking in the playground when he 'discovered' that his oven is broken. He ran away to 'buy' a new one. When he came back he 'installed' the new oven, but when I wanted to put the food in he stopped me saying 'you silly billy, we can't use it yet. I can't plug it in before I find a rubber mat to cover the cable for safety. Don't you know, mummy, safety is good for you and death-ness is bad!'

Miraculously one morning they managed to stay quiet till 7 am. When I walked to their room both boys were drawing in their drawing pads and Snoops said to Goofs: 'Let's draw our favourite black hole again, but this time make it colourful, ok?'

This week I was walking home from school with Goofs. He saw a girl from his school walking in the opposite direction. I was walking ahead of him and the next thing I hear is a loud bang. I turned around and saw Goofs was about to cry. 'Did you bump into that lamp post?' Tears start rolling down his face. 'Did you not see the lamp post?' 'I was looking at that...girl umm, wall.' Wall, huh? He was totally checking out that girl, following her with his head while continued walking ahead... It was VERY hard not to show him how amused I was! And he is only 6! Starting early, are we?

Snoops is very smart who needs constant challenges. Last night I let him play with my Chinese Chequers. After I explained the rules he started playing and managed to clear all but 3 balls on the board! I was very impressed! :)

And my all time favourite:
In school and also in the park several people commented on 'how much the boys look like me!' :) This one never gets old!!!

Friday, 30 September 2016


If I wasn't talking about my son, as a bad joke I would say: Could the person who took our angry, aggressive and utterly difficult Goofs and replaced him with his sweet, cuddly, compliant and all around lovely 6 year old identical twin please KEEP him and never return??? :)

After last week's blog post (which is really usually a week or two behind real time for obvious reasons) I am happy to say things are changing. We are still unsure of the 'whys', but some of the new developments we really enjoy!

2 weeks ago on Friday at 9.05 am I got the dreaded call from school: "mrs X, Goofs had an accident and bumped his head. Could you please collect him?' Turns out school is really not that far when you run like Usain Bolt... Poor little boy had a massive bump on his tiny head and was quite distressed. He was also pleasantly surprised to see me. I was also pleasantly surprised he wanted to hold my hand as we walked to the GP. As we waited we talked (???) and had a good time. GP told us to go home and rest, but he wanted to go back to school so I dropped him off and walked home. As soon as I got home my phone rang again 'mrs X the teacher thinks he should be home, please collect him.' Well, I agree, but Goofs made a huge tantrum in front of the teachers saying how much he hates me and our house and he ran away. His young new teacher looked at me concerned (I think she had doubts about me...), but when I suggested we eat school dinner together and go home he was over the moon. In the dining hall he ran around and told everyone proudly 'this is my mummy'. At home we played Lego and we both had a genuinely lovely time.

Next day was a beautiful day so we went to the beach, which all four of us enjoy a lot. Goofs was playing happily in the freezing sea, while Snoops and I built sand castles. 5 min before going home Goofs was knocked down by a big wave! He was under the water for probably half a second, but that was enough for him to freak out and for Mummy to run to him with a dry towel. Again, we had some lovely cuddly moments when he was not an angry young man, but a tiny frightened boy who needed to feel safe. He totally let me in and I did go All In! After we got him into dry clothes we walked back to the house. He was holding my hand willingly and out of nowhere he said something along these lines 'I am safe, because my mummy will keep me safe always, right mummy?'

Me trying to resist the urge to do a happy dance pulled him up into another big hug and said 'always' and reassured him how much I love him and said all the things I have been saying to him therapeutically, but somehow his ears were open now and I didn't want to miss this unexpected opportunity!

In the meantime we changed tactics with his teacher and now every day she writes 3 positive things in his school-home book which we can discuss at home and there is room for both Goofs and parents to make additional comments. This gives us opportunities to learn more about him, it forces him to talk to us and in return we can praise, reassure and encourage him.

We've also had a few sessions of play therapy by now and although it is still very early stages his therapist can already see some improvements!

Add to the mix also all our wonderful friends around the world praying to a God 'who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think' and suddenly we have a little boy who is still often challenging, but who also shows now a sweet side to him, who wants to and is able to receive love and attachment. He is all cuddly and wants to spend time with us; he invites us into his imaginary play, he is happy to do his homework, helps out in the kitchen and just in general he is much less stressful to be around!

And you would think that with all the positives we have experienced and shared in relation to Snoops our family of four has finally turned the proverbial corner and after 4 months in placement things will improve and... yeah yeah yeah, all those warm fuzzy feelings usually associated with 'Annie, the everyone lives happy ever after adoption story'. Well, we hoped for that, too...

In a weird (but undoubtedly understandable) twist Snoops' behaviour started to deteriorate. According to the play therapist in their previous adoptive placement he was the 'difficult one, who couldn't fit in, always caused problems' and Goofs was having a much easier time attaching to that family. While Goofs was thriving there his brother was struggling and it affected every area of his life; his behaviour, his mental and emotional capacity, his school performance, his discomfort, fear and night terrors.

