Little Bear’s Big Bed

At the foster carer’s house Little Bear slept in a toddler bed, so it seemed to make sense that he would at our house too. Physically he seemed tiny so the bed, although small, was ample for him. I thought he would probably sleep in that bed for a good while, not least because of his size.

When Little Bear first arrived we had a brief sleep honeymoon. After about a fortnight he started to show us his true colours. Although capable of and unfazed by settling himself to sleep, we couldn’t actually leave Little Bear to do that because he would take full advantage of the lack of supervision. Various items would end up in his bed; he would end up in various places that were not his bed; he might scale shelves or various other equally dangerous things.

Therefore to establish a sleep routine which involved staying in bed and actually sleeping, we needed to sit in his room with him. Little Bear was, understandably, furious about it as it curtailed his fun no end. Consequently whoever was on night duty was at risk of verbal abuse and being pelted by any item close at hand e.g. a teddy or dummy. Although I’m all up for self-expression, it wasn’t a behaviour that I wanted to persist so all of Little Bear’s cuddly animals moved to different parts of his room and his bed was empty of any potential missiles.

Little Bear would also wake during the night. The foster carers had told us that he did this but if they let him turn the light on and play for a couple of hours he would settle again… I wasn’t too keen on middle of the night playtime so had to provide “supervision” for several hours then too, to teach the idea that night is for sleeping and you need to stay in bed. If I didn’t get to him quickly enough he would try to climb over the stairgate or lob things over the banister. I have found him in the airing cupboard and under the desk in the spare room on occasions.

I was thankful therefore that his bed was small and low and he could not reach additional items when he was in it. I could only imagine what he might get up to if he had a cabin bed like his brother, with all the extra opportunities for climbing, reaching and swinging from lampshades it would provide. No. I would not even consider the idea until he was at least 10, maybe 15.

The really difficult sleep period lasted for approx. 5 months. I’m not too sure what changed – whether I had passed the “surviving whatever is thrown at me” test (quite literally) because I stayed with him no matter how challenging he got – or whether it was because we eventually took a two pronged approach and banned the IPad the following day if he’d messed about at night.

Either way, thankfully, things did improve to the point where Little Bear would get up once in the night, wander through to find me and allow himself to be taken back to bed again. I would tuck him back in, give him a little cuddle and go back to bed myself. And most amazingly I could mostly trust him to stay there.

Instead of being up for 2 to 3 hours, I was now up for 5 minutes which was a vast improvement and actually I didn’t mind this new arrangement at all. It felt as though he was waking for attachment reasons (a quick check we were still there) and not to test out what he could get away with. Instead of the anger and aggression we used to experience, he was now generally happy and affectionate in the middle of the night.

At some point in the proceedings (my memory fails me but probably during the Desperate Try Anything Phase) we introduced a Gro-Clock as I thought the visual nature of it would help him to understand it was still night. In the very early weeks he would not have grasped the concept but by the time we got him one, he understood very quickly that he was meant to stay in his bed until “the sun came up”. I say “meant” to, as understanding and actually doing it are not the same thing!

As Little Bear settled into a much better sleep routine, it became obvious that he really needs his sleep. There is quite a marked difference in his behaviour and resilience when he has had a good night compared to when he hasn’t. He is ready for bed early (usually asleep by 6:30/ 7pm) and needs to sleep until about 7am. Sometimes, in the winter, he would lie in until 8 or 9am! It was quite a contrast to the little night owl who first arrived.

As spring sprung and the mornings got lighter and the dawn chorus got noisier, Little Bear started waking much earlier. Sometimes 5:20 am, sometimes 6 am. Apart from not liking it ourselves, we could very much tell the difference in Little Bear’s behaviour so started reminding him about his clock and the need to stay in bed. A bed which seemed smaller by the day – were his feet really touching the end now?

