Support

Support can come in many forms and from a range of sources and this week we have experienced some of them.

The first thing was that we got an outcome on the funding application we made to the LA for additional support for Little Bear on his transition to year 1. We had not applied for a full EHCP but for ‘top-up funding’, of which there are several levels. This is short-term funding, just for the next academic year. It avoids a full assessment (which is required for an EHCP) but obviously does not give the long-term commitment and legal obligation of an EHCP. The point of top-up funding is to support “accelerated progress” for those children who need it. We felt this was ideal for Little Bear because given his background (neglect) he does need more support to catch up with his peers and it is difficult to say at this stage whether he will continue to need that throughout his school life or not.

Our application for funding was supported by the school and the Educational Psychologist and we had all contributed to the paperwork. We know that the leap to a more formal education in year 1 will be huge for Little Bear and that he will still require access to the EYFS. We also know that Little Bear needs very specific and 1:1 support to learn new tasks and to move forward with his educational targets – I wrote about the type of support that makes a difference to him last week in Jigsaws. Therefore, we were all agreed that additional funding would be required, on top of the £6000 the school are obliged to provide from their SEN budget.

On Wednesday the SENCO was waiting for me when I came to pick Little Bear up from school. “Have you seen the letter?” she said, “we’re fuming!”. I had not seen the letter as although the LA had addressed it to me, it hadn’t (and still hasn’t) found its way here. She ushered me in and we went through to the office she shares with the Head to read it. The first thing I noted was that the letter referred to Little Bear in his birth name. I have no idea how that came about as he has been legally adopted for over a year now and neither school nor us had used that name on any paperwork. It is quite concerning that the name is still in circulation and still on somebody’s data base somewhere.

The letter itself said that the LA were rejecting our application for funding as it had been sent in on the wrong paperwork (it hadn’t), Little Bear was making “excellent progress” and there weren’t any Speech and Language targets even though we had talked a lot about his Speech and Language Needs (there were targets included with the application). This was very annoying and disappointing. However, school had been very proactive and the Head had already phoned the LA and given them a telling off. He had got them to agree to read the paperwork properly and to take it back to panel, which happened to be taking place the next day.

Although I was annoyed, there was nothing I had to do as school had handled it and I felt reassured that they were on our side and were prepared to fight for Little Bear, just as I would be. I do feel lucky that this is the case as I’m only too aware of others in a similar position where the school would not have supported their application in the first place. Other schools would have just accepted the rejection letter and would not have queried it and the outcome would have been completely different.

When I shared what had happened on Twitter, it was lovely to get virtual support from friends and people I have never met who were outraged on my behalf.

Last night, I got a call from the SENCO. They had heard back from the LA, who had evidently realised they had cocked the whole thing up and who had now read the application properly and have granted us the funding! In fact, now they’ve thought about it, they have seen fit to grant us a level higher than the one we actually applied for.

I’m so happy that this has been resolved as I really feel it will make the difference between a rocky transition and Little Bear being able to do the very best that he can next year. Getting the right support in place for him is absolutely essential and thanks to the ongoing support we receive from school that has now been achieved and they are looking at employing a TA.

 

The second bit of support I got this week was rather unexpected. Little Bear has not been well at all. He had a course of antibiotics a couple of weeks ago but it has made little difference. He has a horrible cough and is just not himself, even though he is still running about all over the place. I have been umming and erring about taking him back to the doctor for a few days now but I had to go myself on Tuesday and sat waiting for over an hour and a half in the ridiculous ‘sit and wait’ clinic they operate. The thought of sitting there for that length of time with Little Bear filled me with dread so I have to admit I was avoiding it and hoping he might miraculously recover. When I saw his pale face and not as enthusiastic as usual running at sports day yesterday I knew I really did have to take him.

I decided to call them and be honest: maybe they could help me out by letting me have an actual appointment slot? I wasn’t too hopeful as the receptionists at our doctors are just like everywhere else – a little scary and you have to basically beg and give them far too much medical information to even have a chance of getting in.

I rang them anyway though and explained that Little Bear has some difficulties with behaviour and cannot tolerate waiting for a long time. I felt a bit fraudulent doing it though I’m not sure why as it is true. There weren’t any slots yesterday but the lady assured me that if I called in the morning they would be able to help me. A while later she called me back and said someone had just cancelled, would I like to book their slot? It was really good of her to take the time to remember us (they must get loads of calls) and to bother to find my number and call me back. This morning she called me again – the doctor had phoned in sick but she had jiggled things about so we could still have an appointment.

We have now been and only needed to wait 15 minutes which was much better. Little Bear was hanging off the reception desk and licking my arm and running about so I think they could see my issue!

Once again I feel lucky that when I asked for the support, it was there. I suppose it was a small thing but it did make a big difference to my day.

 

The third type of support I have observed this week was from Big Bear towards Little Bear. At sports day whenever Little Bear was participating in a race, Big Bear and the entirety of his year 3 class chanted and shouted for him. It was lovely.

 

This week I have also run one of my Communication Workshops. It was attended by prospective and current adopters. I love meeting other adopters in this context as hearing their stories is always so interesting. Sometimes I meet someone who is having a hard time of it and I can really sense their anxiety and worry and their being constantly on the brink of tears. I think it’s because I can see myself in the early days in them. I tend to go home and think about them a lot and hope they have the support around them that they so badly need.

