Book Review 2: The Otter who Loved to Hold Hands

20152312This week’s book review is one of my new favourites! We got it from The Works online, where there is currently an amazing offer: 10 kids books for £10!!! Some of them were classics that we recognised and some we’d never heard of but took a gamble, because you can’t really go wrong with £1 a book!

This was one I’d never heard of, but even reading the blurb brought a tear to my eye! It’s by Heidi and Daniel Howarth and it has really beautiful illustrations.

The story is about a little otter called Otto. Every night his family all hold hands when they go to sleep so they don’t drift apart. In the morning, they let go of hands so they can go about their business. But Otto is too scared to let go. He knows he will float, but he’s too worried he’ll drift away and get lost.

Many children who are adopted (and many who aren’t) can find it really scary to be away from their primary caregiver. After all, that is their source of food, comfort, shelter and love! Children who have been removed from their first parents and had that bond of attachment broken may well have repeated this experience with one or more foster families before finding their Forever Family. And so it is understandable that these children may often be afraid to be away from their parents, or even out of sight.

Poor Otto misses out on a lot of fun – he can’t play with the other little otters if he’s holding his mum’s hand. He can see what he’s missing, but he’s torn. The very nature of fear and anxiety is the separation of rational thought from our emotions. What Otto knows and what he feels are very different. It’s only when Otto’s mum helps him to see himself swimming on his own, and smiling, that he realises he can do it!

My favourite bit of the book is the end, when Otto and his family come back together to hold hands again when they sleep. Gaining a bit of independence doesn’t mean he’s any less part of the family, or that he has to miss out on the things he enjoys.

I think this book is a brilliant opportunity to help anxious children think about when they are afraid and to talk about their own anxieties. And particularly in relation to separation. At the back of the book is a section of conversation starters and activities to help parents explore the story a bit more with their children.

Attachment issues or not, I can’t wait to read this book with our children. In the meantime I’m reading it a lot to myself as I think I need to stop crying everytime I do before they arrive!

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Paper Pregnant?!

I do not like this phrase. I’ve read lots of objections, and none of them are the reason I don’t like it. I just don’t. If we have to have a label, I’d prefer ‘expecting’ or ‘parents in waiting’! But recently I have started to feel pregnant. Not paper pregnant, but actually physically pregnant. (Don’t panic, I’m not.)

We were approved as adopters earlier this month, and then on Friday we met with our social worker for the first time to discuss the next stage. She had already been working very hard to find us matches and showed us several profiles of children whom she was ‘pursuing’ on our behalf. It was a very exciting and stressful meeting. Exciting because we may have seen the faces of our children for the first time. Stressful because we don’t know! There was one profile in particular that we can’t stop talking about, and are praying might be the children God has chosen for us.oblivion16

Since Friday I have been overwhelmed with excitement and nerves at the same time. Years ago I went to Alton Towers and there was a rollercoaster called Oblivion. At the start you get to the very edge of a vertical drop and the car stops, you are left hanging over the edge for no longer than a couple of seconds before the car drops into ‘oblivion’. Those couple of seconds feel like hours, you hold your breath and brace yourself for what’s coming.

I feel like we’re hanging over that edge at the moment.

But when we have massive feelings in our hearts/heads, our bodies are affected too. And the effects of the excitement/nerves looks more and more like pregnancy! I’ve found myself needing to rush for a wee more and more, I think because my body is so tense. I find these big feelings sometimes leak out of my body in tears, so I seem to spontaneously cry for no reason. Sometimes I feel so nervous and excited I think I might be sick. I’m physically tired, not from growing a human but because I can’t switch off my brain at night to get enough sleep. I’m eating more to try and feed the butterflies in my tummy which often feel like hunger, and so now I’m starting to look pregnant as I grow my tummy with cake!

The difference is we don’t have a due date. I don’t know if this will last for weeks or months or years!

And just because my children aren’t physically in my tummy doesn’t mean I don’t carry them everywhere with me. They are constantly in my thoughts and my heart as I love them more each day without having met them.

