Adoption Celebrations

Last week we had our court celebration. We got our Adoption Order back in June but I guess this was the first date court could accommodate us for our celebration.

We had chosen the city we wanted it to take place in and had been told to meet outside of the court at 9:45am and for our party to go in together. It was a bit of a mad dash but somehow we managed to get there and all dressed up to make an occasion of it.

I drew the line at getting matching outfits for the boys as I’ve always been really against putting children in the same outfits (“they’re not the same person” I would moan) however since we’ve had Little Bear I’ve been having strange urges to do it. I think it’s because it shows a link between them for the whole world to see. Plus, they’d look super cute. Anyway, as a compromise between reneging on my old principles and my new desire to make them match, I had bought them the same tailored navy shorts and both blue and white shirts but with different patterns. And very handsome they looked too (as long as you didn’t notice the sun gleaming off Little Bear’s bald patch!).

We met our parents there and Ann our Social Worker. We all had to go through the scanning machine which the boys found entertaining. Stupidly I had thought we would go straight into the court room but unfortunately there was quite a long wait. I was starting to fear that if we didn’t go in soon, Little Bear would systematically destroy the waiting room.

Over the few days before the court event I had tried to explain to Little Bear that we were going to see the Judge. I had explained that he (or she?) was a very important person who would be telling us that Little Bear could stay with us forever and he would have our name (although in reality he only knows our surname). It was very hard to tell how much Little Bear had taken on board.

I had also been fearful for some time that if the Judge said something about Little Bear staying with us forever, he might pipe up “no I not. I go Karen and Bob’s house” (my made up name for Little Bear’s foster carers) as he used to be pretty fond of saying this.

On the morning of the event, Little Bear was actually very keen to get his smart clothes on and kept asking to go to see the Judge (even if it did sound like he was asking for George). His excitement was proving hard to contain so the wait was less than ideal. We were all very relieved when the time eventually came for us to be called in.

It turned out not to be a Judge (damn! I was excited about seeing the wig) but 3 magistrates. They were lovely though. The main guy said a few words about it being a happy occasion and congratulated us all. Little Bear pointed to each Magistrate and said “that’s my girlfriend, that’s my boyfriend, that’s my girlfriend” which made us giggle. Thankfully he said it quietly and strangers still find him hard to understand so I don’t think the Magistrates picked up on it. I hope not as a second later he muttered “that guy is such a weirdo”!

The Magistrate spoke a little more then Grizzly asked Little Bear if he wanted to say anything. “I want to live with them forever” he said and leaned his head against Grizzly. It was such a lovely tear-inducing moment and such a relief that he did seem to understand why we there and that he hadn’t chosen to say he’d rather be somewhere else.

The Magistrate gave Little Bear a teddy and a certificate to mark the day. They then invited the boys to sit in the big chair and for us to take photos. We didn’t feel rushed at all and the Head Magistrate even turned photographer for us. It was short but sweet and we came away feeling happy to be official.

We had puzzled over what to do afterwards, especially with it being too early for lunch but thankfully the sun was shining and we were just beside a lovely park. It was definitely the right choice as after being on their best behaviour in court the boys were ready to let off some steam. Ann came with us for a while. We wandered through the park and admired the squirrels before finding the café to get some hot drinks. The boys played in the play area and the grownups managed some grownup conversation (!). It was lovely to catch up with Ann but soon she had to head back to work.

There was a miniature railway in the park, complete with tiny station and platform so Grizzly and I and the boys had a few rides and my Dad couldn’t help joining in either.

When it was time for lunch, Little Bear had a meltdown leaving the park. There was a bit of biting and scratching but thankfully he calmed quickly and then wanted to be carried to the restaurant. We chose to go to Pizza Express for lunch as it’s family-friendly and easy. It was tempting to go somewhere posher to mark the occasion but it would probably have been a disaster and as long as the children were happy we knew we would be too.

Meal times with Little Bear can be really stressful but he did well this time. He was keen to go on the open-topped bus afterwards which helped with his motivation.

The bus was a good choice. We were enjoying the nice weather, getting some fresh air, seeing sights we hadn’t seen before in a city we thought we knew well and having a rest while we were at it. I’m always a bit sceptical about there being a guide in these situations but she was very interesting and not boring at all.

