Life Story Work: Not Your Average Boob Chat

This is how I wanted to start this post: Little Bear is obsessed with my boobs. But you can’t really write that without inviting some very shocked reactions. I need to preface my starting statement by saying that Little Bear is intrigued by anything that looks like it might feel interesting, even keener to touch things I’ve told him not to touch and, well, little boys do seem kind of fascinated by boobs from a young age. I also need to clarify that I don’t actually let him honk them (despite regular attempts) and have a stock phrase of “we don’t touch people’s boobs, they are a private place” that I trot out every time because whilst I’m not keen on him going for mine, I certainly don’t want him grabbing anyone else’s.

So, now you know all that, you won’t need to freak out when I start the post proper.

Little Bear is obsessed with my boobs. I have generally been dismissing it as a sensory/ boy/ developmental thing but while we were on holiday I began to see there could be more to it than that.

One morning Little Bear and I were sat beside one another on the kitchen bench attempting to read his school book when he purposely face planted into my cleavage. Used as I am to these things, I didn’t bat an eyelid, extricated him and repeated my usual refrain.

“But I want some milk from your boobs Mum” he said. I explained there is only milk when you have a baby so I don’t have any now. “Did you have some for Big Bear?” he asked. “Yes, when he was a baby I did”.

Little Bear thought for a second. “Did my lady have some for me?” came the next question.

Aha. This was not your average random boob chat: this was Life Story Work. We haven’t had any chats of this nature since I wrote this post back in January: Beginnings of Life Story Work

We’ve decided to follow Little Bear’s lead in these matters, figuring that given his difficulties with language it is much better to give him information as and when he shows he wants it, rather than thrusting it upon him to fit our own agenda. As it had been so long since our last chat I wasn’t too sure how much he might have taken on board or remembered.

Evidently by asking “did my lady have some for me?” he did know that he had come out of someone else’s tummy at least. “Yes” I replied “Sian did have milk for you”. That’s not her real name and thank goodness it told me she had breastfed in the red book.

“Did she have some for the other boys too?” Little Bear asked next.

Ah, so he has taken on board the bit about having birth siblings too.

“Yes, I think she did” I tell him, “but not at the same time as you as they were bigger”.

“I wish Big Bear was my brother” comes the next nugget.

Big Bear IS your brother I reassure. I tell him how much Big Bear loves him and how much he loves Big Bear. “Do you wish you had come out of my tummy too?” I venture. “Yes” he says and throws himself onto my lap.

What can you say to this? I hold him tight and explain that I love him just the same as if he had been in my tummy. I tell him that there were lots and lots of boys and girls who needed to be adopted but that we chose him. “Why?” he enquired. “Because we love you and we wanted you” I say.

We have a huge cuddle.

This chat seems to satisfy the little dude for now and no further questions erupt from him, though he does proceed to suck my fingers as I won’t let him near the boobs.

I’m pleased he has shown such a good understanding of his life story so far. He definitely has the basics sewn up.

At the moment Sian seems to have taken on fictional character status for Little Bear. He doesn’t seem to remember her and I’m not sure he considers her to be particularly real or relevant at this stage, though this will surely change over time? I can foresee a point when he gets more intrigued by her and starts to wonder about why they were separated. Surely no adopter survives the journey without a “you aren’t my real mummy” thrown at them at some stage?

However, for now, Little Bear’s mind seems to be on belonging and checking that he is just as much mine as Big Bear.

Alongside this there has possibly been an increase in affection-seeking and clinginess though it is hard to tell as Little Bear is very cuddly in general. He is getting all the cuddles, carries, strokes and time on our knees as you could shake a stick at. As always we are trying to be scrupulous in making sure things are equal for the boys in all regards – physical, financial, material, time. Little Bear needs to know through our actions, not just our words, that he is loved just the same as Big Bear.

Little Bear has been telling each of us that he loves us frequently and perhaps this is an unconscious way of checking that we love him. We do tell him all the time (and I’m quite prone to randomly picking him up or smothering him with kisses while making a strange ooh noise and saying I just love you so much I could eat you!), so hopefully he knows we really do, but it is easy to see how the doubts could creep in for him.

It is the 2 year anniversary of Little Bear moving in for good this weekend and we aren’t too sure whether to make a fuss about it or not. On the one hand it is positive to celebrate it and to show him that his arrival and permanence has made us really happy. On the other, we are wondering whether too much fuss just serves to mark him out as different when, at the moment, he really just wants to be the same.

