Adoption Celebrations

Last week we had our court celebration. We got our Adoption Order back in June but I guess this was the first date court could accommodate us for our celebration.

We had chosen the city we wanted it to take place in and had been told to meet outside of the court at 9:45am and for our party to go in together. It was a bit of a mad dash but somehow we managed to get there and all dressed up to make an occasion of it.

I drew the line at getting matching outfits for the boys as I’ve always been really against putting children in the same outfits (“they’re not the same person” I would moan) however since we’ve had Little Bear I’ve been having strange urges to do it. I think it’s because it shows a link between them for the whole world to see. Plus, they’d look super cute. Anyway, as a compromise between reneging on my old principles and my new desire to make them match, I had bought them the same tailored navy shorts and both blue and white shirts but with different patterns. And very handsome they looked too (as long as you didn’t notice the sun gleaming off Little Bear’s bald patch!).

We met our parents there and Ann our Social Worker. We all had to go through the scanning machine which the boys found entertaining. Stupidly I had thought we would go straight into the court room but unfortunately there was quite a long wait. I was starting to fear that if we didn’t go in soon, Little Bear would systematically destroy the waiting room.

Over the few days before the court event I had tried to explain to Little Bear that we were going to see the Judge. I had explained that he (or she?) was a very important person who would be telling us that Little Bear could stay with us forever and he would have our name (although in reality he only knows our surname). It was very hard to tell how much Little Bear had taken on board.

I had also been fearful for some time that if the Judge said something about Little Bear staying with us forever, he might pipe up “no I not. I go Karen and Bob’s house” (my made up name for Little Bear’s foster carers) as he used to be pretty fond of saying this.

On the morning of the event, Little Bear was actually very keen to get his smart clothes on and kept asking to go to see the Judge (even if it did sound like he was asking for George). His excitement was proving hard to contain so the wait was less than ideal. We were all very relieved when the time eventually came for us to be called in.

It turned out not to be a Judge (damn! I was excited about seeing the wig) but 3 magistrates. They were lovely though. The main guy said a few words about it being a happy occasion and congratulated us all. Little Bear pointed to each Magistrate and said “that’s my girlfriend, that’s my boyfriend, that’s my girlfriend” which made us giggle. Thankfully he said it quietly and strangers still find him hard to understand so I don’t think the Magistrates picked up on it. I hope not as a second later he muttered “that guy is such a weirdo”!

The Magistrate spoke a little more then Grizzly asked Little Bear if he wanted to say anything. “I want to live with them forever” he said and leaned his head against Grizzly. It was such a lovely tear-inducing moment and such a relief that he did seem to understand why we there and that he hadn’t chosen to say he’d rather be somewhere else.

The Magistrate gave Little Bear a teddy and a certificate to mark the day. They then invited the boys to sit in the big chair and for us to take photos. We didn’t feel rushed at all and the Head Magistrate even turned photographer for us. It was short but sweet and we came away feeling happy to be official.

We had puzzled over what to do afterwards, especially with it being too early for lunch but thankfully the sun was shining and we were just beside a lovely park. It was definitely the right choice as after being on their best behaviour in court the boys were ready to let off some steam. Ann came with us for a while. We wandered through the park and admired the squirrels before finding the café to get some hot drinks. The boys played in the play area and the grownups managed some grownup conversation (!). It was lovely to catch up with Ann but soon she had to head back to work.

There was a miniature railway in the park, complete with tiny station and platform so Grizzly and I and the boys had a few rides and my Dad couldn’t help joining in either.

When it was time for lunch, Little Bear had a meltdown leaving the park. There was a bit of biting and scratching but thankfully he calmed quickly and then wanted to be carried to the restaurant. We chose to go to Pizza Express for lunch as it’s family-friendly and easy. It was tempting to go somewhere posher to mark the occasion but it would probably have been a disaster and as long as the children were happy we knew we would be too.

Meal times with Little Bear can be really stressful but he did well this time. He was keen to go on the open-topped bus afterwards which helped with his motivation.

The bus was a good choice. We were enjoying the nice weather, getting some fresh air, seeing sights we hadn’t seen before in a city we thought we knew well and having a rest while we were at it. I’m always a bit sceptical about there being a guide in these situations but she was very interesting and not boring at all.

We stayed on the bus until Little Bear started standing up more than he was sitting down and I was becoming a bit anxious about what he might do next. I always feel it’s better to end these things whilst they are still going well.

