Friday, 21 April 2017

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Thursday, 6 April 2017

Musings after my first Mother's Day

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

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


  • Took Snoops (7) to the GP recently and the good doctor asked me if I was his mum. Bless him, Snoops said 'yes, of course'. Then GP asked if I have PR (parental right) to sign a certain paper to which I had to say 'no'. From the day they moved in and we officially 'claimed them' I have all the parental responsibilities of being their mum, but only a fraction of parental rights. It feels odd that I need to check with their SW for most significant things, but the other 23h 58min every day they belong to me.
  • I wrote about my recent one sided row with Birth Mum on which one of us is the boys' mum - she with her DNA or me with actually raising them. I received quite a few supportive comments from friends and random people who stumbled upon my blog; somebody said 'many woman can give birth, but only a few will become true mothers'. I quite liked that sentiment!
  • I re-read some of my earlier posts and again I realised that I am still the only female in the house; I  live with 3 males who fart, burp, eat a lot more than me and always leave the toilet seat up!
  • And then we look at the actual day itself. I know in many adoptive homes (and sadly also in many birth families as well) this day continues to remain a big challenge. Last year our boys just moved in before Father's Day and the whole day was a disaster that culminated in my husband getting kicked, bitten and attacked by a 6 year old. For poor hubby this was his first ever Father's Day, but I doubt he wants to remember it...
I guess enough time has passed since then, because the boys do call me MUM and in their heads there is no doubt this is their Finally Forever For Real Home. 6 said it the other day to somebody 'my favourite colour is red, just like my mum's!' So this gave me a reason to hope this time it will be ok and we are not facing an open can of worms...


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

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

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

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Letter to me from Birth Mum

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

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

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

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

1. We are NOT friends!
This well known quote in adoption circles from Jody Landers summarises my feelings well. The only reason she and I even know each other is because she gave them birth and now they call me MUM.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 24 March 2017

Love Languages in Adoption

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

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

  • Words of affirmation (uses words to affirm other people's worth)
  • Acts of service (actions speak louder than words)
  • Receiving gifts (what makes them feel most loved is to receive a gift)
  • Quality time (giving the other person your undivided attention)
  • Physical touch (nothing speaks more deeply than appropriate touch)
When the boys moved in and we became a family of four after meeting and 'dating' only for 2 weeks, we were thrown into the deep end and survival was the most important target. Now, several months later when feelings and emotions don't run that high any more and all 4 of us accepted the fact that 'this is how it's gonna be from now on' we can look closer into this topic. We have spent now a significant amount of time together so I feel I have a good understanding now about their personalities so I feel I am in a position to narrow down their love languages from 5 to maybe 2?

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

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

'All they need is love!'  

But what kind of love? For the sake of staying focused and keeping the length of this post under control I will only mention some of the most obvious obstacles:
  • lack of trust towards new parents
  • fear of the unknown
  • loss, separation, trauma and their 'fruits'
  • staying in constant fight/flight mode thus not being in a position to just BE 
  • not being in the state of mind to act rationally / age appropriately / 'normally'  
  • having the need to feel safe, secure, settled, attached as overriding emotions 
  • not being optimistic about their own future 
  • self blame or believing they don't deserve love or any good in their lives
When I look beyond these massive challenges and occasionally, when I am able to provide a minute or 2 of calmness where the boys feel safe, their lovely personalities start to shine through. I get a glimpse of the real Snoops and real Goofs; the ones they could be 24/7 had they not have their rubbish past that locked those personalities away...


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 17 March 2017

Time to Say Goodbye

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

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

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

How do you relate to your clothes? What memories have you attached to specific clothes? How do you pick which is your favourite item? Most of my clothes are just what they are; clothes that cover my body and keep me warm. I have a few that I bought because I liked the colours or because they looked good on me. Some are non negotiable and follow the work dress code, some I got for specific occasions like a wedding so naturally when I look at it I remember all the fun I had at that specific party.

But when it comes to our children, each clothing item carries extra added attributes. At this age the boys are not too bothered about how the items look on them. They often don't remember why they got them at the first place (unless it was a Reward for something) or where they wore them first. What they remember is WHO gave it to them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*names obviously changed

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Who is the Enemy?

