Saturday, 28 July 2012

One week down...

So that's the first week of the summer holiday done. Phew!

The highs:

We have so far had a movie afternoon, gone to the play area, made bath salts, played in the garden, been to the beach, gone shopping and out for lunch in town, been to the beach again, spent pocket money on the pier, written in a homework journal, taught Dollop how to blow bubbles, performed back-flips on a bungee bouncer, played with Lego, been on a scavenger hunt, made sausage and spaghetti spiders, made 'nature paper', been geocaching - twice, been to nanna and grandad's and paddled in the pool, and made and eaten marshmallow pops.

My washing machine is feeling somewhat neglected because Mini has had almost a week of dry days and nights. A feat that we haven't achieved since *thinks really hard to remember* at least January.

Our bathroom however is feeling fully appreciated as Mini has requested baths every day to use his own special homemade bath salts. And the extra bonus is that he smells gaw-jus!

The boy's behaviour has been sooooo much better during the day. He's been tolerant of times when I couldn't respond immediately. He's not moaned when doing activities he hasn't enjoyed so much. Mini has also been more affectionate than normal, and he's clearly trying really really hard at the moment.

The lows:

Because he's been so occupied during the day, Mini has become very tired in the evenings. And overtiredness leads to meltdowns, defiance and aggression. Luckily, our activities haven't been too manic, exciting or stressful and so these meltdowns have been minimal. It's the niggling defiance that is causing more problems.

Dinnertimes are difficult because of the overtiredness and defiance mentioned above.

Bedtimes are too.

The crack in the living room ceiling has lengthened slightly after the bedtime and sleep refusal one evening led to Mini having a full blown jumping up and down tantrum in his room. *looks down at keyboard quickly to avoid pondering on ceiling repairs*

Mini had a moment at the beach today when he just couldn't stop himself running into the sea with his (only) trainers on. (We hadn't intended to paddle today, just walk on the prom). I have to take him shoe shopping tomorrow because they are still (5 hours later) dripping and sodden and his flip-flops aren't suitable for walking more than half a mile, we which will be doing this coming week.

But the highs definitely outweigh the lows this week. And apart from when the tiredness has set in (usually coinciding with the NC returning from work) it's been really nice to see Mini relax, chill out and just play. The planning is paying off and Mini is eager to know which activity we're doing each day and I feel in control, which means even during the off moments, I feel like I'm handling things better than before.

Let's hope this coming week is as good or *whispers* maybe even better??!!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The one about defiance and refusals


This is something that seems to be getting to not only me, but other adopters (and birth parents) at the moment. And I've written about it before here, but it's getting worse...much worse. Is it the time of year? Is it the up/down weather? Who knows, but one thing is for certain, Mini is pretty damn good at defiance, and regardless of situation, parent involved, time of day and any number of other factors, he will use his (already pretty powerful) lungs to pronounce an enormous 'NO!'.

He has a number of ways at expressing this negative, always shouted, and always said with venom & vitriol and often the words are spat out:

I will not.
You can't make me.
Bog off.
I don't want tooooo.
*Thumbs downs*
*Blows raspberries*
I've told you before, I'M NOT DOING THAT!

He also uses distraction, avoidance and bargaining too -

I'm just.... scratching my nose/stroking this teddy bear/having a think...
What about doing x,y,z first?
Did you see what Dollop did?
*Pretends not to hear*
*Coughs over everything asked/said*
*Runs away and hides*
*Fake crying*

And to top off these refusals, often they are accompanied by a slap, smack, whack, or scratch. This non-compliance always feels like a battle of wills or a control issue. Mini always seems so manipulative when he's like this, and there's almost a glint in his eye. He most definitely smiles and celebrates if he feels he's 'won' a battle of defiance.

It's even comical sometimes - the amount of ways he tries to avoid doing something or defy us. The funniest times are when he doesn't think about what he's saying no to - he's just in a no mood... e.g Would you like chocolate icecream with chocolate sauce and sprinkles for breakfast? NO! or If you get dressed now we can go to the park. YOU CAN'T MAKE ME.

But actually it isn't funny. It's just bloody hard work. Can you imagine any other relationship where it would be acceptable to constantly be told 'no'? Work? With your other half? It is utterly demoralising and exhausting for me and the NC.

