The Virtual World & Me

Well, things have turned a little unpleasant of late, in the Twittersphere, let’s just say that. Despite my better judgement, the unpleasantness has temporarily silenced me and called into question the wisdom of blogging at all. I say ‘against my better judgement’ because haters gonna hate, it comes with the territory, and I don’t want to be someone that easily cowed. However, I am human and fallible and, it turns out, impacted by unpleasantness whether I want to be or not. I’m just as vulnerable to over-sensitivity as anybody else. In fact, within the current context of multiple writing rejections, perhaps even more so than usual.

This has all led to feelings of being conflicted about blogging and my use of social media. Should I be doing those things? Why? Why not? Do these things have a purpose or are they merely a reflection of narcissism?

Sometimes it is good to stop and re-think and I’m grateful for the reminder to do so.

My pause has taught me several things.

Firstly, Twitter (my main social media platform), plays a more important role in my life than I would have thought feasible or healthy. When I back away from it, I’m left with a hole in my support network. I want to explore this a bit because I am fortunate enough to have a very supportive network of living, breathing, touchable humans around me, so why do I need virtual ones as well? This thought has led to me analysing my network, who it is made up of and what role they play in supporting me. I’ve realised that I have a range of friends/ family and they support me in different ways.

I have the friend who is always there at drop off in the morning, has observed my difficulties at this very specific moment in time (as well as at other times) and empathises with the challenges. I have the friend working with many children whose backgrounds involve trauma. She is extremely knowledgeable and truly trauma informed and we have many an in-depth discussion about Little Bear, but also about work and families and cake. I have the friend I’ve known since high school, who reads my stuff and champions my writing and fills my brain with filth. I have the friends who are always on the end of Whatsapp no matter what we want to discuss. They are the completely un-shockable ones who are as happy talking parenting as they are strange gynaecological issues or niche celebrity crushes. There is the friend who is my longest friend from way back when who I don’t see often and who lives an entirely different lifestyle to my own but with whom I have long, deep and meaningfuls on the rare but brilliant occasions we get to see each other. There is the friend I have from University who is also on the end of Whatsapp or Twitter or a text and knows exactly what I need to hear when I’m fed up or self-doubting, but who is equally happy having a detailed conversation about The Voice or football or shopping. I name but a few (please don’t feel unloved if I haven’t mentioned you).

There are, of course, also my parents and Gary (my mum in law but forever more known as Gary because Little Bear couldn’t say granny) and my brother, who know and take a keen interest, in all the ins and outs of our day to day lives/ challenges/ high points and low points.

All of these people play vital roles in my life and also our lives. Not one of them is an adoptive parent or adoptee and I don’t need them to be. They still support us in multitudinous ways.

I should also point out that none of these relationships are one-sided. I hope that I am also there for all of them, in all the different ways they need me to be. Some of these ways are related to parenting, some of them are not.

I know that I’m very lucky to have this varied band of supporters in my corner. However, I still find myself reaching out to a band of strangers on social media. The main thing I have in common with virtual friends is that the majority of us are adoptive parents and there is undeniably something to be said for talking with people who just get it; no explanations. They just get it because they are living very similar daily experiences to us. It’s natural that a group of people with so much in common will gravitate towards one another – it isn’t exclusive or cliquey, it’s about commonality – a commonality that people often can’t find in their ‘real lives’. It’s a commonality I also feel with other parents of children with additional needs, adopted or not. Similarly, I have many online friends who are speech and language therapists because I too, am a speech and language therapist. I also have online friends who are writers, because I too am trying to make my way in that career.

Though I talk to different groups about different things, when I blog, it’s for anybody who is interested. Consequently, there are now speech therapists who are much more trauma informed and adopters who have heard of Developmental Language Disorder . That has to be a good thing. Social media has allowed a cross-pollination of knowledge and experience we couldn’t have achieved otherwise.

The links I have made with all sorts of different people on social media have been my richest source of CPD for a long time, if ever. I know more about stammering, attachment, adoptee voice, inequality of PAS, the impact of austerity, homelessness, issues around leaving care, what makes a good flash fiction, how to query literary agents, which Netflix series everyone is watching and about a gazillion other things, than I ever would have without Twitter. At its best, Twitter is a rich tapestry of information and knowledge.

Up until recently, groups of like-minded individuals have found safe corners of the tapestry in which to meet, chat, and in the case of the adoption community, hold one another if necessary. I know that sounds weird and like a virtual hug from a virtual stranger wouldn’t do anything for anybody, but I know that it has been a lifeline for some. Earlier this week, due to the unpleasantness, I was feeling fed up and more than a little over Twitter and took the uncomfortable step of admitting as much. Many of those virtual strangers reached out to me, with kind words, reassurance and encouragement. They’ve got me, in the way my physical support network also have. Those people are not holograms inside a computer cable. They are real people, with real friend networks, real hobbies, real challenges and real care for others. And as weird as people might think it is, I need them. We need each other.

There are those who will argue that you can’t be friends with people you’ve never met. You can and I am. And just as I hope to be there for my physical support network, I also try to be there for my virtual one. Isn’t that what friendship is: still being there when the shit’s getting thrown? Brushing each other off, making each other laugh, answering those pleas from the darkness?

There will undoubtedly be those who say that adopters only care about other adopters. I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I will: I love my disparate Twitter friends, of whom there are adoptees, birth parents, adopters, foster carers, grandparents caring for grandchildren, social workers, teachers, psychologists, authors, accountants, musicians… (insert any role you can think of), of all genders, nationalities, colours, creeds, sexual persuasions. I will happily engage with anybody who behaves respectfully towards myself and others. I will offer a listening ear; a virtual hug.

Sometimes, the people who need those things most are unfortunately unable to reach out for them in a respectful way. That saddens me and I wish them well down the virtual waves and hope they find what they need somewhere out there.

The messages of loveliness restored my faith in what I’m doing in the virtual world. I’m not wandering around, lost. I’m learning, connecting, sharing. I’m becoming informed and informing others. I’m hanging out with my friends.

