Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Here we go again

Oh dear.
Just a few weeks in, and despite lots of liaising with school, a timetable of which teacher/teaching assistant/dinner lady and much reassurance from me, the NC and school, Mini is back to wetting the bed every day again.

Bright side - wetting is only at home, and only in bed at the moment. It's not deep sleep wetting, in fact he's got up a couple of times in the middle of the night to go to the loo. But it's early morning wetting, right before he gets up. I'm not sure whether it's laziness (our toilet is downstairs so it's an effort in the morning when you're all snug in bed), anxiety about school (more likely as it didn't happen in the holidays) or something else. But, Mini can't tell me why. He can't tell me if he does it upon waking, or whether it's just before hand. And he just doesn't seem bothered - but he does have a full-on meltdown when I suggest a shower in the morning to keep him clean, healthy and smelling nice!

I know it must be awful for him, although as I say, he doesn't seem remotely bothered. I've told him that most other 5 year olds don't wet the bed anymore, but I don't want to make him feel more shame, so I don't bang on about it.

But it's getting ME down. A lot. My poor old washing machine is back to it's incredibly busy self, and my house is constantly covered in drying duvets and bedding. We have no central heating so getting the duvet dry can often take two days (a spare has been ordered). And my house, especially upstairs, smells.

I'm struggling with the length of time everything is taking...and we're not getting anywhere yet. None of the professionals that we're engaging with have even met Mini (bar my parent supporter, and the social worker who recorded us). This wetting gets me down more than the rages, meltdowns and violence, because even when Mini's not here I'm still reminded of his anxieties, and still picking up the pieces...

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Back to basics and creating connections

We got our feedback from our MIM (see post here aboutInteraction) this week. We met with the Theraplay Therapist – Dave, who has watched the video of us all interacting with each other and analysed it. Of course, I know this is only one person’s opinion, but it all makes sense…For info - Dave knew very little about us before meeting us, so he can be objective.

The good news is he feels that Mini does have an attachment with us, which I would hope for after 4.5 years. And he seemed to feel it was a positive, loving relationship. He could see lots of kindness from me and the NC towards Mini. He also picked up lots of eye gaze –again important for a kind, loving, nurturing relationship. 

Interestingly Dave picked up on rejection and abandonment as being a big issue for Mini (even if Mini himself doesn’t realise it) – and wasn’t surprised when we explained the contact in his first year. He feels this is a big part of the problem, and suggested that we never, ever walk away from Mini. Even if we’re going to the toilet, we should just check in with Mini and let him know which is something that I try to do anyway.

Dave feels that some work around Mini and Dollop and their differences will be important in the future, and he feels that he could offer Mini some life story work when we are all ready. Mini already knows he’s different – that’s part of our problem too, and so this work will be really important to him in helping him make sense of himself, and what’s going on in his head.

 He also picked up on Mini’s inability to play (we already know he is play-delayed) and gave us the news that Theraplay would be a no for us right now. I’d pinned all my hopes of moving forward on this, so I’m a bit gutted, but I understand that Mini isn’t ready for it. We are under instruction not to introduce any more Theraplay activities at home, and not force play at all, although we’ll continue with the Theraplay techniques we already use – weather massages, our version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, occasional swinging Mini in a blanket and more…

We’re also too soon for PACE – Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy. Right now we only need to work on Acceptance and Empathy. I’ve talked briefly before about the ‘I wonder’ technique of Dan Hughes - part of Curiosity, and many adopters use this successfully, but for Mini, wondering about what he’s thinking or feeling won’t work because he genuinely doesn’t have a clue. For now, we need to provide more narration on his 'inner world' for him and give him the words first.