Adoption is not an easy route. There are so many things that we have to constantly have on our mental agendas, so many things we have to chase up and even fight for. Good support is absolutely critical. I am, as ever, incredibly grateful for the support and kindness we have been shown, not just this week but every week. I know others are not so fortunate but I do think it is reassuring for us all that good support does exist and can be found somewhere.

 

Support

Jigsaws

I know this seems a slightly strange blog topic but Little Bear has taken a real interest in jigsaws recently and in doing so I have learned a lot about how he learns and how he needs to be taught.

Up until very recently Little Bear has not shown an interest in activities that require sitting still and concentrating, such as jigsaws. He has had lots of other needs in terms of developing his play skills so I haven’t been too concerned. Having a bigger brother who does sometimes (not a lot as he too doesn’t like sitting still) do these types of activity has helped Little Bear a lot though. If Big Bear is doing something, Little Bear generally wants to do it too. As I have got really strict with screen time and have been encouraging Big Bear to find other things to occupy himself one evening he did sit down and start doing a jigsaw. Of course Little Bear was in hot pursuit and got one out for himself too.

I had to intervene as I knew that the one he had chosen was too difficult. We swapped it for a very simple one with 4 large pieces. At that stage, it was too much to ask of him that he try to complete it on his own. Little Bear put the first two pieces he found together, couldn’t make them fit immediately, growled and chucked them across the room. It would have been easy to abandon ship at this point. However, I was feeling particularly resilient that day and decided to persevere. “Come on, you can do it” I cajoled, shifting the pieces about so that two that went together were close to one another. Little Bear managed to put them together with a surreptitious jiggle of the bits from me. I made a big thing of how clever he was. Could he stick another piece on I wondered aloud.

I began to get concerned because he didn’t seem at all able to see that we were making a picture and with only two pieces left there weren’t many options. He would try to put a straight edge into a hole or a corner piece into the middle. Each time he perceived himself to be failing at the task (which happened every few seconds), he would lose his temper and throw the pieces and sometimes break the ones we had already done if I wasn’t quite fast enough. Rather than losing my temper (which would be easy to do if feeling frazzled) it made me even more determined that he should feel success and complete the task. I think at one point he got up to wander off and give up. It was hard to know how far to push him but I knew that he wouldn’t think he could do jigsaws unless he actually did one so I pretty much made him come back and finish it off. I gave a lot of help and short of actually putting the pieces in place for him, heavily scaffolded the task. All the while a part of me wondered if I was placing too much pressure on him as perhaps he actually wasn’t capable of doing it?

However, jigsaw finally completed, we were able to high five, applaud and do lots of bows. Big Bear is always fabulous in these situations and spontaneously joined in with the praise. Now that the marathon of completing one 4 piece jigsaw was over I thought we could tidy up and go to bed. However, to my surprise Little Bear had other ideas. He wanted to do another jigsaw. So off we went again. It wasn’t much easier the second time and Little Bear certainly wasn’t a natural at ‘seeing’ the picture and matching bits together. I thought back to the discussions we’d had with the Educational Psychologist in which he said that Little Bear’s language scores were in advance of his visual skills, a statement that at the time I had felt must be wrong. However, was this the type of thing he meant? I had to agree that what I was seeing was concerning and that without a significant amount of adult support, Little Bear would not be able to complete even a very simple jigsaw at the age of 5.

We persevered and geed on by his previous success Little Bear was pretty determined to complete the next one. That is not to say that he didn’t lose his temper or become easily frustrated but with encouragement and a calm approach and I have to admit, an element of me refusing to allow him to fail at it, we completed another and another and about 5 more. In the end I had to call time on it and put him to bed.

I was astonished when in the morning he wanted to do more still. He got out every jigsaw we own one by one and we painstakingly completed each of them until the playroom floor was covered. I tried to teach him strategies to make it easier e.g. that one has a straight bit. It is an edge. It goes at the side. Or that was has two straight bits. It is a corner. I pointed at similarities between pieces. Look, that one has purple on it too or the cat’s tail is missing, I wonder where it is.

I repeated myself a lot. No matter how much I said it, the task didn’t seem to be getting any easier for Little Bear, not least I suspect because ‘edge’ and ‘corner’ were new words for his vocabulary. But I had to admire his persistence. I don’t think there are many children who would want to keep going and going at something they are finding so hard. I kept the praise level high and despite Little Bear repeatedly saying “I’m rubbish at jigsaws” I tried hard to re-frame that thought and help to show him otherwise. Once the floor was almost entirely covered, he began to admit that he might be The Jigsaw Master.

This was just a couple of weeks ago. Little Bear still likes to get the jigsaws out but now he can complete a 30 piece jigsaw on his own.

Nothing about this situation is as I would have predicted it and it has taught me several things:

Firstly, when Little Bear doesn’t appear to be able to do things, is it because he really can’t or because he doesn’t believe he can? I rather suspect that he often gives up at the first hint of failure as his default position is to assume that he can’t. This leads me to think that sometimes putting a bit more pressure on him to complete a task the first time he encounters it is the right thing to do to show him that he can (with a high level of support of course).

However, it is hard to know which tasks to target and whether it is realistic to expect him to achieve them. Taking a hard approach to tasks that he might not be able to complete would be really damaging.