As for the blogging, there will be people who like it and want to read it. There will be those who learn from it, feel challenged by it, feel reassured or heard by it. There will be those who are disinterested or opposed to it. I would suggest they don’t read it. There will be those who wouldn’t miss it if it was gone and those who would.

I know I need it and that might be a selfish thing, but where some people talk or cry or box or run, I write. That’s what I do. It helps me sort out my head, organise my thoughts, get objectivity. It helps me be a better parent.

There will be those who say I shouldn’t write about my son, but, ultimately, that is between me and him. He knows I write, and as much as he is able to understand consenting to it, he does. Where I can include his voice, I do. I also write about my other son and my husband. Today I wrote all about my friends. I would argue the consent issues are universal, across all people, and I would never disparage those whom I love.

I use what small voice I have to spread the word about DLD, the impact of trauma, cuts to speech and language therapy services, how to improve parent relationships with schools and little talked about issues like PMS or continence. I try to use my (teeny) platform for something constructive.

I heard Mary Portas speak this week too. She talked about how we never hear people being honest about their vulnerabilities, especially with regards parenting, and how this impacts upon the cultures we create – both inside and outside of the business world. She’s right. We often think everyone else has it all sewn up because being honest about finding aspects of parenting difficult is hard and taboo. If I can make one parent, adoptive or otherwise, feel able to ask for help, take advice or just feel heard, then the blogging is worth it. Does that involve putting myself and my own vulnerabilities out there? Yes. A writer’s greater source is themselves and their own life and experience. Is that hard? Yes, sometimes it is.

As I’m learning with most things in life, nothing is wholly good or wholly bad. Blogging is the same. It has huge plus points but does it also have risks? Yes, of course it does. I’m more than aware of them. But, as with everything, you weigh it all up and you do what you see fit. Of course I exercise caution, of course I double and triple check my words for appropriateness and future readability, of course I keep my children at the centre of everything I do. Then, I make sure we are wrapped in the arms of our support network – physical and virtual – and try to remember that everything else is extraneous.

 

 

 

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The Virtual World & Me

Three Years A-Bloggin’

I seem to start every one of these types of post by saying I can’t believe how fast time has gone ( see My 1 Year Blogversary  and Two Years of Adoption Blogging ). It’s true: the passage of time is swift (and I can rarely keep up) yet here we are, 3 years and 157 blog posts later. What sorcery is this?

As I’m sure you’ve come to expect, I’m prone to a moment of reflection at these junctures. What exactly has possessed me to write post after post, week in, week out for three whole years? What do I get from it? What does anybody get from it? What is the meaning of it all?

At points in 2018 I struggled to answer these questions. 2017 had ended on a high blog-wise, with a pleasing growth in reader figures and I set myself some targets for that to continue. However, as winter turned to spring, my figures took a nose dive. I tried not to be bothered but I think being bothered by figures is an affliction most bloggers suffer from. Some weeks I struggled to think of good content or there were times I thought I had written something scintillating but my audience appeared less than scintillated. I got a bit fed up with it all. What was the point, anyway?

At the same time, I had re-written my book, Finding Ezra, and had sent it out on submission again (see Am Writing ). Being new to how the publishing industry worked, I found the prolonged periods of time everything seemed to take difficult and also the inevitable rejection. With each drop in blogging figures and each ‘no thank you’ or complete lack of response to my queries, I became more dejected. What was I actually doing with my life? I felt like I was working really hard going nowhere. I asked myself many hard questions about whether you can call yourself a writer if you aren’t published and if you never achieve that accolade, is all the time (and there was a lot) you spend writing a total waste of existence?

I was a bit down in the dumps about my wannabe new career and there were several occasions when I thought seriously about folding the blog. See Stay at Home Mum to see what I mean.

However, my stars must have come into alignment in July because a couple of things happened which gave me a lot of encouragement. The first thing was that someone had read my blog and wanted to include part of it in their book. That book was The Adopter’s Handbook on Education by Eileen Fursland which you can purchase here: Coram Baaf bookshop

For the first time, some of my writing (5 pages to be exact. See, the numbers matter) appeared in print. The book might not have had my name on the cover but this was awesome and certainly the next best thing.

Later in the month, I found out I had been nominated for Adoption Blog of the Year as part of The First4 Adoption Awards.

These two things gave me back the spring in my step: perhaps I was alright at this writing malarkey after all? I don’t think it’s any coincidence that in August I felt brave enough to make my first tentative steps into the world of fiction writing and began entering writing competitions. I realised that the only way to survive having your book in submission is to distract yourself with writing other things and flash and short stories were the perfect way to dabble and practise. I also thought, in for a penny, in for a pound, and started my first novel. I don’t want to say too much about it yet but let’s say that I have drawn on my knowledge and experience of developmental trauma as a central tenet of the story.

Without blogging, I wouldn’t have done any of these things. More specifically, without the readers of my blog and those who took the time for vote for me, I wouldn’t have done any of these things. You are a blooming fabulous bunch and I’m extremely grateful to each and every person who has read, shared or commented on any of my posts. As you can tell, this has all added up to a significant impact on me, on a personal level. It gave me the impetus to press on and helped me realise that success doesn’t happen overnight – it comes bit by bit: a few pages of print here, a longlisting there, an award here, a highly commended piece of writing there. Onward and upward I reckon.

My family and friends are all loyal readers of the blog and I think that has helped us all too. I don’t tend to take people aside and lecture them about DLD or explain the intricacies of why adopted children might struggle with eating or inform them about interoception over dinner, because, well, weird. However, if they choose to read my essays on such things, which, bless them, they do, they will absorb a lot more knowledge and become much more informed about Little Bear and his ways and the wider context of adoption/ SEND than they probably would have otherwise. I certainly feel lucky that the people in our support network are as knowledgeable and understanding as they are. I’m not sure we could have achieved quite the same level of awareness without the blog, mainly because I would be too lazy to explain all that stuff to all those people.

