Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Railway child

Lotty saw me across the crowded rail station, shouted ‘Daaaadddyyyy’ at the top of her voice and sprinted across the expansive arrivals hall.
Six feet before she reached me she left the ground and propelled herself into my waiting arms that enclosed her around into a spinning embrace.

Not a heart that witnessed this reunion could remain unmoved. The scene from the railway children loomed large.

I confess to being slightly overwhelmed at such a demonstration, a little lump was felt in my throat.
Lotty hadn’t seen me since breakfast that day.

For Lotty I occupy a space in her heart that only a father can, right then I was fantastic.

Reflecting on each of my children I see that I occupy a different place on the spectrum of parenting for each of them. It’s not static, it shifts and moves to accommodate, age, circumstance, emotions, reaction etc. At times I’m a father at times a commandant. I’m guessing that to be true for most parents.

But for my children this spectrum has a few places on it that go beyond ‘normal’. Their age, pre-care and foster care experiences have all influenced their expectations of dads and consequently of me. Their Internal Working Model  and attachment strategies colliding with their idea of who I am and what I represent. Sometimes I’m perceived as the cause of all their woes, historic and present. I place myself as the rock that their pain, hate and anger crashes against before it reaches shore. I become the personification of all that they want to fight against.

But so what? There was no contract with my children, they gave no opinion on who they wanted to be their parents or even if they wanted parents. They didn’t get to read my Prospective Adopter Report or ask me how I was going to meet their specific needs. They were passed from pillar to post at the mercy of circumstance, parents, police, Social Workers, solicitors, barristers and judges.

Sometimes my children find it hard to be sons and daughters.

But I am always their Dad, regardless of how they see me I am their Dad.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Men

As much as I enjoyed the Open Nest Taking Care event, and I did, I came a way with more questions than I thought I would.
Please don't perceive this as naysaying because it isn't, I thought the day was fantastic and everyone I spoke to shared a similar view.

I confess to being perpetually confused by the disparity between Twitter names and 'real' names. Next year I'm coming in disguise as I felt significantly disadvantaged being an 'out' member of the community. I have being pondering the nature and reasons for protecting our identities and the underlying concerns and fears.

But my resounding question was, 'where are the menfolk?'.

In a room of over 80 attendees I counted perhaps only 7 or 8 men which clearly makes them significantly under represented. However, the attendees reflected the online community built around the excellent work of the Adoption Social and The Open Nest and the Twitter network that gravitates around them a predominantly female community.

I don't like stereotypes, however they can sometimes have a shadow of truth at their heart, 

Generally I find talking about my worries, stresses and strains, unhelpful. I prefer to escape on my bike and blow the proverbial tubes out. Like coming home from work the last thing I want to do is talk about my day, I want to leave it at work. This is true for the scrapes and bruises that I face with the family. Often I just need to be alone with my thoughts and only rarely do I talk to Mrs C or post to Twitter.  Perhaps I don't want to be perceived as not managing or or struggling. Maybe I just want to bury my head in the sand for a few hours or not to have every waking moment consumed by 'the kids'. 

But I dare not presume to speak on behalf of all the adoptive fathers and dad's. They're probably not even reading this so what does it matter. 

Are men struggling? I'm sure some are, I know I do. We have unique stresses we see our, generally female, loved ones bear the brunt of pain and anger. If we work we often are rendered impotent receiving texts and calls recounting behaviour at home; walking into homes after or during conflict or seeing our loved ones harmed emotionally and physically.
So, how do we provide support, how do we target support and do men want it? I'm just not sure.  
I'm not sure what I want. 

I spoke to a few women and they hinted that their male partners were perhaps on a 'different page'. Maybe that is part of the problem.
Maybe there is no problem. 

Maybe I need a ride on my bike to think it out.






Sunday, 19 October 2014

Kenya

A few Photo's from my recent trip to the Sure24 Orphanage and primary school. 
Challenging days and thought provoking encounters.

Click on each image for a better view.
(Clearly, my blog is in format hell)

Mr Ouku holds Friday assembly
The candidates are given a pep talk by Mr Ouku, and the Mazungus


Best friends, born on the same day







Sammy
Chilling after school and chores
View from the office




Flip flop football



Sure 24 children have first ever collective meal with soda!


If you’d like to know more about the work of Sure 24 then visit

Friday, 17 October 2014

Empathy

Having experienced a wide range of professional support over the years our experience has been to say the least, mixed. 

From the worse than useless at one end with professionals suggesting that extreme behaviour was a result of our anxiety and it may help if we relaxed a little. We left such encounters worse than when we arrived, our perspectives, views and emotions undermined and questioned. 

At the other end of this spectrum we've come away from meetings with no answers, strategies or helpful insights. But we've been touched by the empathy that we've been shown. We've felt supported, validated and encouraged that how we feel and what we think is right and that we're not alone. 

Em-pa-thy
Noun
1. The action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.

You can't learn it in book or classroom. 

With this in mind I'm looking forward to The Open Nest conference 'Taking Care'.  
Sharing stories of the highs and lows of the adoption journey with Type C's, those who get it. 
We don't need to give long winded explanations or lessons on child development and the impact of loss, separation and trauma needed as caveats to anecdotes or stories. 

I'm sure we'll share horror stories if stupid comments, bad behaviour and 'interesting' Social Workers. More that this we'll share the joys of adoption orders, matching and breakthroughs and moments with our children. 


I'm pretty sure that nobody will ask me if I've got any children of my own. 