Secondly, I do feel there was an element of Little Bear having difficulties learning the task. I don’t think he was ever going to spontaneously figure jigsaws out by himself. However, it has shown that with specific teaching he can learn and he can generalise his skills pretty quickly. He needs specific teaching of strategies e.g. he couldn’t notice the similarities between pieces so I had to verbalise things that seemed obvious. Once he has been taught these strategies and there has been a lot of repetition of them, he can apply them well. I suspect this is due to differences in his neural pathways, caused by years of neglect. However, just because he can’t learn something the usual way, doesn’t mean we can’t find a way around it and create a new neural pathway for him.

Thirdly, because of the first and second point, Little Bear can’t really be expected to try new tasks by himself. He needs a grown up by his side to keep him regulated, focused and to give him heaps of positive feedback. I really hope we get the EHCP funding we have applied for as this is the very reason why he needs it.

I have found at home that if I get the support wrong the first time we try a task that can be the end of his engagement with it forever, so good support for new tasks is essential.

I am genuinely shocked at his progress with jigsaws and at what he can do now. The fact that he was so motivated to succeed, despite all the barriers, is nothing short of inspirational. He allowed countless repetitions of the task over the course of a few days which will undoubtedly have cemented his skills much more quickly. He even sat and helped with a huge jigsaw of the world that the 4 of us were working on the other day. It was hard for grown-ups but he now believes he can do jigsaws so wasn’t unduly phased. He did brilliantly and Big Bear got bored before he did.

I am now thinking about what other tasks we could tackle in this way. We have managed it with Maxi Hama beads – we had the same “I can’t do it”, “you do it for me” situation the first time we tried those but by the end of the morning he was pushing my hand away saying “I do it myself”.

I have also noticed that once Little Bear has mastered a task his attention span suddenly increases beyond recognition. His teacher called me in the other day as she was shocked that he had sat on the rug in a corner of the classroom for a whole hour by himself doing jigsaws. They had all been muddled up and he had painstakingly sorted and completed them. She had never seen him concentrate for more than 10 minutes on anything and didn’t know that he could.

This weekend, Little Bear spent several hours making Hama bead creations until he had used every single bead and I had to make a hasty Amazon purchase.

Evidently confidence is playing a huge role in Little Bear’s ability to learn. Little Bear, you really need to believe in yourself as much as I do because what you have achieved so far is nothing short of astounding.

And thank you to the humble jigsaw, who knew I could learn so much from you?!

 

 

 

 

 

Jigsaws

Continence Issues

This week’s post has been inspired by a fairly innocuous seeming comment from a friend. He said, in reference to his newly adopted 2 year old, “he’s fully potty-trained now, day and night!”, with just the teeniest hint of competitive parenting lacing his voice. He’s rightly proud of the achievement but I have to confess that part of me thought “oh FFS!”. I think I managed a polite smile and no eye-rolling…

It is just that toileting is something of an ongoing situation here with Little Bear and, at 5 years old, we are fairly far from reaching the golden pinnacle my friend speaks of.

When Little Bear arrived, aged 3 and a half, he wasn’t toilet trained. His foster carers claimed it was because he “wasn’t ready” but in all honesty I don’t think they had really tried. Obviously tackling toileting wasn’t very high on our agenda in the first weeks of placement either, as bonding and behaviour issues were much more pressing. We also identified fairly quickly that we would need to sort out Little Bear’s digestion before attempting to get him out of nappies.

On his arrival he was taking prescribed Movicol for constipation and he created several very effortful and repulsive nappies each day. It was distressing to see the discomfort he was in and at night he seemed to be suffering from stomach cramps (he would writhe about in his bed whilst asleep and sometimes fall out). On reading the Movicol packet we established that this could be the cause of the pains.

We also observed that Little Bear barely ate any fruit or vegetables which might well be accounting for his sluggish gut. It was strange because I always assumed that during Introductions we would be given a list of food likes/ dislikes but we weren’t. When I pressed the foster carers on it they were vague, as though they didn’t really know what he liked. Either way, fruit and vegetables weren’t really mentioned or visible and whenever we gave them to Little Bear he certainly didn’t appear familiar with them.

Another observation was that when we first met Little Bear his tongue had a very unusual appearance: kind of lined and cracked looking. It looks normal now so in retrospect we have concluded he was dehydrated. We certainly didn’t really see him drink and if we tried to give him something he would only take tiny sips.

It became a fairly major priority of mine to get him to eat and drink properly, with the end goal of getting his digestion working properly without the need for Movicol. It was possible that there was a physiological reason for his constipation of course but we just weren’t convinced, given the other things we had noticed.

Tackling Little Bear’s diet wasn’t easy as we also had issues with getting him to sit at the table and actually eat. It turned out though that Little Bear would eat pretty much anything if it was mashed or pureed or hidden by gravy and if one of us would feed it to him. Looking back, it seems we might have still been at the weaning stage. The benefits were that I could get vegetable soup or pureed casserole or pasta sauce with hidden vegetables into him and he was having lots of tastes of different foods without knowing it. I also tried smoothie lollies which worked well until he got fed up of them.

It was difficult because Little Bear did and still does use food as a means of control and whilst I felt it was in his best interests to improve his diet, I was also wary of putting too much pressure on him to eat. I did do things like withhold chocolate or pudding until he had at least tried his proper food or eaten a few bits of veg. I know there are a lot of opinions out there about whether this is the right/wrong way to approach things but it turns out that healthy eating and the wider impact of it on health, alertness and behaviour was a big deal for me. It wasn’t something I could overlook.