The biggest thing to come out of this feedback session is a lack of attunement. I like to think I’m quite connected with Mini, but Dave thinks that as much as we’re not attuned to Mini, he’s not to us either. We need to connect with him more and become part of his inner world. Sometimes we are, but Mini doesn’t recognise that. It comes down to missing that first year with him. With a birth child, indeed with Dollop; there was an instant connection, something natural. When she was a baby we mirrored her faces, that’s how she learnt – when we smiled at her, she smiled back and so on.
Mini might have had that with his foster carer (I’m sure he did…she is great!), and probably in contact sessions with his birth mother, but it wasn’t consistent because he had different carers, and it wasn’t with us…

So before we move on, the NC and I have to work much more on matching Mini’s body language, facial expressions and tone of voice, so he understands and feels that we’re ‘getting’ him. So no bounding up to him at the school gates if he comes out looking like he’s had a crappy day. And if something upsets him we need to match him and talk for him about what’s happened and what he might be feeling, and apologise if we’ve made him feel that way. And when Mini’s hyper, talking quickly and animatedly will match him and will ensure he doesn’t have a chance to butt in and disagree. Hopefully it will also make him think ‘oh yeah, they understand me and how I feel, and yes…that IS how I feel’.

So we’re going back to basics, and we’re rebuilding and re-attuning with each other. And we’re making Mini feel like we get him. This is all pretty scary, and it’s hard, so Dave will support us and we’ll see him again in a month or so. If we’re still struggling with it, we’ll have to do….’ROLE PLAY’… and the thought of that is more scary!

Monday, 17 September 2012

School support

Last week the NC and I had a meeting with the Head Teacher at Mini's school.

Not because anything particularly negative had happened, but because we want to avoid a repeat of last school year, and because I'd written a note in Mini's homework diary (asking Mini's teacher to could confirm how much she knew about Mini's particular issues) and it took her 4 days to respond to it, which she finally did the afternoon before our meeting with the Head - coincidence?
She is not the easiest person to chat with in the playground partly because she disappears inside so quickly in the mornings, and partly because there are so many mums with buggies (me included) in the playground, that it is often impossible to get anywhere near the teachers at the end of the day. (If you get to the front with a buggy, you then face a brick wall of parents to get out again...although buggies are useful for taking out people's ankles!).

So, anyway, luckily the Head is aware (sort of) of what happened last year, because my parent supporter has talked things through with her. Last year I didn't talk to the Head directly, although regular readers with know that I spoke to Mini's then class teacher (now SENCO) instead several times. I'd hoped that would be enough, but it didn't help all that much, and I didn't feel I was taken all that seriously.
This year, given the Head had an awareness, I felt it was easiest to go to her first, she would be able to disseminate information to her staff, and she would be able to make the best decisions about how to move forward.

It was a positive meeting. I learnt that it is apparently a statuatory requirement that ALL teachers have at least a half day away from the classroom for Planning, Preparation and Assessment (PPA) time. Which means that all children have a substitute teacher at some point, even though in most cases it's the same regular teacher. Mini's teacher Miss P, will be out of the classroom different days on different weeks, but the Head has given me the timetable so I can prepare him and remind him. (Would have been nice to know this last year when the issue first arose...)
We have also agreed that one of the teaching assistants (who is full time) will keep a particular eye on Mini. I am yet to meet her, but intend to in the next few days. Mini can focus on her as she'll be a permanent classroom figure. And I'm sure it's a coincidence but even the Lollipop Man informed us he would be on holiday this week so it'd be a different patrol person there, which was great because it's another change that Mini could have stressed over today if I hadn't said anything.

The Head has also given me the names of all the teaching assistants and Mini's dinner lady so we can use the names comfortably at home.

We also talked about shame-based reward/punishment systems. The head was shocked when I told her that the Happy/Sad sides are considered shame based. Putting a child on the sad side for all to see, makes them feel shame about their actions. In many traumatised children, they cannot convert the shame to guilt (which is an easier emotion to deal with, overcome and learn from), and so it just reinforces the shame they already feel. (See I'm learning, 9 months ago we very successfully adopted the happy/sad sides from school and used it at home to provide a consistent system...we ditched it a little while ago when it stopped working and produced an undesirable effect)
Mini has never ever been on the sad side at school but she will ensure that he never is either. It defeats the point of the system for him, but she won't take him off completely so he's not singled out and different from the others.

We also talked about a few others points that they ought to consider to make Mini feel accepted and comfortable - such as ALWAYS verbally acknowledging what he's saying (even if he says it 2/3 times). A nod isn't enough, a thumbs up isn't enough. 'Yes Mini' is what works for him.

Great news is that the school have agreed to fund Theraplay training for my parent supporter. I'm sure this isn't just for our benefit, but it's great that they're trying to support us (and others). And I told the Head that we will probably need to take Mini out of school for Theraplay sessions - assuming we do get the Theraplay.

