Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Stuck in the middle with you.

I understand that normal is a relative term and we all classify things, people and experiences as 'normal' based on our own knowledge and experience. Clearly, it represents a spectrum of experience and perspective.

However, I increasingly realise that as a family we have strayed from the accepted ‘normal’ and into a place that is anything but that. Of course that is not exclusive to adoption, but many friends and acquaintances that have adopted have made this journey and testify to this. 

The common denominator being that we are the parents of children who’s view of themselves and the world they find themselves in is not comparable to their peers’ views. Nor does it align with the 'normal' views of their families or the adults that they interact with. From this they act and react and as they see it their behaviour is a natural and justified response to the world they live in. 


eg.
In many parts of the known universe if you drop something on my toe it would be 'normal' to say sorry and I'd say it's fine.
However, in my little corner of the universe things run to a different 'normal' order. If you drop something on my toe it's my fault for having toes and actually I should apologise for being hurt and while we're on I'm an idiot.

Living at the intersection of these two ‘normals’ is challenging. Managing the needs of our children, families and the world we interact with.

Either clearing a way ahead, having a quiet word in the football coach/teacher/family member/visitor/friend/schoolyard parents ear. Asking to not be invited to the roller disco, sleepover or birthday party. Not to win the prize or act in the play.

Or


Sweeping up behind, giving palatable explanations, saying sorry or asking if we could not be invited next time. Getting shouted at, screamed and spat at and bearing the bunt of the fear and pain. 

We balance the needs of these opposing world views, whilst embracing them both.
I raise a glass to the men and women in the middle. 

Friday, 23 January 2015

Aim Higher

We are bereft, undone and broken.
We did our best and resisted the authorities but they will have their way.
We know it’s in her ‘best interests’.
We stalled as long as we could postponing the inevitable.

With a heavy heart we announce that Peanut is going to Nursery.
Yes, she’ll look cute on the first day, but that is no consolation.
I know peanut and her story, though crestfallen, I’m confident Peanut will do fine.

I cannot say that for all my children.

The recent Twitter feed from the @BAAFAdoption conference on education was interesting to follow.
Stark facts on the educational outcomes for children in the care system that are shadowed, varyingly, in adopted children’s lives.


The # for the twitter feed was #aimhigher and being honest I could not help but reflect on the aspirations that I have for my children.

We have had a spectrum of experiences with schools good, bad and everything in-between. By the time Peanut leaves school we will have been at the school gates and parents evenings for 28 consecutive years, we've seen a lot.

I confess to having different priorities for each of my children and they reflect each of children’s unique experiences, view of themselves and the world they live in.

Generally:

I want them to be and feel safe.
I want them to be at school not marginalised/excluded.
I want them to have a few good friends
I want them to feel able to do their best.
I want them to have hope and aspiration.
I want them to participate positively in the world around them and enjoy it.

I want them to be literate and numerate but not at the expense of the above. 
Being honest I'm not sure what my child can learn when not feeling safe. The terror that gripped Sarah when being asked to read a word to me aged 6 shut her down for 10 minutes, unable to speak for fear.
Reading didn't seem so important after that. 

Maybe I’m out of step with the government, school league tables and the parents next to me at the school gate.

So be it.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Come that day

I've never felt insecure about my status in my children's lives, I'm not their biological dad but I am their dad.

I'd earned my dues.
Wiped backsides, cleaned up the aftermath of projectile vomit, suffered hours of homework, crap TV & an eternity of parents evenings. Blue light hospital trips, nights on hospital wards, dentist traumas and hours in casualty.

I've had my nose broken, accidentally she claimed, by Sarah.

My leg bitten til it bled, she was a tiger she explained, by Gracie.

Two black eyes simultaneously, I was a duvet monster in his defence, by Ginger

All in the line of dad duties. I admit to not being a Waltons type dad, no sage words whilst sat on the porch, I'm not their 'bestie' and I don't want to be,  but I took the good from my childhood and we did ok.
Then this summer for a fleeting moment all seemed lost.

Birth family stepped out of the words in case notes and became flesh. Sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and dad...........and DAD

What if they make their future exclusively with them?

I thought I was secure, I thought I was progressive, open and forward thinking. I thought all that history counted for something.

It was a like the sensation of being winded and for what seems like an eternity you can't breath. You forget how to, and something that you've done countless times suddenly is forgotten and outside of your control. Straining to draw air, panic rises.

I floundered, what if they were going to leave and put the last 15 years behind them. All my dues counted for nothing, faded away, those experiences did not make me a dad. The years of being there suddenly meaningless.

All that 'stuff' meant nothing because I love them. I couldn't consider them not being part of my life.
For a few hours the threat of loss enveloped me and permeated me,

Then you breathe. You catch air again.
They are not leaving just exploring, broadening, rediscovering.


