My Father Has A Monobrow

Today’s post is a little bit different. It’s a piece of creative non-fiction I wrote for writing reasons but have now decided should have its home here. It is largely true (with some exaggeration for writing reasons) and permission to write about fatherly monobrows has been sought. I’m sure you’ll see its not really all about my eyebrows.

 

My Father Has a Monobrow

In the nineties, when I was growing up, no one had eyebrows. I assumed they did once, at birth at least, but somewhere between childhood and maturity they’d mislaid them, leaving in their place a narrow suggestion of an arc, maybe made of hair, maybe just a drawn-on pencil line. I’ve concluded they tweezed them aggressively or, the likes of Kate Moss and the Supers, employed minions dedicated to eradicating them, rather than just naturally acquiring hairless faces through superior genes. A stray hair could kill a career, probably.

It’s funny how, as a child, your parents just look like your parents – amorphous faces signifying safety and familiarity. You don’t tend to appraise the relative merits of that eye shape or jawline. You don’t consider whether those faces are beautiful or handsome or otherwise. They just exist and you fully accept them, like there being a sun in the sky or water in the tap.

I don’t know when I noticed the monobrow. Or maybe when I noticed that others didn’t have one. This was my father – his face as familiar as home – how had I missed the bristly caterpillar lurking above his aviators?

A teenager now, with a knowledge of heritability and a desire to be desirable, I became well acquainted with my tweezers. I squinted into the slightly too far away bathroom mirror, worrying at the place my nose met my forehead. There was, thankfully, a sizeable glabrous patch but the hairs at each inner edge of my brows grew wild and haphazard. Would they encroach with time, I wondered, like grass that sidles into flowerbeds and between paving stones? Was this the start of my very own monobrow? Certain this would only further my social challenges – brought on by an extremely uncool and insatiable desire to get only A grades – I plucked them aggressively away.

As the noughties approached and society demanded ever increasing levels of pre-pubescent smoothness, before people thought of Frida Kahlo as an icon and before Cara Delevingne made hirsute brows de rigueur, I cursed the blasted monobrow.

Eyebrow husbandry, it turns out, is a little tedious. You have the energy for it in youth but less so in the fullness time with a house to run and babies to tend to. Left mostly untamed, it turned out I was less lupine than anticipated – a happy accident coinciding with the trend for a fuller brow. I felt a little smug that I had not over plucked and could still grow a fulsome pair, unlike some of my friends who would be drawing them on forever. The monobrow got little thought, if a small nod of appreciation.

Then we adopted our youngest son and I gave the genetics of our faces a whole new level of consideration. Does he, I wondered, stare at my husband’s face, asking himself impossible questions about his future self? Does he know that he can’t inherit that distinctive nose, those hazel eyes, that mass of copper curls?

At least I knew about the monobrow. I suspected there was a comfort in seeing those eyebrows, those high cheekbones, that prominent nose, that triangle of moles, mirrored in the faces around you, anchoring you to your tribe.

I wonder what fears creep into the gaps left by not staring at your genetic brethren over the dinner table. Is our son concerned about his future appearance? Does he fear a particular feature – one he has concocted in his imagination – such as a bulbous chin or patchy beard? Does he wonder whose eyes he has or where he got his freckles? Does the lack of genetic sameness leave him untethered and lost? Or does it free him to not even wonder?

My father has a monobrow and I love a son I didn’t conceive. I don’t know if genetics are everything, or nothing at all.

 

 

 

 

 

My Father Has A Monobrow

Birth Siblings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Birth Siblings

National Adoption Week 2018

Next week is National Adoption Week – a big push from the industry to raise awareness of adoption and to encourage would-be adopters to pursue it. This year the theme is ‘the adopter’ – who makes a good adopter and, from my perspective, what support do people need to succeed as adopters?

This is the third National Adoption Week since I’ve been blogging and it’s tricky to have a fresh perspective each time (the first year I blogged every day and last year I wrote The Little Things ) so this time I’ve asked the boys for some help.

