Turns out most of the calls are to our parents, with the majority being from me to my mother! Yet I've always had a big guilt thing about me not calling my mother often enough. Well, seems that I call her plenty after all!
Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Husband queried recently a rather expensive unitemised phone bill, and got an online billing account set up so we could see exactly who we've supposed to have called and when. We were thinking that NO WAY do we spend £70 quid a quarter on phone calls. We hardly ever use our landline. We mostly text or e-mail.
Sunday, 29 May 2011
It is said about adopted children that they 'leak trauma'. That is to say that they don't lie around crying and being all obviously depressed, but then once they've got it out of their system get up and carry on. What they do is carry on and constantly let slip little signs of the inner devastation inside of them.
For instance, my daughter had a fit of wailing today because she was asked to carry a small box of cat food from the car. She kept crying that the box was too heavy as she stumbled dramatically towards the front door, fighting not to drop it, heroically stopping herself from falling over carrying the back-breaking weight of ten pouches of chicken in jelly. When she got inside she dropped the box in the hall and went wailing theatrically into the living room. She was perfectly OK beforehand, and the box was not heavy or big, but some niggling upset inside of her needed expression and so this happened.
This sort of thing happens all the time, from both of them, every day.
When they first came to us they weren't leaking trauma, of course, they were blasting trauma at us like those water cannons used in riot control. Unsurprisingly Husband and I got utterly drenched in their trauma, or in other words we experienced secondary trauma. We only survived those first intense months because Husband could recover at work and I could recover whilst the kids were at school. And because of friends. Friends who were never shocked by anything we had to say and who held for us the belief that we would come through, when we couldn't hold that belief ourselves.
I've since realised that it's not just adopted children who leak or blast us with their inner trauma, but anyone who has a chaotic inner life can do so. You know those people, those friends, relatives, or acquaintances who leave us feeling either totally drained or thoroughly wound-up after we've spent some time with them? That's because they have made us feel for a short time how they feel inside all the time, and whether it is done consciously or subconsciously, it is always done deliberately.
Apparently, we all do this sometimes; force another person to feel the way that we feel inside, thus transferring our Big Bad Emotions to someone else so we can be relieved of them for a while. Ever been angry at someone who remains really calm? Infuriating isn't it? Doesn't calm you down, just makes you madder. That's because they are not letting you off-load some your anger onto them. The bastards.
I once worked with a woman who was in an almost constant state of anxiety about anything that she could find. And if there was nothing particularly anxiety inducing going on in her own life she would take on her sister's troubles, her boyfriends, her (I kid you not) boyfriend's gran. Every change or demand at work, or even daily office happenings, saw her running off for a fag, or a coffee, or chocolate bar. When she wasn't there it was always amazing to me how easy my job seemed, how relaxed I was, even though technically speaking things should have been harder because I had to do her work too whilst she was off.
I tried my best to induce my humourous and philosophical approach to life in her, but usually ended up taking on her sense of panic instead. She used to make me feel ill. I now realise that she was engaged in a constant battle to transfer her anxiety onto me, because those times when she achieved it, well, those were the times she felt actual relief. I never stood a chance.
These days, I cannot be around people like that. I have a good friend, who I really care for, but whom I can't see very often now because she throws a bucket of trauma over me every time I see her. There have been times when I have come away from her feeling almost assaulted by the force of the anger and upset that she has thrown off.
My own Mother; my role in the family has always been to 'take on' her bad moods and turn them around for her. Can't afford to do that so often these days. It wouldn't be so bad if she was able to do that trick for me in turn, but she never has and she never will.
And anybody else who might want to 'dump' their Big Bad Emotions on me, nope, can't be available for that much anymore. I have even been known to defriend people on FB because their Status Updates are a constant grab for attention and sympathy! Oh pur lease!
I just can't do that anymore because the kids do it to me all the time and I have to be in good mental shape for them. Mostly, I manage it. Mostly I can stay clean of their trauma, say something therapeutic, wondering verbally why they are acting the way they are, then say something empathetic. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't, yet it's always the best response. But I'll be honest, I'm still struggling. Son in particular has such rage inside of him that I let him transfer that to me all too easily. The minute he gets het-up, I do. It's hideous and I need to find a way to stop it.
So, whilst I do that, I try to keep people around me who keep me healthy. People who let me talk, and help me gain insight, but who don't feel sorry for me or judge me. People who share things about themselves with me, without expectation that I will fix it for them. People who have who have a flourishing emotional life who I understand and who understand me. Good friends, in other words.
