Saturdays

When Saturday rolls around I think most people are grateful and ready for a rest. No school run, no work, no expectations. Saturday is meant to be a good day. Saturday should be about a slower start, family time, fun and freedom. However, since Little Bear started school we’ve started noticing that Saturday has stopped delivering. Saturday is now actually quite tricky.

On Saturdays Little Bear is shattered from a week at school. He has worked hard, tried his best and by Saturday seems to be hitting a wall of tiredness. On Saturdays Little Bear is dysregulated.

Grizzly works very hard all week too. He works long hours in a high pressure job and, like many of his colleagues, struggles to adjust from the working week to the weekend. He is shattered and in need of a lie in and a bit less pressure. He needs easing in to the weekend. He needs a break.

Big Bear is normally pretty chipper on a Saturday morning because he plays football for his team. He usually marches into our bedroom not long after 7 with the announcement “number 15 is approaching the pitch!”. He is over excited.

Little Bear has a swimming lesson at 9am on a Saturday morning. I have to admit I don’t love it but at least it gets it out of the way and the rest of the day is free. Usually I take Little Bear swimming and Grizzly takes Big Bear to his football match, occasionally the other way around. Nobody gets a lie in.

After swimming we try to get Little Bear to have a rest and a snack. Sometimes if we have to go somewhere else and he doesn’t have time for that things tend to go AWRY.

How Big Bear is depends on the football match. If they have lost or he has not scored or somebody has fouled him or all of the above then he might be in a football GRUMP.

We usually re-convene after lunch and attempt to do something or other. This may or may not go well. Often it involves Little Bear ignoring all instructions/ doing the opposite of them and Grizzly increasingly struggling to remain calm. Little Bear seems to know that Grizzly is finding the day hard too and seems to be especially disobedient for him. This pattern generally continues until bedtime when Little Bear often loses the plot entirely.

Every now and again we don’t have the energy for this type of Saturday and we try to keep things EASY. This weekend Big Bear’s football match was cancelled and Grizzly was especially tired from travelling so we decided to skip the swimming too. When Little Bear woke us at 6:30 am we gave him his I Pad and he lay in bed with us playing on it for a while. It meant we were able to shut our eyes for a bit longer, even if we weren’t actually asleep. Although this is a nice bit of lazy parenting which definitely has benefits for us we do have to be careful with it as if we leave giving Little Bear his breakfast for too long, things will go AWRY.

Little Bear will refuse to go to the toilet/ come to the table/ eat the breakfast. When we insist that these things do have to be done, he will say something rude like “idiot” or “stupid mum” and growl. We will try to ignore him.

Grizzly and Little Bear find everything easier if they can go outside so even though they are at risk of winding each other up, they often go outside together to do some jobs. This Saturday they cleaned Grizzly’s car and moved some gravel about. Big Bear and I popped to buy him some new trousers as he insists upon growing and got some plants to finish off the front garden.

We then needed to have an early lunch as we were meeting some friends at the park afterwards. When Little Bear is tired he is not too good at eating his meals. He tends to sit at the table but fiddle with anything and everything but not his actual food. He will try and lie on the bench or sit on the back of it. It can be incredibly irritating, especially as he is hungry and will eat the food if we feed it to him. It must be some sort of control thing but I’ve never properly understood it and it can be frustrating, especially if we are in a rush. Grizzly finds it particularly difficult.

We eventually all managed to get into the car. Unfortunately we got stuck in roadworks on the way to the park. Little Bear gets quite anxious if we don’t get somewhere quickly and tends to talk non-stop. He will say things like “over take the cars Dad” and will get increasingly annoyed when you don’t do it. We will try to explain to him that it’s a queue because they are working on the bridge and the cars have to wait for the green light. We can’t over take because it would be dangerous. Little Bear seems to have a bit of a fascination with crashing though and will then start talking about how we should crash and will argue that black is white and that crashing would be good and that it wouldn’t matter if it hurt people. I don’t really think he means it but because he has set himself on that trajectory he doesn’t seem to be able to stop.

Ignoring Little Bear at these points is not really a useful strategy because it tends to make him more insistent or louder or he turns to insults. Distraction can work and sometimes a calm explanation can but at other times he gets “beyond himself”. I can’t quite remember how it started but on this journey he disagreed with/ disliked something Big Bear had said. It wouldn’t have been much – you could say that the sky is blue and that might annoy him at these moments. Whatever it was, the two of them started with a “I will” “you won’t” kind of argument. If Little Bear isn’t getting the outcome or response he’s hoping for, he will say something like “you will or I will kill you” or “fine then, I will chop off your head”.

It is quite disturbing how often he references decapitating somebody but we try not to get too excited about it. I don’t think he actually means it, I think it is a way of verbalising his inner discomfort at the time. However, it is unpleasant and he does need to learn a more appropriate way of expressing himself. Usually at these points we will say something like “if you carry on being rude, you can stay in the car with Mum/Dad when we get to the park. It’s your choice” and then try not to engage with him. The explicit consequence seems to help and the fact that he knows we would follow through with it.

It is difficult because whilst it is important to be understanding of Little Bear’s feelings and to empathise with the reasons behind his dysregulation, his behaviour does impact on everyone else in the car and it can feel like a pressure cooker ready to blow. We find we do need to somehow stop the escalation otherwise it’s too difficult to drive the car safely. On a couple of occasions it has been necessary to stop the car but thankfully not many times.

I find it can be a fine balance between being therapeutic and drawing a line under behaviours that are not acceptable/ adversely affect everyone else. As a Mum I have to meet everyone’s needs as best I can and that does mean there are times that Little Bear needs to “get on with it” even if he doesn’t quite feel like it.

