The Other Parents

I realised the other day that I am completely unsociable when it comes to the parents in Little Bear’s class and, unfortunately, I think it has to be that way.

Having already done the school-mum-thing with Big Bear I know that it can be fine. It’s all very awkward to start with as everyone tries to get the measure of each other and you try to suss out who might be potential friends. Now that he is in year 4 I have reached a comfortable place with the other parents from his class. I have one proper friend, who I hang out with outside of school events but if I happened to be sat next to pretty much any of the other parents for some reason (excepting one or two) I would feel comfortable chatting. I would know a little about their family and vice versa. There wouldn’t be any awkwardness. I don’t think there would be any topics I would be actively avoiding.

I’m probably not the most sociable of parents within the playground in general – I don’t like playground gossip or competitive parenting. I also don’t drink so I’m not fussed on a boozy night out. But I have been to quiz nights, craft fayres, meals, make up and jewellery parties along the way and have built up comfortable alliances. I suppose I know where I’m at amongst that group of parents and everything is tickety-boo.

Now over a year into Little Bear’s schooling, I am finding things with the year 1 parents quite different. I haven’t really built any friendships and tend to keep myself to myself. I realised it the other day when standing alone, feeling a little conspicuous, waiting to pick the little dude up. Why? I wondered. Why am I holding back and purposefully avoiding eye contact? Why aren’t I even engaging in a bit of chit-chat?

I mentioned it to my friend when I was away at the weekend and she said “I think its self-preservation love”, in that way that old friends who know you better than you know yourself can. I’m pretty sure she’s right. I don’t think it is just because Little Bear is adopted, though that is part of it. I think it is also a lot to do with the fact that he has emotional and behavioural difficulties and is not without his educational challenges. Relationships with other parents are certainly more of a minefield when it is your child who is disrupting the class.

I have been in the playground long enough to know how these conversations go. You start chatting about the one thing you know you have in common: school. Inevitably someone asks someone else how their child is getting on. You can try to be generic: “they’re tired” you can say, “It’s a big jump to year 1”. But it is never long before things get more specific. “Yes, it’s a nightmare trying to get all their homework done now they have phonics books isn’t it?” And already you have a problem because your child doesn’t have a phonics book yet. You are faced with the choice of lying in a nodding and smiling kind of way or ‘fessing up. But if you go down the fessing up route it is inevitable that you have to start talking about your child’s needs and how they got them.

I don’t want to discuss Little Bear’s needs with all and sundry. I don’t want parents of children he is in class with to know about his difficulties in any detail. I don’t want to tell them he’s adopted.

However, if you go down the nod and smile route you can never move beyond the superficial.

I am not against discussing Little Bear’s needs per se – I talk to many of my friends about them and obviously I blog about them for the whole internet to see (it’s different, its anonymous) but I want to build up a certain level of trust with somebody new before I go into that kind of detail. I need to know that I can trust them to be discreet and not make Little Bear the talk of the playground. It is very difficult, I am finding, to develop that level of trust with the parents in his class prior to the types of discussion I outlined above. It’s all a bit chicken and egg so I think the easiest thing is to hold back and not enter into these situations in the first place.

All of this is notwithstanding the behaviour. Little Bear tends not to come home and tell me all about what has happened at school, though I hear the most sensational bits when I get called in by his teacher. However, I’m sure that most other children in his class have more advanced language skills and are only too happy to inform their parents of what antics the other children have been up to. I’m also pretty sure that Little Bear’s name, amongst a couple of others, will feature fairly frequently.

I can’t help but wonder, while standing alone in the playground, what the other parents must think of me. Unless they are particularly well-informed about trauma and speech and language difficulties I can only assume that they think Little Bear is naughty. I imagine that most people would then make the not very big leap that his behaviour could well be due to our parenting. Perhaps I am being a little paranoid but I don’t think so, its human nature to wonder and cast aspersions. I can only imagine the conversations that have gone on behind closed doors.

Though I am well-informed about behaviour and the whys and wherefores, if I’m very honest, I don’t think I am entirely comfortable with being the mum of ‘the naughty boy’. I think if the truth be told no parent would want that, for them, or their child. It feels very exposing.

In fact, my avoidance of the other parents has fanned out from the playground and now incorporates out of school events such as parties. I hate taking Little Bear to parties. To start with I was all keen and dutifully took him along to everything but I have quickly lost my enthusiasm.

