Pretend I’m In Your Tummy, Mummy

Most children go through a phase of imaginative play when they are developing. They pretend, they act and they direct you to take your role in the game. They often play the same game over and over.

I can remember when Big Bear was about 3 or 4 he constantly wanted me to “make the man talk”. It was usually a Lego man and there would be some sort of scenario panning out in which I would be tasked with a specific role. Often he would tell me what words I should say and would be quick to correct me if I was getting it wrong. There was one particular game that involved a Lego man waiting on a platform for a train. Every time the train got to the station I would try to put my man on. “No” Big Bear would say, “Wait for the next one”. The next one would come and the same thing would happen. It was a game that required a lot of patience!

There was also a lot of dressing up pretending to be Batman or a fireman or a doctor. I think sometimes he pretended to be a cat.

This was Big Bear, still living with the family he was born into, following typical patterns of development.

Recently, I have discovered that this type of play with Little Bear is not quite the same. There are similarities but trauma has added an extra layer of complexity. This is a familiar conversation at the moment:

Little Bear: Pretend I’m in your tummy, Mummy

Me: Ok (cuddling him on my knee)

Me: Ooh, I wonder what my baby is going to look like. I can’t wait to meet them.

LB: I’m out now.

Me: Oh look, he’s gorgeous. Look at those eyes! He looks like a …Little Bear. I’ll call him Little Bear (In reality I say his actual name – I don’t really pretend he is a bear!) I’ll look after you and keep you safe forever.

If I don’t do the naming part he whispers to me “tell me I look like a Little Bear”.

LB: Pretend I’m a dog

Me: Have I just given birth to a dog?!

LB: Yes, you are a mummy dog

Me: Oh right

LB: No! You’re a dog! You can’t talk, you have to bark!

And so the confusing tale continues. Little Bear keeps replaying the part where I meet him for the first time. I don’t know if this is because I keep telling him how much I want him and how I’ll keep him safe forever in an attempt to be therapeutic or if in fact he keeps coming back to it because I haven’t yet said what he needs to hear. Your guess is as good as mine.

I think it is fairly obvious that the game has to do with seeking a sense of belonging, of claiming (and being claimed)* and is due to him wishing he had come out of my tummy as his brother did.

Interestingly there is another version of the game that involves me pretending he is a puppy who has got lost. I have to pretend I am following his footprints and discover him buried in a heap of snow. He pretends he is lost from his owner and that I rescue him, taking him home to warm up and have some food. Does this symbolise me back in my role as adoptive parent, I wonder? Coming in where someone else has left off? I’m intrigued that he would see that as a rescue.

Sometimes, once I have rescued him from the snow, he talks about his mum and dad coming in and finding him again. I always wonder if he means his birth parents but when I enquire who he means, he says Grizzly and me. By this stage I’m fully confused as to my role in the whole thing and whether I’m quite possibly just overthinking it.

Little Bear is definitely at the stage where fantasy and reality are fully entwined and he switches from one idea to another moment by moment. One minute I’m rescuing a puppy, the next he is a gorilla. On one occasion the baby I had given birth to was in fact an egg and I was a hen. It’s pretty difficult to keep up. I suspect the games are an amalgam of several ideas floating around his head at any one time.

A couple of times, over recent days, the games have taken a darker turn. I rescue the cold puppy, who initially seems to want some love and cuddles but who then suddenly switches to wanting to bite me. This could just be the new version of the game but as I am permanently in analyse everything and look for hidden meanings mode, I can’t help but wonder if this is like reliving the early days of our adoption. We chose Little Bear, we were excited for our future with him but when he came home he hit, bit, scratched, kicked and threw things and was generally distressed. Little Bear was 3 and a half at the time and likely remembers it. Is he double-checking my response? Do I still want to rescue the puppy if it turns out to be aggressive? Will I still take it home and love it?

I know that I might be over-analysing but I am careful with my response just in case. “Don’t worry little puppy” I reassure, “I think you are a bit frightened at the moment. I think that might be why you tried to bite me. I won’t hurt you. You are safe”.

