Thursday, 29 March 2012

Birthdays and brain scans

Today is my birthday. Today Mini has made a real effort to be lovely. Today Mini has mostly been fantastic and I’m so proud of him!

Today at 8.30am I was at the hospital with Mini whilst he chose a video (yes video, Mini didn’t know what they were!) to watch whilst he had an Electroencephalogram (EEG). For those of you who don’t know, it’s a test where 23 electrodes are stuck all over the head, and one on each wrist, and then brain signals are measured. At various points he had to close, then reopen his eyes. The final bit involved a large lamp being directed at Mini’s face which shone strobe lights into his eyes. Again he had to open and close his eyes during this. This test is as a result of recently seeing the paediatric neurologist following the seizure back in January. An EEG is one of the tests used to rule in/out epilepsy and is around 75% accurate.

For a child who struggles with choice, just picking out a video was a big achievement. Especially when there was a choice of over 100 videos.
Not only that, Mini did absolutely everything asked of him, when it was asked. He was polite, chatty with the neurologist and sat still when needed. He was even cheeky with the neurologist – “at my last hospital appointment I got a sweetie and a sticker didn’t I mummy?!” Luckily they had a stash of stickers at the ready and my bag contained appropriate sugary treats! And the NC was waiting outside with a Dr Who magazine.

For my birthday, Mini and Dollop gave me a beautiful print that I’ve been wanting for a while which the NC is going to frame for me. They also gave me a lovely card (picked by Mini) with a ‘No1 Mum’ badge on it, and Mini wrote it out himself.  I have been spoilt with presents, and whilst Mini was at school, the NC and Dollop took me out to lunch at my favourite veggie eatery! Followed by a Starbucks and cake a bit later – yum!

So all well, until just after Mini and Dollop had eaten when Mini had a bit of a meltdown. I suspect this was due to tiredness (we had to wake him up this morning), and he didn’t settle well last night after confiding to me that he was nervous about the EEG. We’d had to tell him before hand to give us time to prepare him. Going to the hospital is pretty scary, and we felt this was one thing he needed to know about before we got there. Poor thing was worried that they’d break his head when they put the electrodes on…

First he screamed at me (I’d asked him to go for a wee before we went for a walk), then after refusing, he hit me. Both screaming and hitting mean time out. Timeout normally consists of sitting on our front door mat, often being cuddled if we think he needs/wants it. Timeout tonight consisted of attempting to run away and climb over the sofa, but mostly it consisted of bashing, slapping and punching daddy – lots and lots and lots. Daddy was so upset he couldn’t finish time out.  Mummy finished it, then got a cuddle and an apology. Mini still needed some cuddles before he was ready to go to the toilet and go out, but he did it, and we went out.

In fact, despite a bit of a difficult patch this evening, Mini was so good today, he even got to go in the grab bag. Today’s treat was an enormous pair of novelty sunglasses for the dressing up box. Much hilarity and laughing has already ensued over said glasses…long may that bit of the day continue.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

There's always Starbucks...

The NC’s dad would like to take the NC and Mini to London for a day out. As far as I can make out from the NC it would be a proper touristy day taking in the sights and sounds of the capital. I think Mini would love it, but I’m worried that all that buzz, noise and excitement could mean that the day isn’t enjoyed as it should be, and at 5 is he old enough to appreciate it yet?

All those new things – an hour and a half on the train, followed by the rushing, people, keep to the right escalators, ticket machines and ‘Mind the Gaps’ of the tube, then hundreds of pigeons, lots of people and traffic, tall buildings to look at, not knowing where the nearest public loo is, excitement of Daddy and Grandad all to himself. Exciting, scary or both for a 5 year old who struggles with hand driers, police sirens and noisy motorbikes?

We’re only just starting to get a handle on Mini’s behaviour. It’s difficult at times, and we have strategies we use at home, but until now we’ve been very much limited what we do outside of the home because we just couldn’t deal with Mini. We’ve now started venturing out again, but very slowly and only when Mini is in the right frame of mind and not too tired, and to ‘safe’ places that are close to home.