The problem with parties is that because I am all too aware of Little Bear’s behaviour challenges I don’t take my eyes off him. Other parents pay little heed to their children though and therefore don’t witness what I witness. They don’t see their little darling goading Little Bear or winding him up. They just hear A LOT about it when he finally snaps and thumps them. The children themselves see fit to come and tell Grizzly or I what Little Bear has done and deny their part in the event, even though we have seen it with our own eyes. The children are quick to blame him, too quick. They know he gets himself in bother and therefore it is easy to blame him. People (their parents?) think he’s naughty anyway.

We went to one party and I had to leave in the end because steam was practically coming out of my ears. There was nothing enjoyable about seeing my boy in such a no-win position. I didn’t want him in that situation and I didn’t know what good would come of it.

Grizzly thought I was a bit mad and over-reacting so I suggested he be in charge of taking Little Bear to the next party. He was and suffice it to say that we haven’t agreed to any invites since.

The no-show at parties is probably doing little to help my position with the other parents. No doubt they think I’m aloof and unfriendly, as well as bad at disciplining my child.

I do try to smile at people to balance things out.

In Little Bear’s class there are (strangely) 4 other sets of adopters. You would think that I might find solace in that group. I am friendly with one of those Mums but that relationship grew because we are neighbours and knew each other way before the dawn of the school situation. I began to get friendly with one of the other adopters when the children first started school and although his child does also have some difficulties with his emotion and behaviour regulation, he does not struggle academically, something which his Dad likes to make clear to me. I find competitive parenting difficult at the best of times, not least when you haven’t a chance of being in the competition.

I don’t want it to sound as though I am only able to be-friend other parents of adopted children with SEN. That certainly isn’t the case. Many of my friends who have grown their families through conception and whose children have no difficulties at all are extremely understanding and supportive towards me/us. In fact, you don’t need to have had children at all to understand that navigating Little Bear’s school life could be hard. You just need to be human and empathetic.

The thing is that many of the parents in Little Bear’s class could be just that. If I tried to talk to them and make them understand, they might well. They haven’t done anything wrong. Although I’m not breaking up with anybody, I do feel the urge to say “it’s not them, it’s me”.

It is me. I’m holding back. It’s self-preservation. Because having a child with a range of needs is tough enough. I haven’t the energy to test the relationship waters or overcome the myriad of possible issues with the other parents. It is bad enough standing there with baited breath at the end of each day wondering whether I will hear the most feared five words from a teacher in playground history: Could I have a word? And if I do hear that, I need to steal myself for whatever issue has occurred now, pretend that no one has noticed I’ve been called in again and gather my thoughts so I can respond in a contained and constructive way.

I’m like the playground armadillo – I look cold and unfriendly but my shell is just for protection.

 

 

 

 

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The Other Parents

Developmental Language Disorder

As both a Speech and Language Therapist and Mum to a boy with Developmental Language Disorder (DLD) this is a subject close to my heart. This week is DLD Awareness Week and tomorrow, the 22nd September 2017 is DLD Awareness Day. Through this blog I want to make a small contribution to raising awareness of this poorly understood condition.

Although DLD has been recognised as a condition for a long time, its name is new. The condition has previously been known as Language Disorder or Specific Language Impairment (SLI) but everybody used the labels differently and the lack of consistency wasn’t helping with making people aware of it. There is currently an awareness raising campaign taking place which is brilliant. There are more children in the UK who meet the criteria for DLD than there are children with Autism but nobody has heard of the former. This equates to 2 to 3 children in every class with a condition that is poorly understood and under-identified. I’m not quite sure what us Speech and Language Therapists have been doing wrong but I’m pleased that there is now a big push to raise the public’s awareness.

As part of the campaign a video has been made. You can watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/user/RALLIcampaign

You can also tweet about it using the hashtags: #DLD123 #DevLangDis

There are 3 key messages that are the focus of the awareness raising campaign:

  1. DLD means that a child (or adult) has difficulties with understanding and/or using language
  2. DLD is a HIDDEN condition but is surprisingly common.
  3. Support can make a huge difference to children with DLD

In order to bring these messages to life, I would like to share some of my son (Little Bear)’s journey.