We stayed on the bus until Little Bear started standing up more than he was sitting down and I was becoming a bit anxious about what he might do next. I always feel it’s better to end these things whilst they are still going well.

I had seen that there was a Lego exhibition on in the Cathedral and as we got off the bus near there it seemed worth a try. The exhibition itself was brilliant – Master Builders (they really are called that) had created all sorts of vehicles from Lego, including a 7 metre long replica of the Titanic which was amazing. Big Bear loved it and filled my whole phone with photos. The grownups loved it too but I think Little Bear was getting tired by then and although he showed some interest in the models, he was around the whole thing in about a minute. His behaviour was beginning to escalate and we ended up having another ‘time in’. I had to pretend he wasn’t really being abusive in a Cathedral!

As usual, these things are often solved with food. We headed to the café where there was a large Lego pit and a Lego wall that the children could build on to. Both Bears absolutely loved it and played together for ages while the grownups somehow managed another drink and chat.

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By now it was late afternoon and we had been out all day so we headed homeward. It had been a really lovely family day out and I’m so pleased that we found something inclusive to do. You never know how these things will go, best laid plans and all, so I was relieved that we had all enjoyed it and had managed to successfully create a great memory of Little Bear’s special day.

Unusually for us, this was not the end of it. Earlier in the year we had had a realisation that we are rubbish at celebrating big events and just keep on trucking with our busy lives. We had resolved that this time would be different and we had planned a big party. We also wanted to thank our support network for everything they had done for us over the past 12 to 18 months, whilst we were going through the adoption process. So on Thursday we had our court celebration, Friday was the anniversary of Little Bear moving in and Saturday was our party. Talk about a manic few days!

We were expecting almost 50 people to our party, which we were having at home and the plan was definitely for it to be outside. By Thursday my obsessive checking of the weather forecast indicated that there wasn’t going to be a last minute miracle, the forecast was for rain and I needed to accept this. That evening we began filling the garden with gazebos. On Friday we woke to this headline: “UK to be battered by 1500 mile wide storm”. Excellent. Perfect. Just exactly what we needed!

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It was still raining on Saturday morning, the decking was treacherously slippy and the gazebos were leaking in several places. Undeterred and with no other real options, we proceeded with the preparations as best we could. The bouncy castle arrived and another gazebo was quickly erected so children could get on and off it without getting soaked.

The 15 children busied themselves on the bouncy castle and I can honestly say that they weren’t one bit of trouble all day. At lunch time most of them spontaneously trooped into the little front room (soon to be office), instigated a carpet picnic and watched a DVD in near silence! No one could quite believe it. I think all the bouncing must have worn them out.

Although we were very keen on the party idea, the thing that usually puts me off is catering for everybody. As is the way with everything since adopting, our mantra is “keep things easy” and we applied this to the party too. At 12o’clock pizzas were delivered. My Mum had made some lovely salads and I had done some bits and voila lunch was served. At 1:30 pudding arrived in the form of an ice cream van. A swarm of children ran zombie like straight through the house chanting “ice cream ice cream”. It was ace.

My friend had also made us a cake. I wanted the cake to be symbolic so she made it with 4 layers – one layer to represent each of us. The layers were made of our favourite cake and the outside of each was decorated with our favourite things. She also added 4 bears dotted around it to include how I refer to everyone here in my blog. We did gather everyone around at one point and made a cheesy speech as we genuinely did want to thank everybody for their unwavering support. Big Bear lead 3 cheers and Little Bear cut the cake.

 

Somehow, a weather miracle did seem to take place and the rain held off until later on. It was very windy though and at one point a gazebo did take flight. Thankfully nobody was in it at the time! Our guests were very helpful and as they stood around chatting, they kept a hand or two on the gazebos to stop it from happening again!

We had a brilliant time. I felt very relaxed which can be hard to achieve in these situations and I also felt I had had proper conversations with people. The last guests didn’t leave until 2 hours after the party was supposed to finish so I take that as a sign that people enjoyed themselves.

I feel that we have well and truly celebrated adopting Little Bear now. And so we should.

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Adoption Celebrations

Reflections on Adoption One Year In

Last week marked the anniversary of us meeting Little Bear for the first time. Today is the anniversary of him moving in to live with us forever. I’m not quite sure which anniversary we are meant to celebrate but I like remembering both of them (and the anniversary of first seeing his profile). It’s greedy I know but it’s nice to look back and see how far we’ve come.