There isn’t a word I like to describe what’s happening, and I hope and pray that it doesn’t last long enough for someone to come up with one!

In the meantime we are praying that God will be preparing us and our children to be a family; that He will help us to trust Him and His plan more each day and that we manage to get some sleep before they arrive!

Showered with love…

When we first began telling people we were adopting, we had no idea how they would react. To us it was as exciting as the news, “we’re pregnant!” But we didn’t know if other people would feel the same. And certainly, some people asked why we wanted to look after other people’s children instead of having our own, some people asked if we got paid, some people told us horror stories of a friend of a friend who told them about a friend of a friend who adopted and then was murdered by the child. But on the whole, people were generally interested in the process and excited that we were going to be parents.

We were really touched by relatives ringing up to offer stair gates and by friends asking regularly if we had any news. In fact, as we approached panel, we spent most Sunday mornings at church answering questions about when and where the panel would be and receiving prayers and best wishes. We were actually quite overwhelmed by how excited our church family were to meet the latest members!

But it wasn’t until this Friday that I realised how many people were behind us. Friday was my surprise Adoption Shower! I’m not sure if that is a thing, but it is now apparently! I had absolutely zero idea that it was going to happen, but later found out that it had been planned for a very long time, before we even went to panel for approval! Most of the ladies from my church family were there, as well as relatives – some of whom had travelled 6 hours, with a 6 month old baby in tow!

It was a little bit different to a baby shower in that nobody discussed childbirth (phew!) but otherwise we played games, ate cake, talked, laughed and prayed together. I don’t think I have ever felt so loved as I did on Friday night. Surrounded by my dearest friends and family, celebrating my children. For a long time, I had thought that might never happen.

It was certainly not the reaction we were expecting when we first started telling people. The way we have been completely embraced in our journey so far reassures us that our children will be too, whatever their needs. And the support and prayer we have received so far gives us comfort that we won’t be on our own when it’s tough.

We are so thankful for our three families – his family, my family and our church family – and I don’t know how we would manage without the love and prayer and support. The importance of a good support network was really stressed when we began our journey and it has made such a difference to us so far, we don’t even have our children yet!

DSCF4910.JPGThe highlight of Saturday evening was opening two blankets. It has become a tradition in our church for all the ladies to knit squares which are crocheted together and given to whoever is pregnant. We’re not having a baby and so I never expected that I would get a special baby blanket, but I have two! They will be treasured in our family forever as will all of the people who created them.

End of soppy post.

 

Book Review 1: God Made All Of Me

Now we’re approved we’re really excited to get ready for the Big Arrival. The trouble is that we can’t buy clothes or furniture or start decorating because we don’t know what age or gender to be preparing for. One way we’ve found to start nesting is to start buying books! Books are fairly neutral and suit a wide range of ages. And so once a week I’m going to review a book that we’ve added to the shelf!

66675.jpgThe first one I’d like to share with you is called ‘God Made All Of Me: A Book to Help Children Protect Their Bodies’ by Justin & Lindsey Holcomb. It’s recommended for 2-8 year olds. This isn’t a story book that we’d leave out on the shelf, it’s more of a resource to help parents talk to children about their bodies, and how to keep them safe. It is written by Christians, and the message throughout is “God made every part of your body and God called every part of your body good.” But even if you are not a Christian, I do think this is an excellent resource, and a beautiful book.

It opens with an introduction to parents: “children need to know about private parts.” It explains how giving children the language and confidence to communicate about their bodies can help protect them. As I read this book, my eyes are full of tears – tears because this book has had to be written, that we have to teach our children to protect themselves from adults. And tears because our children, who we haven’t yet met, may already be bearing the pain and shame of being mistreated by adults. As adoptive parents, how we use this resource may be slightly different; if we know of sexual abuse in our child’s past, or can’t be sure, we will need to think about how we use this book alongside other therapy and discussion.

