Why Nativity Rocks is Not For Care-Experienced Children

This afternoon, we went along to the cinema with some friends of ours to watch what we thought would be a family-friendly film: Nativity Rocks. We’ve all seen the other films in the Nativity franchise which are funny, silly and worth a watch and just assumed this would be the same. However, I felt I had to write this post afterwards, to warn other families like ours that it might not be wise to take your children along after all.

The problems begin early on when Mr Poppy’s long-lost brother turns up trying to find him. The brother, who is a grown man, talks about not having a family and soon mentions that his mother “didn’t want him” and “put him in a children’s home”, before he ended up homeless and unloved and she died. There is so much to unpick in that sentence alone.

I sort of see where the writers were trying to go with this – I guess they were trying to acknowledge that some children who go into Care feel a sense of abandonment and as though it was their fault, somehow having driven their parents to ‘give them up.’ As we know, children are rarely ‘given up’ these days but aside from that, the narrative was such that Mr Poppy’s brother’s opinion wasn’t really corrected. Because the words about being put into Care come from a grown-up’s mouth, it makes the viewer feel as though they are true: that children really do go into Care because of something they have done. Were it a child saying it, perhaps I could forgive the film as trying to represent how looked-after children really feel, but it didn’t come across that way. For a young person viewing it, I think there would be a very real risk that they begin to question whether going into Care could have been their fault.

Not only this, but for non-care experienced children watching the film, the questions they are likely to carry away with them are, “When I meet an adopted or fostered child, I wonder what they have done wrong to have been taken away from their parents?”

Later on, the brother makes a throw-away comment about having been bullied and his Mum thinking he’d stolen something he hadn’t, leading to him, in his mind, going to the children’s home. Again this isn’t corrected and further perpetuates the myth that children go into Care through some fault of their own. The idea of being unloved and rejected continues throughout and is unfortunately portrayed as synonymous with being in Care.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, the film proceeds to present a very glib picture of how adoption works. There is a side story about a young refugee who has travelled to Britain from Syria, becoming accidentally lost from his father along the way. A social worker appears to care for him (wearing a stereotypical rainbow jumper, obviously) and takes him to what I assume is meant to be a foster placement. This isn’t so bad but Mr. Poppy’s brother announces that as neither he nor the boy have a family or home, they will need to get themselves adopted. Aside from the fact that you wouldn’t family-find for a child who is looking to be reunited with their father nor for a grown man, the film’s handling of the next steps is insensitive to say the least. According to a very facetious scene, children get to interview potential adopters and ask them ridiculous questions. As we know, potential adoptees are not offered such a say, if any, in their future parents and to suggest they are and that the process is so superficial felt distasteful at best. One question asked is: “If you adopt us, who will be your favourite?” to which the potential adopters point to their birth child as if to say “obviously her.”

I couldn’t help feeling the whole idea of adoption was laughed at and demeaned.

To compound it all, the adopters all say no to the pair and Mr Poppy’s brother announces they are homeless and will need to sleep on the streets. I know that our Care system has its flaws but suggesting to fostered children that all potential parents could reject them and leave them to live alone and outdoors is at least triggering and at most the stuff of their nightmares.

By this point we have a picture of children in Care as being unloved, rejected at every turn and destined for a life on the streets. I suppose if the film were about being in Care and raising awareness of some of the issues experienced by care leavers, this might be appropriate but it would need to be balanced by success stories, permanence and safety. I definitely don’t think that the message we have received is the one we want to give to young people in Care at Christmas, of whom there are thousands who, like other children, will want to see the film.

I can see that Nativity Rocks is trying to be inclusive and representative of all different types of families, which is laudable, but unfortunately a great deal is lost in the execution and the refugee issues are somewhat conflated with the Care issues. The Refugee is eventually happily reunited with his father but as the storylines are so confused, the film rather suggests that any child who has been separated from their birth families could be reunited with them, if they try hard enough. Again, not an appropriate message for children grieving the loss of their birth families or an appropriate message for non-care experienced children who will go away thinking adoption is a temporary solution to having accidentally misplaced a parent.

Such inaccuracies are irresponsible, especially in a high budget production that will be seen by thousands.

At another point, Mr. Poppy’s brother and the young refugee go home with a little boy who has a very affluent background. They stay there without the boy’s parents knowing but once they’re discovered, the Social Worker asks if they can stay because, you know, who gives two hoots about paperwork or approval or checking adults are safe.

The problems come thick and fast. Not only do we have all the above to contend with but the Social Worker is portrayed as hapless. Her father refers to her having “lost one before” as though mislaying a child in her Care would be amusing. She goes on to ‘lose’ the young refugee (oh how we raise our eyebrows and titter) and then a dog, which is apparently similar to losing a child.