So what are my thoughts one year in? Has it been how I imagined it would be? Is there anything I would change with the benefit of hindsight?

Although I never thought adoption would be easy and I was fully aware of the potential challenges, I’m not sure I expected it to be so unrelenting and such a test of endurance.

I expected that bonding would take time. I do feel that I have a good bond with Little Bear but at the same time I’m aware it can be brittle. He needs A LOT of 1:1 time. If I have a busy couple of days or have to be at work I can start to feel the fractures forming. Even though I see him every day and we eat breakfast together and have cuddles and I’m home for bedtime, it is not enough. You can’t back off for a few days and still expect to be where you were before, as you could with a child with a different background. Adopted children tend to need a high level of you all the time. Without you there are usually wobbles.

These wobbly moments tend to lead to a deterioration in behaviour. I guess it’s the whole you aren’t giving me enough attention so I’ll behave in such a way that you have to notice me thing. At these points adoption can feel emotionally counterintuitive: I know intellectually that he needs more of me but emotionally it can be the last thing I feel like doing. This challenging little person who is so adept at pushing your buttons and who is behaving in a defiant, negative and sometimes aggressive manner needs you to get close and stay close to them. They also need you to seem as though you genuinely want to, which, to be brutally honest, given their behaviour, can require a lot of getting over yourself and some Oscar-worthy acting.

These sorts of days are hard.

The first few months of adoption consisted mainly of these days, along with some even worse nights. As time has gone on thankfully the numbers of days like this have significantly reduced and they now tend to be outnumbered by good days.

I have been surprised by how quickly family life with Little Bear started to feel “normal”. It definitely didn’t initially and it was like having a stranger under our roof for a while. I wasn’t keen on him getting into our bed to start with as it seemed quite odd and a bit of an invasion and I tended to dread what the morning might bring. Social Workers warned that it can take years to achieve the “normal” feeling. However, in reality, it only took a few months for us. Suddenly I was happy to see his cheeky little face first thing in the morning and only too happy to scoop him into our warm bed for a sleepy cuddle. Well, sleepy for me anyway, he’s usually wide awake and not keen to stay still for long.

Despite now knowing Little Bear well, having a fairly good understanding of his behaviour and having read widely on attachment theory, I can still struggle not to lose my temper. Remaining calm in the face of barefaced defiance is a work in progress for me. I fully understand why I need to and that there are other far more effective strategies in my tool box. However, I am also human and anybody who spends any prolonged time with Little Bear will also attest that staying calm is easier said than done.

Adoption is not for the fainthearted.

I hope that when I look back in another year’s time I will have further honed my calm (no matter what) skills.

Although adoption clearly has its challenges, it is no myth that it is also extremely rewarding. I have talked about Little Bear’s difficulties and the progress he has made in Living with Speech and Language Difficulties, Developmental Delay and Mischief. When I reflect on the past year it is impossible for me not to marvel at how much Little Bear has achieved. It is such an honour to be able to support his development and witness his progress. Little Bear is quite the little sponge when it comes to new information and I take a lot of pleasure in providing it for him and helping him to understand it. Being able to take part in a child’s developmental metamorphosis is one of the many huge positives of adoption.

Another massive positive for us has been seeing the bond between Big Bear and Little Bear develop and go from strength to strength. It is no secret that their relationship had a very turbulent beginning (you can read about it in Getting brother or sister) and we often searched our souls about whether the risk we were taking was too big. However, their closeness now has surpassed our expectations. I wouldn’t have dared to wish that they could be as affectionate or respectful or proud of each other as they are.

Big Bear still pretends to himself that he doesn’t like having a brother and that adoption is a negative thing but it is plain for all to see that really he has fallen for Little Bear hook, line and sinker.

I’m not sure there is anything that makes me happier than seeing them cuddle each other (which they do a lot). Biologically they are unrelated but they are truly brothers.

Talking of family ties, something I have been reflecting on recently is the role of grandparents in adoption. Both my parents and Grizzly’s Mum live close by and I would consider us to be a close family. All 3 grandparents have always been very involved with Big Bear and have provided child care for us when I have been at work. When we decided to adopt they were very positive and supportive of our decision. If they had any reservations they kept them to themselves. They were excited about having a second grandchild. They were keen to understand what an adopted child might need and read everything we sent their way. They are all around model grandparents and we know we are very lucky.

