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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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.

Why I made my boys shift rubble…

Before the boys arrived, we ripped up the patio in our back garden to lay a lawn. At our local tip, you can only dispose of 10 bags of rubble a year. Once we’d used our quota we had piles of rubble left lying around. We’re planning to have a BBQ to celebrate our Adoption Day, it’s given us a focus to finish clearing the garden and so this morning we all got out there together. I dug up the weeds, my husband mowed the lawn and the boys moved the rubble into big sacks ready for the tip.

It may sound a little bit like child labour, but let me assure you that they enjoyed themselves! (Lifting and smashing rocks – what little boy wouldn’t enjoy that!)

Here’s 5 reasons why I made my boys shift rubble…

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Not the actual rubble…

1. It gets them outdoors

When the weather is nice, we love to be outside. We don’t have a massive garden, and so footballs often go over the fence. Strong as my boys are, I’m not sure they could get the rubble over!

2. It’s good exercise

Physical exercise is good for the health, good for the mind, and good for getting kids to sleep. They love to show off their strength, so when it comes to rubble, the bigger the better!

3. It’s a goal-oriented task

Having a goal gives them a chance to practice their concentration – they focus on the task for a lot longer when they’ve got something to aim for. It also gives them opportunities to succeed, even at something small, which boosts their low self esteem.

4. It teaches them social responsibility

When all of the family are working together, each with different jobs, it teaches them what it means to be part of a community. It also gives them a sense of responsibility for the family home.

5. The rubble is really in the way…

The rubble has been there for a while, and having two boys who will move it for us is really useful!

Image: Flickr user Derek Bridges (2012)

 

One of those days…

Today has been one of those days.
😲😨😵

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.

 

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)

 

The road less travelled…

Recently we have spent a good deal of time with dear friends who are either pregnant, or parenting young children. This is a great joy, and we love imagining it is our own children making crumbs and chewing the coasters as we get ready to welcome them home. It also, at times makes me question why our journey to parenthood is so  different, and seemingly more difficult. From the outset, I know this is unfair. Every journey is different, and every hurdle feels insurmountable when we first face it, so I do not wish to belittle other peoples struggles, I’m just trying to be honest about how I sometimes feel.

The news of another pregnancy, or a casual remark about the ease of getting pregnant can trigger old feelings of shame, anger and guilt. There was definitely a stage when I grieved for pregnancy and the newborn child with my hair and my husband’s nose, this is not what I feel now. I have loved the highs and lows of our journey and I love our children-to-be, I would not swap them for 10 children from my own womb. But I have never quite shaken the shame and guilt I first felt when my body didn’t do what it was supposed to. We have never had any medical confirmation that one or both of us is infertile, or if we just have exceptionally bad timing! But I have always felt, deep down, that it is my fault. Somehow I am broken. And while I don’t dwell on this anymore, certain things will trigger that old shame and frustration that once overwhelmed me.

Today has been one of those days. And as I started up the stairs to bed tonight, I was reminded that our journey isn’t an accident. It’s not chance, or bad luck that led to our pain, frustration and finally to the joy of adoption. I have a Heavenly Father who knows me fully and loves me completely, and He has planned every day of my life. He has chosen this journey for me, for us, because he cares. Somehow, it is for our good, and His glory.

I cannot claim to know God’s reasons, but one thing I do know is that if we had conceived when we planned, we would not be adopting children for several more years from now. Which means that those two little boys that we have fallen in love with, would have been adopted by somebody else. If we believe, as we do, that God is in control of His world, then we must conclude that God brought them and us to this point and this time because He wanted us to be a family. And that is pretty special.

13067014944_0ea3967f8e_o.jpgGod didn’t forget about us when He was planning out the families, He’s saved 2 little boys for 4 years just for us. Yes, our journey to being a family has looked different to a lot of other people. Yes it’s hurt more than some other journeys. But it is the journey planned for us by our loving Heavenly Father before either of us took our first breath. We cannot compare our journey to other people’s. God knows all of His children, and He knows the right journey for them.

We trust completely that His plans are good, and we cannot wait to meet the children He has chosen for us.

Image: Wonderlane (2014)

Santa Claus is coming to town?

The days are getting shorter, the nights are getting colder, and tomorrow the new term starts. Before we know it, Christmas will be here (yay!!!) and it’s looking quite likely that this Christmas could be very different for us with the possible arrival of our 2 children! This has got us thinking about how we want to celebrate Christmas as a family, what traditions we want to start and what ground rules we want to establish.

One thing we’ve both always felt strongly about is that we don’t want to encourage our children to believe in Father Christmas. Please don’t condemn me until I’ve explained why.