I know that as a viewer of any film I should expect artistic licence and the impossible to become possible. If you can imagine it, anything can become real in a film. I’m all for that and some factual incongruities or inaccuracies wouldn’t be enough to bother me. What concerns me is when something is so inaccurate or portrayed in such a skewed fashion as to become harmful. I fear that’s what happened in this film. I feel the potential for re-traumatisation or the risk of worry or upset is far higher than necessary, especially in a film which sets out to entertain and spread Christmas cheer. For those it won’t upset, it will do nothing to improve their knowledge and understanding of the Care process.

Aside from the clumsy content, there are themes of loss and separation running throughout the film which could alone be enough to upset our children.

For me, the handling of adoption and fostering themes was catastrophically bad. Grizzly is usually fairly immune to the odd inappropriate comment but he was pretty outraged too. We were genuinely bemused as to how the film got approved. I’ve no idea who researched it but I don’t think they tried very hard – I certainly don’t think they spoke to anybody even remotely involved with the Care System. In my opinion, this is not one for fostered or adopted children or children who are separated from their families for any other reason. It’s a shame because the film is quite funny in places and Big Bear in particular was pleased about the rock music aspects. Little Bear liked parts of it but there were several bits that made Grizzly and I feel very uncomfortable to be watching it with him. He didn’t say anything but he did ask to play with one of our phones half way through and we let him because of the content. Sometimes with him it percolates and the questions might come later or the worries might come out through his behaviour.

Overall, an insensitive, badly-handled and ill-informed film that perpetuates harmful myths about children in Care. Nativity Rocks unfortunately doesn’t rock and I’m left wondering what on earth they were thinking.

 

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Why Nativity Rocks is Not For Care-Experienced Children

Dear Teacher

Those of you who know me in real life or even on Twitter, will no doubt have heard me complaining on and off about Little Bear’s teacher. We got off to a pretty good start (see New Teacher ) but unfortunately things seemed to head downhill from there. Last week, I was feeling particularly exasperated and wrote the piece below. Efforts have been made on both sides since then though, to the point where I feel a bit bad posting it. However, last week it was true, so I’ve added a bit at the end to reflect what has happened since and hopefully provide some balance.

 

Dear Teacher,

I don’t think Little Bear likes it in your class. I think this because at bedtime he tells me he doesn’t want to go to school tomorrow. In the morning, he wakes me with “I’m not going to school today” and as we arrive at your door, he clings to me and says he wants to come home. I have to be honest: you leaning against the wall inside your classroom like you’re too cool to speak anyone isn’t really helping. Equally, saying “Get in, sit down” in a gruff voice is not exactly encouraging for a child who doesn’t want to come in. Perhaps if you moved yourself and crouched to Little Bear’s level (you are massive compared to him, you know) and said something fun or enticing, he would want to come in. I tried to help you the other day, I really did. “Mr. Teacher,” I said in a jovial voice, “Do you have something fun planned for today?” Unfortunately, you didn’t seem to get where I was going with this, replying, in your gruff (?grumpy) voice, “Well, I suppose we might be able to squeeze something in for 5 minutes”. I have to tell you that if I thought I was only going to have five minutes of fun in the whole day, I probably wouldn’t want to come in either.

I understand that Year 2 is serious and has SATS and blah, blah but you know, exaggerate, tell a little white lie. Pretend your Maths lesson is fun at the very least, even if you can’t summon the energy to actually make it fun.

You see, I need you to meet me in the middle. At the moment I feel as though I am the only one trying to solve the problem of Little Bear not wanting to go to school. It is me that tattoos a heart on his hand and my hand every day so that he knows I love him and he can still feel close to me when I’m not there. It is me chatting to him about his concerns and worries. It is me staying upstairs with him when he’s trying (but failing) to fall asleep at night. It is me trying to ensure I give him extra 1:1 time so he feels loved and nurtured and less worried. It is me bundling him into your classroom despite him not wanting to go there. It is me he gets cross with because I am supposed to be a trusted adult and am not supposed to make him go into situations where he feels unsafe or scared. It is me leaving drop-off every day feeling upset and worried about how his day is going to go. It is me the other parents see trying to entice my child out from behind a pillar or back from the other side of the playground because he really doesn’t want to go into your classroom. It is me causing a spectacle.

What exactly are you doing to help? I just wonder, because it kind of seems you are only leaning on the wall.

One day, it was pretty bad and I decided I had to speak with you. Do you remember that? I said, “Little Bear is really unhappy and doesn’t want to come in” and you said, “Well, we’ve been talking about this and we think he’s doing it for your benefit.” Mr. Teacher, I am not great when put on the spot. I had lots of witty and clever replies for you when I got home but at the time I was pretty stunned you had just said that to me. My first thought was, “Wow, he thinks Little Bear won’t come in due to bad parenting.” Of course, like any parent would, I then began to wonder whether that was in fact true.