Me: What should I say to people who might want to adopt a child?

Little Bear: Do it!

Big Bear: Do it because you’ll help save lives of children. You might regret it for a bit but it gets better and better and better.

Me: Is it something everyone should do?

Little Bear: Yes, because if they’ve not got good parents, they have to send them to good parents.

Big Bear: No, because you might be too busy or dangerous people shouldn’t be allowed. Parents need to be approved as good. It depends on their environment and home. They need to respect the child’s values.

Me: Is there anybody who shouldn’t be allowed to adopt?

Little Bear: Named a lot of people we know! I think this question was too abstract.

Big Bear: They can’t judge a child on colour or how they look. You need training. It doesn’t matter about shape or size. You really just need to be able to protect a child.

I think you can tell Big Bear has been learning about values and diversity at school. Or perhaps he has a future in politics.

Me: Have you got any advice for people who adopt children?

Little Bear: You should be nice and take care of them.

Me: Was there anything we did that you didn’t like? That we should have done differently?

Little Bear: You guys were really bossy but now you’re just perfect.

I suspended the interview at this point to smother him in kisses and tell him he is perfect too.

Big Bear: You can’t give children everything they want, just what they need. Help them. Support them. Ask if there is anything wrong. Don’t be violent to your child. Take it easy to start with. Don’t talk about horrible stuff.

Little Bear: Yeah, don’t let them see scary things.

*

Between them, I think the Bears have raised some salient points. Firstly, adoption is not for everybody, they’re right about that. Adoption is life-changing. I don’t see the point of lying to people in an attempt to snare them, only for them to find out the realities when it is too late. Adoption is challenging in all regards – emotionally, practically, financially. It is rarely a fairy tale. Adoption requires you to open your lives, not just to a traumatised child, but to the wider birth family who inevitably come with them. If you think they don’t come with them or that a child can just forget their past once they’re with you, adoption is not for you. If you do not believe in attachment theory or the impact of developmental trauma on the infant brain, adoption is not for you. If you believe that a child’s needs can be resolved by love alone, adoption is probably not for you.

However, if you are prepared to educate yourself in ACEs, trauma and therapeutic parenting, and you are willing to put yourself in the shoes of your child and are prepared to try your best to look at the world from their point of view, you might find out how amazing adoption can be. Adopters need resilience, a willingness to learn, a preparedness to fight for their child if circumstances require it, an open mind and an open heart. An ability to persevere helps and so does keeping going, no matter what. If you have not yet turned away or come out in a cold sweat, maybe you could do it?

I think there are some members of the adoption industry who are unwilling to tell this truth through fear of the damage it will do to recruitment of adopters. My view is increasingly that if people are put off by a few truths, they are unlikely to be cut out for adopting. We need people to go in with their eyes open, because discovering you can’t do it or it isn’t quite what you thought it would be once you’re already in, causes irreparable damage to all parties.

I don’t mean to point fingers – to some extent there will always be unknowns. There is the unavoidable disparity between understanding something in theory and experiencing it in practise. There is the unpredictable impact of moving a child from foster care to their forever home and all the additional losses that come with that. There is the unavoidable risk of relying solely on the information that is provided to you.

Risk cannot be fully mitigated in adoption.

However, I truly believe there will always be people who are willing to take these risks; people who won’t see the risks but the possibilities. Those people, they are the ones who are needed.

Everything in life is a risk isn’t it? Conceiving and given birth is riddled with risk but we tend to err on the positive when we talk about those. Riding motorbikes is risky. Buying shares is risky. Extreme sports are risky. Debts are risky. Crossing the road is not without risk.

