One of those days…

Today has been one of those days.
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No, not one of those days… 

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One of those days!

The thing is adoption (and parenting in general) is filled with lots of those days, and those days.

It all started when the boys managed to stay in their room (note still not quite beds!!) until the sun rose on their Gro Clock. It meant we didn’t start the day getting grumpy with them and them with us. It meant we could shower them with praise to set them up for the day. If we look hard enough, there is always something to praise, to show them they are valued and motivate them to co-operate!

We reviewed our visual timetable and discovered today was the day we get their new bikes! The bikes were never a bribe, but they did seem to inspire obedience! Gifts are given freely, bribes have strings attached. Giving our children gifts without strings sometimes is an illustration to them that our love comes without strings attached.

After breakfast, the boys helped tidy away the laundry. I love getting them to help out with housework. Taking responsibility for their home means it is just that: their home. Plus it’s good training for them, often useful for me, and nearly always becomes a fun game!

Once we were dressed (and had narrowly avoided a minor meltdown) we set off for the park. Our favourite park is next to Spiderboy’s new school and we go often as we’re preparing him for September. This morning it was empty and the sun was shining bright.

The boys feel safe there, it is familiar, it is never busy and it is surrounded by wide open space. Watching your children playing carefree should never be taken for granted. We played for an hour, and we were just feeling ready to leave as another family arrived. Thankfully it was polling day, and the community centre was open so we could use the toilets.

After a snack we went on to the farm. We have annual passes there and we make good use of them. Parenting in summer is a million times easier than in the winter! We arrived just in time to feed the lambs. 

We also groomed and rode donkeys, cuddled rabbits and guinea pigs and rescued some escapee lambs! We love our farm, all of the staff are happy to let the boys help with jobs, or teach us about the animals. (There was a small, chicken related incident, but the less said the better.)

After we got home and had some lunch, it was Quiet Time. At Quiet Time you either sleep, read a book or watch a film, the idea being I can get some jobs done. In reality I either spend the time soothing Batboy and trying to teach him to feel safe enough to go to sleep without‚Äč me, or needing to sit with Spiderboy while he watches a DVD so he knows I haven’t forgotten him. 

Today however, Batboy went straight down for a nap and Spiderboy settled happily in front of The Lion King. And so I managed to pay some bills, roast a chicken, load the dishwasher, hang up laundry and set another load going, make two weeks worth of pasta lunches to freeze for husband to take to work, and drink a cup of tea! It was really satisfying to use my time well, and reassuring  to get some much needed jobs done! Not to mention getting to listen to the radio for 90 minutes! Sometimes housework is as soothing as any form of self care.

The Lion King finished before Batboy woke up, so I was able to do some reading practice with Spiderboy. Cue loads of over the top praise, eye contact and one to one attention, all of which he really needs and loves. 

Then it was time to go and pick Daddy and the new bikes up. The boys were so excited that they were getting big boy bikes, and I was so excited that we were the ones giving them to them!

The boys loved their bikes. They didn’t say thank you. We really want to teach good manners, but today I didn’t mind because I’m glad they take it for granted that we give them good things. We are their parents. That sense of entitlement that often drives me mad in other children, fills me with joy in my own! At one point as Spiderboy cycled round the playground he shouted at the top of his voice “thanks Dad!” and my heart exploded.

After much riding, falling off, ringing bells and taking bottles in and out of holders, we set off home. There was some pasta leftover from the lunches I made so tea was easy, and then after a quick shower we had family Bible time. We were reading Revelation (in this children’s Bible).

The boys are really starting to engage with Bible time, they ask questions and make links with other parts they know. We know a song about the passage we were reading too, so the day ended in spontaneous singing and snuggling.

The passage reminded me though that even our very best days here are nothing in comparison to the perfect eternity God promises for His people when we are finally with Him.

Today has been one of those days. We all have them. Those almost perfect days. Those days that make all the others a little bit easier.

The Butterfly and the Thistle…

Now that Spiderboy is starting to settle into our family and our home, he is starting to feel safe. This is great because he is beginning to trust us and to let his guard down. It also means that he is more afraid of change and loss because as he begins to care about us, he has more to lose. And it also means that he feels comfortable to show us his feelings. We are told that this is great progress. But that doesn’t make it any easier!

