What children go to school to learn v. What my adopted child needs to learn

Two weeks ago we made the (brave? crazy? insane?) decision to withdraw Spiderboy from Reception and begin homeschooling him. There were lots of things that led us to this decision, but the main reason was that he was not emotionally ready for school.

Spiderboy has missed out on a lot of the building blocks that a baby needs to develop into a physically, mentally, emotionally healthy child. He’s a bit like a brick wall, but the bricklayer skipped some bricks on the bottom layers.

While he’s been doing really well academically at school, he doesn’t have the solid emotional foundation to be building on, and we were starting to see the cracks. Now, we don’t hate school at all, and I loved the school we were at. But there are things that Spiderboy hasn’t yet learnt, which the rest of his peers already knew when they started school. Homeschooling is his chance to catch up.

How to spell v. How to play

Most children who start school have spent four years prior playing and being played with. They’ve cracked the shape sorter cube years ago. They’re pretty expert when it comes to making a game with bits of plastic. Play is so important in the brain development and the critical thinking skills of young children.

And yet, in Spiderboy’s first years he didn’t have ready access to age appropriate toys, and he didn’t have anybody teach him how to play. When he came home he really didn’t know how to play with toys and we’ve had to go right back to basics with simple, ‘baby’ toys. (Anybody who thinks play is instinctive in children has clearly never met a children who hasn’t been taught to play!)

Last week Spiderboy spent a whole day playing with Lego. It wasn’t a complicated building project, he simply took the Lego figures apart and put them back together again – over and over again. But I couldn’t have been prouder if he’d spelt pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanokoniosis (I had to Google ‘longest word in English’!) We are literally taking a break from school to spend more time playing, and it is absolutely the right thing for my son.

How to have friends v. How to have family

Most children who start school have spent four years prior belonging to a family. They have a secure base where they are loved, accepted and protected. And from that base they can go out to explore the world with confidence.

Spiderboy has spent more of his life without a family than with one. He’s suffered mistreatment at the hands of his first family, and great loss when leaving his foster family. Family is a tricky and painful concept for Spiderboy.

All of the skills needed to be a good friend are first learned by being part of a family. And so giving Spiderboy a chance to catch up on learning what that means is only going to help him understand what it means to be a friend. It’s really intensive, concentrated time with his mum (like most newborns get to have) and more time with his brother while we try to grow that into a healthy, loving relationship. Since finishing school Spiderboy has been much more open to nurture and affection – in fact he’s begun asking for cuddles, which he never did before.

How to respect authority v. How to respect himself

School is a great chance for children to begin learning how to respect authority, and it gets them ready for life in the big wide world with bosses, politicians and the like.

But for a child who has experienced the neglect and insecurity that Spiderboy has, there is often a great sense of shame attached to those early experiences. Spiderboy has very little self confidence – not in the cute, shy way a lot of his peers do, but in an overwhelmed-with-toxic-shame-because-I-wasn’t-good-enough-for-my-first-family-or-my-foster-family-so-why-would-anybody-want-me sort of way.

Homeschooling is giving us the chance to work on this in a way that school can’t. Filling our days with unconditional love and gospel truths is going to do more good than a day of learning to put up his hand and address adults correctly.

How to express what’s in their heads in written words v. How to express what’s in his heart in any words

Being able to recognise and name feelings is a pretty crucial life skill. Even more so if your heart is full of feelings that are too big for you. Spiderboy has experienced things a child his age should never have to experience. He is full of very big feelings without any tools to know how to express them.

In the past this has led to very violent meltdowns and I have felt genuinely afraid for my own safety, as well as his.

Since leaving school, Spiderboy has started to tell me that he feels like he’s “going to wreck things”. This is a HUGE step for us! He can actually spot when he’s becoming overwhelmed, and he’s learnt a way to express it! Now we have a wrecking box full of newspaper that he can wreck.