  1. In simple terms, Little Bear experiences difficulties with both understanding and using language. This visual produced by Susan Ebbels is helpful in giving more detail:

FullSizeRender (10)

Little Bear experiences (or has experienced) difficulties with every area in the peach circle including Phonology. If you want to know more about his journey, the specific types of difficulty he has overcome and some of the things we have done to help him, you can read about it in these previous posts:  Living with Speech and Language Difficulties , Speech & Language & School, A bit of a rant, SaLT, EP & an Assembly, Communication Difficulties: Update

As part of the awareness campaign, the diagnostic criteria for DLD have been clarified. Crucially, for us, early neglect is not an exclusionary factor. This fits with my growing hunch that Little Bear was always going to have DLD but that his early adverse life experiences have served to deepen his difficulties.

2. DLD is a HIDDEN difficulty but it does show itself if you know what to look for. It is crucial that teachers in particular are able to see beyond ‘challenging behaviours’. A world in which you cannot understand much of what is happening around you and you are unable to verbalise your thoughts, fears and ideas is scary and frustrating. It is no wonder that many children with DLD express themselves through their behaviour. In general people need to get better at looking beyond behaviour – what are the child’s reasons for behaving as they are? In our case (and many other cases up and down the country) trauma could be at play too.

Children with DLD may not put up their hand in class, they might struggle to complete their work and their learning may not be progressing as you would expect. They may struggle in particular with literacy.

If you speak to somebody who is taking a bit longer to answer you or who doesn’t seem to be following your conversation or who is confusing to listen to, they might have DLD. Give them more time. Don’t worry about having a big pause – they might need that time to think. Try to keep your language clear. It doesn’t matter about flowery language – cut to the chase. Say what you mean. Your conversation will get much easier.

Children with DLD are not un-intelligent. Little Bear has the potential to learn many things but the way they are explained to him is crucial. He can struggle with too much or very complex language but if you can explain a complex concept to him in an accessible way, he will understand it. We have recently had chats about hurricanes, electricity and endangered animals and he is a sponge for knowledge if it is presented in a DLD friendly way.

3. The best message from our story is that support really does make a massive difference. A diagnosis of DLD is not hopeless. Despite having been neglected for the first 3 years of his life and having very poor language stimulation during that time, Little Bear’s language skills have gone from strength to strength with the right input. It is never too late to put support in place.

Of course Little Bear’s difficulties are ongoing but he is progressing all the time. He has gone from using 3 to 4 word sentences to full, compound, complex sentences.

His vocabulary has grown from a miniscule hand full of words to a wide and fairly ordered plethora. Although words do still have difficulty getting stored correctly and sometimes jumble together (Numicorn for unicorn (Numicon + Unicorn) or chicken yoghurts (nuggets + yoghurt)), Little Bear is getting better all the time at being able to analyse the parts of words and can mostly imitate them correctly now.

Little Bear’s grammar is not bad, though the order can be jumbled. We usually have one target on the go at a time. At the moment we are working on ‘bigger than’ instead of ‘bigger of’ which Little Bear is grasping and using appropriately.

Little Bear’s speech has gone from being completely unintelligible to just a few vowel and more common errors such as ‘v’ for ‘th’.

His awareness of the sound patterns in words has gone from non-existent to being able to say the first sound to being able to blend sounds together to being able to read.

This level of progress in a two year period is fairly transformational. He doesn’t sound like the same child any more.

The progress has meant that making friends is much easier and things like being able to sing are becoming a possibility (it is still a challenge but Little Bear tries very hard and repetition of songs is really helping him). Little Bear has learned lines and spoken in a class assembly. He can speak on the phone and family members can understand him and have a proper chat.

 

Little Bear’s DLD will be ongoing. It will probably affect him into adulthood but this doesn’t keep me awake at night because I have seen the progress he can make with support. I have every intention of keeping the support going and although DLD will always be a part of him, it needn’t stop him. With the right support, he will be able to reach his full potential.

 

 

Please share, use the hashtags and watch the video. We need to put DLD on the map. Perhaps you know someone who experiences it?

Developmental Language Disorder

The Glamorous Side of Parenting

First of all I have to apologise unreservedly to any eager folk who have clicked onto this blog post hoping for some sort of parenting panacea which could lead to glamour. There isn’t one. I was being sarcastic. There is officially no glamourous side to parenting whatsoever. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is an extremely unglamorous side to parenting.