But it does make you think. As an adoptive mother I am charged with bringing some order to my children's chaotic internal lives. By being empathetic, consistent and kind (as much as possible; we are only human) Husband and I hope to help our children grow up into adults with a strong, positive and authentic sense of self. Pity the poor adults who never had that, the ones who are broken inside and whom nobody ever fixed.
Monday, 23 May 2011
So, my two stopped overnight at their grandparents for the first time on Saturday night. Husband and I tried to offer handy advice on how to deal with their behaviours, but it seemed clear that my parents-in-law would not get what we were talking about until they experienced it for themselves.
At one point they told us that if the children cried they would bring them straight back home to us, no matter what time of night it was. Husband and I were a little perplexed. Why did they think they might cry? Well, because they might miss us of course!
We tried to explain then that if the children's anxiety went up then daughter would get very controlling and exasperatingly silly, and that son would get defiant and tantrum, but that they almost certainly wouldn't cry. No matter! If they did cry then they would bring them right back home. OK, they won't, but OK.
And they didn't. Our kids don't really cry. They wail, or tantrum, or scream, but crying is one of the finer more honest emotions that is not yet within their emotional grasp.
Daughter it would seem - if what we have been told is true - handled the experience in a mature manner. I am extremely pleased about this as she is at the age that she wants to go to friend's sleepovers and I'd really like to let her go to the next one.
Son however, not so good. For the hour after bedtime it would seem that my parents-in-law lost control of him. Stories have reached my ears of him barricading himself in the bathroom, running up and down the stairs, and having to be physically restrained because they thought he was going to hurt himself. Mother-in-Law said he was behaving perfectly normally, then it was like a switch had been flicked and he just went manic. Husband and I have, of course, experienced this ourselves many times. Before she saw it herself, I think mother-in-law would probably just have said it was normal excitement and that 'all children do that'. But to see son when he goes manic is scary and distressing and now mother-in-law knows that for herself.
I am told that he calmed down after 9pm when he spoke to me on the phone. Mother-in-law says the calming affect was instant and after that he settled down in her bed with her (father-in-law relegated to the spare room), was read to, and was asleep by 10pm. As an adoptive mother, to learn that whilst your son was away from you he asked to call you, and that speaking to you had a calming affect, well, it is very good news. It shows signs of a positive attachment and is the best news I have had in an age. I was a little bit alarmed at taking that call from son at that time of night, as it had no introduction from either grandparent and I didn't know what had gone on, but we did have a lovely little chat and it was actually pleasing to speak to him.
Had a little chat that night to daughter too, who heard son talking to me on the phone and wanted a chat too. I sincerely hope that she really did want to speak to me, and that it wasn't just about having the same as her brother. I know she misses her old mum. I'd like to think that I could be missed by her too.
Anyway, not all good, but good enough. Next time the children do a sleep over, we'll do things differently. But at least it seems there will be a next one.
Wednesday, 18 May 2011
You'll remember the avalanche of chocolate eggs my kids received for Easter?
Well, due to replacing their normal healthy yogurt puddings after tea with those eggs and contents, we finally finished them all yesterday! Hurrah!
Then I was at my mum's today and picked up two more! Courtesy of a friend of my dad's called Betty, whom I do not know and have never heard of.
I also picked up four more bags of Maltesers from my another friend of my dad's from his dog walking.
So, you know. Scream.
Tuesday, 17 May 2011
The other weekend I suffered what one might call an emotional blow out. The kids were banging right at the top of their I NEED ATTENTION o'meter, but when I asked my mind to come up with something for us to do as a family, first my mind went blank, then it kept churning out the word 'jigsaw'. Jigsaw. Jigsaw. Jigsaw.
I, however, could not bare the thought of doing yet another jigsaw with the kids. Nor another board game. Nor another game of cards. Nor another drawing or painting. Nor could I bare the thought of cake making, a ball game or trip to the park.
So, I went to husband and told him that we really needed to do something with the kids or they were gonna blow, but as I couldn't think what to do, he needed to. I don't know what his mind churned out, but the next thing I knew he was pottering outside in the garden with a haunted look on his face.
And so the kids lost it. They had a "fight" (tickling each other gets out of control) ending in daughter getting "hurt" (oh pur leeze), for the third time that day, the fifth time that week, the tenth time that month. I am mighty sick of that trick. 'I'm bored, resentful my mum's attention is elsewhere, let's tickle my brother until he kicks me in the face!'
So, I brought emotional Armageddon down on my family. I believe the explosion could be seen from the moon.
Later that week I figured out what had happened. I was experiencing burn out. The reason all my mind could do was chuck the word Jigsaw at me is because my mind is starting to breakdown. It's tired with constantly having to come up with clever and effective ways of keeping my two adopted children from reaching a point of emotional blow out. And they can get to that point pretty damn quickly. And it doesn't matter if you've just spent the last month feeding their need for attention like you're a 24hr attention shovelling robot, the minute that you stop shovelling attention into them, the very minute, they can blow.