The way this presents itself is in violent outbursts and emotional meltdowns. Sometimes triggered by anxieties linked to his early trauma. Sometimes triggered by things that would upset a ‘normal’ four year old like no ice cream, or his brother snatching. But because his emotional development is around the same stage as a six month old, he is unable to regulate himself. Before babies learn to regulate, they cry and thrash their little arms around. As they are cared for and nurtured, they learn to regulate themselves. A baby who isn’t comforted, rocked and cared for won’t learn to regulate. The trouble is, when they are four it looks more like throwing things, biting, swearing, shouting, screaming etc.

When Spiderboy gets to this point, the logic part of his brain is switched off. He goes into survival mode and his whole being will fight. He does not have the ability to rationalise, self soothe or regulate. At this point his brain is flooded with stress hormones and he needs time to literally clear his head again before he is able to talk about what has happened. The only thing we can do is to keep him and ourselves safe, and to try and reassure him that he is safe and loved.

A few days ago during one of these episodes, as he was beginning to calm he noticed a picture on the wall, next to a Quentin Blake and under a portrait of the Queen. It’s a photo I took one holiday of a butterfly sitting on a thistle. “Why is that plant all spiky?” he asked. I explained that some plants have spikes or thorns to protect them. “Why do they need to protect themselves?” I told him that they worry about getting eaten or hurt by other plants or animals. “Is that butterfly getting spiked?” I explained that the butterfly had flown past the thistle’s spiky bits, and had found its beautiful flower. “But is the butterfly hurting it?”¬†

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Suddenly, in a stroke of rare genius, I remembered my training! I wondered aloud (!) if Spiderboy was a bit like that thistle. Did he worry that people might hurt him if they got too close? Did he think that if he was ‘spiky’ he could keep people away? I wondered if I was a bit like that butterfly. I had seen past his spiky bits, and fallen in love with a kind, clever, brilliant, brave little boy. I wondered if that made him feel worried. Did he think that if I knew him properly I would stop loving him? Did he think that by hurting me he could keep me from knowing him?

Spiderboy didn’t say much, but I could tell he was taking in what I’d said. I’m beginning to learn that there isn’t going to be a Moment, a Moment when everything clicks and he accepts that he is loved and safe. But there are going to be lots of moments, moments of reassurance and realisation. And the drip drip drip of little moments, will one day make the big difference.

In that moment, we cuddled. I told him I loved him forever – when he hurts me and when he hugs me. He told me he was sorry, and that he loves me too. I knew it would happen again, if not that day, then the next. But we keep going, because everything I said is true.

He is the beautiful, spiky thistle. I am the butterfly that got too close. And I love him still, spikes and all.

 

Jumping in…

Since the boys have arrived with us, we regularly talk with them about their life with foster carers. Whether that’s their anecdotal stories or more serious questions, we have tried to make it normal.

One thing that has never come up in conversation is their life before foster care. They were taken into care too young to remember much, if any, of life with their birth family. But they were having contact until 9 months ago, and so I’m pretty sure they will have some memories of that. However, they don’t seem to have any understanding of who those people were.

We have been waiting until we have their Life Story Books to bring up the subject. It feels very massive to just throw into conversation. And without photos, it’s hard to know if they even know who we’re talking about! It feels like we need to set aside a lot of time, and there’s always something else to do. Mostly I’m just terrified of how they will respond, and how it will make them feel.

Our social worker visited today. We talked about how the book William Wobbly has helped us explain to the boys why they struggle to regulate their feelings. The book explains that young children need grown ups to teach them how to manage their ‘wobbly feelings’, and William Wobbly (and our boys) didn’t have that. Our social worker asked if we’ve been specific about whose job that was, and I said no.

23962462842_f76495faa0_o.jpgShe gently encouraged us that we can start talking about it now. Start piecing the fragments together. We don’t have to wait for the official book. We do have a handful of photos we could use now. In fact, waiting until one day we pull out a massive ring binder of information could be overwhelming! And the longer we leave it to talk about, the harder it could become.

Our social worker gave us some ideas about how we could do this, and I will write about them as we test them out.

Our boys need to know where they have come from.

I think that I think by not telling them their past I can protect them from it. But that’s not true, they’ve already lived – and survived – it. Not talking about it doesn’t mean they aren’t affected by it. Perhaps this desire to protect them now comes from my sadness or guilt that I wasn’t there to protect them when they needed me.