So what do we do? My concern is that NC struggles with Mini at the best of times, without the props we use at home, would he be able to cope if Mini had a meltdown – given all the exciting, but scary new things they would encounter?
They are far from home, and even coming home on a train could spark meltdowns as it’s new and different and wobbles and is noisy and there are strange people and passing views and it’s hard to wee because everything shakes! There is nothing familiar anywhere (except Daddy and Grandad) to help calm Mini down.

Although there is always Starbucks.

Now don’t laugh, but Mini knows Starbucks well, he is very familiar with their green logo, he knows what type of cakes and drinks he likes (and is allowed). In our town, where there are several, Mini can navigate the streets to find the nearest one (avoiding ‘those other ones’). When my own mum and stepdad have visited and asked where he’d like to go, Mini’s answer is always Starbucks (not the beach, zoo or farm!).
Can we therefore use Starbucks with it’s familiar layout, and samey furniture, style, atmosphere and smells as a safe calming place if Mini starts to show signs of stress? Is it the same as that safe, warm, calming ‘time in’ hug?

Do you know, I think it might be…

Now I’m not suggesting that the NC and Mini are about to embark on a journey to the big smoke with grandad on the basis that there are plenty of those particular establishments there - I don’t think they’re ready, and the NC is in agreement with me - but I do think we ought to explore the comforting and calming properties of our (slightly overpriced) favourite cake-serving coffeehouse more. There could be something in it, even if it’s just a calming hug for me from one of those extra-hot, decaff, no froth, caramel macchiatos!

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Magic moments

We had a lovely evening and I just had to write about it, as I feel that sometimes this blog is too negative. Don't get me wrong, this is a blog about behaviour, and if it was good all the time, there'd be nothing interesting to write about, but sometimes, we need reminding of those moments that make it all worthwhile.

After school, Mini decides to finish (after about 6 weeks) his letter to Nanny and Grandad (who live a long way away and we haven't seen them since before Christmas). So moment number 1 - he makes a choice. He picked what paper to write his letter on.
This is big as Mini really struggles with decision making. We remove them where possible, but sometimes he beats us to it!

For moment number 2, he wrote a letter to them without getting upset when he made a mistake :-) He just rubbed it out, and tried again.

After this Mini did some maths work, working slowly and methodically - breakthrough number 3. Normally he rushes, gets it wrong, gets frustrated, then gives up and has a meltdown. Today he didn't do any of those.

Then Mini and Dollop played together, in the pop up tunnel, with her toys, with his toys. No arguments or snatching - this was moment number 4!

Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, number 5 popped up - Mini didn't bug me about what we were having for dinner. When it arrived, he ate it nicely, quickly and at the table.

Wow, so for all this, Mini worked up the super-happy faces to number 3, and had a dip in the grab bag. Tonight it was the promise of an extra bedtime story, which he was thrilled to bits with.

I'm really proud of my kids tonight, they have been lovely and a real pleasure to be around. I even got a sticker from Mini. It says 'Wow' - and apparently it's because I'm a really wow mum - I think that's a compliment :-)

Surprising success!

The school nurse has called again. This was a massive surprise as I wasn't really expecting to hear from her again. Ever.

This time she tells me she still can’t get any kind of family support or behavioural help for us. This is because we’re already receiving behavioural advice from CAMHS and they don’t want to overlap services. I explain (again) that CAMHS are giving us behavioural advice, but only behavioural advice, and possibly at some point in the future, some play/art therapy.

I calmly remind her that she’d originally promised me some parent support, not behavioural help. 
I calmly remind her that she’d promised me all sorts of referrals, but she was now reneging on every single one of them.
I politely, but firmly suggest that she might like to try again to get the parent support for me and the NC before we cracked up or murdered each other. She agrees (sounding very unhopeful) to try again.
I calmly put the phone down. And given the lack of practical help we’ve had from her so far, forgot about it as I didn’t expect to hear from her again.