I had seen that there was a Lego exhibition on in the Cathedral and as we got off the bus near there it seemed worth a try. The exhibition itself was brilliant – Master Builders (they really are called that) had created all sorts of vehicles from Lego, including a 7 metre long replica of the Titanic which was amazing. Big Bear loved it and filled my whole phone with photos. The grownups loved it too but I think Little Bear was getting tired by then and although he showed some interest in the models, he was around the whole thing in about a minute. His behaviour was beginning to escalate and we ended up having another ‘time in’. I had to pretend he wasn’t really being abusive in a Cathedral!

As usual, these things are often solved with food. We headed to the café where there was a large Lego pit and a Lego wall that the children could build on to. Both Bears absolutely loved it and played together for ages while the grownups somehow managed another drink and chat.

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By now it was late afternoon and we had been out all day so we headed homeward. It had been a really lovely family day out and I’m so pleased that we found something inclusive to do. You never know how these things will go, best laid plans and all, so I was relieved that we had all enjoyed it and had managed to successfully create a great memory of Little Bear’s special day.

Unusually for us, this was not the end of it. Earlier in the year we had had a realisation that we are rubbish at celebrating big events and just keep on trucking with our busy lives. We had resolved that this time would be different and we had planned a big party. We also wanted to thank our support network for everything they had done for us over the past 12 to 18 months, whilst we were going through the adoption process. So on Thursday we had our court celebration, Friday was the anniversary of Little Bear moving in and Saturday was our party. Talk about a manic few days!

We were expecting almost 50 people to our party, which we were having at home and the plan was definitely for it to be outside. By Thursday my obsessive checking of the weather forecast indicated that there wasn’t going to be a last minute miracle, the forecast was for rain and I needed to accept this. That evening we began filling the garden with gazebos. On Friday we woke to this headline: “UK to be battered by 1500 mile wide storm”. Excellent. Perfect. Just exactly what we needed!

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It was still raining on Saturday morning, the decking was treacherously slippy and the gazebos were leaking in several places. Undeterred and with no other real options, we proceeded with the preparations as best we could. The bouncy castle arrived and another gazebo was quickly erected so children could get on and off it without getting soaked.

The 15 children busied themselves on the bouncy castle and I can honestly say that they weren’t one bit of trouble all day. At lunch time most of them spontaneously trooped into the little front room (soon to be office), instigated a carpet picnic and watched a DVD in near silence! No one could quite believe it. I think all the bouncing must have worn them out.

Although we were very keen on the party idea, the thing that usually puts me off is catering for everybody. As is the way with everything since adopting, our mantra is “keep things easy” and we applied this to the party too. At 12o’clock pizzas were delivered. My Mum had made some lovely salads and I had done some bits and voila lunch was served. At 1:30 pudding arrived in the form of an ice cream van. A swarm of children ran zombie like straight through the house chanting “ice cream ice cream”. It was ace.

My friend had also made us a cake. I wanted the cake to be symbolic so she made it with 4 layers – one layer to represent each of us. The layers were made of our favourite cake and the outside of each was decorated with our favourite things. She also added 4 bears dotted around it to include how I refer to everyone here in my blog. We did gather everyone around at one point and made a cheesy speech as we genuinely did want to thank everybody for their unwavering support. Big Bear lead 3 cheers and Little Bear cut the cake.

 

Somehow, a weather miracle did seem to take place and the rain held off until later on. It was very windy though and at one point a gazebo did take flight. Thankfully nobody was in it at the time! Our guests were very helpful and as they stood around chatting, they kept a hand or two on the gazebos to stop it from happening again!

We had a brilliant time. I felt very relaxed which can be hard to achieve in these situations and I also felt I had had proper conversations with people. The last guests didn’t leave until 2 hours after the party was supposed to finish so I take that as a sign that people enjoyed themselves.

I feel that we have well and truly celebrated adopting Little Bear now. And so we should.

Adoption Celebrations

The Adoption Order

This weeks’ big news is that we have been granted our Adoption Order (AO). It sort of feels as though it has been a long time coming and we have got here ridiculously quickly all at the same time.

We have wanted to get the AO all sewn up since Christmas. Getting the paperwork to court, via Social Services seemed to take forever. It took weeks for anybody to notice that they didn’t have our wedding certificate (which we duly sent and fear we’ll never see again!) and the clock continued to tick and there continued to be silence.

One day, out of the blue, we returned home to find a very official looking letter on the mat – it was from the court explaining there was now a hearing date. We shouldn’t attend but Little Bear’s birth parents could if they wanted to. We knew that they could contest the AO if they chose to but we had no real idea whether they would or not.

We have not met Little Bear’s birth parents. When we embarked on the adoption process we had no idea that meeting birth parents would even be a possibility. I was quite shocked when we were told that it is and is in fact considered good practise, when we attended the prep groups. I wasn’t really sure I was too keen on the idea.