I also found Little Bear’s behaviour at mealtimes one of the most challenging things to manage in a calm way. Everybody finds certain behaviours particularly triggering and for some reason this is what really pushed my buttons. I have had to work hard at finding a happy balance between meeting Little Bear’s nutritional needs and working on his table manners. As much as it pains me that he gets up every 3 seconds and will do anything but eat at the table, I have recognised that sometimes it doesn’t matter what else goes on, as long as he has eaten something. Little Bear is perfectly capable of feeding himself and sometimes he does so without issue but there are other times where no matter how infuriated I get, he just won’t. On those days it is more important that I swallow my issues and feed him, as then he will eat and if he has a full belly the world is generally a better place. I can just thank my lucky stars that he no longer screams, throws his food about the room or head butts the table.

Anyhow, after a couple of months, we had managed to successfully wean Little Bear off the Movicol and he had developed a regular, healthy bowel habit. It was around this point that we turned our attentions to toilet training. Little Bear knew when he needed a poo and was able to say so, so it didn’t take long to get him into the habit of using the potty. It would have been good, given he was nearly 4, to go straight to the toilet but he was quite wary of it so I went with what he was comfortable with and made that transition later.

It wasn’t long into potty use that Little Bear wanted “big boy pants” so we just went for it. In the early stages everything seemed to be going well. Little Bear was sorted with his bowel movements from day 1 and if we prompted him to go for a wee regularly we didn’t have too many wetting accidents. It was only when we tried to move on to Little Bear going off to the loo as and when he needed it that it became apparent there was a problem: he didn’t ever seem to need it. However, he clearly did as he was wet all the time. Little Bear didn’t seem bothered by this and didn’t tell us. I wasn’t always sure he was aware he was wet.

It feels to me as though some sort of developmental window has been missed so Little Bear has never developed the sensations warning him he needs to go and has grown so used to sitting in a wet nappy that being wet feels normal.

We have had to manage this by going back to regular prompting to help Little Bear stay dry, even though he is not always keen to comply with the requests. We have bought him a special watch, which you can set to vibrate at certain times to remind him to go to the loo and to help him become more independent in his toileting. I do think it’s good and I would recommend it but ideally your child would want to be dry and would be more motivated to do what it tells you than Little Bear. It worked well for us for a while but then he couldn’t help pressing all the buttons (even though it does have a child lock system) or constantly taking it off and losing it. As he is a little bit oppositional the fact that it was telling him to do something just made him want to do the opposite.

However, we have persevered and worked on Little Bear telling us when he is wet. If he does tell us, we praise him for that and try not to comment too much on the actual wet pants. He has made lots of progress with this and mostly does tell us now if he’s had an accident rather than us having to detect it from the smell!

We have also figured out that the first warning sign Little Bear gets is when a dribble of wee comes out. It appears that he can then stop the rest from coming until he chooses to release it. We are working on Little Bear taking himself to the toilet after the first dribble rather than just doing it in his pants. This is definitely improving and just this week, over a year into toilet training Little Bear has said a couple of times that he needs a wee and taken himself off for one. This is a big deal for him and I’m grateful that signs have started appearing to suggest we will eventually get there.

As we are not yet secure in day time dryness, we haven’t even thought about attempting night time dryness. Little Bear’s pull up is completely sodden in the morning and occasionally overflows during the night so I know he isn’t ready.

As with many things I write about Little Bear, none of this is his fault and I can’t help feeling sorry that he hasn’t been afforded the same chances as his peers, who were probably beginning their toileting journeys 12 to 18 months before he was. So, whilst I’m glad for my friend that his little one is gifted with exceptional bladder control I do wash a lot of urine-soaked clothes and bedding and hopefully you will forgive me for also being a teensy bit irritated by his comment.

Continence Issues

Recent Events

There have been many conversations in our house recently that I wish I didn’t have to have; most of them relating to death in some way.

It was initially due to the loss of Supergran and the boys consequently experiencing their first bereavement.

Little Bear’s anxiety around the subject comes out as an apparent Death Obsession. He talks about it all the time. Everything is dead according to him or he might want to kill something or he might wonder when someone is going to be dead. He has been this way for some time, to the point where I have to admit I mainly ignore the death overtures and I don’t let it concern me. We have all become somewhat complacent about it.

Recently he has evidently been pondering it a bit more though, asking questions such as “when you go to heaven, does a big hand come down to get you?” and “is Bob dead?” (Mr Foster Carer). He has checked a couple of times whether he is going to die soon. The questions appear at random points and are not necessarily related to things that are happening at the time, suggesting they are playing on his mind. In fact, at tea time this evening he randomly said “I hate Supergran now”. On further probing it turned out it was because she has died and essentially left him forever; something one assumes is quite triggering for a Care-experienced child.

I explained to him that it wasn’t her fault and that she was poorly and wouldn’t have wanted to leave him. He then said “she doesn’t love me any more does she?”. I tried to explain that Supergran will always love him, even though she isn’t here anymore and even though he cannot see her, she is still with him in his heart. This seemed to soothe him a little and then he confessed that he is worried that Grizzly or I might die.

Little Bear is sleeping really badly at the moment. It is hard to say why but as I’m writing this I’m wondering whether he is anxious. It is incredibly difficult to reassure children about death seeing as though it is inevitable. I tend to go with the usual platitudes about it only happening when you are really old etc. However, when they go to school one day and find out that somebody exploded a bomb in Manchester, purposefully trying to kill people, it becomes even more difficult to believe the reassurances. This time it isn’t some random place they haven’t heard of but a place they have visited and are aware is not too far away. Like children (and grown ups) up and down the country, my Bears are somewhat freaked out.