And for the last nineteen months I've carried this burden of emotional regulation of the family and I've grown tired. And not just me. Husband's clearly tired too. On evenings and weekends, we put our needs, and our relaxation to one side and make it all about the kids. We do what they like to do, what's good for them, what they enjoy. We take very little time to do what we like to do, or what's good for us, or what we enjoy.
We can be relieved for an hour or so in the morning whilst they watch TV or play on the DS, but we'll mostly be doing chores in that time. We can get more relief for an hour or so when they're allowed on the wii at 4pm, but one of us will be cooking the tea at that time. Every other hour of the weekend is about them.
And that's fine, in theory, because our kids need us to put that much into them, and they're thriving on it. But on the other hand, it's not fine, because husband and I are human beings in our own right and it's our weekend too. I have realised that if we don't start to take more than the fag ends of time to indulge in our own hobbies, passions and leisure activities, we'll turn into zombie like parents, going through the motions of play with our kids, the real us having long since died out. Or I'll turn into a screaming banshee like I did the other weekend.
And so, being the problem solver that I am, I problem solved, and tonight husband's olds are coming over to babysit so husband and I can go the the pictures! This is only the fifth time we have have been out as a couple in one and a half years. And - this is the really good bit - husband's olds are also taking the kids for a sleepover, for the first time, this coming weekend. That will give husband and I Saturday afternoon, Saturday evening, Saturday night and Sunday morning to do whatever it is that we want to do.
Such a break will help mightily in the short term, but for the long term husband and I obviously have to start factoring our own enjoyment and relaxation into matters, or we're not going to make it.
Sunday, 15 May 2011
We're in Burger King and the promotion this month is for the film, Thor. Husband's talking to the kids about Norse mythology and stuff, and something about Heaven comes up.
SON: I think my old dad was in Heaven
MUM: No, your old dad was not in Heaven
SON: Yes, he was in Heaven
MUM: Your old dad's not dead and you only go to Heaven when you die
DAD: Not everyone believes there's a Heaven
SON: There is a Heaven, my old dad was there
MUM: No sweetie, your old dad was in Prison, not Heaven
Thursday, 12 May 2011
I've been helping out at the kids's school for a few months now. I thought it would be a useful thing to do now that I've given up work. Useful for me to get to know the school better, useful for the school to know me, useful for me to get to know how my kids do compared to other kids in their year.
Seems to me that most kids in any class learn well if taught well. A couple of kids in the class will be super smart and always finish their work to a high standard before the others, and at least one of them will be bored a lot and be disruptive and defiant. A small group of kids will need intensive help with one-to-one support and a lot of supervision to get stuff done. And one or two kids will not think it is their business to even try to do the work that's been set them.
Unfortunately, my kids fall into the latter category.
They will put the briefest and poorest of efforts into any task they are set. They will pretend that they cannot do things they are perfectly capable of doing. They will react to the gentlest of encouragement to complete any task well, with tears and tantrums. They will expect any handy adult to do the bulk of the work for them.
There is something about children with low self-esteem - which most adopted children have -that means they are terrified of trying. Their ego is a raw bleeding thing and the thought of experiencing failure means such pain to them that they just cannot risk it. So if you don't try, the thinking goes, you don't run the risk of failing.
I do, however, have a strong suspicion that this is also learned behaviour. They have learnt that if you put in a half-hearted effort, or collapse into tears, then the adult will either complete the task for you, or the adult will stop expecting you to do it.
So, it's a difficult one for an adopter. On the one hand your child is actioning a desperate coping mechanism to stop them from experiencing more emotional pain. On the other hand, they are trying to get out of something because they can't be arsed.
Each of my two children has their own very special way to 'not try'. Daughter will usually burst into hysterical tears. You're trying to get her to understand that 2.0 is the same as 2, and you're trying to get her to apply this to a simply sum:
2.0 + 0.1 =
You won't give her the answer to the sum, but you show her how to arrange them in columns to add the two figures up:
And explain to her again how to add up each of the two columns. So, how much is 0 + 1. How much is 2 + 0?
But she can't doooooooooooo itttttttttttttttttttt !!! And no one is helping heeeeeeeeeeeeer !!! WAAAAAAAAIL !!!
Did I mention my daughter is nearly ten years of age?
Son, who is eight years of age, has a different tack. You might be trying to get him to use a ruler, instead of his preferred method of drawing a straight line by quickly flicking the pencil across the paper. But, oh dear, his hands won't work. They've gone all floppy and they can't hold the ruler. Or the pencil. His hands have gone so wonky that the pencil is going everywhere but along the side of the ruler.
