Thursday, 30 August 2012

The Potty Police

So all kids do the attention seeking thing don’t they? My mum tells me that my brother and I used to wait until she was in the middle of an important phone call to ask her questions, or choose that point to disappear out of sight (and in those days the phones were corded so she couldn’t wander around keeping an eye on us).
And I think that all kids choose their moments wisely so as to get maximum effect.

But at what point is it more than just a bit of attention seeking?

For me, I think it’s more than normal behaviour when Mini is attempting to climb over the oven to reach the wall-mounted knives…or when he not only pulls Dollop’s hair, but then wrestles her to the floor and attempts to use her tiny tummy as a trampoline. Or he might try climbing the furniture to reach my keys in an attempt to unlock the front door and escape. He might even go and put the plug in the sink and leave the taps running, whilst simultaneously dropping a bar of soap down the toilet then covering it with half a roll of toilet paper. They are examples of what I’ve experienced when being on the phone before.

When I’ve had visitors, he tries to talk over them or choose those moments to ask me random questions, lots of them! Or instead of monopolising me, he does it with them – by asking them questions all the time, talking to them incessantly or piling his toys on top of them, so eager to share his possessions with them. This is less likely to happen with strangers, when he tends to just get every single toy out and not play with a single one of them, pretending not to listen whilst doing so intently.

Mini cannot cope with my attention being diverted, even for a minute which is why I was feeling slightly apprehensive about potty-training Dollop. It’s such a simple thing that most people wouldn’t even think twice about but I didn’t know how Mini would cope with me having to drop everything if I had to help Dollop with the potty.
But do you know what? He was a little star!
Dollop soon got the hang of the potty, so within 2 days I didn’t have to drop everything to help her, and after 2 weeks she is daytime clean and dry. I’m not always in the room if she goes because she’s confident, independent and happy to use the potty by herself. So Mini has taken it upon himself to be the potty-police. If I haven’t noticed Dollop on the potty, he’ll call for me either during or after. Sometimes even giving me a running commentary (I can hear her weeing mummy, I think she might have fini...nope, she's still going!). And he’s become really good at encouraging Dollop to go, or try again, along with really praising her afterwards.

I’m really proud of Mini; I was so expecting him to find this hard. And I do wonder if potty training had occurred during term-time which is clearly more stressful; it might have been a different story. However, it wasn’t, and it’s been OK and we have three great outcomes – a potty-trained Dollop, a supportive, encouraging big brother and a mummy who is proud of both of her children’s achievements.

Saturday, 25 August 2012


When I was younger I had ambition – I thought.

When I grew up I wanted to be famous…the most famous saxophonist ever, and indeed one of very few classical saxophonists rather than those of the jazz persuasion.

I started playing alto saxophone when I was about 11 or 12, and a few years later also took up the soprano saxophone. I was good. I competed locally and regionally, winning most of the competitions I entered. I even came joint first one year – with myself that is…as I’d entered the same class on both saxophones! I reached the final of our regional young musician of the year, and as a result was invited by an American scout to apply for the music programme at Harvard University. And, much to the surprise of myself, my teacher and my parents, I achieved my Grade 8 with distinction - despite not practising properly – just 5 years after taking up the instrument, and whilst also learning Piano to Grade 5, and taking my Music Theory examinations too. I went to university (not Harvard because I didn’t want to go to the USA) to study music, and was happiest when on a stage holding a saxophone. I met my saxophonist idol. I went to Ronnie Scott’s and the Jazz CafĂ©, and various other concerts and gigs just taking it all in, learning, listening and wanting to be up there too.

Except, I now know that I didn’t want to be famous enough. I didn’t have enough ambition.
Because actually what I think I really wanted was to be a mum.

And now that I’m here, with two lovely children, I know that this is the thing for me. It’s hard. It’s harder than hard. There are times when I wish all the bad stuff would do one and let me concentrate on just having fun with them. But I love my children and despite all the crap times, the boy's behaviour, the worry, the negativity; I’m doing what I was meant to do – loving my two little people and bringing them up the best I can.

I still play, don't get me wrong...but now it's a hobby, and one that I enjoy with the children, who both like to have a go every now and then.

I hope I can still instil a sense of ambition in my children, and encourage them to dream and reach as high as they can. Some dreams don’t come true, but the best ones can if we really do want them enough…

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Can I have a therapist mummy?