Nobody tells you this when you make the decision to procreate, foster, adopt or travel whichever other route you decide upon to reach parenthood, but I will tell you. Sometimes parenting is gross, repulsive, cringe-inducing and very much not for the fainthearted.

Just this week I have experienced two incidents that could be categorised in these ways. The first involved poo. Suffice it to say that poo was in places it shouldn’t have been and I had to sort a blocked, nearly overflowing toilet. All in the middle of dinner time, obviously.

The second was a first for me (though one I would rather not repeat). We thought we might have Bed Bugs. Yes, tiny little crawly insect-y things living in a bed. An absolutely abhorrent concept, especially when it is your littlest son’s bed.

This came about because Little Bear has been having some sort of allergic reaction all week. I posted a picture of some of his rash and a Twitter friend said it looked like the rash she had when she was bitten by Bed Bugs. You cannot un-hear those words. It isn’t possible to just brush that aside and assume you haven’t got them. Because what if you have? What sort of parent would that make you if you might be putting your youngest beloved son to bed with a whole band of hungry critters every night? When you hear those words there is nothing for it but to have a quick Google, roll up your sleeves and inspect the bed (all the while telling yourself not to run around screaming or spontaneously vomit if you find something).

The search of the bed was INCONCLUSIVE. This is not good. This doesn’t mean you have Bed Bugs but crucially it doesn’t prove that you don’t. You might have them. ‘Might’ in my experience is not a chance that you can take when it is your beloved son’s bed and he is walking around in public with a very strange rash. There is only one thing that can be done: you enter full DECONTAMINATION mode. The pillow and quilt covers and comforter blankets are easy: stick them in the machine at 95 degrees and hope they come out intact.

On balance the pillow and quilt themselves are not really very expensive to replace so I go for double bagging and chucking out, just to be sure. Now, surely a good hoover of the mattress will suffice? I proceed, centimetre by centimetre, using my microscopic-power-mum-eyes to check as I go. What on God’s green earth are these barely visible things in the pores of the mattress? As much as I don’t want to touch them, I go in, for inspection purposes. The results are INCONCLUSIVE. This is not good.

I phone the husband to check that I am not completely insane for now wanting to throw away the mattress. He has a quick Google and concludes it is not Bed Bugs but as he is slightly OCD over hygiene and is all too aware that I will soon enter PROTECTIVE MOTHER HYSTERIA, he suggests we get rid of the mattress. I heave it down the stairs and into the garden with freaked-out-mum super strength.

What then ensues is an evening of me taking both boys to buy a new mattress, quilt, pillow etc. and then on our return, removing everything from the room, hoovering every nook and cranny and anti-bac-ing like I’m deep cleaning a hospital. Obviously I also decontaminate the child. To be sure.

When it is all over I sit on the sofa and stare into space for the remainder of the evening. I do not entertain the fact that if we did have bed bugs, they could have spread to other beds. If you do not present with a rash, you do not qualify for full inspection. They are the rules.

These sorts of parenting-breaches are exhausting.

I’ve been here before of course. You can’t get to be 8 years into parenting without a few anti-glamour moments along the way.

The last MAJOR INCIDENT was nit-gate. On that occasion, the inspection proved CONCLUSIVE. I did indeed find a large, burly nit merrily parading about Little Bear’s curls within seconds of starting the inspection. I think it was on steroids. I was utterly squeamish about it and had to defer to my mother-in-law until I realised she couldn’t actually see the nits and I had to woman-up. I realised this after a few days of having a very itchy head myself and although she had checked my hair and so had Grizzly, I found a friendly nit peeking at me when I looked in the mirror! There is absolutely nothing glamorous about hanging over the bath, searching your long, thick hair with a fine tooth comb for hours on end, removing little beasties. That is another thing that nobody tells you – children like to share.

Nit-gate went on weeks and took A LOT of perseverance and many an hour with the tiny comb until I finally won the war (don’t listen to anyone who tells you that the shampoo alone will do it: it won’t, you need to manually remove every single one of them).

The nits did attempt a second round a while later but I had absolutely none of it that time and shaved off the beautiful curls. You have to take a zero tolerance policy to unwanted insects I find.