We decide where to put our risk; when to roll our dice. We choose which risks are the ones we want to take. Which ones feel like calculated risks and which are a risk too far. I am one of the most risk-averse people you could meet. I wouldn’t roll my dice on debt or drugs or bungee-jumping or extreme-anything. In truth I’m hyper-aware of risk, worrying far too much about terrorism, planes falling out of the sky or getting squished on the motorway. But I took the risk of adoption. I informed myself so it was a calculated risk. I embraced everything about the idea of it, risks and all, because, for me, I believed it would be worth it. I believed it would be more than its risk. And it has been. So much more.

Adoption has been life-changing for us, in every way. Big Bear has become a brother through adoption. He has grown stronger and more self-assured because of adoption. He was always going to be a kind and empathetic young man but adoption has made him even more aware of others – the ways in which they might struggle, the ways in which he has the power to change outcomes for them through his words and actions and the ways other people’s lives might differ from ours. He’s very emotionally astute for a nine year old and I think adoption has played its role in that.

For Grizzly and I there is the obvious impact: we have gained another son. A son who drives us up the wall at times, who has found buttons we didn’t even know we had and pushed them, then pushed them again. A son whom we love entirely, just as he is. A son who we are immensely proud of and who brings each one of us joy, every single day. A son who is the funniest, kindest, most determined young man you could wish for.

Adoption has completed our family. It has brought our parents another grandchild; my brother another nephew.

For me, adoption has taken my career in new directions. It has led me to writing.

And as for Little Bear himself, it’s kind of hard to quantify. I don’t want to perpetuate the myth that adopters are like superheroes, saving children from a lesser life. There are no capes or bulging thigh muscles here and we don’t wear our pants on top of our clothes too often. There is no heroism in losing your temper or the natural mess of our daily lives. But it is possible to think about Little Bear’s starting point and the ways in which being adopted have undeniably changed his trajectory. He has gone from being a three and a half year old functioning at a 16 month level to a keen, enquiring and capable 6 year old. He has gone from attending a special educational needs nursery to literacy, passing through and leaving behind the lowest group in his mainstream class. Expectations for his future have gone from zero/ worrying to certainty he will succeed in a field of his choosing.

Adoption means Little Bear aches for his birth siblings. It means he has a lot of questions and we don’t always have the answers. It means he sometimes feels different and wonders where he belongs.

Adoption has given Little Bear stability, safety, self-belief and certainty. It’s given him a forever home and a family who will fight wolves empty-handed for him, if necessary.

Adoption has been life-changing for us all.

I can’t tell you to do it and I can’t tell you not to do it. It’s your risk.

If you think you can do it, do your research. Know the type of risk you are considering; arm yourself with knowledge.

I can tell you this: you cannot do it alone. You can be a single adopter, of course, but you need your people for the days when you don’t feel well or when your little darling has driven you three times around the bend. You need an adoption agency with proper, robust, actual post-adoption support for the times when only a reassuring, experienced professional will cut it. You need to acquaint yourself with self-care; what works for you, how much and how you will know when you need it, because adoption relies fully on you being okay.

Adoption is not the right route to parenthood for everybody. But if you like your risks with a high likelihood of progress, satisfaction and pride, it could well be the route for you.

National Adoption Week 2018

Re-visiting the CPR

Last week Little Bear was really struggling. We’d had a lovely first 4 or 5 weeks of the summer holiday and then suddenly there was a sea-change. Little Bear was just so angry. He could barely contain himself. A request like ‘please tidy the game away’ led to ten minutes of growling, gritted teeth and very elaborate deep breathing. He hated me several times per day and called me an ‘idiot’ countless times. It was obvious something was the matter but it was difficult to say what. With it being a week or so before school starting again I assumed it was anxiety for that.

On the Friday, Big Bear was busy doing something else so Little Bear and I had a day out on our own. It was one of those trips where I wasn’t really feeling it because I knew it could be a really difficult day and sitting around watching TV seemed quite a lot more appealing. However, having now been Little Bear’s mum for three years, I also knew that he needed that day out. He needed me to show him that I still really loved him and wanted to be with him, of my own choosing, despite him having a rotten week and being less than pleasant to me. I took a deep breath, reminded myself there were only a few more days before I got Five Minutes Peace and off we went.