I know that lots of birth children are like this too. But I feel quite strongly that there's a difference, at least between Mini and his non-adopted peers. All children say no sometimes, of course they do. (We're going through the terrible two's with Dollop right now, 'No' is a favourite of hers too at the moment!). But with Mini it seems uncontrollable, he cannot stop himself from refusing or arguing. He just will not comply with things - even things that suit or benefit him.He's not just saying the word for the sake of it, he absolutely will not do x,y,z and nothing ain't gonna make him either!

What concerns me is that he's not like this at school. He's not like this at Nanna and Grandad's either. It's just with us. He doesn't limit it to home and is quite happy to defy us whilst out and about, but only us.
It's hard to know whether he is like this because of his past; his trauma and anxieties. Or is he just stubborn? Does he have a mental health issue? 

I'm running out of ideas. Our post adoption social worker has suggested a possible cause is Oppositional Defiant Disorder (his suggestion is based on assessments we've already undertaken which various people have reviewed, and is something that we've actually thought about before, and others who know Mini and some who don't have also suggested it). The same social worker tells us that Theraplay will help. We're still on the waiting list (and have been since May). But right now, at the start of the summer holidays, with the prospect of another 6 weeks - 6 WHOLE WEEKS!!! - like this, I am filled with dread. And I'm trying to keep a number of bargaining, coercing and negotiating tools up my sleeve, and ways of asking Mini to do something without actually asking him. Can I do it for 6 loooooooong weeks? I bloody well hope so else we're all in trouble.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Mini's first year at school

Well we made it through Mini’s first school year.

And what a year - he’s been in the school nativity, excelled at numbers and problem solving, learnt to read and write, made a lovely group of friends, become more creative, been on a trip to the zoo, demonstrated his skills in assemblies, grown a bean, made gingerbread men, learnt to retell stories, held an Olympic Torch, and he’s become more confident in his own abilities.

It’s not been easy but we’ve made it to the end, and my little boy is no longer in reception, but looking forward to moving up to Year 1.

I’m looking forward to it too. I hope that the instability that Mini has had in reception will disappear as his new teacher won’t have the same ‘other commitments’ as Miss U. His new teacher is not only new to me and Mini, but she’s also new to the school. I had hoped to speak with Mini’s new teacher – Miss P – before the end of this term, but because she doesn’t yet work at the school, and was teaching on the only day she was there (moving up day) she hasn’t returned my calls. 

But I talked to my lovely parent supporter who went straight to Mini’s school, spoke with the head teacher (a woman I find intimidating, but I am told is the best infant school head around), and took photos of Mini’s new classroom and classroom assistants.
The parent supporter is more used to working with slightly older children, those who have problems at school because of issues they have at home, and she regularly puts together transition books for those moving from junior to high school. She’s going to tailor one to Mini for this move and bring it round in the next few weeks. 

Mini has also had an extra transition day with some of his classmates, and had another with just the head teacher who is very willing to support him any way she can.
She appreciates (although I’m not sure she fully understands) that Mini needs someone – a stable adult - at school that he can build a relationship with. He had that with Miss U but then circumstances made it hard for that relationship to remain stable, which is when our problems started.
Head teacher seems keen to be that stable adult if needs be, although I’m keener for it to be someone who will be in his class i.e a teaching assistant who is more likely to really know him. However, it’s really helpful and a great support to know she’s on our side, and is prepared to help out.

CAMHS have been reluctant to get in touch with school, so I’ve asked our post adoption support worker to get in touch and he’s agreed. Just a brief letter explaining Mini’s problems will be a start and will enable the school to engage with post adoption support, perhaps with a view to getting some training for themselves. And, I think it’ll come better from them because at the moment I’m worried I’m coming across as a paranoid mum, especially as Mini is seen as fine/perfect/model student at school.

For now though, Mini is looking forward to his 6 weeks off school. And he’s even looking forward to writing a diary of his summer activities to show to his class in September.

In other news, we had a visit from our post adoption support worker who shared the results of our assessments with us – I’m still trying to get my head around the conversations we had with him, and will blog about it as soon as I can order my thoughts. So watch this space!

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

What's in a name?

