Adoption by Big Bear

This week’s post is brought to you courtesy of 7 year old Big Bear. I asked him to write about what it’s like when you get an adopted brother. Here, in his own words, is what Big Bear had to say:

When I got Little Bear as a brother, I hated it. Mum and Dad were paying no attention to me. Little Bear was always saying shut up, stupid and idiot to me.

When I play football with Dad, Little Bear always picks the ball up and runs off with it. It is hard to have a little brother.

When they get to 4 they grow and are a lot nicer and more sensible. They keep you company. They do get good.

Then I asked Big Bear if he has any advice for other children who might be going through adopting a sibling. This is what he wrote:

If you get one, be nice and behave well then they will be nice like you. You need to train them to be like you and do stuff properly.

 

I think it’s interesting to hear Big Bear’s perspective. I wonder how his thoughts will change over time. I will try to remember to ask him the same questions next year and see how he feels about everything then. Maybe at that point I will be able to ask Little Bear what he thinks too.

Big Bear’s perception of the early days differs from ours: for one we felt we were bending over backwards to make sure everybody had all the attention they needed but Big Bear evidently felt the difference between getting all the attention and having to share it quite keenly. The first weeks are definitely a time when siblings need extra support.

I also think it’s interesting that Big Bear sees himself as having quite an influential role in shaping Little Bear’s behaviour. I think we have probably encouraged him to feel that being a big brother is an important job but I didn’t realise he approached it so earnestly. It is true though that he has never responded to aggression with aggression or to name calling with name calling. He has risen above it and shown Little Bear that there are other ways to behave. Little Bear absolutely adores his big brother and does look up to him now. He wouldn’t ever purposefully hurt him anymore and is often very upset if he does so by accident.

I definitely think that adoption is a family undertaking and everyone has a role to play in its success. Siblings often bear the brunt of the changes taking place and amidst the chaos we still need to give them the space they need to air their thoughts and concerns.

Well done Big Bear, you really are a fantastic big brother.

 

 

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Adoption by Big Bear

Acceptance

A couple of things have happened this week that have got me thinking about acceptance: how important it is that we instil it in our children from a young age and how hard it can be achieve as adults.

Big Bear has been having some issues with a boy we know. It seems a few people have been on the receiving end of this boy’s unkind words, including him saying that a 4 year old boy we also know is “gay” because he likes to dress up as Elsa. The 8 year old in question lives close by so, one assumes, has a similar upbringing to my Bears. However, I would be mortified if I thought that they were going around using a term describing somebody’s sexuality in such a derogatory way. Big Bear knows that some men like ladies and some like men and that some ladies like men and others like ladies. We talk about that in a matter of fact, every day kind of way because that’s how I think sexuality should be viewed. I want my Bears to grow up knowing that everybody likes something/ somebody different and that that is what they accept as “normal”.

When Little Bear made a friend who has 2 daddies, neither Bear batted an eyelid or in fact asked me anything about it.

I worry about what this boy we know has been taught about accepting homosexuality. Not only that, but what has he been taught about accepting other differences in people’s preferences? So what if a boy wants to dress up as Elsa? Is that really something that requires comment, let alone negative comment?

Admittedly, I have never been one for following the crowd. Even as a child I did my own thing:- I wore what I wanted to wear, not necessarily what was in fashion; I listened to the music I liked, not necessarily what was in the charts. As I got older I didn’t feel the need to try drugs or drink too much just because everyone else was. It did mark me out as being different. There were then and there are certainly now, pressures to conform, even from an early age and life can be hard for those who do not. However, rather than my conclusion being that we should all just conform to make our lives easier, I am now even more of the opinion that what we actually need to do is work harder at having a more diverse and accepting society.

After all, if I had compromised myself and tried to follow the crowd, I wouldn’t now be the happy, teetotal, vegetarian adult that I am. I wouldn’t have chosen to adopt, I wouldn’t have shaved off half my hair and I wouldn’t have a bright green fridge. Those things make me different but they also make me who I am.