My most favourite thing about blogging though, is when I get a message from somebody saying “you’ve written my life” or “so much of this resonated with me”. When I first started out blogging I was a little bit tentative about how much I could reasonably share. I think most people would be cautious about sharing their deepest, most vulnerable feelings and experiences on the World Wide Web. However, every time I published a post I felt unsure about – because it felt too honest or too vulnerable – I received lovely feedback. I received messages from people saying they felt that way too and knowing someone else did made them quite emotional. I do seem to have caused a surprising number of tears (sorry about that). As this has gone on, I’ve realised we have far more in common than sets us apart. So far, no one has ever said I’m weird or parenting badly or don’t know my arse from my elbow, as I’ve often feared they would. I’ve realised that we all have similar anxieties and many of our children have similar behaviours and we worry about them similarly. Knowing that, has spurred me on to be more honest. Thank you, as always, for the lack of trolling in my readership and the times when one of you has taken the time to tweet me or comment on the blog.

There are a couple of downsides to blogging. My main fear is getting found out! Everybody who knows me well knows what I’m up to and many people who don’t know me at all, know who I am. However, the main people I don’t want finding out are school. My relationship with them is complex. I vacillate between loving them, being enormously grateful for the support they give us and wanting to hug them inappropriately; and feeling they are the bane of my life and will never, ever, understand. I think that navigating the education system for Little Bear is one of the biggest ongoing stressors in my life and having a place to air those stresses is essential. That place is my blog and I have written some pretty antsy pieces – Dear TeacherConversationsAdoptive Parent: Behaviour DetectiveSchool-Parent Partnership . As I do love school most of the time, I really wouldn’t want them to read these pieces. I do occasionally have nightmares about getting called to see the Head Teacher. Whilst I would never write anything defamatory or abusive, I still think they might not like it and this is the main reason I blog anonymously.

The other negative, as I mentioned before, is getting hung up about reader figures. I am trying to be less bothered but it’s a work in progress, along with taking rejection of my writing in my stride.

So, what next for the blog? I’m not someone who plans their content in advance so I’ll keep writing about how I feel at the time of writing. I think I’ve got a bit more vocal this year, in terms of using the small platform I have (and it really is teeny in the grand scheme of things) to raise awareness or rattle a few doors. I loved getting involved with spreading the word about Bercow10 (see Ensuring Children’s Speech and Language Needs Are Met: A Call to Action ) & DLD Awareness Day 2018 and certainly plan to be part of that again. Surprisingly, my most read blog of the year, in fact, ever, was the review I wrote of Nativity Rocks ( Why Nativity Rocks is Not For Care-Experienced Children ). It was another post I was unsure about writing but I’m glad I did because the content of the film was extremely inappropriate and it reached enough people that hopefully it prevented a few families seeing it and being upset by it. I did contact the writer/director directly and I did explain to her why it was upsetting and why I had blogged about it. I like to think it changed her perspective a little but equally, she could have been paying me lip service to get me to be quiet!

I’m always open to suggestions or guest posts so do get in touch if there is something you’d particularly like to read about. In the meantime, I shall continue my quest for publication with both Finding Ezra and my novel which I hope to finish in the next few months. That quest now feels more achievable and is being approached with more confidence, thanks to the support I’ve received from you lovely blog readers. Here’s to another year of weekly posts and no doubt a few surprises along the way.

 

Three Years A-Bloggin’

Pressing Pause

Christmas, as usual, was an exciting time in the Bear household, as I’m sure it was in houses up and down the land. Christmas Eve was punctuated by frequent bursts of dysregulation – I remember it being so last year too. Christmas Day was good and Little Bear even managed to spend the afternoon with my brother’s lovely but crazy dog without getting overexcited. Before we knew it we had stayed out until 9pm which is unheard of for us (Little Bear usually has an early and set bed time with good reason).

In hindsight, our Boxing Day plans were overly ambitious. We had booked tickets to take the boys to their first ice hockey game in the early evening. When we did that I suppose we didn’t anticipate being out so late on Christmas Day but as it ended up that way, it meant us asking two late nights in a row of Little Bear which proved too much. We all enjoyed the game but Little Bear struggled with the transitions to the toilet and between the arena and the car. You’d think not much could wrong in those short intervals but you’d be wrong. Trust me, it’s surprising how much can be achieved by a dysregulated/over-tired/non-compliant child in a short period of time. If it weren’t so stressful I’d be impressed at his efficiency for hell-raising.

The following day I knew we needed to re-group. We needed to hunker down, rest, re-set. After sporting events on a Saturday morning (horse-riding and football respectively) we usually have a period of rest at the weekend. Both boys need it but Little Bear seems to get particularly tired from a week at school. The horse-riding is a good outlet for some pent up energy, allowing him a satisfying rest when he gets home.

Over the first days of the Christmas holidays we struggled to achieve that type of proper rest. Everything was too exciting. There was too much anticipation; too many things to look at and think about. By the 27th we were starting to manage it. It was as though we had popped a balloon: Little Bear just kind of deflated and withered into a heap on the sofa. We watched films, played games, built Lego. That little rest turned into two days and then three and now we are on the fifth day of pressing pause.

Admittedly, neither boy has been feeling well. On Christmas Day, there was a huge cardboard box at my parent’s house from a chair my Dad got for Christmas. Big Bear got inside it, fell asleep and slept through his Christmas dinner. Whilst the location of the nap was notable, more so was the fact that Big Bear was sleeping in the day time – something he never does even on 7 hour car journeys. He hasn’t been well since and over the past couple of days Little Bear has also grown increasingly pale, culminating in middle of the night vomiting last night.

Obviously it’s rubbish for the boys to be poorly during their Christmas holidays. However, I have to admit to secretly liking being holed up together. I am loving the fact we have gone back to basics: quality time spent together. Because no one has much energy, I am not inundated with complaints of boredom. We have several ongoing Lego builds. Big Bear has completed a big superheroes set and Little Bear is slowly working his way through a mammoth Ninjago one. Santa evidently thought it was time to challenge him beyond a set which can be built in a day. So far, his perseverance and resilience have been impressive.