As I stood ruminating on your doorstep, my child still hiding round the corner, I was struck by another thought. It was thus: I am a professional person with actually quite a bit of knowledge of trauma/communication/children and I have a very supportive husband, family and wider support network, including post-adoption support service. If you are immediately reducing me to a quivering, self-doubting wreck because my child is refusing to come in, what hope would I have were I a young mum, a single mum, a mum already on the brink of crisis? At that moment, the battle lines were drawn. I would not pipe down or accept your nonsense because if I did, what hope would there be for anyone less fortunate than myself?

Mr. Teacher, when a child is struggling in your classroom, it is not okay that your first reaction is to blame the parents. Similarly, it would not be okay for me to assume you can’t teach. I began the year assuming you were a good teacher; you should have assumed I was a good parent. Equally, when you began a sentence in a meeting with my husband with the words, “I don’t think you are going to like this, but…” perhaps that should have given you an indication that the next words were not wise and should not have been spoken. Those words were: Your son is getting very good at manipulating adults.

No, Mr. Teacher, my son has a traumatic background and is seeking a feeling of safety. Yes, he will test your boundaries, we told you that. If your boundaries are inconsistent with someone else’s boundaries, yes, he will exploit that because it makes him feel unsafe. Yes, sometimes he will get dysregulated and his behaviour will challenge you. Of everyone in the world, we know how challenging our son can be. Here’s a thought: instead of lashing out, why don’t you talk to us? I’m in the playground every single day. On the few occasions I’m not, you have both of our e-mail addresses. Talk to us about situations or behaviours. We. Can. Help. You.

When you don’t communicate, I will come and find you. When I approach you on the playground, don’t think I haven’t noticed the look of “Oh Jesus, what does this bloody woman want again?” crossing your face. Know this: you aren’t exactly approachable yourself and I don’t really want to come and have an overly polite interaction with you again either. However, I will, because I want the best for my son (and others like him) and I will not shut up until his needs are met appropriately.

I get that I’m probably pretty annoying. I don’t leave you alone. I keep sending irritating emails and copying the Head and SENDCO in and I can’t get my child into your classroom and you think it’s all my fault, I get all that. Do you know what though? Imagine that ferocity on your side. Imagine if we worked together. Think of the power we would have! I’m your greatest ally, if only you would allow it. If you would listen to me and at least acknowledge that we have a problem, we could move on. If you would work with me, I could stop involving the senior management team. This doesn’t actually have to be a battle.

If the truth be told, I’m tired. I’m already tired of sharing the same information again and again. I am tired of educating the educators. I’m tired of having to battle for my son to have his needs met at school. I don’t want a war. I want to be allies, but you need to meet me half way.

We are also busy, Mr. Teacher. Do you know how much time it takes to draft and send e-mails, getting the words just right? How long it takes to schedule meetings and re-arrange diaries to make them? We don’t want this, any more than you do.

Oh, and one last thing – when that little girl was crying this morning because she didn’t want to come into your classroom either, it was not ok for you to say, “sit down, there’s no need for tears”, like you were telling her off for crying. She’ll be the judge of that. She evidently felt like crying so there was a need for tears.

If you don’t like having children hiding behind pillars and crying in your doorway, may I suggest a change of approach? Because otherwise you’ll end up with parents crying on your doorstep and I can’t imagine you’ll enjoy that.

Sincerely,

That Mother Who Can’t Get Her Son Into School

 

Dear Teacher,

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me when I sought you out on the playground again. Thank you for not pulling the “Oh my God, it’s her again” face and for smiling at me – it really did make the chat easier.

I appreciate it is tricky for you that I am reporting one thing at home and you are seeing another thing in your classroom. I tried to be a bit braver in our chat this time. When you said, “With all due respect, he seems happy in school,” I managed to say that I understood that but that you need to understand that from my point of view, as his Mum, it is very unpleasant for me to hear him saying he doesn’t want to go to school all evening or pretending he feels sick when he should be going to sleep. It is also unpleasant when he wakes me before my alarm to tell me he doesn’t want to go to school today. That is difficult for a parent to hear. Thank you for acknowledging my viewpoint, when I said that.

I also tried to tackle the way you engage with my son on his arrival at school. I didn’t really know how to say it and I didn’t want you to feel I was attacking you. I’m glad that when I mentioned some small things that had made a difference such as having Golden Time to look forward to or when his TA asked him for help with the photocopier, you realised you might need to change what you say to him to something brighter or more encouraging.

It was helpful for me to get some insights into the issues you might be facing with him in the classroom and for me to see that you do like him and you do spend time puzzling over his behaviour. You said you appreciated me coming to speak to you, rather than e-mailing and I said I found it useful too – perhaps we could speak more often?