Would he have learnt to do this while at school? Maybe. Maybe not. But I am certain that having one-to-one help as he learns to process his big feelings is much more helpful than a day at school learning to write sentences in a class of 29 other children.

How to be independent v. How to be dependent

By the age of four, most children have the basic building blocks, the secure base and the tools they need to venture out into the world and gain a bit of independence.

On the other hand, Spiderboy has been taught by his early experiences that he needs to look after himself, he needs to keep himself safe, he can’t be vulnerable in front of other people. This leads to the exhausting task of hypervigilance.

School (rightly) encourages children to develop their independence in healthy ways. But what Spiderboy needs first is to unpick his whole world view, learn to depend on other people and, only then, will he be ready to learn healthy independence.

Since leaving school we’ve had a lot more cuddles, a lot more carrying, a lot more ‘babying’. But until he has learnt to be a baby, can we expect him to learn to be a 5 year old, a 15 year old, a 25 year old?

Our days now are filled with picnics on the beach, picnics in the park, picnics in the woods, picnics at the allotment. They involve lots of cuddles, lots of talking, lots of mud.

Is it hard work? YES. Is it good fun? YES.

Will we go back to school? Never say never. But for today this is right, and tomorrow we shall see.

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Confession of a Mummy by adoption…

7233048434_f9c0099a23_o.jpgWhen somebody has a baby, my first reaction is an overwhelming flood of grief. My heart aches, my stomach feels heavy and empty at the same time. My ears burn and my head spins.

Not because I am not happy for them – I am absolutely delighted, and so excited to meet the new arrival, and so relieved that everything went smoothly.

And it’s not because I regret how my own journey to parenthood has gone. I am grateful to God for those years of infertility – for how I learnt more to lean on him, for how the journey brought me the long way round to just the right moment when my path would cross with these wonderful little boys and they would become mine. I would not swap my boys for 10 babies from my own body.

It’s just that every time I hear that news, the memory of the feelings I had when it was painful, when I was bitter, wash over me. I don’t know if that will ever not happen. So I brace myself, I grit my teeth and I pray.

And the feeling passes, it always does. Then I give myself a little shake, dust off the self-pity and go shopping for baby clothes.

But please bear with me, while I wait for it to pass; because I am truly happy, but it is not easy.

Photo: Flickr user Harald Groven 2012

Ssssshhh…

I’m just going to whisper this, to whoever is out there and might see it.

This week, I’ve actually felt, normal!

Normal

Yesterday, I stopped for a moment and looked around: I was cooking tea in the kitchen and my children were playing. Together. In a different room.

And then I realised that, for about a week, we haven’t had any “adoption” problems! Yes, our boys have fought with each other. Yes, they’ve called me names and answered me back. Yes, I’ve lost my temper and been too short with them. But that’s normal!

Now I know that they are not magically “cured” of attachment issues and anxiety. I know their early experiences haven’t vanished. It’s just that, little step by little step they are learning to trust us and relax. I think they feel safe. I think they feel loved. I didn’t see the little steps we took, but now I can look back and see how far we’ve come.

And yes, I also know that trauma is going to rear it’s ugly head sometime soon. We will take steps backwards. But, just for now, it feels like it’s not there. It feels like we’re “normal”.

Let’s not have the “what is normal anyway?” debate. I know all families are different and nobody feels like they’re normal…

The point is: we are making progress, and it’s wonderful.

All You Need to Know Before You Start School

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In preparation for next month, we bought this book for Spiderboy, it’s a lovely book and has a section on how to dress yourself, what to remember to do when you’ve been to the toilet, shapes, colours, numbers, letters etc.

I don’t want to boast too much (actually I do), but Spiderboy knows it all. He can write and read basic words. He is intellectually bright, and he is physically very capable.