We have played Pit, Uno and Mouse Trap altogether several times. Grizzly and I have watched a few films while the children have been in bed but since then we have played games too: Boggle, Dobble, Bananagrams, Countdown.

We have done some excavating (with a new set that has buried dinosaurs and all sorts in a faux volcano), coloured the table cloth and shot at Big Bear’s new target machine that blows polystyrene balls in the air. I like the idea of getting things used. It can be tempting to buy a whole stack of presents then be so busy going out and about that nobody has time to take them out of the box. I want to see children playing with toys, books getting worn, games getting tired from use.  

We have tried to master the boys’ new UKick thingamabobs; we have read our new books; we’ve tried to get a little fresh air when children have been up to it. Although it does sound like we’ve returned to the 19th century, there has been screen time. Not too much, but enough that we haven’t had to get up too early. There has been a lot of pyjama-wearing, stove-lighting and eating.

There has been next to no socialising, planning or organising. I have not concerned myself with diets, step-counts, homework or to-do lists in any form. I know that our Interscotia has not been at all rock’n’roll but I honestly believe in the power of a pause. Doing nothing has been restorative on many levels. In fact, great swathes of time can be passed simply snuggling one’s children. Nothing gets done: the house is a hard-working tip, but it’s lovely. The children need it and we need it.

I’m not sure if everyone’s home is like ours but we are usually stuck on a hamster wheel of school – washing – shopping – organising – school – football etc. It never really ends. Grizzly works ridiculously hard and I’m not exaggerating when I say there are weeks when we barely speak to one another. It has felt more important than ever this year to just pause for a little bit. I know many people will be out tonight – all dressed up, going to an expensive venue, drinking cocktails. They probably look at us stuck in the house for the fifth day in our pyjamas with pity. I’m filled with JOMO though (Joy Of Missing Out) because our pause is lovely. I wouldn’t swap any of it for uncomfortable shoes, alcohol and a noisy venue.

Don’t worry, I’m not turning all hermit-y for 2019 (no more than usual, anyway), this is just a temporary intermission between the mania of the previous year and whatever is to come next. A time to rest and rejuvenate: ready to hit 2019 running. Naturally, all this pausing has led to some reflection too. I’ve been asking myself whether I’ll be setting resolutions or not. Last year, because I had recently left the NHS, I set myself some specific aims for the year because I was a bit lost and didn’t quite know how to measure my success (or lack thereof). I knew I didn’t want to measure myself solely against the ironing pile so I tried to be more constructive. Last night, I went back to those aims to see how I’d got on.

If you can’t laugh at yourself then who can you laugh at? Many of my targets are pretty laughable; as are the results. One was, ‘keep bonsai tree alive’. It’s dead. Another was, ‘grow baby melons’. You might have predicted this, but they’re dead too.

I set myself targets for monthly blogging figures which I didn’t meet and ones for increased annual figures which I did. One major aim was, ‘to get a publisher or a literary agent’. Well, I didn’t achieve that. And therein lays the problem with New Year’s resolutions – as much as I wanted that to happen, I didn’t really have full control over it. Maybe I should have made New Year’s Wishes instead. But that’s a bit airy-fairy and what’s the point? Refusing to feeling thwarted and as though my year was a waste of time, I considered instead the efforts I had made to work towards that wish. I considered the number of submissions I had made, the times I had put myself out there, the times I had picked myself up after rejection and tried again. I’m realising that writing success rarely happens overnight. It might not have happened in 2018 but I have made connections within the writing world, become more practised at writing itself, made forays into fiction and braved the world of writing competitions. I have taken some leaps of faith. There are some natural next steps – make more submissions, finish my novel, get braver with seeking feedback etc. Those things are my aims for next year. I’m not sure they really classify as resolutions and that’s fine with me.

The other thing is that New Year’s Resolutions don’t account for the unexpected things that might happen in your year. It doesn’t say anything in my aims about winning blogging awards but that happened and was very much a highlight of my year. It rather brings into focus things such as viewing statistics – I’d take my award over bigger numbers any day. It makes me wonder how we should measure our success, the pressures we put on ourselves and which are the things that really matter anyway. I have written myself a note which says, “don’t get hung up on viewing figures” as a handy reminder from Zen Paused Me to Cup Half Empty What On Earth Am I Doing With My Life 2019 Me (she will come, it’s inevitable).

Half way through the year of 2018, I stopped checking myself against my aims and started listing my achievements each month. I made myself write small things e.g. ‘submitted short story to x competition’ or ‘delivered successful workshop’. I keep it in a notebook that no one else is going to read so I can be free and honest and not worry about sounding boasty. I have found this extremely helpful because at the points where I start thinking I’m wasting my time on a career that will never be, I make myself read it back and remind myself that good stuff has happened. Us humans (amongst other flaws) seem to be programmed to remember all the failures, low-points and bad bits and somehow give them greater weighting than the successes. I’ve found my lists really useful for maintaining some balance and stopping catastrophising in its tracks. I shall certainly be continuing.

Anyway, I’ll end where I began. My main priority for 2019 is for my family and friends to be healthy and happy – stripped back, that’s all there really is. I’m also going to endeavour to reduce our plastic use further and stop distracting myself with shopping/Twitter. Family, friends, reading & writing. That’s where it’s at for 2019. And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to doing nothing.

 

Loads of love for 2019,

xxxx

 

 

Pressing Pause

This Year, Last Year

One of the many benefits of blogging for me is that it keeps a record of how things have been for us at different points in the year. Now that I am in my third year (how did that happen?) there is quite a lot to look back on and patterns are starting to emerge. This time last year I wrote Sometimes it’s hard and you can tell from the title alone that we were having a tricky patch. This year we are also having a tricky patch. It is particularly noticeable because the first chunk of 2018 has probably been the calmest and most settled time we’ve had yet as a family of four and the contrast with Little Bear’s current behaviour is pretty stark. It is obvious from the timings and recurrence that Transition is the culprit.

Having a record of last year has allowed me to consider what has changed, both in terms of Little Bear himself and also our ability to cope with the tricky patch.