So yes, I am coming at this from a standpoint of thinking that difference is good. I suspect that, intentionally or not, I have now influenced Big Bear into a similar mind-set. Big Bear has different hair to all the other boys in his class – it’s longer – and he frequently gets called “a girl”. Whilst I think it suits him I don’t want to force my alternative ways onto him and worry about any negative attention, so I keep offering to cut it for him. He won’t let me (or a hairdresser) and is steadfastly developing his own style in spite of the negative comments. This week he went to football training with his hair tied back because that’s how some of his favourite footballers wear it. I think there were some negative comments but he didn’t let it bother him. I’m very proud that he too is carving out his own path and I hope that he is strong enough to stick to his guns as he gets older.

I am also very proud that he just accepts difference in others. Once, we were in a coffee shop with one of his friends and a lady with pink hair walked in. Big Bear’s friend started pointing and laughing. You can imagine the lecture she then received from me. Big Bear couldn’t understand what the fuss was about, saying the lady looked lovely.

Last weekend, Big Bear and I met an elderly lady with very obvious Dementia. We were in a café and she came over and started speaking to us and stroking Big Bear’s hair. She was thoroughly confused and couldn’t follow any conversational overtures that we tried to make. Big Bear did really well at just taking it in his stride. It could have been a frightening experience for a child and some would certainly have laughed or shrugged her off but he intrinsically understood that she was poorly and couldn’t help it. He accepted her for who she was and tried his best to engage with her kindly.

Quite apart from any shaping we have done through our parenting, Big Bear has a very sensitive and empathetic personality. Little Bear is already a kind and generous little soul and I hope that over time he too would be able to react in a similar way if he met a similar lady, though at the moment I fear he would probably have told her to “get off”.

Little Bear doesn’t care whether his friend wears dresses though and in fact, he is probably more of his own man than any of us. If anything, he takes it a bit too far, thinking that none of the rules apply to him! Whilst I’m keen on him doing what he’s told, I hope he continues to be so sure of himself and is not too easily influenced by others.

At the moment, Little Bear is intrigued by differences but accepting of them. On holiday we saw a lady on the beach who had prosthetic legs. She had evidently taken off her prostheses in order to get around more easily on the sand. Before I could intervene, Little Bear strode right over and asked her about her legs. He didn’t point or laugh, he was just genuinely curious. I think his brand of direct curiosity can be a good one, as long as you are accepting of the explanations.

Little Bear’s Elsa loving friend came to play the other evening. After a while both boys got tired so I put the TV on for them. Little bear asked for his dummy and blanket. I don’t know whether he hasn’t yet reached the stage where he is aware of how others might judge him or whether he just doesn’t care. Either way, he sat there, all 4 and more than a half years of him, sucking away, stroking his face with the label of his blanket and his friend sat beside him without passing comment. A lovely moment of true acceptance.

This week I have run one of my Speech, Language and Communication Workshops for adopters and I had a conversation that got me thinking about a different type of acceptance. The Dad in question was talking about his daughter’s needs and the struggle he has in not comparing her achievements with those of her similar-aged peers. As a parent you know that you should accept your child, just the way they are, without comparing them. However, in reality, I suspect that acceptance doesn’t just come over night and is not always that easy to achieve.

In my professional life, especially in my work with children with complex medical/ physical/ social needs, I have met many parents who have not yet achieved acceptance of their child/ their child’s needs. Nobody ever sets out thinking their child will have difficulties or struggles or be in any way different to other people’s children. When it turns out that they do and they are parents quite naturally have to grieve the loss of their ‘perfect’ imagined child. True acceptance can take many years. I think sometimes parents can feel that by accepting their child’s difficulties they are in some way giving up on them because they are no longer seeking ways of “making them better”.

From my own experiences as a mum to Little Bear and his developmental delay, things can take you by surprise. You can think that you are fully accepting of your child’s needs then something crops up that throws them under the spotlight and you are hit by the sickening realisation that maybe you are quite worried about how far behind they are and how such and such is leaps ahead and the unwelcome spectre of your fears about the future starts looming large.

