Tuesday, 30 October 2012


It seems we have quite a few of these in our house. They're the kind that take up loads of space, but no-one dare talk about.

Dave-the-therapist thinks it's about time we talked about some of these elephants. He also thinks that until we do, Mini won't be able to move forward.

Truth be told, we have approached some of Mini's elephants in the past, but it magnified the awful behaviour we were on the receiving end of. Looking back, some of the behaviour is probably because those elephants are jumbo and quite scary, and Mini was unable to manage the scary feelings that talking about them caused, so he lashed out instead. Talking about those scary things made him feel unsafe.

And also, the NC and I struggled to help Mini through those scary conversations. I realise that Mini is anxious about these two elephants (and more besides), but I haven't had the training/knowledge/confidence to deal with them effectively and appropriately. Previously when we've talked about these things, Mini has exploded and I've backed off - I'm not a therapist, and I don't know how to handle these explosions. I don't know what are the right questions to ask to help Mini, and to help me. He hasn't coped with talking, and in turn, we haven't coped with his inability to cope...yes I know it's a bit confusing!

So as per Dave-the-therapist's advice, we've been approaching some of the elephants - the two biggest being Mini's fear of being moved on again/being left behind (at friends or rellies houses) and the fact that Mini and Dollop are different and Mini is aware of those differences - as a result he thinks we love Dollop more than him.
Post meltdown/defiance/argument/violence etc etc, we've been doing the empathy bit (faking it on the occasions we can't make it), and exclaiming/asking 'Oh, do you think that when we help Dollop first it's because we love her more than you?' or 'I know you struggle when we go out, oh *mock surprise* do you think we're going to leave you there?'. It's really hard in writing to get across the tone of voice we use when doing this, but playfulness comes into it, lots of acting and exaggerated movements.

Now, with help, we're getting somewhere. I so wish we had this help in place before. I'm not saying Dave-the-therapist has all the answers, but by using his techniques, tone and body language we have managed to have a pretty good start to the half term holiday, despite several 'events' that would have normally triggered some anxieties for Mini. I'm still anxious myself about approaching some of these bloody great big heffalumps - well, actually more anxious about what to do if Mini starts talking and I can't handle what he's saying, or answer his questions, but I know help isn't far away if things get out of hand.

We live in a small house, but it feels a lot bigger and lighter now that those elephants aren't taking up so much space!

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The early days and taking leave...

This month marks the 5th anniversary of when we found out about Mini, and next month we’ll celebrate (low-key of course) the 4th anniversary of our adoption day – the day we officially became a family. So I’ve been thinking back to the early days and how they were both amazingly positive and overwhelmingly challenging at the same time…and so very different from the early days of having a newborn.

Mini’s arrival was hard. As I’ve talked about before, the NC suffered post adoption depression which made an already surreal situation, even harder to cope with. Introductions – the period where you meet your child in their foster carer’s home (and also spend some time at your home) is bizarre. Your every move is watched by the foster carer and social workers and you feel scrutinised. No matter how much experience of childcare you have, your ways will still be different.
Then your child moves in, and you are still watched by social workers who regularly visit you to keep an eye on you all. You are trying to bond with this small person who has already developed bonds to other people, developed a character and personality completely different to you, you are trying to show this small person that you are a capable, kind, loving, caring and trustworthy person. And all the while, this little person is missing their foster carer and grieving for them. In addition, you’re advised not to introduce too many friends and family, because it’s important that the child learns who their primary caregiver is without the complications of other people there. So it’s quite lonely.
We also had the stress of being me being made redundant whilst on adoption leave, and contrary to popular belief, maternity and adoption leaves are not equal. The rules might have changed since then, but at the time I was entitled to the same amount of time off as my pregnant colleague but when we were made redundant,  she received her full maternity entitlement paid in full alongside her redundancy package. My adoption pay stopped (just 3.5months into my leave), and I just got my redundancy pay. I was very lucky, and after a restructure at the small charity I worked for, another position was found for me – a part-time home-based position. But after just a short time, I had to give this up as juggling work and a small child just didn’t work. Especially a child who was quite clingy and couldn’t occupy himself.
But there’s also this wonderment and joy of becoming a parent. Looking at Mini, I felt love towards him almost straight away, although it took a while for bonds to form. He has always amazed me, and I am so proud of all he’s achieved.