I worry that they will be ashamed, or they will worry that they are genetically ‘bad’. But to not tell them where they have come from is to do them a great disservice. They are incredibly strong little boys who have survived more than a lot of adults. And yet they still have so much love and joy to share. They were born into a family that did not nurture them and treat them as they deserved. And yet they are so nurturing and kind and gentle (most of the time!)

Their past is a part of them, but it doesn’t define them.


Photo: Flickr user Kickize (2015)

 

Sorry seems to be the hardest word…

Yesterday¬†morning, as usual, I was at a ladies’ Bible study at our church. There is a¬†group for the children¬†in the room next door, Batboy usually stays in it, I’m still working on Spiderboy! That morning he chose to join in and stayed until the end. Then, as we were finishing, he came running in to me in tears. My friend, who was running the group, was with him. She explained that he’d accidentally hit her face during a game, and when he was asked to say sorry he’d gotten very upset. She then said, helpfully, how hard all children find it to say sorry, which is true. And for children who already struggle with shame and self esteem, it can be almost crippling to apologise. And in Spiderboy’s case, it can lead to more and more negative behaviours in an attempt to avoid apologising for the initial offence!

Most children approach life with¬†the opinion that they are important, and the world revolves around them. It is normal for children to feel pretty good about themselves, most of the time. This is important as children explore the world because it gives them the confidence to try things. It’s also important because it allows them to develop relationships and trust. They can believe that people would love them – why wouldn’t they?!

5111553020_121a71a7ec_o.jpgFor children who have suffered trauma and loss at an early age, as most adopted children have, it is more normal that they approach life with the idea that they are bad and they are not worth loving. They often feel ashamed of themselves, and blame the neglect/abuse/rejection on themselves, rather than on the adults who should have been caring for them.

Spiderboy has a very low opinion of himself. His first (birth) family did not care for him properly – he hears “you’re not worth it.” His second (foster) family favoured his brother, and so Spiderboy was often left to his own devices in the background – he hears “you’re not good enough.”

He works very hard to try and hold our attention because if he loses it, he might not get it back. He constantly asks for reassurance that he is doing a good job to make sure we are still pleased with him. When he does ‘bad things’, he assumes we no longer love him – his first experiences of love were not the unconditional,¬†selfless, caring¬†love that¬†most infants experience. In fact, often when he misbehaves his first reaction is to hide; then¬†his second reaction is to hit, kick, shout or spit. I think it’s a survival technique. He thinks if we tell him off, then we don’t love him anymore and we¬†are going to send him away. And so he does all he can to prove that he isn’t lovable.

As we get to know our wonderful little man more, we’re changing how we deal with his challenging behaviour. But we still always insist on saying sorry. It’s how we repair relationships, it’s how we show we still love each other. It’s very difficult for Spiderboy because it gives him more evidence that he is a bad person, and he isn’t worth loving. But every time he does something wrong and we love him anyway, every time we make him say sorry but don’t send him away, we’re proving him wrong. We show him he is worth loving, he is special, he is important, he is ours.

And maybe one day, he might start to believe us.

Image: Flickr user Tjook (2009)

Guitars and Waistcoats… two very different boys.

It started this morning, almost as soon as we woke. Spiderboy had specific breakfast instructions, what bowl, what spoon, whether the spoon should be in the bowl or not. Batboy devoured whatever I put in front of him. Spiderboy needed a wipe for each little splash. Batboy seemed to be cleaning the table, and himself, with milk.IMG_20170312_212054409.jpg

Then we went upstairs. Spiderboy chose a shirt, tie, waistcoat and jacket with skinny jeans that matched his tie. Batboy wore jeans and a t-shirt. Spiderboy wanted to check the sometimes, always, never rule as he did his buttons. Batboy’s t-shirt was back to front. I combed their hair, Spiderboy’s is fine and silky, it won’t go out of place. Batboy’s is thick and fuzzy, it won’t go in to place.

The boys packed a rucksack for church. Spiderboy packed lots of books, and a game to play with his friends. Batboy packed only his guitar. When we got there, Batboy charged in while Spiderboy held back. Spiderboy read his books and then found some other children to play pairs with. Batboy chatted with adults and watched the music practice, standing as close as humanly possible. When it was time to go to their groups, Spiderboy clung to me and protested. Batboy went happily with the teachers.

I won’t go on, you get the point!

