Friday, 29 August 2014

Toothpaste

Words are like toothpaste once they're out you can’t get them back in.

Clearly the topic of stupid things to say to adopters is a rich seam, mined at depth across the internet. All adopters have their own list of pet hates and anthologies of stupid things that have been said to them.



However, I will throw a recent question that I've been asked into the fray.

After getting to know someone eventually the topic gets round to children and inevitably adoption.

Then the conversation comes to this point:

“Wow, six children? And you’ve adopted?....................are any of them your own?”

Now, as you read this please understand that I don’t feel militant, offended, angry or indignant.

I normally pause, mainly because I’m torn as what to say next.

If I say:


“Do you mean are any of them biologically mine?”, then I sound like a self righteous arse.

Or

"Actually I consider them all to be mine, a gift", then I sound like a pompous arse.

Quite a dilemma.

But I recently discovered the solution as I paused like a rabbit in the headlights of these two responses.

I smiled, with a slightly confused look on my face. (I should never play poker)

As I smiled they realised what I was thinking, they realise what they had said, they realised my dilemma.
Then they laughed, nervously, then I laughed and then we both laughed together.

It was all ok.

I find it odd that people feel able to ask questions of adopters that they would never ask other people. My particular favourite asked of Mrs C is "do they all have the same father". I can only imagine the response if that was asked of any mother with more than one child.

As I say, words are like toothpaste.














Thursday, 21 August 2014

Curiosity killed the.............

As noted in my recent post we have recently been subject to the increasingly common experience of being contacted by birth family through Facebook.
Reflecting on the incident it would appear to be a little naïve to be surprised or shocked.

We were found through snippets of information, two first names and a town, the trail of breadcrumbs led online, here then there and re appeared in our lives.
This experience mixed with a recent thread on twitter made me reflect on the temptations available to this generation of adopters, adoptees and birth families.

In the majority of current placements the theme running through them is that the children were not relinquished or given freely to adopters. Birth families are left with memories and not much else. The much televised tragic view of the stoic, silent and dignified mother is an endangered relic of a historic model of adoption. Children forcibly removed from parents is a painful majority of contemporary adoption. Freely available to these families is a raft of social networking platforms that potentially offer them a link to their lost children.

For the benign or malevolent alike the hope and thought of discovering information, a picture or celebratory status update or even achieving contact would be almost irresistible.

I have to ask what would I do in the face of such ‘temptation’?  What would you do?





For the adopted child or teenager curious about identity and history, perhaps the temptation is easier to satisfy. With key information often in the much-maligned LifeStory Books then with the minimum of information, full names, towns of birth and images, then contact is literally at their fingertips.
In my children’s shoes what would I do? What would the 15 year old me have done?

For the adopters?  
I’ll come clean, I looked.
Not every month, week or day but I looked, perhaps once or twice a year.
So why did I look?
Of course I have a duty of care, identifying potential harm is my duty.
I check for broken glass in playgrounds. Were they close or far, was there a potential for harm.
But I have to confess that at times my searches were to satisfy my own curiosity and intrigue, what had happened in the intervening years, who was with who and living where. Were they close or far, was there a potential for harm.
Was I right or wrong to look? I don’t know.
My motives were mixed.

It feels like SW, adopters and post adoption support services are lagging, not sure how to react or protect.
If I had the answer I’d be rich and on a book tour. So, what do I do, we talk with each other, we are frank, we dispel myths, we ‘friend’ and ‘follow’, we try and stay one step ahead, we try to be savvy and we pray.

We are ok, our kids are ok. Yes, we had a shock but we’d laid a foundation that caught the fall and gave room for manoeuvre, at least for now.





Friday, 15 August 2014

Life Story Book

I apologise in advance as the following blog has no whimsical anecdote or profound insight that will ruminate in your soul. It is just a plain old moan.

We seem to have a pants time of it with Life Story Books for Flossy and Lotty. I understand the usefulness of them as a tool for unraveling their journey. Though the big three did not have life story books they had albums of photos and they were a wonderful tool to use to illustrate their story. We kept them safe but where they could access them when they wanted.

Flossy and Lotty's first Life Story Books books were rubbish, and I assure you I am choosing my words carefully. We received them after their protracted and painful journey into adoption and from the outset we realised that we could not use them. The main reason being they had birth mum's address in. You don't need a crystal ball to work out what they would do in a fit of teenage rage 10 years down the line.

We contacted the LA and asked for them to be changed or amended as they were laminated. We were politely told 'no', just 'stick something over the address'. To be honest it was the least of our worries so we tucked them away.*

Turn the clock forward 5 years and with the imminent arrival of Peanut looming and the knowledge that birth mother had moved we felt it would be good to get the books out and see if they would be of use. Time had faded the memory of the other reasons that we weren't impressed. Incorrect names and dates, Disneyesque sentimental twee poems (don't get me started) and when your seven year old can point out spelling and grammar mistakes on each page then you know that things aren't good. We cleared up factual errors and let the girls keep them, shacking our heads in dismay.

Along came Peanut and as the opportunity arose we requested that the Flossy and Lotty be issued with LSBs that matched the one to be issued with Peanut. After showing the rather embarrassing previous attempts the head of service agreed and apologised for the shoddiness and the incompetence previously shown.

We got new Life Story Books, all was as it should be and the girls were pleased and they were stowed away in their rooms. Occasionally, they come out and they have a look.