Let me tell you now, my children can add 2 + 0. My children can use a ruler. I've seen 'em! But their object is to be so frustrating that the expectation of them to try will stop. In fact, they will expand ten times the energy on trying to get out of something, than it would have taken just to do the task. They will spend three times longer not doing something, than it would have taken to just do it.
Nothing much motivates them when they are in 'not trying' mode. Not treats, not threats, not fun, not calmness, not patience, not encouragement and not being told off. The only thing Husband and I have found gets us all through is to say something like, 'OK, you're not in a place to do this right now, take a minute and I'll come back when you're ready to try.' The consistent withdrawal of attention when they are deliberately obstructing their own learning seems to drain their whining and silliness.
It is a frustration. My kids don't have a diagnosable learning disability, and they seem pretty bright young things to me. Husband and I spend somewhere from half an hour to an hour on school type stuff every evening, and we spend a lot of time just playing with them, stimulating them, teaching them.
They just were not stimulated enough when they were babies and infants, and their natural instincts to learn were not encouraged. Their schooling has been disrupted, with son experiencing four schools before he was eight. No one has ever expected much of them and so they find it had to start trying their best now.
And I have seen from my time spent in the school with them, that my kids are sadly just about bottom of the class in everything.
The adopted child. Sometimes their own worst enemy.
Wednesday, 11 May 2011
I am very proud of the progress our kids have made with their relationship with food, with not a little help from husband and I, although I do say it myself.
Before we adopted them, the Foster Care placement of our two children almost broke down because of our daughter's relationship with food. I think she went through various stages whilst she was in care, but mostly our daughter would drag out how long it took her to eat food beyond all believability. Everyone else would have shovelled the meal down, consumed puddings, and be outside playing, whilst our daughters was just onto taking her eighth mouthful. She would take so long at her meal that despite an hour or so spent at the dining room table, she would hardly have eaten a thing.
For a Foster Carer to have a child that hardly eats is not only worrying, it is potentially incriminating. Everyone can see when a child is underfed and the fingers of blame point squarely at the parent/guardian. Social Services dragged their feet with providing any help, and so eventually the Foster Carers told Social Services that if they did not refer her to CAMHS for her eating disorder, they would stop fostering her. Social Services don't like sending their Looked After Children for professional mental health care, because it costs them money. But finding another Foster Care placement would have been extremely difficult and cost them even more money, and so they relented. As it happened, we were found as adoptive parents for them not long after.
I decided from the outset that I was going to feed the children only food that they actually liked. Their Fosters Carers could not afford this luxury, as they had two children of their own, and so mealtimes could not be individualised. But I was a on a year's Adoption Leave and could afford to take the time and effort to do this. I would even take them shopping to the supermarket with me and they could choose for themselves what they wanted to eat!
I was on the right track, but little did I know what a steep learning curve I had embarked upon. Firstly, the kids didn't seem to know what they actually liked to eat. Stuff that the Foster Carers said were personal favourites of theirs, the kids would now weep inconsolably at if I presented it to them on a plate. Secondly, my son would have a screaming rage if I tried to get him out of the house to a supermarket (or anywhere else for that matter) and then when I could get them both shopping with me, he would want anything and everything and come out of the experience so hyper he was in danger of lifting off and leaving the Earth's atmosphere.
At some point it occurred to me that the problem was that they wanted to eat what their birth parents had fed them. The difficulty was, however, that they were both under seven when they were taken into care and nearly two years had passed. Therefore, they wanted me to feed them what their birth dad had fed them, but couldn't remember what it was that they had been fed.
Their eating habits became ever more regressive until at one point, during that crushing arctic winter two years ago, they were down to eating just plain pasta. And even then, they could never remember what type of pasta they liked. I'd serve them a bowl of bow pasta which they had been happily devouring for a week, and they'd sit there wailing, acting as if I'd served them dog poo.
I hated tea time. Son would tantrum because he was expected to wash his hands before eating, and then daughter would tantrum because she was asked to come to the dining table. Then I would try to make jolly conversation whilst son often sat there wailing and daughter made face shapes with her food and played with her cup. True to form, it would take daughter an hour to get through a small plate of pasta, during which I would stay at the table with her. Son would have eaten pudding and be sitting wriggling annoyingly on my lap for the last thirty minutes or so before she would finish and I could finally be excused.
The breakthrough came when one of our electric heaters packed up and I could no longer keep the dining room warm. I gave them trays to eat their tea on in the living room and let them watch telly. It was A MAZ ING. My daughters silliness instantly disappeared and though she didn't eat quickly, she did eat well. And - the best thing - I wasn't needed. If I left that dining table even for a minute, something would get knocked over or a fight would break out or something, because they wanted me there. But when they got a telly to watch, well, I could get a newspaper out, or, incredibly, just go off and do something else entirely!