20 minutes later the phone rang. Surprisingly, it was the school nurse again. She tells me that she’d spoken to the family/parent support unit again and they agreed that because the CAMHS work was purely for Mini, that we should be able to get ‘parent’ support through them. Although she reminds me that the school still have to agree and sign some paperwork for the referral to formally be put through.

She promises to speak with the new SENCO at Mini’s school. The great thing about this is that the new SENCO happens also to be Mini’s class teacher. This is also the class that I read with once a week and visit for every single open morning/stay and play session. I’m hoping that given our good relationship and the fact that I am now the only mum that helps out with reading, this might work in our favour, a bit of mutual back-scratching. At least I see her twice a day so can chase, remind,  follow up at regular intervals.

Now it’s a bit too early to celebrate any kind of success here, but I’m remaining calm, and remaining hopeful that the school nurse might finally be coming through!

In other news, Mini’s not been too bad this week so far. I’ve had some lovely cuddles. Mini and Dollop have played nicely together. Mini reacted really well to us slightly rearranging his toys while he was at Nanna and Grandad’s at the weekend. We have had several over-reactions to minor injuries, but a few plasters have fixed them all. Mini has asked if he can write to his birth mother, and I dealt with it well and he was satisfied with my reply. I hope the week continues this way!

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Mother's Day with Mini

I expect there will be an influx of posts today and tomorrow from mummy bloggers across the UK as we mark Mother’s Day. Here’s a bit about mine so far….

With vast amounts of forethought, I ordered a box of chocolates from the milkman this week (which was free when you ordered enough other stuff). I left a roll of wrapping paper at the bottom of the stairs, and I marched the NC to the shop during the week to buy his Mother’s Day card for his mum (the others – for my mum and my nans were bought and written weeks ago). By making NC buy his mum’s card, it reminds him to buy one from the kids for me – ulterior motive you see! Plus I figure he knows his mother best and should choose what he thinks she’d like.

Several times, whilst at Morrisons the NC asked me which flowers I’d like for Mother’s Day, or if there was anything else he should buy. I asked him not to waste his money…all you other mummies out there know what this really means though don’t you??!!
Really I don’t want him to waste money, we have a car that failed it’s MOT this week and we can’t afford to repair it at the moment, so money really ought to go on that. And it’s my birthday in just over a week, so I feel a bit greedy having pressies so close together when money is needed elsewhere…but still….

So, on the day - instead of a much desired sleep-in, I get kicked in the back by Dollop at 6.50am. Mini then comes in at 7.10am. With the premise of needing the toilet, Mini and the NC disappear for 15minutes to make a coffee, wrap up the chocs I’d bought and write my card (my husband does not have forethought!). Eventually they return, and I unwrap my present, open my card and let my coffee go cold.
I venture downstairs and am offered toast. Not croissants and jam, or smoked salmon and scrambled egg. I can’t even have beans on my toast because the washing up from last night (when we invited the in-laws to stay for dinner after they’d had Mini over to play), is stacked on every available surface (including the hob!).

Happy Mother’s Day me!

But do you know what. I can just about forgive the NC, because without him, I wouldn’t have the two beautiful children I have. Despite the bad times - and sometimes they are really bad – I still get that warm fuzzy feeling when I look at either of my kids. They’re mine and I love them, they love me.

And anyway, I got a beautiful homemade ‘thing’ that Mini made with me at school on Friday  - best mother’s day pressie ever! Oh and Dollop gave me a big slobbery kiss in bed too. We'll see what the rest of the day holds, but hopefully it'll include lots of hugs and kisses from my kiddies!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Rewarding behaviour

Well it's not been the easiest couple of days. Mini has had several meltdowns, and has been very tired recently which has contributed to those meltdowns.  The NC has been ill, and hasn't had masses of patience as a result. So he's not been as....easygoing as normal. Both the NC and Mini have clashed somewhat these last few days.