Dollop’s arrival was equally difficult. We were aware that it would be hard for Mini, and tried to make things as easy as possible for him, but I had a niggly pregnancy which impacted on Mini more that I’d hoped for. I was tired from the word go, had awful morning sickness, and because of my diabetes, ended up having check-ups at the hospital every fortnight for most of my pregnancy, including extra scans, heartbeat and movement monitoring, and several days on the wards to have my blood sugars monitored. I also struggled with the concept of being pregnant, as I’d believed I couldn’t conceive, and I’m sure Mini would have picked up on my slightly wobbly state of mind.
I was induced 2 weeks early, again because of my diabetes, and although it was successful at starting labour off, 12 hours later I still ended up needing an emergency caesarean section, and then had to stay in hospital for another 48 hours – the longest that Mini and I had ever been away from each other.
Then of course I had a recovery period of about 6 weeks, where I couldn’t lift Mini, couldn’t drive or take him out anywhere. Nanna helped out with all the nursery runs. Dollop had some complications in her first week which had me and the NC in hospital again with her. All in all it was a difficult time, but with help from all sorts of people (to whom I am very grateful) we survived. And again we had these overwhelming feelings of love, and I still look at Dollop and can’t believe I made her, and she came from me.

Both situations knocked us for six. Having a baby is hard on your body physically, breast feeding can be tiring, sleep deprivation is torturous and I appreciate that maternity leave is needed for mothers to recover.
But adoption is just as hard – just getting to know this new child is draining, but when you’ve never had a child before, you’re learning to be a parent.  And in the early days you can’t follow your instincts, you have to continue the ways of the foster carer for a while before making routine changes.
The same can be said for second time adopters (and people like me who fall pregnant after adoption) who often have a second child who is much younger than their first child was when placed, as they have to learn the skills of parenting a baby – totally different to looking after a toddler, or older child, whilst still caring for their first child and making things as seamless and as comfortable for them as possible, made even harder when they have suffered their own traumas and need extra reassurances.

It’s easy to believe that adopters don’t need so much time off, but actually we need just as much time, if not more, to build a relationship with our children before launching them into ‘normal’ life – school, nursery etc.

In all this talk of adoption reform, I hope that benefits and rights of adoptive parents are also considered. What are your own experiences of adoption and maternity leave? Do you think they should be equal?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

A curveball of kindness

Picture the scene…

One grumpy 2 year old who was awoken from her nap to go fetch her brother from school.

One 5 year old who by all accounts has had a pretty good day at school, but is tired.

Two mugs of hot lukewarm chocolate with *exactly* the same number of marshmallows.

Two small bowls containing identical biscuits, and *exactly* the same number of raisins.

What could possibly go wrong?? Well….

The 2 year old didn’t want a biscuit at all. She got a marshmallow stuck to her nose which was THE END OF THE WORLD. Then dribbled hot chocolate all over herself as she cried about this end of days.

The 5 year old wanted a chocolate one and a plain one, and no raisins. He spilt hot chocolate all over himself, but couldn’t ask for help, and could only cry about it. And he wanted dinner – NOW. And he was “really angry with mummy” for not knowing any of this with her superpower of mind-reading.

Result: a slightly nutty-looking mummy, mirroring her son’s body language, talking faster than the speed of that bloke who just sky-dived from space, accepting that mummy made some mistakes, and yes she should have known all of those things, and it must make her boy feel very sad, and she was very sorry that she made him feel like that, but she was grateful that he let her know how he was feeling.

What next? Mummy threw an act-of-kindness curveball to both of her children. Both got dips in their grab bags – the 2 year old for her earlier bravery during her health visitor check-up and the 5 year old for telling mummy how he felt.

Yes, you read that right – he told me how he felt. *Grins*

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Match of the Day

Well, it's almost a month since we saw the Theraplay Therapist Dave, who gave us his appraisal and feedback from our videoed session.
He felt that it wasn't appropriate for us to start Theraplay yet, that Mini wouldn't be ready for it, and that we needed to work more on attunement first.