When he moved in with us, consciously or subconsciously Snoops decided/realised that if he can swap the roles around he might have a chance. We do not doubt his previous sincerity of love and desire for attachment and that's why it is so hard to see he is regressing into his old role of  'you are stupid, you are naughty, you are unlovable, you are nothing more than a constant problem'.

Last night I was able to have a conversation with him about this and he admitted that he is naughty now in school and at home on purpose. He knows (well, as far as a young traumatised child can know) what he is doing and the sad part is that he wants to continue this path. He doesn't allow himself to believe us anymore when we say we love him, he feels he doesn't love us anymore and he became aggressive towards Goofs. In his mind it is impossible for everybody to be happy. :(

So, to close on that same bad joke: Could that same person please return our sweet, clever, confident Snoops and take away his evil twin???

Thursday, 22 September 2016

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

Saturday, 3 September 2016

3 months into Placement...

I have not been blogging for a while and I am sure most of you can relate to me when I say it wasn't because nothing post-worthy happened or I had nothing to say; just the opposite! So many things happened on so many different fronts that my head is still spinning so this post might be a bit of rambling. Blogging sometimes helps me to organise my thoughts and feelings and I am hopeful it will do the trick again...

So, today we passed the 3 months mark - exactly twice the time the boys have spent with their previous adopters before they have given up on them. Is it a success? The SW seems to think so. Most of our friends agree. The boys are still too young to appreciate what a 3 months time period really means (for them a 5 minutes time-in is already 'fooooooreeever'). For us? Well... we are still alive. The boys are still alive. They still live here. Success?

It is impossible to capture what we have been through in the past weeks so I will not even attempt to do that. I was debating with myself while in the bathroom (yes, that is the only place I can get a few minutes of peace, though they still shout 'muuuuuuuuuum' through the door every 15 sec) what structure should I use for this post and for starters I thought stats with comments will do.

Number of times 'Muuuuuuum' was shouted in the house: 135*24*30*3.

The plus side is that both boys refer to us as Mummy/Mum and Daddy. Just the other day we were looking at some of their old photos, all 24 of them! Let's just pause for a second and imagine your 6/7 year old child and the number of photos you have taken of them over the years. Now throw away everything from the first 3 years, select one standard photo with a birthday cake for each year (never mind the different people who stand around them each time), pick a picture with each school uniform and classmates, pick 1-2 blurry shots where their other siblings are there too and a few happy moments from 2016 and THAT IS ALL YOUR MEMORIES. (for those in the know, their Life Story Books are still not done so here is hoping we will have some more pictures later)

But I digress; back to us looking at their pictures. There was one blurry picture of their birth father. Goofs was telling me the misadventures of that one photo and the fights he was in to keep it. So, that was 'dad'. Snoops was confused and asked 'which is daddy? This one (pointing at my husband) or that one (pointing at the photo)?' Umm, yeah, about that, kid... We agreed to refer to the man on the picture by his first name and hubby remained 'daddy'. This is convenient for us, it will make everybody's life easier in the future, but it also stripped away another piece of their past.

Number of pictures taken of them - mostly by me: ca. 1000.

I know it does not make up for the missed past, but maybe with time they will appreciate my good intentions. Out of these we used 24 to fill 2 big picture frames and put them on the wall next to our pictures - apparently nobody has ever done that for them before!

Number of meltdowns in the house (because that is the place both boys feel safe to have one! When others are around or we are out and about they are terrified and 'save it' till it's safe): 23*30*3

This also means some of our friends probably think we are liars or constantly exaggerating about how difficult our daily life is, because they only see 2 little angels...

Number of night terrors: 3*30*3.

Yes, that means we have them almost every night, often 2-3 times a night. Poor little boys developed a sad rhythm; Snoops would wake up screaming around 9 pm; by the time we get to him he is sitting up on his bed, face and pillow wet from a flood of tears, but he himself is not awake. We put him to bed, stroke his face till he settles down. Around 11 Goofs would cry in his sleep, which wakes Snoops up who comes to our room to complain about his brother and demand that we 'make him stop'. Again, I go back to help both boys to settle by stroking 2 faces with my 2 hands simultaneously. Usually around 3-4 am we get a loud knocking on our door; it's always a gamble which boy is there. Either Snoops wet his bed (and here I mean soaked it through completely as they both wet themselves every night but the magic DryNights pullups usually keep it all in) and he can't sleep until we change him and the bedding or it's Snoops again sleep-walking while crying.

