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.

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Beginnings of Life Story Work

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