I think our chat helped because this week, I haven’t had to propel Little Bear over the threshold at all. I noticed you came outside of your classroom door yesterday morning which was nice. It made you much more visible and easier to speak to. It’s a lot friendlier than the leaning.

I know you felt bad calling me over at the end of school a couple of days after our chat to tell me that Little Bear had called someone a name and had been a little over-familiar with his personal boundaries. I didn’t mind you doing that at all. I would far rather you spoke with me. It meant that I could chat about personal boundaries and social rules at home (over dinner, as one does) and I could send a consistent message to Little Bear: the rules are the same at home and school. It is good for him to know that we talk and that we agree with each other. I suspect you will see improvements in his behaviour if we keep it up.

We’re taking it a day at a time but hooray for a better week so far!

Let’s speak again soon,

The Slightly Less Stressed Mum

Dear Teacher

Alternative Gift Guide

In a temporary departure from my usual content, I’ve decided to put together an alternative Christmas gift guide this week. I appreciate my usual audience probably don’t visit an adoption blog to go shopping but bear with me, it’s sort of relevant. This isn’t one of those posts somebody has paid me to write – instead it is a collection of links to companies/people/ items that I have discovered over the last couple of years that I think are doing something good (I don’t get anything out it other than the warm glow of being able to spread the word). Amidst the hyper-commercialism of Christmas, it’s nice to be able to give a gift which gives to someone else or to support a small business. Here are my alternative suggestions:

Masato’s Beanies

If you are after a warm, hand-knitted beanie for yourself or a friend, this is the place to go. We bought one each last year. They’re great quality and kept us snug as bugs in rugs even when it was minus 25 degrees in Lapland. The best part of the deal is that for every hat you buy, one goes to a person living on the streets. Imagine how chilly that would be.

You can also buy socks and a pack goes to someone homeless.

I know some people worry about transparency but the website lists which other companies they work with to get the hats to the people who need them. A very genuine charity, doing it’s bit.

Here’s the link: www.masato.co.uk

masato beanies

Madlug

Did you know that for many children who move about the Care system, their belongings are moved in black bin bags? Madlug, like many of us, don’t think that’s appropriate and that young people should have the dignity of proper luggage at such a vulnerable time.

This is another ‘buy one, give one’ scheme – you buy a rucksack (lots of funky colour choices) and a rucksack goes to a young person in Care. You can also get gym bags or carry-on luggage. What’s not to like?

Here’s the link: www.madlug.com

madlug

Centrepoint

Centrepoint is a charity for homeless young people. Unfortunately Care leavers are amongst the most vulnerable to becoming homeless – with as many as 14% spending time on the streets. On the Centrepoint website you can choose to give a gift to a vulnerable young person at Christmas. You can give anything from a hot meal to a jumper to a box of useful utensils to a room for a night. There is a wide range of options, from a £10 donation to much, much more for those who feel able.

www.centrepoint.org.uk

centrepoint

Buddybox

I think the idea behind these subscription boxes is brilliant. They are dubbed ‘a hug in a box’ and are intended for people who are depressed or having a shit time for any reason. As a friend I tend to feel quite helpless if someone I know/ love is in a situation like that. I tend to want to do something but often, there is nothing practical you can do, especially if you are far away from that person. This is the solution to that uncomfortable feeling: send them a Buddybox.

You can send a one off box, as I have tended to, or you can buy someone a subscription for 6 months or a year. I heard about it because someone has bought a subscription for my friend whose baby had died. It was such a lovely thing to have done at such an awfully sad time.

You can even gift one to a stranger.

The contents are different every month and are always designed with self-care in mind. They describe the contents as ‘gender neutral and ageless’ so they are inclusive for all.

The perfect gift for a struggling adopter?

A lovely way to say ‘I’m thinking about you’ or ‘you are not alone’.

And if all else fails and you feel fed up, order one for yourself.

www.blurtitout.org/buddybox

buddybox

Steph’s Sock Monkey Store

This one is not so much a charitable cause as a small business trying to survive in tricky times. I found these sock monkeys totally by accident, fell in love with them and ordered one each for the boys last year. They’re great quality, bigger than you might think and make gorgeous presents.

There are currently some for sale whose profits are going to Marie Curie and ones where you can sponsor Yorkshire Air Ambulance. You can also buy gift vouchers so the recipient can choose their own monkey during the year.

www.stephssockmonkeystore.co.uk

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Books

I have read a couple of books recently which are relevant to my blog content – both to do with communication and both an excellent read. The first is this one by Cynthia Pelman:

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It is an account of a young boy, Joshy, who has DLD. It is told from the perspective of his speech therapist, his mum and him. It’s the only published account of DLD that I’m aware of at the moment.