In the game, this seems to calm the puppy.

Little Bear has instigated similar games before; right from when he arrived he wanted me to pretend he was a baby. I would lay a large blanket out on the floor and he would lie in it and get me to swaddle him. I had to be careful in the early days because it was easy to cross an invisible line into ‘too much to deal with’ territory. He would let me coddle him a bit – stroke him and coo over him like a baby but often I would unwittingly overstep the ever moving mark and be rewarded with a bite or hit. It always felt like it happened when he had allowed himself to let go for a moment and then accidentally let me in a bit too much, so that it had felt emotionally weird or frightening and he needed to back off again.

It has changed over time. I have had to persevere despite the re-buffs and he has evidently slowly become more comfortable to the point where he seeks a lot of physical comfort now. I rarely feel that the line is even there.

I find it interesting that over two years in, these acted games still feature and new ones are still appearing. I wonder if he wanted to play these recent ones before but his language skills wouldn’t allow him. Or whether he is only now reaching the appropriate developmental level. Or whether it is because he has a better understanding of his life story now. Or whether he is still seeking something I am not giving…

When I used to make the man talk for Big Bear I didn’t have all these extra things to think about. It really was about a pretend man getting onto (or at least trying to get on to) a pretend train. No hidden meanings. Little Bear’s play, on the other hand, is laced with them.

I am probably different too though – far more aware that there might be hidden meanings and far more attuned to looking for them.

What I want Little Bear to realise is that it doesn’t matter to me whose tummy he grew in, I love him just the same. But I guess they are only words to him; he needs to truly believe it and feel it within himself.

I guess we will be pretending he is in my tummy for a while longer yet.

 

*There is definitely a claiming element to it, not just biology, as Little Bear has also pretended to be in Big Bear’s tummy. Big Bear, being Big Bear, took it fully in his stride and ‘gave birth’ to Little Bear on the kitchen bench (!), before rocking him on his knee, cradled like a baby. I have no idea how an 8 year old came to be so instinctively therapeutic but he’s a natural.

** I’m very lucky to have two such lovely boys.

 

 

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Pretend I’m In Your Tummy, Mummy

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

Life Story Work: Not Your Average Boob Chat

This is how I wanted to start this post: Little Bear is obsessed with my boobs. But you can’t really write that without inviting some very shocked reactions. I need to preface my starting statement by saying that Little Bear is intrigued by anything that looks like it might feel interesting, even keener to touch things I’ve told him not to touch and, well, little boys do seem kind of fascinated by boobs from a young age. I also need to clarify that I don’t actually let him honk them (despite regular attempts) and have a stock phrase of “we don’t touch people’s boobs, they are a private place” that I trot out every time because whilst I’m not keen on him going for mine, I certainly don’t want him grabbing anyone else’s.

So, now you know all that, you won’t need to freak out when I start the post proper.

Little Bear is obsessed with my boobs. I have generally been dismissing it as a sensory/ boy/ developmental thing but while we were on holiday I began to see there could be more to it than that.

One morning Little Bear and I were sat beside one another on the kitchen bench attempting to read his school book when he purposely face planted into my cleavage. Used as I am to these things, I didn’t bat an eyelid, extricated him and repeated my usual refrain.

“But I want some milk from your boobs Mum” he said. I explained there is only milk when you have a baby so I don’t have any now. “Did you have some for Big Bear?” he asked. “Yes, when he was a baby I did”.

Little Bear thought for a second. “Did my lady have some for me?” came the next question.

Aha. This was not your average random boob chat: this was Life Story Work. We haven’t had any chats of this nature since I wrote this post back in January: Beginnings of Life Story Work

We’ve decided to follow Little Bear’s lead in these matters, figuring that given his difficulties with language it is much better to give him information as and when he shows he wants it, rather than thrusting it upon him to fit our own agenda. As it had been so long since our last chat I wasn’t too sure how much he might have taken on board or remembered.

