Friday, 30 September 2016

Face/Off

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!