Around the same time, Little Bear started asking for a bed like Big Bear’s. It’s a miracle that he knows what bed Big Bear has, as his bedroom door remains resolutely locked. However, on one of the rare moments that Big Bear has allowed him to stand on the threshold (not even a millimetre of toe can cross) with the door a teensy bit ajar, Little Bear must have clocked a significantly larger, taller and more exciting looking bed than his own.

One morning, after an unpalatably early start, Little Bear started asking for the aforementioned bigger bed. Grizzly flippantly replied that if Little Bear slept in his bed until the sun came up 10 times he would buy him one. This naturally lead (brace yourselves adoption folks) to a sticker chart.

I have never tried a reward chart with Little Bear before but this one seemed worth a try. Maybe it would also show him that if you keep trying, you can achieve things. Maybe it would teach him something about the value of items. Grizzly thought this was a safe bet and he wouldn’t need to put his money where his mouth his.

It took a few days to get the first sticker but when he did, Little Bear was very proud of himself. He wanted one sticker for his chart and one to display proudly on his top. Sporadically, over a few weeks, the stickers started mounting up.

In amongst the usual chaos of our house and our imminent building work, we paid the chart little heed, except to add a sticker as necessary. I started to realise that as soon as the chart was full, Little Bear would be expecting us to magic up a bed. He would think it would be there straight away, not in a few weeks’ time when we got around to it. We needed to get organised. Grizzly was having none of this as busy at work and at home, he didn’t have the brain-space for one more task. Stubborn as ever and quite convinced that Little Bear’s first experience of a reward system needed to be a significantly positive one, I ordered his bed on the day the chart was complete. Although it did not magically appear, I was at least able to show Little Bear a picture and explain that it was coming. Little Bear, although excited and asking for his bed, thankfully did seem to understand the process of ordering and delivery.

This was Thursday. I knew that our builders were starting on Monday and that over the weekend we would need to completely clear the living room. I figured it would take a few days for the bed to arrive and somehow everything would fall into place.

I was a little perturbed when my phone rang on Friday morning and a Russian voice said “I brink you mid-slipper bed, today, wan o’clock”. Hmm, just a little sooner than planned. I then realised I had not ordered a mattress and that would be kind of essential to him being able to sleep in it. So, after doing the supermarket shop (a marathon in its own right) and before baking a Father’s Day cake (yes, quite mad), Little Bear and I went mattress shopping. Thankfully Argos had one mattress left that was rolled (so I could carry it and fit it in the car) and that was available there and then. It was a good job as having Little Bear with you is not really conducive to adding up the relative merits of sprung versus memory foam or making a full and informed decision.

That night, after Grizzly had arrived home from working in a further away city than usual, we started building the bed. Poor Grizzly was shattered and I did think he was quite long suffering that day.

On Saturday we had to move all the furniture in Little Bear’s fairly tiny bedroom around so that the bed would actually fit and then complete its construction. It was fairly stressful as I was essentially making Grizzly do it against his will; the boys are rubbish at entertaining themselves and didn’t cope well without our undivided attention; it was hot and every time Grizzly looked down to screw something his glasses fell off as he needs new ones but hasn’t had time to get them! I’m giggling now that we are safe in retrospect!

Also, Little Bear was very excited that we had power tools and a hammer out and I don’t know how many times one of us said “Do NOT hammer anything!”, “no, don’t hammer your toes”, “no, do NOT hammer the wall” etc.

Somehow the bed was eventually completed, we were all still friends, everyone had all their limbs and there wasn’t any unwanted damage to the house.

To say that Little Bear was chuffed with his bed is an understatement. It has a hidden den underneath it which is very calming and perfect for him. Every so often he will say “I just go and check on my new bed” and will disappear upstairs to sit underneath it and occasionally to have a lie down on it.

So, at the grand old age of 4, mere months after I vowed never to let him have one, Little Bear is the proud owner of a cabin bed. So far, 6 nights in, he has done nothing but sleep in it. Not even a hint of swinging on the lampshade (though now I’ve said that no doubt he will try).