 

The second book is written by an inspirational young man, Jonathan Bryan, who painstakingly wrote the whole thing by eye-pointing to an alphabet chart. This is a must-read for anybody interested in communication (especially alternative or augmentative communication) or those working in special education. It is also an inspirational read for anyone who is fascinated by people and overcoming adversity. Some proceeds from the sale of the book go to Teach Us Too – Jonathan’s charity which campaigns for schools to assume learning competence in children with profound disabilities and to give them the opportunities to become literate.

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You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @eyecantalk or read his blogs at www.eyecantalk.net

I’m not going to add links for buying the books because I don’t want to just assume Amazon is the only option. There are other booksellers out there!

Baby banks

Up until a couple of weeks ago I had absolutely no idea what a Baby Bank was or that they even existed. Think Food Bank but for baby essentials – nappies, formula, clothes, equipment such as prams and cots. It’s heart-breaking that in England in 2018 we have the need for such a thing but we do. Apparently it tends to be mothers fleeing violent relationships or those who are refugees and cannot access benefits who require the services. However, a recent documentary highlighted that women who work in low-income jobs can struggle to meet the costs of living and having a new baby can be the tipping factor into crisis. One family had been reliant on the Dad’s job as a painter and decorator. He was unfortunately in a car accident which meant he could no longer work as much/ do such heavy jobs and then a baby came along. Baby Banks are there for such situations.

I think many of us have a loft full of no longer needed baby or little people gear – perhaps this would be a good way of getting it to people who really need it. I know they don’t just want tiny things – coats for toddlers are particularly needed over winter. Some are also doing a Christmas campaign where you can help struggling families with Christmas gifts for their children.

I know that when I can finally face sorting out the clutter of my loft, this is where my pre-loved items will go.

Check out www.babybanknetwork.com   (they have centres in Bristol, Exeter, Aberdeenshire & Isle of Wight) or  www.baby-basics.org.uk who have many centres across the country. Both websites have maps which allow you to find similar services close to you.

baby bank

 

Thank you for persevering with my alternative post if you’ve read to the end! Do let me know if you know of any other organisations who are doing brilliant things – I particularly like the buy one, give one schemes so would love to hear about others if they exist.

Happy gifting!

Alternative Gift Guide

Birth Siblings

In all my years of blogging, I haven’t really mentioned Little Bear’s birth siblings much (See Re-visiting the CPR for my most recent mention) but they are increasingly on my mind. As difficult as it to share this, I need to be completely honest: when we were going through the Matching process, the fact that Little Bear had several older siblings caused me a lot of worry. I worried that as they remained (and were going to remain) in the Care system that their futures might not be as sunny as one would hope. What if they fell into drugs or crime? What sort of impact might that have on Little Bear, or us? Did I really want to invite these unknown youths into our lives, even if just with letters? It literally kept me awake at night.

I look back and I’m embarrassed that I held those views. I’m choosing to forgive myself because I was very new to adoption at the time and the Matching process is incredibly stressful. It is important, at that stage, that you consider all the whys and what ifs. You do need to go into an adoption open-eyed and aware of potential issues and impacts. You do need to ponder the information you are given and think about whether you really can cope with any possible challenges within the context of your own life. I suppose I was right in some ways to think critically about the other siblings and how we would manage contact with them.

However, what I did not need to do was tar all looked-after children with the same brush. Just because they are going to spend their childhood in Care certainly does not mean that they will come out the other end in trouble with the Police or addicted to class A’s. I didn’t know these young people at all – a much better starting point would have been an open mind and a willingness to get to know them.

I suppose the spectre of them loomed large to me, as a terrified, new, prospective adopter. I can understand how it did and I can understand how other people might feel that way too.

It is strange how my views and feelings have changed in the three years since then. My overarching feeling towards them now is one of wanting to protect them – to extend my parenting arms around them as far as I can feasibly reach. That probably sounds equally as strange as my starting viewpoint, because they are not my children, biological, adopted or otherwise. However, they are Little Bear’s siblings and Little Bear is my son. There is, undeniably, a link between us and them.

I think at the start of this process, we used words like ‘birth siblings’ to keep them at arm’s length. We didn’t use the words ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ unless they had ‘birth’ before them, again making a linguistic distinction, indicating they were somehow different. The truth is that no matter what we call them, they are Little Bear’s brothers and sisters and should be referred to as such.

We recently had an update about them from their Social Worker. They had sent letters and pictures which were spread out on our kitchen table. I was still being ridiculously careful about what I called them. Big Bear walked in and said, “Oh, Little Bear, have you had post from your brothers/sisters? That’s nice.” In so doing, he cut through all my euphemistic crap and just called them what they are. I looked on and learned my lesson.

In this post I’m going to keep calling them “Little Bear’s siblings” to protect their anonymity but now you know that we just call them their names or ‘your brother/sister’ at home.