We didn’t get off to a brilliant start because the road we usually use was shut so I had to turn around and go another way. In his fragile state this really bothered Little Bear. He announced the day was ruined and we should just go home. He protested all the way there that we now had to drive on a motorway and he hated motorways. Apparently it was the worst day ever.

However, once we were there, we had fun. We played at the park and because there was only he and I, it was easy to trail him and just follow him wherever he fancied going. We saw animals, went on a little train, had a go on an inflatable slide. We’d brought a picnic and I was surprised that Little Bear wasn’t in a hurry to eat and go. He wanted to hang out on the rug for a while so he played on my phone and we snuggled. It was lovely and I guiltily thought about my feelings from before we came out. We had ice cream and painted some pottery.

When Little Bear got tired we headed for home. Then, boom! In the car: an unexpected life story chat. A big one this time. Could this have been behind his behaviour all week?

Little Bear was thinking in particular about his birth siblings whom we only have annual Letterbox contact with. We have talked about them before and looked at their pictures but then months go by and Little Bear doesn’t say anything and I wonder whether he has remembered any of the chats. Well, he has. He’s remembered everything and I suspect he ruminates on it all a lot more than he lets on.

He told me he had been dreaming about them which is interesting because I recently read that our pre-verbal memories can appear in our dreams. He told me he misses them and got tearful. It was hard trying to explain why he can’t see them. I told him about Letterbox for the first time though and I think this year he will be able to get involved.

I was hit with a realisation: we might need to explore changing our contact agreements going forwards. It isn’t really ok that he can’t see his siblings, is it? To some extent we have been able to pretend they don’t exist – out of sight out of mind. Little Bear has previously not mentioned them or shown any understanding of who they are so that seemed ok. Although, really, it isn’t ok. They are his siblings. They do exist and now he has a sense that they should be together.

I feel it’s imperative that we listen to him and that, if necessary, we are willing to challenge current arrangements. The message from adult adoptees is loud and clear: listen to us, do not deny us our roots. I think for us to be the best parents to Little Bear we can be, we need to be willing to listen to what he wants, even if it is difficult or inconvenient for us.

Grizzly and I had a big chat later on. It would be easy to react immediately and to try to set the ball rolling. However, there are many things that need to be considered. Allowing direct contact with Little Bear’s siblings could risk leading their birth parents right to us. At the moment, being anonymous and in an unknown location feels important. What could be the possible consequences of taking that risk? It’s hard to say and near impossible to predict with the information we have.

Also, it is very difficult to communicate the difference between an idea and the reality of a situation to a 6 year old. Meeting the siblings would be a huge deal. I know he sort of remembers them but they would essentially be strangers and it could be extremely overwhelming for him. At this stage he wouldn’t be able to tell you which name went with which person. Perhaps a bit more of a connection needs to be built first.

For now we are going to hold the nugget of the idea in mind. We’ll involve Little Bear in Letterbox and, happily, we’ll be able to give him the reply this time. I think we’ll see how that goes before we jump in any further.

That was only part of the big conversation though. The enormous question of ‘why did my birth mum want to give me away?’ reared its head for the first time. I explained she hadn’t wanted to and how it all works. I very quickly exhausted the basic narrative that has covered his questions so far: your birth parents weren’t good at looking after children. Then I had another realisation: if he asked me more questions about details of exactly what happened I might not be able to answer them very well. My memory of the details (beyond the content of his Life Story Book) was fuzzy to say the least. If anything, I’m guilty of creating some sort of weird rose-tinted view of his birth parents. I have them painted as a victim of their circumstances and that they hadn’t actively done much wrong. I had even got to the point of wondering why the children had been removed when they were trying their best.