So for the last 3 and a bit weeks, that's what we've been trying to do.

Dave suggested a technique that I've learnt about before (indeed via Dave on a Theraplay course), but it was relatively new to the NC (bar me rabbiting on at the time of my course!) - Matching. I talked a bit about the technique here...

It's been hard. Harder probably for the NC than me as he feels less confident; hasn't learnt as much as I have. He's also (I think) more led by the way he was parented - we all are naturally, but I've tried really really hard to set my own ways, rather than go back to my mothers. (Not that there was anything wrong with the way I was parented, it just needs to be different for Mini...) But we're getting there, and today was a perfect example of how with us working together and using matching we can bring Mini back into a safe, loving, reassuring, supportive place, rather than the scary place he goes to in his head when he's upset. It was - excusing the pun - Match of the Day!

I won't go into the details, but suffice to say that when Mini was being naughty, and then aggressive and angry when he was asked to stop what he was doing, he got very animated. So I did too, the NC cottoned on, and by matching and mirroring his body movements, we managed to spin the situation into a  dancing-type game and got him laughing. We weren't aggressive, but moved more and spoke quickly, matching his high-pitched tone. We slowed it down and after a short time, he was calm, and happy. I was then able to empathise with his frustration at being asked to stop his original behaviour, and offer hugs. He then asked to continue playing the game, which we did but a bit more low-key.

I've had quite a lot of success with this, and although it hasn't stopped the meltdowns altogether, it has made them *much* shorter - we're talking ten minutes instead of an hour.

So it's going well. We still have a long way to go, and as meltdowns become shorter and less frequent, other issues become more difficult to handle - competitiveness particularly, although this doesn't surprise us and hopefully will become easier when we do some work with Mini and Dollop on differences. But at the moment Mini cannot comprehend and cannot remember that the things that Dollop gets now (i.e time with me, trips to soft play, craft time in the day) are all things that he also had when he was younger. This upsets him hugely and results in 'but that's so unfair' strops often.
For now, I have to be careful to make sure that they both have the same amount of colouring pencils/peas/beans/raisins/toys/presents/kisses/toothpaste, or Mini must have more because he's older. It's wearing.

I'm not pinning all my hopes on Dave and his techniques - I've been there before, tried so many different styles and techniques; things work for a while but then lose their effectiveness. However, I have to have some faith in this man, else I'd have nothing to focus on, and we're seeing him again soon so let's hope he helps us move forward further...

Monday, 8 October 2012

Police panic!

Today, in the middle of the weekly shop, I received a phone call from Mini's school. After the heart attack and panic from seeing 'Mini's school' flashing on my mobile, I was reassured by his teacher that everything was OK and she was ringing for some advice. Yes, I know - a school that is being supportive! I'm lucky and I'm grateful, really grateful that our chat with the head has worked. Using shocking words like 'trauma', 'shame' and 'abandonment' has finally made them sit up and listen!

After PE it was discovered that Mini had wet himself, although he flatly denied it, despite his teacher holding his wet shorts. She was ringing because she didn't know whether to push it and get him changed into dry underwear, or to leave him. Now despite being grateful for them taking things seriously and asking for advice...I'm a bit surprised that they would even contemplate leaving him in soaking wet underwear, but anyway. I asked them to change him, and if they encountered any problems, to ring me again and I'd go down there.

Why? Well, here's the sad part.

Later in the week, the local copper is visiting school, like he does every year to have the stranger danger/safety chat with the children. Apparently he did it last year too though we knew nothing about it.

Mini is scared of the police. Not always - sometimes he can just about cope, but mostly he's anxious about them. He hates the sirens that go past the house, and will jump up and hide or cling to me tightly. This is because Mini, being quite bright, knows that when he was removed from Birth Mum, the police were there. He knows that his Birth Mum really didn't want him to be taken, and so the police had to help the social workers take him to make sure he was safe. So his anxieties are understandable. But in his mind they're not keeping people safe, but taking them away.
But because I know that PC Plod is visiting I tried to do a bit of gentle work with Mini, to put him at ease:

'Do you remember seeing PC Plod last year at school? He came to talk to you all about how to stay safe...'

'No I didn't see him. I hate the police, they take people away and are scary'.