Before I crack on with this week's post I feel I need to clarify a few things:

1: Don't like, don't read! Simple!
2: Don't understand? Ask, before you report me for 'bad parenting'.
3: The 'target audience' is primarily fellow adopters who can appreciate the weight of 'being the mother of THAT child', who can celebrate with me when I say 'his tantrum only lasted 30 minutes' and most importantly those WHO HAVE WALKED A MILE IN MY SHOES! If you haven't, please refer to the second point before you say/do something we will both regret... Or sod off...

That being said let me tell you what promoted this post. We have been recently reported to Social Services by 'a concerned citizen' who knew squat about our life as a family of four. After a few agonizing and sleepless nights it's now closed (with no further action mind you) and we can move on with our life; the children are blissfully unaware of this ordeal. A fellow adopter told me 'welcome to your new reality'. Just like a doctor always dreads somebody someday will sue them, now we have to worry about this as well. This is such a real and depressing thought that I needed to write this out of me before I go crazy...

So, who is your enemy today? Take your pick...

1. Is it your adopted child/ren?

Our life as a couple has been really great. We had time and money for everything. We could spontaneously go to the cinema, do shopping at 11pm, go on mini holidays, achieve in our respective fields, have a social life, discuss problems in a civilised and calm manner...etc. This all went out the window the moment they moved in. I am a stay home mum for the time being; locked up in my house-prison; the topics reduced to poo, farthing or Peppa Pig; only have adult conversations with the teacher/Social Worker/Play Therapist/GP ABOUT the children; I step on bloody Lego everywhere in the house; #InsertYourProblemHere ...etc.

I wonder if you can read the next, very honest lines without judgement? The naked truth is, this chain of thoughts is not uncommon among adopters:
We decided to adopt children to help them change their stories so we opened up our hearts, our home, we put our life on the back burner and all we got in return for our goodness is pain and destruction. Our frustration is originated with the children and it is also aimed right back at them. And suddenly you realise you are not that good at all! So your anger turns towards yourself. How awful I am for blaming this poor child for ruining my happy life? What a rotten attitude is that? Oh, hello self conflict, just who I needed in my life right now. I hate what I have become, I hate what this child turned me into! This child has ruined my life! It's easy to see how they can become the enemy...

2. Is it your spouse?

'For crying out loud, why on Earth did you have to say/do that to our son?'
'Just because YOUR dad/mum used to do that to YOU, it doesn't make it right or an example I want YOU to follow when you parent MY child!'
'No, it's your turn, I woke up the first 3 times when he cried'
'I am so exhausted, I have no energy to talk to you unless it's related to the boys.'
'How can you not keep your cool? Do you think it's therapeutic parenting what you have just done?'
'It's easy for you, you go to work, I had to give up my career,  I have to take them to school, do house work, pick them up from school, make food, do all the therapeutic parenting, suffer through the tantrums, do the home works...' and it's twin sister: 'It's easy for you, you are home all day, I have to go to work, worry about money and then come home to more shouting, I have no energy to play with them...' It's easy to see how (s)he can become the enemy...

3. Is it me, myself and I?
Being a perfectionist helped me all my life to achieve my goals from swimming to masters degrees and a career. We can all agree, any type of parenting is hard, but because our boys had such a difficult past I struggle with the idea of 'good enough' parenting. I know it's self destructing in the long run and 'you can't pour from a dry cup', but I find zero consolidation in comments like 'if your children are fed and alive, it's a good day'. I know in my head it's a marathon, but my legs can't slow down from the sprint, so from time to time I stumble and fall. But even then there is no time for self care or me-time, because... there is always a reason. It's easy to see how I can become the enemy...