My strange little internal view of them was at odds with what I know about how child protection services work. It didn’t stack up. So I realised I had better go back to the paperwork and refresh my memory of the details of what really happened.

So that’s how Grizzly and I ended up sitting here, in our pyjamas, on a Friday night, when most people are out-out or watching Netflix, pouring over Little Bear’s CPR (Child Permanence Report – the lengthy report you are given about your adoptive child that gives the full history of how they ended up in Care).

It was much worse than I remembered.

I haven’t read it for more than 3 years and when I read it last time, I hadn’t even met Little Bear. I suspect that what I looked for in it was quite different to my current viewpoint. Then, I was alert to how many times he’d moved, what things had specifically happened to him, whether mum used drugs or alcohol. I suppose I was looking for red flags. I probably didn’t pay too much attention to the bits about his siblings because they weren’t going to be adopted. Because Little Bear was the youngest, there wasn’t a lot about him specifically in the report. However, now that I’m reading a report about my youngest son, not a child I haven’t met yet, I’m attuned to other clues. This time, I wanted to get an idea of his birth parents (an accurate one) and what the home environment was really like. I needed to know about the reality of their day to day lives. Who are these people? How do they tick? What were the risks back then? What are the risks likely to be now?

The picture I now have of them is much less rosy, let’s just say that.

This time I paid much more attention to the siblings – what had they been through, how were they likely to be coping now? The thing is that they aren’t just random children who don’t matter to us; they are our son’s siblings. They do matter. In fact, the journey of one in particular is hard to read and it was the bits about them at which I cried, not any of the bits about Little Bear.

I don’t think the birth parents can really change to any dramatic degree. I don’t think they have the capacity to change the things that would make a difference. Things for the siblings though are very much subject to change. A lot is going to depend on the care and guidance they have now. They could be a product of their earlier childhoods or they may have been able to overcome that early adversity. They could gravitate back to birth parents or take their lives on a completely opposing course. We don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll ever know but if we go down the route of increasing contact, we’ll need to ask some questions. There is certainly a fine balance between giving your child access to their past and keeping them safe in the present and future.

For the first time I feel the weight of responsibility of being a custodian of Little Bear’s story. The choices we make now and the things we do or don’t do could have a huge impact on how Little Bear will feel about being adopted in the future. I read so much about adoptees feeling marginalised and misunderstood that obviously I want to avoid the mistakes they feel were made for them. At the same time, I feel the pain of their adopters who no doubt wracked their brains and their hearts, as we do, trying their best to figure out what the right decisions are.

 

*I have absolutely no idea how I managed to create a rose-tinted view of LB’s birth parents. Perhaps it was subconsciously more palatable? Either way, I can highly recommend revisiting the CPR at moments of doubt, even if I was haunted by some of the information for a couple of days afterwards.

 

Re-visiting the CPR

Fear of Loss

Little Bear has had an emotional few weeks. It began with the unfortunate death of his pet hen. It was unfortunate because he hadn’t had her that long and she was originally called Curious George (before he re-named her Izzy, that is) and curiosity really did kill the hen. She was a serial escaper, the true Houdini of hens, scaling the 6 foot fence on innumerable occasions and outwitting all our attempts to contain her. Alas one night she must have taken one chance too many and been met by an errant fox.

When Grizzly, Big Bear and I discovered the loss, we could already foresee the problem: this would hit Little Bear hard. We did the usual thing; Grizzly and Big Bear went to the farm to get another hen that we planned to pop into the hen run without Little Bear being any the wiser. However, Izzy was a beautiful black hen, with shiny iridescent feathers and when the boys arrived at the farm, there were no black hens left. Eek. We were left with no choice but to tell him the truth and replace Izzy with a different coloured hen.

Little Bear initially took the news quite well. The distraction of a new hen waiting outside for him in a box was helpful, especially when she turned out to be the friendliest hen we’ve ever had and allowed Little Bear to pick her up and cuddle her straight away. She was immediately christened Ronaldo and apart from the poor thing’s gender confusion, all was well with the world.