Evidently by asking “did my lady have some for me?” he did know that he had come out of someone else’s tummy at least. “Yes” I replied “Sian did have milk for you”. That’s not her real name and thank goodness it told me she had breastfed in the red book.

“Did she have some for the other boys too?” Little Bear asked next.

Ah, so he has taken on board the bit about having birth siblings too.

“Yes, I think she did” I tell him, “but not at the same time as you as they were bigger”.

“I wish Big Bear was my brother” comes the next nugget.

Big Bear IS your brother I reassure. I tell him how much Big Bear loves him and how much he loves Big Bear. “Do you wish you had come out of my tummy too?” I venture. “Yes” he says and throws himself onto my lap.

What can you say to this? I hold him tight and explain that I love him just the same as if he had been in my tummy. I tell him that there were lots and lots of boys and girls who needed to be adopted but that we chose him. “Why?” he enquired. “Because we love you and we wanted you” I say.

We have a huge cuddle.

This chat seems to satisfy the little dude for now and no further questions erupt from him, though he does proceed to suck my fingers as I won’t let him near the boobs.

I’m pleased he has shown such a good understanding of his life story so far. He definitely has the basics sewn up.

At the moment Sian seems to have taken on fictional character status for Little Bear. He doesn’t seem to remember her and I’m not sure he considers her to be particularly real or relevant at this stage, though this will surely change over time? I can foresee a point when he gets more intrigued by her and starts to wonder about why they were separated. Surely no adopter survives the journey without a “you aren’t my real mummy” thrown at them at some stage?

However, for now, Little Bear’s mind seems to be on belonging and checking that he is just as much mine as Big Bear.

Alongside this there has possibly been an increase in affection-seeking and clinginess though it is hard to tell as Little Bear is very cuddly in general. He is getting all the cuddles, carries, strokes and time on our knees as you could shake a stick at. As always we are trying to be scrupulous in making sure things are equal for the boys in all regards – physical, financial, material, time. Little Bear needs to know through our actions, not just our words, that he is loved just the same as Big Bear.

Little Bear has been telling each of us that he loves us frequently and perhaps this is an unconscious way of checking that we love him. We do tell him all the time (and I’m quite prone to randomly picking him up or smothering him with kisses while making a strange ooh noise and saying I just love you so much I could eat you!), so hopefully he knows we really do, but it is easy to see how the doubts could creep in for him.

It is the 2 year anniversary of Little Bear moving in for good this weekend and we aren’t too sure whether to make a fuss about it or not. On the one hand it is positive to celebrate it and to show him that his arrival and permanence has made us really happy. On the other, we are wondering whether too much fuss just serves to mark him out as different when, at the moment, he really just wants to be the same.

As is often the way, writing this blog has helped me to unravel things a bit and I think I’m drawing the conclusion that we might need a new tradition for coming home day. I have a kernel of an idea about a scrap book with a photo of us all and our handprints and maybe the height of the boys, which we could re-visit and update on that day each year. That way hopefully we are nodding to the significance of the day while focussing on our similarities and our identity as a family. I also think I will put the boys in matching t-shirts. Hmm, the cogs are still turning. I’d love to hear what anybody else does.

I’ll keep you updated about any further Life Story chats. No doubt they will take place completely at random and when I am least expecting it. I just hope the next one doesn’t feature my cleavage quite so heavily!

 

Life Story Work: Not Your Average Boob Chat

First and Lasts

Just to be contradictory I will talk about the Lasts first.

This week has been Little Bear’s last in Reception class. As of Monday he will be taking part in two transition weeks in his new Year 1 class (and ditto Big Bear in his new Year 4 class). I think many children who are Care-experienced find goodbyes difficult: they tend to stir up lots of emotions about loss, lost relationships and missing people. Goodbyes can be pretty anxiety provoking and hard to find a way through. Little Bear has been lucky this year in that the goodbye is really only to his classroom as his teacher is moving up with him. We are very relieved about this as it should definitely ease the anxiety and I’m hoping it will mean a smooth run into Year 1 without any need to play catch up while a new teacher figures out all his quirks. Likewise all the same children will be in his class.