It can be difficult therefore to witness Little Bear being less than civil towards them. He is not always rude: sometimes he is loving and pleased to see them. At other times he makes it quite clear he would rather they weren’t there. Grizzly’s Mum recently came on holiday with us (something which Big Bear has always loved) and Little Bear was pretty persistent in making her feel unwelcome. I guess he didn’t want our attention to be diluted. He was also somewhat reluctant to accept her authority and do anything she asked him.

He definitely tests the boundaries more with the grandparents. I guess it is because he is not yet completely secure in those relationships and strong bonds will take longer to form because although he sees them often, he does not spend all day every day with them as he does with us. Perversely there is a positive in it: it shows he is able to form different levels of attachment with different people, rather than attaching willy-nilly to anyone he meets, which is healthy.

I have seen adoptive parenting described as “extraordinary parenting”:- requiring something more than typically expected when having a child. I don’t think I had been fully cognisant until recently of the implication that extraordinary grand-parenting would also be required. Typical grand-parenting involves all the best bits of having children around – having fun, sleep overs, treats and of course being able to give the children back at the end of the day. Extraordinary adoptive grand-parenting means sometimes having to deal with the sharp end of anxious behaviour as well as verbal and physical aggression. For our grandparents it has meant having to employ a lot more discipline and behaviour management techniques than they could have imagined. It means that sometimes (despite not wanting to feel this way) I suspect they can’t wait to give the little darlings back and lie down somewhere in a darkened room.

They cope admirably but I think adoption asks a lot of grandparents.

I think adoption probably asks quite a lot of your entire support network. We have been very lucky because everyone has taken our decision in their stride and I have been touched by how quickly our friends and their children have accepted Little Bear, just the way he is. It is particularly lovely to see the children at Big Bear’s school interacting with him. They all know who he is (I reckon Big Bear talks about him all the time) and they consider him to be one of them. I think the warmth and acceptance they have shown him has helped him to settle in quickly.

I have no idea whether we have influenced people’s reactions or if it is just because we know lots of thoughtful people. We are very open about the adoption though and I don’t mind people asking questions at all. We haven’t shared the full details of Little Bear’s history with anybody (including our parents) but I’m not bothered if anyone asks. I think it’s natural that there is a curiosity about adoption because it is not something that everybody does. I think it can be hard for people to know what they should/ shouldn’t say. I consider questions to be a good opportunity to help them become more informed about adoption and I’m quite happy to explain that we purposefully withhold some information.

I remain very much pro-adoption. I’m not somebody who tries to get everyone they meet to adopt though as I really don’t think it is for everybody. However, if someone is interested I enjoy being involved in supporting them and hope that I can do more of that over the next year.

I think that adoption is hard but so is anything that is worth doing.

If I could turn back time would I do it all again? Absolutely, without any doubt. I love my Little Bear.

I’m very proud of how we have all survived the first year: things could have turned out so differently. I wonder what year 2 will bring…

 

Reflections on Adoption One Year In

The Bears go on holiday

Up until now we have only taken Little Bear away from home once since he moved in. I wrote about it in Our first post-placement holiday. That time, I figured out through my lack of preparation that Little Bear is anxious about holidays and has previously not had a positive experience of them. This time I started talking about the holiday earlier and because it involved the beach he was pretty keen on the idea. I had also told him that on the way back we would be visiting the friends we had stayed with last time. The previous trip to their house had been a very positive experience for him so I knew he would be keen to go back (not least because they have a Nerf cross bow they let him play with!). The difficulty this time was getting him to understand time scales. I tried saying how many sleeps there were until we went but as numbers remain arbitrary for him this didn’t help at all. In the end I went for a very simple timetable, showing how many more sleeps until we went, how many nights we would be there, when we’d be at our friends’ house and crucially that we would then come home.

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*I have to apologise for that being the wrong way round, I’m too tired to figure out how to rotate it!

Little Bear grasped it well and enjoyed crossing the days off each morning, though he did need some help to cross off the NEXT one and not just ANY one.

The day before we went, amidst the packing chaos, Little Bear got his hands on Grizzly’s battery shaver resulting in this situation (!!):

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Big Bear managed to trap his fingers in the car door. Was this setting the tone for the whole holiday we wondered?

