My 1 Year Blogversary

As with a lot of things I’ve done over the past year I started blogging entirely by accident. I wasn’t particularly active on any social media channels and although I was already an adopter, I had never thought of seeking support online. I had absolutely no idea that there was such an established and friendly community of adopters and fosterers on Twitter. I would probably have thought if I’d have considered it, that it would be difficult to get to know people and it would be full of trolling. I’m suspicious minded like that.

One day, just over a year ago, an e-mail appeared in my inbox offering an opportunity for adopters to become Social Media Champions. You could attend a training session and they would help you to start a blog etc. Having never harboured any desires to blog, the next thing I knew I was replying.

A few days later I got another e-mail saying there had been quite a bit of interest and unfortunately there were not enough spaces for everybody to attend. I had not been successful in getting a place. I was surprisingly disappointed: perhaps I really did want to be a blogger after all?

Not one to take no for an answer I decided to see if I could figure it out for myself. After a few mind-boggling evenings of googling and trying to decipher technical jargon, somehow Adoption: The Bear Facts was born. Since then I have written and posted in my blog every week and I absolutely love it.

One year in I still don’t think I’m a very technologically savvy blogger. My site is fairly basic and I don’t own my own domain. I probably don’t know about half the possible functions of my platform. I have managed to acquire a small group of followers and the lovely people of Twitter are always very kind with their liking and re-tweeting. I have taken some ginger forays into linkys but there is certainly more that I could do to improve my reach.

The thing is that the bit I really love is the writing. I think I’m a little bit addicted to it. Even on the few occasions when I have been organised enough to prepare a couple of posts in advance and I don’t actually need to write anything, I find myself still wanting to. If I can’t fall asleep my brain starts to “write” things. I have mentally written whole posts at 4am before then had to commit them to paper in the morning before I have forgotten them.

I find the writing very therapeutic. I think what it has done for me is allowed me to step outside of our adoption and family life in a virtual way. It helps me to inspect our dynamics and consider any difficulties from afar without actually leaving the house. It has metaphorically turned our lives into a small ball that I can hold out in my hand, in my mind’s eye, and inspect from any angle. When something happens that worries me or needs unpicking in some way, my first reaction now is to write about it. In doing so, I’m usually able to sort out my position and become clear in what should or should not be done.

It also turns out that I’m much better at expressing myself on paper than I am verbally. I am a talker but I feel more comfortable being really honest and talking about my feelings (especially if I’ve been upset) through my writing. I’m probably quite introverted really. I definitely prefer to solve my own problems, rather than letting others help me, which is something our Social Worker highlighted during our assessment. It wasn’t something I knew about myself prior to that as I do like chatting with people and would consider myself quite open. However, she observed that I tend to take more of a listening role and if I have a worry or concern, tend to keep that more to myself. She had some concerns that if I encountered difficulties once we had adopted I might not ask for help: a potential risk factor in any adoption.

Now that I’m aware of it I have to make conscious decisions to draft in a bit of help when I need to. My default is still to have a good analyse by myself though and that is where the blog comes in. I think it has allowed my family and friends a way of knowing how things are going and how we are feeling without me necessarily needing to actually tell them, which is of benefit to all of us. In sharing our ups and downs I often find out that somebody else has been through something similar and that is reassuring too. Many of us adopters are in the same boat.

I have always been a bit of a chronicler: I still have all my cringe-inducing hand-penned teenage diaries; but I’ve never written so others can read it. I like the fact that through my blog I’m building up a huge memory bank of the boy’s childhoods whilst hopefully, at the same time, raising awareness of issues that I consider important. I don’t think there are that many personal accounts of adoption out there, not in book form anyway. There are quite a few of us bloggers about now but as everybody’s experience of adoption is different, the more the merrier. It can only be a good thing to have enough writers out there to build up a really representative range of stories. I try to share ours with a positive voice.

Another issue close to my heart is speech and language difficulties; something that I feel continues to be poorly understood. As a Speech and Language Therapist and Mum to Little Bear who has Developmental Language Disorder, it is something that features quite often in my blog.

Did you know that over 1 million children in the UK meet the criteria for Developmental Language Disorder? Most people haven’t even heard of the diagnosis. In contrast, almost everyone has heard of Autism despite there only being about 700,000 children in the UK who meet that diagnosis. Developmental Language Disorder continues to be poorly understood, missed and misdiagnosed. It is extremely common in children labelled as having “behavioural difficulties” and amongst those who find themselves within the Youth Justice System.