I definitely think that achieving true acceptance of your child exactly as they are is something to strive for but maybe we need to acknowledge that it isn’t always quite as easy as it’s made to sound.

True acceptance in the adoption world can mean more than accepting your child’s developmental needs. It is also about accepting your child’s life experiences, especially those that went before you came into their lives. It can be hard to accept what your child has been through. I find it hard to accept that Little Bear didn’t get the support and nurturing in his foster placement. Whilst I’m generally accepting of the actions of his birth family, I have to admit that sometimes it is hard just to accept that they actually do exist: that there are 2 other parents in our parenting equation.

I may be a vegetarian teetotal adopter with a green fridge but I’m still working on acceptance.

In these Trump influenced times I hope I’m not the only one. Come on World, its 2016, can we please get with the programme and accept that diversity is actually a good thing?

Acceptance

Time

I have been thinking a lot about time recently: how it goes so fast and so slow and seems to bend and distort depending how you think about it. I think some of the distortion is an adoption thing.

Little Bear is relatively new to my life. He has been with us a mere 14 months. Just a baby. But he isn’t. My youngest baby is rapidly growing up. He might have only been here 14 months but he is in fact over 4 and a half years old now. He is going to his friends’ 5th birthday parties. After appearing tiny when we first got him – his head fitted in my hand like a baby’s would and he easily fitted in 2 to 3 years clothes, he seems to be getting bigger every day. I desperately need to get Big Bear’s old 5 to 6 things down from the loft otherwise Little Bear will have nothing to wear. I feel as though I have only just put the 5 to 6 things up there but in reality Big Bear is wearing 9 to 10 now so I can’t have done.

How have my Bears got so big so quickly?

When Little Bear grows out of his clothes, I am giving them away to charity because I’m pretty sure I won’t have a use for them. However, I am not feeling that comfortable about waving goodbye to all the 3 and 4 year old stuff. It seems sad that my boys are not little enough for them anymore. Ditto the dressing up costumes. Little Bear does still squeeze himself into one occasionally but in reality they are half-mast and bursting at the seams. Soon they will need to find a new home too.

I am starting to see why people continue to have more children. It is sad to think that I won’t have pre-schoolers pootling around the place any more, with their chubby cheeks and vivid imaginations. Big Bear is getting all tall and stretched out. With his grown-up teeth and distinct lack of chubbiness I almost didn’t recognise him the other day, in head to toe football gear ready to go to evening training. A friend had her first baby this week, a boy, and I couldn’t believe that over 7 years had gone past since that was me. That time has passed incredibly quickly, especially the last 3 years of it. I feel as though someone has been holding down the fast-forward button.

I wonder if children grow up quicker now. Big Bear might only be 7 but he is very knowledgeable about the world. He has opinions on Donald Trump and Brexit. I wonder whether he seems older than he is because of it and if it makes time feel as though it has gone quicker than it should.

I have been relying on Little Bear to be the little one. The one I can still carry about and pick up and rub chubby cheeks with. However, he doesn’t seem to have got the memo and is rapidly growing up anyway. I think some of it comes back to the fact that we missed the first 3 and half years of his life. Everything has gone quicker. I only had him at home for a year before he started school. His developmental delay gave us a bit of a false feeling of him being littler than he really is but it has also meant that now he is in the right environment, he has flown through developmental stages far quicker than a child usually would. Nobody normally goes from wearing nappies, sitting in a high chair and barely being able to speak to starting school and working on phonics in less than a year. It makes time feel skewed and a little confusing.

I am so happy that Little Bear is progressing as he is, of course I am. But a little part of me does wish that both of them would stay little a bit longer.

This was the point, when Big Bear had started school that I started feeling I was ready to adopt. Part of me thinks it’s happening again, that my nest has emptied and I’m getting urges to fill it. However, despite Little Bear rapidly growing and progressing, he has only been here 14 months and he is nowhere near ready for another sibling. He still needs A LOT of time and energy and I don’t think it would be fair for anybody to try and make him share that time.