Once we were at the park, everything was calmer. Little Bear was tired and wanted a lot of cuddles. He did quite a lot of spinning on his tummy on the roundabout. The sun was shining, Grizzly and Big Bear found some people to play football with and all was well.

When we got home, we made sure Little Bear had a rest.

Tea time brings the same issues as other meals but Gary was here and we were keeping things easy so she fed him and got cuddles and all was fairly well.

At bedtime we quite often have some refusal issues with getting ready but Little Bear loves his stories and the threat of removing 1 of those usually works to keep him focused. He listened to his stories and we had some cuddles. We skipped him reading his book because I knew he couldn’t manage it. It is after I settle him and go out of his room that the monkey business usually starts.

We still sit outside of Little Bear’s door for this reason. If we fully removed supervision I’m not too sure what he would get up to but I know it wouldn’t be sleeping. This Saturday he got out of bed/ threw things/ shouted various things through his door (which wasn’t shut, just to, as he doesn’t like being shut in a room). I think I sat there for about 45 minutes or so. It wasn’t too bad but most nights are much better than this now. Often Little Bear will chat a little but settle down and sleep quite quickly. He mostly doesn’t try to get out of bed or scratch the walls or throw things any more. He usually says “I love you Mum” not “hideous idiot mum”. But not on Saturdays. Saturdays can be tricky.

The good thing about Saturdays is that they are followed by Sundays which are usually a much nicer kind of day. One of us usually gets a lie in. This weekend it was Mother’s Day so we both got up and all had a nice breakfast together. We usually manage some quality family time on a Sunday. This weekend we went to the zoo. Little Bear walked beside me, he followed instructions, he was calm in the car, we chatted about the animals, we went on a boat, we had FUN. Little Bear is like a different child on Sundays. We had the odd small blip – I got a slap because he was getting over-hungry but generally we had a lovely day.

Little Bear wanted to get a cuddly bat. He announced it on the way there. He has some birthday money so we said he could. We went all around the zoo and had lunch and an ice-cream before we went to the shop. Little Bear didn’t moan once and was very happy to be united with his bat when the time finally came. He has creatively named it “Bat” and it apparently slept hanging upside down all the way home in the car.

Little Bear is such a good boy but Saturdays can be tricky.

 

 

Saturdays

I love my Bears

During a period of procrastination earlier in the week (I should have been decorating)I found myself reading back over all my blog posts from 2017 so far. I realised that in pretty much all of them I have been sounding more stressed and quite a bit less sunny than usual. Whilst there has been plenty going on to warrant my mood I can’t help but prefer being cheerful. With that in mind here is an unashamedly upbeat post about my gorgeous Bears and why I love them so much.

As Grizzly said recently our Bears are their own men. They are both quirky but completely at home in their skin. They are happy being themselves and it is lovely.

Little Bear likes to layer his clothes: 4 football tops one on top of the other; 2 pairs of socks; 2 Spiderman costumes for double muscles or 3 pairs of gloves like woolly Russian dolls on his little hands. He is also somewhat of a clothing comedian. He still sleeps with comfort blankets (muslin squares) and now and again thinks up a different place on his person to stockpile them. Once it was in his socks so he had to waddle about on fat ankles. Another time it was up his top. He has a lot of blankets so he looked as though he had developed a beer belly overnight. It was hilarious. I kept laughing at random that day, as the image of him as a miniature Santa figure kept popping into my head.

Little Bear’s strong opinions on clothing choices can be a little tiring at times. If someone suggests a kick-about in the garden he spends 20 minutes trying to find a full matching football strip. Sometimes Big Bear does too.

Big Bear is a little obsessed with football at the moment and starts many a conversation with “Mum, you know Naymar Junior? Well…” or “Mum, if you could have any Barcelona players on your team who would you pick?”. He starts conversations with grown men about football matches and it is never long before they start looking surprised that they are having a detailed bloke’s conversation with a 7 year old boy.

Grizzly has taken him to a couple of matches and said it is hard to believe how excited Big Bear gets and how loudly he shouts. Apparently people in the stadium turn to look because despite there being 70,000 noisy fans chanting and clapping, Big Bear’s voice still blares out! His passion and enthusiasm, not just for football, are very refreshing.

Both Bears are naturally gregarious and tend to get fully involved with things. I love to watch them enjoying life and having fun. There is nothing more uplifting than hearing them erupt into fits of giggles.

Big Bear has a proper deep belly laugh. It is as though he finds things funny with the whole of his body and he really submits to the humour. He can usually be found doubled over laughing several times a day. He is very free and generous with his laughter.

Little Bear’s laughter is a bit harder to come by but he is a lot freer with it than he used to be and when it comes it is incredibly infectious. He was watching Tom and Jerry the other day and nearly crying with laughter. The visual slapstick humour is perfect for him though who knew that a mouse whacking a cat on the head with a mallet could be so funny?! I was finding watching Little Bear much funnier than the cartoon.

Sometimes the Bears will invent a game together that makes them both laugh uproariously. Most of the time it isn’t clear what the game is or what is making them laugh so much but they seem to understand each other on a whole other level. Sometimes one of them only needs to make a sound or move a toy in a certain way and the other one is in hysterics. It’s gorgeous. Completely unfathomable but gorgeous.

Both Bears have a caring and sensitive side too. Big Bear is incredibly adept at saying things that people want to hear. He gives a good compliment. I love it when he praises Little Bear without any sort of adult nudge. He’ll say things like “well done mate, that drawing’s brilliant” or “you’re getting really good at football aren’t you?”. He is very tuned in to the need to help others feel good about themselves.