There are 3 brilliant things about Little Bear having his big bed:

  1. We can hide underneath it when the building work gets too much.
  2. He is very HAPPY and PROUD of himself.
  3. He can’t wait to go to bed every day!!!

Now that we have achieved point 3, Grizzly thinks the whole thing has been a fantastic idea.

bed blog pic

Little Bear’s Big Bed

Our adoption journey: what if?

Getting The Adoption Order has caused me to reflect a little on our adoption journey. As I look back, it’s strange to think how things could have been different.

What if we’d had a reply to the first enquiries we made about a child? A little girl with FASD. What if we had pursued that potential match?

What if the potential adopters before us had agreed to have Little Bear?

What if Karen and Bob (my fictitious names for Little Bear’s foster carers) and Little Bear’s Social Workers had been more honest about his behaviour? What if they had provided a detailed list of all the behaviours we could expect? Would we still have gone ahead with the match?

What if our Social Worker (I call her Anne) had not been able to persuade Little Bear’s Social Workers to look at our details, despite them having closed the process to expressions of interest? What if she hadn’t advocated for us so strongly?

What if those Social Workers had not listened to her and had not kept an open mind?

What if we had decided that rushing through the process to get Little Bear before Karen and Bob went on holiday was too risky? What if we had waited and it had taken another 5 months for him to get here? Would we still have agreed to the match? Would it have been too late to reach him and to start turning his development around?

What if the placement had disrupted during introductions, as it so nearly did? What if we hadn’t put all our efforts into making it work? What if we’d had to come home without him?

What if we didn’t have fantastic support from everyone around us during those first challenging months?

What if?

I know what if. I know that the first little girl we saw was gorgeous but she wasn’t meant to be with us. I wonder now whether we really would have been able to cope with her needs. I do think about her though – I wonder what happened. I hope she got her forever home and is happy and settled there.

I know what would have happened if things had gone more smoothly for the potential adopters before us. They too would have seen the gorgeous boy hiding behind the behaviour and Little Bear would be living with them now…

I know what would have happened if we had been given a full and frank account of Little Bear’s behavioural needs. We would not have pursued the match. On paper, in black and white, it would have seemed unmanageable. We would not have thought that somebody with those needs would make a good brother for Big Bear. We would have been wrong, but we would have thought we were right.

In retrospect I don’t think that anybody was purposefully duplicitous, but I do think that in their desperation to find Little Bear a forever home, they had considered his needs through rose-tinted spectacles. For a while I was upset about this: it’s dangerous to ask adopters to accept a child into their lives without furnishing them with all the facts. Nobody wants a disruption but this type of lack of transparency could all too easily lead to one.

However, now, with the benefit of hindsight, I have to be grateful for this error of judgement. Without it, we would not have got our Little Bear.

I know what would have happened if Anne had not persuaded the Social Workers to look at our profile. They would not have seen the very clear links between our profile and Little Bears’. They would not have been struck by how right the match seemed. They would not have agreed to meet with us or allowed us to get to the point we are at now: a family. Though there were failings on their part, I have to be grateful that they believed in us and invested in the match.

I think I know what would have happened if we had not have taken the risk to speed up matching and introductions and to meet Little Bear a mere 6 weeks after first viewing his profile. I know Little Bear would have gone to respite care while his extended foster family went on a very exciting holiday. I know this would have served to confirm to him that holidays were bad and not for him. I know he would have been confused and unsettled. Perhaps he would have felt rejected or abandoned. I think he would have returned to his foster placement some weeks later (though there was talk of them not accepting him back again) and after a period of settling, preparation for adoption would have begun. I know it would nearly have been Christmas by then and Little Bear would not have been placed until the New Year. I know he would have been nearly 4 at this stage and assuming things had continued as previously, he would still not be potty-trained, still not sitting on a proper chair, still unable to walk appropriately beside an adult, still unable to understand language or express himself. Still not doing any of the things expected of a nearly 4 year old. And he would have been stuck in this delayed limbo for 5 months longer than if we had taken the risk of speeding things up. How far behind would he have been by then? I think his behaviour would have been getting towards unmanageable…

We knew these risks at the time and we listened to our gut instincts to go ahead with the expedited match. I am grateful that we allowed our hearts to rule our heads and we forwent the leisurely build up and time “to rest”.