As is often the way, writing this blog has helped me to unravel things a bit and I think I’m drawing the conclusion that we might need a new tradition for coming home day. I have a kernel of an idea about a scrap book with a photo of us all and our handprints and maybe the height of the boys, which we could re-visit and update on that day each year. That way hopefully we are nodding to the significance of the day while focussing on our similarities and our identity as a family. I also think I will put the boys in matching t-shirts. Hmm, the cogs are still turning. I’d love to hear what anybody else does.

I’ll keep you updated about any further Life Story chats. No doubt they will take place completely at random and when I am least expecting it. I just hope the next one doesn’t feature my cleavage quite so heavily!

 

Life Story Work: Not Your Average Boob Chat

Reflections on Adoption 2 Years In

One year ago I wrote Reflections on Adoption One Year In. Somehow or other an entire annum has passed since and here I am again on the second anniversary of meeting my littlest bear, looking back, reflecting, analysing and considering what has changed.

I have been ruminating on this post for a while and knew that I wanted to somehow break adoption down into specific areas so that I could comment on each bit. I recently happened upon an article which has helped me to do just that. It was an article by Beacon House explaining the Neuro Sequential Model of Therapeutics as devised by Bruce Perry. It tells us that thinking solely about attachment is too narrow: it doesn’t reflect all the aspects of a child that are impacted by having a traumatic start in life. In fact there are 7 key areas and they develop sequentially (giving parents and therapists a structure and order for working on trauma). I have decided to take those 7 areas of Developmental Trauma and use them as a basis for talking about Little Bear and how things have changed for him (and consequently us) over time.

In my weeks and weeks as a blogger I haven’t ever written about Little Bear being ‘traumatised’. He hasn’t been physically abused or subjected to awful experiences. He hasn’t moved about much compared to some care-experienced children. As such I have always felt a bit unsure about the use of the word ‘trauma’ in reference to him, especially in comparison to other adopted children’s horrific backgrounds. However, what I have now come to understand is that being removed from your birth parents, whatever the circumstances that led to it, is traumatic. Equally, being removed from the Foster Carers that you have come to know and love (irrespective of the rights or wrongs of how well they did or did not care for you) is traumatic. Importantly, being neglected is in itself a significant developmental trauma.

For this week, the second anniversary of Little Bear’s arrival in our lives, I am going to consider his progress against trauma.

Somatic/Sensory

This is the place where extremely traumatised children reside: a constant state of fight or flight. Some children cannot move beyond this without appropriate therapy.

We were lucky that Little Bear never solely functioned at this level. He could certainly be triggered into this place easily and always reacted with fight mode. That has undoubtedly changed over time: Little Bear is generally happy, settled and not fearful now. He can still be triggered into fight/flight though and I can’t help feeling there is a close link with his communication difficulties here. If you cannot defend yourself verbally and if others exploit that, it would be easy to become anxious, defensive and consequently triggered. Therefore it is usually with his peers that fight mode arises.

Little Bear did have impaired sleep patterns (I didn’t know this was a sign of trauma at the time) which I’m very happy to say have fully resolved.

Impulsivity is another sign of needs in this area. Little Bear was certainly extremely impulsive when he first arrived. Overall I would say he has made excellent progress with this. He can control himself much better now and tends to tell me if he’s tempted to do something he knows he shouldn’t. I do find that his ability to stop himself from doing it varies depending on how he is feeling. If he is dysregulated he is far more likely to go with the impulse. Little Bear’s awareness of danger has improved hugely though and I think that has helped him to have fewer inappropriate urges e.g. to touch something sharp/ hot/ unsanitary etc.

Little Bear also has an active conscience and is now (sometimes) tuned in to how his behaviour might impact on others e.g. his brother and is able to stop himself from doing something if he thinks it might upset Big Bear, even if he really wants to do it. This is probably one of the biggest signs that he is generally functioning in his ‘thinking brain’.

Attachment

Last year I wrote about how our attachment could still feel brittle at times and that we would take a few steps backwards if I didn’t spend enough time with Little Bear. I would now describe us as having a consistently close and loving relationship. I haven’t noticed the regression feeling recently, perhaps because I am available to him most of the time (I only work during school hours) and if anything Little Bear can be quite clingy to me now. He hasn’t been well recently and at those points he is all about keeping me close. I sometimes feel as though he is trying to make up for the fact that we never had an actual umbilical cord!

I have to do far less acting and do genuinely enjoy spending as much time as I do with him. He is quite the comedic little buddy.

The dynamic within our family of 4 feels healthy and balanced now (most of the time). I have written about the changes in the relationship between the 2 Bears in Brothers.