4. Is it other perfect parents?
'Oh, that's normal, my child does that, too. Why don't you just...' Soooo not helpful. I am sure we all hear the comments and helpful suggestions from others, well meaning birth parents who might know a thing or two about parenting their own specific children, but have no clue about the complexity and extra added challenges that we have to face on a minute by minute basis. I am tired of explaining why Reward Charts don't work or that my child's violence is not because 'boys are boisterous', but because he is used to see it at home as an effective way of dealing with problems and end arguments. Or the ones who complain we are too strict in our parenting style and they don't have a clue we are actually protecting their sorry asses from a potential allegation our child is likely to make against them... The other end of the spectrum is when they question your sincerity or severity of the incident simply because 'he is always lovely when he is with me. Are you sure it's not just you misreading the situation?' It's easy to see how they can become the enemy...

5. Is it the PIE?
From Sarah 'therapeutic parenting guru' Naish's book they are the Patronising Ignorant Experts (teachers, social workers, therapists) who have 'seen it all' so they must know it all, too. In one sentence they tell you 'you are the expert when it comes to your child' and in the very next one they tell you off saying 'trust me, you are wrong, I am the expert'. A teacher who only sees my child is constantly disrupting the class because every time the door opens he must turn to see who is it (but failed to position my son's desk to face the door as I had requested to lessen his anxiety levels). Or a TA who doesn't get that even though he looks 7 he can revert back to a 3y old in a second and unless they use toddler distraction tactics he will not 'just snap out of it' and therefore TA concludes he must be challenging TA's authority only to annoy them. Obviously.

6. My new reality: the concerned citizen
Perhaps the scariest of all. You don't know who might have a personal grudge against you. You don't know which friend you honestly confided in about your struggles will get anxious enough to turn against you strictly 'out of concern'. Or perhaps a neighbour, who had enough of the shouting and crying that goes on in your house at 4 am and (s)he incorrectly assumes the child cries because you are beating them. Or a mother of the boys' classmate who has no idea you are not the same mother who had abused the boy in the past when he casually mentions during a play date 'my mum hit me with a...' because we didn't tell everyone the boys are adopted.

Perhaps the next post should be about Who is a Friend and how to recongise them?

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Detective Mummy & the Scar

Imagine you read a script of a TV show...

Genre: Family drama
Starring: 

  • Detective Mummy (trying to do the right thing, that is therapeutically approach the situation and treat the root of the problem instead of the symptoms presented on the surface.)
  • Goofs (6 years old son, who settled in really well, but as you will see his roots run very shallow and a smallest of wind can throw him back to his previous life; usually the 'OK child')
  • Snoops (7 years old son, surprisingly in this episode he is the 'good son' for once, partially because whenever his brother is the 'problem child', his sibling jealousy catapults him into angel mode
  • Dad (not so therapeutic parent, in this episode he is struggling with cold)

Act I.
Scene 1: Friday morning, Dad, Snoops, Goofs getting ready to leave the house and go to Sports Club

Dad: 'Are we ready to go? Goofs, put your jumper on.'
Goofs: 'I am red hot, I don't want to!' 
Dad: 'Are you sure? It's really cold.'
Goofs: 'Yes, I am sure!'
Off they go. The three walk to the location of the holiday club; it's a 10-20 min walk, depending on everybody's mood.

35 min later, Dad back in the house

Det. Mummy: 'How did it go?'
Dad: 'Goofs had a massive meltdown and was crying all the way. He was upset that we didn't take the car like we did yesterday.'
Det. Mummy: 'Did you explain the only reason you drove them yesterday was because you were sick and it was pouring down rain and sleet?'
Dad: 'No, not really. I told him we can walk like we usually do.'

Scene 2: Flashback to yesterday afternoon

Snoops: 'Mummy, tomorrow we will have a water fight in Sports Club so we need an extra set of clothing.'
Det. Mummy: 'Wow, I am quite surprised since it's still winter and it will be cold tomorrow.'
Snoops: 'That's OK, I don't want to get wet anyway so I will just stay inside.'
Goofs: 'Oh, if Snoops is not doing it, I don't want to do it either!'
Det. Mummy: 'I think you boys are making the right decision. I am very proud of both of you!'

