In the blogosphere I talk about my little bears all the time. I don’t talk so much about my largest bear, Grizzly, and I think he’s starting to feel left out. It’s his birthday this week so I thought it might be his turn to have a share of the limelight.
Grizzly and I have known each other nearly forever. Do we have the perfect relationship? Well I’m not sure that really exists but we have been lucky that time and life’s challenges have brought us closer together.
It has not always been so. The first year of Big Bear’s life was extremely challenging for us. We were unable to communicate effectively with one another and we disagreed on crucial issues such as how to manage Big Bear’s significant difficulties with sleep. Although living under one roof, we somehow muddled through that period quite separately; neither gaining the support we felt we needed from the other.
As bad as that sounds, we can look back and reflect that it did wonders for our marriage and in fact our ability to parent together. We learned a lot about communication and honesty, both of which have helped us hugely with adopting.
When it came to adoption, there was never any disagreement. It was something we had both wanted to do for several years. We did differ on the timing – Grizzly got there first. As an only child, he had always wanted more than one. I needed a little longer – a bit of a break once Big Bear was at school, but Grizzly made sure not to pressure or rush me. I think he knew I would be ready soon enough.
The adoption process helped us to reflect on our relationship. I had worried it would highlight flaws or chinks but in fact it reinforced the positives. The process did challenge our roles within the relationship though. I had always taken the lead in organising us – booking holidays, knowing where things were etc. This was quite a lot due to Grizzly having somewhat of a reputation for losing things. I recently heard him advising Big Bear “put things in the same place each time then you won’t lose them”. I couldn’t help but point out later on that Grizzly didn’t know about this gem of advice when he was 6 or when he was 26 either. There is the tale of the lost cheque book (found sometime later rolled up in a shoe under the bed); the lost passport (shoved inside a book on the overflowing book case, just don’t ask which one); the frequently mislaid keys and work pass; the almost missed flights due to loss of said passport.
However, when it came to the adoption paperwork, Grizzly could lay his hand on anything we needed in a matter of seconds. It didn’t matter if Little Bear’s disorganised Social Worker had misplaced something, Grizzly would have a copy safely stored. And the never-ending form filling which made me feel claustrophobic from the sheer volume of paper was no bother to Grizzly. Who knew? He had been super organised the whole time.
It also turned out that I was purely rubbish at the admin side of things and that my “filing” gave Grizzly a headache. Needless to say I have been more than happy to relinquish that aspect of household duty since!
In retrospect I shouldn’t have been surprised that Grizzly is so efficient and organised with paperwork. He does after all have a very sensible and senior job and is a proud provider for us as a family.
It is just that, in real life, no one would describe Grizzly as “sensible”. I am a worrier and a planner. He just does stuff and deals with the consequences as and when they happen. I don’t mean irresponsible things, I mean things like taking Little Bear to Big Bear’s swimming lesson then wondering how to entertain him for half an hour next to open water. The kinds of things that I would stay awake thinking through the night before.
It makes Grizzly more spontaneous and probably more fun than me. He’s the one who will see a rope swing over a lake and just get on it (I’d worry about falling in). He’s the one who parked in a muddy field at the zoo and said “it’ll be fine” then had to spend half an hour trying to push us out again, wearing a children’s elf hat as protection against the torrential rain (yes, hilarious). He’s the one who will say “why not? What’s the worst that could happen?” (I’ll be somewhere behind him reeling off a list).
When it came to the adoption matching process, we were both clear on what issues we could and could not deal with. This was definitely a time when complete honesty helped.
In the early days of introductions, I felt a little more confident than Grizzly. I think the years of working with children with complex needs had prepared me somewhat for Little Bear’s challenging behaviours. It wasn’t long though before I had a wobble and Grizzly became my support. We have pretty much continued to take it in turns as to who is feeling the most stressed/ least bonded/ most shattered. Thankfully we have rarely felt rubbish at the same time.
As ridiculous as it sounds, what got us through the early weeks of placement was our daily “meeting”. Don’t worry, we didn’t prepare an agenda or write minutes but we did sit down together at the end of each day and dissect the day’s events. What had gone well? What hadn’t? What were we definitely avoiding tomorrow? Was there something we needed to weave into our routines that might help? We talked about specific incidents and how we had handled them. We debated different strategies and agreed which we would use next time.
This was invaluable because it meant we were 100% united in our behaviour management and there was a high level of consistency between us. I’m sure this has helped Little Bear to learn the boundaries, rules and routines more quickly.
We no longer have an official “meeting” but if something significant has happened or one of us is fed up or is particularly excited about something, we still have a catch up in the evening – no TV or phones, just a chat.
This is the part that impresses me most about single adopters – not managing all the practical stuff alone but managing it all without a resident sounding board. Someone who truly “gets it” and has the time and energy to discuss the minutiae of parenting our little people.
Something else that has helped is that whilst we are both reflective and put everything we can into supporting our boys, we also don’t like to be too serious. Grizzly has, at times, quite a wicked sense of humour. People often don’t know whether he is joking or not and it’s fair to say that he takes the p***. There is a lot of laughter in our house. Sometimes we laugh at inappropriate things but I think that can be a valid coping strategy. We still do impressions of Little Bear’s Paediatrician and frequently reminisce about funny things that the boys have done – like when Little Bear used to say “I’m going to shoot poo” instead of ‘shoot you’ or when Big Bear refused to go through a door because it said “assistance dogs only”.
Grizzly is fun and really just a big kid. It means that children love him (not just our own) especially as he has lots of energy for playing when the rest of us are having a cup of tea and a sit down.
It is absolutely the case that I wouldn’t want to travel this journey with anyone else. Yes, sometimes I feel as though I have three children. Yes, they are all incredibly noisy. Yes, Grizzly gets everybody overexcited and just says whatever comes into his head but he is the best daddy they could possibly have and I would be lost on this adoption journey without him.