Little Bear is full of surprises. Sometimes he can be purposefully hurtful but he hardly ever does anything to upset his brother. He is generally very considerate towards him. He is also caring towards his friends and tries to comfort them if they are upset. Sometimes I worry unnecessarily about how he might be in a situation. Last weekend we took the Bears to visit Supergran. We told them she is “very poorly” and explained the need to be gentle towards her and calm (if that’s possible). Grizzly and I were a little fearful of how the visit could go but as soon as we got there Little Bear was on a mission to find her. He searched the flat and when he found her in bed he seemed to instinctively understand. He gave her the most enormous yet gentle cuddle he could. He gently inspected her arms where she is bruised from having cannulas fitted and stroked her wrinkles for good measure. He kept going away and then coming back to lay his head on her again. Supergran loved his uncharacteristic show of affection and he did make her feel happier than if he hadn’t been there. It was one of the most tender and deeply human moments I’ve ever seen: he didn’t use any words but said everything he needed to.

I’m always proud of my Bears but was especially so that day.

Thankfully both Bears are affectionate towards us because I can’t help but want to cuddle them and smother them in kisses. Although I really dislike it when Little Bear wakes me 35 minutes before my alarm each morning I secretly love it when he says “but I love you Mum, I just want a cuddle” and he crawls in next to me. I try to enjoy the 5 seconds of quiet snuggle I get before he starts jabbing me with his bony elbows and trying to engage me in conversation.

Big Bear has grown so much now that I definitely can’t pick him up and he’s getting a bit too cool to kiss me in the playground. Luckily Little Bear still likes to press his soft cheek against mine and weave his little arm around my neck. He still likes me to carry him occasionally and I don’t mind at all when he shoves whatever I’m holding out of the way so he can clamber onto my lap. I try to make the most of every cuddle because it won’t be too long before he pretends he doesn’t know me at school either.

When I crouch to tie the boys shoe laces both Bears tend to steady themselves by placing the flat of their palm squarely on the top of my head. I find it strangely endearing.

Like any mum I do moan about their mess, their inability to entertain themselves and the incessant noise and between them they do give me all sorts of things to worry about. But I know that I’m really lucky. My Bears are gorgeous inside and out and I love them just the way they are.

 

I love my Bears

Light and Dark

Things are fairly dark at Adoption: The Bear Facts at the moment. Today our beloved Supergran has come home from hospital for “end of life care”. When someone you love is dying it is hard to think about anything else. When other people you love are sad and stressed about it too, it is hard not to spend a lot of time worrying about them. It is hard, in the circumstances, to get on with normal functioning. However, with small children, jobs and building work there is no option but to try. I’m finding that although there is an omnipresent darkness, there are still bits of light to be found and it is important, for everybody’s sanity, to hunt them out.

Sometimes it is just an instant – a beautiful moment captured by your brain to be kept as a memory. It is things like seeing your big business man husband tenderly rubbing his fragile gran’s back after a day in the office. It is instants such as finding yourself with Gary and Supergran in a hospital ward and all giggling like teenagers about an inappropriate joke or at the male visitor further down the ward who is unknowingly sitting on a commode. It is instants when Supergran comments on my outfit or laughs at a funny snippet and I’m relieved because although her body is failing her, she is still Supergran.

Sometimes, in trying to keep to normal plans, you can inadvertently find longer periods of light. This morning I had a work meeting. It was pretty difficult to get my head in the game but I was glad that I did because I came out feeling excited. I met with my Voluntary Adoption Agency ‘boss’ and a Manager from a local RAA (Regional Adoption Agency) about rolling out my Communication Workshops to a wider audience. It is really heartening that people are seeing the role that Speech and Language Therapy can play in adoption and are buying into the benefits of offering communication training to adopters.

During the meeting we also discussed how our VAA are aiming to provide support packages at the point of a child being placed with adopters, instead of waiting until families reach crisis point. I love this proactive approach, especially given the experiences of Twitter friends in trying to access Post Adoption Support at all. Going forwards, I should be able to provide Speech and Language Therapy (SaLT) for children as part of these packages, as and where it is required. I feel very proud and lucky to be associated with this type of quality, person-centred provision. It is in stark contrast to the reactive and limited service we have received from our local SaLT team (something which I could do without trying to tackle with everything else going on).

Something else that happens at dark times is that you find out how good your support network really is. We are lucky that a significant part of our network is my parents. They are consistently there apparently always poised to sweep in when they are needed. It is almost as though they are privy to some sort of invisible Bat Signal. So far this week they have helped me decorate (yes, still trying to get that done), tried to tackle my neglected washing pile and provided a lot of babysitting for either or both Bears. They have also taken up the mantle of worrying about Gary and are feeding her a proper meal this evening, in place of me being able to because if she comes here, she will probably catch something. It is not that I have abandoned cleanliness but that we are being plagued by a very annoying virus that just will not go away…

I could certainly do without The Virus as it is not helping with the doomful feeling one jot. Big Bear was poorly last week and had a few days off school. He made it back in on Tuesday, seeming to be on the mend but was then sent home again on Wednesday. I have kept him off the rest of the week in a bid to finally rid him of the germs. This morning, on the way back from my meeting, I got a phone call from school saying that Little Bear was not himself at all and could I come and get him too.

I feel bad saying this but I really needed them to be at school this week and I’m keeping every crossable part of my body crossed that they are in next week. Usually the boys are my main focus and everything revolves around them. It feels very odd that a situation is happening in which they have been slightly knocked off the top spot. It is undoubtedly hard for them as they are not used to me leaving them often but at the moment I’m disappearing to take a phone call or to visit Supergran fairly frequently. I know that they are fine because they are only ever with my parents or Gary and I mostly feel as though they need to get on with it as this is what real life is like sometimes. However I have also had moments of motherly guilt where I feel I’m abandoning them.