I don’t think that Little Bear fully understands the severity of what has happened, which is good, but I also feel he struggles to verbalise any questions or wonderings he might have, potentially leading to a far scarier narrative going on in his brain. He was the first to figure out though that Grizzly could have been there as he often works in Manchester and other potentially dangerous big cities, which has no doubt compounded his previous anxieties.

Big Bear, on the other hand, knows far too much about everything and has asked me many a question. Last night’s conversation began with me having to explain what will happen at Supergran’s funeral. Due to his constant earwigging of the hard to have grown up conversations that have been happening, I also had to explain what a “Chapel of Rest” is and that Supergran will know that people are going through her belongings and that it is ok that some of them are going to the charity shop because she doesn’t need them any more (he was concerned that it might be disrespectful). He also wanted to know how she got Cancer in the first place.

Somehow this conversation led on to “Mum, what is a Suicide Bomber?” – words that you would never wish to hear leaving the mouth of a 7 year old. Admittedly he was saying “suicide robber” but I knew what he meant. He had also heard the term “terrorist” and wanted to know what it all meant. I don’t believe in lying to children (though being able to shield them from the truth would be preferable) and feel I should give them as much information as they want/ are capable of processing. Once I nearly caused my Mum in Law’s friend to choke on her tea as Big Bear happened to ask me how babies come out of their mummy’s tummies when she was there and I think my answer of “they have to push them out of their lady bits” was a bit too honest and graphic for her!

Unfortunately this topic wasn’t as pleasant as I tried to navigate why someone would want to kill themselves/ others, whether it would happen again, whether the bomber had any “friends” we should be concerned about and if they would start bombing our houses. Now he has added ISIS, IRA and counterterrorism to his vocabulary too.

It is a truly terrifying world that we are raising our children in.

I wish that it wasn’t necessary for me to have had all these hard conversations with my children this week. I wish they could grow up freer and with more innocence. I wish I didn’t have to consider carefully each place that we might go to and wonder how likely it is to be a terrorist target. I wish parents up and down the country didn’t have to either.

I wish they didn’t need to know what cancer is or wonder about who will get it next.

It is hard with the current state of affairs not to become an anxious hermit who is scared of the world.

I guess everyone will find different ways of moving forwards and getting on with it. For me I think I want to be outside as much as possible. The world is actually full of beauty and our little corner is not scary at all.

I have spent today in my garden, taking some feelings out on the weeds. I enjoyed the peace and the sun. In one flower bed I found some Crocosmia which were not part of my colour scheme when I planted it and that I have been trying to pull out for a few years. Somehow, despite my best efforts, they are still there. It struck me that they are a metaphor for life right now: I’ve tried and tried to destroy them but they refuse to be destroyed. It doesn’t matter what I throw at them they are strong. I have given up on my colour scheme: who wouldn’t want some bright orange flowers to look at anyway? We need to be like the Crocosmia; we need to keep bouncing back no matter what life throws at us.

Life is still good and we need to live it to the full. This weekend I will be wearing my favourite dresses (not saving things for special occasions), spending quality time with my boys, letting them have that ice cream or stay up for 10 extra minutes. We will be doing nice things, eating nice food and having as many cuddles as possible. I will be telling them I love them frequently. #cherishthegood

 

Recent Events

Supergran

This week our beloved Supergran has found her peace and I’d like to tell you about her.

Supergran is the Bears’ great-grandmother. If someone told me to conjure up an image of a great-grandmother I would probably imagine someone extremely elderly, from another era, with thoughts and views to match: probably somebody quite distant who would want children to be seen and not heard; someone whom I wouldn’t have much in common with. Supergran, however, did not get that memo and was absolutely not like the stereotype. Supergran was Cool with a capital C.

Having had 5 children of her own, Supergran was totally used to the hustle and bustle of children and enjoyed having them around her. Although she has been too frail for many years to get down and play with them, she has always tried to involve herself in one way or another. I have a hilarious photo of tiny Supergran wielding a metre long Nerf gun. I seem to recall that she rather enjoyed shooting it too. Even if she couldn’t join in, she loved them sitting with her and chatting or showing her things they had made. I don’t remember her ever scolding the Bears and most of the time she was highly amused by their antics.

Supergran came to the hospital the day after Big Bear was born to see us. She was as excited about him as she would have been if he were her only grandchild yet she already had many by then (and now has great and great-great-grandchildren too). I remember wondering how she would react when I told her we were going to adopt – after all many elderly people can be very opinionated and there were older members of my own family who had their reservations. I should have known better though because Supergran is probably one of the least judgemental and most open-minded people I have ever met. Like anything I could have told her, she just took it right in her stride. She asked me how the process was going every time I saw her and was excited at the arrival of Little Bear.

In the 21 months we have had Little Bear, he and Supergran have not spent loads of time together as a full on tornado of a child is not an ideal partner for a frail 86 year old. However, they have spent enough time together to be very fond of one another. Little Bear knows exactly where to find the toys in her flat. He also knows where to find her ‘helping hand’: a grabber type thing that you can get up to all sorts of mischief with and her walking stick, a source of constant fascination for him. He also took her bin on a wild journey around the kitchen resulting in the loss of its lid. She just giggled and called him a “rogue”.

It was a very tender moment when they said their goodbyes. I think Little Bear knew exactly what was happening and kept giving her very gentle cuddles and strokes and he brought her a lot of comfort that day.