Tonight Mini was tired. We managed to stop a meltdown mid-flow (yay us!) as he was getting ready for bed. After throwing refusal upon refusal at his daddy, then full-on flailing limbs in every direction, followed by ear-splitting screaming, the NC and I tagged and Mini was happy to go to the bathroom with me instead and calmed down.
Upon returning to the living room he wanted something warm around his neck so we found his special crocheted blanket and I wrapped him up all snug and cradled him on my lap. Seeing that this was an opportunity for some nurturing, the NC took Dollop up to bed and left me with Mini.
So we had a lovely long cuddle, read a bedtime story and started talking.

I don’t know how we got onto the subject, but we talked a little about God. The NC and I don’t follow a faith, we try to ensure that our children know about all faiths so when they are older they can make their own choices.

‘Have you ever seen God Mini?’
‘Well, how do you know he exists?’
‘He just does, at least he does in my imagination book.’
‘Is that something you have at school then? An imagination book?’
‘No, it’s in my head, it’s where all the things I think about are written in my head.’
‘Oh, OK and what sort of things are in it? Are they all good or are some things not so good?’
‘I don’t know because I can’t get inside my head can I?’
‘That’s true.’
‘How do you ever know what’s in your head then mummy?’
‘Well, sometimes by talking to people you can find out what’s in there, and sometimes you dream about it and sometimes you might do something and it reminds you of something that’s already in your head.’
‘Can I talk to you, or is it someone special mummy?’
‘You can always talk to me, but there are also special people too called therapists.’
‘Can you get me a therapist mummy so I can learn more about what’s in my head.’
‘Do you want to try to talk to me first sweetie?’
‘Well I know there’s stuff about Dollop because she puts it there and makes me upset.’
‘OK, is there anything else?’
‘No, I don’t know, but not at the moment, can I go to bed now please?’

At which point Daddy magically arrived and Mini went to bed.

So what do I do now? I will mention it to our CAMHS therapist, and probably Post Adoption Support. But do I try to get him someone who he can talk to? Or just wait and see if it’s mentioned again?

Wednesday, 22 August 2012


Last week we started on the next bit of the journey towards Theraplay. We had our videoed assessment, or as it’s officially called – Marschak Interaction Method, MIM for short.

I’d been worrying about it - mostly concerned about whether Mini would be as he normally is at home. I’d vainly worried about the video camera. We were given the choice about taking Dollop, and decided to do so. So of course I worried about whether taking her was the right thing – if Mini reacted badly to the assessment then I would be exposing Dollop potentially to violence and aggression from Mini. Yes, she gets that at home, but should I put her in that situation on purpose??

In reality, it was actually OK. The MIM is about observing our reactions to Mini and our interactions with him…not observing him in full flow. The video gets studied by the Theraplay therapist, and he’ll be the one to feedback to us – using clips of us on film to demonstrate his feedback *cringe*. In order to work out what bits of Theraplay will work best for us, he’ll be looking at how we structure, care, nurture and respond to Mini, and what needs improvement.

Mini knows about the Theraplay introductory course I did (the course that taught mummy how to play more and better!) and the group course run by CAMHS (the course where I met other mummies and learnt how to be a better mummy!). So we sold the MIM to him by telling him it was a test to see how much I’d learnt on those courses, and we needed him to help test us. He was pleased to help!

The MIM took an hour and a half or so in total. Firstly Mini and I had a session which involved 7 envelopes containing instructions. We had to open 1 at a time, in a specific order, and I had to tell Mini what the instructions said. We had to feed each other, I had to build a duplo object, and Mini had to copy me, I had to tell him about the day he moved in, we blew bubbles and various other things. The NC and Mini had a similar session with slightly different activities, and then all 4 of us had a session – with group activities. I did eventually forget about the camera, despite the social worker sitting behind it!

On reflection I can see how they will say that I didn’t take the lead, I allowed Mini to do so. He pretty much led the whole session, asking to move onto the next envelope when he’d had enough of the activity before. And in the group session he tried to take over even more, but I did at this point try to take back control, parent him properly and lead things more. He was clearly becoming more relaxed as the session went on, and becoming more 'himself'.
I guess though, that I wanted him to feel comfortable and in control of a situation where he really wasn’t, so as to minimise the anxiety for him, and I hope that they can see that. It’s not like that at home where we try to have quite firm consistent boundaries so Mini knows what to expect and when.