I think that had we not, there is a significant chance that the placement would not have happened at all or would have happened but not worked out. I know that we were Little Bear’s last chance of getting adopted and that had things been different, he would now be embarking on a whole childhood within the care system…

I can hardly bear to think about what would have happened if the placement had disrupted during introductions. Suffice it to say that I have a deep sympathy for those who have had to disrupt placements and can only begin to imagine the stress and heartbreak they must have incurred.

I am extremely thankful that we did find the strength to persevere. We were certainly well scaffolded by key people around us who listened, counselled and dared to hope, whilst never judging us. Grizzly’s Mum came with us for introductions as we were staying far from home and needed help with Big Bear. She was with us every step of the way and I know she felt our anxiety and stress as much as we did. I’m not sure we could have successfully navigated those agonisingly difficult days without her unfaltering emotional support. And her practical support too – she just kept making food appear as if by magic!

We also had long distance support from my parents on a daily basis, from our friends and of course Our Social Worker, Anne.

We have been very lucky that the support has continued since we have returned home and is ongoing. It is hard to imagine adopting Little Bear without the comforting shroud of our support network encircling us. Those who feel isolated or unsupported on this journey again have my full sympathy. I find it difficult when Twitter friends are clearly struggling alone: if only I were nearer or could somehow improve things with some magic words. It’s hard to know how much impact you can possibly have in 140 characters!

I know I cannot change the course of events that have passed and it is certainly not helpful to dwell on them either, but now and again a little backward glance can be enlightening. This little pause for reflection has made me feel grateful for what has been and relieved we didn’t need to face the ‘what ifs’. After all, if we had, we would not now have Little Bear. We would not have had the joy of witnessing his progress, felt his gorgeous little cheek against ours, been able to comfort and cuddle him, hear his tinkly giggle or be amused by his endless mischief. Big Bear would not have had the chance to be a great big brother or have his world irrevocably altered by the funniest playmate he can imagine.

I’m not really sure if I believe in destiny but there is certainly serendipity about our story. There are so many points at which things could have gone differently, junctions at which Little Bear could have moved away from us. But somehow, whether through the intervention of something greater or not, at each of these intersections he headed in our direction, to us. Where we feel he is supposed to be.

So, despite some less than favourable circumstances, misinformation and considerable challenges, I am truly grateful for our journey.

 

Our adoption journey: what if?

The Adoption Order

This weeks’ big news is that we have been granted our Adoption Order (AO). It sort of feels as though it has been a long time coming and we have got here ridiculously quickly all at the same time.

We have wanted to get the AO all sewn up since Christmas. Getting the paperwork to court, via Social Services seemed to take forever. It took weeks for anybody to notice that they didn’t have our wedding certificate (which we duly sent and fear we’ll never see again!) and the clock continued to tick and there continued to be silence.

One day, out of the blue, we returned home to find a very official looking letter on the mat – it was from the court explaining there was now a hearing date. We shouldn’t attend but Little Bear’s birth parents could if they wanted to. We knew that they could contest the AO if they chose to but we had no real idea whether they would or not.

We have not met Little Bear’s birth parents. When we embarked on the adoption process we had no idea that meeting birth parents would even be a possibility. I was quite shocked when we were told that it is and is in fact considered good practise, when we attended the prep groups. I wasn’t really sure I was too keen on the idea.

However, Grizzly’s Dad died when he was a young child so he has first-hand experience of what it is to lose a parent and to wonder about them. Ultimately he would want to see his Dad but with that not being possible, the next best thing is to share stories etc. with people who did know him. Grizzly immediately felt that that he would want to meet our future child’s birth parents – so that he could tell our child all about them when the time was right: so that he could share real, tangible information from having met them, not just theoretical information from a piece of paper.