The non-glamorous moments do not just involve insect-invasions. Oh no, bodily functions feature highly too. I seem to have dealt with many an al-fresco poo situation so far (not me, the boys!): most memorably Big Bear couldn’t wait and ended up going under the ‘no fouling’ sign in a local park once. Another time, a hungry Labrador involved itself but that story is too disgusting to publish.

I have dealt with poo in places it shouldn’t be, including on an I Pad.

I have (why did God gift us with this reflex?) proffered my cupped hand in lieu of a sick bowl.

I could go on and on. Parenting is pretty disgusting. They should issue you with a hazmat suit when you take charge of an infant. It should be mandatory.

There was a time when I would have been too embarrassed to share my Bed Bug story, assuming it meant I was slovenly and unfit to parent (despite knowing that neither nits nor bed bugs prefer dirty places) but I have learned that I’m not alone in these situations. I suspect that every parent up and down the country could contribute a story or two. Yesterday, as bed-bug-gate was breaking, I messaged my friends who I had been out with earlier in the day. “Oh, we thought we had bed bugs last week” one of them replied, immediately making me feel better. I have another friend whose child had a funny rash and she took DECONTAMINATION one step further by calling out the Pest Control, even though she hadn’t found any evidence of an invasion either.

If we’re going to take a very positive view of it, then I do think parenting gifts you with a whole raft of transferable skills.

Little Bear took bed-bug-gate very well. I think he secretly liked it that I was going to all that effort to keep him safe and (hopefully) itch free. As much as these un-glamorous incidents are gross, they do seem to provide good bonding opportunities. He secretly enjoyed all the grooming and attention nit-gate brought as well.

All that said I am very much looking forward to some actual glamour.

You never know.

Maybe one day.

In the future.

 

 

 

 

The Glamorous Side of Parenting

Birth Parents

It is letterbox time again, here at Bear HQ which has got me thinking about Little Bear’s birth parents, Sian and Joseph. I have to confess that I am feeling quite discombobulated about the whole thing. I am confused about how I feel about them, how I should feel about them and what I should do going forwards. Brace yourselves readers while I blog it out.

So, last year’s Letterbox was, in my opinion, a bit of a cock up. You can read about it here: Letterbox Update In short, I suspect that the letter I wrote languished upon a disorganised Social Worker’s desk for the best part of 7 months before even an attempt was made to get it to its rightful destination. At the time I was upset about it because I felt it wasn’t fair for Sian and Joseph. If I was them and the only contact I had with the child I had given birth to was an annual letter, I would really want my letter. I would want it when I knew it was due. No doubt they drew all sorts of conclusions as to why we hadn’t bothered to send it.

Sian and Joseph didn’t reply to the letter, which I felt was a bit strange as they both attended court and showed signs of wanting to do the best they could in the current circumstances for Little Bear. Several months after his birthday we did receive some birthday cards from them (which no doubt had been sent at the right time but had also languished in the mountainous pile of paperwork on the desk). In the card Sian had written that she was sorry for not replying to our letter, she just didn’t have the words.

I felt sad once again reading that statement. Of course she doesn’t have the words, she is probably heart-broken; she is potentially never going to see her youngest child again. For me, rightly or wrongly, that sentence says “help me”. It says, “I have no idea how to go about writing this letter, though I do really want to”. And, if as I suspect, Sian also has speech and language difficulties like Little Bear, not only will she be struggling metaphorically to find the words but literally too.

In order to try to right the wrongs of last year and get us back on track this year, I contacted said disorganised Social Worker before our Letterbox was due. I suggested (again) that Sian and Joseph might need some help with Letterbox. I also asked how they are and how Little Bear’s birth siblings are.

Now this is where things get murky and I get very confused. I know that they can’t tell us much about how things are as it would be a breach of confidentiality. Obviously I am not asking them to do that. I am not asking for Joseph and Sian’s place of employment, inside leg measurement or bank details. All I really want to know is are they vaguely ok? Are they dead? Are they in prison? Are they homeless? Are they rampaging around the country trying to locate Little Bear? I just feel that it would be useful, as an adopter, to have a vague sense of whether they are functioning in their lives or not. I would also like to know whether they pose any danger to Little Bear or us or not. I have no real sense of this due to the paucity of information in my possession.