I think what I’m trying to say is that them being off school has both added to the darkness and provided some unexpected light. It has added to the darkness because as I am rather distracted by sadness and worry, I am not finding it very easy to parent therapeutically. I also find alone time very restorative and I have not had that valuable space this week. And well, the decorating!

All that said I have had a lovely time with them this afternoon. I have had loads of cuddles from Little Bear who just wanted to sit on my lap and told me he loved me way more than usual. Both Bears have been quite calm and we spent one lovely evening doing jigsaws (completely unheard of). Little Bear really struggled with his resilience but I did manage to be therapeutic at that point and helped him to complete the jigsaw in spite of him losing his temper every time a piece didn’t fit on the first attempt and him launching it across the room. It was worth it to see the pride on his little face and to see him wanting to do them all again straight away. Jigsaws seem to have become a bit of a trend now and Big Bear sat at the table for ages today completing a big one.

I also love it when the Bears want to get paper and pens out and sit like angels (!) at the kitchen table drawing things. They have done that this afternoon.

When I was in junior school there was a trend for marbling. You filled a school tray with water then poured coloured inks into it. If you swirled it about a bit then carefully placed a piece of paper onto it, the paper came out all mottled and swirled and usually pretty (in my 9 year old opinion). I feel as though we are in one of those trays at the moment and somebody has been a bit heavy-handed with the black ink before giving us a haphazard swirling. We are currently wading through the dark bits. Sometimes it seems that that is all there is but we keep wading because you have to and because I know that if we keep looking, we will find chinks, swirls and even big open spaces of light.

Nothing is all darkness, there is light to be found.

 

PS I know I keep moaning about the decorating but even that has some plus sides: the house is edging slowly closer to actually being finished (which will one day make me very happy) and there is nothing like a physical task to help relieve stress. Oh and the inside of my cupboard is fuchsia pink. I should have mentioned that first because it’s AMAZING.

 

Light and Dark

Juggling

I tried to write a jaunty blog post yesterday because last week I promised positivity and also because I wasn’t feeling quite myself and I thought it would cheer me up. Now that I’ve read it back I’ve realised that it sounds like a person trying really hard to be upbeat but not quite achieving it and for that reason comes across as quite fake. As much as my default is to try to put a positive spin on things I do also feel strongly that my blog should be honest and representative of our real life. With that in mind, here is the honest version of how things are at the moment (cue a massive juggling analogy).

Any parent knows that managing day to day life is a big juggling act. You have a whole array of balls that you need to keep in the air at any one time. There are the ones everybody has: making sure there is food in the cupboards, meals on the table, clean clothes in wardrobes and a house that is vaguely tidy and clean. There is the keeping your children and any pets you might have alive ball. There is the making sure you have a card/ present as appropriate for any relevant birthdays/ weddings/ christenings/ funerals/ new homes ball. There is the making sure you give enough attention to your friends/ family ball. There is the work ball. For me that is currently self-employed work which means going out and finding work and selling myself. I’m loving it and getting lots of job satisfaction but nevertheless I have to make sure it fits in with everything else.

There is the stuff logistics ball – has each person got what they need for today’s activity? Is the reading book in the book bag? Is the football kit clean and dry? Where exactly have the shin pads gone?

There is the parenting nitty gritty ball. Are your children happy? Have you done enough reading with them? When exactly did you last remember to wash them? I find they take turns to give me the most concern but parenting Little Bear is represented by a larger ball than the other things so far in this analogy. Parenting him involves a lot more analysis and unpicking of behaviour. I have to be on my toes. In yesterday’s jaunty post I wrote this sentence: “behaviour-wise nobody has said “could we have a word” for a while” and then I went to pick him up from school and his teacher said that very phrase. Little Bear had, out of nowhere, had the worst day he has ever had in school. He was in trouble at lunch time for spitting milk in children’s faces and slapping them on the head. His behaviour didn’t improve back in the classroom and he had more ‘thinking time’ than anything else. He also tried to jab some children in the face with scissors. Hearing that list of behaviours in reference to your child is never a positive experience. I then added “talk to Little Bear and try to figure out what on earth is going on” to my list of things to juggle that night.

This morning I reminded him about our chat, saying “please don’t stab any children with scissors today”. In a voice trying to come across as very reasonable, Little Bear replied “I wasn’t stabbing mummy, I was trying cut their heads off and find their (Adam’s) apple”. Add in a ball of concern about the future and well, just general concern.

Sometimes, due to the size and weight of Little Bear’s ball, it can throw out the whole juggling act. Sometimes it takes all my energy to keep from harming him. Sometimes the whole family can be impacted if he is having a bad day. We have moments when it seems as though his weighty ball could knock all the others to the floor and scatter them about. I always have a keeping going no matter what ball and a therapeutic parenting ball up my sleeve though, just in case.

Parenting Little Bear also involves keeping on top of appointments with other agencies such as Audiology, Educational Psychology and Speech and Language Therapy. It involves keeping up to date with where his development is at and figuring out ways to overcome any difficulties he might be having. For example he was really struggling with learning to blend sounds together for reading so I tried lots of different ways of working on it, before realising that his auditory memory was not sufficiently developed to hold three sounds in it e.g. ‘c’ ‘a’ and ‘t’. I realised that he would never be able to blend until he could do that so had to figure out ways of developing his auditory memory. I love the challenges he poses me and I love being able to help him overcome them. Nevertheless, keeping on top of Little Bear’s development is another ball that I juggle.

Occasionally the other services involved do not meet Little Bear’s needs in the way they should and I have to advocate for him. Last week I wrote about our experiences of the local Speech and Language Therapy Service which led to the addition of another ball: making a formal complaint. For interests’ sake I have not yet received a response…

Grizzly helps of course with this whole juggling act where he can but he has an exercise ball sized work ball that he has to keep in the air.