Last year I wrote about Little Bear being quite rejecting of his grandparents. That has changed loads over the past 12 months and I would say he enjoys a close relationship with all three of them too. There is less of a gap between his behaviour with us and with them, where he used to test their boundaries far more. I think he trusts them now and understands their not-everyday but consistent role in his life. In fact, he has even slept over at my parents and not only did they live to tell the tale (!) but it went well.

Little Bear is friendlier in general and often plays with children he hasn’t met before at parks etc. instead of pretending they don’t exist.

All of that said I suspect that the testing of boundaries continues with those whom he is less attached to e.g. teachers and I would be very reluctant to leave him with anyone who didn’t know him well.

Emotional Regulation

I think we saw the most progress in this area during the first year when Little Bear went from being a little ball of rage to mostly calm and happy. In general I would say that Little Bear’s emotional regulation is fairly good. He experiences a range of emotions, as we all do, and is making ongoing progress with expressing how he feels with words. Although he can be stroppy, I wouldn’t say that he shows extremes of emotion any more.

Behavioural Regulation

This is probably the main area in which we have experienced difficulties.

As with all aspects of Little Bear the progress he has made with his behaviour has been incredible but if there is one thing that is going to slide, it is generally this. Little Bear knows right from wrong in most situations and he can often verbalise what you want him to do or not do but if he’s dysregulated he just cannot co-operate. The flash points are usually when he’s hungry, tired or not feeling well and he can get quite out of control.

These days we are much more tuned in and can often pinpoint what is causing it fairly quickly and can help him to regulate. He is not yet able to identify things like his own hunger in order to self- regulate. If he is in the process of catching germs there is not much we can do and we sometimes puzzle over what on earth is going on with him until a few days later when the illness hits.

There are times when Little Bear is dysregulated that he does try to hurt us or himself. It is usually in a fairly low–level way: scratching, hitting, maybe a kick. At the time he wants to do it but afterwards he feels bad and usually, day to day, he would be upset if he hurt us even by accident.

This is the thing that most concerns me for the future. I hope that he is able to overcome his difficulties with regulation because a teenager or young man who sometimes wants to hurt you (or himself) is a very different prospect from a skinny 5 year old.

Self-esteem

I think that this is an area where Little Bear’s difficulties have come more to the fore over his second year with us. It was probably harder to notice them before because we were focussed on the big, hard to ignore behaviour stuff. I wrote a bit about how Little Bear’s lack of self-belief impacts on his ability to learn in Jigsaws. When it comes to most sitting down tasks Little Bear’s default position tends to be to assume that he can’t do it. He seems to put a lot of pressure on himself and if he cannot do something immediately e.g. stick a Lego brick where it needs to go, he becomes quickly frustrated and will sabotage the task or launch it across the room. He will often say “I’m rubbish” at x, y or z. This has a fairly major impact on school-style learning and is something we are working hard on at the moment.

Thankfully Little Bear tolerates and in fact thrives on praise so we are able to build him up, reassure, point out strengths and celebrate successes. We have to ensure we do this to keep Little Bear engaged with tasks otherwise he will withdraw and consequently feel worse about himself.

I hope that I am able to look back in another year and say that his confidence is going from strength to strength.

Dissociation

I can honestly say we haven’t experienced any issues in this area.

Cognitive Problems

Little Bear’s difficulties with information processing, memory and problem-solving are well documented throughout my blog. I’m guessing that the very fact I have been talking about it so much is a good sign: Little Bear must have made good progress in his limbic and brain stem development (the first 4 areas described above) or he would not be learning at all. Children with high levels of developmental trauma often have many needs in those areas and are not yet developmentally able to use the cortex or thinking part of their brain as their brain is stuck in survival mode.

Whilst Little Bear is learning at a rapid rate, he does experience difficulties commensurate with requiring additional funding and support at school. Over the last year observing his ability to overcome these barriers has been one of my biggest joys.

At the start of school Little Bear’s Auditory Memory skills were poor – he could remember 2 to 3 items at best and it held him back from being able to count or learn blending skills for reading. He is now reading, remembering 6 word sentences and counting almost to 20. If we help with number 15, he can then get to 30. The post about jigsaws shows how rapidly his problem-solving can progress if the right support is in place.

In the early days, Little Bear couldn’t engage with Duplo. He couldn’t make a man sit in a Duplo bus without losing his temper. This week he has completed a Lego City model (recommended age 5-12) admittedly with help but he understood the instructions, could search for and locate the pieces and could add them appropriately to the model. He focused, overcame his urges to break it up and completed the whole aeroplane in one sitting. It was so lovely to watch him succeeding.