For me, helping Little Bear to navigate school whilst he’s not able to tell me anything about what has happened when things have gone wrong for him, has made the need to raise awareness even more pressing. There have been occasions recently where I have felt he has been wrongly blamed for things because other children are more articulate than he is and he is not able to defend himself verbally. Thankfully his class teacher mostly understands his difficulties but other staff, such as dinner ladies do not and do not take his communication levels into consideration when investigating what has happened.

A well respected Professor in the field of Speech and Language Therapy, Dorothy Bishop (@deevybee) is currently raising funds to make an awareness raising film about Developmental Language Disorder. If you want to contribute or find out more about the project you can follow this link: Raising awareness of DLD

The only down side to blogging is that because I love the writing so much, I can sometimes get a bit lost in it. Sometimes I get my writing done but not my washing! It has also caused me to get ideas about writing becoming more than a hobby… You never know, I’ll have to see what the next year brings.

All that remains is to say a huge thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read or share or comment on any of my posts and especially those of you who read every single week. THANK YOU! I really do appreciate it and it stops me feeling like a little whisper in the wilderness.

 

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My 1 Year Blogversary

A Grown-up Weekend Away

I can’t honestly remember the last time Grizzly and I went away for a night without children. Certainly not once in the 17 months Little Bear has been with us and I think we had only been away a handful of times before that. Grizzly is away fairly frequently with work (though I’m not sure that really counts) and I have had one night away for a friend’s wedding reception.

The main reason we haven’t been away before now is because asking the grandparents to have our boys feels like a big ask. We know they don’t mind but we also know how much energy is required to look after them and keep them entertained. Little Bear’s behaviour can be unpredictable and if he’s having a bad day he can be really challenging to manage. Also, Little Bear tends to test the boundaries more with the grandparents so there is every likelihood that his behaviour could escalate when he is with them. Having never been away we also didn’t know how he would cope without us being there and whether that in itself might cause some issues.

However, recently I’ve been craving a night off. I have friends who do it all the time and I was getting a bit envious of the peace and quiet and lie-in they would be having. I find first thing in the morning the most challenging part of the day with the boys. I’m not a morning person and ideally need 5 minutes to lie in bed quietly before I get up and face the world. However, Little Bear always wakes me before my alarm and always with incessant chatter. He begins work on trying to get me out of bed immediately and if that doesn’t work makes other insistent demands such as asking me to get something or make something speak. I try all the tricks to get him to entertain himself for a few minutes or just lie quietly with me but I know that in reality he will keep this up, without pausing for breath, until I get up and feed him. Though I love him dearly the thought of one day off, one morning without the incessant chatter, was becoming increasingly appealing.

My birthday is in January and I made my wish to Grizzly that all I really wanted was 1 night off. Grizzly didn’t mention anything until a couple of weeks ago when he let slip that he had booked a hotel and started to make arrangements for the boys and that we would be away on the day of my birthday.

It was difficult to know what the best arrangements for the Bears would be. We plumped for splitting them up – Grizzly’s Mum would have Little Bear and my parents would have Big Bear. Big Bear would have a sleepover and Little Bear could stay at home where everything is more familiar. This should lessen the load for the grandparents though I was worried that Little Bear might be very unsettled by being away from us and from Big Bear. I felt he might pine for Big Bear but nobody lives far from anybody else so the grandparents could bring them back together if needs be.

I was also concerned that the boys might be upset that I was choosing to spend my birthday away from them. With that in mind we decided that we wouldn’t stay out long on the Sunday and would come back in time to have a bit of a party afternoon together.

My plan for the week leading up to the Big Weekend was to make the most of getting ready. I wanted to spend time trying on outfits, getting my nails done, having long pampering shower etc. It sounded idyllic and I’m sure it would have been had things gone to plan.

The week started ok. Both boys returned to school after the holidays and though I had a cold and felt under the weather I spent a productive day ticking things off my to-do list. On Tuesday I lost my temper with Little Bear before school as we were in a rush and he wouldn’t co-operate. I then went to meet a friend and the 5 minute journey took me 50 minutes. When I got home I attempted to wrangle with our intermittent internet connection to do an online shop when the phone rang. It was school. Big Bear had been sick could I come and get him?

As soon as I saw him I knew there was nothing wrong with him (daft look on his face) but it was the Head sending him home and as we went out the door he reminded me of the 48 hour rule. Bloody brilliant. I’m totally down with the rule but not when your child scoffs all their meals and is clearly fine.

On Wednesday I had to clear the front room ready for the builders. Later on, Big Bear and I walked the long way round to pick Little Bear up from school. The cat decided to follow us. At the furthest point from home she decided to stop following us. Figuring that her cat skills would lead her home we eventually carried on to school. What ensued was a missing cat situation and several hours of increasing concern, especially as the weather was awful. Grizzly and Big Bear finally found her much later, exactly where we had last seen her: clearly she has no cat skills at all.