I think the fact that it was Big Bear who cut the crap (pardon my language) was particularly meaningful. Part of the reason I tiptoe around is for him. I’d be interested to hear from anyone else who has a birth child about how they handle this. I find it difficult that Little Bear has several other full siblings as well as Big Bear, who is very definitely his brother. What relationship, exactly, does Big Bear have with the others? Technically, none. But it must be so weird for him that his brother has other brothers/sisters who he hasn’t met and who are a bit mystical in their absence. Little Bear figured it out for himself straight away – they are all his brothers and sisters, no quibbling. He doesn’t seem to struggle with the idea at all and I love it that he has taken Big Bear into that fold. In his mind, Big Bear has gained several more siblings.

I don’t think Big Bear feels the same though. It’s easy, with there being so many of them, for him to end up feeling the odd one out, something which I desperately don’t want him to feel in his own family.

I also don’t know whether he can feel part of them when I don’t really know whether the other siblings know he exists. I feel for them because it is already extremely hard for them to come to terms with the fact that they are all going to be in Care for their entire childhoods while just one of their brothers has been adopted. They must wonder why him? Why not them? They must also be really sad that they can still see each other fairly regularly (they are not all together) but can’t see Little Bear at all. It feels like an additional blow for them to learn that Little Bear not only has a new home and new parents but a new brother too. How come a stranger gets to be his brother and play with him and have fun with him when all they get is a measly letter?

I don’t know if they do feel that way – I’m projecting – but it would be understandable if they did.

My loyalties are divided because I want to protect them all. However, I rarely believe lying or lying by omission is the solution to anything, so as hard as it might be, I do think they should know about Big Bear. It isn’t fair to him to deny his existence and it isn’t fair for them to keep it a big secret that they might find out about when they are adults.

This feels like marshy ground and all I have to guide me are my instincts. When I write Letterbox I have made occasional mention of ‘our other son’ so they know there is a someone else. This time I have tentatively included Big Bear’s name. I haven’t made a big deal about it – just a little mention to (hopefully) help them get used to the idea little by little.

Previously when post has arrived from Little Bear’s siblings, we have ummed and erred over what to do with it – mainly because Little Bear hasn’t had much (if any) understanding of who they are and we knew it made Big Bear uncomfortable. We are thankfully now at a point of being able to announce the post’s arrival and leave it out for anyone who wants to look at it. I’m pretty relieved about this; it all feels a lot more normal. However, I do still feel that it is quite excluding for Big Bear and have been mulling over the best way forward. We have decided, rightly or wrongly and I’ve no idea if this is within Letterbox protocol, to give Big Bear the option of joining in if he wants to. I haven’t put any pressure on him to do so because I totally understand that it might feel uncomfortable for him but I have told him when I need to post the letters and invited him to write one if he wants. If anyone else out there has done this, please let me know.

A tiny part of me is anxious about drawing Big Bear in and exposing him to the unknowns of where these relationships might take us. However, when I’m unsure, I generally ask myself whether it is better to do something or to do nothing. Doing nothing keeps things the same but doesn’t allow for progress. Doing something is riskier but by reaching out, things could move on/improve/take us to amazing places. For the possibility of improving these children’s lives, the risks feel worth taking.

This is probably going to sound overstated but recently I have spent a lot of time wondering what our role is in the other sibling’s lives. Instead of us passively waiting to be impacted or not by how the siblings turn out in later life, what if we did our bit to support and influence them now? After all, we could be a constant in their lives, when so many other things change. I am unsure as to how much influence it is possible to have through a couple of letters. However, I have had really positive feedback about the letters we sent last year and the perceived therapeutic benefits of them for the children. So much so, that I recently had a phone call from the Letterbox co-ordinator asking whether we would consider increasing the frequency of our contact. It was a no-brainer and immediate ‘yes’. As they were asking something of me, I felt it ok to ask something of them: would they send me an update about the children before letterbox time so that I could write them a tailored letter, answering their questions or tackling their specific worries directly. This was agreed and we have received it in the last few days.

In my eyes, the update is essential for me to be able to write them the best, most useful letter I can – without knowing what they need, it just feels like empty words on a page. We are also concerned about them and genuinely want to know how they are doing. The news about one child in particular was not good this time and it was upsetting to read. I am particularly concerned about getting their letter right and wonder whether we can impact how they feel, even in the smallest way.

It is a tricky line to walk, balancing the needs of all, their feelings, my perception of how they might feel, taking a positive tone and trying to therapeutically parent them from afar. It doesn’t feel like ‘just a letter’ this time. It feels like doing something. It feels like the beginning of a relationship; a relationship I’m keen to cultivate because if the writing goes well, maybe meeting up is not such a crazy thought.