I had an interesting conversation with an adopter recently. We were talking about names, and she was wondering if she should have changed her daughter’s name when she was placed as it’s so unusual.

If you’re not familiar with adoption, you might be under the impression that changing the name of a newly placed child is something that an adopter is easily able to do. And indeed, once that child officially becomes ‘yours’, you can, in theory, do whatever you want with their names.

However, Social Services drilled it into us at every opportunity before we applied to adopt, during our preparation course, throughout our home-study and before presenting any children’s profiles to us that we would be expected to keep the child’s given name, and even thinking about changing their first name was absolutely unacceptable.
Why? Well, names form part of our identity. For many of our children, their name is the only thing they have from their birth parents.  It’s their name – it belongs to them. To take that away from a child could be catastrophic for them. Although, it seems that changing or dropping middle names is more acceptable.

We were only ever shown Mini’s profile – 2 weeks after we were approved (a short wait thankfully). He sounded perfect on paper, we were shown a photo and he was (and still is) gorgeous, his name was the only thing about him that our social worker thought would put us off. Yes – it was that unusual. His first name was hyphenated, and the first part wasn’t a name I’ve ever heard of. We actually quite liked it, and talked about how we could drop the second part of his name, or if we just used the initials of both parts we could make another name entirely. It certainly didn’t put us off, and we were happy to proceed knowing that we could work around it, without actually changing his name.

However, the further along we got in the process of being matched for this child, the more Social Services felt that this unusual name could cause us problems later on in placement, especially coupled with his middle names, one of which was completely made up. They felt it was too identifiable (given the proximity to birth family, and the risks they posed), and despite all the preparation to the contrary, we were advised to consider changing it. We knew they were serious because they’d spent so long telling us why we shouldn’t change it, to make such a turnaround meant it was incredibly important.

We then had to choose a name for a child who we’d never met. Yes, I know most birth parents have names picked out during their pregnancy, or at least a couple to choose from and they haven’t met their children when they do this. But our child, this gorgeous little boy already had a character, he was already someone, and we had a matter of days (not 9 months) to pick a name. We’d already decided that we would give him a new middle name – that of my father. Now we also had to decide on a first name, whether to keep any of his birth names, which ones and which order they’d be in. Put on the spot in a meeting of social workers, we settled on his new first name, my father’s name, and then his original hyphenated birth name. This was followed by our own surname. This meant dropping his two birth middle names, but we were all comfortable with this because we were keeping that all important first name.

So names chosen, we then had to think about how to actually change his name because of course at 13months old, he knew and responded to his name. It’s much easier than we originally thought…we spent the first 3 weeks of placement calling him by the first part of his birth name (i.e Austin), then he became Austin-Mini for 2 weeks, then finally we were able to call him Mini.
However, the reality of remembering which point of this process we were at, and remembering to call him the right name was difficult. Until Mini was ours, he was still officially Austin, so during meetings and at LAC reviews, he was still referred by his birth name. We had to register him at the doctors in his birth name, but had to ask them not to call out for him in the surgery. We worried throughout this process about whether it was right and whether it would work. Thankfully it did. And he’s most definitely Mini…though I can still see that Austin would suit him.

Some days I regret changing his name. His birth name really did suit him and his personality. But I know that we had to protect us and our family, and this was the only way.
I write all our contact letters in his old name because his birth family don’t know that we’ve changed it. I’ve always felt they should know, and because his name now is fairly common it wouldn’t matter so much if they know what it is, they’re still not likely to find us via it. But Social Services feel it wouldn’t be beneficial to anyone so I have to remember to refer to him as Austin, and then have to triple check each letter before I email it on to the letterbox co-ordinator. The few responses we have had therefore refer to him as Austin. When he’s a bit older and looks through those letters, he’ll see that we haven’t been honest with his birth parents and I wonder how he’ll feel about that. Thankfully I’ve got the correspondence from Social Services where they tell me not to divulge his name in contact letters.

Although his birth name is in part of his current name, we only use it on official documents. Mini knows what it is, but frequently forgets it. He knows why each part of his name is what it is. He’s quite protective over his first name…and gets upset if we call him by a shortened version or a nickname sometimes. I only hope that when he grows up, he really understands why we had to change it.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Sorting Summer...