I agreed that if it was best for our future little one I too would be willing to meet them and would put my personal feelings aside.

However, in the event, we made our willingness to meet Little Bear’s birth parents known, but Social Services were adamant it would not be appropriate in this case. We weren’t told a lot, only that birth mum would have found it too difficult to cope with.

Without having met them and having read only very factual information about them, we had no real concept of them as people and therefore nothing much to base a judgement on about whether or not they were likely to contest the order.

At our most recent review meeting, Little Bear’s Social Worker said she didn’t feel they would. Then, at a further appointment, she reported that birth mum in particular wanted to attend the hearing and “have her say” (whatever that meant) but did not plan to contest it.

True to their word, both birth parents attended court and did not contest the planned order, meaning that the judge was able to grant it there and then. The Social Worker described the birth parents as being “upset” in court but “wanting to do the best” for Little Bear. I felt very emotional on reading that part of the e-mail.

It is times like this that you remember how out of the ordinary adoption is. I think I’ve fallen into a relative normality – Little Bear feels like he’s ours, it feels like he should be here. We’ve all got used to each other. Gone are the days when I dreaded what the morning would bring and when I’d rather not have clapped eyes on him when I first woke (I wrote about our difficult beginnings in Love & in Getting brother or sister). Gone are the days when we had to act out loving him and when I did more “managing” of behaviour than anything that felt like the “parenting” I was used to with Big Bear.

It is not that everything is easy now, though most things are easier, it’s more that there is a familiarity, a normality, about our daily lives. Little Bear is part of the furniture, just as much as any of the rest of us. And as I go about this normality, I mostly don’t think about the fact that I did not give birth to Little Bear. It could partly be because he fits in so well and does have similarities with us (physically, in his character and in his preferences) that I don’t constantly keep in mind him being genetically someone else’s.

However, on getting the AO and on celebrating it, it was not lost on me that in another corner of our island, Little Bear’s birth parents would be grieving. In a perverse way, was this a celebration of their loss?

Of course I am happy that the order has been granted – it is what we have been working towards, a landmark for any adopter. It confirms what we feel – that Little Bear is our son and this is now cemented by him officially sharing our name.

And yet..

For the first time I have felt an emotional connection to his birth parents. I can’t help but feel sadness for them. As my Mum said, who wants to feel that they have not been able to give their child what they need? Who wants to know that they’ve failed as a parent and face a future in which they may never see their child again?

I think perhaps I would not have been able to afford them this empathy had they have purposefully harmed Little Bear. Obviously they were not able to keep him safe or nurture or develop him appropriately but as far as we know, they did not abuse him.

I am puzzled by them though. What stopped them from taking the many, many, opportunities provided to them to change their circumstances? Why didn’t they fight harder? Did they know they couldn’t do it? That it would be best all round this way? Or do they feel wronged? As though in their eyes they were perfectly good parents and it was all Social Services fault? How much do they think about Little Bear? Do they wonder about us? What do they wonder?

One thing that plays on my mind is that Little Bear’s birth mum breastfed him. It is probably hideously judgemental of me but I had just assumed that he would have been bottle fed. Breastfeeding is such an intimate act of bonding that I now find it hard to imagine that same mother empty-armed, without her infant in her care. I know breastfeeding alone does not make you a good mother (and obviously bottle feeding certainly does not make you a bad mother) but it says something about the level of care she tried to provide. She did try to bond with him; she did try to give him the best start health-wise.

The fact that she was not able to maintain this level of care says more about her own life experiences and the failures of those around her than anything. I feel she has been a victim of her own circumstances which in itself is a great sadness.

Equally, the fact that they both attended the court hearing says something to me. I think that many birth parents would not attend. I think others would contest so that they could feel as though they had fought for their child. In attending but not contesting I feel as though Little Bear’s birth parents have shown that they do care and almost given us their blessing to go ahead and raise Little Bear as best we can.