I suppose I have half an eye on the future, when Little Bear might decide he wants to track them down. I need a sense of who exactly these people are. They could make attempts to find him before then. But would they? I have literally no idea.

Anyway, so I posed the ‘how are they?’ question. The Social Worker (who gives Social Workers in general a bad name) initially ignored my question. I had asked it on the phone several months ago and now again by e-mail. She eventually did respond to my e-mail but not the part about Sian and Joseph. So I asked again. This time she said that she was going to ask their Social Worker to contact them to ask if they can share more information with us. This was not what I envisaged happening.

If I were them I might well tell Social Services to F off. It makes us seem like really nosy so and sos and they must wonder what on earth we want to know and why. It also makes me wonder if what I am asking for is out of the ordinary. Am I living in some sort of dream world where I don’t actually need to know this information? A basic, “yes they’re fine, nothing has really changed” or “they are having a difficult time at the moment” or “I don’t think they’ve really accepted the adoption” or “they seem to have moved on with their lives” would have sufficed.

I can’t help thinking that I’ve annoyed said Social Worker with my persistent questions and that she is being purposefully obstructive. I definitely think that Social Services would have much preferred it if we had just adopted a child from their LA care and run off into the sunset, never to bother them again.

Not able to keep my mouth shut, I also persevered on the point about supporting Sian and Joseph with Letterbox. Apparently if they want some support they can come to the Post Adoption Support Team and ask for it. I find the idea of them actually doing that completely unrealistic. Why would they come, cap in hand, to the very people who removed their children, to ask for help? Surely the days of them feeling that Social Services can help them are long gone? I have been living a delusional fantasy that there might be some sort of follow up or after-care for people who have lost their children. Surely it would be more beneficial for society to try to support birth parents, help them to grieve, help them with moving on whilst trying to keep them on the straight and narrow? Surely losing your children is a big precipitating factor for other issues such as mental health difficulties or drug or alcohol addiction?

However, recent thinking has left me reflective. Evidently my utopian view of social work is unrealistic in the context of austerity and cuts to services. I don’t suppose social workers do have time to be keeping track of where birth parents have got to and what they are up to at the moment. I guess they do have to prioritise families that still have children in them. And the question that burns most on my lips: why am I taking the birth parents side in all this anyway?

I think that had Sian and Joseph physically or sexually abused Little Bear I would be a lot clearer on my feelings towards them. I wouldn’t have the same sense of loyalty and I certainly wouldn’t feel sorry for them. I don’t mean to belittle the neglect that they did inflict on Little Bear, because I know only too well the long term and pernicious consequences of it. However, I do think it is possible to unknowingly or accidentally neglect someone in a way that you certainly couldn’t accidentally sexually abuse someone. It is not Sian’s fault that she herself had a shitty upbringing and is not equipped with the skills to parent. I keep coming back to the fact that it is a very unfortunate set of circumstances and foolishly or not, I do feel sorry for them. I feel a perverse moral duty to do the right thing by them, despite the fact that they have caused my son’s developmental trauma.

I suppose, on a human level, I know they must be suffering and I don’t want that for anyone. And also, despite anything that happens, we are already inextricably linked by the fact that their son is our son.

I do wonder whether I might not have such a rose-tinted view if I was furnished with a little bit more information though. After all, people do not have their children removed from their care for just a little bit of carelessness.

The thing is where do we go now? We have always said that we would be open to the idea of meeting Sian and Joseph but if we can’t even get Letterbox sorted it is hard to see how we might be able to work towards that. Is my pro-active (if perfect world) approach to the Social Worker causing us more problems? Is her communication with Sian and Joseph impacting on their opinion and willingness to work with us? Are we ever going to move forwards?

I’m starting to think that I’m wasting my energy. Perhaps I should just send our Letterbox contribution off into the deep blue yonder and think no more about it?

This is about Little Bear though. What is best for him? That is the crux of my thinking and is so difficult to answer because I just don’t think I have enough information to say. At the very least I want to be able to tell him that we tried and, to the consternation of a certain social worker, I can honestly say that we have.

In the unlikely event that we ever get an answer to our questions I will let you know.

 

*Please don’t think that my rant-y-ness over this Social Worker indicates any sort of anti-social work stance. I know many fabulous ones and we have been extremely well supported at this end. I am just particularly irked by this one.

 

 

Birth Parents