Which leads me onto...our MIM feedback. You might remember that a month or so ago we had our videoed assessment (or MIM). This week we see the actual Theraplay therapist (who ran the introductory course that I did a few months ago) who will have watched the video, and will be feeding back to us with (hopefully) thoughts and ideas to change our approaches. He'll also tell us whether he thinks proceeding with Theraplay will be right for us, and we might even get some dates in the diary. Our social worker will also be there, so will guide us in the right direction (again, hopefully) if it's decided that Theraplay isn't suitable.

Otherwise, all has been OK. Mini's done really well in the last couple of weeks back at school. We've only had night-time wetting on the occasions where he's had an alternative teacher, and on those days we've also had horrendous attitude and behaviour after school. He seems to like his new teacher, and his new classroom. His reading is improving already and he seems to have a new enthusiasm for it. He still has a small group of friends, but is mentioning new names every now and then.
Weekends haven't been great. The NC has been struggling but he's engaging directly with our CAMHS therapist Glenda for some support.

Let's hope the changes at school help Mini, and the MIM feedback gives us some positive steps forward too. I feel now that the Head is more approachable after seeming quite intimidating before. She certainly seemed to take what we were saying on board, and there were some things that she hadn't given thought to before, but could see how they could be stressful for Mini. So hopefully we'll be able to work together to help Mini...

Friday, 14 September 2012

Postal strike - no more letterbox

Back in April I wrote about communication – specifically letterbox contact with Mini’s birth parents.
Click here for that blog post. I’d been having doubts about whether to continue with contact, and had emailed the Letterbox co-ordinator about my doubts. I was reminded then that Letterbox is important – it keeps lines of communication open, it allows the child comfort knowing that their birth parents are OK…all sorts of reasons. I wasn’t convinced then, but a few weeks after I’d written, we did receive an out of the blue reply which provided some useful medical information. That response made me happier, made me more comfortable writing, made Letterbox seem worthwhile and I resolved to continue.

Now it’s that time of year again and I’ve written letters to each of Mini’s birth parents. They are the usual mix of information about achievements and information about Mini’s problems – how he’s anxious, how he worries, how he expresses his anxieties…
But the last paragraph explains that we’ve made the decision to stop writing because we don’t feel it’s currently in Mini’s best interests – he has no interest in them, he is struggling to accept he’s part of this family so why would we continue to remind him about his other family?, he often shuts down and doesn’t want to hear anything about them. In addition, he’s expressly asked me to stop writing to them.

I’ve kind of wrestled with this a bit, because I do still believe it’s important that lines of communication are available for him. And until now, Mini hasn’t had the understanding to make a decision about whether we write or not , in fact, I’m still not sure that he understands enough. And I kind of feel sorry for his birth mother…if it was me, I’d want the letters and I’d want to know my child was OK. And to be honest, Social Services did lay a bit of a guilt trip on me when I talked about stopping last time.

But I’ve talked/tweeted to a few other adopters, and a couple of them also stopped letterbox. And I’m sure it’s the right thing for us to do now too. Apart from anything, whether Mini really understands a)letterbox and b)his feelings about it, he has still asked me to stop and I don’t want to defy him. And I can ask him occasionally whether he wants to re-start it again, and he can make the decision as and when.

I can’t just stop, because I also need to make a point to Social Services. I need them to know that I’ve actively made this decision, not just forgotten. And I need them to know I’m serious about carrying it through. And I also want them to know my reasons so that if Birth Mum questions where her letters are, they can back up my reasons for stopping.

So I’ve done it, I’ve emailed my letters with a covering message, and I expect to hear back from them soon, asking me to re-consider. I think now, I feel stronger about this all, and having sent the email now I feel quite empowered (though a bit of me feels sad for birth mum). But I’m fairly certain our PAS worker will back me up, and I know our CAMHS therapist’s feelings too.

One less thing to worry about.

Sunday, 9 September 2012

My best friend

Weezy and Farty

I know they sound like some disgusting characters out of the Simpsons, perhaps a spoof of the popular Itchy and Scratchy show. But in fact, Weezy is my best friend and Farty is her hubby. Their names mean they will know who they are!