We adopted a ‘sibling group’. But we also adopted two individuals. They came as a pair, but they are also separate. And they both have very distinctive natures! When we went to Matching Panel, one of their questions was about how we would meet their individual needs. I’m not sure what we answered, but it must have been good enough. I remember thinking at the time that it wouldn’t be so tricky. We’d only read their CPRs (Child Permanence Report – basically everything there is to know about a child before you commit to being their parent), and they didn’t sound that different.

It has since become apparent that while the CPRs were accurate and detailed when it comes to medical and family history, it did not give a very good picture of who our boys are. There was clearly a lot of copying and pasting, and also guessing on the part of whoever wrote it!

We were told that both boys loved superheroes. Not true. We were told that they both loved dressing up. Not true. We were told that both boys loved Stick Man. Not true. We were told that they both watched CBeebies. Not true.

Our boys share many things. Biological parents, early life experiences, foster carers, hair colour, eye colour. But they do not share temperaments, preferences, challenges.

When they first arrived, we did not know them so well. We tried to maintain a standard, therapeutic parenting approach. We quickly found that something that worked for one boy, would not work for the other. Although they have lived through the same things, the fears, anxieties, anger and happy memories that they took from them are very different.

We are still getting to know our boys individually, and our family as a whole. But I wonder if the phrase ‘sibling group’ is very helpful in the preparation and matching stage. It makes it sound like one thing. But adopting two children instead of one isn’t just an extra mouth to feed or needing another bedroom. It’s a whole person’s worth of extra feelings and challenges to overcome.

It’s also a whole person’s worth of extra fun, cuddles and laughter. Everyday I am confused by their differences, but in awe of their shared resilience and courage. Every day I am amazed that God has blessed me with not one, but two amazing, wonderful little men.

Belly Buttons

One of the first things Batboy said to me was “where your belly button?” For the first few weeks he had a mild fascination with belly buttons, and would ask to look at new people’s. It seemed to be his way of shaking hands, it’s worn off now.

But belly buttons have remained significant for me. Everytime I see my boys’ belly buttons, I’m reminded of the woman who used to be at the other end. A woman I’ve never met. A woman who gave life to my boys. Whose body created, nourished and protected their bodies for 9 months. 

That physical bond was severed at birth, but the scar will be there always. It makes me wonder when exactly the emotional bond severed; was it at birth too? Or when the boys were removed to foster care? Or at Final Contact? Was there ever an emotional bond?! And what scars will be there always, under their skin?

This woman who I know so little about will be part of my boys, of my family, of me forever. 

Part of me will love her, because she is part of my boys and I love them. Without her, I would not have them. 

Part of me will always feel angry, that they were not cared for as they should have been, and the damage that has left. 

Part of me will always feel guilty. They are flesh of her flesh, and yet they are not hers. 

And part of me will always feel jealous. She created my boys. That was my job. At their most vulnerable, she was with them, not me.

I wonder if one day they will feel the need to find the woman from the other end. I wonder if I will feel rejected, insufficient, jealous. I wonder how she will feel about me. I pray that I will have the strength to love and support my boys, rain or shine.

Our Father in Heaven

The Bible says that God is a Father. But not just any Father. The Bible says that God is an Adoptive Father.

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship.¬†Because you are his sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‚ÄėAbba,¬†Father.‚Äô
Galatians 4:4-6

I was very blessed to have wonderful parents who I knew loved me. My Dad always used to tell me that God loved me even me than he did! I couldn’t quite understand it because how could anyone love me more than my parents did?! But the description of God as a Father was very helpful to me. For children whose first experience of a father or parent is very negative, this could be a hard thing to accept.

Since becoming an adoptive parent, I’ve learnt more about what it means to call God Father. You see, the Bible says that God chose His children, just as I chose my boys. I chose to bring them into my home, to care for and love them for the rest of their lives. But they didn’t have much say.

Now of course, the Social Workers thought very seriously before deciding adoption was the right move for our boys. And we thought very seriously about if we could give these two boys the home they needed. The decision was made for their good. But they didn’t see it like that at first. Yes, they were excited to have a new bedroom, and lots of attention and cuddles. But when they were tired, or ill, or in trouble they started to realise they weren’t going back to the foster carers they’d lived with for 2 years.

As the boys dealt with their Big Feelings, we would every so often (and sometimes still do) have a big meltdown on our hands, where the boys would become overwhelmed with the anger or grief of what they’ve been through. At these times, we soon ¬†discovered the only thing we could do was to hold them gently and safely and let them rage. We kept them and ourselves safe, stayed close and spoke truth to them until it passed. We tell them over and over, “you are safe.” “I l love you.” “I won’t ever leave you.” “You are special to me.”