Scene 3: back to Friday afternoon, Det. Mummy walking to pick the kids up from Sports Club

Det. Mummy: 'Goofs, why are you so wet?'
Goofs: (crying in the room, wearing only his shorts and t-shirt.) 'I am so cold!'
Det. Mummy: 'Where is your jacket? And your jumper? And your sweat pants?'
Goofs: 'I am so cold!'
Snoops: 'Look Mummy, I am dry, just like you told me to be! I am the clever one, right? Goofs made the wrong decision and joined in the water fight. His jacket is soaking wet, just like his sweat pants! He is very silly, right, Mummy?'
Det. Mummy: (ignoring his need to reinforce his brother is silly, she turns to Goofs) 'Where is your jumper?'
Snoops: (crying very loud now) 'I didn't bring any!' 
Det. Mummy: 'Well, that wasn't very clever of you, was it? Unfortunately I didn't bring the car so we have to walk home.'
Snoops starts a massive meltdown that culminates in him calling Det. Mummy names. She knows the best way to get the situation under control is to put the jacket onto Snoops (it's only a bit damp on the inside) and put the extra (and dry) sweat pants on him as fast as she can with one hand, while holding the disregulated child with the other hand.)

The walk home is a misery for all 3. Det. Mummy tries to give attention to Snoops who is extremely excited because he won an award in archery today, while ensuring Goofs keeps walking, who, for some reason decided that he is so frozen he can't even move his legs.

Snoops: '...so Jack said that and then I told him, just watch, and then the teacher said...' (fades into background)
Det. Mummy: 'Come on son, you can walk, your legs are fine. The sooner we get home the faster you can get a nice hot shower.'
Goofs: (not following them, but starts walking in the opposite direction) 'I hate you. I don't want to go to your stupid house ever again!'
Snoops: 'I am so proud of myself for winning the archery competition! Are you proud of me, Mummy?'
Det. Mummy: 'Yes, of course, I am very proud of you! Could you just stand here while I run after your brother?'

For the next ten minutes Det. Mummy is walking very fast. In her left hand she is holding the hand of happy Snoops who is skipping next to her. In her right hand she holds firmly the hand of a deeply unhappy Goofs, practically dragging him behind her while Goofs shouts at her non stop. Some strangers pass by and Goofs is desperate to gain their attention. Some must be parents themselves as they see it's a tantrum with no tears and the child is in no danger so they give a sympathetic look towards Det. Mummy and walk away.

Scene 4: we are inside the house, Goofs had a hot shower and he appears to be content as he sits at the dining room table

Det. Mummy: 'So, Goofs, you need to finish your reading homework and then we can all watch a film since it's Friday Family Film time and today you are choosing.'
Goofs: (shouting) 'No, never! I will never do that stupid book! It's not fair, why Snoops doesn't have any homework?'
Det. Mummy: (quietly) 'It's because he finished his last Friday. Come on, it's only a few pages left and then you can watch it. You know the rules; first the homework and then the movie!'

Goofs: (throws the book at her and continues shouting.) 'You are so stupid! I hate you! I hate your stupid house! I hate this stupid homework. I will not do it. I want to watch the film now!'
Det. Mummy: (starting to raise her voice) 'No, you will not. remember what happened to Snoops a few weeks ago? He had several warnings and he still didn't do it so sadly he missed the entire film. I wouldn't want you to have the same outcome...'

At this point Goofs attacks Det. Mummy with full force. She manages to get out of his way and puts her arms around him from behind, while he continues to shout insults at her.
Det. Mummy: 'I can see that this is very difficult for you. I understand that you feel it is not fair, but...'
In this moment Goofs wiggles himself out of the embrace with force. In the heat of the fight he breaks 3 of Det. Mummy's nails and as you would have it, one broken nail manages to scratch his arm. The tone of his shouting changes into panic and screaming.