The evening before we travelled, Little Bear really struggled to get to sleep. He said he didn’t want to go to the beach and every time I went into his room he wanted the world’s biggest cuddle. I kept reassuring him that we would all stay together, we would have fun and we would come home together. I hoped he would be ok once we were there.

Grizzly’s Mum stayed over as she was coming with us.

In the morning, having sorted out last minute cat sitters (we know, bad pet parents!), packed the car, got everyone into the car, gone back into the house to find Big Bear’s cuddly dog, then to find DVDs, then to find the dog again and double checked that Grizzly’s Mum’s car really was locked, we finally hit the road.

As it was our first proper holiday together since having Little Bear and we had no idea how it was going to go, we had chosen to keep things easy by going somewhere we had been to before and knew well. We passed the few hours to Tynemouth without major incident.

On arrival at our self-catering apartment, Grizzly’s Mum undertook the customary nosy sweep of the place AKA seeing what is in all of the cupboards. Within 30 seconds a cupboard door had come off in her hand! Not ten minutes later, she was waving a drawer handle that had mysteriously come loose. Later on we added a broken lampshade and a screw missing from shutters to the litany of mishaps. What with doesn’t-know-her-own-strength granny and miniature monk it was turning into comedy central.

Little Bear fell in love with his pint-sized but perfectly formed bedroom straight away, especially as there were toys in his wardrobe and in particular a cuddly dog that barks and wags its tail. I heaved a sigh of relief.

Once we had settled in we headed to the beach to make the most of the sunshine and there the strangest thing happened. The children busied themselves digging and trying to dam the natural spring and, wait for it, the grownups sat on a rug and did nothing. It was very hard to get used to. The sun was shining, I was lying on a beach and the children were entertaining themselves. That is not life as I know it. It was quite a strange sensation. I believe it’s called “relaxing”.

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We have been to the beach about 4 times now, a couple of times spending pretty much the whole day there. Big Bear has entertained himself almost the whole time and made some friends in the process. Little Bear has coped exceptionally well. On the first day he managed to join in with the other children as they worked collaboratively to build a dam from the sand. Previously he would not have coped in that situation and would have purposefully sabotaged the building. It was lovely to see him working side by side with Big Bear, having fun and really playing together. It was also lovely to see him interacting in a friendly way with other children he met and not immediately viewing them as a threat.

As the days have passed and Big Bear has continued to dig (the child has some stamina), Little Bear has grown a bit bored and needed more adult help to entertain himself. Apart from running up and down the beach a few times pretending to be a horse with him on my back wielding a stick (“speer”) and paddling with him, I still haven’t had to do much. It has been very surreal but very welcome.

One of my main roles has been wrapping him up in a towel and various other blankets and clothes and snuggling him back to warmth after his many ventures into the sea – a role which I have been more than happy to carry out.

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I am feeling pretty spoiled by this holiday in general. The fact that Grizzly’s Mum is here has meant that we have been able to go out (hold your breath) on our own. One evening we put Little Bear to bed then took a little trip to the Metro Centre for a spot of evening shopping. We have been out for an evening stroll. Now, please don’t think that I’m bragging when I say this, but we have also had some lie-ins. I know: it’s AMAZING.

On Tuesday, my parents came to join us for a few days and I became further spoiled when they took me out for tea and Granny and Grizzly fed the boys and put them to bed. My parents offered to babysit the next night but in the end it was raining and we thought it would be more fun to stay in and have a bit of a games night all together. We played Uno Attack and had a great time.

It is certainly a strange sensation for the week to be so easy and to have virtually no jobs to do. The grandmothers keep telling me it’s only right that I should have a break on holiday but it has felt pretty indulgent. I do feel very lucky that we have such a good support network.

So, what else have we been up to? We had a little drive out to Whitley Bay to find an ice cream parlour and ended up having a play in the amusements too. We took all the grandparents into Newcastle to go to The Discovery Museum. Little Bear had a great time playing in the water in the Play Tyne section and we had to change his clothes again (I actually don’t think a day has passed when we haven’t had to fully change him at least twice).

One day we found ourselves near the boating lake and I was somehow persuaded to get in a pedalo. As a non-swimming water hater I thought I was quite brave. It was good fun, though I would warn against trying to operate a pedalo in a skirt, especially if it’s windy. Grizzly said it didn’t matter if I flashed my knickers though as I’m on my holidays!