Big Bear is pretty settled with having a sibling now but that has taken time too. Yesterday he allowed Grizzly to bring his Hot Wheels track downstairs so that all three Bears could play with it together. That has taken 14 months. There are still lots of toys in his bedroom that he won’t share and his door remains locked. I think another sibling would undo a lot of the good progress he has made so family expansion is certainly not on the agenda for the foreseeable future.

Time is definitely needed for an adoption to “bed-in” and feel normal for all involved.

As time ticks by and we are moving through our second year of having Little Bear, it is nice to look back and know how things were for him at this point last year, rather than wondering how they might have been. In November 2015, Little Bear was here with us. Things were hard and I was not looking forward to Christmas. I had literally no festive spirit. I spent time wondering how things had been for him the previous year and the years before that. What had his experiences of Christmas been before? Had he ever been to see Santa? What presents did he get? How did he cope with the whole experience? Did he wake up really early? How would he cope now he was with us? Were we in for a rhetorical battering?

This November I can look back and think what a shame it was that I didn’t have any Christmas spirit last year. Our turning point came just before Christmas 2015 and in the event we had a really lovely time over the festive period. Little Bear coped well and his behaviour settled down. He started sleeping and we all felt much better. When I look back this year, I know that he was safe last Christmas. I know that he had a lovely time. I know that he was excited and experienced the wonder of it all. I know that he was loved and spent the festive time surrounded by family and fun. I know how he coped with different aspects of it and I will be able to approach this Christmas with prior experience. I won’t feel so much as though I’m making it up as I go along and as though I don’t quite know what to anticipate around each corner. Time has helped us in that way too. It will be nicer still when Little Bear has had more time with us than with others but we are a way off that yet.

Although I would like to press the pause button on the Bear’s childhoods, I would be lying if I said there weren’t moments/ days/ weeks when I’ve wished time away. In the early weeks I definitely spent a lot of time counting down until bed time. I would choose tasks/ activities that passed time with the least effort. I was shattered. I was missing out on 2 to 3 hours of sleep in the middle of each night and Little Bear was very challenging during the day. We needed to re-iterate rules and consequences over and over and over to show that we really meant it and the rules weren’t going to change and we were still going to be there no matter what. It was repetitive, challenging and sometimes gruelling work. It sometimes felt like an endurance event and the best way to face it was keeping things as easy as possible. Each day passed was another under the belt and (hopefully) one closer to some semblance of order.

Now that I have sufficient energy reserves to do so, I try to make the most of every snippet of time. I try to say yes to playing and ignore my phone. I try to take all the opportunities to develop Little Bear’s language, even if I don’t really feel like repeating a phrase for the 4th time or answering the 87th question of a car journey. I try to leave my jobs for later and give the boys my time. At the weekends, it is almost all family time. I’m all too aware that one day I will wake up and they will be 18 and their childhoods will be over. And if whoever it is doesn’t take their finger off the fast-forward button soon, that day will be here far sooner than I want it to be.

Time

October at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Here are all the best bits of the past month with the Bears:

Events:

I find that there aren’t that many events to report on during the school term as we tend not to get up to much after school, so it’s just the weekends. The first couple in the month seemed to be taking up with getting jobs done and maybe a trip to the park. A fortnight ago we had noticed a bit of a decline in Little Bear’s behaviour during the school week so decided to keep things easier for him over the weekend. We ditched the usual Saturday morning swimming lesson and cancelled an early evening party that he was supposed to be going to. We didn’t know the family who had invited him at all and given his behaviour at the time, it didn’t seem like a risk worth taking. Now that we were free from the confines of our commitments we decided that a family trip somewhere might just be what we all needed. It felt like ages since we had been anywhere different and I for one was excited at the prospect of just escaping for a while and having some quality time with my Bears.