Goofs: (in pain) 'You evil xxxx. You scratched me on purpose. I hate you even more than JaneDoe (birth mum's name).'
Det. Mummy: 'I am really really sorry. That was an accident! I...'
Goofs: (in panic mode now) 'Oh my god! I am bleeding! I'm going to die! You killed me!'
Det. Mummy: (feeling incredibly awful, but trying to show she is in control for the sake of the child and speaks in a calm voice) 'It's red, but it's not bleeding. You will not die.'
Goofs: 'No, I will never accept your apology! I hate you!'
Det. Mummy: 'I wonder if it would help the pain if we got your favourite Star Wars plaster on it...'
Goofs: 'I HATE YOU! YOU STUPID XXXX! I DON'T WANT TO SEE YOU EVER AGAIN! I WANT TO LEAVE YOUR STUPID HOUSE RIGHT NOW' 
Det. Mummy (she starts to go to bathroom to get plasters). 'I am really sad you feel that way. I don't hate you, just the opposite. I love you very much!'

Goofs keeps his eyes closed so he doesn't have to look at her, but crawls closer to her, inch by inch until he is snuggled in safely in her arms. She sits down on the dining room floor, scoops him up like a baby. They remain in that position for the next 25 minutes until his sobbing stops. Fade to black...
End of Act I.


Act II:
Scene 1: same location, Det. Mummy and Goofs sitting on the floor, fish and chips in the oven starting to burn.

Det. Mummy: 'This feels really good, sitting here with mummy, her arms around you and she is keeping you safe.' (Goofs just nods quietly). 'I can see you are having lots of big feelings in your tummy right now.' (another nod) 'I wonder if you are really angry with me or with JaneDoe...' (silence) 'I wonder if your feeling cold earlier reminded you of your time with JaneDoe when she couldn't keep you safe and you felt really really scared around her...' (nodding returns) 'Maybe you weren't even angry with this mummy, but the other mummy?'
Goofs: (whispering, still not looking at her but looking at the scratch mark on his arm) 'No, I am angry with YOU! You hurt me on purpose! (and crying starts again)
Det. Mummy: 'No, you know it is not true. It was an accident and I apologised. I would never hurt you! This mummy can and will always keep you safe!' (he keeps focusing on the scar) 'I am wondering if you keep looking at the scratch mark because it helps you stay mad at me?'
Goofs: 'Yes! I still don't think I can forgive you...ever! You hurt me, just like JaneDoe did! Can I get that plaster now?' 

Scene 2: in the bathroom, selecting a couple of fun plasters, just to be safe.

Goofs: 'Well, I see there will be no bedtime story for me today.'
Det. Mummy: 'Hmm... Let me ask you this, do you think your bad afternoon has something to do with this assumption?'
Goofs: 'Actually, it was not just a bad afternoon, mummy. I had a bad day from the beginning!'
Det Mummy: (her brain working hard to detect the connections and then... the light bulb moment!) 'I am wondering if you behaved badly this morning because you were cold?' (he is nodding, so she continues her detective deduction work) 'I think you assumed daddy will drive you like he did a day before so you thought you don't need a jumper. (more nodding and a quick look at her face) 'But he made you walk and then you felt cold without a jumper, but perhaps you felt upset with yourself but didn't know how to say it or get out of this situation so you panicked and started to 'act out' and...'
Goof: 'yes, and so my whole day was ruined, I didn't win in archery, but then they had the water fight and I knew I don't have extra clothes...'
Det. Mummy: '...but it looked like fun so you joined in because you assumed it's Friday and daddy usually picks you up with the car on Fridays...'
Goofs: 'yes, but then you came and you said we have to walk and...' (starts sobbing again.) 

Det. Mummy envelopes him in her arms again and starts making funny faces in the mirror. Moments later Goofs joins in and soon they are having a good time together.
Det. Mummy: 'I am so sorry I scratched you. Can you please forgive me?'
Goofs: (still laughing) 'Oh, I forgave you a long time ago!'
Det. Mummy: 'Oh, thank you. You say it was a long time ago?'
Goofs: 'Of course, mummy! I just didn't forgive you when I was mad. When I am happy I always forgive you!'
Det. Mummy: 'That's good to hear. Maybe you can also apologise to me...' 
Goofs: (turns around so he can face her) 'I am really sorry for my bad behaviour and for calling you stupid! You are my cleverestest mummy and I love you very much!'
Det. Mummy: 'I love you too, my son!' 
Goofs: 'So, can I go and watch the end of the film?'
Det. Mummy: 'Sadly no, remember? You still haven't done your homework.'
Goofs: 'You know what? It's actually fine with me. I got to sit with you all evening, it's way better than a film!'