Last year I got called to speak with the Judo teacher because Little Bear had punched somebody. This year, he wanted to do the course again and I signed him up. The first two sessions were fine but on the third session, when Little Bear’s transition wobble was going full-throttle, he didn’t go. I was in the playground to pick up his brother and instead of staying in school to go to Judo Little Bear came out to me. I reminded him it was judo but his little lip started to wobble and he said he didn’t want to go. He couldn’t tell me why so I went over to ask his teacher how his day had been. His PE teacher told me that Little Bear had been fine all afternoon but somebody had just said something to him in circle time that had upset him and it was as though he couldn’t handle any more and had just exploded. Ah. I was faced with the choice of making him go because we’d paid for it and when you make commitments, you have to stick to them and all that or just taking him home.

I just took him home. He couldn’t tell me in so many words but I felt as though he was trying to communicate that he just couldn’t cope with Judo that day. Perhaps if I had have sent him, he might have punched somebody again. Although he still isn’t able to say as much, this year he was self-aware enough to get himself out of the situation and I’m more tuned into what he can/cannot cope with.

Last year, the village fete was blooming hard work. Little Bear disappeared from view several times and I ended up having to make him hold my hand the whole time, despite him thinking it was a terrible idea. We had to leave early and I didn’t enjoy the experience one bit.

This year, instead of labouring under the false hope that I might have fun at the fete, I resigned myself to the fact that it was going to have its challenges. I spent the day before the fete on my own, doing what I fancied, ensuring my resilience bucket was as full as it could be. Consequently I approached the day with a different mind-set. When the challenges inevitably came, I was prepared for them and ready to react therapeutically. Little Bear coped pretty well this time; so long as I followed his lead and let him choose which activities we did. It was fun watching him in the teacups and smashing crockery. There were flashpoints. He told me he hated me several times and didn’t really follow any instructions but I knew going into it that he wasn’t in a good place emotionally and also that the event itself was on the challenging end of things for him so instead of getting exasperated with him, I was mostly able to lower the demands and empathise with the tricky bits.

Last year, when I received Little Bear’s report, I was a bit upset about it (see Reports). It wasn’t the fact he hadn’t met expectations that bothered me but that the way it was communicated felt negative. I was disappointed at the time that Little Bear’s amazing progress wasn’t really reflected by his report. This year, I had learned from last and anticipated the report being a bit of a damp squib. Little Bear still has a row of red lights but I feel very differently.

I suspect that last year I was at a bit of a low ebb. The fact that we were in a tricky patch was getting on top of me and I wasn’t as tuned into self-care and how to make it work for me as I am now. This year I have been able to mentally set aside the negative reporting and listen to the words coming out of his teacher’s mouth. Little Bear has continued to do amazingly, especially considering the School Worries we had earlier in the year. His teacher tells me he is agonisingly close to expected levels now. He was just 4 marks away from passing the Year 1 phonics screen and it is mainly the fact he struggles to work independently that prevents her saying he is at the expected levels. He can meet many of the requirements if he has a trusted adult by his side to provide reassurance and focus. Genuinely, I’m not bothered by the levels. The fact that we are talking about him nearing them and having moved out of the lower group he was working in because he has overtaken those children is frankly incredible. To go from being over 2 and half years behind in everything on starting pre-school to almost catching up at the end of year 1 is truly remarkable and there is absolutely nothing about that to be sad about.

Last year I ended up taking both boys to the drop-in parents evening to discuss reports. I vowed at the time never to do that again, due to Little Bear’s rather out of control behaviour at it and I haven’t. This year I ensured I had help with the boys and went on my own. Last year I had somehow felt blamed for Little Bear’s behaviour and went away feeling quite misunderstood as a parent (who was trying her best and working her socks off yet nobody seemed to think so). This year, when I stood talking with Little Bear’s teacher about all he has achieved I felt very different. Somehow, despite a fair few challenges, meetings and not always seeing eye to eye, his teacher and I have managed to develop a really solid and friendly working relationship. I have a lot of respect for her and the fact she has got to know Little Bear so well and is so tuned in to helping him. She has been willing to listen to us and include us as part of the team and that has been crucial in making me feel better. I know that she values our input as parents and respects our knowledge/approaches, both through including us as she has and directly through the things she says. It has been lovely to get that affirmation (the feeling is mutual) though it makes me a little anxious to leave her. I can only hope that the next teacher will continue where she has left off.

As we navigate this tricky period, I can still see Little Bear’s progress, despite the regression we are currently in. The behaviour is as challenging and my therapeutic parenting skills as challenged but there is certainly more insight on all sides. We have been able to identify that this is a tricky phase quickly and have known what to do to ease it, even if that means more TV dinners, compromising on routines and shutting our ears to name calling. Little Bear has been able to point us in the right direction some of the time and talk a little about his fears with moving on. Slowly, slowly.

Writing this I do think the biggest change over the past 12 months is our ability to handle the tricky bits – to make space in our lives and brains to accommodate them and to care for ourselves well enough so that we can ride them out with patience and care. Having had a good spell and now not such a good spell, I look back to the times that were just one massive tricky spell with no let up and I wonder how on earth we managed it. It’s no wonder I lost my temper now and again.

These days I reward myself for staying calm – a TV programme I like here, five minutes sitting in the sun there, a spot of comfort-shopping here. It really helps. It also helps to know it is just a phase and hopefully, soon enough, the gorgeous little dude will be back to his usual self.

This Year, Last Year

Be Prepared

I’m no Boy Scout but, as an adopter, I do think it might be worthwhile nicking their motto. When you look up its meaning, Wikipedia says it means “you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do you duty”. Now, although I do not consider adoptive parenthood to be my ‘duty’, I have committed myself to it and do find myself in a constant state of readiness. I couldn’t tell you what I’m ready for necessarily (often a lie down in a darkened room) but I do tend to expect the unexpected.