Big Bear was upset that on that visit Supergran was in bed and seeming very poorly so about a fortnight ago he and I had gone to the supermarket one evening and I spontaneously decided to take him to see her on the way back (Grizzly and I were seeing her regularly but generally not taking the boys as she was too ill). Thankfully she was having a better day and was sitting up in the living room. We had a lovely time with her. Big Bear had a football game the next day and I told him that Supergran has magic powers as she had correctly predicted the winner of The Grand National (and also because she probably did have magic inside her) and she rubbed some of her ‘power’ into his hair. The next day he scored a goal and now thinks she really did influence what happened. That was his last visit to her which I think is a nice memory to keep.

Not only has Supergran been a fabulous great-grandmother to my boys and undoubtedly the best granny ever to Grizzly, she has also been my friend. Although we are technically not related, we kind of unofficially adopted one another a long time ago. Despite the 50 year age gap, I have always loved visiting her and tried to go as often as I could. Being with her, in her little flat, was a very comforting place to be. It was always warm, often with a home-cooked stew or soup simmering away. I could have sat there for hours chatting with her. We chatted about all sorts. We might talk about something on television. She loved the soaps but was always up to date with Britain’s Got Talent or Strictly. She would know exactly who was in what and could probably give me more up to date information than I could give her. Over recent weeks we have spent many a lunch time hanging out and watching Loose Women.

Not in any way straight-laced, sometimes the conversation with Supergran would go in a rather rude direction. I remember having to explain ‘dogging’ to her after a particular episode of Peter Kay’s Car Share. Rather than being shocked she made a quip about maybe fancying a trip to the local woods later! On reflection she felt that the checker board roof of her little Ford Ka might make her a bit too conspicuous though.

We sometimes spoke about Politics but I was often out of my depth as I tend to purposefully avoid the news. Supergran was an avid viewer and despite having been really ill lately, she has never lost her interest in the world and we have discussed the upcoming election and Brexit very recently.

We talked a lot about clothes and shopping. Supergran has never had much in the way of money and when she was a young mother, she only had one dress. She used to wash it at night, hang it up to dry and put it on again in the morning. She took a lot of pride in presenting her children well though and was canny at obtaining material. She was a good seamstress and made all of her children’s clothes. Although never on anything but a tiny income, in later life Supergran was more able to buy clothes and treat herself. We also figured out that the best present we could give her was gift vouchers – total guilt free shopping in an envelope – and a couple of times per year Gary and I would take her for a big spree in a large M and S. We all loved those trips and it was so nice to see Supergran able to get whatever she wanted and getting such joy from the range of materials, patterns and colours on offer. Sometimes she would try on a trolley load of things but if none of them were any good we’d have to go around again! She couldn’t bear to come away empty handed and I often felt out-shopped by octogenarian!

As I am a terrible shopaholic and fellow lover of colour and pattern it has always been something we have in common. Over the past months Supergran has not been well enough to get dressed so I have tried to provide her with some vicarious enjoyment through my clothes. I haven’t worn the same outfit twice to visit her and have had to plunder the depths of my wardrobe to come up with something suitably colourful and different each time. She always likes to check out what I have on and makes me come closer so she can feel the fabric or look at the cut. I have told her that going forwards I will be blaming her every time I buy a new dress and she was pleased she would still have a bad influence on me.

My favourite times were when Supergran would tell me stories about her life or her children. She frequently told the same stories over again but it never bothered me in the way it frustrated other family members. The stories were usually amusing and she had a very soothing way of telling them. Occasionally she would tell me something I hadn’t heard before which would pique my interest. Supergran has truly lived her life and had many interesting stories to share.

Supergran was also a talented poet: our shared love of writing another thing we have in common. She would write as and when inspiration took her, usually on the back of an envelope and her poems were laced with her trademark intelligence and wit. When I visited she would tell me about her latest one then pull herself out of the chair to go and locate it and read it aloud to me. Often while she was up she would seek out the latest item of clothing she had succumbed to buying to show me too.

We are very, very lucky to have had Supergran in our lives as long as we have. She is a very popular lady and will be missed by many. As my Mum said, she was a small woman but she has left a big hole in our lives. She had a big, pure heart and there wasn’t a scrap of badness in her.

I know she doesn’t want us to be sad and though it’s hard at the moment I’m trying to focus myself by choosing a fabulous outfit for her funeral party (not wake, party) because I’m 100% sure she would want me to do that.

We love you Supergran. Rest in peace xxxx

 

*I have to apologise for my dodgy shifting about of tenses; it is still a bit soon for past tense.

 

Supergran

Letterbox Update

I last wrote about Letterbox back in September when I was trying to figure out how to send our first letter (see First Experience of Letterbox). At the time I was struggling to get hold of Little Bear’s Social Worker to get the information I needed. Nevertheless the letters were written and sent off.

After a week or so I e-mailed to check they had arrived safely. Getting a response was tricky as always and I e-mailed several more times before we got confirmation that they had been received by Social Services.

The next thing I wanted to ensure was that they actually found their way to Little Bear’s birth family. I could just imagine them knowing to expect a letter around September time and waiting with nervous anticipation each time the postman came. I didn’t trust the Social Worker in question to get the letter to them in a timely fashion and I felt strongly that it wasn’t fair. This would be Sian and Joseph’s (my blog name for Little Bear’s birth parents) first contact since Little Bear had been adopted and I felt it was an important one.