Mini has not wet himself day or night (except one episode), or soiled himself at all for a couple of weeks now and we're so so proud of him. There's been no smeared or hidden poo. Even his aim has improved and the grout between the floor tiles has dried out!
He's proud of himself, and is clearly feeling a great sense of achievement, and has commented about how nice it is to be back to normal again. He's even finished the reward charts for dryness too, and can't wait for me to set up a new reward chart for something else...yet to be decided.

I know reward charts don't work for everyone, but for Mini they do...take these 'dry in the day' ones...we don't insist he's dry 7 days in a row, or mon-fri, but rather when he's got 5 stickers, he gets a dip in the 'grab bag' of treats. Once he's managed 5 successful episodes, we up it to 7 so it's a bit longer before he gets the grab bag, and so on. We usually do it for 4 or 5 treats, and then he knows that by the end of the chart we expect him to be able to stay dry without having treats. We don't make a song or dance if he's not achieved a sticker that day, just try to encourage him the next day. Usually by the 3rd treat he's getting stickers nearly every day rather than 1/2 a week. There is no timelimit, we use these charts til he's met each goal.

We've rewarded dryness, finishing drinks at mealtimes (he was dehydrated for sometime after just not drinking much), remembering to wee before bed, remembering to brush his teeth. I need to spend some time choosing the next chart needs to be achievable enough so that Mini won't get frustrated, and something that he should be able to do without necessarily be reminded by the end of it all. The old health visitor woman who advised following Webster Stratton would call this 'positive behaviour modification', I call this rewarding the good behaviour, whilst trying to ignore some of the bad!

Mini's grab bag is a lucky dip...he has no idea what's in there. It contains mini lego packs, small packs of sweets, written promises (such as a park trip, buying a postcard to send to nanny, a visit to the bakers to choose a cake), rubbers, sheets of stickers, even those mini boxes of Coco Pops (makes a change from his normal Shreddies or Cheerios!). In the past, it's had a yoyo, a whoopee cushion, books, crayons...all sorts.

I'm even thinking of asking the NC to make me one - with mini bottles of wine, bars of galaxy, vouchers for facials, nail varnishes, Radley bags!!! Perhaps I should get a sticker for each day I've remained calm, safe, cuddly mummy, not shouty, wound-up, cross mummy?
Any more suggestions for a grown up reward chart?

I've added a resources page to the site now which has got more detail about how we use the reward charts, and other things we use to reward the good, and acknowledge the bad. I've even included photographs of my own handiwork (no sniggering please!).

Sunday, 11 March 2012

One call equals many cupcakes!

So, after a month or so of waiting for the three referrals she’d promised (community paediatrician, parent support worker and family support worker), I finally receive a phone call last week from the school nurse.

So here are her words, and my thoughts!

She tells me on the phone that ‘you’ve been in my thoughts’, ‘but I’ve been so terribly busy’, and ‘we’ve had so much sickness in the office that we’ve just not been able to deal with everything as effectively as we like to’ – so what have you not got done??

‘Unfortunately, the criteria for referring to Community Paed have changed, and we can’t now refer without the support of the school…I understand this might be difficult for you’ – yes it’s damn well difficult, and you damn well know, as Mini is a model blinking pupil!

I tell her that we’ve been lucky that the GP’s referral to CAMHS has come through and I’ve had 2 meetings and 1 phone-meeting with a primary mental health worker, who in that time has tentatively diagnosed, offered support and ways of handling Mini, showed concern and promised some therapy for him.

‘Oh well, I’m so pleased you’ve got some support there. Is there anything else I can help with? You mentioned problems with wetting?’ – yes, you promised to set up a session with a specialist for me, and other parents who were concerned about the same issue which you’ve clearly not done, however, this issue has resolved itself and Mini is now dry again – day and night, no thanks to you!

‘So you’re all set now then?’ – well actually, I’d still like if possible to see someone in parent support. I think this might be helpful for me and my husband.