Generally I would say that we have the above juggling act covered. Of course I haven’t mentioned internal pressures such as the trying to keep vaguely in shape ball (10,000 steps a day and as little sugar as possible. That’s the plan anyway…), the keep the blog up to date ball, the try to get a book published ball, the should we start a craft business ball. There are many more but I won’t bore you with them, you know the kind of things I mean.

There are quite a few balls in the juggling act but we’re used to it and in the most part everything works pretty well.

What has happened recently is that we seem to have gathered some extra balls. Some are self-inflicted, some unexpected but they have threatened to topple the whole act.

The main thing that we have added is the lets build an extension ball. It seemed like a good idea at the time and the end result will undoubtedly be brilliant and I will be going around marvelling at its beauty for months after its completion. However in the meantime it has meant adding in a manage all the workmen ball. I have to say that we have been very lucky and they have all been very personable. However, there have been the sorts of issues you would expect such as electricians turning up before you’ve had chance to plan where you want the sockets and turning off the power just as you are trying to cook the boys’ tea. There have been a lot of pressured decision balls and trying to remain calm in the face of builders telling you they’ve discovered a massive problem balls. There has been a whole additional layer of people and stuff management.

Thankfully the building part is now finally finished but I have instead added in a do your own decorating ball. I will be pleased with myself afterwards but at the moment I’m not too enthusiastic about it.

Little Bear has an upcoming birthday. Add in an organise a party ball and buy him some presents ball.

The things that have been pelted in like curveballs started with Gary (Grizzly’s Mum) being taken to A and E. You can read about that in A Mini Crisis. Add in a worrying about Gary ball. She stayed with us for a week then when she was barely back on her feet, the next crisis hit. Supergran, Grizzly’s elderly gran was taken into hospital. She has now been there for 12 days and is potentially very poorly. She is having more tests next week. Add in a trying to fit in regular visits to the hospital ball.

It is no secret that I adore Supergran. I think everybody does because she is a very likeable person. She may be 50 years my senior but we have lots of things in common and I very much do not want her to be poorly. Visiting has mostly been good in that we have chatted and joked and I have felt able to cheer her a little. However, Gary and I had a not so good visit this week. Supergran was uncomfortable and it was distressing for both of us. Add in a ball of worry and upset about one of my very favourite people.

Add in a Big Bear is off school with Tonsillitis ball.

At times this week I have felt the weight of all the balls above me. It is getting harder to juggle them: there are quite clearly too many. However, I’m hoping that honesty is the best policy. I don’t think that adding in a pretend everything is fine when it isn’t ball will help. The plan is to gently lay down all but the essential balls over the weekend and indulge in a bit of rest and self-care. The stress is doing bad things for my shopping habit and I’ve fallen right off the no-sugar wagon after a couple of years of being on it. I think for this weekend I will try not to concern myself over that. I just need a little break. When Monday comes around, I will roll up my sleeves, gather the balls and juggle again.

 

Juggling

A bit of a rant

Beware lovely readers this post is going to get ranty. I apologise in advance because I pride myself on being a blogger with a positive outlook and can usually find something that I’m proud of/ happy about/ amused by that I can share, even when things get challenging. However, even if I dredge the silty bottom of today’s subject matter I cannot think of even one half positive to balance things out. So for one day only I’m just going to vent.

The thing is that our local Speech and Language Therapy (SaLT) Service is turning out to be completely and utterly useless and for the first time in my career I am embarrassed by association.

Little Bear was referred last February. As most of you will know he was experiencing developmental delay caused by neglect with more specific and significant speech and language difficulties on top. His communication difficulties impacted on every area of his life, from his learning to making friends to his behaviour. I felt he had a high requirement for therapy, not least because he had had such poor stimulation for the first 3 years of his life.

We were offered an initial assessment appointment on 4 separate occasions and each time the appointment was cancelled by the SaLT Service. Apparently the therapist had experienced a string of personal problems. I was empathetic, things happen, it can’t always be helped. It wouldn’t have happened where I used to work though: somebody else would have covered for the therapist after the first or second cancellation.

Eventually Little Bear was seen on our 5th attempt, after 8 months of waiting, back in October.

I don’t think I was ever going to particularly enjoy taking him to his appointment: I’ve been doing Speech Therapy my way for a long time and obviously you do things a certain way because you think that is the best way. I knew a different therapist would do things differently and I would need to sit on my hands and try to distance myself as best I could. I have worked with lots of other therapists though and I know that my way is pretty similar to most other people’s way and I would have been very happy for any of my colleagues to see Little Bear.

I wasn’t totally convinced that the differences I saw in how the therapist ran Little Bear’s initial assessment could be passed off as style differences but I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I noticed that she didn’t take any time to get to know Little Bear or build up any rapport with him. There wasn’t any chat about what he likes or how old he is or where he goes to school, she just spoke with me to do a case history then assessed him very clinically. His behaviour during the session was off the scale compared with what was typical for him at the time.

During the assessment she didn’t transcribe his speech, just making some basic notes. I concluded her memory must be a lot more detailed than mine. She didn’t ask me anything about his social communication or memory skills.

At the end of the initial assessment, the therapist concluded that Little Bear’s expressive language skills were pretty much in line with his age (??!) and that his needs were not that severe. She agreed to put him on the waiting list for therapy though and said an appointment might come through before Christmas if we were lucky. I somehow came away feeling like a neurotic parent who had completely exaggerated my child’s needs.

Little Bear had a huge meltdown on our arrival home and flatly refused to go to school afterwards. He has never done that before or since and I had to carry him there with his dummy and blanket.

Then we waited. And waited some more.