Weezy lives just a 2/3minute drive away, and very kindly has me over there almost every single Tuesday evening, and shares her prized Betty’s tea with me. This allows me to a) talk about the children and get things off my chest b) talk about the NC and get things off my chest and c) talk to another adult about real life, about them, about their problems, their family, and about random things. It keeps me sane and normal!

I met Weezy 11 years ago when I started my first (and only) proper job. She taught me how to do my job, and we got on well, sharing some of the same interests and just…clicking. After my dad died back in 2004, we became even closer as she became a shoulder for me to cry on. A little while later, Weezy had some difficult times of her own, and I supported her as best I could too. Over lattes and cheese scones we worked, chatted, gossiped, and worked some more.  Weezy and her family treat me and my little family as part of their own  - and her 3 (now grown-up) children are very important to me, although I see them less now than when they were younger, and I’m very proud to be Godmother to her eldest granddaughter.
Farty came along and I was over the moon for Weezy when they moved in together, and even more so when they married (although I hadn’t seen it coming!). Farty is also very important to me because he makes very good tea, and doesn’t mind that I monopolise his wife every week!

Weezy has known me since before I got married and had children. She supported me fully and wholeheartedly throughout the adoption process, and was a referee for the NC and I. She was interested, she’s always stayed interested and she cares. She is also one of the few people that knows virtually everything about Mini…down to his BP’s names, and one of the first people (after the NC, and our parents) that I wanted to tell about my pregnancy with Dollop…in fact it was by her encouragement that I eventually bought a test. She knows me so well, I think she already knew I was pregnant!

All of this means I shouldn’t have been surprised when this weekend Weezy (and her eldest daughter) showed incredible kindness, support, caring and understanding of us, and of Mini, and of how he copes (or not) in certain situations. But I had a little weep, because she really does get it and I was so grateful to her for her understanding. So this post is dedicated to Weezy, and is a big public ‘thank you’ to you and your family.
Love ya xx

P. S This isn’t to say that other friends or family don’t support or understand, but on this particular occasion, I don’t want Weezy’s kindness going unnoticed x

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The sun is out and we've had dry days

Today is the third day that Mini has been back at school – my big boy is now in Year 1, and it seems a bit funny to think that just a year ago both he and I were looking as lost and frightened as some of the new Reception children and their mums do in the playground!

So far, it’s going OK. As regular readers will know, Mini’s anxieties are often expressed through his bladder control, or rather lack of it. But, he hasn’t wet the bed, he hasn’t wet himself at school, and he hasn’t been wet when we’ve got home after school either. It's been great. And Mini's been so proud of himself.

Whilst I’m extremely grateful that Mini is not finding this transition from Reception to Year 1 as traumatic as I’d expected, I am under no illusions about how long this might be for. I am trying so hard to remain positive, and I don’t want him to pick up any negative thoughts and vibes from me, but I know that we might just be in a honeymoon period.

Of course, looking on the slightly brighter side, it could be permanent and all the anxieties and problems we’ve had since January really could be all down to his lack of regular teacher in Reception, and the continual abandonment he felt each day she wasn’t there. (Obviously this was made extra difficult for Mini because of all the rejection he’s faced in the past).

For now, I’m just enjoying this new, dry, relaxed Mini. And he’s enjoyed the little surprise treats he’s received too.


He’s been talking more too. After the request for a therapist, it was a few days before any head space was mentioned again, but I asked Mini yesterday what he’d been doing at school. I got the usual response ‘I can’t remember’. So I suggested, jokingly, that we put an imaginary board in his head and he could use imaginary blue tack to stick imaginary reminders on it, then he’d never forget what he’s done at school. He seemed to like this idea, but then got very confused about how we would get the reminders out, because we can’t get inside his head… but he did agree to try to remember more so he could tell me.

The CAMHS therapist always said that these difficult times would come and go, and she explained Mini’s life (or childhood at least) was likely to be full of peaks and troughs as knowledge and understanding caught up with one another and then parted again. Perhaps we’ve been through a trough, maybe we’re on our way to a peak right now?

Sunday, 2 September 2012

Parties and proud parents!