Number of useful help/comments we received from professionals regarding the point above: ZERO

Number of fist fights and bruises on bodies (combined score of all 4 of us): 100+

Goofs is a very aggressive little boy with massive control issues and according to the play therapist he wants to punish every adult for his parents' mistreating him. CPV (child to parent violence) suddenly became a daily reality for us. I remember when a friend of mine was talking about it I seriously struggled to believe him, not what he said per se, but the helplessness he felt every time. Now I fully understand it and imagine MY friends going through the disbelieving bits. When Goofs attacks my husband (usually for something simple as 'brush your teeth') we all feel powerless. Me watching this little piece of xxx hitting my husband, his brother as he is just stands there being confused, Goofs as he doesn't do it because he is evil and wants to hurt somebody, but because he feels his control is taken away and his natural flight/fight mode kicks in and also mu poor hubby, who could stop the kicking/punching/biting with one swift hand movement... That would probably diffuse the situation, confirm in Goofs' mind that 'all adults are evil' and it would cause this adoption to break down as well. Naturally, we don't do it. But we can't do either what the play therapist suggested 'why don't you just keep your cool and in a calm and controlled manner tell him you love him and reflect back to him that he is sad and afraid now that is the reason why he behaves this way.' Riiiiiiight! :(

Goofs is also jealous of his brother who seems to have a slightly easier way of settling into his new family and again, his way of dealing with the situation is to punch his brother whenever he has a chance. His latest proof included slamming the car door onto his brother's hand - it's only by God's grace that Snoops' hand is not broken!

Number of play therapy sessions: 1.

20 min with each boy. Nothing to say at this stage except we are sure we will be seeing her face for the next many many years...

Number of times the 'A' word was mentioned: 200+

I am not referring to the general ones, rather to the 2 most common themes: 'Are you ready to put in the adoption order request?' and 'Mummy, when can I have my passport with my new name?' Naturally the first one is from the LA and SWs who keep reminding us that the placement is 'past the 10 weeks mark and is progressing so well that this is the next obvious step'. The second one is much much harder to dodge! The truth is, we don't know when; we don't know if ever (and yes, I appreciate what I am saying here and all the implications). We also don't know what should change that would make us say 'Now we are ready!'  

Number of times we were told 'we are doing sooo well': 3-4*30*3.

Depending on our mood and on the number of fights we already had that day our response varies between 'thanks', 'if only you saw the other 95%, which is usually ugly' or just a quick eye-roll then smile and exit left.

Number of arguments between hubby and me: uhumm.... loads!

They usually start from having slightly differing views on how to raise children, which I suppose is a daily struggle in any birth family, too. But agreeing on how much therapeutic tolerance is too much when he is stealing your money, when he is knocking down your favourite flower pots on purpose, when he threatens to call the police with an allegation because you told him no bedtime story tonight for bad behaviour... Let's just say we disagree a lot and add to this mix a healthy portion of lack of sleep and work related stress and you can understand our predicament...

I have so many more numbers to share with you and hopefully in time you'll get to hear about the number of happy moments that lasted at least 1 hour - I promise as soon as this happens I will write about it!

Friday, 8 July 2016

Whose life is it, anyway?

A month was enough and we are exhausted, depressed and broken (physically, emotionally and financially). I keep asking 'Who is in control here?' We foolishly thought that we would be. The reality is that we have two emotionally disabled children with horrible pasts who keep dragging us back into their terrible early life, they project their bad experiences of grown ups onto us and keep pushing the correct buttons to turn us inside out.

Hubby and I keep looking at each other. The pain and silent cries are visible in both our eyes: 'We can't do this anymore! This is not what we've signed up for...'

I have to drag myself out of the house; make a conscious effort to pick some nicer clothes and get onto the metro that will take me to the city. At 9 am most cafes are not open yet and before I know it my feet take me back to the well known Uni cafe. It's a familiar place with people from familiar walks of life. I recognise the surroundings, the students, the books, the smells... I vaguely remember my life as a student; the carefree lifestyle, the freedom, exam time stress (and believing that passing the next exam is the greatest challenge in life ever). If I had known it back then...

Students thinking about their bright future; graduating - job hunt - interviews - job - salary - freedom - meetups with friends after work - counting the minutes till Friday 6 pm when the fun can finally start... Yes, I vaguely recall that my life used to have fun...

On my way to the cafe I saw well dressed people pass me by; getting on with their lives and daily jobs and I try really hard to recall the last time I had my high hill shoes on (not very practical when you have to run after a misbehaving child). My business clothes are packed away in a box; they sit next to the box that contains fragile or precious objects dear to my heart (hard to keep your cool when they fall victim to the outbursts of  disregulated and angry children).

My gran used to tell me 'when I was your age I already had 2 children' and I would respond 'yes, and I have 2 Masters Degrees'. Now, in this cafe I turn my eyes towards heaven and think: guess what, gran, I caught up with you! You were way too young and inexperienced to know how to parent your children. Me on the other hand...?

The boys managed to reduce me and hubby into depressed zombies who function on leaking batteries and without any will power left to think clearly or to choose life. Joy, my long lost friend, I said goodbye to you, too! I hear you say Post Natal/Adoption Depression. Perhaps you are correct, I wouldn't know...

What I do know is that 5 weeks into this placement I still have to keep reminding people that in many ways what we are going through is the same as having 1 month old twins! They can't understand/accept/imagine of course; what they see is a 6 year old and a 7 year old boy running around the house nonstop...

I don't want to do parent today. I want to do adult only today. But I can't! I have to go and pick them up from school...  

Friday, 24 June 2016

Therapeutic friendships...?