Det. Mummy smiles back at him, but it's a bitter sweet smile. Discipline is important. Therapeutic parenting is even more important. Having consequences for bad behaviour is needed. Unconditional love and attunement is needed even more! According to Dan Hughes children who experienced loss and trauma need to experience comfort and joy to heal. In a twisted way of events, accidentally hurting Goofs turned out to be the reason for him to experience comfort afterwards. Yes, it was horrible as my hurting him fit into his distorted view of mothers and the fact that they hurt him. Yes, the scratch mark will be visible for a few days, but if his behaviour this morning is any indication, (when he saw me his very first words to me were 'Mummy, I am so sorry for my bad behaviour yesterday, I love you very much!) I think we are both on the mend...

The End 

Friday, 3 February 2017

The Power of Play

We all agree that playing is fun! It's needed. Regardless of your age or gender. We all love to play. Some alone, some in groups; some together for a common goal, others play competitively; some with recycled cheap rubbish (and lots of imagination) others with super expensive gadgets.

But what if you don't know HOW TO play?

For most of us it's a silly question that we dismiss with a wave of a hand 'How can you not know how to play? Even poor African children who have nothing know how to have fun in the dirt. Everybody has an imagination! Surely every child has creative ways of entertaining themselves!' Surely...

My 2 boys came from the same home, experienced the same neglect, but have different personalities. One escaped the harsh reality by creating an imaginary world in his head where he is safe, happy and can think up all sorts of funny things to keep him entertained. The other one just shut himself down completely and used his body parts to fight everybody and everything. For him, this was play...

Fast forward to living in several foster carers' homes with left over broken toys from previous children and lots of new ones given for their birthdays, Christmas or just to 'keep them quiet'. During Intros we found out the boys' favourite past time was to watch telly, play on their tablets, play on their Nintendo DS or play with their Nintendo Wii. All activities designed to escape from reality, narrow your focus on a tiny screen, avoid eye contact or conversation with anybody else. To the last FC's credit the boys had lots of cars, toys, Lego, domino...etc but they hardly played with it and even then they just threw them around so naturally all were broken.

One of the hardest thing was (besides the many obvious) for us to get them free from their screen addiction. With a swift decision we removed all gadgets from their new room and replaced them with educational games, board games, we increased their Lego collection and introduced weekly crafty activities. We also played with them various sporty activities in the garden, did other fun stuff like snail races or comparing worms and now we are at a point where they don't even miss their gadgets. So, they can have them as treats from time to time. They are no longer a tool to 'give parents/carers a break' but rewards to acknowledge and celebrate when the boys achieved something.
When he is free to be a little boy and use his imagination outside of his head...
He made these 4 designs in 15 min!
To be fair we can't claim much credit for this. I must mention that we are one of the very fortunate adopters who could access Play Therapy from very early on. At first I didn't feel comfortable watching my child on the play mat with the therapist. They were surrounded by boxes of toys (doll house with figures, crafts, puppets, toy cars, soft toys, animals, dress up props and lots more) and the boys were so overwhelmed they didn't know what to do, what to play with first and ended up having meltdowns. The 'play lady' was fabulous and week after week the boys felt more confident, more excited and more animated during each session. I could not understand how 20 min of throwing puppets around would help them be less chaotic, more manageable, less violent, more settled.... simply put: How will playing help all four of us to survive this adoption???