On Thursday the shower broke.

What on earth was going on?! Would we even get away for the weekend at this rate? There certainly wasn’t going to be much pampering or trying on of clothes.

By the time I had packed for myself and Big Bear, got his football things ready and organised Little Bear for the party he was going to, made lunch for a friend and dinner for my brother, I was wondering how I would sustain enough energy for the weekend.

Saturday morning began badly because Big Bear’s football match was cancelled which apparently meant his weekend was ruined before it had even begun.

We were finally organised and child free by about 11 am on Saturday. I have to say that it was brilliant. We couldn’t really believe we were actually out together, on our own and we could do anything we wanted. We definitely made the most of it, including staying out past midnight. That last statement shows how little I get out!! I won’t bore you with the details, have a photo montage instead:

I loved every single second of it. I don’t think you realise how much you need some grown up time until you get it. I missed the boys though and enjoyed picking them some little treats and looked forward to seeing them in the afternoon.

Big Bear had been absolutely fine all weekend but his greeting to me was “the weekend has been awful!” He was fairly miserable all afternoon and unusually prickly with his brother. Little Bear had coped really well and behaved well too. Seeing us again seemed to unlock something though and he seemed a little overwhelmed. He was clingy and emotional for the rest of the day.

It wasn’t exactly the party atmosphere we had planned! I think perhaps that had been the wrong plan and maybe they just needed some closeness and 1:1 time with us.

Their reaction reminded me why we needed a break in the first place. We adore them but parenting is hard core and requires a significant commitment of physical, emotional and psychological energy. I don’t think I’ll wait another 2 years for a night off. Now, where’s my diary…

 

A Grown-up Weekend Away

Is creativity beneficial for children?

I recently read a blog post by @butterflymum83 entitled  Can Creativity Encourage Good Mental Health? . In it she talks about her need to have a creative outlet and how having one has helped her to combat Post Natal Depression. It was an interesting read and it made me think about my children and how using creative activities with them has had really positive outcomes too.

Although I consider myself to be a creative person and have always had some sort of creative outlet in my life, I wouldn’t say that either of my boys naturally are, despite having fantastic imaginations.

When Big Bear was small my parenting style was different to how it is now. Between the routine parts of our days I tended to follow Big Bear’s lead. If he wanted to run around dressed as Batman then we did. If he wanted to play Lego and get me to “make the man talk” then I did. I always offered creative activities as a choice but Big Bear rarely chose them. In fact he rarely chose anything that involved sitting at a table.

Fast-forward to last year when I now had two boisterous boys to entertain throughout the school holidays. I realised my parenting style had to change. It was impossible to follow two children’s leads at the same time, especially when one child needed close supervision and the other needed to know that my love and attention for him had not been usurped by his brother. Ideally I needed chunks of the day where both boys were in the same place doing the same thing so I could be with both of them. And to be honest, for my own sanity, I did want some quieter times when they weren’t both running around crazily.

The truth is: I have hoodwinked my children into crafting! I took to setting up activities at the kitchen table then calling both Bears to me. They would walk through the door, I would pop an apron over their heads before they even noticed and the next thing they knew they were sitting down getting creative. I quickly discovered that despite the activities not being of their choosing they both loved them anyway.

You can separate the kinds of activities we do into two broad categories: those where I provide the raw materials and the boys just go for it in a ‘creative free for all’ and those where there is a specific outcome that we are aiming for. I have found that both have their own merits.

Having a creative free for all

I mean activities such as painting, Play-Doh, Kinetic sand, decorating biscuits, glue and glitter, Lego without instructions etc.

I started with these activities for Little Bear because he didn’t have much experience of crafty-type things and following the rules was extremely difficult for him. These tasks have very few rules (mainly just staying on the messy mat) so there wasn’t much for him to oppose. They were fairly low risk for this reason and therefore there was a good chance of success for him. Also, most of them are very sensory and suited his level of play at the time.

Whilst a creative free for all was ideal for Little Bear, they were generally fun and accessible for Big Bear too. One of the first times the Bears played together properly they were making Play-Doh ice creams.

My main reason for loving a creative free for all is the huge opportunity for praise-giving that it provides. Because there is no aim or expected end-product, literally anything goes. Imaginations can run wild and free and even if they don’t, you can still say that whatever they produce is beautiful.