So often bloggers, forum-users, and tweeters only blog, post or tweet when things are difficult. We reach out for support when times are tough, and often don’t shout about successes. Well, today’s post is a big positive shout-out about Mini’s success yesterday.

You see, yesterday we pulled off a surprise party for the NC’s parents (well, his dad was in on it, but surprise for his mum) as it’s their 40th wedding anniversary very soon. The NC, his sister and I had been planning this since February. Over the past couple of weeks we’ve had secret conversations with each other, exchanged memory sticks with scanned wedding photos on, had discussions over how to get the NC’s mum to the party without raising her suspicions and meetings about what food/drink to serve.

On Friday the NC took the day off work so I could spend virtually all day in the kitchen preparing masses of cakes for the afternoon tea party, so that was potential anxiety point number one – having daddy home on a non-weekend day. Mini coped fine, was good, fairly calm, did what he was asked, and had the kind of day that most parents are very happy with. Woo hoo! *punches the air*
He did ask why mummy was making so much cake, and I was honest, but economical with the truth and explained that it was Nanna and Grandad’s anniversary so I was making cake for them. Mini came to his own conclusions as to how they were going to get the cake – and assumed we would be going to their house, or his auntie’s. I did tell him that we wouldn’t be doing either of those, but he wouldn’t believe me!
Potential anxiety point number two was that Friday was also the day that we discovered Mini’s school shoes had big holes in the soles and needed replacing (despite still fitting), and so the NC had to take him shopping for new shoes, and also new PE kit. We all know school does give Mini some concerns and so buying uniform could (and nearly did) trigger a meltdown, as it reminded him about his impending return to school.

On Saturday we explained that actually we were having a surprise party and we’d hired a hall. At 9am we left home with a bootful of cake and hired crockery.
On the way there, we gently explained what would happen, who would be there, how long it would go on, and what he’d be able to do. We mentioned that lots of the people there would know who he was, but he probably wouldn’t remember or know them. We made it very very clear that at the end of the day, he’d be coming back home with us. And he seemed OK with that.
It was difficult for Mini and Dollop too as they had a long wait between arriving at the hall, and the first guests arriving early afternoon, but both behaved so well – helping daddy move chairs, putting table cloths on, hand out pins for the banners, they played together under the tables, they kept their baby cousin amused – rocking her car seat, pulling faces at her and talking to her, Mini even helped pump up the balloons. Both children ‘sampled’ the cakes I’d made – luckily I had extra icing left over to touch up the fingerprints (and gaping holes!)

Guests arrived. Mini hasn’t seen any of them for at least 2/3 years, and there were even some relatives that I’ve never met (and the NC and I have been together 11 years now!). The party coincided (or was it a coincidence??!) with a visit from my mother in law’s brother and his wife who live in Australia, and family and friends from all around the country were able to visit.
To start with Mini was a bit overwhelmed and although it was a bit strange seeing him so shy, it was lovely that he came to the NC and me for comfort, cuddles and reassurance….and Dollop too. After an hour or so, he settled down and was happy running around being a 5 year old – playing with balloons, eating chocolate cake, blowing bubbles and colouring in. Uncle G and Auntie J from Australia had brought presents for Dollop – a cuddly koala and Mini – an Aussie Rules football, so when I saw Mini getting a little bit anxious and bored, we walked down to the private field by the hall and had a game of catch.

It all went really well, food was eaten, tea was drunk, relatives who hadn’t seen each other for years chatted, and pictures were taken. Most importantly for us, the guests of honour were pleased, and Mini handled it all *really* well.

After the guests had gone, Mini was a little star helping to clear up – popping balloons, loading the car up, helping to eat up dispose of leftovers, and again making his little cousin smile. It was gone 6.30pm by the time the hall was cleared and tidy, so we had time for another kick about at the field before heading home.

It must have been such a strange day for Mini with lots of stressful points – it was long, with mummy and daddy feeling slightly stressed and very busy, lots of strangers, a strange place, attention geared towards other people, things that he wasn’t allowed to touch, places he couldn’t go, different children to play with, so many things to think about and yet he coped so well. We’re very proud of both of our children, but particularly Mini for managing so well on such a strange day. And it gives me confidence that our approach now might be slightly different to other parents, but its working!