'The police only take people away to make sure everyone stays safe Mini - and you know I'll never let the police take you away.'

'They do take people, I don't like them. I'm not talking about it anymore'.

End of discussion. I didn't push it, just thought I might drip a little bit more information in later or tomorrow, without going over the top, and if it became clearer that Mini really wouldn't cope with a visit from the law, I'd talk to school. I did write in his home-school book though to give them fair warning about how Mini feels about the police.

So, going back to the incident at school. For some reason, unknown to me (could be a friendly visit to another class, could be a vandalism incident at school over the weekend...who knows?!) there was a policeman in school, talking to a teacher in the corridor between the hall where Mini had PE and his classroom. It is at this point, Mini's teacher believes he had his accident.

Brilliant - trigger identified. It's looking more likely that Mini will either sit out of the session with the police man, or I'll have to go in with him. Both are fine by me, but this brings a bigger problem.

How on earth do you convince a child with a fear of the police, that they are actually there to help keep us safe? Other fears I can handle - I can hoover up spiders or move them outside, I can keep a light on when he's scared of the dark, I can make sure I have alcohol hand-gel in by bag so Mini doesn't have to use the noisy hand-driers in public toilets but the police? Well, they're everywhere.
When he's older will this fear of the police become less intense and turn into a normal healthy respect for the law, will it make Mini a law-abiding citizen? Or will his dislike and distrust become more and more intense and will he turn into a criminal mastermind?

Who knows! But any ideas for making the police seem safer are welcomed!

Thursday, 4 October 2012

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The C Word

I know, I know it's only just October. But I had several conversations about C-C-C-Christmas recently, where there were conflicting views about shopping/preparations/thoughts so early. Some of us like to prepare early, spread the cost, feel in control, some prefer to leave it all to December and rush round like a loony. (Each to their own, though guess which one is me?!)

Yes, I LOVE Christmas. I'm not remotely religious, but I love the traditions that come at Christmas-time, and I've always seen it as a time for me to create some of my own traditions with my own family.

When I talk Christmas with anyone though, my thoughts naturally turn to how well the children will cope with so much excitement in such a short space of time.

With a child at school (and actually, when he was at nursery too!), it's pretty hard to avoid the run-up to Christmas - they start preparing for the school production weeks in advance, they make things for the seasonal fayre, they go to the church for a service. And of course the tv adverts start, and we've already received catalogues through the door with festive covers on - which Mini has gone through already, and marked the things he'd like on his list!

Mini's behaviour doesn't seem to deteriorate too much around Christmas time, he copes pretty well, especially considering he knows his birthday is just afterwards, in early January. And at the end of January we remember the anniversary of Mini moving in (although a small celebration for us, we know many adopted children are unsettled around anniversaries such as this). He could be forgiven for getting anxious around this festive time of year. Perhaps this is why....

A few years ago, just before Mini turned 4, I heard about 'Elf on the Shelf'. You can search for it online and should find lots of references, but basically a toy elf 'lands' with you on 1st December and stays with you for a month. With the original Elf of the Shelf I think you get a book which describes the elf's story. He keeps an eye on the child and reports back to Father Christmas, suggesting whether the child should be on the naughty or nice list. Whilst he stays he gets up to mischief - decorating the Christmas tree in your child's socks, making 'snow' angels in icing sugar, writing his name in toothpaste on the bathroom mirror etc. He then returns to the North Pole on Christmas Eve - Father Christmas picks him up as he drops off presents. Many forums exist providing ideas for elf mischief, templates for sleigh driving licenses, passports etc, and if you look carefully on Facebook you never know who you might see...

So back then, I decided to adapt this idea for Mini as it was his first Christmas where the focus wouldn't all be on him (having had Dollop earlier in the year), and the main bonus for me was that we could spread some of the build-up to Christmas across the whole month, rather than aiming for just one day.
So in our first year we had one elf (a boy elf that my mother in law made) who got up to all sorts of mischief, left photos of himself around, and he left little gifts - crafts sets etc to help keep Mini occupied throughout December. He arrived with the advent calendar, which he uses to leave notes and gifts for the children. This seemed to work really well, and although the elf (who slept in the shed because we thought Mini might be uncomfortable having him inside) never revealed himself, Mini loved coming downstairs each morning to see what the elf had been upto. The elf wrote a report at the end of the month, picking out all the good things Mini had done and praising him for them. And he left a special gift on Christmas Eve morning (his last day) of new pyjamas and a festive DVD. Our elves have sleigh licenses, passports, facebook pages and several family members and friends are in on the act too, so help to keep the story going and magic alive.