Thankfully both Bears are accepting of praise. That being the case I don’t really think it is possible to give them too much. A creative free for all allows you to praise how hard they are trying (my favourite thing to praise), how neat they are being, how expressive/ imaginative/ creative, how well they are sharing materials, how well they are concentrating. The boys seem to have picked up on the positive nature of the task and now take quite an interest in what the other has produced too. They praise each other’s creations which is lovely to witness. They don’t know it, but we are working on lots of other skills while we’re at it. Sharing is one that has improved significantly.

When we have created something we tend to take photos to send to Grizzly or The Grandbearants or we find some space to display it on the shelves. I think this helps the boys to take pride in what they have made and builds their confidence in what they are able to achieve. Little Bear often says “I didn’t know I could make that”.

Over time we have explored different materials such as Bunchems, spray chalk (outside) and most recently craft maize. The latter is our current favourite and kept them both busy for AGES the other day. In fact, the main problem I had was trying to get Little Bear to stop because we needed to go out. You just dampen the maize and it sticks to itself or paper or card. It’s unbelievably easy (I’m not exaggerating, I actually couldn’t believe it was that easy after looking very sceptically at it in the bag) and it doesn’t keep coming apart so has a low frustration factor, which is perfect for the little dude. I highly recommend it.

Creating something specific

I generally mean any creative task that has instructions: baking (I’m nowhere near capable of making it up as I go along); Lego sets; Hama Beads (though you can go rogue); craft kits etc.

I do think children need more of an attention span and a bit of resilience behind them to get creative in these ways. However, I also think that sometimes you have to just try stuff and if you show your child you trust them enough to have a go, they often rise to the occasion.

I remember asking Little Bear’s foster carers if they had ever tried baking with him. They laughed and said “he’s too busy for that” and in so doing wrote off a whole chunk of his potential.

Admittedly I didn’t try it straight away but after a few months when I did, he was far more compliant than usual because the task was so novel and exciting for him. I love the photo I have of him proudly clutching the tray of cookies he made.

Because most of these activities are fun for children I think they are a good time to practise listening to instructions. The motivation to complete the task usually helps with the listening part. Obviously we’ve had our challenging moments but I’ve generally found that the natural consequence of not being allowed to complete the task if you can’t be sensible with it seems to keep them on track.

Little Bear continues to find tasks with too many steps of instructions difficult e.g. building a Lego model but I think the practise is helping to build his resilience and attention span. Getting to the end of a task (even if it’s with help) seems really beneficial. Seeing the end result and being able to say “I built that” (or “I builded it by my own” to be more accurate) is brilliant for both Bear’s confidence and I feel encourages them to have more of a “can do” attitude when faced with other challenges.

 

Now that both boys are in formal education I’ve noticed that the curriculum doesn’t seem to allow much space for expressing yourself so it feels even more important to facilitate creativity at home. I also feel that having more of these tasks around and having gently nudged the Bear’s in the right direction with trying them, they are both much more likely to choose them of their own volition now. This has definitely helped with getting Big Bear off his IPad (I know there is a place for technology but I honestly feel that Big Bear’s growing addiction to it was making him sad). I think he is much better now at finding something to do and doing it, rather than wandering about moaning he’s bored.

The benefits of getting creative have been wide and far-reaching for us. Apart from anything else, we enjoy doing the activities together and that alone is reason enough to carry on. I am struggling to think of any negatives, apart from the tidying up and the stress of having to surreptitiously bin a creation or 3 every now and again to make space for new ones!!

I distinctly remember a little girl we know constantly getting told off for not colouring in the lines when she was very small. It really upset my belief in freedom of expression. Creativity should be all about what you CAN do and not at all about what you can’t. Who cares about the lines? Draw in them, on them and outside of them if you want to.

 

 

Is creativity beneficial for children?

Beginnings of Life Story Work

Little Bear has now been with us for 16 months but we are just in the fledgling stages of talking about his life story.

In the early days together Little Bear did not have enough language to ask any questions or to understand any explanations we might have tried to give about many things, least of all his complex start in life. We kept a photo of him with his foster carers, Karen and Bob (not their real names) in his bedroom as a starting point and as a way of showing him there was something else before us. He looked at it sometimes and we talked about Karen and Bob openly: about things Little Bear had done at their house; about things we had done when we first met him there; about whether he might be missing them. After a few months he would sometimes say that he was going to go back to them. I wrote about that phase in I’ll stay. No, I’ve changed my mind..

I think Little Bear has always understood that he is adopted, even if he didn’t necessarily know that that was the word for it. I think he knows he didn’t always live here and can certainly remember being at Karen and Bob’s. I don’t think he can remember anything before that. For the majority of Little Bear’s time with us, this has been the extent of his life story knowledge. He hasn’t asked many questions and just seems to accept that he lives here now.