  • ‘Oh, well can CAMHS arrange that then? I’ll still need headteacher to sign for you to get a referral to parent support through us’ – What?? You never mentioned this a month ago, what exactly have you been doing for the last 4 weeks during which time I’ve been clinging onto the fact that you promised me some HELP and SUPPORT!

So upshot is that school won’t help, so school nurse can’t help. I come off the phone slightly shell-shocked and dazed, thankful that we are getting support from somewhere else, because I am deeply disappointed that so many promises have been completely broken so early into our journey. I cannot help but think that I’m gonna have to get used to this…

I’ll add that it was this phonecall that prompted my epiphany and subsequent blog post – their views against ours! It also prompted baking fury and lots of cupcakes for the NC, Mini and Dollop so there was an upside!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Their views - and ours!

My name is Stix. I am a mum of 2 beautiful, clever children, one boy, one girl and I love them both to the moon and back – don’t let me forget that will you?

I got reminded today that I am an intelligent young woman. Actually, did he use the word young? Or is that wishful thinking?...anyways…

I am an intelligent woman. I know my son. My son is anxious and worried that he’s going to be moved on to new parents and I know it’s our job to reassure him that he’s not going anywhere, we love him and he is very much a part of this family.

People have differing views on the things we’ve told Mini, and when we’ve done it. They have differing views on what’s ‘wrong’ with Mini. They have differing views over whether attachment issues are real or excuses. People have differing views on the involvement we are currently having with the mental health service.  People have differing views on how 5 year olds should be. They have differing views on parenting, what’s normal, what’s not, and where Mini falls in terms of normality!

We are intelligent people, so despite everyone else’s views, I know that me and the NC have only ever done what social services suggested to us in terms of parenting styles, life story work and birth parent photos. And when that hasn’t worked we’ve sought help from general parenting books, adoption parenting books, health visitors, and reputable online sources such as Adoption UK and BAAF. Now none of that’s working we’ve sought help from our GP, and are receiving support from CAMHS (which is great, it’s working, we feel better, Mini is better, and whether or not people agree with the(lack of) diagnosis, we feel it’s right!)

I am an intelligent woman who will no longer feel guilty for the way we have parented OUR son. It might or might not have been the right way to do things – in anyone else’s view. But in ours, we’ve done what we thought best based on the information we had, the information we sought and what we know about our son!

We need to concentrate on now. There is no doubt that some of what we’ve done in the past hasn’t worked, there is no doubt that some of what we do in the future won’t work either, but we now know our son well enough to take a good guess at approaches that will work for us as a family, and if they don’t we won’t feel guilty, we’ll just try something else. Most of all, we’ll listen to all the advice and differing views, nod our heads, and then do what we think best anyway!

My name is Stix. I am an intelligent woman. And I am a mum of 2 beautiful, clever children. That’s all anyone else needs to know, and all I need to remember….

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A Mini breakthrough!

This week has been pretty good. We’ve had no major meltdowns and only one or two minor meltdowns.

The weekend was approached with care and tactful handling by both me and the NC. Although we try to keep visits/parties/events etc from Mini until the last minute, his classmate’s party had been spoken about all week at school – by everyone. It was to be the event of the year it seemed. Mini was surprisingly calm about it all.

He came home from school on Thursday with a strange rash on his face, which when I questioned if someone had slapped him, made me realise it was of course, Slapped Cheek. He looked dreadful, but of course by the time we’d notice the rash, the contagious part had been and gone. It didn’t take long for the rash to spread, and in fact it’s still over his arms and legs, but faded from the face now. He felt fine to go to school Friday, and of course - the party (which was pretty cool by Mini’s standards – a bouncy castle, disco and bubble machine for 2 hrs in a small church hall, with 30+ 5yr old boys plus a few girls running around!), and after the party, the rest of the weekend was calm and pleasant with a film, popcorn, games, playing, finger painting, a walk in the rain and puddle splashing. Success!!!