I have been nagging and nagging like a stubborn puppy for 7 months now without a response (other than an out of office or a promise of doing it next week). This is all I have wanted to know:

  • Had Little Bear’s birth parents and siblings received their letters?
  • What was the response?
  • Would we be getting a reply? If not, what support would Little Bear’s birth parents be getting?

Finally, after A LOT of perseverance on our part and that of our Social Worker, we have finally had a response. Sian and Joseph HAVE received their letter. I don’t know how they are or what impact the letter had on them. They have sent a birthday card to Little Bear though and in it they wrote a little note. It says they are sorry they haven’t written: they cannot find the words. I can understand that totally. At least they have attempted some communication with us even if just to explain that they can’t manage more. I am wondering what we could do to make it easier for them next time.

They also wrote that they are pleased Little Bear is loved as much as they love him. I felt when we got The Adoption Order and they went to court but didn’t contest it that Sian and Joseph were somehow giving us permission to be Little Bear’s parents. I feel this more strongly now. As weird as it may sound, it feels as though there is the start of a positive bond between us. We would still like to meet them if that ever becomes an option.

We have also received a letter from the long-term foster carers of some of Little Bear’s siblings. I suspect it was written several months ago, in direct reply to our letter but has been mysteriously buried somewhere on Little Bear’s Social Worker’s desk for quite some time. It is a nice letter and we can tell that the boys are well cared for and thriving in the placement which is reassuring. The Social Worker wasn’t able to give me an update on the other siblings so I have asked for one.

I find it quite tricky knowing how much I can ask and what sort of information they are allowed to share with us. It makes sense to me that we should know something, at least whether they are settled because we might need to know what has gone on for them if anything changes in the future. And, whether it makes sense or not, I do care about them and want to know that they are okay. I know we have never met them but as their brother is now our son, there is an undeniable link between us.

I also find the time delay in receiving everything difficult. It would feel very strange and conspicuous to present Little Bear with his birthday card several months after his birthday. He knows it isn’t his birthday now so receiving a card from his birth family would seem a lot more normal if it arrived at the same time as the rest of his birthday post.

I think on this occasion we will need to put the card and letters away in his box for when he’s older, not least because Sian and Joseph have signed the card “Mum and Dad” again. We have already spoken with his Social Worker about this and asked that they use their first names to be consistent with the Life Story Book and to minimise confusion. I don’t blame Sian and Joseph for this: I rather suspect the Social Worker has avoided speaking with them about it. I also suspect she generally avoids them and they won’t have had any support in coping with their grief or support in communicating with us. I do wonder how it would be if we could “cut out the middle man” but there are obvious difficulties with that.

It isn’t long now until this year’s official Letterbox season and like last year I’m feeling strangely keen to write. I am only hoping that this time it won’t result in another 7 months of pestering to make the right things happen. I thought we had agreed to writing once per year, not spending nigh on a year trying to organise it.

 

Letterbox Update

Brothers

Little Bear made me chuckle this week. He has Show and Tell at school every Thursday and this week when I asked him what he wanted to bring he said “Big Bear”. He had hatched a whole plan about how he was going to find Big Bear’s classroom and get him out to bring to show his friends. Something really tickled me about it and in the end we were so busy talking about the imaginary plan that Little Bear forgot to take anything at all. The underlying sentiment was very sweet though: Big Bear is one of Little Bear’s favourite things.

A few other things have happened recently that have got me reflecting on the boys’ relationship. I have talked before about our anxiety over whether getting a sibling would be a good thing for Big Bear. I have also talked about how excited Big Bear was about the prospect of getting a sibling in advance and how disastrous the start of their relationship was when it happened (See Getting brother or sister). It took a long time (months) for Big Bear to trust Little Bear and to stop fearing what he might do to him. It took even longer for him to start to see the upside of having him. That said I have felt for quite a long time now that they have developed a good relationship and have had an extremely positive effect on each other.

When I wrote about my Reflections on Adoption One Year In I talked about how well their relationship had developed and how nice it was to see them together. At that point I think I thought that we had reached a happy balance and this was probably the best their relationship would be. There weren’t any negative connotations associated with that thought; their relationship had already confounded our expectations and hopes. However, recently, I have noticed some changes.

Although the Bears got on very well, Big Bear had quite a lot of parameters that were non-negotiable in the relationship. These rules mainly related to his possessions. His bedroom door remains resolutely locked and Little Bear is not allowed to cross the threshold. In the playroom Big Bear’s toys and Little Bear’s toys are separate. They each have their own boxes and drawers and it has always been clear that Little Bear isn’t allowed to open any of Big Bear’s, let alone touch anything in there. If Big Bear was given a present, he would not allow Little Bear anywhere near it, let alone allow him to touch it or play with it.

That description makes it sound as though Big Bear was calling all the shots in the relationship and that we were standing by and not teaching him about sharing. Right back at the start of the process we tried hard to listen to Big Bear because we knew that there was a greater risk of an adoptive placement breaking down if there was a birth sibling involved. We had been told stories about birth children who had had to give up their beloved pet or share their room when they didn’t want to in order for an adoption to happen. We could see how things may have started badly for the birth child in those situations and we were really conscious of the need to keep Big Bear as happy and undisrupted as possible. His main concern had always been his stuff and we had made assurances to him that if he didn’t want his future sibling to touch his things then we wouldn’t let them. We felt it was essential that he knew we would listen to him and we would respect his feelings. We needed him to trust us and we needed to keep the lines of communication between us wide open.