15578992897_952eec4a48_o.jpgIn return, the boys would punch, kick and bite whilst screaming, “I don’t love you.” “I don’t want you.” “I don’t live here.” “You’re not my Mummy.” It hurts a lot. But it doesn’t change the fact that I am their Mummy. Forever. And I love them. Forever.

In those moments, when I hold my little men close and try somehow to absorb all their pain away from them; I get a glimpse of what it was like for God to adopt me. The Bible says that all people turned away from God, it’s in our genes. I¬†did not love Him. I did not want Him. And yet God chose me. By His Spirit and through His Son, He made me His daughter.

IMAGE: RENE ADAMOS (2014)

A little lesson from last week

6749689975_6c43852f0a_oAs with all things, my reasons for wanting to be a mum were mixed. One that I might not have admitted before the boys arrived was the desire to feel loved, needed and special to somebody.

The constant demands of a 3 and 4 year old mean I feel needed most of the time. As for loved and special that can come and go! For the most part our boys are very cuddly and loving. One night Spiderboy told me “Mummy you’re beautiful, I want to marry you.” But there are also times when nothing I do is right, “I didn’t want you to get married/stand there/speak/touch that/move my drink/cut my toast” are fairly regular complaints.

The more we¬†get to know our boys, the more of their hurt and pain we understand. And the more I realise that being a Mummy isn’t about being loved or special. It’s about making sure my boys are loved and special.

And so last week when Spiderboy ran out of the kitchen and screamed “I don’t love you anymore,” my¬†first reaction was to want to remind him why he should love me – I wash his clothes, cook his tea, wipe his bottom. I wanted him to know that it upset me and it wasn’t kind. But for a moment I paused. And then my instincts kicked in and I did what I needed to do. I went to him gently and told him that I would always love him. I held him close until the fear and anger that had overwhelmed him began to subside. I wished that somehow all the pain inside him could somehow be inside me instead.

Because being Mummy to my two boys means that suddenly how I’m feeling doesn’t matter. I am needed, yes, and putting aside my own feelings each day to meet those needs is what makes me special to these extra special boys. And when they rage and scream and tell me that they don’t love me, I know that is only because they do that they feel safe enough to show me how they feel.

I suppose what I’m saying is that the biggest rewards of being a Mummy isn’t being cuddled or kissed and the way that makes me feel; it’s helping my boys slowly overcome their anxiety and pain and learn to manage their own Big Feelings. It’s knowing that they feel loved, safe and special.

IMAGE: Stephan Hochhaus (2012)

Extraordinarily Ordinary

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.

2173588_99e699aebf_oHowever, 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)

 

So near, yet so far!

Three weeks ago, we attended a Life Appreciation Day. I’m not sure why it’s called that because every time I hear it I think of a funeral. Anyway, this certainly wasn’t a funeral. After being matched with our boys but before going to Matching Panel, the Life Appreciation Day was to give us as much information as possible and fill any gaps so everyone could be absolutely sure they wanted to proceed.

We knew it would be a long and emotional day, and so we traveled the night before and stayed over. We had a lovely dinner out at an all-you-can-eat buffet and then tried to relax, not easy when you’re suddenly in the same town as your children who you’ve never met. The next morning we had an all-you-can-eat (spot the theme!) breakfast at the hotel before setting off for the foster carers (Mike and Marion’s) house.

We knew our boys would be at nursery, but driving down the street was such a strange feeling. I kept looking at things – houses, cars, bins – and thinking, ‘my boys have looked at that too.’ Somehow having that house or car in common just for a second made me feel closer to them.

When we arrived at the foster carers house the boys’ social worker and family finder were already there, but our social worker hadn’t arrived yet. We didn’t really know how it would go, or if there was a structure to the meeting. There didn’t seem to be as everyone just started chatting, mostly about the boys. As soon as our social worker (Kate) arrived we felt a lot safer. She always seems to know what to say!

Mike and Marion are clearly very attached to the boys, they’ve had them for almost two years after all. It was obvious that they were very emotional and this made it hard. It felt like we were taking away their children. They were very professional and kind though, they kept saying things like, ‘it’s all part of the job!’ with a laugh; but it was clearly very hard for them. We could see how loved the boys were from the way they talked about them, and that was a great comfort to us. They kept pointing out things around us – that’s his blanket, he likes that cushion. Everytime they did my tummy went all funny. They boys were becoming more and more real. Then they showed us their bedroom.