Because I’d gone it with little knowledge of what would happen, I didn’t have expectations. I was just nervous about the filming bit. And it really wasn’t that bad. Now we wait for the feedback...

Friday, 17 August 2012

An up and down week

So we’re over halfway through the holidays now and I’m starting to flag a little bit! But only 2 weeks to go and then we get back into a more structured routine.

Last week Mini did his first two days at a Sports Camp. Along with quite a few of his school friends, Mini got to do 3 or 4 different sports each session – short tennis, basketball, dancing, counting games, catching and throwing practise, football and cricket.
He was a little anxious before his first day, and wet the bed the night before, but he was still keen to go. And despite loving the activities, and having loads of reassurance from me, he was still so anxious that he wet himself a couple of times. Luckily I’d sent plenty of spare clothes!
Over the 3 days that he eventually did, his anxieties lessened, as did the wetting. And he really did enjoy himself. He’s even been practising some of the things he learnt and has tried to teach me and Dollop too.

On Tuesday Mini had his first ever solo play date. A school friend lives just down the road, and so although her mum had invited me to stay if I wanted, I decided to see how he’d do without me. Plus who wants their mum hanging around?! They are aware of Mini’s issues, so I sent spare clothes, but they weren’t needed – result! According to his friend’s mum, he was really well-behaved. And he had a whale of a time, and is keen to return the favour and have his friend here too. However, he was out to disrupt Tuesday afternoon and evening. He couldn’t settle on anything. He was rude, wouldn’t share and pinched things from Dollop. It ended up with me stopping the outside play. I had to carry Mini into the house, and then leave him trying to kick and thrash his way through the back door whilst screaming and telling me just how he was going to break it!

Wednesday was a quiet day in the end – movies, walks and stories. At least, that was the plan. In reality by 9am I’d had enough of the meltdowns, indecisiveness, defiance, shouting and hitting. He’d been trying to engage Dollop in some totally inappropriate ‘play’ – talking guns and how he was going to kill himself. What Mini doesn’t know yet is that my own father committed suicide so I find it a difficult subject, and certainly not one for pretending to do. He noticed my tears but just repeatedly shouted ‘WHAT!’ at me...So the walks were needed to just get out and avoid some of the negativity and preserve my sanity.

Thursday we had our recorded assessment – the MIM. I’ll talk more about that another time – but generally it went well, and Mini thought it was just a test for mummy and daddy. He was totally fine with it.
After that we took Mini to our local museum as he’d been asking about seeing fossils and dinosaur bones. He liked seeing the Woolly Mammoth model as we walked in, but was generally over excited the whole way through. I know museums can be stuffy and boring, but actually there are a few interactive areas which I thought would interest him…nope, he was too hyper, flitting from one thing to another with little interest in anything – even the dinosaurs and fossils! He did however like the Egyptian exhibit and got to dress up, and do crayon rubbings on some hieroglyphics to spell his name out.

Today, Friday has been OK. We’ve gone through about 6 activity packs trying to keep everyone entertained. And watched Tangled. And had Mamma Mia on in the background. Things only deteriorated when the NC came home.

But now, both children are in bed. And I am calm – ish. Now for a *fun*-filled busy weekend. Eek!

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

An open letter to our friends and family

I recently read this great blog post that included an open letter from an adoptive mother to her family and friends.

What a great way to share things with your nearest and dearest without having to say it to their faces  - I know there are some things I struggle to say. Yeah, so I’m a wimp maybe, but to be honest I worry. I already worry -A LOT- about Mini and Dollop, I haven't the strength or emotional capacity to worry about how difficult information about Mini will go down too.
I also think I’m a bit clearer on paper than in person. I get nervous and emotional, sometimes defensive, and lose the thread of what I’m saying. Here I can write, and re-write until I get it all down as I want to say it.
So here’s my go…

To you all,

Thank you for supporting us all those years ago when we chose to adopt. You never questioned us, but you did your best to listen to what we were going through and support us. The process of approval was hard for some of you when you didn’t understand why we had to ‘jump through hoops’ as you saw it. We did our best to explain why, but we never saw it the same way. We used the process to learn about ourselves, about adoption, about adopted children and we did what we had to in order to become a family.