We’ve only experienced the extended ‘Summer Holidays’ once before, but then, Mini was calmer, quieter, more easily entertained, and a 4 year old pre-schooler. He finished nursery, and then came six weeks of seaside fun, garden playtime, painting, drawing, crafts and activities whilst he (and I!) looked forward to school starting. I did plan the 6 weeks to an extent as a loose guide for me, with lots of activities, and at least 1 ‘rest day’ each week (movie afternoon, quiet time).

Now, he’s an aggressive, easily bored yet easily over-stimulated 5 year old school boy, with an attitude. A new pack of crayons and a colouring book just ain’t gonna cut it.

This time I’m planning to the extreme. If I don’t plan, then I WILL lose the plot. This way I’m hoping to avoid those ‘I’m bored’ whines, and maybe I’ll even win some kind of in-house supermum award for providing varied and interesting play opportunities *grasps at the slim chance*. There is something for every day, but they are easily changed or cancelled if something else comes along. Visits to friends and family are still kept to a minimum, but a few are planned already, and I’m sure more will come up. And there are a few new DVDs and the Sky Store for quiet days.

I’ve been following ‘Lessons from an Infertile SocialWorker’ for some time, and recently I read that Becky had come up with a brilliant idea for keeping her son occupied through the school holidays – activity packets. Each pack contains all that is needed for science experiments, craft activities, make or bake sessions – all sorts.
So, I’ve pinched borrowed her idea, and come up with my own activity packs -  some are my own ideas, some are activities I’ve found online (mostly on Pinterest), and some are from some great science books that the NC had as a child, which we now have for our children.

Each pack is in a bag or box of its own, with instructions and ingredients, materials and equipment. Some have photos (because I’m testing some of the experiments first) which will hopefully encourage Mini and get him excited about doing them. Quite a few of the activities are complicated which will require help from me (good to get us working together!), but there are many that Mini can do by himself with close supervision. And there’s a good mixture of quick activities that only take 10minutes, some that are upto an hour, and a couple over the holidays that take a short time to prepare, but need a few days to work. Oh, and we’ve done some of these things before, and I know Mini enjoyed them, so I’m including them again. I’ve tried to plan stuff that I know Mini will be able to do, to save frustration on his part.

Do I sound like a control freak? Yes, probably. Am I going to attempt to stay sane? Yes, absolutely!

I’m sure that rain will stop play on occasion, I’m sure that Mini will still have meltdowns and tantrums. But I will be more chilled if I feel vaguely like I’m in control. And if I’m chilled, then perhaps some of that will rub off on Mini and Dollop. Here’s hoping…

At some point I might get around to sharing some of the activities on the Resources page of The Boy’s Behaviour, but you can always follow me on Pinterest (just drop me an email if you want an invite) to see what sort of things we’ll be getting up to…

Friday, 13 July 2012

Friends, family and a few tears...

Yesterday my eyes leaked. They leaked because I received an email from someone who is important to me, the NC, Mini and Dollop, we’ll call him Minty. That person is having a tough time right now with depression and as a result, is seeing a counsellor.
One of the things that Minty has discussed with the counsellor is Mini’s behaviour, because he hasn’t really understood it properly and because it’s made him feel sad – knowing that Mini’s background and trauma has impacted on him the way it has.

Minty was really brave, and he sent me an email to tell me a bit about how he felt about his relationship with me, and how he felt about what we’re going through. And at the very end, he offered his support in any way he could.

We’re all really lucky that Minty’s counsellor knows about Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), and has first-hand experience of it, having worked with children with the disorder. She’s helped Minty by explaining RAD to him and giving him information about it. She’s listened to Minty’s worries and anxieties about it all. Mini hasn’t got a diagnosis of RAD; he hasn’t got a diagnosis at all because our CAMHS worker doesn’t believe in labelling children, but he shows many of the signs of RAD, and without doubt, he has abandonment anxieties.

I’ve kind of talked briefly on here before about how I’ve found it hard to explain all these problems and trauma to people I care about. That’s partly because it’s hard for them to understand and believe something that they don’t see - he’s often perfect, or at least fairly ‘normal’ when we’re with family and friends (and remember we don’t see anyone that often because it makes Mini anxious about moving on). It’s partly because it’s hard to explain properly without giving away lots of Mini’s background, and that’s not for me to share, it’s Mini’s story. And it’s also partly because people have their own problems and I don’t want to worry them because quite frankly some of what we endure is awful and shocking.