Daughter's eating habits improved from there. Food and food times had become such a source of stress to her that her anxiety levels made her act silly. Now there was no one 'watching' her, she could relax. And eat. Simple.
It was around the following summer that I noticed that my son was actually exhibiting controlling eating habits too. Previously, he would take his lead from his sister. If she ate it, he would. But then he started to get inconsistent. Again, we were back to him swearing he hated stuff when he had eaten it happily last week, and insisting that he liked stuff that I had taken off his food list because it induced a screaming fit of hatred from him. It took the long summer holidays of me making two meals a day for them both that made me see what was happening. He now wanted the opposite to what his sister wanted. If she liked sweet corn, he liked peas, if she liked baked beans, he liked alphabet spaghetti, if she liked bow pasta, he liked penne. Except maybe he didn't really like peas or alphabet spaghetti or penne pasta and so he would scream about the food, even though I had given him what he 'liked'.
And maybe it wasn't always about the food. Maybe he hadn't done well at his game on the wii, or been given an ice cream when he wanted one earlier, or knew he had to have a shower that night. Pretending that I was giving him food he hated gave him an excellent excuse to kick off and get all his rage out there.
I put up with this for a long time before one day just scraping his dinner in the bin, telling him that if he hated it so much I couldn't possibly give it to him. Nothing makes my children explode like having control taken off them. I cannot even begin to describe the rage attack that followed this action. And then again when he realised that now he was getting no food AT ALL until supper time. And then again when he realised that a teary eyed pleading for food was going to get him NO WHERE. That had to happen twice (in a period of about two months) before he would stop using food as an excuse to vent his anger.
Have I put you off adoption, yet?
For the last six months, things have been much easier as they've reset their default position on food. Now, generally, food is to be eaten and enjoyed without much comment, whilst using food to control the adult or as a rage release is the exception. Although that dysfunctional relationship with food is still there and resurfaces from time to time. This week we've had uneaten lunch box food hidden in coat pockets, entire meals surreptitiously scraped in the bin, and food left that I know they love, which I suspect has something to do with those bloody Easter Eggs I've been factoring into their otherwise consistent snack routine.
See how small a thing it takes to tip the balance and send the reeling back down to how they were?
No wonder I tense up when grandma sits at the table with them and tells them 'how well' they are doing at eating and 'how beautifully' they are doing it. At home, we try hard not to put a spotlight on food and reduce the anxiety around eating. Therefore getting them to see food as something you have to 'do well' at is not helpful. It also makes my daughter feel self conscious to be judged in such a way - back to feeling 'watched' - and she can't eat when that happens.
The food issue is a field of emotional mines with adoptive children. Food should bring infants and children comfort and relieve the distress of hunger, and should therefore be a bonding experience between child and primary care giver. Very likely however the adopted child was not fed appropriately, consistently and/or enough in the birth home, and so the child's relationship with food is already a fraught one, with high emotions of distress, mistrust and neglect already in the mix.
On top of this is the fact that children who have no control over their lives being turned upside down often gain a sense of control through food. Certainly mine had me jumping through hoops of fire to meet their emotional and nutritional food needs. Took me too long to figure out that I would never get it right whilst it suited them better for me to get it wrong.
If you've had a tough morning with the school run, adoptive mothers don't find it funny if you say to them that you are going to put your kids up for adoption.
Nor do they find it funny if you say that you're expecting a visit from Social Services later because you sent your son into school in a coat with a broken zip.
Nor is it amusing to them if you've got a bit behind with the housework and you say you're expecting a Social Worker will be around to take your kids off you any minute now.
Those are 'jokes' adoptive parents can't join in with, sorry.
Friday, 6 May 2011
Adopted children can be big on control. They have learnt that adults aren't trustworthy and are therefore damn sure that they can do a better job than you. At anything and everything. There are lots of ways that their need for control can manifest itself and most of them are pretty annoying. Let's take a look how the need for control, however subtle, can be part of a simple trip out ...
It's a warm and sun-drenched, if windy, Sunday of a Bank Holiday weekend. Husband and I are going with the kids to a Cotswold village called Broadway, for a bit of an outing. The plan is to wander around a bit looking in shop windows and buy an ice cream or cake or something, and if that goes well then drive up to Snow Hill Lavender Farm for a drink, before heading back home. Keep it simple. Don't expect too much.