Perhaps I’m off the mark and that is not how they feel at all. But now I wonder where previously I was happy to pretend they didn’t exist.

I think I will still feel a weird bolt to my chest whenever I see their picture in Little Bear’s Life Story book – a very stark reminder that they do exist and this is not ordinary parenting. But I am now keen to make some connection with them. We are going to be doing Letterbox contact and that is due to start soon, which I’m pleased about. I feel that they will reply. No doubt I will analyse their letter in some depth.

Having now successfully managed to deflect all attention away from us being granted the AO I must now try to re-gain some focus! Grizzly and I seem to do this a lot – taking fairly major milestones or events in our stride and just trucking on without actually celebrating them or even pausing for a momentary pat on the back.

We spent approx. 30 seconds briefly acknowledging that this was indeed a milestone, we had got here without even considering divorce and everyone was still alive. Good. That’s settled then. What about these tiles that have been delivered but half of them are smashed? And so went the evening.

We are aware that this is a rubbish way of going about things so we think we might right all the non-celebrations of the last year with a big party once all of our building works are complete. And of course there is the celebration court date to come too.

As I said at the beginning, although it has seemed like a long journey, in other ways it is hard to believe that we have reached this point already. Fittingly, today is exactly one year to the day since we first saw Little Bear’s profile. If you’d have told us on the 10th June 2015 that in one year’s time this gorgeous little man, smiling at us from the piece of newspaper, with 5 scant sentences residing beside his head, would not only have been living with us for 9.5 months but would legally be one of us, I don’t think we would have believed you – especially as, at that point, we had only been approved as adopters for 10 short days! The whirlwind continues. .

 

The Adoption Order

A day in statistics

Another Friday spent with Little Bear. This time we went to Big Bear’s assembly with my parents and then to a soft play area to meet some friends. Here’s how it went, expressed through the medium of statistics.

Number of things Little Bear licked: 4

  • A bin in the playground that had interesting looking pools of rainwater on top of it
  • The window in Big Bear’s classroom
  • My Mum
  • Big Bear

Number of people Little Bear hit: 3

  • 2 girls in the soft play area
  • Me

Number of times I thought I might get beaten up: 2

  • Each of the times Little Bear hit someone’s child at the not-so-posh (I’m being polite) soft play area we were at.

Number of times one of us told Little Bear to “shh” whilst in Big Bear’s school: approx. 25

Number of times Little Bear laughed his head off: approx. 25, including every time I chased him and tickled him & every time he shot along on the zip wire thingy

Number of arguments we had over the sunroof: 4

  • Every time I shut it because it was too windy and I couldn’t hear myself think

Number of times Little Bear told me to drive into a farmer’s field: at least 10

  • No idea why he has a fascination with this. It’s always a very challenging discussion as I try to explain why I can’t possibly do that and Little Bear will insist that I can and that I’m mean

Number of proud mummy moments: 6

  • Seeing Big Bear in his assembly, especially his “Mr Punch” voice in the puppet show which made everyone laugh
  • When Big Bear put his arm around one of his friends when she got upset during the assembly
  • When Big Bear ran across the hall after his assembly to hug one of us. I kind of thought it might have been me (!) but it was Little Bear who Big Bear engulfed in his arms, picked up and spun around. It was a huge, happy, proud brother cuddle
  • When we went back to Big Bear’s classroom and Big Bear wanted Little Bear to sit on the carpet with him while the teacher spoke with them all. Little Bear sat in his lap throughout. I will skip over the part where they tickled each other and became increasingly noisy and Big Bear’s prim and proper teacher did not look one jot amused and I thought we would get asked to leave!
  • At the soft play area when Little Bear won some bouncy balls and shared them nicely with his friend
  • When Little Bear came out of the soft play when I asked him to and did not induce me to chase him all around it to get him out, as I have had to do before

 

Another typical day for us – ups, downs, hard bits and brilliant bits all rolled into one noisy, crazy and often funny day.

 

A day in statistics