Let me start by saying that a few months ago I knew only very little about therapeutic work myself, may it be with children or adults. We attended a 10 weeks long training course that focused on Attachment, Child Development, Trauma, Loss, Behaviour and similar heavy, but much needed topics. We learnt about the PACE model (playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and empathy. click on word for more info), which we are now implementing with various results.

The most important aspect of this new way of parenting for us as a family of four is around empathy. A concept that everybody believes to have in abundance and practice it well when a disaster happens like a loved one dying or an unexpected natural disaster. What I am quickly learning is that it is a different kind of empathy that we need to practice when it comes to our very damaged children.

The 24/7 ability to let myself be attuned to their feelings and emotions in order to understand the deeper and underlying issues that manifest in them stealing food, lying, 'being naughty', aggression, lack of attention or willingness to learn in school and many more. Most of the time when I am able to reach this stage of attunement with either of my boys (regardless of the length of time) I can see the REAL problem and often times my immediate anger is replaced by compassion and yes, empathy. The kind of empathy that does NOT try to fix the problem for them, does NOT try to be patronising, does NOT try to tell them 'It's gonna be OK', does NOT make predictions about the future, does NOT judge or threaten, does NOT offer solutions of any kind and does NOT start any sentence with 'why don't you just...'.

Instead, I sit down with my son on the floor, holding his hand, looking into his beautiful and incredibly sad eyes and let him know that I am just as gutted for him that he feels that way. I try to offer him comfort when he is the most vulnerable, utterly confused and very very scared. I try to show him without words that I am committed to this relationship, that I love and care about him a great deal and no matter how much he acts out or hurt us, he will never receive what he expects (fears) to receive from us!

And guess what! It's the same for adults, too!

Yes, I am aware our adoption is still in very early stages; yes, I know (or hope) with time it will get better; yes, I am sure you could recommend a book I have not heard of; yes, I know you have the best intentions in mind; yes, I am sure your friend's friend's friend had similar problem (though I doubt very much it would work for us simply because different people are involved); yes, I appreciate you are just unsure of what to say or how to help and no, you don't need to say ANY of these to us.

I try to be as polite as possible when I say: These DO NOT HELP!

Just like in the video what we, exhausted, discouraged, bruised and concerned parents need is you to climb down into the pit with us and empathise with our situation silently. With distance it can be tricky I know, but then perhaps letting us know you love us, pray for us/send positive thoughts is really the only thing you can do if you want to help. It may look insignificant to you, but more is not always better. Just like we can't fix 'IT' for our children (whatever 'it' refers to) you can't fix it for us either!

Connection - on the other hand... Now THAT could be a solution! Imagine the possibilities...

Thursday, 16 June 2016

When the Honeymoon is over...

Technically it's only been 2 weeks since Snoops and Goofs moved in with us permanently, but I am fairly certain the Honeymoon period is long but gone forever!

We were told this 'will definitely happen soon' (professionals), 'might not happen for a long time' (fellow adopters) and 'it might never happen' (naive, but well meaning friends and birth parents). Well, it's safe to say the Pros won this round!

On one hand the Pros (Social Workers, School, Play Therapist, Clinical Psychologist) keep saying it is a good thing, because it means they are settling in well and feel comfortable enough to drop the fa├žade and be themselves not to mention they feel safe to express their feelings...etc. And we are expected to rejoice over this!

What they conveniently forget is that they see the boys for an hour every week, but I have to spend the other 23 hours with them every day! I have to pick up the pieces of a challenging day in the new school, I have to stand between them when they are having a full on fist fight or when they are still not asleep at 10pm.

As they settle in more we gradually get to know them better and we are now seeing some patterns and occasionally we recognise a trigger BUT recognising a brewing meltdown and actually being able to prevent it are 2 very different things as you can imagine.

Yesterday started off on a bad note; one kid attacking the other for seemingly no reason. After the cries and shouting stopped we tried to have a civilised breakfast. Snoops wanted to go to Breakfast Club while Goofs didn't. Together we reached the compromise that we will go for the last 10 minutes so both boys can have their wishes at least partially granted. I was walking them to school and from the moment we closed the door Goofs was running away. Snoops was playing well his coping mechanism of  'I am good today so you will have to love me and hopefully you will not send me away' by holding my hand and chatting happily about everything and anything. On the surface it looked like an idyllic picture of a well behaving child, but his over compliance comes from feeling insecure and terrified about his future with us. It breaks my heart every time he does this! He keeps painting things I LIKE and present them as HIS favourites only to see me smile then he asks if I am pleased with him and no amount of reassurance is enough to let him know we will love him even if he hates the things I like...

But back to yesterday morning. Goofs is presenting a 'naughty boy' behaviour by running away from me and doing the opposite of anything I suggest or ask. The school is on the same side as our house so there is no reason to cross the road, but yesterday it did not matter to him and before I could blink he crossed the road without even looking. Naturally my heart stopped and did what every parent would do in this situation: lost my cool and shouted after him to come back. By this point Snoops was getting agitated saying 'it's not fair he can run freely and I can't' and wanted to jerk his hand out of mine to run after his brother. In the meantime Goofs was looking at me with a dare in his eyes and ran across the road a few more times and because he was looking at me he ran in front of a car!