It takes us just under an hour to get there and all seems well. Then we get out of the car. My son, a bit of an adrenalin junky, wants his ice cream now, right away, this minute. It is explained to him that we are looking around the shops first, then doing ice cream after that. But he can't leave it alone. Explaining doesn't work, distracting doesn't work, and so in the end it's the old failsafe - 'if you say the word ice cream once more you will not get one.'
We have wandered by this time into our first shop, a kind of Past Times meets National Trust gift shop. Daughter and I are cooing over all the pretty purses and trinkets and stuff. Son's mood has gone from excited to destructive. He keeps saying everything is rubbish or stupid, keeps touching things, looking at me, subtly threatening to damage stuff. He flops his feet loudly on the floor when he walks and he blows raspberries. He is not getting what he wants and so he wants to spoil things for the rest of us. I say to my husband something along the lines of 'can you please get this vile boy away from me.'
We leave the shop, wander along the High Street. The coffee shops and pubs are doing good trade today and along the pavement there's an ice cream paddler and an Italian market, selling olives and cheeses and such. We enter another shop, one that sells fancy stuff for the kitchen, and I tell daughter she can let go of my hand here. She lets go of my hand, but she will not let go of my attention. She wants my attention on every thing her eyes fall upon. If I wander on to look at something she calls me back to look at what she's looking at. She asks me what things are. She asks if she can buy things. It's not possible for me just to browse because that would mean, for my daughter, that my attention was elsewhere. That cannot be allowed.
We leave, cross the road, and start wandering up the other side of the High Street. Horror of Horrors, there's a toy shop! Husband and I say that we don't know anyone who would want to go in there and the kids giggle and get all excited. We go inside with them and they start to go a little crazy with this sudden abundance of fun items before them. They want this, no, they want that, no, they want that instead, or maybe, they want this, or that. Or this and that. They're both quite lovely to watch, abandoning all self-consciousness to happiness.
But! No buying things until after the ice cream, and no ice cream until after we've wandered all the High Street! So, we leave and wander on.
I keep passing shops that I would love to browse inside, but I know that would be a hiding to nothing. So, now, we go for an ice cream. Except daughter wants a cake, suddenly. All the coffee shops and such are busy, but the ice cream vendors out on the High Street are not. I tell daughter we're having ice cream from the vendors and I explain to her why. Daughter's mood darkens. She doesn't want stupid ice cream from the stupid ice cream vendor. Why can't we go into a shop and get an ice cream. She starts pulling on my hand and dragging her feet. I tell her it's ice cream from the vendor or nothing. She continues to pull down on my arm, trying to assert some physical control over me.
We buy the ice creams (for two children who have suddenly gone very quiet) and hang around on the sunny, breezy High Street that is exceptionally pretty, lined with its honeycomb coloured buildings and its trees in blossom.
Inspirations strikes! The children know that they cannot go into a shop whilst they are eating their ice creams! And so I leave them with their dad and go browsing in one of my favourite shops. Alone. It feels so indulgent and I happily buy a large fat white cathedral candle. I would have bought a couple more 'nice things' but I know the kids will find that hard to handle as they are only allowed to buy one item.
Meanwhile, daughter is still eating her ice cream. As punishment, I presume, for not getting her way over where the ice cream was purchased, daughter is eating her raspberry ripple in an exceptionally slow manner. She knows we can't do much whilst she's still eating and she's so happy to keep us hanging around. Control over all of us! Awesome!
Except, not. I tell son he can go buy the thing he wants to buy with his dad whilst I stand and wait with daughter. She really doesn't like that and her ice cream disappears in seconds.
It's been a success, relatively speaking, and so we head off to the lavender farm on Snow Hill. Daughter's mood is still a little dark. The surprise of entering a cafe and being told she can choose any drink she likes momentarily throws her. Perhaps she'll just relax and enjoy herself for a bit. But then son chooses the same drink as daughter, a strawberry milkshake, and now daughter wants to keep hold of the particular carton that she picked up. Literally. I am carrying a tray with a hot drink and a glass bottle on it and she is trying to keep her hand on the milkshake carton, also on the tray. It's silly and it's not safe. I order her to go and get a table with her dad, she has a little tantrum. I insist, and she goes.
By the time I have paid for these items and join my family at the table, her mood has got even darker. Nobody would sit where she wanted them to sit.
We're done with our drinks long before daughter is, but again, she soon finishes up when she sees me take son to go and have a look in the gift shop.
We start the drive back home along the long flat top of the lavender covered hill, with spectacular views of the Vale of Evesham far beyond it. Husband puts the radio on and starts searching for some good tunes to play as we race along the bright country lanes. But daughter cannot have this! Heart FM is what we usually listen to and Heart FM is what she wants on now! Husband picks up a station playing a Eurythmics track and he tells the kids that this was one of his favourite bands when he was a teenager. But it's not Heart FM! So daughter starts to complain loudly over the track that husband is singing along to. I turn the music up.