 

Birth Siblings

A Thursday with Little Bear (aged 6 and a half)

Back in May of 2016, when Little Bear was just over 4, I wrote an account of a day we had spent together (you can read it here: A Friday with Little Bear ). Today I was struck by the idea that it might be interesting to do it again – to reflect the progress he has made as well as the types of challenges we experience now he’s a bit older. I’m not 100% sure of the wisdom of this but here we go:

I was woken at about 8am by Grizzly’s alarm and a throbbing headache. The rest of the house was silent. When Grizzly got up (he was working at home) I could hear him speaking to Little Bear who had been up a while but had entertained himself with his I pad. We had a slow start because its half term.

When the boys had had quite enough screen time, I attempted to complete Little Bear’s holiday homework with him. Apparently he is supposed to write a whole side of A4 about what he’s been up to in the break, being sure to include conjunctions, adverbs and expanded noun phrases. In order to make the task slightly less ridiculous for him, I first read him his new social story about making mistakes and then we had a chat and I drew some pictures/ wrote some key words to make the task more visual. It looked like this:

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 We began the writing task using the visual to support us. Little Bear did well for the first sentence then quickly lost concentration during the second. He wasn’t keen to say the sentences out loud first which meant he wrote things that didn’t make sense. He quickly became annoyed and threw his pencil across the room. He was able to using a breathing technique when I pointed at his social story and we did manage to complete the second sentence. After that, it seemed wise to take a break.

Little Bear got himself a snack and lay down on the sofa and put the TV on. He stayed there quite a long time while I got ready and did a few jobs. I explained we were going out soon and gave a ten minute then five minute then every minute for about five minutes warnings. When it was time to go, Little Bear refused to turn off the TV or get off the sofa. After some persuasion/ negotiation he switched it off but refused to go for a wee or put on his shoes. I helped him with the shoe part so that we might actually leave the house today.

When he finally got outside, he didn’t want to get into the car.

In the car, Little Bear tried to tell us which songs we were and were not allowed to listen to. I made sure we took turns to choose a song.

When we arrived in town, we met my parents. Little Bear ran over to greet them and measured himself against my mum who has not been blessed with tallness. “I’m bigger than your mum’s boobs now!” he yelled, loud enough for half the town to hear. I don’t even bother to blush or check if anyone is looking any more.

We went into a clothes shop because the boys needed some tracky bottoms and they quite like looking at clothes for themselves sometimes. Little Bear chose some tops with those sequin designs that brush forwards and backwards which kept him busy for a couple of minutes. He was soon running around the store and trying to engage one of us in hide and seek. My Dad took him to the toilet while we paid. We met them at a restaurant but Little Bear had found a piano and my Dad was having some difficulty getting him to come away from it. When he did manage to extricate him, Little Bear found a triangle of landscaping to run up and down and round and round. I said he could have one more circuit then we’d go into the restaurant. He had one more then tried to negotiate for 5 more. He would only come when I started to go into the restaurant.

I had brought an activity book which kept Little Bear fairly busy while we waited for food though he mainly stuck stickers to himself, not the pages. He sat and ate surprisingly well but as soon as the last bite was in his mouth he was up out of his seat and heading for the door. He wasn’t pleased when I asked him to come back and explained not everyone had finished yet. Little Bear began hanging on the back of his chair and jumping around. I took him to the loo for a change of scenery and little walk. On the way back to the table he tried to push me then tried to jump onto me while we were close to people’s tables. I had to crouch down and explain to him (again) how we should/shouldn’t behave in a restaurant. He told me he hated me rather loudly. He sat on me while I was crouching which nearly knocked us both over backwards. I managed to persuade him to wait until we got to the table and then he could sit on my knee. He did and I asked him if he wanted a squeeze. He did and this calmed him a little. We also did some pushing with his hands pushing down on mine. I do try to use a bit of calming sensory input when we’re out and about – sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. This time it bought us a few more minutes for the others to finish their drinks/ pay the bill.

Little Bear didn’t want to put on his coat and shouted at me again. When we got outside, he ran around his triangle again and seemed much happier.

Next stop was the shoe shop. Little Bear loves going there, but only if it ends in new shoes. I kept explaining that it would depend what the lady said and his feet might not have grown –forewarned is sort of forearmed but I rather suspected there would be some fallout if shoes were not needed. Thankfully, they were. Little Bear told the lady he is a year older than his is (purposefully) and did try to control the situation by taking hold of her tablet/moving her seat around/ not letting her put the shoes on his feet. I had to remind him that it was her shop and she was in charge. He tolerated this and did say please and thank you. There was a time when he wouldn’t have spoken to her at all so overall, I was pleased with how it had gone.