However, there is still the finality of last shared reading sessions, last days in Reception and on Friday a last day afternoon tea for parents. We nearly didn’t make the last shared reading session as I had caught a bug and had succumbed to sleep on the bathroom floor (yes, grim indeed). Thankfully Grizzly was working at home and reshuffled everything to make it. He was really glad that he had as Little Bear was over the moon to see him and had been anxiously waiting for one of us to appear. He was well aware that it was the last time we would have the opportunity to go to it.

Although still a little green around the gills I made sure I was there for the afternoon tea on Friday (I just pretended that the children hadn’t really made the scones and that they wouldn’t be at all contaminated by sticky fingers and that mine didn’t really have a hair on it!!). Little Bear was so happy to see me and was more clingy than usual. We spent a lovely 20 minutes or so building a Duplo house. Little Bear was not keen on sharing the Duplo or me with any of his peers. He didn’t really want to come away from me to join his class in singing to us, even though I was right there watching.

The parents all went outside for a few minutes whilst the children did final registration. I must have been slightly out of Little Bear’s eye line while I ferreted around in the ‘jumper dumper’ (a depressing wasteland of sloughed off sweatshirts) and he must have panicked that I had left him, though I never have disappeared before. He tried to distract himself with another scone but the TA said he couldn’t have one. This was the final straw in what was evidently a simmering pressure cooker of emotions. Little Bear made his last exit from Reception class by pelting his toy at the waiting parents and screaming.

Thank goodness for the emergency KitKat in my handbag.

The emotions continued to be untameable on the walk home when Little Bear insisted upon balancing alongside the roadside curb edge despite me telling him several times to walk on the path part as it would be further from the cars and much safer. Little Bear was unable to heed my instructions and I eventually had to move him to the safe part of the pavement. This resulted in a hit and a scratch which I chose to ignore.

A few seconds later Little Bear said “I just scratched your hand” in a small sad voice. “Yes, you did” I replied “but I’m ignoring it because I think you’re feeling a bit sad”. I suggested that when we got home it might be a good idea to have a rest in front of the TV. When we got in Little Bear wasn’t particularly up for that plan. Nor was he keen to go to the toilet when I asked him to and was starting to get offensive.

Usually at these times you can talk, reason, cajole, shout, fully lose it to your hearts content and Little Bear will not heed your words. However, somehow he got onto my knee and must have listened to what I was saying (though it didn’t look or sound like he was listening at all). I did some wondering about how he might be feeling and maybe it had something to do with it being the last day in Reception class. I gave reassurance about his teacher going up with him and Big Bear chimed in, in that instinctive way that he has, about how Year 1 is not scary and will be fun. I suggested that Little Bear was likely to head towards getting himself into trouble if he continued as he was and that I was trying to help him not to do that by giving him a rest. By some miracle something resonated and he asked if I would sit with him on the sofa.

We spent the next hour or so with Little Bear wedged between my thighs, his legs atop mine, the back of his head pressed into my chest watching Paw Patrol. I didn’t think it was a coincidence that the programme he chose to watch was one he used to choose when he was a bit younger.

Lasts are so hard for our children. Evidently the last day had brought all sorts of other things into question for him, most basically, was he still safe with us or were we leaving him too? I wonder how long he will need to be here before he can stop asking that question.

 

The First that I wanted to talk about is much more positive, though it has been hanging in the balance for most of the week. Little Bear was meant to be going to stay at my parent’s house this weekend. It would be the first time he had slept out since being with us (23 months now) and when I thought about it, I realised it was a pretty big deal.

Big Bear has slept out quite a few times now (sometimes because he needs a break) and on the last few occasions Little Bear has felt quite left out. Up until recently we would not have considered it all, being as though it would only have been fair to the grandparents if we could have sent Little Bear with some Valium and a flak jacket for them. As that wasn’t possible, we really couldn’t have inflicted the task on them.