However, as the day wore on, there were several occasions when Little Bear’s eyes filled with tears and he said how sad he was about Izzy. This alone was probably quite triggering but to add insult to injury, Grizzly had to go away that evening to Germany. Grizzly travels a fair bit with work, he is generally away overnight most weeks but it is usually in the UK and evidently the idea of him going away for 3 sleeps and in a plane felt quite different to Little Bear. We could tell something was bothering him from his behaviour. Over the morning, Little Bear found it harder and harder to listen, becoming rude and a little verbally aggressive. Much of this was targeted at Grizzly.

After lunch we decided to go to the park for a few hours to have some quality family time before Grizzly went. When Little Bear and I were in the downstairs loo, him stood on the loo seat looking into the mirror while I applied his sun cream, he took me by surprise with a throwaway comment. “I don’t remember being in that girl’s tummy,” he said out of nowhere. “Your birth mum?” I asked and said her name. “Yeah,” “Well, most people don’t remember being inside someone’s tummy either,” I reassured. “Ok,” he replied, hopped down and wandered off.

Sometimes these life story chats are so random and out of the blue that you are left wondering if they really happened. I made a mental note to fill Grizzly in when we got to the park, as evidently Little Bear had a busy mind that day.

In the car, the situation between Little Bear and Grizzly was deteriorating further. I don’t think Little Bear had followed some instruction or other and appeared to be being purposefully combative. Grizzly was rapidly running out of patience. Things were heading towards explosion territory. Without wanting to replay the conversation we’d had in the toilet in front of Little Bear, I suggested to Grizzly that Little Bear might have a lot on his mind and that might be why he was behaving as he was. Grizzly managed to wind himself back, which is so hard when you are already at the getting mad stage and wondered aloud to Little Bear whether he might be getting annoyed with him because he was really sad about him going to Germany. It’s so obvious now when we’ve got the wondering right because Little Bear crumbles in front of your eyes and can turn in a split second from furious rage to heartbreak. Sure enough, he just dissolved. Yes, he didn’t want Grizzly to go and he was sad his hen had died. We did the usual reassurances but on this occasion Little Bear was so upset that we only got a few metres down the road before we had to pull the car over. He climbed into the front, into Grizzly’s knee and wept.

It was such a shame. Its times like this when being adopted is different. For children who have not lost an entire previous life, losing a pet does not spiral into wondering whether daddy really will come back. It doesn’t trigger all those feelings of having lost precious people before. It doesn’t make them think about the mysterious woman who gave birth to them or the family they never see. It doesn’t make them fearful of losing everything all over again.

Little Bear’s hen loss was a real loss. His dad going to Germany for three days and coming back again was not. However, having the background that Little Bear has causes him to perceive a small or temporary separation as a potential loss. The threat of real loss is never too far away when you’re adopted. He has been with us more than 2 and a half years now. That time has been really stable. Nobody has left him. However, the significant losses of his birth family and then his foster carers in his formative years have left an indelible stain on his memory. I wonder whether that will fade over time or whether the threat of loss will always haunt him like this.

I spoke with school on the Monday morning, to make them aware of Little Bear’s fragile emotional state. It was a good job because that day, for the first time ever, he talked to Mrs C, his TA, about some of his life story. I have spoken to her since and she said that Grizzly being away really impacted on Little Bear. He had struggled more in school; regressed in his attitude to learning and even sabotaged his work, something he had completely stopped doing.

Unfortunately, shortly after Grizzly got back, it became obvious he had caught some lurgy from the plane and was unwell. He wasn’t at death’s door ill, just man flu ill, but Little Bear was worried in a death’s door kind of way, I suppose because his threat of loss censors where still on high alert. It’s so hard for him, having to carry around the weight of worry that something bad might happen to someone he loves all the time.