We went in two more shops. Little Bear wanted something in each one. He didn’t tolerate me saying ‘no’ too well and told me he hated me a few more times. Outside he saw a balloon on a stick someone had stuck into a flower bed. I asked him not to touch it. He pulled it out of the soil and waved it about. I explained it was dirty and not to touch it. He waved it about some more. I told him to put it back. He waved it about. I got a bit cross and told him off. Little Bear tried to run off. As I took hold of his hand to stop him, he hit me then pressed his nails into my hand as hard as he could.

We went into the library because there was supposed to be an activity on. There wasn’t. Little Bear found a lion statue and sat on it. I explained it wasn’t for sitting on and asked him to get off. He did but shortly got back on. I asked him to get off. He said, “But that baby over there is sitting on one.” I explained the baby was small and he was big and needed to get off. He got off then three seconds later got back on again. I re-iterated the need for good listening and asked him to get off. He did but the next thing I knew he was sitting on it again and a librarian was telling him off.

I told him we were going because the activity wasn’t on so we’d go for some pudding instead. Little Bear didn’t want to leave. There were negotiations. When we were finally going in the right direction, Little Bear saw the security barrier and began climbing it. Every time we are there he does that and every time I explain why I don’t want him to do that. I got a bit stern. Little Bear hit me.

We went past the pet shop and I had to stop Little Bear getting inside a rabbit hutch. Then he fell into step with Big Bear and suddenly hollered, “King Kong’s got massive balls” at the top of his lungs. My patience was really beginning to wear thin at this point.

We went for a drink in a café that has toys. Little Bear was entertained for a while and the grown-ups managed some civilised conversation. After a while, Little Bear announced he wanted to play the piano again. I told him the piano was finished and we were going home. He didn’t want to go home. He began jumping and swinging on the back of his chair. I suggested we go for a wee then home. Little Bear hit me and ran off. When I found him he wouldn’t come. He told me he hated me and it was the worst day ever and I was the worst mum in the whole world. I took him to the loo then when I got back from going myself, my Dad was having a word with him about not kicking the café wall. There were issues leaving the café/ getting his coat on etc.

We finally got into the car. My parents decided they would come to our house for a short time so we both left the same car park to go to the same place but they were slightly ahead of us. “Take over them,” Little Bear demanded. “I can’t,” I said, explaining it wasn’t the right kind of road. He continued asking me to do this and when I wouldn’t got quite upset. “But they will get there before us,” he said, “if you don’t want me to be upset, take over them!” The tears were coming now so I had to calmly explain that it didn’t matter who got there first and that it was my main job as the driver to keep us safe, which meant no overtaking on little roads. I tried to distract him with some singing. Little Bear evidently began to reflect on his behaviour in town and started saying I shouldn’t have bought him any shoes. I tried to empathise that it must be hard if he felt he didn’t deserve them but that even though he hadn’t been totally sensible in town, that could have been because he was tired and despite any behaviour, I still felt he deserved to have new shoes which fitted his feet and I was glad I had bought them for him.

“I bet Grandpa doesn’t even know the way to our house anyway!” he said.

At home, Little Bear asked me if he was allowed to go on his I pad. “Yes”, I said. “Phew,” he said, “That was close, I think I nearly wasn’t.” He sat down with his brother and peace was restored.

At tea time he couldn’t sit still and did everything other than eat.

After tea he played Lego at the table, a game with his Dad and brother and then we played a game altogether. It was lovely. Little Bear understood all the rules and was really sensible. He didn’t mind when he didn’t win.

Little Bear was not especially co-operative for bedtime – I could hear Grizzly having to repeat instructions and giving warnings but when he finally got into bed, he read the whole of his school book because he wanted to, all 20 pages. He shouted for Big Bear and I and we made a big fuss.

Grizzly settled him and came down. We could hear kicking the bed noises and intermittent shouting noises but then he quietened down.

*

In the two years since I last wrote out a day, everything has changed yet nothing has changed. Being out is still harder than being in (in some ways). There are still times when my patience is sorely tested (and surely anybody’s would be?). We are still more visible/ louder/ more inappropriately behaved than other families. There is progress though: regulation is better on the whole and self-regulation is creeping in. There is heaps more verbal communication. Little Bear’s interaction with strangers is more appropriate and his situational understanding is generally good now. He does know what the expectations are, even if he can’t quite manage to stick to them. Little Bear’s anxiety is more obvious because he can express it verbally now – it is less likely to get misinterpreted as bad behaviour. Little Bear can reflect on situations afterwards and can feel very remorseful, in a way that he didn’t used to.

There are good bits and there are bad bits. I don’t worry too much about the less than good bits – they’re par for the course and we’ve got pretty good at taking most things in our stride.*

No matter the behaviour, he’s still gorgeous, just as he is.

 

 

 

*Just off to lie in a darkened room

 

 

 

 

 

A Thursday with Little Bear (aged 6 and a half)