So there you go Trauma, we are slowly but surely kicking you to the curb.

After two years as an adopter I continue to be challenged but mainly in a good way. The more experienced I become, the more aware I am of what I don’t know – I have ordered 2 books to fill some gaps during the writing of this post! I continue to adore my Bears and despite the harder days remain thankful that we chose to embark on this adoption adventure.

 

I have just done a quick straw poll of the other Bears to see what they think has changed over the past year:

Grizzly: Little Bear’s language. It has come on loads and he is much calmer and more chilled out now.

Big Bear: I think his behaviour’s changed: he’s a good boy, aren’t you mate?

Little Bear: I think I’ve got more toys.

 

*I apologise if any of the theory in this post is not quite right, it is very much written in my words, not the words of Bruce Parry.

**Though I’m desperate to include Little Bear’s opinions in my blogs, I’m not sure he’s quite up to answering my complex questions yet

Reflections on Adoption 2 Years In

Summer Holiday Activities

 

Keeping two boisterous boys (see  Raising Boisterous Boys ) busy during the long holidays is not always easy, especially when they keep getting ill and we are stuck at home. This year I’ve got my organisation on and have a few tricks up my sleeve. Here are some of our favourite activities so far, fully road tested by both Bears.

Build a Mini Garden (AKA Fairy Garden, but don’t tell the boys)

This gets my full marks in terms of length of time it kept them busy and the fact that it is continuing to give entertainment days later.

You need a bit of forward planning to build a mini garden. Firstly decide what you want to plant in – I went for washing up bowls as they were 99p and seemed the perfect shape and size. I also found items we might need to fill the gardens with such as some mini houses (actually miniature alcohol bottles from a flight Grizzly went on a few years ago!) and small creatures/ people/ furniture. I got most things from a charity shop trawl and from rummaging amongst the little toys the boys have acquired over the years.

I took the boys with me to choose their plants. We went for succulents – some that are flat ground cover which make good grass and others that look like mini exotic trees. Big Bear got a Sage plant too which makes a good tree.

IMG_7778I set everything up outside for them and apart from helping them with planting, let them have free reign. Here is what they created:

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Little Bear’s is like the Amazon Jungle and Big Bear’s is very neat and orderly. I was really impressed with their creativity and how much they enjoyed it.

We planted some cress too so they have been able to check their garden each day and watch it grow and change. Little Bear loves giving his a squirt with the water spray. Cress is super easy to plant and grows quickly so they have been able to observe changes already.

A really lovely activity, everyone needs a mini garden in their life I reckon!

Marbling

This is up there as one of Little Bear’s favourite activities of all time. All you need is a bowl (we used the washing up bowls before we planted gardens in them), about an inch of water and some marbling inks. I got ours from Baker Ross but I think you would find them in any craft shop. The inks aren’t cheap (about £5.99 I think) but we’ve already had 2 big marbling sessions and we’ve got plenty left.

IMG_7768You just put a couple of drops of ink into the water and either let it disperse by itself or blow it or stir it to mix the colours. The boys loved this (we used wooden kebab sticks for mixing) and although they were probably a bit over liberal with the ink it did keep them entertained for ages. When you are happy with the mix in your bowl, float a piece of paper or card on the surface of the water. When you lift it out after a couple of seconds, it will be covered in amazing patterns like this:

 

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In the end we had to stop because the whole table was covered and we had run out of drying space. The boys were not bored and would have merrily carried on. We would highly recommend this for all ages.

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*Just be careful to cover surfaces and clothes as the inks do stain.

Decoupatch or Decoupage

 

This is Big Bear’s favourite activity. Little Bear doesn’t like this one – he seems to be hypersensitive to the feeling of glue on his hands.

Decoupage is basically just gluing paper so you can do it on any surface. So far we have stuck to the shaped cardboard models you can get from craft shops or Rymans. You can buy decopatch paper and glue from those shops too. We have tended to cut our paper up into squares before we start but I think you could use any shape or rip the paper as you went depending on the look you wanted. You just paint glue onto the surface you want to cover, place the paper on and glue over the top. You can overlap pieces so that the whole thing ends up covered. It is fairly quick to cover a small object and there is something very satisfying about it as long as you don’t mind sticky fingers. It doesn’t really matter how neat or messy you are it still ends up looking good. Here are our latest offerings:

Tissue Paper Transfer Art

I like this activity because it involves water and Little Bear especially loves getting stuff wet. However, I was a bit unimpressed with the results and definitely think this is more for people who like a pastel or subtle look.