We ended up driving out to Monkey Forest at Trentham Gardens. It’s quite far from us so we have never been before. It was great. The sun was shining, the leaves were beautiful. We ate pie and mash for lunch, had a little mooch in the shops then went for a walk around the forest where the monkeys are free to roam about. The Bears loved it, especially when the little ones jumped all spread-eagled from the bushes and the big ones chased each other, vying for a scrap. The boys rested in the car on the journey back and to, watching their DVDS and hubby and I were able to chat. The following day we took the bikes to the park and had some more family time. It felt like the perfect autumn weekend. Don’t tell anyone but I’d be up for ditching the commitments a bit more often…

Milestones:

We seem to have had a few firsts this month. Little Bear appeared in his first ever school assembly. It was a whole school one for Harvest but his class stood up and performed a song they had learned. It is very difficult for Little Bear to learn a song because there are usually a lot of words, they are not always clear because they are sung and the pace is often too fast for him. Other parents talked about their little one driving them mad singing the song repeatedly at home but we didn’t have any of that because he couldn’t. I had no real idea how he would be in an assembly because it involves a lot of sitting still and let’s face it, can be quite boring. However, he was a little star and I felt really proud watching him. Although he obviously hadn’t learned all the words, he joined in with the ones he knew and had made a sterling effort to learn the actions. His little face looked so proud and happy about performing and he was so animated in his gestures and dancing. He looked a lot happier to be there than some of his classmates and I couldn’t help thinking he was one of the best performers, despite the lack of being able to sing the song. Don’t worry I know that I’m a little biased.

Little Bear also had his first friend over to play. It wasn’t planned, his friend lives on the same road and playing outside led to a spontaneous invitation in. Apart from an over excited ending, most of the event went really well. Little Bear shared his toys and the two boys interacted really nicely, which bodes well for future play dates and shows us how grown up and sensible he is becoming.

Although the grandparents have picked Little Bear up from school before, they have never taken him out anywhere at that point, always bringing him home and looking after him here. He gets very tired which can lead to challenges with managing his behaviour so we tend to keep after school very low key to make things as easy as possible for him. However, my parents have been away quite a bit recently and wanted to get some quality time with each Bear whilst they were back. We decided to try them picking him up, taking him to their house, having a play and some tea then coming home and thankfully, it went really well. I don’t think we are quite ready for after school activities or clubs yet but it is a step in the right direction.

Talking of after school activities, Big Bear has had a first this month too. He decided he wanted to join a football club. He has been going to training after school for a while but they don’t play matches and he wants to be “a proper footballer” We had some anxieties about this because Big Bear is by no means heading for the premier league and we have found that some parents/ clubs take the whole thing very seriously. One child we know “plays” for a local club but spends the whole time on the subs bench. We didn’t want that for Big Bear because it’s demoralising and takes the fun out of it. He’s only 7, it’s great that he’s in to sport, but neither of us wanted it to be confidence sapping or a negative environment for him to be in. Grizzly did his research and we finally found a club that still had spaces and seemed good on paper. Big Bear has been twice now for training and he loves it. Grizzly is really pleased with the set up – the coaches are strict but fair and won’t accept any name-calling or unsportsmanlike behaviour (which unfortunately does seem to be quite widely accepted in children’s football) and they give each child the same amount of time on the pitch during matches, irrespective of skill level.

Big Bear is SO happy that he’s a signed up member of a team and can’t wait to get his kit. He also cannot wait to play in a match and for Little Bear to come and watch him.

Last weekend, we were invited to another party that would involve keeping Little Bear out late and up past his bedtime. This time it was a good friend who had invited us and the party was at her house. I knew that she would understand if things went awry or if we needed to leave early so it seemed a good event at which to try the staying out late thing. It was a fancy dress Halloween party with fireworks. Little Bear went in full dragon outfit with detachable tail and wings (obviously) and loved the whole thing. He was good as gold and despite me getting him ready for bed at their house he was wide awake all the way home as being out in the dark was just too novel and exciting. I don’t think I’d keep him out late often but it’s good to know that he can cope with it now, if the circumstances are right.