Me (while fighting back a heart attack and an unhappy boy) tried to get closer to him but each time he ran away even further. Thank God in that very moment Hubby appeared from nowhere with a car. He jumped out and went after Goofs while I walked Snoops safely to school. On my way back from school I saw Daddy and Goofs walking hand in hand towards the school. As soon as we got closer Goofs was hiding behind Daddy and refused to even see me or hear what I wanted to say. The shame/embarrassment was so visible in his behaviour that all my anger flew away and all I wanted was to hug him and kiss everything better. But naturally he didn't want to have any of it! I even offered the option of going home with me instead of going to school, but he chose the school and went in. We both kept our cool and in a warm and quiet tone we explained that we have been worried about him, that we love him and that we are not angry with him. He even managed to look at me for a second or 2 and was able to accept a hug from 'his evil new mother', but you could see in his head he was so confused about our reaction. He genuinely expected shouting and physical punishment and if I am honest he wasn't far from receiving the formal from his terrified mother...

Hubbs and I walked back to the car while he filled me in. Goofs ran off into a side street and was hiding there. We already knew that he doesn't like me or accepts my authority (or care for that matter), mainly because in his head it would make him unfaithful and disloyal toward his beloved Foster Carer, while he adores his new Daddy since he never really had one. But we know the Honeymoon is definitely over when he is rejecting Daddy as well and runs away even from him! It took hubby a good 10 minutes to reassure Goofs that he is not angry and will not hit him or shout at him if he stops running. In his little head he figured 'I didn't want to go to school so I disobeyed her so there is no point stopping now and wait for the punishment so I just keep running.' It's actually very logical and makes perfect sense if you think about it... Except that is not a safe solution for anybody, but of course when he is in that stage you can't reason with him!

Fast forward to 3.15 pm he was so happy to see me when I went to pick him up from school. I grabbed his hand and said that from now on this is how we will walk on the street. He just looked at me and asked 'is it because of what happened in the morning, right?' Damn right kiddo! In the house we tried to have a conversation with him about the morning but he would not have any of it. Following the instructions of our SW we made sure he can't leave the room and we tried a non threatening way. We knew it failed when he was using all his force to hurt us as he tried to escape so Daddy had to restrain him, which resulted in him shouting how much he hates us and this house. When hubbs let go of him he ran and hid under the table, but he kept on peeking to see how we react. We stayed on the floor and eventually he calmed himself down and came back to sit in Daddy's lap so we could have a chat. After much nudging he told us he didn't want to go to Breakfast Club because the day before a boy had been nasty to him. THERE! Finally we knew what the real issue was! It only took a whole day of freaking out on both his and my side, an hour on the phone with the SW and lots of tears and punches!

We agreed that 'tomorrow we will not go to Breakfast Club but have a nice family breakfast in the house'. Guess what was the first thing he said to us this morning...

Yup! Daddy walked two very happy kids to Breakfast Club!

Friday, 3 June 2016

They moved in. Now what?

We had a relatively short Introductions; only 10 days from First Contact to Moving in! I wrote about the first meeting here , in this post I try to summarise the ride so far.

Gradually we spent more time with the boys each day. I can't emphasise enough the brilliance of the Amazing Foster Carer who ensured everything is going smoothly. She prepared and served us dinner so we could share a meal at 4 pm with the boys in her house, while she was in the kitchen. She handed over the reward charts to us to start putting on the stars. She handed over school assignment books to us right away when we picked them up from school and kindly showed me behind the scenes what to do with them as I had no idea at first! When it came to bedtimes, somehow the packs (bathrobe, face clothes, jammies, pull-ups...etc) just appeared next to me so I could do them straight away!

Over the 10 days we got more 'mummy and daddy' and less first names. But we also started to get more 'can we get back to FC's house now?', which we took as a good sign considering that they are very attached to her. Each day we did more driving and it culminated in us going to their place early morning to bring them back to us and after dinner drive them back to do bedtime routine, then do a proper weekly shop (plus some very child specific items) and have dinner at 10 pm at a friend's house who blessed us with meals over the week. We started to experience the saying 'in adoption/fostering the days are long, but the weeks are short!' and we completely lost touch with the outside world.

I'm sure for every parent these are obvious regardless of how you became a parent, but these are some of the lessons we have learnt in week one:

  • I replaced the make up kit in my bag with Star Wars plasters and spare Lego parts plus you can't have too many tissues or hand sanitizer with you 
  • You need to divide the day into 30 min segments
  • You eat/pee/drink whenever you can not when you need to
  • For the sake of family dinners we eat with them at 4 pm and we have a supper after they are asleep (which usually involves lots more spices)
  • DS keeps them calm in the car (that is if you remember to charge it first! Otherwise the whole world will know about your blip). This is something the Amazing FC developed and it works for now. 
  • Thank God kids have no sense of time. You can give a 10/5/3/1 minute warning any time. 
  • If it's complicated for them, it M-U-S-T be complicated for me too (or so they think and therefore are surprised if I can fix it) 
  • You need to keep a list of who likes which fruit/veg but don't get surprised if they steal from each other's plates
  • Cakes make everything better and worthwhile 
  • Always ask them to 'try a wee-wee' before you leave any building 
  • You can't enjoy a grown-up party any more; you keep wondering if the boys are OK.
  • News? What news? Is Trump a president already???
  • Pumping (farting) is and will always be funny. End of.
  • The toilet seat is always up! :( (and should be sanitised every 10 min)
  • There is always some background noise now (from tablet or wii or DS or radio or telly) and you start to worry if it stops!
  • Tastes and likes can and will change all the time, sometimes twice within half an hour (good luck feeding them the same food twice not to mention buying presents or just something simple as a new duvet cover!)

After the first day we were naturally overwhelmed! To be perfectly honest, if the SW had said that this placement was a mistake and should be stopped for good we would have been very upset, but eventually we could have accepted it I think. But not after the second day though! Now I can't imagine our life without these 2!

So, yesterday they moved in permanently. To make the goodbye easier for the Amazing Foster Carer we followed her lead and did it as fast as we could. All their belongings were in bags ready for us to drop in the car. She hugged them one last time while we signed the paperwork in the dining room to officially CLAIM them and with that we were out the door. Because she was doing an amazing job the door shut behind us right away leaving a sobbing woman in the house and 2 excited boys for us to love and raise for the rest of our lives!
(we tried to paint their story; they were happy with their FC (black),
mummy and daddy spoke to the SW (yellow) and now we all live happily in one house and
the FC is happy for us as a family and comes for a visit)

We expected tears, but the boys were more preoccupied with their DS. We didn't plan anything special for today, just a 'normal day in' in their new house as per the SW's instructions. I am happy to say the day was progressing much better than expected by anybody. We played outside in the garden, picked up and observed yucky snails, jumped on the trampoline, painted inside, had lunch and snacks, played with their toys (score one for mummy who can imitate better shooting and explosion sounds than daddy!) and generally had a very relaxed day. Last night I bought a selection of hams and salamis so they can try which ones they liked. The conversation went like this:

Me: This is pepperoni.
Them: Yay, we love pepperoni more than anything! (this should have been my first clue!)
Snoops: I don't like spicy.
Me: It's not spicy.
Goofs: I like spicy.
Me: Fine, these are spicy ones.
Snoops: I don't like this one, but I like the one Goofs is eating. (but of course!)
Goofs: I don't like this one, but I like the one Snoops is eating. (shock!)
Needless to say for dinner we made pizza with the very same pepperoni only to find out they don't like pepperoni and they never did...

Bedtime was approaching fast and we were a bit apprehensive. We were strictly following the Amazing FC's routine and it all went surprisingly well. I read the bedtime story, kissed them goodnight and stayed until they were both asleep.

Around 10 pm when we were going to bed we heard crying. We went to their bedroom. Snoops was crying is his sleep. My heart broke for that little one yet again! When hubby stroke his face he woke up and said that he doesn't want to stay here and wants to go back to the Amazing FC's house and that he doesn't want to be adopted. Daddy stayed with him and ensured him that we completely understand his feelings and he stayed until Snoops was fast asleep again.

Today they woke up at 5.35 am. We woke up because they were fighting over something. When we asked Snoops he said he had a very good sleep last night, he loves his bed and us! Ummm....

Tuesday, 24 May 2016

THE Day has come! Intros day 1

The day we have been waiting for has finally arrived! I don't think you need to be in our situation to appreciate how nervous we both were! I have had a few share of exams, near death hospital memories, met a few heads of states and royals, had pre-marriage vibes...etc but nothing comes even close to the level of nervousness I felt all day. It culminated during the drive to the Amazing FC house!

(From now on I will refer to her as the Amazing FC because she goes way above and beyond her duty in everything she does for us and for the boys! A few nights ago she recorded a short video on her phone: she made the boys say good night to us and that they are looking forward to meeting us soon! As I said: AMAZING FOSTER CARER!)

We were supposed to meet the SW outside the house and go in together. We both arrived sooner (guess SW was apprehensive too!) and the kids were not back from school yet, so we waited patiently in our car. Hubby even said that the boys have seen our car in the DVD so they might recognise it, but by the time we figured we should park elsewhere the FC's car pulled up. We tried to hide, but those clever little monkeys did recognise the car and practically jumped out of their car and ran towards ours. The excitement on their faces!!!! Those huge smiles!!! Their wide eyes!!! Their silent shouts!!!! (ok, I wipe my tears again and continue in a minute)

That's NOT how we intended the first meet to happen; on the streets, in front of other people! But once they spotted us there was no turning back! So we quickly locked the car (managed to leave all my stuff including phone and tissues inside), quickly grabbed the flowers, cake and the 2 soft toys and walked over to them!

Snoops (7) could not speak; he was just smiling at me with mouth hung open. It was an awkward moment. I managed to say 'Hi' before he said 'hello mummy, it is so nice to meet you'. Hubby just came over and by then Snoops recovered so he ran to him and hugged his legs saying 'hello daddy!' We both swallowed our happy tears and ushered them into the house.