However, Mini woke up Monday morning with a high temperature, and had barely slept due to a hacking cough. So he stayed at home. Mini would not admit he felt ill, he wouldn’t admit he felt hot, Mini would not admit anything!
But the breakthrough came when he allowed me to cuddle him, and fuss over him, providing water, calpol, cuddles, kisses, snacks and blankets as required. He allowed himself to be ill, and he allowed me to care about and for him.

Many cuddles, a couple of doses of calpol, a better night’s sleep and Mini’s gone back to school today.
I feel a little bit more like a real mum – you know, the one who’s supposed to be able to care for her children, the one whose cuddles make everything better…yeah, today - that’s me!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Marathons and pacemakers

I’ve been doing lots of questioning today – of myself mostly following my blog post yesterday and some Twitter conversations that I’ve had today as a result of it.

It’s always been my belief that being honest with adopted children as early as possible is important. That it’s crucial they know they are adopted – none of those old-school attitudes about hiding it and pretending they’re your birth children.
My beliefs around this have been based on what our social worker told us, reading material we were given, the preparation course we attended – everything was geared to telling the child about their background as early as possible. The whole adoption process is a marathon, there is so much to do and learn, and a long process to endure. If your social worker advises something, and can back up their advice, then you believe it.

We were advised to put photos of birth parents in Mini’s room (even though he only ever met birth father at one hello/goodbye contact session) and that should also include the photograph of me, the NC and birth mother that was taken when we met her – this was supposed to show Mini that she was ‘giving her permission’ in a way, for him to be with us.

It appears that all this was wrong. Wrong for Mini, wrong for us.Those social workers don't talk to you about veering off this path they recommend - it's a one size fits all approach but it just doesn't work like that! 

We’ve always been really gentle in the approach we’ve taken with Mini. We’ve not hidden anything, but we’ve done our best to be age appropriate, and haven’t forced anything onto him (bar the photos in his room it would seem). His life story book has always been available for Mini, and he had looked at it infrequently, and he’s always asked to see his album from his foster family (although less so recently), but we don’t force him to look.
We’ve utilised conversations about animals being taken away from their parents to show that we don’t all live with our birth parents, and we’ve always looked at books that introduce the idea of different mummies – A Mother for Choco has been one of Mini’s favourites since he was quite small. But in all of that, we only introduced the concepts, never pinned it on him or compared with his life.
Having said that, he’s known from very young that there is a lady and a man who live not too far away, who were his parents but couldn’t look after him, so we became his parents instead.

My pregnancy with Dollop was a tricky situation. Knowing there was a baby in my tummy meant Mini wanted to know where he’d come from. Those natural questions emerge about being in tummies, and coming out of those tummies. We took the opportunity to explain that he’d come from a different tummy, but the lady couldn’t look after him, and alluded to the lady and man who live not too far away…

Breastfeeding bought more questions – did X feed him he wondered? From a bottle or from her boobies? And Mini wanted to know why X couldn’t look after him as a baby. Even at 3 and a half, he realised that babies mostly sleep, poo and feed, and he didn’t understand why X couldn’t meet those basic needs. We tried to avoid certain questions, tried to divert his attention, but there were many questions we carefully answered in a way so as to provide a vague answer.

Mini is a sensitive soul. He questions lots of things. Mini has worried lots that X will be missing him. To calm him, I’ve explained that I write to X every now and then to let her know that he is OK, and so my sensitive, caring Mini asked to help. How could I tell him no? So last letter he told me a few things that he wanted me to say. This time, I’ve not told him I’m writing, and won’t again until he asks.

But anyway, we thought we’d been gentle enough. We thought we’d taken it slow enough…clearly not. Now everything is being removed and will stay away until Mini is well and truly ready. We need to let him be the pacemaker, and let us know how fast or slow he wants to learn.
And now I feel like a brand new adopter all over again trying to learn about this new child that’s emerging and feel like I’ve failed Mini over these last 4 years by being honest with him.