Sunday, 12 October 2014

Dust on my Shoes

Our Matatu came for us at 3am and we started the 22-hour journey home from the Sure 24 orphanage and school, Nakuru, Kenya to my front door.

It’s a long journey, but I’m grateful for the opportunity to slowly unpack the experience of spending time with these remarkable children and the adults who give themselves to care for them.

There are many things that I’m bringing back, stories,  feelings, thoughts, experiences, trinkets for my children and dust, lots of dust, everywhere, in my clothes, in my bags and on my shoes.

However, the enduring feeling is one of hope.

Through my eyes I’ve struggled to see how many of the children can overcome their experience and I am astonished at the sense of hope that permeates the home and school.

Yes, I’ve seen children on the fringes that are deeply affected by their experiences.  I wonder about the therapeutic value of shared trauma and loss and the mutual support that the children give each other. Those on the fringes are not falling through the net, but resources are limited.

Staff work ceaselessly to primarily meet the children’s needs as well promote a route for the children out of crushing poverty. Almost everyone, adults and children, has a collective gratitude for what they do have and they believe that things will get better. They have a hope, born from a personal and collective faith and a belief in the transformative, and proven, power of education.

With two street children now at University and others training for employment they see that there a route from where they have come to a different life. Many of the children are moving onto high school and the Sure24 Primary School rated by the government as the best in the municipality.

What I want to bring back is hope.

I need a little hope for my family, it feels almost absurd to discuss my circumstances in the same post.
But I have mentioned them and I know this, without  hope then our hearts grow sick* and everything is too much.

So, I’m bringing back hope and like handful of dust I threw in my bag, a little bit goes a long way.




If you’d like to know more about the work of Sure 24 then visit



*That’s in the bible that is.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Rift Vally

I find myself at an orphanage nestled in the Rift Valley in Kenya. The founder asked me to come and help, offer training and audit the children's files.

So, I've been sitting in a hut reading through the case notes of the 153 children. 

It's what I do on a daily basis, albeit, a slightly different setting so I'm no stranger to stories of tragedy. Reading the stories was hard, they are as complex, traumatic and tragic as anything I have ever read or will read.

I've sat shocked and in disbelief.

Witchcraft, murder, beating, poverty, abandonment, abuse, violence, layer upon layer, multiple trauma,  all leading children to a dusty plot of land in the Rift Valley. Children brought here by 'good samaritans' and local Chiefs and desperate members of extended families.

Repetition of themes and patterns for 153 children, there are no good reasons to be here. 

At playtimes I go and watch the children play and a happier, seemingly, carefree group of children you'd be pressed to find. Talking to matrons and patrons they tell a different story. 

I think about thresholds, absolute and relative poverty and a thousand other things as my senses are bombarded with the reality of the 153 children's lives. 

It's ok. I can manage the information when in isolation. 

In my mind I'm keeping the children and the stories apart, when they come together I falter.



Girls dormitory, Sure 24, Nakuru.
It will take time to unravel and make sense of all that I've seen. 


Wednesday, 1 October 2014

I'll never forget the day you were born.

I find it intriguing to ponder on where I was and what I was doing when my children were born, clearly I wasn't there.
I was just going about my life unaware of the strange journey I was on that would intersect with them in the future. Oblivious to the life changing events that were happening with different players miles away.


The day Sarah was born I was thoroughly unemployed/unemployable rather disinterested in getting a ‘proper’ job. I was living at home with my parents bumming around trying to earn a few quid while I waited to go off and spend a few years working for a youth charity. I’d not even met that vision of loveliness, Mrs C.
When Gracie popped out I was unemployed, I’d finished my couple of years travelling around the country and was trying to find a viable way of making money doing as little as possible. I was in the throws of an (over) emotional breakup with my girlfriend. Mrs C was a friend but no more and I only had three guitars and a CD collection to my name.

Ginger's arrival into the world coincides with Mrs C and my holiday together celebrating our first year of marriage. So, as he entered into the world we were sat in the Pyrenees Mountains enjoying ourselves considering our future together.

It would be another 20 months before I would meet my children. Good luck, chance and happenstance conspired that we would come together. Their journey was a little more ‘interesting’ than ours and without doubt more challenging. Never the less we met.

Flossy exploded into the world six years later. I was an established dad by now, I had a job and was quite respectable. We hadn’t even thought about being foster carers but by the time her little sister, Lotty, arrived a year later we were almost approved foster carers and we were awaiting our panel day. In fact the day Lotty arrived was our 9th wedding anniversary.

We met these two fireballs three months later and things have never been dull since. But like the big three their journey to us was tricky and the path to the Adoption Order was laid with many dangers, toils and snares, but we got there.

We knew Peanut was coming, but we weren’t meant to, a birth family member had tipped us off. The day she arrived we sat in our garden with a hundred or so friends, family and acquaintances holding our own Fostering and Adoption hoo ha.
We knew, everybody knew, that she was coming our way but caution and bureaucracy conspired and we waited 21 months, long months, before we met.  

And that makes six.

I have only cried once in relation to my lack of genetic offspring and I cried like I’ve never cried before or since.
It came out of the blue with no warning. The day after the birth of my friend’s child the new father told me of the trials, tribulations and joy of the birth. I had to leave and I sobbed and sobbed.
At the time I couldn’t understand why I was so upset at that point, 10 years into our adoption journey. I'd never felt such feelings before.

Now, reflecting on it, I think I was upset for Sarah, Gracie, Ginger, Flossy, Lotty, Peanut, Mrs C and Me. That we didn’t share the most important days of all our lives. 

I have to ask, where were you?