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Today the Three Bears and Granny have been to Wet’n’Wild. Needless to say I didn’t join them. I sneaked off for a while to have a mooch in a nearby outlet shopping place then joined them for lunch. On my return it was quite easy to spot them amongst the crowds – I just looked for the little bald patch bobbing around!

After lunch I sat in the café of Wet’n’Wild catching up on my writing. It was quite possibly the hottest place I’ve had to sit in and I bonded with a fellow Mum over how hot we were. She tore me a strip of her newspaper to use as a fan and in the end I resorted to pouring little bits of water onto myself (too much information there, sorry). The Bears had a fabulous time though and everyone was ready for a rest afterwards. Granny and I took our chance to explore some of the little shops in Tynemouth.

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The week is flying by. Just one more day left then we are off to see our friends and shortly afterwards, back to reality..

 

The Bears go on holiday

Goodbye Adoption Leave

I have loved you Adoption Leave, you are so much cooler than your cousin Maternity Leave and don’t let anyone tell you differently.

My maternity leave is pretty much a blur to me, passed in a haze of sleep deprivation. I remember feeling a bit of a failure that I wasn’t able to maintain the yummy mummy meet for a spot of shopping and lunch while your docile baby sleeps image. For a good while I couldn’t organise leaving the house before 2pm due to Big Bear’s amazing skills at staying awake most of the night and feeding 300 times per day. Then when I did leave the house I had a pram which was brilliant for country walks but which was impossible to steer with one hand or in small spaces. So instead of gliding around shops, pushing a sleeping baby with one hand and carrying a basket or rifling through racks of clothes with the other hand, I was mostly getting sweaty from the effort of not mowing down my fellow shoppers.

Helpfully, Big Bear would only sleep in his pram if it was in perpetual motion, so civilised meals or coffee were out of the question. The very second I sat down his eyes would pop open and the need for CONSTANT entertainment would recommence. I think I must have spent most of the year walking (at least I got some peace and there was hope of getting my figure back) or snuggling a baby on the sofa. The lack of being able to place him down anywhere without World War 3 breaking out was tiring and also frustrating because days would pass without me having achieved anything. As in, not even the washing up.

Seven years on, I’m glad I spent whole days cuddling him because now time flies past and I can’t even pick him up any more. In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t as long as it felt at the time. Then, the days and nights merged into one and seemed interminable.

So yeah, Mat leave was ok. I survived it.

Adoption leave started out seeming pretty similar. I was cast back into serious sleep deprivation, my days were full-on and exhausting and everything was fairly anxiety-provoking.

However, a few major things were different. Grizzly was off for longer and we had figured out how to parent as a team. Adoption leave has been much more united, supportive and not in any way isolated.

Also, as my hormones have not been through the soda stream of child birth, I am probably a little more rational this time and able to make wise decisions such as putting Little Bear into pre-school almost straight away (I would not be separated from Big Bear for ages and consequently never had a break). This has really been my lifeline to staying sane and enjoying my leave: I have had some me-time from right at the start. It is amazing what difference even a morning per week can make. My “free-time” has gradually increased over the year as we have built up Little Bear’s sessions to get him ready for full time school. This time I have managed a spot of shopping or two, met friends/family for coffee, had my nails done and eaten A LOT of brunch.

I have completely skipped the guilt too because I know that having some brain space helps me to be better at my mummy jobs.

I have still had loads of time to spend with my boys – helping them to bond as brothers, improving my own bond with Little Bear, working on Little Bear’s development and making sure Big Bear is adjusting to this huge change in his life.

There have obviously been some very stressful and challenging days but overall I have relished the challenge and it has been incredibly rewarding to see Little Bear blossom. I have been able to practise much more effective speech and language therapy than I ever have in my actual job, because as professionals we generally don’t have the luxury of time to give to the children referred to us. With Little Bear I can use strategies all the time and exploit each and every language learning opportunity that arises. It is ironic that I have done more therapy during my leave than I would have done had I been at work!

After the first 4 or so incredibly stressful months, things settled to a level that allowed me thinking time. I had the time and motivation to start my blog, speak at prep groups and approach our Voluntary Adoption Agency to suggest we work together to offer communication training to other adopters. I have loved doing all of those things and am hoping that I have laid a foundation that I can build on going forwards.

Latterly I have overseen the re-modelling of our downstairs, as well as decorating it. Being able to indulge my creative side has also been very satisfying.