At that point it all got too much for me. The feeling of being so close to them, without them being anywhere near was strange. We’ve grown to love these two little boys who we’ve never met. Seeing where they slept, their clothes hanging up, teddies on their bed. It was so happy, and so sad. Happy because we felt close to them. But sad  because we weren’t. I also felt incredibly guilty for taking these two wonderful boys from these two wonderful foster carers. Marion gave me a big hug. Although I don’t know them, I do love them, because they have loved my boys, and my boys have loved them. They’re part of my family’s story. And knowing that my boys have been in that hug too was wonderful. When we came downstairs, all the social workers were sat with diaries out discussing Introductions. My head started spinning, it was all becoming very real. Fortunately Mike and Marion wanted to show us the garden and so we quickly left the room again!

3450585089_7f017e8be6_o.jpgAfter leaving the foster carers, we went to (you guessed it!) an all-you-can-eat carvery pub to meet the adoptive parents (Gary and Joan) of our boys’ half brother (Josh). We were nervous about this too. Part of the adoption arrangements is that we will have direct contact with Josh at least once a year, as well as sending Christmas/birthday presents. By adopting our boys, we’re also gaining a sort of extended family, so we wanted this first meeting to go well!

It did, they were absolutely lovely. They are completely in love with their son and that was lovely to see. As they had fostered Josh while our boys were with Mike and Marion (sorry, hope you can keep up!) they knew the birth family well from contacts. It was really helpful to be able to get more information, especially from people who are adopting a child from the same home as we are. We were disappointed to hear last week that we probably won’t be meeting with birth mother; but we are glad we will always have Gary and Joan to fill in gaps. As the boys get older I hope they will see Mike and Marion as an uncle and aunt, and that they’ll be able to chat to them about their birth family.

After this meeting, we headed for the boys’ nursery. Only Kate was coming with us as the boys’ workers had other appointments. She went ahead in her car and we arrived a minute or two behind so headed in to find her. As we walked up the path, I had the same feeling as in the boys’ bedroom. I looked around greedily, trying to drink in all the things they must have looked at too. I noticed a little blonde head that reminded me of our youngest boy. I imagined it was him playing at nursery. Then my husband nudged me and whispered, ‘don’t freak out, but I think they’re here.’

Somehow the boys were at nursery when we were due to go. We’re still not sure how it happened, but we’re so glad it did! People keep asking me how it felt to see them, and I just don’t know. My first reaction was to turn around and run away. I felt like I’d give it all away if they saw me, or that we’d get into trouble. Fortunately my husband was behind me so I couldn’t, and we kept walking towards the door. I tried not to look at the boys, it felt like I wasn’t allowed to! But I couldn’t help myself, especially as our youngest had stopped scootering and was staring right at us as if he knew! My head was spinning, my ears were ringing, I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

I’m not sure how we got inside, but we did. And as soon as we did I burst into tears. I was so confused how that had just happened, and so overwhelmed. Kate apologised and checked we were OK, then she let us sneak around a corner where we could watch them playing for a few minutes! They were the most wonderful few minutes. Somehow, we stopped looking and composed ourselves. We still had to sit through a meeting with the boys’ key workers.

My head was still spinning, and sitting at a tiny table on tiny chairs drinking water out of pink, plastic wine glasses didn’t help the situation – it all felt a bit Alice in Wonderland! Fortunately Kate asked lots of questions while I mostly sat stunned. To be honest, I can’t really remember what we talked about, but we took photos with the key workers so we could tell the boys this story one day!

Finally, we drove to the hospital to meet the doctor who has done regular medical checks on the boys since entering care. she was another lovely person, and so helpful! She explained a lot of things very thoroughly, but in a way we could understand. One of the boys may need a simple procedure, and the decision was due to be made the week of introductions, so she was able to advise us on this. We were so grateful to have this meeting, it was really valuable. But it was also the end of a very strange day, and my husband kept dropping off! As we were saying goodbye, she told us she would be on the Matching Panel! I asked her if she would please say yes, and she said OK! That made me feel a lot better!

Well, that was a long post about a long day. We came home feeling more sure that these were our children, and with their faces in the playground etched on our hearts.

N.B. I have changed everybody’s names!
Image: Jeremy Brooks (2009)