So, to this week. I arrived home in the late evening gloom after an evening presenting the Skills to Foster course, all emotive stuff. Lotty was waiting for me and asked me to look through her Life Story Book. It was unusually peaceful and after my evening the significance of the Life Story Book was perhaps more focused than usual. I read through the pages, we looked at the photos and the clip art used to illustrate points. I then realised that every piece of clip art (there's a lot) was of a white face, a white mother and baby, a white family and so on. For the observant Lotty does not have a white face, the photo's in the Life Story Book reflect this fact.
                                                       

I feel a little embarrassed that I'd not noticed sooner and I'll admit that my appreciation of race and identity is a work in progress. For all children identity can be challenging but to ignore such a significant aspect in what are widely hailed as significant tools for adoptive parents is just plain crap. We have never relied on the Life Story Books  to do the work that is our responsibility but it should be a tool available to us, beneficial and informative.

For us this is clearly not meant to be.

While I'm on, I'm still waiting for Later Life Letters from 2008, but I'm not bitter.


* Rest easy in the knowledge that in the intervening 5 years we had done a significant amount of work in relation to life story just not used the book.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Boom

How can you prepare for adoption, for a stranger, or three, to enter your life.

We were diligent on our prep course, answered the questions and entered the discussions.

We were open and honest in our home study.

We read the books and did the homework.

We sought advice and talked to those who'd walked the same path.

We discussed what we would do when this or that happened.

We jumped through all the hoops, danced to the right tune, and towed the line.

Then rather than being a good idea and a hope for the future they became names and ages, rather than what ifs and maybes.

Words on paper, descriptions from Social Workers and anecdotes and routines from foster carers.

Blurred images from a camcorder.

We studied the words, video and pictures.
Then we studied them some more and we talked and talked and talked.

Still, they existed out there, abstract and untouchable, real but not real and not the here and now.

Then they became flesh.













Exploding into our lives.

Strangers in the home, personalities and opinions, likes and dislikes, feelings and thoughts.

We were not ready.




Friday, 1 August 2014

Ghosts: Pt 2

Without warning we received contact from a member of our children's birth family this week.

I guess that this is the nightmare scenario that adopters most fear, unsolicited contact.

We'd always anticipated that we would be in control and allowed to manage the process of re introduction if that was our children's choice. That we could seek professional support and carefully step back into the world that they were taken from 15 years ago.



However, modern technology has circumvented careful and considered steps and we've gone from 15 years of near silence to meeting in 4 days.

We'd prepared. We've been open and honest and painted a fair and realist a picture as we could over the years. There are no secrets in the cupboard to shock or derail.

The children have had different responses according to their own perspectives, experience and wishes. Shock, fear, delight, distress and curiosity all mixing to make a complex emotional whirlpool that we are all trying to make sense of. With the speed of developments professional support has been unfortunately left lagging.

So here we are with a new and developing journey ahead.

As young adults they have to make their own decisions, both individually and as a group, about the road forward. We can advise, support and help but we cannot walk this road. We may not agree with all the choices being made but we love our children and support them none the less.

Being honest it has been a challenge for Mrs C and I. We hurt for our children, we want to protect and guard against potential harm. But we can only walk so far with them and they must make their own decisions and walk their own path.

We all knew this day would come and it nibbles away at insecurities in our lives and casts doubt on our significance as parents and relevance for the future but we hold fast and keep loving.







Thursday, 24 July 2014

Hope

I have to say there have been some dark days at Coates Towers where duty and commitment have carried love through what seemed impossible circumstances and unmanageable behaviour.  Faces were set as flint, loins were girded, upper lips were stiffened and we pushed through.

I know that I am not the man I was before these days and the difficult times have taken their toll. I’ve learnt to guard my heart, my hopes and expectations lowered in the face of an altered reality of parenting.

But then the other day something happened.

I was sitting in our kitchen and Flossy stopped as she walked past me.

She looked at me, leant towards me, cupped my face with her hands and kissed me on the nose.

She beamed a smile at me and ran off.

A manifestation of her happiness.

A happiness that overflowed into an expression of love and affection.


Now if you have followed my blog for a while you’ll appreciate that this is not a normal manifestation of her IWM (Internal WorkingModel). I refer you to the Kung foo incident as a more usual manifestation.

With every passing day the memory of this kiss refuses to fade and if anything my appreciation of it grows.
It is perhaps a glimmer of what could and may be.
A picture of her happiness and contentment.

To misquote John Wesley, I feel a strange warming of my heart.

I know that one swallow does not make a spring and who knows what the future holds.

But for today I’ll take a kiss off my daughter and a glimmer of hope that it might all be ok in the end.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Adoption Ghosts

Though we've never met our children's parents I often feel they live with us in our day to day lives to varying degrees.

I'm sure that we don't realise how often they continue to exercise influence.

We see their presence in the lives of our children in a physical display, an outburst of emotion, a snarled comment, a look or gesture.

At other times it is more subtle, a hidden worry or quite thought, an emotion or mood, preferences, choices, likes and dislikes. 

We see shadows of the adults that we've read about in forms, seen faded photographs of perhaps even met,

But they linger in our family lives like ghosts in our home, a presence, an influence.

Ghosts come in all kinds of manifestations, frightening, friendly, malevolent or benevolent.

But our ghosts can't be exercised and shouldn't be.

Yes, we want them to behave and play by our rules. We don't want the malicious poltergeists that maintain their control and influence continuing to disrupt from the beyond. But we need to learn to live with them, tame them, they are with us and always will be.

We take control by opening the curtains and letting the light into the darkness.

Not cowering away from the shadows but shining a light into them.

We open the door to the ghosts and engage with them, we write letters and look through the photo books with our children, we tackle them head on.

I'm not frightened of ghosts, I am the here and now.