I wouldn’t say that Little Bear is unpredictable. Well, I sort of would. He’s predictable in that I know the full range of behaviours he might display and I know him well enough to anticipate how events or states might impact him. I can often predict what he might do next or what he might say or how he might react. However, what none of us can really be sure of is what kind of day it is likely to be when he wakes up in the morning. I’m starting to realise that there can be quite a variance. Also, no matter how well we know Little Bear, he will always have the ability to occasionally throw in a curve ball or say or do something out of the blue. As well as this, even though I can often anticipate his behaviour, it is still the sort of behaviour you should be ready for. For example, if your child is a runner, you can’t go round being surprised when they run off. You won’t expect them to run off every second either but you will always have at the back of your mind that they might. You’ll be prepared to grab them or sprint after them, just in case.

On Sunday, I had a lovely afternoon with Little Bear. Big Bear had gone on a playdate then out for tea and to the cinema with Grizzly. Little Bear and I stayed at home. We got the Lego out and sat in the playroom for ages building things and pretending. Little Bear was calm and played happily with the same game for an hour or so. When I could tell he was tiring, I made him some tea and let him have it in front of the TV for a rest and also because his brother had gone to the cinema. Afterwards I ran him a bath and we had a big game of floating racing cars. He read his school book then I read to him. He chose Green Eggs and Ham and realised after a few pages that he could actually read that too. He kept saying “no, I can read this one Mum” in a slightly surprised tone and continued to prove his point until he had read the last 30 pages or so. He was an absolute joy. We had a lovely time. It felt like quality time. I felt he had benefitted from us being on our own. All was good. I really enjoyed him.

On Monday morning, I was lulled into a false sense of security. My prediction of Monday was based on Sunday’s rose tinted lenses. This was foolhardy. I should have been more prepared.

Monday wasn’t a really bad day but it was very different day. I’m pretty sure that Little Bear didn’t stop talking. At all. All day. I’ve read somewhere about ‘verbal scribble’ which is a very apt description. Little Bear verbally scribbled all the live long day. We went to the park. We wanted to walk. Little Bear wanted to play football. We played football then we walked. He didn’t want to walk. We were ready to leave for lunch. He didn’t want to leave or get out the tree. We went for lunch. He didn’t want lunch; he wanted to go to the park. You get the picture? Everything was a bit of a battle and he REALLY wanted to do a lot of things. Each time we did the thing, he REALLY wanted to do another thing. It was as though nothing satisfied him and he was constantly seeking life’s secret elixir, without any success. It was a tiring, trying of patience kind of day. It also involved loudness, constant interrupting, difficulty sitting still and a need to be fed otherwise eating wasn’t going to happen either.

I should have been prepared for the presence of dysregulation because it’s an omnipresent possibility. I’m not sure why I wasn’t but it’s certainly nicer to begin the day assuming you are going to enjoy your child rather than count down the minutes until bedtime.

Based on how Monday went, I wasn’t too excited about today. Grizzly was going to be at work and I was mostly going to be having 1:1 time with Little Bear.

This morning, he surprised me with one of those unexpected, out of the blue curveballs: a life story chat at 7am. There is nothing like a mention of birth siblings to wake you from a sleepy stupor and get your ‘be prepared to answer whatever array of questions might be coming your way hat’ on.

Life story work is one area I can’t really predict with Little Bear because it happens so infrequently. Months go by with no mention at all and then all of a sudden, bang, a big question when you least expect it. However, because we are adopters and because we know he might do this now and again, it is in the backs of our minds and we are sort of prepared for it in an expecting the unexpected kind of way. So today started with perusing of the life story book and the fishing out of some photos. I think the chat went okay. Little Bear seemed satisfied with his information and I didn’t go away deriding myself for having said the complete wrong thing.

We dropped Big Bear off at my Mum’s for his grandparent time and headed into town together. Having not had particularly high expectations of the event, I was relieved that we had a lovely time again. I suspect that 1:1 is much needed for Little Bear and hence he generally copes better in those situations. He needed new shoes which put a spring in his step; I tactically fed him toast at the right time (and a hot chocolate in an espresso cup which is quite possibly the cutest drink a child could have); we stuck stickers; we coloured; we stroked a rabbit; we went to the library. It was lovely and I really enjoyed him. Little Bear climbed a few things and tried to swing on a few things and found it hard to sit still. But I knew he would: I was prepared.

Sometimes situations arise that with the best will in the world you can’t anticipate and they can lead you to question what you really are prepared for. When we got to the library, rhyme time was on. I didn’t know this; it was a coincidence. In this instance, rhyme time was full of parents and very small children – babies and young toddlers. The group were singing nursery rhymes and listening to stories. Little Bear was rooted to the spot, transfixed. Initially I didn’t pay him much attention, encouraging him to look through the books. When I realised he was in a bit of a trance, I watched him, watching them for a few seconds. He looked shy, curious and a little mesmerised. Having just read The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce Perry, it was fresh in my mind that children who have been neglected have often missed out on early rhythmic interactions and the singing of lullabies and nursery rhymes. It was also fresh in my mind that older children still need to experience these things in order to heal their trauma.

I looked at him looking at them and tried to weigh up the situation. He was twice or even three times the size of most of the other children. I had no idea whether you were meant to officially join the group or pay. I wasn’t really prepared for this situation. However, I concluded that the bottom line was that Little Bear, whether in the body of a lanky 6 year old or not, was developmentally well matched to the group and as uncomfortable as that felt, I would need to suck it up. “Do you want to join in?” I whispered. The answer was basically yes, so long as I came with him. I crouched beside him, to make us slightly less conspicuous, as he sat on a chair in the group.

Little Bear loved it. He was completely entranced by the songs and sat really well. He couldn’t have managed to join in when he was 3 or 4 and probably not even 5, but at 6, it was just perfect for him. Having missed out on all those early experiences and having had such significant language difficulties, Little Bear doesn’t actually know any songs. Some sound familiar to him but he doesn’t know the words well enough to sing along. That doesn’t stop him trying and results in a tuneful hum with some louder words thrown in for good measure. I watched him side-on, feeling a little embarrassed but making myself get over it, while he sat straight-backed, earnestly joining in, wide-eyed and trying his very best. I loved Little Bear so much in that instant that my heart hurt a little bit. I wasn’t prepared for the situation but I am prepared to do whatever I can to help him.