It is also important to consider how Little Bear presented in all of this. When he first arrived he had absolutely no conception that some things were his and that other things belonged to other people. In fact he used to frequently go around picking things up saying “mine” when they clearly weren’t and at the foster carers house we saw him going into the other children’s bedrooms and sweeping their things onto the floor. He also had no idea of how to look after items, frequently lobbing things across the room or slamming them down. Had he have been able to get hold of Big Bear’s toys he would undoubtedly have broken them.

Little Bear was also somewhat of a dominant force. He definitely thought that he was in charge and tried to assert himself by telling people where they should sit and by demanding they did or didn’t do various things or by hurting Big Bear whenever our backs were turned. Had we have allowed this to continue I have no doubt that we would have reached a point where Big Bear was terrified of him and where Little Bear was unmanageable.

Given the fact that we needed Little Bear to assume his place as littlest in the family and to have respect for others and his environment and that we needed Big Bear to feel safe and secure in his own home, it made sense to uphold Big Bear’s rules about his possessions. It was going to do everyone a favour in the long run.

In practice, upholding the rules was difficult. To start with we didn’t have a lock on Big Bear’s door, we just kept it shut. The rule was supposed to be that the Bear’s would knock on each other’s doors and ask before entering. This failed immediately because Little Bear had no concept of rules and the closed door was somewhat of a challenge for him; it just made him want to get in more. Also, he was very opportunistic and before I realised that in order to provide him with the level of supervision he actually needed I would have to be glued to his side at ALL times, he managed to lull me into a false sense of security and shut himself very quietly inside Big Bear’s room. This was probably on about day 2 or 3 and needless to say it went down extremely badly with Big Bear and I felt terrible. It was after this incident that the lock was fitted, removing chance from the equation.

If we had have left Little Bear alone with the toy boxes he would certainly have opened and explored them. On some occasions, when he did manage to escape our watchful eyes, even for a few seconds, we would find him having scaled furniture to reach something he knew he shouldn’t have.

It wasn’t surprising that Big Bear was reluctant to bend his own rules. He didn’t feel Little Bear could be trusted and in reality, he couldn’t.

Last week we were sitting at the table having our dinner. I had let Big Bear spend some pocket money ordering one of those fancy pencil cases where you press a button and a container pops out. It had arrived on the day in question and Big Bear was super excited about it, fiddling with it while he ate. Little Bear was also interested in it and kept leaning across the table to get a better look. Big Bear dropped something on the floor and bent down to hunt for it. Little Bear immediately saw an opportunity to touch the pencil case while Big Bear wasn’t looking and his hand shot across the table, his pointy finger poised to jab a button. However, about a centimetre away from the button Little Bear stopped himself and withdrew his hand, looking at me sheepishly. “You were really tempted to press that, weren’t you?” I said. He nodded. “Well done for stopping yourself” I told him. Big Bear reappeared above the table. “Well done mate” he said, “here, press this” and proffered the tempting button.

That interaction summed up everything that has changed between the Bears. Little Bear has learned to respect other people’s possessions and to control his impulsivity. If I leave Big Bear’s door open (which I do every day while they’re at school to let it air), Little Bear tells me off and shuts the door. He never attempts to go in even though he must be really tempted. If he wants to play with one of Big Bear’s toys he always asks him and more often than not, Big Bear says yes now. We recently exchanged very belated Christmas presents with some of our friends. Big Bear got a particular toy that both of them really liked. I was amazed that Big Bear allowed Little Bear to play with it that day and to wander off with it out of his sight. Little Bear was careful not to lose any pieces and brought it back when Big Bear asked him to. Quite a few of the toys in the playroom also seem to have become universal. Big Bear knows how hard Little Bear is trying and is very good at encouraging him and rewarding his good behaviour by letting him have things without any need for an adult to prompt him to.

I’m surprised that 20 months in we are continuing to see these types of changes. I’m glad we didn’t force the toy issue because evidently this is the length of time they have needed to reach a happy compromise. We could have allowed Little Bear to rampage around touching whatever he wanted and we could have forced Big Bear to share all of his things but I think it has had a much more positive impact on their relationship, and in fact their wider life skills that we didn’t.

I have also noted recently that Big Bear seems to have stopped pretending that it is a nightmare having an adopted brother. The relationship seems a lot more straightforward now. Although Little Bear still attempts to boss his big brother around, Big Bear has found a very calm and friendly way of standing his ground. It is extremely rare that they fall out and even rarer that anything ends in violence.

I suspect that we have intervened far more in their budding relationship than you typically would between two birth siblings. I think the ‘normal’ way is to let them figure things out between themselves, even if that means the odd fisticuffs. However, we have put so much emphasis on the success of the adoption being related to the success of their relationship that we have felt it necessary to intervene and control things from the word go. We have had a zero tolerance policy on physical aggression so they don’t tend to engage in the pushing and pulling and scrapping that siblings usually do.

We can’t engineer everything though and you can’t force people to like each other if they don’t. The fact that they are so tuned in to each other and have so much fun together is all them. Becoming brothers hasn’t been easy for either of them and they have both worked tremendously hard at it. I suppose it should have been obvious that it would take a long time for their relationship to bed-down and for all the creases to be ironed out. I didn’t think it would take this long or that what seemed a perfectly good relationship at 12 months in could have become even better still 8 or so months later.

I wonder how things will change as time goes on? I hope they remain as close because it’s lovely to see, they are great friends and we are extremely proud of both them.

 

 

Brothers