We recently received a letter inviting us for a “follow up” appointment. It was at 8:45 am on the Friday of half term. I certainly wouldn’t have chosen to get both boys out of the house earlier than on a typical school day during their holiday but beggars can’t be choosers. We’d waited a year by now, I was damned if I was going to try to change it.

We arrived 5 minutes early and checked in at Reception. “Do you know which therapist it is?” the receptionist enquired. I didn’t. “It’s just that there are 2 and one is currently stuck in traffic” she explained. I really hoped it wasn’t our one.

It was our one. We duly took a seat and waited. This could have gone either way and we were just lucky that Little Bear was able to tolerate a wait today. I think it helped him that Big Bear was there too.

Little Bear did try to tell me that he was nervous this morning though. Previously you could just spring things on him and he would either go with it or not, depending on what sort of day we were having. He is getting a lot more aware of what’s going on now though and he knew that the ‘talking lady’ would expect something from him. Although he wasn’t able to say “I’m nervous” or “I’m worried”, he tried his best to get the idea across to me without a meltdown. He said “I think I take Phoebe to see the talking lady and he sit on my knee”. Phoebe is his cuddly dog who barks and wags her tail. Ok, I said. “Why? Does Phoebe want to come?”. “Yes, cos it might be scary”. “Might it? I don’t think the talking lady is scary” I tried to reassure. “Yes” he said “speaking might be scary for Phoebe”. Aha. I think perhaps he knows his speech isn’t quite how it should be and he knew that it would be under the spotlight today. We decided that noisy Phoebe might be best left at home but he brought 3 cuddly puppies to sit on his knee because they are “more sensible”!

What a shame to make an anxious child with attention difficulties (who finds sitting still difficult at the best of times) wait in this manner. Why arrange an early appointment if you couldn’t be sure of being there? I was getting cross but again tried to be reasonable. It wasn’t her fault the traffic was bad.

Eventually, the other therapist who was there came out to us. She was starting her own clinic at 9:30am but could squeeze us in. Apparently her colleague lived a fair distance away and was never going to make it.

We walked into the clinic room to find another person in there. She was later introduced as a student though I was not asked to consent to her being there which I know is the standard procedure.

The lady who had stepped in was obviously trying to do us a favour but was clearly flustered and had not read the notes. She started reading them while I was there and began firing questions at me: “how are his vowels?” “Have they improved?” “What about his word retrieval difficulties? Are you still concerned about those?”. As she was using technical language I assumed she knew I was a SaLT. “What is he working on at the moment?” she asked. “Well, we have started doing some work on ‘pl’ and ‘bl’ sounds” I explained. “Why?” she demanded. “Err well, because he was reducing those clusters and it was affecting his intelligibility” I replied. “Oh” she said “seems odd, those sounds are very complicated”. “And because I’m a Speech and Language Therapist” I retorted before I’d really considered whether that was a wise thing to say. I did well and kept the swearing inside my head though.

She proceeded to attempt an assessment with Little Bear. She was clearly in a rush and didn’t bother with any rapport building either. I could have told her, had she asked me anything about his behaviour and how best to manage him, that sitting him next to a big stack of toys would impact negatively on his ability to concentrate.

Once the assessment was over, she said “yes, he does have some speech difficulties I’ll put him on the waiting list for a block of therapy. Is that ok?”. Well no, after a year of waiting and thinking that therapy was starting today, no, that isn’t really ok. On querying whether today was meant to be the start of input, she explained that they have a lot of children waiting and some for quite lengthy periods so they are just seeing everyone to “check in” so “everybody has had something”. I can only think that that terrible piece of clinical decision making is due to having to meet some sort of waiting time target. It makes literally no sense because we still haven’t had anything. We haven’t had one piece of advice or even a strategy to use. Time is being wasted reviewing everyone who is waiting and doing NOTHING with them when they could have used that time more productively to start several children’s therapy. Although assessment is essential from a clinician’s point of view, on its own it does nothing to improve outcomes for children.

The whole experience was painful. We were very quickly dismissed, with minimal attention paid to Little Bear. I think it is just common courtesy to praise a child and let them know that they co-operated well at the end of a session.

I have been quite unsure about writing this post as it feels so wrong criticising fellow professionals. However, the whole experience to date has made me feel like an old person who says “it wasn’t like this in my day” as if things have changed beyond recognition over the past 50 years or so. Yet I am not elderly and I only left the NHS last year. Nevertheless I do not recognise this as the Speech and Language Therapy that I know. Where is the quality? The bit where you care about the children and families you are trying to help? The bit where you are thorough and try to consider all aspects of a child? The bit where you look beyond the snapshot provided by one rushed assessment? The bit where you think about a child’s background and the impact that their communication difficulties are having on their life? The bit where you don’t keep patients waiting, where you manage your diary in a realistic way and you prioritise the children who need you most?

If this is what people’s experience of SaLT is, I’m not surprised that nobody really knows the breadth of what we do and that as a profession we have a bit of an image crisis. I am ashamed to be associated with the type of service that has been provided to us. I know that each individual failure in our case has had a fairly reasonable personal excuse behind it but overall the quality of the service Little Bear has experienced is not excusable.

We have experienced the Audiology Service, Educational Psychology, School, Health Visiting and other medical professionals and I have felt well supported by them all. It does upset me that it is SaLT in particular that is letting us down.

And so we wait again.

 

*Rant over. I promise some positive sentiments next week.

 

A bit of a rant

Seeing the Educational Psychologist

I recently requested a progress meeting with school to discuss how Little Bear is getting on. I feel lucky that so far the staff have been very approachable and accommodating. We had the meeting and as usual were able to identify progress and also areas that we want to work on. During the meeting Little Bear’s teacher wanted to ask me something: would I consent to him being seen by an Educational Psychologist (EP)?