The next second his hand was going up to suggest a rhyme. I was intrigued by what he would say and slow to anticipate what was inevitably coming next. Little Bear suggested ‘jingle bells’ and broke into song and he was about two lines in when I woke from my daydream and realised this wasn’t going to be the clean version. Yep, Uncle Billy and all that…

The Scouts are right: be prepared. You don’t quite know what might be coming next.

 

 

Be Prepared

Anxiety

This is one of those blog posts that I am not too sure about writing because it is going to require a high degree of honesty, soul-baring and general over-sharing. However, I think I should write it because all the recent discussion about mental health encourages us to talk more. That is one of the main aims of the projects I’ve seen mentioned and shared around social media. It’s a good aim. We should talk more. Talking can save lives.

I’m not going to tell you anything that dramatic but I am going to be honest about something which is fairly common and has impacted me in my lifetime: anxiety.

The reason this feels topical and like I want to write about it today, rather than at any other point in my life, is that Big Bear has recently begun suffering with anxiety and I don’t want it to be something we sweep under the carpet or hide like a dirty secret.

Big Bear plays football for a club. He joined because he wanted to and to begin with he absolutely loved it and it gave him a lot of confidence. He trains every week, gets very excited about going and has a whale of a time. He also has a match, usually each week too. To begin with, Big Bear took us by surprise by how well he could play (having never previously been particularly bothered about football) and generally played up front, becoming his team’s best goal scorer. He loved it and all was well with the world.

However, on match days, over recent months, we have noticed a deterioration in his ability to cope. Big Bear begins to anticipate the upcoming match a few days before and it starts to play on his mind. It’s hard to tell whether he is excited or nervous about it. On the day of the match he will often wake up early and go to the toilet a few times. He will try to eat his breakfast but often can’t and then experiences tummy-ache. He might go to the toilet a few more times. By this point he is usually a little ashen and really struggles to get his kit on and get to the match. Sometimes when he has got there and seen his friends he has been ok and has ‘run it off’ so to speak. At other times, he has barely managed to stand up let alone run about. Obviously his goal-scoring record has deteriorated alongside his mental health as nobody is capable of playing well if they haven’t eaten and if they are consumed by anxiety. I suspect the poor performance is only serving to propagate Big Bear’s internal pressure on himself and he is now trapped in some sort of negative thought cycle.

It is such a shame to observe as he is only 8 (nearly 9) and far too young to be crippled by anxiety. We have done all the obvious things. There is no pressure to play, let alone score and we make that very clear. We only want him to enjoy it and he doesn’t have to be in the club if he doesn’t want to. So far, he has wanted to persevere. Initially he wouldn’t talk about the anxiety so it was hard to help him. Over time he has got more open about it and has made suggestions about things to try that might help him e.g. specific things he thinks he might be able to eat; having a relaxing shower; having a little wander before breakfast. The coaches know about it and quite often have little pep talks with him, telling him there is nothing to worry about. Although this is well-meaning and meant in a supportive way, when you are anxious, you are pretty sure there are things to worry about so although it’s kind, I’m not sure how effective it is.

Unfortunately, our shared endeavours are not paying off and if anything the anxiety is getting worse. Not only does Big Bear now need to visit the toilet frequently but he has started vomiting too. The poor child seems to have inherited both mine and Grizzly’s weaknesses.

People say ‘but what is he worried about?’ If it is not the scoring of goals or the desire to please, what is it?

The thing is I know what it is, because I’ve been there too. It is a very difficult fear to overcome: the fear of fear itself. I know that sounds ridiculous but there you are. There is no justifying the actions of an anxiety-fuelled mind. It does what it does and expresses itself through your body.

I can’t remember when it first started to impact me. I certainly wasn’t as young as Big Bear but I think my mum would say I was a worrier as a child. It was probably in my late teens or early twenties that things set in with gusto. There wasn’t a trigger; nothing happened to me. I didn’t have any ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences) or any reason to be anything less than fully joyful. However, I developed IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) and it made me pretty ill. It was hard to get to places early in the morning due to far too much toilet activity and I lost weight. I spent quite a lot of time feeling like death warmed up and it certainly impacted what I was able to do in my daily life. It was worse when I was doing exams or something stressful like placements at university. I look decidedly bony in my graduation photos. I mainly survived by abusing Imodium, not eating until I felt I could digest (often after lunchtime), having a couple of ‘safe’ foods and always knowing where the toilets were.

Those closest to me knew about it but it was embarrassing as afflictions go; we aren’t really a Society which talks about bowel movements openly so I tried to hide my IBS and was ashamed about having it.

I experimented with eliminating foods to see if that would help. I did cut out coffee and alcohol, both of which improved things a little but it wasn’t food that was irritating my bowel; it was anxiety. Just like Big Bear, there wasn’t a specific thing I was worried about. I was mainly worried that I would have an IBS attack and that would ruin whatever it was I was supposed to be doing. So basically I was worried about IBS which made the IBS happen and there I was trapped in the cycle. Getting engaged nearly tipped me over the edge. I was 26 by then and as soon as the proposal happened I was immediately anxious about having IBS on my wedding day, 18 whole months away. Clearly that is ridiculous and I knew it was then but when your mind is inclined to go that way, it is virtually impossible to stop it. Anxiety is such a self-fulfilling prophecy that of course all the months of angst and anticipation did result in IBS on my wedding day. I coached myself through being ok in the morning and I did pretty well but it hit later on and I wasn’t able to eat my own wedding breakfast.

My IBS (that probably never was) is now fully cured. It’s the strangest thing. You would have thought that having children would make it worse as they are such a cause for ongoing concern but if anything, having Big Bear saved me from it. I can only think that before kids you tend to think you are really busy but in actual fact I clearly had too much time and brain space for navel-gazing. After kids, my mind was so taken up with keeping them alive and developing them and running a home and having a job that those corners of my brain where anxiety used to lurk got filled with something more useful. I am not immune to some worries and my brain does naturally go to worst-case scenarios but with age I seem to be able to over-ride those thoughts more and can largely keep them in check.