But even better than any of those things, I think the single best thing about adoption leave is that I have finally found my parenting confidence. A close friend always says that when I delivered Big Bear, my confidence came out with him and for reasons that I still can’t fathom, I think she’s right. As a first time mother, a lot of people had a lot of advice for me, most of which I took as criticisms. I didn’t think I was doing anything well and any positive attributes in Big Bear I put down to nature, finding it hard to imagine that it could be due to my nurture. I couldn’t even ignore the opinion of those whose opinion I didn’t value. I suspected everyone knew what they were doing with this parenting lark better than I did.

Then came the adoption and somehow that turned everything on its head. Most people, aware that adoption was outside of their own comfort zone, couldn’t even begin to advise me. They were mostly speechless. It suited me well because I could read about Attachment Theory, about other adopters’ experiences, I could form my own (informed) opinions and go forth, doing my own thing, safe in the knowledge it was along the right lines. I could also see Little Bear transforming before my very eyes. He had not transformed before, so it must be due to something we were doing. And really, believing in the power of nurture is a crucial part of believing in adoption. Change was being driven by my parenting (and Grizzly’s obviously) and that was (and still is) a huge confidence boost.

So I’ll take a little credit now for Big Bear being the wonderful young man that he is too. *Does a virtual bow*.

I am not in any way complacent though – complacency in parenting tends to lead straight to disaster in my experience. Vigilance is key; expecting the unexpected and being prepared to try something different. The realisation that no one has it all sewn up helps too.

Yes, Adoption Leave, I have loved you for many reasons, but all good things come to an end.

I have been in complete denial about my return to work, barely allowing the imminent date to osmose my brain. Of course, the date came around anyway and I was soon staring into my wardrobe thinking that I had absolutely no idea what I usually wore to work, though I was pretty sure it didn’t involve jeans or Converse.

The next morning it was a miracle I even found my way to the office. There is a huge regeneration project taking place in the town where I work and the road I used to commute on has been bulldozed and replaced by an empty chasm. Following the many diversions, I snaked closer. It was such a strange feeling. I was passing landmarks I knew well, schools I had seen children in, a building I had attended training in. It was all so familiar, like wrapping an old patchwork blanket around myself, yet so surreal, as though I was returning to someone else’s life. I felt much better once I got inside the building and found some of my colleagues. It was lovely to see everyone and to catch up with them.

Before returning to work, I had made the decision that I wouldn’t stay. I would work the 13 weeks I needed to and then leave.

I have been in the same job for 13 years and it’s a long time. I have always loved my job (though naturally there have been ups and downs) and a big part of it has been my colleagues and being part of a truly lovely team. I do also like to think that my work is making a difference and feeling effective is crucial to me enjoying it. Over the years, my speech and language therapy family and I have been through several re-structures, the organisation we work for has had several guises, budgets have shrunk and contracts have been lost. Along the way, many of my colleagues have left or been re-deployed. What is left is small, watered down and completely different to how it used to be. We are being driven more by numbers than quality and I have been feeling disillusioned for some time. As much as I have loved it and am part of the fabric of the place, I do think the time has come to move on.

Knowing I am leaving has made returning a little odd. My boss has been kind to me and given me a defined, manageable task to do so that I don’t acquire an out of control to-do list whilst still doing something useful for the caseload. It means I have surprised myself by getting straight back into it and feel, in some ways, as though I have never been off. I am also enjoying it more than I thought I would and have started to wonder if I’m being rash in leaving.

However, back at the ranch, things have not been going quite so well. On Tuesday I returned home to Grizzly’s Mum looking uncharacteristically dishevelled after her day with the boys. She wasn’t helped by another driver bumping her car on the way over but the boys alone, in fact, just Little Bear alone is enough to warrant a lie down in a darkened room.

On Wednesday, my parents had visibly aged over the course of the day. Little Bear’s behaviour was slowly but surely escalating since I had been at work and they had had a VERY challenging day with lots of dysregulation. When I was home he was very clingy to me and he has not wanted to be alone anywhere. Understandably, the separation is not suiting him. He copes fine with being at pre-school/school but I think me going out and leaving him is subtly different. His behaviour is telling me he needs me around at the moment which has rather helped with making my mind up.

I have resigned. For now anyway.

Goodbye Adoption Leave