The book is overwhelmingly positive. The narrative is of a family talking openly about their bodies. I feel strongly that this is where children should be having these conversations, rather than in a classroom, and so I love that this book is set in a family home. The family are relaxed and warm towards each other, and their conversation celebrates their bodies, and their ability to protect them. We don’t want our children to feel embarrassed or ashamed of any part of their body, and this is the message of the book – every part of your body is wonderful. It uses anatomical words for ‘private parts’ instead of childish nicknames to empower children to know and own their bodies, and to give them the words to use to ask for help if and when they need it.

It goes on to say “some parts of your body are for sharing and some parts are not for sharing” and uses the swimming costume illustration to explain about sharing parts and private parts. One thing that struck me was a part about sharing hugs or high fives. At our adoption prep groups we discussed acceptable and unacceptable parenting. One of the examples we were asked to discuss was ‘is it acceptable to make a child hug or kiss a relative if they don’t want to?’ At first I didn’t see a problem with this, I imagine for parents it can be embarrassing when a Grandma wants to kiss their darling grandchild who refuses to be touched. But letting our children decide how their bodies are touched empowers them. It lets them know that they’re in charge of their own bodies. The book suggests just to say “no, thank you,” and as parents to respect our children’s wishes immediately. This will teach them that they can say No, and people will listen.

I used to work as a martial arts instructor, we went around schools teaching self defence. The first thing we always taught children, from 4 years old, was to say with confidence: “stop, please leave me alone.” Now we were under no illusions that a molester would turn around and walk away, but using your voice helps to regulate your breathing and so keep control of your body which might otherwise become frozen in panic. It also means that somebody nearby might hear and be able to help, as attackers often rely on their victim’s silence. If our children see this works in non-threatening situations, such as a tickle fight with Dad, or a big kiss from Nan, then it means they are more likely to use their voices in threatening situations. We want to teach our children: “you are in charge of your body.”

The book talks about safe touching – at the doctors, or parents helping young children to bathe. And it asks children to think of safe people who they can go to for help: “Who makes you feel safe and strong?”

The book also talks about the different between secrets and surprises. We should never keep secrets if somebody asks us to, especially from our parents. But sometimes it’s OK to have surprises – surprises are always revealed, and always bring joy. “Secrets make people feel confused or sad.”

The book finishes with the family talking about how much they love each other, which is a great chance for parents to tell their children how special they are! “That is why we talk about our bodies so we can help keep each other safe.”

Then there are 9 tips to help parents protect their children. I think they’re all great, but if I tell you everything in the book you won’t buy it, and I might get into trouble! There were two that especially made me. “Don’t ask your child to maintain your emotions” – that’s not their job! If our children feel responsible for how we are feeling, and we ask them to use their bodies to cheer us up (hugging or kissing) this might leave them open to abusers who could use similar language to manipulate how our children use their bodies. I’d never thought of this before, I thought using cuddles to cheer each other up would always be a good thing. But even on a less sinister level, I don’t want my children to feel responsible for my emotions, that’s not fair!

The second helpful tip was to “clarify rules for playing Doctors.” Children often use their own bodies in these games to be the patient, this is so normal and innocent. But teaching our children that we don’t play games with our bodies, they’re not toys, could protect them from an abuser who would use this same language or a ‘game’ to hurt our children. Again, I’d never thought of this before, but playing doctors with dolls or teddies is just as fun, and helps children to understand boundaries with what they do with their own body.

In summary: I love this book. I hate that it is necessary though.

This is a massive post, sorry, but I feel really passionate about this subject, and I really believe this book is a very powerful resource. If you’d like to get your own copy (I haven’t done it justice, and the illustrations are gorgeous) you can get it  here or, of course, on Amazon!

I’d love to know if you’ve read this book – or any others on this topic – or if you have any other tips for talking about bodies in a positive way with our children.god-made-all-of-me-holcomb-01.jpg

APPROVED!

Yesterday we went to panel. It was scary. A roomful of strangers read every detail of our lives and then sat and talked about us. We were invited in for a few minutes to be scrutinised before sent back outside to wait while they decided whether or not we were allowed to be parents. I would like to say it was actually quite fun, but it wasn’t. Or that it wasn’t as bad as I expected, but it was.