School:

Apart from a small blip for about a week, school has continued to go well. We had Little Bear’s parents evening just before term ended and it was a very positive conversation. They have seen fairly significant progress even within the 8 weeks he has been in school. He is doing really well with learning his phonics and his counting is coming along too. He finally mastered counting to 4 in the right order a couple of weeks ago and in this past week he has started getting to 10, pretty automatically. It is amazing how quickly his skills can progress, once all the right foundations are in place. He is already showing interest in what comes after 10.

A huge relief for me has been Little Bear’s behaviour in school and the fact that he has straight away accepted the teacher’s authority. Apparently he is largely co-operative and doesn’t even growl at them! Of course there are still things to be worked on: at the moment things like understanding physical boundaries/ not invading other’s space; not reacting by pushing/hitting/poking; and of course educational targets. However, all I can ask is that we are moving in the right direction and that I feel able to have frank discussions with school and that we are able to work effectively together. So far, I feel all of those things are in place.

It has been a long term for both Bears and they were both more than ready for half term when they finally finished last Friday. More about that next time…

Me, myself and I:

Last month I talked about filling my spare time and getting lots of house jobs done. This month things seem to have slipped a little on the home front because I have agreed to a few too many other things…

My friend, A, and I have been having fairly regular meet ups because she is currently off sick due to pregnancy complications. We decided to do some crafting, mainly for fun but also because it is therapeutic for her. When we were going through the adoption process, she gave birth to the gorgeous Lucas. Very sadly he arrived too soon, at 23 weeks gestation and though he put up a good fight, he only lived for 18 days. As I was off then too, we spent quite a bit of time together and made memory stones for friends and family with Lucas’ name on. The creative task was therapeutic for A and she went on to make Christmas decorations later in the year (I was kind of busy with Little Bear by then).

This year, she suggested we do some Christmas decorations together, over a cup of tea. What started out as a bit of a hobby to help pass the time and get her from one week to the next of her very stressful rainbow pregnancy, has well, grown out of all proportion. Over 200 orders later (generated from one Facebook post) and somehow having agreed to do 2 craft fayres, we both have Christmas decorations coming out of our ears!!

I also went a little blogging crazy during National Adoption Week and wrote a post for each day. I think it must have been first timer’s enthusiasm getting the better of me!

I also finally agreed to have some patterns shaved into the shaved part of my hair by a lady I met in the playground! It sounds foolhardy but it looked much better than it sounds (especially given that I’m not a teenage boy) and my new hairdresser is lovely. There are not many people who would shave patterns into a near strangers head without ever having done it before and without a plan of what it was going to look like. I liked her straight away.

I would sum up my actions in October by saying that I just kept agreeing to things but I’ve found that saying ‘yes’ can lead to some fun and fulfilling places. After years of automatically saying ‘no’, I think I might prefer ‘yes’.

Big Bear’s Mini Projects:

We’re still trucking as and when we can. We (I) have decided that we are going to home make all our Christmas decorations this year so that is mainly what we have been doing for our projects. Big Bear is very taken with the idea of the ones I’m making with A and has made some good attempts at helping me. He has also created some of his own. Here is some of our collection so far:

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I still cannot figure why it keeps putting the image sideways when it’s stored the right way up!! I apologise that you’re having to crick your neck!!

Project Home Improvements:

Nothing was happening and now everything seems to be happening. Isn’t that always the way? We seem to have a builder organised (though he has now been to our neighbour’s house twice in error and I have fears he will extend the wrong property). We don’t really understand what we’re doing with Building Regs but we think we’ve sorted that out (who knows?!) and we’ve had to move a load of big plants from the front garden to the back and cut a raised bed in half (harder than it sounds, it’s made of railway sleepers) to make space for the building work which could be happening imminently. I suspect I will get home one day soon and someone will be digging up my front garden. It is a good job we are used to chaos.

October at Adoption: The Bear Facts