Fast forward again a few months and suddenly we started to see the transformation! Goofs' (6) angry outbursts and Child on Parent Violence (CPV) subsided significantly. He was still getting all upset and worked up about the same simple issues like 'go brush your teeth', but he could calm down much faster without the need to hurt us or break something. I do not wish to over-simplify this complex issue and I am certainly no expert on this topic, but in short by allowing 'him to decide all the fun things we do in play therapy' and making it clear 'all feelings are OK on the play mat' he was able to work through some of his control issues while playing on the mat and week after week he was more compliant at home. I am still amazed and often jokingly describe play therapy as 'black magic'. He is rapidly turning into a sweet little boy who is no longer crippled and determined by the horror, trauma and loss he experienced so his fun, creative, kind self can come to the surface for all to see and love!
Snoops' (7) imagination is wonderful. These are his newest creations for his next story.
N.B.: all names are Trade Marked already :) 

Play Therapy slowly turned into Filial Therapy so it was no longer the therapist on the play mat but mummy and daddy. That really opened up ways for him to heal at a speed not even his therapist expected. With him, after 9 months in placement we are in a place where Attunement is no longer enough! I mean it in the best possible way! The therapist is training hubby and I now to practice Congruence, which is like an advanced level Empathy & Attunement combo - if I understand it correctly...

Last week we were given a few boxes of toys by a friend; most of them are age appropriate. There was a puzzle game for toddlers that I wanted to donate further thinking boys will find it 'childish'. (yes, I know... that's irony for ya). Goofs saw it and asked what it was. Before I could explain he started playing with it. I took the opportunity to do Play Tracking (a therapy technique, basically I describe what is happening, mention every emotion that can come up) and suddenly the miracle happened!

Goofs felt free to regress to a younger age and he felt safe enough to start talking about his past - for the very first time! We obviously knew most of the horror, but not from him! While his fingers were busy he was in a happy chatty mood. He talked about his birth dad, what happened, HOW HE FELT during those times. The puzzle was complete, but he felt safe to stay in the 'zone' so I ventured into asking about his time in Foster Care, the constant change, his feelings around meeting us, Intros, his initial aggression and CPV and its roots! It was such a weird experience: He is 6! His emotional age was 3-4 at that moment. His words were as of a grown up!
Allowing him to regress and enjoy toddler toys immensely
He described the nervousness he felt, he was unsure if 'this will work out this time', 'can I trust you', 'will you be nice to me', 'will I get punished for not knowing your house rules' , 'can we stay here forever or is this just another stop'. I tried my best to stay Attuned and not switch back into 'teary mummy mode' so we discussed how all those were understandable feelings and that no child should experience that and alike. After about 15 minutes of very intense therapeutic parenting he switched back to a 6 year old and asked what's for dinner. He reached his limit for the time being.

Last night I called him 'my son' without even thinking twice about it. He turned around and asked: 'From now on, can you please call me MY SON and not my first name please?' When I said of course he jumped into my arms and said 'You are my bestest Mummy ever!' Sounds like the 5th time might be the charm??

Friday, 13 January 2017

Post Christmas Blues

The good news is (besides Jesus being born and bringing salvation to the world) we survived the Christmas holidays. Husband took time off of work, which meant the four of us were together straight for 18 days from morning till night - the longest time we have spent together since we met 8 months ago. Looking back now I can honestly say it made a huge difference and raised the question whether we should have done that at the beginning... Despite what many adopters said to us we agreed with our SWs that the boys needed structure so they went straight into school a few days after they moved in.

We were prepared for the worst; not just by SWs, Play Therapists and other experts, but also fellow adopters. The general consensus was: LAC DON'T DO CHRISTMAS! Well, I am happy to say this is not true!

In general I can say we had a very OK time, even lovely at times. That's not to say we didn't have meltdowns and tantrums that were rooted in their horrible past, but all in all we had a very pleasant time - even hubby agrees who could take the xmas break for what it's supposed to be: a time of rest. (you know, we, stay home mums don't count as we 'rest during the days, every day in fact, when the kids are in school' anyway...)

We tried to stick with some structure that involved breakfast, play time, lunch, go outside, film, dinner, play, sleep. Depending on the weather we swapped these around, but we did go out almost every day except Xmas Day when we all had a Pyjama Day. Husband used to take Goofs (6) to a nearby country park every time he had aggressive outbursts to burn off some anger. We drove past said park one day and he recognised it. Oddly he didn't attach negative feelings to it, it was only a matter-of-fact remark (a child after my own heart! :) ). Snoops (7) has never been there and asked if we could go as a family. We did and I am happy to say this is the boys' favourite place to go now! Lots of adventures to have, ponds, secret paths, mud, sticks, animals, ice to break...