That does it! TANTRUM! She has been continually thwarted in her attempts to control things and this is the last straw! She cries, she wails, she shouts. We ignore, ignore, ignore. She keeps it up for several more songs and when she finally gets it that this isn't going to get her what she wants, she shuts up and puts her coat over her head.
We'd kept all stress to a minimum. The kids weren't tired and they weren't hungry and the place wasn't especially busy. Excusing the drive there and back, we were only out for about an hour and a half. But still they couldn't relax. With daughter I get the impression that her mind is always racing, trying to figure out what her options are and how to get what she wants. With son, I suspect he's ruled by a fear of boredom and gets anxious when no adrenalin hit is in sight.
This is a fairly typical day out for our family. In fact, it's pretty much one of the better days out we've had. It's sad really, that they can't just enjoy a sunny afternoon out with mum and dad, lap up the ice cream, enjoy the drinks and the drive. I used to love it when our family had daytrips like this when I was growing up, although it didn't happen very often. I don't ever remember causing a fuss when an ice cream was bought for me, I just remember being very pleased about it.
Tuesday, 3 May 2011
I am an introvert. Nothing benefits me more than time on my own to think my own thoughts and do my own things. My inner-world is a flourishing place and that doesn't need much external stimulation. Too much time with people, even people I love, drains me.
It's a struggle for me then, to have two extrovert children. They did not appear to be very extrovert when we first read about them, which was several months before we got to meet them. My son barely spoke, apparently, and my daughter was chronically shy. But the children who I read about in Foster Care are not the children that they have become since living with my husband and I. They are now a couple of lively kids with big personalities, masses of energy and a huge capacity for fun. I am immensely proud of how they have flourished.
(Yes, there is a 'but' coming ... )
But, they are BIG on nonsense chatter. They seem to need to fill up every single waking moment of every hour of every day with words, and those words are mostly complete and utter nonsense. To an introvert like me this quickly becomes like nails down a blackboard.
My daughter in particular seems to need to verbalise everything that occupies her mind at any one moment: 'Mummy, Pretty cat is lying on my bed.' 'Mummy, Sue is in her garden.' 'Mummy, when I move my foot like that it makes a noise.' 'Mummy, this toy has whiskers this one doesn't.' 'Mummy, you bought those Cocopops didn't you?' Whilst away on holiday recently we had a day trip out somewhere and she sat next to me on the bus there and back. By the end of the journey I was ready to hack my own ears off with a rusty blade in order to get some peace and quiet. She faithfully reported to me everything her eyes fell upon. On the return journey I tried several things to get her to stop her nonsense chatter, including pointing out to her that I was not blind and that I could see for myself that people were standing in Bus Stops; that the driver was using his windscreen wipers; that there was a house with some windows etc. She didn't stop. She couldn't stop.
With my son, his nonsense is more argumentative. So we get, 'Why have I got to put my coat on?', to which the answer is 'Because it's raining,' to which his reply is, 'No it isn't,' even though more water is pouring from the sky than Niagra falls could manage in a minute. 'No it isn't' to things that are 'blatantly are', is his trademark. He asks a nonsense question, gets a simple answer, and off we go, his chance to keep your attention by engaging you in complete and utter nonsense. I never correct him when he does this, because what he wants is the to-and-fro of the 'yes it is' 'no it isn't' argument, which he will continue until the end of time. What I do is ignore him and then distract him by talking about something else or giving him something else to do. Family members though, have yet to learn this simple trick, and they get stuck in the 'yes it is' 'no it isn't' argument with him until I come and release them from the hell of their own creation.
You can imagine, then, what it is like when my two children are together. Between them they can keep up a cacophony of nonsense for hours. In fact, I have learnt that - rather like with eating puddings - they simply do not know when to stop and will keep on and on until they make themselves ill. I have the odd task, therefore, as a parent who has to occasionally separate two children who are playing really well together!
Nonsense chatter and nonsense questions are difficult ones for an adoptive parent. On the one hand, this need to keep up a wall of sound comes from a deep insecurity handed to them by their neglectful background, I talk, therefore I am, and I am going to make damn sure that you know that I am here too! So it's not like you can just ignore them. In fact, simply ignoring them causing them great distress. They stop feeling safe.