But he’s not ready for September. And it got me thinking, what does he need to know before he starts school? If I could write my own version, it would go something like this:

  1. You are loved. Unconditionally. I will always be thinking of you when you’re at school. I will always be loving you, and missing you. And I will always be there to collect you after.
  2. You are special. You are clever and kind and talented. But none of that matters because what makes you most special is that you are mine. And so whatever you do at school, you will always be the most important, most special boy to me.
  3. You are safe. Because of number 1 and number 2, I would never leave you somewhere that you weren’t safe. Your teachers do not want to hurt you, they don’t want to take you away. I trust them, so you can too.
  4. You are strong. The world has not been kind to you. Maybe no one else in your class will be able to understand this. But you know that life isn’t fair. And you are a stronger, braver person because of that.

The other children in Spiderboy’s class may not be able to fasten buttons, or write their names, but I’m pretty sure they won’t have trouble with the above. But for my beautiful boy, these things do not come naturally. Early life experiences have taught him quite the opposite. And yet, in two weeks he goes, ready or not.

If I could only help him start to believe these things before then, none of the other stuff matters. He may look to be at an advantage to the other children in his class. But buttons and letters are much easier to learn than trust and a sense of self worth.

Why I hate fun.

I used to love fun. It used to be fun.

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Image: flickr user Anders Sandberg (2008)

But then we adopted two children with early life trauma, and now fun is, well, not so fun!

Yesterday our church held a family fun day. We spent a lot of time preparing the boys for it, explaining what would happen and when. They were already familiar with the people running it, and the venue. We made sure that I didn’t have any responsibilities on the day, and my husband only had half an hour bouncy castle duty. We didn’t go early to set up as we would normally have done. We were all set.

The boys loved it! We had so much fun! We discovered Spiderboy has an aptitude for archery, and Batboy for Splat-the-Rat(!) We let them lead our activities so they felt comfortable and enjoyed themselves. We stayed close so they could see, and touch if needed, us at all times. We even split up for some of the time and both boys got some one-to-one time so that they knew their needs were being met, and that they were constantly being thought of.

When it was time to go, Batboy said “well that was fun.” and Spiderboy said “when can we go back?” It had all gone so well and the boys were so calm that my husband decided to stay and help clear away for a little bit. I drove the boys home and they chattered about everything they had done.

Sounds fun, right?

Woohoo for fun!

Except, the moment we stepped back into our house, BAM! Meltdown Central. I quickly rang husband to come home too. And then, with occasional, short breaks, Spiderboy screamed, shouted, spat, raged, punched, kicked (no biting – small victory!) for four hours. We took turns to hold him and reassure him, we took turns to lose our tempers, we took turns to try and keep Batboy calm (only one short meltdown there!)

The thing is, when children experience, trauma, neglect or abuse in their early years, their little brains flood with cortisol (stress hormone). This activates survival mode, sometimes called fight or flight. The amygdala is the part of the brain linked to our emotions. An infant has not yet learnt to regulate their emotions, and so in those early years the amygdala is more vulnerable. While most infants are taught to regulate their feelings from birth by parents cuddling, rocking, soothing; children who are abused or neglected in those early years don’t learn this skill. And so instead of their amygdala learning, it is constantly being flooded with cortisol. This overstimulation leads to the amygdala becoming overactive, which leads to hypervigilance whereby anything and everything should be considered a threat.

I’m not a scientist, so feel free to correct any of my attempt at a scientific explanation. but what I am an expert in is my children. So let me explain what this looks like:

We went to a familiar place with familiar people. But it isn’t our safe home, and it isn’t just our safe family. And so Spiderboy is already overstimulated and hypervigilant. His amygdala is activated and his brain is flooded with cortisol. In other words, his brain is in panic mode.

There are people and things that are not normally there. We do things we don’t normally do. Cortisol level increasing. Now Spiderboy is able to enjoy the day seemingly like any other child. But even when he feels happy or excited, his brain is still pumping out cortisol. Remember, he wasn’t taught as an infant that he can control his emotions, and so his brain responds to any and every feeling with – PANIC!

