I can remember, ages ago, sitting in a review meeting agreeing we would send our Letterbox letter in September each year. I can also remember asking if we would be reminded and someone half laughing at me and telling me quite clearly that remembering was my responsibility. Henceforth “September” and “Letterbox” have been etched on my mental blackboard.
As the summer holidays drew to a close I was conscious that September was fast approaching and began mentally writing said letter. In doing so I realised I had absolutely no idea how to go about sending my letter. Was there a specific format I should follow? Were there any rules on envelopes or labelling? Where did I actually send it to?
I duly e-mailed Little Bear’s Social Worker to find out.
As with all correspondence in that direction, a reply took a while to materialise. Reading between the lines no formal Letterbox arrangement has actually been set up, despite us and Little Bear’s birth parents agreeing to one. I’m not too sure what would have happened if I hadn’t chased it… Nothing?
Anyhow, we have an interim plan for this year until the case is formally allocated to a worker at some unknown point in the future.
I can also remember, some months ago, agreeing that we would be willing to receive birthday cards and the like from birth parents and siblings and that instead of them sitting in the social work case file, we would use our discretion over whether to share them with Little Bear now or keep them safe for the future ourselves. Nothing materialised so I assumed nothing had been sent.
However, my recent e-mail regarding Letterbox has evidently nudged somebody into action and the cards that were sent have now been “found”.
Little Bear’s Social Worker said she would forward them to us along with a card from one of his siblings. She reported that his Social Worker has been doing some Life Story work with him as he is finding it difficult to get his head around Little Bear being adopted. She felt it would help if he could send his card to Little Bear and we could acknowledge its safe receipt in our Letterbox contact.
I really feel for Little Bear’s siblings – it must be so strange for them that their plan is long term foster care and that just one of their siblings has been adopted. I wonder how that makes them feel. Of course we could accept the card if that would help.
The Social Worker also asked us if we would receive cards from some other more distant relatives. We drew the line at that because we had never agreed to Letterbox with anyone other than birth parents and siblings and we had no idea who these people were. We felt she probably shouldn’t have accepted these cards in the first place.
At the weekend the package arrived. As much as I know that contact with Little Bear’s birth family is important and that it will benefit him in the future and that we are lucky they are engaging with it, I have to be honest and say that I find it unsettling. I think it’s because seeing their writing and the cards they have chosen (and touching something that they too have touched) is a very tangible reminder that they DO exist.
Obviously they do exist. I knew there would be “other” parents in the mix when I signed up to adoption. I knew there was likely to be some level of contact with them. I agreed/agree that there should be. It’s just, for adoption to really work, you need to start seeing this new addition as yours: your own child. And I do. Little Bear feels very much like he’s mine. When a child is yours and you love them and plan to be their parent forever, you don’t then really want to think about them being somebody else’s. That is the paradox for me. When that letter drops onto the mat you are immediately reminded that your child was not always yours and it is disquieting.
I have never been more suspicious of an envelope. It lay on the worktop, unopened, taunting me for the best part of a day before I could extricate myself from the boys long enough to open it in private.
The cards had been carefully chosen, with wording hinting at seeing Little Bear again. They were signed “mummy and daddy” which did nothing to assuage my unsettled feelings. My instinct was that it was an inappropriate way to sign the cards, given the circumstances, although I could understand why they had. I handed them to Grizzly later without saying anything and he separately drew the same conclusion. In his short lifetime, Little Bear has had 3 mummies and 3 daddies. That is extremely confusing and gives him a very skewed idea of what a mummy or daddy is.
We have put the cards safely away and have contacted the Social Worker again to ask that birth parents refer to themselves as such or by their first names. That is how they are referred to in the Life Story book. I’m sure they won’t like it and I’m sorry for that but my priority has to be Little Bear. His life has been confusing enough already.
We decided to give the card from his sibling to Little Bear. This was not a straightforward decision for several reasons. Firstly, Little Bear doesn’t yet realise that he has a birth family. Full stop. He had contact with them until shortly before we began introductions but I’m not sure that anybody explained who they were and when I’ve shown him the Life Story book he doesn’t show any recognition of them. Secondly, I feel it’s too soon to announce “this came from your brother” (one of the ones you don’t know about yet) because Little Bear hasn’t got the language ability to understand the complex explanation I would have to give or to ask the multitude of questions he would surely have. However, we knew there would be a danger in not starting this type of work yet and I did want to honour the wishes of his sibling. In the end we concluded that we would give it him and say it came from X (the name of his brother) then show him who that was in the Life Story book. Hopefully this would begin to make his sibling’s names familiar and would lay the groundwork for future conversations.
In order for this plan to work, I would need Big Bear to know about it otherwise he would blurt out something different and we’d be in a pickle. Therein lay another difficult conversation.
Big Bear didn’t originally know that Little Bear had any siblings. After a while it started to feel like a Thing: a secret Thing that shouldn’t actually be a secret so we told him. Big Bear was pretty nonplussed about it and said very little. It was quite an unusual response from him as he’s very chatty and enquiring. Perhaps he would reflect on it and ask more questions later we though. But he didn’t. I knew he wouldn’t have forgotten though as he never forgets anything.
When the package arrived I explained to him as casually as possible what was in it and how we were planning to handle it. His reaction was, again, minimal. This time though I could tell it was because talking about Little Bear’s siblings was making him feel uncomfortable. He confessed to Grizzly that it “made him feel weird”. He couldn’t find a way to verbalise it further but I think I get it.
We have all put so much effort into developing a good relationship between our 2 bears. Big Bear has had to really put himself out there and allow himself to accept having a sibling and then learn to trust him. That trust has built and strengthened and cemented their brotherly bond. Big Bear has allowed himself to love his brother and is very proud of him. Big Bear feels that Little Bear is HIS brother. Like me he has that sense of ownership. It is very hard for him to hear that Little Bear is anyone else’s brother. I suspect that receiving the post from the siblings put Big Bear on the back foot, making his position as Big Brother feel usurped.
This adoption business is complicated.
Anyhow, after considering all angles and having had all our difficult chats, we gave the card to Little Bear. He was very pleased to get his own post, especially as it was covered in stickers. He showed zero recognition when I said who it was from and thought I meant a boy from his school. I showed him the Life Story book and he went back to watching TV.
On this occasion I think Little Bear has been the least affected by the contact with his birth family. I’m sure at some point, in the not too distant future, that will change.
I have left the card up on the shelf in case he wants to ask anything or look at it again but he has paid it zero attention.
What remains is for me to actually write our Letterbox contributions. I have begun and I’ve found it pretty challenging. I can’t help but try to put myself in his siblings and birth parent’s shoes. It is difficult to fully get inside their heads though as I can’t imagine my children going to live somewhere else or being in circumstances where I would allow that to happen. I think I would want a positive (but not braggy) letter about my child being happy, healthy and enjoying themselves. I think I’d want to know they were progressing but might find too much talk of their delays accusatory.
I probably need to stop overthinking it and just write it. Grizzly will ruthlessly edit it and then I can wait with baited breath for the next emotionally loaded envelope to arrive…