However, apart from one fairly bad occasion, my parents have put Little Bear to sleep at our house successfully several times and sometimes he can be angelic at bedtime these days. The problem is that bedtimes are still very variable and we couldn’t guarantee what kind of night he might have if he went there. Irrespective of all that, my parents were feeling brave and we had pencilled in this weekend to have a try.

Bedtimes throughout this week have not been good. Things have been thrown, pulled, poked and spat on. Grizzly and I decided that if Little Bear could not show us that he could be sensible at bedtime, at least on Friday we couldn’t allow him to go. It just wouldn’t be fair and could go really badly. Of course we wanted the first attempt to be successful. However, we were pretty keen on it going ahead because Big Bear was super excited about getting some Mum and Dad time and as always we would have to balance both of their needs. Little Bear really wanted to go and has been excited about it for ages and my parents really wanted him to go.

I was very clear with Little Bear last night that he needed to get into bed and try to sleep. He shouldn’t be standing on the other end of his bed or pulling his door or shouting or throwing things. I was clear that if he couldn’t be sensible he couldn’t go to his grandparents. I know he understood this because he explained it back to me.

Bedtime did not go particularly well. It wasn’t horrendous but he certainly wasn’t trying to sleep and I did get called an idiot. It took quite a long time.

This is where adoption gets complicated. Although I know that Little Bear understood the rules I don’t honestly think that he can control himself enough yet to stick to them (not all the time anyway). This is where giving a consequence is unfair – is it really right to punish something he cannot control? Well, no. However, I could not have re-iterated and reinforced the rules more and as I had been clear about the consequence in advance, would I now be undermining myself and the rules if I didn’t follow through? How would Big Bear feel if his plans were scuppered by his brother’s behaviour? How would Little Bear feel in the morning when he found out that the consequence was really happening? Would it damage his self-esteem that I didn’t trust him to try the sleepover? Another day a fresh start and all that…

It is very easy to tie your brain in a knot of over analysis.

In the end Grizzly and I reached a compromise we were both happy with and I ran it by my parents to check they were on board too. Little Bear did get a consequence for his bedtime behaviour: he was not allowed his I Pad today (we are consistent in our use of this rule and feel it does have a useful impact and has helped with sorting the bedtime behaviours in general). However, we agreed to let him try the sleepover. If things went awry and he did not co-operate my parents would bring him home. Big Bear would get his evening out and I would keep everything crossed that Little Bear could manage.

This morning Little Bear woke me before 6:30, already half- dressed and asking me for a “packing bag”. I was pleased that I wouldn’t be dampening his enthusiasm. He was fully dressed and packed by 7am.

Although Little Bear was excited, he seemed a little nervous too. He wondered if my parents would come if he shouted them. He was upset Big Bear wasn’t going too. He would miss him. He needed reassurance that it was just one night and he would be back tomorrow.

It is not just Lasts that are complicated – Firsts have their fair share of issues too.

I have purposefully waited until this evening to blog because I really didn’t know which way things would go but I’m very happy to say that Little Bear has managed to get to sleep at my parent’s house and though I’m sure there will have been some shenanigans they were not sufficient to end the mission. I’m so pleased that we will be able to tell him how proud we are of him tomorrow and that we have missed him (the house is strangely quiet) and that he can sleep over again another time if he wants to because he behaved himself and my parents enjoyed him being there. Well done Little Bear, another fabulous first to celebrate.

Also well done and thank you to my parents as the three of us have had a lovely time going out for a grown up tea and seeing Despicable Me 3 and Big Bear is very happy.

Phew. I wonder what next week’s first days of Year 1 will bring?

 

 

First and Lasts

Brothers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Brothers

A Grown-up Weekend Away

I can’t honestly remember the last time Grizzly and I went away for a night without children. Certainly not once in the 17 months Little Bear has been with us and I think we had only been away a handful of times before that. Grizzly is away fairly frequently with work (though I’m not sure that really counts) and I have had one night away for a friend’s wedding reception.