And so over the two hours we spend there, his amygdala is working away up there. New smells, new sounds, new sights. All of these things could be dangerous, and why wouldn’t they be? Everything needs to be checked, assessed and then held in mind in order for Spiderboy to keep himself safe. Amazingly, he manages to do this, participate in all the activities, and remember most of his social graces at the same time.

Now by the time we get home, Spiderboy’s brain has been switched to panic mode for two hours. He is exhausted from assessing all potential dangers. And so as he steps through the door into his safe place, he no longer holds all of that inside his little body. The anxiety and the excitement burst out in fists, and kicks and shouts – how else is it supposed to get out?

And so for two hours of fun, we had four hours of rage, and then fallout into the next day too. Now let me ask you this – is fun really so fun anymore?

So please excuse me if I no longer say “Woohoo for fun!” But instead grit my teeth, don my body armour and try to be as boring as possible.

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Image: flickr user jon hayes (2007)

 

How do you know…?

In the Disney film Enchanted, the main character Giselle sings a song called That’s How You Know. It’s really good. She’s explaining to Robert that he has to romance his love everyday so she knows he loves her. By the end of the film, she realises that love isn’t about romantic gestures, it’s about mutual respect, trust and commitment. She also learns that it isn’t quite so clear cut as finding ‘the one’.

While we were waiting to be matched, I was very conscious that our children were ‘out there’ somewhere and we needed to find them. I was also aware that there were a lot of children who fitted our criteria, and who we could love for the rest of our lives. We weren’t looking for ‘the one(s)’, we knew whoever we ended up with would become our own. We knew once we found our children, we would love them wholeheartedly. We would commit to them, no matter what. That is how we would know.

The question was, which ones should we commit to.

We kept our criteria broad, mostly to improve our chances of a quick match! Before we were approved, we decided that we would say yes to the first offer we had, unless there were any serious red flags. We also agreed with our social worker that we would leave the search to her. She knew our criteria, she knew us, and she knew the system. She could also be led much more by her head than we could. However, once we were approved, we had to set up a Link Maker account so that she could look on our behalf. This was lethal. Once we were on the website, how could we not look?!

We looked at every profile we could find on there. We imagined them as ours, in our house, with our family, in our arms. We talked about how their names would sound with ours. We wondered how we would manage certain health or development issues. We considered if we could actually take three, or four… We flagged up several profiles for our social worker to look at and pursue for us. We also started to get messages from childrens’ social workers.

There were a lot of children who fitted our criteria, who we could have loved forever. There were some profiles we preferred based on little things – names, ages, hair colour. How else are you supposed to choose between them?! Our social worker followed several leads for us, all very different profiles, all very real possibilities. At one point we were in the top two for some sisters who we were very keen on. They went with the other couple because we were too white. I sobbed in the M6 toll service station for a while after that phone call. It was a ruthless, brutal process. 

One day in the summer holidays, when we were decorating the loft, our social worker rang to say that a family finder wanted us for two little boys. She gave us some details and asked if we would like to read their CPRs. I felt numb. We were completely blindsided as we hadn’t seen them on Link Maker, and at this point we had several profiles in our minds that were at different stages of being explored. Our social worker explained to us that if we decided to meet with the family finder and social worker, she would have to suspend all of our other inquiries. It felt like a big step, to cut off all those other options.

That same day we received the CPRs and read them on the loft floor while my in-laws carried on decorating. It was hard to take in all of the nitty gritty details they don’t include in the Link Maker profiles. We’d never read a CPR before, and it was a strange experience. We decided straight away that we would pursue these little boys as far as we could. The professionals thought we were the right match, and we knew we could care for them and love them. We were excited because we might have found ourchildren. Would we have felt like this if it was a different CPR? I don’t know. Probably.

The more likely to happen it seemed, the more certain we became that we wanted it to. We looked at their photos all the time. We talked about what they might like. We decorated their room and imagined them in it. The social workers chose to give us these boys, and so we chose to love them.