They are my children and I am their dad.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Mr Postman

Without doubt some of the most important and significant people in my children’s lives are their biological mother and father. I’ve previously blogged on them describing them as ghosts that lurk in the shadows of our lives and consciousness.

Over the past few weeks other birth family members have begun to step into the light and it has been a very interesting experience for a multitude of reasons.

For whatever reasons we never got the chance to meet birth mum and dad, we said we were willing but it just didn’t come together. Having been filmed for the BBC we knew that we were known to them and had heard through an intermediary there was no animosity towards us. We heard no more for 15 years until this summer when ‘Matilda’ a sibling, younger than Sarah and older than Gracie and Ginger found us.
After the initial whirlwind of discovery slow and careful contact has been made. Culminating a few days ago when Mrs C sat with our children’s birth aunt, a very emotive and profound experience for them both. She was little more than a child at the time of her niece and nephew’s move into care. Hearing the impact that this move and the events and circumstances had on her and the wider family has been a not unexpected revelation. The stories of the lack of information, the differing version of events, the mess and the pain for the wider birth family and the long term damage the removal caused.

In the midst of it all we hear of our annual letters coming to the family, being passed from member to member bringing news and hope.



Mrs C dutifully wrote the annual letters to Birth Mum and Dad, there was a limited response in the early days but even this dried up after a few years.
However, at the forefront of our minds was the benefit that the letters were for our three. So Mrs C persisted even when there was no response.

Thinking now I can imagine what I would write in their circumstance, how to reply, what to say, what not to say, lives lived in stalled grief and continuing pain. What could they write?

Mrs C would agonise over what to write each year, I would watch TV, if I confess avoiding the task out of laziness and confidence in her wisdom and writing skills.
Mrs C saw it very clearly, we're building for the future, maintaining a positive link, offering hope and trying to ensure that a link could be maintained. We were demonstrating to our children our lack of enmity to their parents through our actions.
As the three grew we would show them the letters and they’d help pick photos we included. It was an opportunity to revisit events, reframe memories and bring context to growing understanding. We would promote empathy and respect , listen to thoughts and feelings.

When Sarah got to 18 and having not had a response in nearly 10 years we stopped.

But Mrs C and the Aunt’s meeting this week justified all the work she’d put in; the chore, the conflicting emotions, the disheartening lack of reply. We know now that the letters found their audience and forged a delicate and essential link. We now that they were eagerly awaited and passed from hand to hand bringing news of children lost.

We aware that we are at the beginning of a new chapter and there have been lots of tears. But we are confident that there is no rush our children have their lives to restore and establish relationships with their first family.
I am grateful as I know that for some children and families the hope of contact is incomprehensible, impractical and dangerous.


For us we always knew that this day would come. Thankfully we had already begun to build bridges.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Annie

The 1982 film Annie holds a unique place in the story of our family.

After a year of several Social Worker's scrutiny, three Panel days, 10 days of introductions and most of it being filmed by the BBC the moment finally arrived that we shut the door on them all and we were alone with Sarah, Gracie and Ginger. The palpable feeling of relief and sense of arrival was profound and as I savoured the moment the kids en mass approached me and asked if they could watch a film. Of course I thought, it would be our first unscrutinised and observed  'family moment'.

"Can we watch Annie" they asked

I was genuinely lost for words, the hours of preparation had not prepared me for this, my mind raced trying to comprehend the potential for irreparable harm.  A tale of loss and orphans just seemed inappropriate for this moment.
I sought wisdom from a higher power and she said it was fine, I was being stupid and anyway they had watched it dozens of times with their foster carers.

They went on to watch it dozens of more times, as did I, and as a result song's and scenes are hardwired into my brain and permanently linked to those fledgling moments as a family. Ginger at 20 months had uncannily 'Anniesque' curly ginger hair and the anecdotes of him singing 'the sun will come out tomorrow' at the top of his voice at every opportunity is a cornerstone of most family gatherings.

So to the new film.

In light of my history with the original I am clearly the wrong person to review this film. Furthermore, I'm a total film snob and don't approve of remakes at the best of times. Consequently, I have cast dispersions on the remake and flippantly dismissed it with limited knowledge.

But I thought I should go and Flossy and Lotty were up for it, so after the usual fighty shouty stuff we set off.



I have to say I loved it, this version felt like a contemporary fairy tale. Of course it's not realistic by any stretch of the imagination but I don't watch Jack and the beanstalk for horticultural advice.

Like all good films we watch it through the lens of our own experience. I saw a man who needed to prioritise his life and grab hold of what is important.

Flossy, when asked, described it as a film about a girl that needed to learn to trust.