We planned to set off really early and have time to compose ourselves in a nearby Costa. Instead we drove around for a long time looking for somewhere to park, and then we walked around for a long time looking for the door! It was quite a helpful distraction, however, from where we were actually going. When we arrived we were shown to a room where we could wait. From there we could see our Stage 1 Social Worker at her desk; we were brought a cup of tea by the Social Worker who ran our prep group; and then The Lady who came to our house right at the start to fill in paperwork came to sit with us and distract us. It was nice to see all of these key people again at, what felt like, The End Of All Things.

After forever, our Social Worker came in with The Chair. It was a relief to see SW who we knew had been in with the panel fighting our corner. I suppose it was a big day for her too, she was recommending us to the panel and that is a big responsibility. The Chair introduced herself – she seemed friendly – and then made small talk for a while. I think it was to help us feel at ease, but it just felt like a test!

When we were left alone with SW, she told us that the panel were feeling really positive about us so far and that they’d struggled to think of questions to ask us, which I suppose means she’d done her job well and written a thorough report. She said their main concerns had been around my history of Anxiety, and our age – did we understand the enormity of what we were doing?  I quickly mentally deleted any jokes I could possibly be tempted to make. I don’t think she stopped smiling the whole time we chatted, I’m not sure if it was her nerves, or an attempt to relieve ours. Either way, it was comforting to be chatting with her. The questions they wanted to ask us were:

  1. How would we cope with the stress of parenting two children?
  2. How had we come to choose our criteria?
  3. What were we looking forward to about being parents?

As we read them I was sure I wouldn’t be able to say a single word, and so my husband jotted down notes as SW reminded us of all of the things we’d previously said that would be helpful. My mind was completely blank.

Then The Chair came back and we were led through windy corridors, outside, back inside, and finally to The Room. The Panel did their best to put us at ease, they offered us water and introduced themselves, which gave us time to adjust to the new environment. The Panel were a mix of social workers, adoptive parents, adopted adults and a doctor. I instantly identified the most intimidating panel member (The Doctor) and did my best to make eye contact with him the most.

As they asked each question my husband would start answering from the notes we’d made; and as he tailed off I would add anything that he’d missed, or that I suddenly thought of. I found that the chance to fight for our right to be parents meant I could speak after all. I tried to talk honestly, without being over the top. To say what I thought they wanted to hear, without sounding like I was. I wanted to shake each one of them by the shoulders and somehow make them realise the enormity of what they were doing.

I don’t know if it’s normal, but it felt like they laughed a lot, that was reassuring. At one point The Doctor commented on my ironing and I thought he was being sarcastic so mumbled a long defence about how my husband had actually ironed his own shirt and I’d told him it wasn’t OK to wear, on and on I rambled. Anyway, apparently he was trying to be nice.

Finally it was over! We were taken out of the room and The Lady sat with us again to offer distraction. Eventually SW came out and straight away said it was good news! I’m not sure what reaction she normally gets, but we just sat stunned. I didn’t quite understand what she was saying, or what it meant. We are actually going to be parents. A roomful of strangers trust us enough to give us children. SW said one of the panel members had said she’d like to live with us herself. Slightly weird, but a compliment I’m sure.

IMG_20160705_212538900.jpgAs we were leaving, still in shock, SW gave us a big hug and told us she’d be in touch soon. And that was it. As we walked out of the building it felt like we had a big rubber stamp across our foreheads: APPROVED. We wandered around the shopping centre for a while, every so often I lost the ability to walk and we’d just stand for a few seconds as the realisation washed over us. We tried calling each other Mum and Dad – my husband tried Mother but it just reminded me of the film Psycho. After a coffee in Costa and a quick ring around our family, it seemed the only thing to be done now was Nando’s.

Panel Day was a scary day, a special day. I’m thankful that so many people care about the wellbeing of our children to put us through that. I’m thankful that our SW believes enough in us to stand up for us. Most of all, I’m thankful that it’s over.