How did we know? I don’t think we did. How do we know? I know because I think about them every waking moment.  When they are afraid or hurt and need their Mum, I know. When the punch and kick and bite me, when they spit and swear at me, I know. When they wake me up, when they cuddle me, when they set the table, when they ignore me, I know.

I know they are mine, I know that I love them because I choose to. Sometimes it’s easy. As I write this, Spiderboy is playing X-Box with his Dad. I keep stopping to watch him. He is just about perfect in every way. His little knees sticking out of his shorts, his gorgeous eyes magnified by his glasses, his blonde hair combed over to the side, his voice and his fingernails and the way he keeps rocking on his chair and driving his Dad mad. I keep welling up when I look at him because Iam overwhelmed with feelings of love.

But sometimes it’s not so easy. Sometimes he presses all my buttons on purpose. Sometimes his pain and trauma spill out of him, and it causes me pain too. Sometimes I’m just too tired to play, or to answer questions, or to say the same thing. Again. These are the times I really know. Every time I choose to sacrifice my own comfort, wants, happiness, safety for the sake of my boys, I know they are mine. I wouldn’t do it if they weren’t.

I suppose the moment we ‘knew’, was the moment in matching panel when they said yes. We left the room and I cried. I knew then that I was a Mum. And I knew I had the best little boys in the whole world.

This is just a recreation of me coming out of matching panel.

Everybody wants to live happily ever after
Everybody wants to know their true love is true…

His heart will be yours forever
Something everyday will show
That’s how you know…

That’s how you know it’s true.

 

Mother knows best…

At the start of the adoption process we were very keen to take all the help and advice we could. We were aware that a lot of people are experts in this area, and we are not. We attended a lot of training courses and tried to absorb as much wisdom as possible.

Even after our boys arrived, we would ring or email our social worker often to ask advice and check in. It felt wrong to make decisions or do ‘parenting’ without permission.

When we were first matched with our boys, we were told that the Family Finder thought we were just the right fit, we were flattered. (We’ve since found out that she’d only met our boys twice at this point, so we’re not sure how she knew that.) Despite concerns that we are Christians, and that we didn’t want to send our children to nursery, their social worker agreed that we were the best parents for them.

When we first met our boys’ social worker, we were keen to glean as much information as possible. She was obviously going to be the expert on our boys(!!!) One questions we asked at that first meeting was who are their favourite superheroes. She confidently told us Hulk and Iron Man. Then we met the foster carers and we started to doubt if the social worker knew our boys that much! The foster carer told us that their favourites were Spiderman and Batman! At this point we had already ordered our introduction toys – Hulk Bear and Iron Bear. Grrrr.

And now, six months in, we are at a very different point in our journey. We have asked for some extra support to help us manage the boys’ anxieties, big feelings and the resulting CPV. For a long time our (agency) social worker has been trying to arrange a meeting with the LA to review the Adoption Support Plan and apply to the Adoption Support Fund.

Suddenly, the same people who picked us as the best parents for these children no longer think we are capable of knowing what they need. It’s our fault because we are too intense and should have sent them to nursery. There isn’t a problem because the foster carer (who didn’t ‘believe’ in attachment issues) never felt there was.

Fortunately, through we our agency we have access to CFAS and were able to have a consultation with a therapist. Just as I was beginning to doubt myself we met with a lovely lady who talked everything through with us and reassured us that we were doing the right things to help our boys, and that we were right to ask for support.2242240802_8aaa5f0845_o.jpg

It was a wonderful meeting for another reason too. It taught me to have confidence in myself as their Mum. I know my boys better than any social worker ever will, I am their Mum. Yes, we need expert advice and input at times, and we are so thankful for our wonderful social worker and all of her help. But there is a certain intuition that comes with the unconditional love of a mother for her child. And no social worker will ever have that.

Image: Flickr user Malay Maniar (2008)

 

One of those days…

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

😊🤗😄

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​ 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)