About 6 or 7 months ago we received Little Bear’s Life Story Book. Although we had had our criticisms of his Social Work Team I have to give them their due and say that they’ve done a great job on his book. We are very lucky, not least because he actually has a book, but also because it is nicely personalised and his birth parents have provided quite a lot of photographs for it, including scan and baby pictures.

I remember feeling a little freaked out when I first saw the book. It was partly because it was the first time I had seen photos of his birth parents and stupidly I wasn’t prepared for that. It was also because we hadn’t yet dipped our toes into the life story pond and it felt as though the book itself might have dormant chaos-inducing powers that could manifest if Little Bear so much as looked at it.

Our social worker, ever direct and sensible, told us to stop shilly-shallying and get on with showing it to him. With her words ringing in my ears I plucked up the courage and showed Little Bear the book. If the book does have hidden powers they are on the blink because he couldn’t have been less interested in it. I tried again a few days later but got the same response. I left it out where he could get it if he wanted to but he never did. Occasionally I would say “shall we look at your special book?” but this was always answered with a definite “no”.

Hoping we weren’t causing some sort of deep-seated harm, we followed our instincts and followed Little Bear’s lead. If he didn’t want to look at the book, we wouldn’t make him.

A couple of months ago, not long after Little Bear started school, he learned which month his birthday is in and went around proudly relaying the information. One day when we were in the car, Little Bear asked Big Bear when his birthday is. Then, as he does, he asked “why?”. I explained that was when Big Bear had come out of my tummy. I can’t remember whether Little Bear asked or whether I just took the opportunity to explain that he had not come out of my tummy, he was adopted: we had chosen him. Then he asked “did I come out of Karen’s tummy?”. I said “no, you came out of a lady called Sian’s tummy” (not her real name). That seemed to satisfy him and he didn’t ask anything further.

Last weekend our friends and their new born baby came to visit us. Little Bear loves babies and was keen to be the first one to get a hold. The visit must have triggered something as Little Bear started talking about T, a baby who was in foster care with him and whom he really misses.

A day or so later, Grizzly and Little Bear were playing upstairs and came across his memory box under our bed. As memory boxes go, I think it might be a bit rubbish. There isn’t much in it, mainly clothes and some items of unexplained significance. However, there was a photo of Little Bear with his birth siblings. He was very interested in it, particularly the aspect of seeing himself as a baby.

The next morning, at 7am when he woke and came into out room, Little Bear went straight to his memory box to look for the photo again. He wanted to show me and talk about his “friends”. I explained they were his “tummy brothers” because they had come out of Sian’s tummy too. I then had to right the confusion I had caused by explaining that they hadn’t all been in there at the same time. I was able to tell him their names which Little Bear was very interested in and he tried to learn them. I told him that they were in foster care like he used to be.

Little Bear didn’t want to put the picture back in the box so I let him chose a special place to keep it where he could find it if he wanted to. He has visited it again since.

When we got downstairs I offered his Special Book and this time he was very keen to look at it. We looked at Sian and Joseph (birth father) and I got myself in a bit of a tangle over what I was calling them. I kept saying “tummy mummy and daddy” to make it a bit clearer for Little Bear but Grizzly was in the background reminding me we had agreed on “Sian and Joseph”. The problem with life story work is that it is often thrust upon you when you are least expecting it and as we are only at the beginning I’m not that confident with what I’m saying or how to explain things yet.

As usual Little Bear took everything in his stride. He was most interested in seeing himself and then his foster carers. He was very happy when he found Big Bear, Grizzly and I and we looked at photos of some of the fun things we have got up to together. Little Bear didn’t show any recognition of Sian or Joseph and didn’t ask anything about them.

The whole time we were looking at the book Big Bear was hovering behind Little Bear’s shoulder. He seems very unsettled by all of the life story work, particularly talk of Little Bear’s birth siblings. I think it makes his position as Big Brother feel wobbly. He didn’t say anything afterwards but I can tell he would rather we never had to look at the book again.

I feel relieved that Little Bear’s story is more “out there” now. There never were any secrets but his lack of interest meant we didn’t discuss things much and I am aware that some of his peers are much more conversant with their stories than he is. However, I also feel reassured that our approach of drip-feeding information as and when opportunities arise is the right one for Little Bear and that we should continue to follow his lead.

I’m sure in the future the inevitable “why” questions will crop up and no doubt they will catch us unawares. I hope that we are able to find the right words when they do.

Beginnings of Life Story Work