Thankfully, Mrs C seemed to get it and made the link with Little Bear’s earlier life without me needing to point it out. I really feel as though she has been listening to us rabbiting on all year and she is pretty tuned into the little dude now, thank goodness. Having an understanding approach at school and some extra cuddles will no doubt have helped Little Bear to get back on track a little quicker.

 

*In looking for a medical term for ‘fear of loss’, I stumbled upon this list of fears: 

Phobias list

Check it out, it’s pretty entertaining. Obviously I don’t find people having fears funny but I’m hard pushed to believe some of them are real… Fear of sitting down, Tuberculosis or being infested by worms anyone?

 

Fear of Loss

Contact

The subject of contact has been prominent in our house this week for a few reasons. My involvement in it has got me thinking about the importance of contact in general and how it is of multi-faceted benefit. There are benefits not just to the child in the centre of it all but to those around him and those on the receiving end of the contact too.

The first thing that happened was that we decided that Little Bear had asked us enough times now if he could see his Foster Carers and we needed to listen. It has always been in a casual way – mentioned one day then not for weeks and usually mentioned in passing.

Initially, when Little Bear first moved in, it was an active decision on our part that he wouldn’t speak to them for a while. The transition had been quite rushed and Little Bear hadn’t seemed to miss his Foster Carers Karen and Bob at all. If he did it wasn’t in a way that he could verbalise or even that he shed tears over. It felt odd.

It was only after about 6 months that Little Bear started to mention them and then it was usually when he was displeased with us.

During the first months my own feelings about Karen and Bob were very confused. They had been lovely to us – very friendly and welcoming and they had gone out of their way to include Big Bear and ease his distress when Introductions proved very hard on him. However, I also felt angry about various aspects of Little Bear’s development that clearly hadn’t been nurtured or developed in their care. I was upset that he should have been further ahead than he was after such a long time with them. I knew he had the potential to be further on because he was literally flourishing in front of my eyes. I was upset that his tongue was cracked from dehydration; he didn’t know what fruits or vegetables were and was having to take laxatives for his sluggish digestion. He hadn’t learned to do basic things like walk holding hands and was used to playing in his room with the light on in the middle of the night. I was upset that we had to start parenting from scratch, down to teaching him his own name and getting him to follow even a basic instruction.

We had our work cut out and I honestly didn’t know if I could speak to Karen and Bob or what I would say to them if I did.

I suppose if I’m really honest I was also worried about our attachments at that point. I genuinely think speaking to them or seeing them could have broken the fragile bond that we were gradually forming with Little Bear. I guess some of my motivations for not having contact were selfish.

However, I always intended that in the longer term we would have some sort of contact for Little Bear’s sake. I do think children should be able to stay in touch with their Foster Carers but I also think this should very much be taken on a case by case basis and directed by the child. I sent occasional messages and Christmas cards etc. I thought Karen and Bob might have sent Little Bear a birthday or Christmas card but they didn’t. Perhaps they weren’t bothered about him anymore?

More recently I have known that the time was coming when instead of just allowing Little Bear to talk about Karen and Bob and affirming that it really is ok for him to miss them, I would need to go one step further. I would need to facilitate him speaking with them and possibly seeing them. All of a sudden I felt ok to make this happen. I didn’t think it would threaten our bond at all. And moreover I wanted him to have the opportunity.

So recently I contacted them to see how they felt about it. I was surprised by how keen they were and how happy my text had made them. The phone call took place and I was surprised by how nice it was to hear their voices. An adopters relationship with foster carers is unique I think and can’t really be likened to any other type of relationship. After all, you don’t usually move into a stranger’s house for a week or so and then take away the child they have been caring for. It is a very unusual dynamic.