Goofs (6) was inside, a little more apprehensive, nonetheless he blocked the entrance and would not let us in without a hug! Both boys were soooo excited they literally could NOT contain themselves. We expected this... when I say 'we expected this' I mean we were told this might happen; we paid attention during the trainings; we understand their difficulties in regulating themselves, but it's one thing to know in your head and an entirely different thing experiencing it! We were excited too - no question about that! But nothing like them!!! We tried to match their level of excitement; we jumped up and down with them, ran around the rooms, tried to speak louder than them (if possible).

They didn't even realise the SW was there, too, she had to ask for a hug! SW managed to take a few pictures of us for the Life Story Book, it was incredible how easily they cuddled up with us for a photo! Snoops is a quiet and shy little boy - or so we were told. In reality he was in my face and could not shut up! :) He wanted to say soooo much all at once he really struggled to say the words; it was utterly cute! Goofs, the extrovert took an instant liking at the introvert daddy and within minutes he was climbing up on him, pinning him down to the floor and engaged in play fight! Poor hubbs has bruised ribs already!

We of course had to watch the DVD together. They were over the moon, kept on saying to us 'wait for it, daddy will show up in a second!'or 'look, there is you in the kitchen' or 'pause, look, this is my bedroom!' as if we have never seen it before! It was quite endearing!

Our original 1 hour stay flew by in no time. I didn't even notice when the SW left; apparently she said 'we were all so natural together that she didn't need to stay'. I asked the Amazing FC if we should leave; she encouraged us to stay for tea. It was difficult to get the boys to calm down a bit to sit down around the table to eat!

Goofs already started to push the boundaries. The Amazing FC told her to put his feet down; his response: 'I  have a new mummy now, you don't tell me what to do!' I tried to intervene and said to him 'I agree with her, you need to put your feet down!' Surprise, surprise, he disobeyed me too! Dinner was quite chaotic; they were utterly goofy, mischievous and often straight out silly. The Amazing FC had to tell them off quite a few times. She said 'you both have lovely manners, stop showing off now!' This worked for about 2 minutes then it started again!

During dinner we went from 'new mummy' to first name basis to 'hey you' to stepmum (where did that come from???) and back. We are completely OK with this! Poor kids, it must be so confusing to them! The Amazing FC is doing a superb job; she prepared them wonderfully and on the surface they are able to call us Mummy and Daddy, but we are unsure how deep their understanding goes at this point. In the heat of the moment we are back to first names, until a grown up refers to one of us as Mummy or Daddy, then they slip back. We expect this to be the case for a while...

After dinner it was time for the daily reward chart and stickers. They tried to convince me they deserve stars for 'eating breakfast nicely', but when the Amazing FC coughed from the kitchen they both quickly changed their version to 'OK, maybe not today' :) We looked at the calendar together. The Amazing FC wrote onto the calendar what we will do each day and together we counted down the next 10 days at which point they will move in permanently! On the surface they seemed excited about it...

As a matter of calming them down we tried to suggest we play with Lego. Snoops was happy to comply and ran upstairs to pull out the box. Goofs thought that was silly and wanted to play a different game, but he wouldn't say what. He ran out of the room upset, then came back after a few minutes and spilled out that he wants to play 'Tickling'. I was amazed how openly and honestly he is asking for a human touch! Sadly we didn't think it was a good idea so close to bed time and eventually he joined his brother and Daddy in building a Lego car.

Before we left we asked them if there was anything they wanted to send to their new house. We ended up taking a bike (my goodness, they ARE big!!!) and a scooter. Without me prompting both boys told me they will be 'good boys tonight and will go to bed nicely!' (I suspect the Amazing FC had something to do with this!?) Will see tomorrow!

We said our goodbyes, we were back to Mummy/Daddy and 'look forward to pick us up from school tomorrow'. We managed to crawl back to the car, closed the doors and just sat. Daddy's only comments: 'Wow. I have 2 children!'

On the way home I opened a dictation app on my phone to record the day> 'This is Captain Mummy on stardate 23rd May 2016: Today we...' We discussed the day, the feelings, emotions, little things we picked up on, already some concerns we might need to address soon. When we got back home we recorded a few "supplimentals' (all hail Star Trek!) and were ready to crash into bed around 7.30pm.

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Stuck in the hard place between Matching Panel and Intros

Matching Panel took place last week. I am still shaking. But the reason is different now.

We were told the usuals: 'we wouldn't take you to panel if we weren't confident it will be OK'; 'this is now just paperwork'; 'we just need to cross every t-s' and such. It was the same when birth mum was contesting: rationally you know it is going to be OK, nevertheless you are super nervous and you worry yourself sick. I couldn't sleep or when I did I had nightmares (mostly about rejection or approval but then epic fails and rejection from the boys during intros).