Lotty just loved it, there aren't many films with characters and heroines that reflect the person she sees in the mirror.

It is non comparable to the 1982 version, that one is a classic musical with outstanding song and dance routines. However, this version had an air of magic that I was surprised at and perhaps the '82 version did not.

Perhaps I'm growing sentimental, on several occasions I stoically held back tears for fear of needing to be stretchered out due to emotional collapse. It pressed my buttons, but as a man of a certain age I am increasingly sentimental and this film hit the mark for me the adoptive father of six.
But I did enjoy it, the music was not great but I forgave it's shortcomings in light of the strong performances from the leads.

Would I recommend it? Yes.

And hello to Jason Isaaks.


Saturday, 27 December 2014

2014: A review of the year.

It has without doubt been a most interesting year. High highs and low lows.

A few days into the new year and Gracie returned herself to the system that had passed her to us 15 years earlier. Looking back now it seems surreal, the events leading up to it and the act itself both laden with strong emotions and difficult experiences. We continue to wrestle with the what has happened and I'm sure we will for many year to come.



Days later we went en mass to the court for the celebration hearing to finalise Peanut's joining us. A great and remarkable day.
The high and low point of the year already set within the first weeks of January 2014.

The rest of the years has been the usual roller coaster of events with managing increasingly challenging behaviour being the constant underlying theme. We've broadened our range of theraputic support, without any assistance from Post Adoption Support services, more through conventional and unconventional means (Equine therapy). We will try anything, we have to.

I was nominated, with Mrs C, for the Happy list. We attended the subsequent event the most remarkable party I've ever been to, a room full of the most inspiring and humble people you'd wish to meet. I have spent the year clarifying that I did not have to 'be' happy to be on the list as I had not nominated myself, thanks BAAF.

Opportunities to share my experience of adoption have come through social media and blogging. However, my personal views on adoption have shifted more this year than I would ave anticipated. I still believe in adoption but increasingly I see orthodoxies in practice, thought and ethics that sit uncomfortably with me. I'm ruminating on how, where and if I should express them.

As the year draws to a close we watch the joyful, painful and delicate steps of reintroduction for our older children to siblings unfairly cast adrift 15 years previously. As we watch we consider our role in this new landscape and reflect on unexpected feelings and thoughts.

So that's our year in the vague.

Best TV: House of Cards (2nd year running).

Best Album: Ozzy Osbourne - Tribute (it wins every year).

Best book: Ruthless Trust (it wins every year).

Favourite colour: Red

All the best for 2015








Thursday, 18 December 2014

Just a word of advice

'Just a word of advice'

It's an expression that fills my heart with dread. It usually means that someone is going to offload their opinion about what I'm doing wrong or how I should at least do it their way.

I much prefer advice that I've asked for than advice that's offered unsolicited. I don't take well to the tutting pensioner in the food isles offering wisdom whilst one of my offspring has a freakout over the lack of Peppa Pig shaped ham or some such.

A recent twitter thread highlighted the 'interesting' advice that was being given and how it was being received.




We all come to this adoption malarky on the back foot, our Social Workers are 'experts' and every suggestion or piece of advice is loaded. It's loaded with the bureaucratic authority they hold,  the unspoken reality that they are gatekeepers to what we want and need. So we nod politely and take on board what is said, after all they're the 'experts'. In different circumstances we wouldn't feel so amenable to advice offered but in this case we are.

If we chose not to follow the advice then we perhaps 'hide' what we intend to do.

The experiences and knowledge of others is invaluable but we must weigh it and measure it against our lives, our knowledge of ourselves and our gut instincts. In social work parlance we are experts of ourselves and our own experience. The approval process should lead us to this understanding so we can use it effectively.

Advice and guidance can be life changing and at times has been essential to us as individuals and as a family. But the spirit that the advice was offered and received seemed to be the essential factor. And not just professionals, family friends and pensioners, the same applies to you.

If you want to listen to me, get to know me and have a conversation then you've got a chance of being asked for advice.

We've been given a truckload of advice but standard' advice trotted out from 'standard' professionals is for 'standard' families and 'standard' children.
I don't know about you but I'm many things but it's increasingly clear that I'm not 'standard'.

For the record:

If anyone ever advises me  to 'relax' cos my child is 'picking up' on my anxiety, I will become the embodiment of the exact opposite of relaxed.

If you advise I use a 'star chart' to help her focus on not being 'angry', I might staple said star chart to your forehead.

If you advise that Flossy 'twangs' an elastic band around her wrist if she feels angry to distract her then I'll let her 'twang' it off your wrist to distract you.

And finally, if you advise Mrs C that she has 'control' issues, I WILL NOT restrain her. You were warned.