You got excited with us when we first heard about Mini, and you all –without exception- welcomed him into your hearts as if he had been born to us. You all love him and care about him deeply and that is obvious for all to see.

However, things have become difficult, and although some of you don’t understand, don’t see it or don’t believe the cause of his issues; you are still all doing your best to stand by us, listen to us and support us all. And some of you are going out of your way to help us and learn about attachment issues. Some of you have distanced yourselves - and that's fine too.

I’d like to share some things that might help you even further, so you can walk alongside us in this next part of our journey as a family. Some of you have already asked for help because you don’t know how to be around Mini. Please do not take any of this as criticism, it is meant with the best of intentions to help you, us and most importantly Mini.

·         When Mini is hurt, I need to be the one to care for him. I’m not taking over, I’m not pushing you aside, but even now I’m still trying hard to build a trusting relationship between Mini and I. Let him see that his mummy should be the one to heal him when he hurts. By all means make a fuss after I’ve soothed, calmed and cared for him.

·         When Mini needs something, I need to provide it – whether it’s food, drink, a toy or anything else. I might ask you to help me, but Mini needs to see that along with healing him and caring for his ‘hurts’, I will always be there to provide for him, and I will always be his parent…not you.

·         When Mini has been ‘naughty’, then the NC and I need to deal with it in our way. You might think we’re being soft, you might think we’re not addressing the issue, but we are, just in the way that we know is best for Mini. And we are learning (and trying really hard) to see the differences between him being naughty for naughty’s sake, attention seeking, not actually knowing what he’s done, boundary testing because he’s feeling unsafe, nervous/anxious activity. Equally sometimes we might let him ‘get away with it’ because our priority is to make him feel secure and safe, not amplify the shame he already feels about himself.

·         When we talk to him or remove Mini from a situation, please respect what we do. You might not like it, but that’s how we do things because we know what works (and more importantly what doesn’t work ).

·         When we assert our authority, do not undermine us. If I say ‘don’t do that Mini’, then don’t say ‘it’s all right, I don’t mind’. You might have different boundaries and levels of acceptance to us, but we need to keep the boundaries the same in order to make Mini feel more comfortable. Routine is important to him so he knows where he stands.

·         When Mini pretends to be hurt, it’s often for attention or because he’s feeling anxious.  We need to comfort him so please do not use throwaway remarks about diving or silliness. That confirms to him that his feelings aren’t real or valid. Don’t laugh at him or us when we then put a plaster on an invisible cut – read about The Healing Power ofPlasters here instead!

·         When you think Mini is being silly don’t tell him so! We’re working really hard to make Mini feel loved, safe, wanted and important. Knocking his confidence by being negative undoes all the hard work. And actually it’s never ever him that’s silly…it’s his behaviour, though please don’t be negative about that either in front of him.

·         When Mini asks you a question about adoption, let him. If you don’t know the answers or feel uncomfortable then tell him so, and ask us. But don’t ever bluff it, telling him wrong or misleading information (even if by mistake) could make things harder for him.

·         When Mini is getting hyper, take our lead if we try to slow activities down – all kids love excitement, rough and tumble and running around. Mini does too…but we have to protect him from the over-stimulation because he can’t regulate how he’s feeling.

·         And if I forget your birthday, anniversary or other important event then I’m sorry. My head is full of Mini and Dollop, their needs and wants, meeting the new teacher to explain Mini's issues, worries about keeping Mini occupied, the next assessment with Social Services, the next appointment with the CAMHS therapist, the next hospital appointment for Mini’s seizures, my next parent supporter visit, the next blog post that needs writing, along with all the other things that a busy mum of two has to think about and deal with.

This might look scary. It might look like we’re asking you to stay away from Mini and not interact with him, but we’re not by any means. After 4.5 years here, you might think Mini should feel safe and comfortable and settled. But actually, he doesn’t. The only way he’ll ever feel like that is if we continue to reinforce to him that the NC and I are his parents and we are the ones who will always look after him. So all we’re asking is that you back us up and help us prove to Mini that the NC and I are his parents and we always will be.

We all thank you for your love and support

Stix, the NC, Mini & Dollop xxx