Our boys have been with us for ten and a half weeks. They’ve settled in remarkably well and have made a lot of progress in a short space of time. We’ve celebrated our first Christmas together and life is starting to feel ‘normal’.
Normal is a strange word, and one I hear a lot at the moment. As we introduce the boys to more and more people, one thing I keep hearing is “aren’t they so normal?!” It’s meant as a compliment, and I completely understand what they mean. To the outsider it could seem like the boys have been here forever. We look like any ordinary family, and for the most part the boys act like any other 3 and 4 year olds.
But recently I’ve realised just how wrong that assessment is. My boys are not normal, they’re definitely not ordinary. My boys are extraordinary little men. Let me tell you why.
My boys didn’t have an easy start in life, although they also haven’t had the hardest. They were removed from birth family aged 1 & 2 and placed in short term foster care. For 2 years. They were fortunate to stay with the same foster carers until they came home to us, and that has been a massive factor in building their resilience and their ability to form attachments. But it also means that in their short lives they’ve been ripped away from the centre of a familiar, close knit family unit. Twice.
However, from Day 1 the boys have called us Mummy and Daddy. They have called us a family and they love to chant our surname! It hasn’t been easy, and on more than one occasion they’ve both screamed “you’re not my Mummy,” “I don’t want you,” or “I wan’t *foster carer*.” But on the whole they have attached to us really well, and we have to them! Our little boys lost everything they knew, twice, and yet they opened up their hearts to us and trusted us with them. That takes incredible strength.
Given everything they’ve been through, it’s not surprising that our boys have some pretty Big Feelings to deal with for such little people. Spiderboy in particular carries a lot of anger. And I don’t blame him. And yet, for the most part he is able to control it. Normally he saves it for home, where he feels safe, and then will let it rage! As he calms he is often able to talk through his anger, what sparked it and what might be a better way to handle it. But he isn’t one to dwell on it, and once he’s raged through it he will seek comfort and attachment and move quickly on. He is also a highly anxious child, who spends most of his waking day on high alert. And yet he is able to talk through and rationalise his anxieties in a way that I know I couldn’t do without a lot of CBT! He will often ask for reassurance at times when he’s feeling most vulnerable, “if naughty boys come and get me, will you fight them?” Batboy also has Big Feelings, and for a 3 year old he has incredible insight into them. Often he will tell us “I’m feeling sad because…” He’s able to recognise his feelings and the reasons for them, and express them.
Not only are they learning to process their feelings, they are also able to recognise what they need. Spiderboy in particular has very low self esteem, when he meets new people he likes to dress as Spiderman “then they will like me.” Shame and low self-esteem is common in children who have been adopted, and what he needs is a lot of reassurance, encouragement and praise. He knows what he needs, and so he asks for it! “If I eat my cucumber, will you give me a clap?” The other thing they both need is to be “babied” sometimes. For children who missed out on the nurture most babies experience, it’s important they fill those gaps. Our boys love to be rocked like a baby, or carried around like babies, and so they ask! This was especially noticeable after our first contact with their half brother who was adopted elsewhere. This obviously unsettled them massively, and for days after there was a lot of big feelings, as well as a lot of requests to be rocked or carried.
Given that our boys missed out on early nurture experiences, they are both incredibly gentle and nurturing boys. At their youngest and most vulnerable, our boys were not shown nurture or compassion, and so we expected them to struggle with these things.
We weren’t sure how they would react to meeting their 0 yr old cousin, but we didn’t need to worry. They adored him, they loved to watch him, bring toys to make him smile, stroke his face, and especially share a bath with him! They are also very gentle with our cats.
In fact, they are two of the most loving, caring toddlers I’ve met. Most mornings Batboy asks me at breakfast, “you well?” They give the best cuddles and often whisper, “Guess what Mummy? I love you!” Everyday they make my heart melt with their cuddles and kisses and giggles. And everyday they stretch me to the limit of my patience, energy and emotional strength. Most of all, everyday they impress me with their incredible strength and resilience. So when you look at my boys and think they are ‘normal little boys’, know that it is precisely because they are extraordinarily strong, brave and compassionate little men that they can appear so ordinary!
Image: Marcia Cirillo (2004)