On the other hand, it is such a dysfunctional, infuriating and disrespectful way of communicating that it cannot be allowed to carry on unchallenged. I have tried, with some success, to put in place boundaries for when I am available for nonsense chatter and for when I am not available for nonsense chatter. I am no longer worried about 'damaging' them when I tell them to take their chatter elsewhere when I am on the phone, or cooking tea, or attempting a reverse park maneuver. But their desire to engage me in complete and utter guff has not levelled very much since their time here with us. I have now completely abandoned any hope of being able to watch any TV programme together without expecting a running commentary from them both on what my own ears and eyes have already detected for themselves.
Sending them back to school today then, after an almost continuous three and a half weeks off school due to Easter, Bank holidays and Royal Weddings, was not only most welcome, it was much needed. Although, only one hour away from picking them up, I can say that already their bedtime can't come soon enough.
p.s. if you're a struggling adopter dealing with this in your child or children, check this quick video out made by the ever helpful Christine Moers.
Monday, 2 May 2011
BBC News - Full text: Obama on Osama Bin Laden's death
I was awake at 5 o'clock this morning having an attack of the insomnias, when I put the TV on to distract myself from all my little niggling worries. It was a happy surprise to see on the BBC 24hr news that justice has been served on this man.
Rot in the sea, old man, rot in the sea.
Sunday, 1 May 2011
I read this moving article in the Guardian the yesterday, 'How do you tell children their father is dead?' The mother, Barbara, talks frankly about how their profound loss manifested itself in the behaviour of her twin boys, Joel and Benedict, describing their grief as 'a murky pond: the true depths are out of sight and even when the bubbles surface you need to know where to look, and what to look for.'
The piece really spoke to me. Although my adopted children did not lose their birth parents to death, they have never-the-less "lost" them both, and the rest of their extended family, and they grieve for their loss. And just like Joel and Benedict, they don't cry or talk about their feelings of loss, or purge their grief in the way an adult might. They have their own special language, and as their adoptive parents you have to learn this language so your child can communicate to you their pain and you can help.
But as I touched on in this post, this grief-filled behaviour of children is not always the most sympathy inducing of stuff, especially to newly adoptive parents who are stressed-out and grieving too (grieving for life as it once was, grieving for the birth child you will now surely never have.)
My son's grief manifested itself mostly in screams. He would have terrifying rages several times a day, triggered by something mundane like being asked to wash his hands or put his coat on to go outside. His favourite screaming time was shower time; he'd come in the bathroom with me a happy little soul, then something inside of him would trip and he would instantly become aggressive, defiant and sarcastic, and when I eventually did get him in the shower he would scream like it was molten lava falling down on him rather than a tepid shower.
My daughter's grief came through the language of the body; tummy ache, leg ache, headache, toothache. She would report to me every twitch of her skin, or knock or cut. She would regularly fall down pretending that she'd tripped, or deliberately bang her hand against something, or say that something had fallen on her foot. And she'd say these things knowing that I was watching her and had seen what had really happened. Her health updates would come every few minutes, every day, and wave after wave of complaint would come at bedtime, part of the objective being to keep my attention on her for every moment of her waking life.
I cannot say that my husband and I were particularly prepared for how to deal with this. Actually, take that as not prepared at all. The four day course we attended as part of our Home Study didn't mention how children's grief can manifest itself in such extreme behaviour (although it did spend a day and a half teaching us how to bring our children up in a multicultural environment, to which I am still thinking wtf?). None of the books I had read - and I did read A LOT - had talked specifically about children completely freaking out when they first move in. The response from the children's Social Worker was to quietly blame me for 'not having strong enough boundaries', which even then, as fresh as I was to this adoption malarkey, I suspected was self-serving bullshit.
Only other adopters that I spoke to understood such behaviours because they had experienced it from their own children, and could give words of advice and consolation.
And that is simply not good enough. I feel such frustration now, looking back, that I was not equipped by the long adoption process to hep my children deal with their grief. There was talk of trauma, talk of attachment, but not nearly enough about grief. I did not handle their behaviour in the kindly, patient way I would have hoped, partly because it took me too long to understand what was causing it and to feel any sympathy with them.
We are now half way through our second year together as a family and their emotions have settled. My son, the younger of the two, doesn't seem to have many real memories of his birth parents and so he invents them. My daughter has many and she frequently reports on the mundane ones, such as her 'old mum' having a washing-line and her 'old dad' driving a car. I must admit that I have struggled much more than I thought I ever would with their attachment to their birth parents. They clearly miss them and given a choice they would have stayed with them, if only because they are incapable yet of the kind of adult perspective needed to see how much in danger they were in.
Whenever I used to express sadness at the loss my children have suffered to those outside of the adoption experience, the response would invariably be something along the lines of children 'easily forgetting' or 'being resilient'. Sadly, I know now that children suffer trauma and loss every single bit as much as you or I, even though they cannot articulate it in the same way.