She explained that the EP had made routine contact with school to check whether they needed to consult regarding any pupils this term. The SENCO had thought of Little Bear. What did I think?

I had a couple of initial thoughts, most of which I kept to myself. Firstly, eek! Out of the whole school of almost 200 pupils Little Bear was the first child that they thought of. In fact, I have since found out that he was the only child. What did that say about the severity of his needs? Those old feelings around whether I really do accept his needs, just as they are, were getting a little airing.

My main thought though was one of cautious gratitude. I couldn’t see any negatives of involving another agency and if anything it could lead to positives such as more tailored input or dare I even think it, funding. My previous experiences of working alongside an EP Service elsewhere were of an extremely stretched and in demand service. Children frequently waited long periods to be seen and schools had to juggle and prioritise the most needy to maximise their allocation of time. Once a school’s EP allowance ran out, children just had to wait, irrespective of their level of need. Given that experience I felt lucky that in his second term at school, Little Bear was already getting an opportunity to be seen, without me even having to ask for it: no battle needed.

I consented straight away then instantly became anxious that the appointment might happen without any of my involvement (not that I’m a control freak!). When I worked as a Speech and Language Therapist (SaLT) in an NHS Department I worked closely with the EP’s. I knew them and they knew me. We had a mutual respect for one another’s work and often spoke regarding specific children. Occasionally we would have some healthy professional debate (AKA a polite argument), usually when I was putting my neck on the line about a child needing a specific provision that nobody wanted to pay for. However, most of the time we worked in partnership to make things happen for children.

It was feeling very strange to be on the other side of this equation. Would I be respected and listened to in my role as parent? Would I be involved at all?

Increasingly I have also found myself taking the role of Little Bear’s SaLT – out of necessity to fill the gaping void left by our local NHS Service. I wondered whether my opinions with my SaLT hat on would be considered or valued when the EP came either.

When I asked Little Bear’s teacher whether we might be able to meet with the EP or be part of the consultation when the time came, she replied with a brisk “I wouldn’t have thought so”, confirming my fear that they thought I didn’t have anything to contribute as a parent or as a professional. Feeling a little disheartened and somewhat undervalued I felt as though I would just have to go with it. I can see how easily you can become disempowered as a parent, particularly one of a child with additional needs.

However, something changed somewhere and a week or so later I got an e-mail inviting me to attend the meeting with the EP. Greatly relieved I then began to wonder what the EP might be like. Although not meaning to stereotype I assumed it would be a middle-aged no-nonsense lady.

This week Grizzly and I have attended the meeting. It turns out that the EP was actually a young man and he was lovely. He was very good at listening to us and tweaking his advice accordingly. He wasn’t in any way judgemental and we did feel like valued members of the meeting. I think that is so important.

We had been told that the EP would have seen Little Bear prior to the meeting and would be feeding back to us. However, in reality it was a consultation meeting and the EP had never met Little Bear. Apparently we would create strategies during the meeting and then reconvene to review them before deciding whether Little Bear would require further assessment or not. I think school might have felt a bit fobbed off by this.

In the meeting, Little Bear’s teacher talked about his educational levels, his behaviour in the classroom (generally a little less challenging than at home) and his attitude to learning. I had expected much of the focus to be on his communication difficulties and ways to manage that within his learning. However, we talked a lot more about his social communication, his ability to identify and regulate his own emotions and ways to develop his skills in these areas. The EP seemed versed in early trauma and attachment and was interested in our perspectives. He was clear on the links between Little Bear’s early life experiences and his approach to learning now. We talked about how he can be oppositional and how the very fact of you wanting him to do something makes him not want to do it. We talked about him not showing his full ability and sometimes making purposeful errors. We talked about Little Bear easily entering fight or flight mode and how that can lead to him lashing out.

Whilst acknowledging and problem-solving these things with us the EP was not alarmist. At the moment the challenges do not seem to be things that we cannot overcome. The strategies seem practical and hopefully fun for Little Bear – including an adapted version of Lego Therapy to help build his resilience and ability to play with his peers with less adult support. We had to adapt it because Little Bear doesn’t always have the resilience for Lego so school have agreed to try it with Duplo instead.

A lot of the strategies were around Emotional Literacy – giving Little Bear a wider emotional vocabulary; helping him to identify his own feelings; giving him strategies to use when regulating himself is difficult. School are going to identify a safe space for him to retreat to when he needs it and will support him in using it appropriately.

We both came away from the meeting feeling pleased.

Another bonus for me was some of the comments the EP made. He said he felt we had “already done a lot of psychological unpicking” and that we understand Little Bear’s needs well. At the end he commented that he had enjoyed listening to our story and was pleased to hear so many positives in our descriptions of Little Bear.

It is very easy to forget how hard we work (I mean all adopters) and how much time and effort we put into trying to understand our children and what makes them tick. It is easy to forget that we are experts in them. If I went on Mastermind and my specialist subject was Little Bear, the only other person in the world who could beat me would be Grizzly. Nobody knows him like we do. It is hugely beneficial and confidence-boosting for that to be acknowledged by a Professional person working with your child.

I also found it surprisingly emotional to tell our story (the EP knew nothing more than Little Bear’s name so we had to fill him in on his background and progress to date) and to hear Grizzly sharing parts of our story. In the day to day craziness of our lives, it’s so easy to forget the highs and lows of the rollercoaster ride we’ve been on. At one point we spoke about how Little Bear used to bang his head and I had honestly forgotten that he used to do that. I felt proud of us as a couple for having tackled so many things in such a joined up way. As a parent it is easy to fall into a mode of constant self-deprecation but occasionally you have to allow yourself some credit. Perhaps we are doing an okay job after all.