  1. We don’t want to ever lie to our children. It’s not just the untrue claim that Father Christmas exists, but it’s all of the pretence that goes with it. Sending letters, visiting a man in fancy dress, sprinkling reindeer food and leaving out a mince pie and carrot. Parents often have to work hard to convince their children that Father Christmas IS real! And that results in quite a lot of deception that we aren’t comfortable with. We want our children to know that they can always get an honest, frank answer from us. We want them to know that we have never misled them. As adoptive parents, we are going to have to work extra hard to gain our children’s trust, we don’t want to make it harder. And as Christians, we don’t want learning about our Heavenly Father to be overshadowed by or confused with stories of a mythical ‘Father’.
  2. We want to teach our children grace. Father Christmas expects boys and girls to earn their gifts, but that’s not what gifts are. Gifts are given freely without condition or clause. Gifts are abundant and loving. If our children think they need to earn their Christmas presents by making it onto the list, how do they know anything good we give them isn’t conditional? How do they know our love isn’t? How do they know God’s love isn’t? Now of course children need to learn the value of hard work and reward. But not in the context of gifts. At no other time in life are we expected to earn gifts. The shame that is often attached to adoption means our children may find it hard to accept that we love them unconditionally. They may often feel they need to earn it, or that they never can. We don’t want to reinforce this through scaremongering tactics.
  3. Parents should be their children’s main authority. It drives me mad when I hear parents say things like “if you keep making a noise, the policeman will come and get you,” “if you don’t go to sleep, Father Christmas won’t come.” First of all, neither of those things are true. Second of all, do we want our children to be afraid of policemen?! And thirdly, why can’t we say, “don’t do that because I said and I’m your parent?!” When did being a parent not be enough to expect obedience?!
  4. We think the truth is more exciting! Christmas is the time of year that Christians celebrate God becoming human in order to be a  sacrifice by which we could know Him. That’s really exciting! It means gifts beyond any Christmas List that Father Christmas could ever bring.  Furthermore, Saint Nicholas, on whom the myth of Father Christmas is based, was an excellent man! He fiercely defended the gospel and apparently even punched a heretic in the face(!?) We want to teach our children the truth about Saint Nicholas, and still enjoy the myths, but knowing that they are myths. Most of all, we want Christmas to be about celebrating the real hero of the season, the greatest gift ever given, Jesus Christ.

3120969316_6ecdb66f97_o.jpgAs we’ve talked about this recently, we’ve realised that it is very likely that our children’s foster carers won’t have felt the same, and so it is likely our children will already believe in Father Christmas. We don’t want to shatter their fantasies as soon as they walk in through the door, we equally don’t want to go against our principles in order to keep up the pretence. We will probably try and play down Father Christmas, whilst having a really great Christmas, and eventually fade him out until he is just a nice character in books and films.

I hope, if you are big Father Christmas fans, that you won’t be offended. I love Christmas, and I always love it when people are enjoying the season, I do also quite like Father Christmas as an idea and I especially love all the films about him (Miracle on 34th Street, Santa Claus: The Movie, The Santa Clause…)  This is what we have decided after a lot of thought and discussion, it doesn’t mean it’s right for all families.

If you have any experience of this in adoption, or if you have similar or different views on Father Christmas, I’d love to hear them and to know your tips in general for surviving Christmas with kids!

Image :kennedyrox (2008)

Let your yes be yes…

lmI’ve struggled to know what to write over the last few weeks, hence the Blog Silence. Since being approved we have been on a complete emotional rollercoaster. Looking at profiles on the website Link Maker was both exciting and upsetting. Every profile we looked at we wondered if they might be our children. And yet as we looked at more and more we began to despair at how many children were looking for forever families, and how on earth we would ever find ours. We are constantly aware that the fact that we have the privilege of adopting means that there is something very wrong with the world. And as we read profiles, phrases jump out like ‘non-accidental injury’, ‘inconsistent care’ and ‘used drugs and alcohol daily during pregnancy’ that make your blood run cold.

But as we looked over profiles and discussed whether or not we could offer the home those children deserved, it all became a lot more real. During the approval process we often talked about ‘our children’. We talked about taking them to school, playing Lego, sleepless nights, pretty dresses. We talked about everything, because we had no idea what to expect. Boys, girls, black, white, babies, toddlers, children, twins, big age gaps. We had no idea. And so we talked, and we imagined, and we dreamed about them all. Our criteria was two siblings under 5. That didn’t limit it too much!

Last week we had a phone call from our social worker to say a family finder had identified us as a good match for two siblings under 5. She quickly sent over their CPRs (Child Permanence Reports) and we read all 100+ pages. As we did we got more and more excited. We thought it was a good match too! We decided that we’d like to go ahead with this profile and suddenly we had an appointment to meet the children’s social worker and  dates for matching panel were being batted around! Like I said, emotional rollercoaster.

Anyway, on Friday our social worker, their social worker and family finder are all arriving at our house to discuss the match further and decide whether or not to proceed. We are unbelievably excited, we talk about ‘our children’ all the time. Only now they have names, and faces. They are specific ages and genders. They have particular likes and needs. They are real children. And now the dreaming and imagining is so much more exciting, scary, and in a way, sad. Because when we said yes to this profile, in effect we said no to all the others. We said, we want to commit to these two children for the rest of our lives, to love them, nurture them and sacrifice for them. But that means we’re saying no to all those other children we talked about and imagined.

Now, that’s not to say at all that we aren’t happy with how things are proceeding so far. We are unbelievably excited and we really hope that they will still like us on Friday! It’s just that all of the feelings that come with this process have taken me somewhat by surprise. And I’ve realised that the nature of saying ‘yes’ to one, means you are saying ‘no’ to everyone else, a little bit like marriage.

And that makes the ‘yes’ all the more special.

Whether this match is The Match, or it is another profile we’ve not even seen yet, I can’t wait to meet them, and to say ‘Yes, we want you. Yes, we love you. Yes, you are ours.’

 

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!