I do remember getting to a point where I saw that my life was ruled by IBS and I decided I wouldn’t tolerate it any more. Despite all my issues I had got my degree and held down a job I liked and was good at. The IBS made everything more difficult but it had never completely ruined anything. I had survived every single situation in which it had tried to undo me. I think I stopped fearing it. I just accepted I might need the loo more than your average human and that would be ok. Just as soon as I didn’t worry about it, it ceased.

When I started writing this I wasn’t too sure how I was going to go about helping Big Bear but in blogging it out I may have answered my own question. I think that Big Bear also fears the symptoms of his anxiety and by trying to stop the symptoms from happening we have only served to make him more anxious when they do and more desperate for it to stop. Perhaps a cleverer approach would be to talk to him about how many people suffer anxiety and get nervous before matches or big events. Sometimes people do need to use the loo more or might be sick but that’s ok. Yes, that probably will happen to him at his next match but it doesn’t matter. He doesn’t need to fear that happening. It’s normal. Nobody is going to die. If he starts getting into a state we don’t need to make a fuss, just give him a drink and carry on.

I can empathise with him as clearly I have been there and I can certainly help him with not feeling like it just happens to him and I hope, by being open about it, we can normalise it a little. By keeping things secret or trying to hide them or not acknowledge them, we only serve to perpetuate the fear. Anxiety is parasitic; it feeds off your deepest worries and burrows into your brain. It gets pretty comfortable there if allowed but the more you bring it out and show it to people, the less powerful it becomes.

I now suspect that we have some sort of genetic propensity towards it as it is too coincidental that Big Bear is now presenting similarly and has never witnessed me suffering with IBS symptoms in his lifetime. A quick Google suggests a genetic predisposition is a thing when it comes to anxiety, which is unfortunate. And of course there is the brain-gut connection which clearly states that anxiety can cause digestive difficulties.

Little Bear, despite his much rougher start in life, seems far less impacted by such things so far. It just goes to show that birth children have their issues too and it has certainly been Big Bear giving me my grey hairs recently.

For now, we have decided that while Big Bear will continue attending training because he has fun there, he won’t play any matches for a while. He is too young to be throwing up with nerves every weekend and I don’t want to re-inforce that behaviour pattern at all. However, when he tries again, I think we’ll play it much cooler. If he has physical symptoms of anxiety, that’s ok. We won’t reinforce his thought that it’s wrong by coming up with various solutions and we’ll see how we go. Perhaps he won’t be ready for competitive football until he’s a bit older and that’s ok too.

Today Big Bear has gone on a school residential where they do all sorts of adventurous things and I’m really hoping it will give him the confidence boost he needs, as well as him having some fun and hopefully enjoying some anxiety-free adventures with his friends.

And as for me, now that I’m a decade older, I’m much more aware that we all have our foibles and weak-spots. It isn’t something to be embarrassed about. It’s part of what makes us human.

Anxiety

Dinner Winner

I have decided while I Am Writing to post some shorter blog posts for a few weeks about some products we have bought recently.

This week’s product is the Dinner Winner plate made by Fred.

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 Meal times have always been a bit tricky here, ever since we first met Little Bear. I suspect his development was disrupted around the weaning stage and when he first arrived I probably should have gone back to basics with introducing solids and different textures. He was over three at that point though and I was pretty distracted by many a pressing behaviour challenge. I did do purees for him and I have fed him on and off since.

Little Bear is six now and at mealtimes, especially tea time when he’s tired, he tends to mess with anything and everything but doesn’t focus his energy on eating. He will clamber over the bench, fiddle with his cutlery etc. but not touch his food. It has always driven us a bit mad but we have tried to be patient and to feed him if that’s what he needs.

I wasn’t looking for another solution but a few weeks ago I was flicking through a therapy magazine and came across these Dinner Winner plates. I immediately felt it would be worth a try because it is essentially a visual support for eating your meal. It evidently struck a chord with the speech therapist in me: it’s such a clever and practical idea and I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen one before. We found you could buy them on Amazon and one was with us the next day.

There are lots of designs but I chose the superhero one as I felt Little Bear would like that one and it was a bit more grown up.

On the first day, the plate worked like a miracle. Little Bear LOVED it, especially the fact that there is a compartment with a lid for you to open at the end of your meal and hopefully find a treat. I explained to him that you start at the beginning and eat one compartment at a time. There was a risk Little Bear wouldn’t care about the order but he took that aspect very seriously and finished his dinner in record time. I don’t want him to rush but tea it is usually a very lengthy affair so this was a clear improvement.

The second day was similarly wonderful. After that, the novelty wore off a bit. However, I can honestly say that though the plate hasn’t delivered a miracle it has certainly improved things significantly. I think Little Bear is much less prompt-dependent now. Previously I had to prompt every mouthful or load his fork for him but now he does often feed himself the whole meal, without prompts, just with a bit of dithering between compartments. I now wonder whether seeing a whole plate of food was overwhelming for Little Bear and he was having difficulty breaking the task of eating into parts. The plate has done that for him and one compartment at a time is not overwhelming. Also, when one has gone, counting the remaining compartments gives a natural countdown to being finished which seems to help Little Bear with seeing an end to the task. Sometimes we are winning at dinner.

I don’t think the treat at the end would be appropriate for all children, depending on their issues with eating but it does work for Little Bear. One chocolate button seems to be motivation enough.

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On a practical level the plate requires a bit more preparation from me. I tend to serve his food onto a normal plate to check I’m giving him the right quantity and then I need to chop it up and divide it between the compartments. It is a bit more faffy but I feel as though it is worth it. The first meal he had on it was baked potato which obviously had to be modified a bit more than usual!

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Overall I think it’s a fabulous piece of design and a really clever use of visual support. I would definitely recommend it and this is not one of those blog posts someone has paid me to write!

As an added bonus, Little Bear practises his reading on the words written in the compartments. It’s a big thumbs up from me and my little dude.

 

Dinner Winner