At the end of the meeting we booked in a review date. The EP said he felt he knew Little Bear quite well now and didn’t feel the need to actually see him. Grizzly said he felt an observation would be useful and so did Little Bear’s teacher. She commented that in all her years of teaching, she had never taught a child quite like Little Bear! And I don’t think she meant because of his background as she has 4 other adopted children in her current class, irrespective of any who have gone before. I do know what she means; he is a complicated little chap.

So observation is going to happen and the EP is going to attempt some 1:1 assessment. Oh how we laughed when he said he would allow 1 hour for that! Little Bear finds 5 minutes of an adult-directed table top activity challenging. I would love to be a fly on the wall. I guess we are going to find out what the poor EP is really made of..

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing the Educational Psychologist

A Mini Crisis

Well this isn’t quite the blog post I had planned to write this week and it’s also a few days late. As usual life at Bear HQ has not been straightforward but we are all okay now.

On Friday evening Grizzly was meant to be going skiing with work, Big Bear had a play date and Little Bear and I were having a quiet night in. I picked him up from school and nipped into our neighbour’s house to pick up their post. I was just fumbling with our door key when my mobile rang. It was a lady from my Mum-in-Law’s work telling me that she had collapsed and they had called the emergency services. This wasn’t something that had happened before and though my mind was racing I tried to remain calm. I did speak to her on the phone so I knew she was relatively okay but uncharacteristically when I offered to go to her, she did want me to. Obviously I said I would be right there.

What to do with Little Bear I wondered? I briefly considered taking him with me but I had no idea how this was going to pan out and the thought of him in an ambulance or a hospital definitely didn’t conjure up a positive image. I would undoubtedly be more focused on him than Gary (that’s what she is now known as: it’s meant to be Granny but Little Bear couldn’t say it, saying Gary instead and it’s kind of stuck!).

My parents I thought, they always help in a crisis and I could drive past their house on the way to Gary’s work. Shit. No, I couldn’t. They had gone for a day out and it would take too long to wait for them to come back.

Now I was panicking a little bit. Who else did I feel comfortable leaving him with??

I thought about our neighbour across the road. I have looked after her children before and the Bears have played at her house quite a few times. Yes, I would feel ok to leave him there. I rang her but she wasn’t home. Bloody Nora. She did answer her phone though and told me she was at another child from Little Bear’s class’ house, why didn’t I bring him there? Ordinarily, taking your adopted child to a relative stranger’s house and kind of dumping him there is not really a good idea. However, I was pretty much out of options and I really did need to go to Gary. I know the child’s mum a little bit and she seems very nice and my neighbour would be there too so I made a snap decision to do it. I knew my parents would be able to get there soon and that they would then take over.

In my haste I did make sure I took the time to get down to Little Bear’s level and to explain the rather complex plan to him. He surprised me by seeming to fully understand what was happening and by taking it completely in his stride. He was just excited that he was going to play with his friends and didn’t bat an eyelid when I dropped him off.

I got to Gary just in time to see her being wheeled on a stretcher to the waiting ambulance. I don’t think anybody was too sure what was wrong but she certainly couldn’t have got up from the stretcher so a trip to A and E was needed. Somewhere amidst the chaos I managed to alert Grizzly that maybe skiing wasn’t going to happen tonight. Later we realised that Gary should have been going to Grizzly’s Gran’s house that evening and that we had better let her know she wouldn’t be coming, yet somehow without alerting her about the hospital situation as she would be extremely worried. Grizzly’s Gran has not been too well herself and is pretty frail at the moment. Grizzly rang her and discovered that she too was unwell and in pain and needed someone to come. We ended up with my parents looking after the Bears, me with Gary in A and E and Grizzly with his Gran. You couldn’t have made it up.

Once again I was extremely thankful that we are all near to each other and that these situations can be managed with minimal stress.

Thankfully Gary’s condition improved and all the tests came back negative so they let her go in the evening. We decided she should come to our house so we went past hers on the way to get her a couple of things she needed. I think she was getting a little ahead of herself with her recovery and we ended up sitting on the bottom step with the door open for cold air, trying not to repeat the events of the afternoon.

Eventually we were all home and Gary was safely tucked up in bed.

Little Bear woke me crying at 6am. He wasn’t bothered that I was there, he wanted my Mum. He went on to have a difficult day and the worst bedtime we have had in months. There was a lot of hitting, kicking and screaming. Today has been calmer but with moments of aggression and defiance.

I don’t really know whether his behaviour is connected with the other events of the weekend or not. Big Bear isn’t well and Grizzly doesn’t feel brilliant either. It is possible Little Bear is also under the weather. It is also possible that abandoning your adopted child (as necessary as it was) at a near stranger’s house is still not a good idea, no matter how calm he seemed about it at the time.

We have had several chats today about the fact that Little Bear is never going to live anywhere else and will be here FOREVER. He keeps wondering if we might swap him with a different boy we know. We have tried to explain that we love him and as nice as this other boy is, we don’t love him at all, we just like him. It’s hard to know how much he absorbs of this and what his real worry is.

Gary is still not feeling well and is still staying. Little Bear has been pretty understanding about that and has given her lots of cuddles. He has not been rude to her as he can be sometimes which is a relief. Big Bear has spent hours snuggled up on the sofa with her.

In some ways it has been good for both boys as we haven’t been anywhere all weekend and we have had some quality time together; some time just snuggling and lounging and some time playing Lego and doing craft. I think they are at the exhausted-as-it’s-nearly-half-term-stage and we will probably be dragging ourselves through the next week, hopefully without too much regression from the little dude… A girl can hope anyway.

As for Gary, she is seeming lots better but we had another near-relapse earlier on so I don’t think we’ve quite got to the bottom of things yet.

 

 

A Mini Crisis