Panel was debating our case for about an hour before we were called in. By then I could hardly walk. We went in, I looked at the Chair and before I sat down I heard myself asking her directly. She was all smiles, said the magical YES and asked me again to sit down. She was supposed to give us the reasons for the recommendation, but she only said that panel 'had a good feel about us'. She admitted this wasn't very professional and I do wonder how these were recorded in the panel minutes...

Apparently they weren't even debating us, rather the boys' past and the reasons why their first adoption failed. They asked if we felt we were fully informed about everything. Well... 'Can I please know exactly why their previous adoption broke down for starters???' I did ask a few more questions and of course we also discussed the post adoption support package, which is undoubtedly robust, but only time can tell how well it will work for us, and more importantly, if it will be enough!

We handed over the This is Your New Mum and Dad DVD we filmed a few days before. (We had asked a friend to film us as we walk around the street and the house before we sit in the sofa and talk directly to the camera. The entire filming was all a good laugh until I had to utter the words to the camera 'Hello boys, I am your new Mummy'. And then my entire composure fell apart... The gravity of the situation has hit me there and then!)

The SW will meet the boys to show it to them 'tomorrow'.

So we wait. Tomorrow is almost here. But then we get an email from the SW saying 'after careful deliberations we think we should NOT rush this whole thing!' Until now they kept on saying 'since the boys are older once they hear the news things will go fast because, frankly, why wait?' It made perfect sense to us back then.

But suddenly the goalpost started moving...
We started the entire process in November 2014 and we have waited patiently, we complied with all their requests and we relied completely on their words and expertise. I appreciate that this is a long process, but when you are so close to the finish line even a silly little thing like postponing a meeting for a few days makes a huge difference and upsets the delicate balance that is in our heart!

Luckily it's only a few days; first they will share the news with the boys, then the SW will return a day after to see how the boys are taking the news and if it's all OK she will share the DVD with them. And then we can start thinking about having a planning meeting, which will hopefully push us out of this hard place of waiting...

Saturday, 30 April 2016

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! :)

Monday, 18 April 2016

Cathing up 5: Meeting the Foster Carer and School - with a sneak peek

After a lovely Christmas we got a call from our SW that in mid January we can (should) meet the FC. Enough to say we were a bit nervous. Her house was full of photos on the wall and social workers on the sofa: our SW, the Foster Carer's SW, the children's SW and the children's new SW - because the current one was leaving soon.

She did such a wonderful job bringing the children to life by telling us stories, their likes and dislikes, she showed us lots of photos and you could just tell that she adores them already! We felt a constant connection to her and I hope this good relationship will continue.

I really had to bite my tongue a few times not to say what I wanted to; I so desperately wanted to tell her how grateful I was for her looking after our future children so well! But I couldn't possibly say any of that. It wouldn't have been appropriate. In all honesty, I don't have any rights whatsoever to claim any feelings towards these children. Except that I know every single detail about their life, their terrible history and the challenges they currently present.

So I kept quiet and tried to record every singe word the FC told us about them. We were let into their room and I could almost see them playing with their toys or sleeping in their beds. In a sense it felt like we are violating their trust by being in their room without them. But again, I would feel violated myself if somebody knew this much about me or my life... This is one of those imbalances that follows the entire adoption process!

After this meeting we set off to visit their school to speak to their teachers. It didn't even cross my mind that we could see the children until our SW mentioned it on the way in as a slight possibility. As you can imagine my mind went into overdrive and I really struggled to pay attention to what was said. As far as I remember they shared some the concerns that were mentioned in the CAMHS assessment, which was good news in a sense that they both had the same diagnosis. That both boys are completely OK in their heads, and 'all is there', but due to their adverse history they are not able to function at their expected levels. This much we knew and expected. What we didn't expect is the head teacher's openness and willingness to grant my request at the end of the meeting.

The children's SW came with us but she decided to stay in the little room as they kids would have recognised her. Our SW came with us since she has not seen the kids before either. As we walked through the corridors my heart was pounding in my head so loud I didn't hear a word the teacher said.

I read blogs about THE first meeting; when parents meet their children (at birth or later) and pretty much all said the same: it is love at first sight! They all described how every single detail burnt into their memory and I was so full of anticipation that I almost missed it! We walked into a PE class and tiny boys in identical clothes were running around the room. The teacher asked me after a few minutes if I spotted him and I started to panic! No, I have no idea which of them is my future son!!!

Thank God she took pity on me and tried her best to point him out to me... As you would have it, our future son was the one standing closest to me! I could have touched his head, brush his face, but I guess it would have been super creepy and highly inappropriate. To him, we were just some random adults who got a tour of the school! His face was red from the running, his attention focused on the ball and his smile just captured my heart from that moment on!

It was too soon before we had to leave them to walk towards the other classroom. I think I was better prepared the second time to meet his brother. All the children in the room were focused on the board following closely what the teacher was saying. All but one! My little champion was struggling to cope and was sulking in his chair! He buried his head into his hands and looked miserable. And cute! So incredibly cute that all of us had to turn towards the door not to burst out laughing right there. The teacher asked if we spotted him and all we could do was nod with misty eyes.

In that very moment I knew that I AM FEELING MUM ALREADY! :)