The main reason we haven’t been away before now is because asking the grandparents to have our boys feels like a big ask. We know they don’t mind but we also know how much energy is required to look after them and keep them entertained. Little Bear’s behaviour can be unpredictable and if he’s having a bad day he can be really challenging to manage. Also, Little Bear tends to test the boundaries more with the grandparents so there is every likelihood that his behaviour could escalate when he is with them. Having never been away we also didn’t know how he would cope without us being there and whether that in itself might cause some issues.

However, recently I’ve been craving a night off. I have friends who do it all the time and I was getting a bit envious of the peace and quiet and lie-in they would be having. I find first thing in the morning the most challenging part of the day with the boys. I’m not a morning person and ideally need 5 minutes to lie in bed quietly before I get up and face the world. However, Little Bear always wakes me before my alarm and always with incessant chatter. He begins work on trying to get me out of bed immediately and if that doesn’t work makes other insistent demands such as asking me to get something or make something speak. I try all the tricks to get him to entertain himself for a few minutes or just lie quietly with me but I know that in reality he will keep this up, without pausing for breath, until I get up and feed him. Though I love him dearly the thought of one day off, one morning without the incessant chatter, was becoming increasingly appealing.

My birthday is in January and I made my wish to Grizzly that all I really wanted was 1 night off. Grizzly didn’t mention anything until a couple of weeks ago when he let slip that he had booked a hotel and started to make arrangements for the boys and that we would be away on the day of my birthday.

It was difficult to know what the best arrangements for the Bears would be. We plumped for splitting them up – Grizzly’s Mum would have Little Bear and my parents would have Big Bear. Big Bear would have a sleepover and Little Bear could stay at home where everything is more familiar. This should lessen the load for the grandparents though I was worried that Little Bear might be very unsettled by being away from us and from Big Bear. I felt he might pine for Big Bear but nobody lives far from anybody else so the grandparents could bring them back together if needs be.

I was also concerned that the boys might be upset that I was choosing to spend my birthday away from them. With that in mind we decided that we wouldn’t stay out long on the Sunday and would come back in time to have a bit of a party afternoon together.

My plan for the week leading up to the Big Weekend was to make the most of getting ready. I wanted to spend time trying on outfits, getting my nails done, having long pampering shower etc. It sounded idyllic and I’m sure it would have been had things gone to plan.

The week started ok. Both boys returned to school after the holidays and though I had a cold and felt under the weather I spent a productive day ticking things off my to-do list. On Tuesday I lost my temper with Little Bear before school as we were in a rush and he wouldn’t co-operate. I then went to meet a friend and the 5 minute journey took me 50 minutes. When I got home I attempted to wrangle with our intermittent internet connection to do an online shop when the phone rang. It was school. Big Bear had been sick could I come and get him?

As soon as I saw him I knew there was nothing wrong with him (daft look on his face) but it was the Head sending him home and as we went out the door he reminded me of the 48 hour rule. Bloody brilliant. I’m totally down with the rule but not when your child scoffs all their meals and is clearly fine.

On Wednesday I had to clear the front room ready for the builders. Later on, Big Bear and I walked the long way round to pick Little Bear up from school. The cat decided to follow us. At the furthest point from home she decided to stop following us. Figuring that her cat skills would lead her home we eventually carried on to school. What ensued was a missing cat situation and several hours of increasing concern, especially as the weather was awful. Grizzly and Big Bear finally found her much later, exactly where we had last seen her: clearly she has no cat skills at all.

On Thursday the shower broke.

What on earth was going on?! Would we even get away for the weekend at this rate? There certainly wasn’t going to be much pampering or trying on of clothes.

By the time I had packed for myself and Big Bear, got his football things ready and organised Little Bear for the party he was going to, made lunch for a friend and dinner for my brother, I was wondering how I would sustain enough energy for the weekend.

Saturday morning began badly because Big Bear’s football match was cancelled which apparently meant his weekend was ruined before it had even begun.