For us, it turns out, it is a dynamic in which despite not speaking to them for 2 years and having very mixed feelings about the care they provided our son (though I know they didn’t do any of it purposefully) we are still able to have an easy and comfortable conversation. It was lovely to hear how they and their family are doing and also their genuine joy in hearing about Little Bear. It seems as though they do think about him and wonder about him but don’t want to intrude into our lives by getting in touch to ask us about him. I have made it clear that we would not see that type of contact as an intrusion and would welcome it.

I think the phone call was important for them. They needed the contact.

Little Bear needed the contact and wanted it but was quite discombobulated by it. When Grizzly asked him why he wanted to speak to Karen and Bob he said, “Because they used to love me”, which really hit the nail on the head in the brilliantly simple way that Little Bear does. It also meant we were able to explain that they haven’t stopped loving him and I’m sure the phone call helped with proving that.

Little Bear didn’t talk to Karen and Bob for long though he did tell them he would like to see them. Although he was a bit all over the place whilst I was on the phone, the behavioural fall-out that we expected afterwards didn’t materialise. I think for him, the wait was the right thing to do.

I was also surprised that Big Bear was really keen to talk to Karen and Bob and he too got a lot from the conversation. I suppose that Bob and Karen are a part of his brother’s past that he is a part of too, in a way that Little Bear’s birth family are not. He remembers being in their home and the kindness they showed him.

All in all, I think our first foray into making contact with Bob and Karen was really positive and I genuinely hope it will lead to more chats and possibly even a meet up. The whole thing has just served to illustrate that in adoption nothing is black and white; nothing is purely bad or purely good. Most things are a weird swirl of greys – a very complex mix of positives and negatives that cannot be separated into neat piles. Once you embrace the grey swirl, rather than being upset by the negatives or viewing the positives through a rose-tinted lens, things seem much easier to navigate.

And when it comes to complex grey swirls, nothing is more complex or swirly than our relationship with the other people we need to maintain contact with: Little Bear’s Birth Parents. It is Letterbox time so I have been thinking a lot about Sian and Joseph too. When I last wrote about this it was to say that we had requested an update that I didn’t think we would ever get. Miraculously we did get an update (to which Sian and Joseph had to consent) and it gave us the clearest picture we’ve had of them to date. The update also included information about Little Bear’s birth siblings.

What was brilliant about it was the insight it gave us into how they are all coping with Little Bear’s adoption and what some of their worries and preoccupations are. This has made writing Letterbox letters so much easier and has allowed me to tailor the letters to address their anxieties. Last year (our first experience of Letterbox) I think I felt quite vulnerable in my relationship with Little Bear and the thought of Sian and Joseph alone was enough to jiggle my confidence, let alone having to write to them.

This year I feel very different. This time I feel the responsibility of playing my part in helping them to cope with the loss of their son. That is not something I thought I would ever feel or say. I feel the same about supporting Little Bear’s birth siblings. Luckily they have sent us some specific questions and we have answered those. The letter to Sian and Joseph has been harder but I have tried to anticipate their concerns and address them as best I can. I have made sure they know Little Bear knows he is adopted and that we talk about them.

It is suddenly very obvious to me how important the contact is for them. At this stage I would say it is more important for them than it is for Little Bear, though I anticipate his need for it to grow as he does.

I think our role in it all is quite different to how I used to think of it. The contact is not about us. First and foremost it is about Little Bear and trying to future-proof as much as possible. Secondary to that, we might actually be able to make a difference in Sian and Joseph and the siblings’ lives if we can put our own feelings aside and think carefully about what they need from us. This is where good social work is crucial and why I really feel that allowing us updates is so vital. It is a road that has to be walked with caution but one that I am hopeful about travelling.

A crucial part of our update was that it would be okay for us to meet Sian and Joseph (we had previously been told we couldn’t) so now we need to think long and hard about whether to go ahead and do it. I rather suspect we will but therein lays a massive grey swirly mire to wade through.

I would say that adoption has about fifty shades of grey but that would conjure up the wrong image entirely. It’s grey and swirly and the black and white is inextricably tangled. Lets stick with that.

 

Contact

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