We also allowed them to watch cartoons on a laptop every morning (normally they get it on the weekends only) to ensure parents can have a sleep in, which worked extremely well! Because hubby is the baker in the house, he decided to try some new bread recipes with the boys. Goofs especially enjoyed channelling his anger into kneading bread! The results were oh so delicious! :)
Naturally we were slightly apprehensive before Xmas Day. On Xmas Eve after they went to bed 'Santa came' meaning he finished the mince pies and milk and left the presents under the tree while Rudolph ate the carrot and accidentally knocked down some decorations (Bad Rudy, bad bad Rudy!) As any parent, you are nervous because of the presents you got hoping they are the right ones and they would be 'enough'. Last year the FC wanted to 'cheer them up after the adoption breakdown' so she went way overboard with the number and value of presents. We knew we can't match that and frankly, we didn't want to either! To be honest we knew they will break any toys within a day anyway, plus we want to teach them what's really important - ambitious goals for our first family Christmas!

Boys were ecstatic to come down on Christmas Day. Goofs' first comment ('Last year we got a lot bigger presents!') came from a place of honesty so we couldn't really be upset with him. Thank God it was quickly replaced by more excitement as they emptied their stockings and opened their presents. I think they got a lot more presents than ever before considering all our extended family members and some of our close friends got them things, which they all labelled as With love from... It's great, but it also looks like Mummy and Daddy got them nothing as everything else was from Santa... :)

 Boys got mugs with special markers to decorate them. Goofs didn't waste time in drawing a happy family of four on it! I showed this pic to his therapist with a question 'Do you think he feels securely attached now?' This is the same boy who had had really nasty angry outbursts, threw things out the window, attacked us violently not very long ago! The therapist just cried... (of joy I hope!)

Daddy, too, went slightly overboard this Christmas. We decorated the house excessively on the first of December (which was a training day for teachers anyways), the tree was up a few days later and xmas music was loud all around the house all month. Aaaand then came the traditional Xmas Dinner. Hubby cooked for 10 people at least so food was falling off of the table even with the extension! :) The boys really enjoyed the big fuss and had a great time! Happy wife child means happy life, indeed!


We played endless amount of Lego and with their new Snakes and Ladders board game. Boys are learning now that 'it's just a game, no need to cry if you loose'; 'it's ok to laugh at other's bad luck, no need to punch them in the face'; 'you are not stupid if you can't roll a 6, it's just about luck'...etc. Again, happy to say they made huge progress in these areas and we can also see how this new knowledge translates into other areas of their behaviour! Amazingly the violent reactions they cultivated towards each other for seemingly small issues (like who brushes their teeth first) are now reduced to a short exchange of words - they still need parental supervision and decision making, but this is definitely a massive step in the right direction!

We even risked a sleepover party at our friends' place on New Years Eve! Boys behaved really well, went to bed around 9pm upstairs so parents could enjoy a fun evening to finish off the year with friends and grown up games! Yay!!!

Going back to school is another trigger for challenging behaviour and again, we were nervous. The boys had such a good time off school we didn't know how they will take it. As it turns out we didn't have to worry. Boys were happy to go back, see their friends, compare notes on who got what presents, even to 'learn new things' (!!! WHAT???).

And to top it off, 2 nights ago Goofs was brushing his teeth after dinner and said: 'mummy, I am dfghshj...' I said 'what?' He spit into the sink, looked at me through the mirror and said 'mummy, I am so happy I have a real mum now' and went back to brushing his teeth. He played it really cool and I didn't correct his terminology. :)))

It was a lovely moment, but we have learnt to take everything with a pinch of salt. Yesterday he smacked his brother with a big book leaving an ugly mark on Snoops' face and when I grabbed his hand to stop him doing it again he started shouting at me saying 'you are nasty, nasty and I hate you so much!' 

There! This is my post Christmas blues...
Hopefully 2017 will work out better!