You need a water spray, matt paper (shiny paper won’t absorb the colour in the way you need it to) and a range of colours of tissue paper. Cut the tissue paper into whatever shapes you want. We used squares for ease but I have seen it done with strips or hexagons on Pinterest (I don’t know about anyone else but I haven’t got the time or energy to cut out hundreds of hexagons!). 

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Your child can cover the paper in the tissue shapes by squirting it/them to make them stick. You need to let the whole thing dry then you can peel off the tissue paper. Underneath you should have an abstract picture made from the transferred colour of the tissue paper. We were a bit underwhelmed when we peeled ours back. This is how they looked:

As you can see the greens and blues seemed to work best. Black didn’t appear to work much at all. As I said I think this is great if you like pastel shades and the task is quite fun and will fill 20 minutes or so.

 

We prefer a more vibrant look though and liked how our pictures looked before we peeled the tissue paper off. That led us to another idea: why not create a hybrid of this activity and decoupage? You get your very own stained glass window:

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Mostly free local activities

I have been paying much more attention this year to what is happening locally during the holidays and have discovered that the library, local museums, our local craft shop and our country park all offer a variety of sessions during the holidays. Many are free or have a nominal fee. We haven’t tried any of the craft sessions as we like to get crafty at home but they look good and would be a good compromise if you don’t fancy a messy house.

Instead we booked on to pond-dipping which I thought would be a bit different for the boys. We passed a lovely hour and half dipping our nets and swirling about in the water. The most exciting thing we found was a large newt. We also found baby newts who still had their gills and lots of water boatmen – it turns out they swim one way up and walk the opposite way up when on land. Who knew?

The Ranger was really laid back and full of information, so much so that we’ve booked onto bug-hunting for later in the holidays. It’s brilliant that you can do it all for free.

Wet Wipe Tie Dye

Anyone else who hit their teenage years during the 90’s might also remember staining their parent’s kitchen sink trying to perfect the ultimate tie-dye on their t-shirt. As much as I loved it at the time I am a bit too precious about my lovely grey sink to let the children loose with dye in it now. I was excited then when I discovered on Pinterest that you can tie dye with a lowly wet wipe. Honestly. You really can and it actually works:

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All you do is pinch your wet-wipe in the centre and squash it into a sausage shape. Twist your sausage a few times then secure it in two or three places with elastic bands. Using any chubby felt pens, colour each section a different colour. Remove the bands and voila.

I have to admit I haven’t tried this with Little Bear but Big Bear was suitably impressed with it.

Science Experiments

When Big Bear was smaller he used to love doing ‘experiments’ which involved various containers, water, food-colouring, sugar and salt and him just mixing and pouring things. That won’t quite cut it now so we have branched out into those science sets you can buy.

We had a lot of fun one holiday doing a volcano one. This time we have had a go at growing our own crystals (I think I got the set from The Works). I’m not going to include a photo as I’m pretty sure the results are pitiful, however, I honestly don’t think that the results always need to be amazing for the children to enjoy it. My two get very excited as soon as they don their goggles (wearing the gear is part of the fun) and take their part in measuring or adding or stirring very seriously.

Chemistry was never my strong point but something has definitely happened in our dishes. The boys are enjoying looking into them each day and noticing any changes so I’ll take that as a success. Plus I’m sure the massive crystals on the front of the box were falsely advertised. Ahem.

Hama Beads

I’m pretty sure I’ve written about Hama beads before but they are still up there as a favourite with both Bears. Big Bears works with the standard sized ones and Little Bear with the maxi ones. Big Bear has this book:

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We decided to get adventurous and try to build something 3D this time. I think perhaps we aimed a bit high and maybe this would be better for someone a little older (Big Bear is 8 now) or with a better concentration span as I ended up building 3 of the sides. However, we did manage it in the end and Big Bear was very pleased with our creation:

The book has lots of easier ideas like keyrings and coasters too so we might try something simpler next time.

Little Bear has completed lots of the kits that are available in the maxi size (dog, car, dinosaur, owl) and has moved on to freestyling and making pieces such as these:

It always amazes me that the boys will sit still long enough but they do and they really enjoy it. Hama beads are great for fine motor control and Little Bear has been experimenting with patterns too: a fun activity that ticks lots of other boxes.

 

That is our top 8 so far. Feel free to comment or suggest other things, there are still a lot of days to fill!

 

Summer Holiday Activities