Last year, I made another elf - a girl - who joined our boy elf, and the children were able to see and hold them. Again, they left incriminating evidence of their mischief, photos of themselves out and about, small gifts - craft packs etc, and on one day they'd arranged a North Pole Breakfast too. Mini has really enjoyed doing this, and it really does seem to take the focus off of 25th December. Last Christmas Day Mini looked around for the elves before wanting to open his presents!

And he's already asked if the same elves will be coming back (of course Father Christmas might need to send a different elf this year). He's asked if we can make a special bed for the elves and he knows we'll be away for Christmas, so has checked with nanny (who we'll be staying with) that she has somewhere for them to stay!

To be honest, I'm not sure who enjoys it more - the children, or me as I think up all the trouble the elves can get into! And enjoy planning all the little crafts, gifts and games!
It might sound silly to some, but for me it spreads the stress so is more manageable, it also spreads the joy of Christmas across a whole month, and mostly it's FUN and I get to see my kids faces each day as they realise that there's an elf hanging from a lampshade, sitting on top a Christmas tree, or surrounded by cotton wool snowballs with their other toys! And it keeps my children young - I don't want them growing up too quickly, but I know it won't be too long before Mini's belief in it all starts to disappear...I'm enjoying it while I can!

So today, having already sorted out my list of presents, and checked on the homemade gifts that are brewing, I'm going to start planning what my elves will be doing this December...

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

A letter to my son

Dear Mini

I want to write to you now because I want you to know that you ARE loved, and you ARE part of our family.

Me and daddy wanted to have our own family for such a long time, and it was hard for us to do that, which is why we chose to adopt you. You were the first baby that we were told about and you sounded so wonderful, happy and perfect that we knew we wanted to be the best mummy and daddy we possibly could for you.

When we met you it was a very strange day. I was feeling a bit mixed up inside because we met you on the anniversary of my dad’s death – he would have been your grandad, and I was sad and remembering him, whilst being all happy and excited to be meeting you. I remember thinking that it would have been wonderful if he could have met you too.
I still remember that day very clearly, you were eating your lunch when we arrived, so we let you finish and then your social worker came and put you on my lap for a cuddle. You looked up at me with your big blue eyes and I fell in love with you instantly. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to have such a beautiful boy.

Life hasn’t been easy for any of us. Daddy was a bit poorly when you moved in, and you liked to spend lots of time with him. It was hard for you to move when you were so little, and you must have missed your foster carer.  But we all coped and were a happy little family, and then when I fell pregnant you seemed very excited at becoming a big brother.
You came to one or two of the scans with us so you could see the baby inside my tummy, and you used to sing to Dollop through my belly button.
It must have been quite hard for you when Dollop was born because things changed quite a lot didn’t they? Mummy wasn’t allowed to drive, or do much at all to start with, so Nanna used to take you to nursery for me.  You were very helpful at home, fetching nappies for me when I had to change Dollop, and helping us bathe her. Dollop looks up to you and loves you so much, and we know you love her too.

Then you started school, and had to make new friends, and learn new ways.

Me and Daddy are so proud of you for all that you’ve learnt and done in the 4 years you’ve been here. You’ve learnt to walk, talk, feed yourself, use a potty, read, write, jump, share, sing, count, play and so much more. You can be polite, kind, sensitive, helpful and caring. We know that you worry about things, and we know that sometimes there are things in your head that you can’t talk about, things that you might not even realise are there. We know sometimes that you shout and get angry and upset. But we know, for the most part, you can’t help it. We are here to support you and help you however we can, and we’re trying really hard to learn about how we can do that better.

We love you, every single bit of you, and we always will Mini. I hope you don’t ever forget that…we will carry on telling you every single day to make sure you don’t.

Love you son,
Mummy  xxx