I’ve never talked directly to Minty about Mini’s issues, so when I received this email from him telling me that he understood, I cried.
I cried with relief that another person in our support network had got it, and not only that, but they were receiving support and counselling to help them come to terms with it because it was hard for them too.

Until now, I’ve not really thought much about how my friends and family feel about Mini, or more precisely, the problems that Mini has.
But of course things have changed for them all too. We don’t see people as often as we used to – which might make them feel rejected or like we’re not making an effort. They’re coming to terms with the fact that Mini isn’t like other children – he has experienced trauma, and that means that they have to recognise that Mini has a past that we’re not part of. We parent him differently to how they’ve parented/are parenting their own children so perhaps that makes some of them nervous about how to be around us and Mini. And also, some of them just might not agree with what we’re saying and doing – just because they don’t, or because they’re in denial, or because they just can’t comprehend it or don’t want to. But it’s OK for them to feel like that.
We’d lent the BAAF book ‘Related by Adoption’ to various members of our family, and some friends too before Mini was even placed with us, and one or two people have re-read it since too, but nothing prepared them (in much the same way that nothing prepared us) for the problems Mini now has.
I think my own experiences show that there is a need for support for friends and family too. And this was also suggested in feedback at the CAMHS course I went on. Perhaps a one-day course to explain briefly what trauma and attachment mean for adopted children? Including a session about ways they could support us, the adoptive parents?

Anyway, thank you Minty for being there. Love you x

Thursday, 12 July 2012

The day Mini empathised...

Wednesdays are fast getting a reputation in this house.

Wednesday morning is when Mini has been having a different teacher, and so, as a rule, Tuesday evenings and Wednesday mornings have been somewhat anxious times for Mini, and therefore difficult, challenging times for the rest of us.

Two weeks ago we had Wild Wednesday when Mini couldn’t hold back in showing his anxieties and insecurities. And although last week and yesterday were better, these days are clearly difficult for Mini.
Yesterday after school saw Mini in a destructive mood again, probably to punish me for making him go to school in the morning when I knew he’d be upset and worried by it.

But then things changed direction when the NC got home. This is traditionally the time when Mini steps things up a gear, when he turns into a screaming banshee and nothing is right. This is the time when he starts the point blank refusals to do anything. It's like daddy flicks a switch on his way through the door.
But last night, the NC had a bit of an accident on the way home and had tumbled off his bike. His knee and shoulder were scuffed and dripping with blood, and his elbow and hand were grazed and sore. As soon as Mini saw him he exclaimed “oh, that must really hurt daddy, are you ok?” The NC and I glanced at each other and after the NC had replied to Mini, I praised him for being so thoughtful and caring towards daddy.

He then offered to help daddy clean his wounds, and although he was a bit squeamish, he really tried and was gentle and caring.
Mini also ate nicely, despite earlier declaring to me that tacos were disgustin’ and he wasn’t eating them. In fact, he loved them, scoffed them and asked for more! He even enjoyed eating lettuce *shock horror* (couldn’t convince him to try tomatoes again tho!).
Bedtime went smoothly. Mini didn’t argue when it came to bathroom business, and he went up to bed without any problems. He only got out of bed once – briefly – before returning and dropping off.

So we had a great hour or two between daddy getting home and Mini going to bed. But this is why life is so difficult and confusing for all of us. We so often walk on eggshells, terrified of how Mini is going to react to situations because he swings so quickly and easily between nice, happy, easy going child to angry, shouty, defiant, aggressive devil to anxious, quiet, frightened little boy.

I sometimes have thoughts about whether we can continue as a family and whether Mini would be better placed with a family who has more experience of attachment issues and the way they affect children. Being Mini’s mum is hard…really hard. But those thoughts are ALWAYS followed by guilt, because he’s my boy and I know that in my heart I could never do that; I know how much that would really damage him. 

Times like last night, when we see those little glimpses of the Mini that used to be, really confirm to me that we love him and he loves us, and this is where he needs to be.