We were finally organised and child free by about 11 am on Saturday. I have to say that it was brilliant. We couldn’t really believe we were actually out together, on our own and we could do anything we wanted. We definitely made the most of it, including staying out past midnight. That last statement shows how little I get out!! I won’t bore you with the details, have a photo montage instead:

I loved every single second of it. I don’t think you realise how much you need some grown up time until you get it. I missed the boys though and enjoyed picking them some little treats and looked forward to seeing them in the afternoon.

Big Bear had been absolutely fine all weekend but his greeting to me was “the weekend has been awful!” He was fairly miserable all afternoon and unusually prickly with his brother. Little Bear had coped really well and behaved well too. Seeing us again seemed to unlock something though and he seemed a little overwhelmed. He was clingy and emotional for the rest of the day.

It wasn’t exactly the party atmosphere we had planned! I think perhaps that had been the wrong plan and maybe they just needed some closeness and 1:1 time with us.

Their reaction reminded me why we needed a break in the first place. We adore them but parenting is hard core and requires a significant commitment of physical, emotional and psychological energy. I don’t think I’ll wait another 2 years for a night off. Now, where’s my diary…

 

A Grown-up Weekend Away

A Grandparents View of Adoption

This week’s post has been guest-written by my parents. This is their account, in their own words, of how the adoption process has been for them:

 

When Mama Bear and Grizzly told us that they wanted to adopt, we weren’t altogether surprised. It had come up in conversation before. We were happy for them but had our concerns, which, of course we did not pass on to them.

How would Big Bear be affected?

Would we be able to accept a stranger as our grandchild?

Would we be able to be fair to both children or just favour Big Bear?
During the selection process I filled in the forms on behalf of the family (as a referee).  An onerous task! Naturally, we wanted the adoption to go through as all the Bear family were determined to become adopters. On the other hand, I needed to be as true to their characters as I could and not paint too glowing a picture. Surely nobody is perfect?! It seemed to be a long and arduous process. We felt very much part of it. Finally, the acceptance day arrived. Matching  followed. We were on tenterhooks. Who would arrive?

We knew Little Bear had arrived. However, we were not allowed to be introduced to him immediately. Very frustrating. Eventually the day came. We met in a park, a non-threatening environment. I don’t think I have ever seen such an angry bear. His behaviour was totally non-standard. Fortunately Mama Bear and Grizzly had decided that the only way to cope with him, was to have definite parameters. Not popular with Little Bear, judging from the scratches on Mama Bear’s hands.
We began to worry even more about Grizzly and Mama Bear. They had undertaken, what seemed to us, an impossible task. Big Bear was not happy and felt threatened. He had never seen such behaviour or ever heard the screams of frustration which emanated from Little Bear. The latter was confused and made sure everyone knew how unhappy he was.
After this initial meeting, we decided that the only way to gain Little Bear’s attention and affection was to leave him to make the first move when he felt ready. The first time he moved in for a cuddle, I felt as though I had won the lottery. The hugs were few and far between but amazing when they happened.
There were first times for many things:- putting Little Bear to bed; collecting him from pre-school; visitations to our home; taking him out on our own. Delightful times but also very stressful. We had to go against Gran Bear instincts of not being too bossy or prescriptive. Sometimes we had to shout!
Fortunately, those times have passed and Little Bear has blossomed. He shows his brother how much he loves him. Tantrums are few and low key. He has begun to make friends. Mama Bear and Grizzly are hugged and kissed and obviously loved. We, too, are accepted and hugged when he is in the mood.

As far as we are concerned Little Bear is part of our family. We are happy to be his Gran Bears. It has been a difficult journey but with incredible results. We are so proud of Mama Bear and Grizzly for wanting to adopt in the first place, but also of how determined they have been to show Little Bear that in spite of the hard times, they love him and he is staying with them. Big Bear has not been excluded but included in every step of the journey. Grizzly is constantly heard saying, “We are your new family. You are staying here forever.”
It makes me so sad to think that there are many children who could blossom like Little Bear, if they were given the chance. If they were in a stable home and loved.

 

 

 

 

A Grandparents View of Adoption