However, Grizzly’s Dad died when he was a young child so he has first-hand experience of what it is to lose a parent and to wonder about them. Ultimately he would want to see his Dad but with that not being possible, the next best thing is to share stories etc. with people who did know him. Grizzly immediately felt that that he would want to meet our future child’s birth parents – so that he could tell our child all about them when the time was right: so that he could share real, tangible information from having met them, not just theoretical information from a piece of paper.

I agreed that if it was best for our future little one I too would be willing to meet them and would put my personal feelings aside.

However, in the event, we made our willingness to meet Little Bear’s birth parents known, but Social Services were adamant it would not be appropriate in this case. We weren’t told a lot, only that birth mum would have found it too difficult to cope with.

Without having met them and having read only very factual information about them, we had no real concept of them as people and therefore nothing much to base a judgement on about whether or not they were likely to contest the order.

At our most recent review meeting, Little Bear’s Social Worker said she didn’t feel they would. Then, at a further appointment, she reported that birth mum in particular wanted to attend the hearing and “have her say” (whatever that meant) but did not plan to contest it.

True to their word, both birth parents attended court and did not contest the planned order, meaning that the judge was able to grant it there and then. The Social Worker described the birth parents as being “upset” in court but “wanting to do the best” for Little Bear. I felt very emotional on reading that part of the e-mail.

It is times like this that you remember how out of the ordinary adoption is. I think I’ve fallen into a relative normality – Little Bear feels like he’s ours, it feels like he should be here. We’ve all got used to each other. Gone are the days when I dreaded what the morning would bring and when I’d rather not have clapped eyes on him when I first woke (I wrote about our difficult beginnings in Love & in Getting brother or sister). Gone are the days when we had to act out loving him and when I did more “managing” of behaviour than anything that felt like the “parenting” I was used to with Big Bear.

It is not that everything is easy now, though most things are easier, it’s more that there is a familiarity, a normality, about our daily lives. Little Bear is part of the furniture, just as much as any of the rest of us. And as I go about this normality, I mostly don’t think about the fact that I did not give birth to Little Bear. It could partly be because he fits in so well and does have similarities with us (physically, in his character and in his preferences) that I don’t constantly keep in mind him being genetically someone else’s.

However, on getting the AO and on celebrating it, it was not lost on me that in another corner of our island, Little Bear’s birth parents would be grieving. In a perverse way, was this a celebration of their loss?

Of course I am happy that the order has been granted – it is what we have been working towards, a landmark for any adopter. It confirms what we feel – that Little Bear is our son and this is now cemented by him officially sharing our name.

And yet..

For the first time I have felt an emotional connection to his birth parents. I can’t help but feel sadness for them. As my Mum said, who wants to feel that they have not been able to give their child what they need? Who wants to know that they’ve failed as a parent and face a future in which they may never see their child again?

I think perhaps I would not have been able to afford them this empathy had they have purposefully harmed Little Bear. Obviously they were not able to keep him safe or nurture or develop him appropriately but as far as we know, they did not abuse him.

I am puzzled by them though. What stopped them from taking the many, many, opportunities provided to them to change their circumstances? Why didn’t they fight harder? Did they know they couldn’t do it? That it would be best all round this way? Or do they feel wronged? As though in their eyes they were perfectly good parents and it was all Social Services fault? How much do they think about Little Bear? Do they wonder about us? What do they wonder?

One thing that plays on my mind is that Little Bear’s birth mum breastfed him. It is probably hideously judgemental of me but I had just assumed that he would have been bottle fed. Breastfeeding is such an intimate act of bonding that I now find it hard to imagine that same mother empty-armed, without her infant in her care. I know breastfeeding alone does not make you a good mother (and obviously bottle feeding certainly does not make you a bad mother) but it says something about the level of care she tried to provide. She did try to bond with him; she did try to give him the best start health-wise.

The fact that she was not able to maintain this level of care says more about her own life experiences and the failures of those around her than anything. I feel she has been a victim of her own circumstances which in itself is a great sadness.

Equally, the fact that they both attended the court hearing says something to me. I think that many birth parents would not attend. I think others would contest so that they could feel as though they had fought for their child. In attending but not contesting I feel as though Little Bear’s birth parents have shown that they do care and almost given us their blessing to go ahead and raise Little Bear as best we can.

Perhaps I’m off the mark and that is not how they feel at all. But now I wonder where previously I was happy to pretend they didn’t exist.

I think I will still feel a weird bolt to my chest whenever I see their picture in Little Bear’s Life Story book – a very stark reminder that they do exist and this is not ordinary parenting. But I am now keen to make some connection with them. We are going to be doing Letterbox contact and that is due to start soon, which I’m pleased about. I feel that they will reply. No doubt I will analyse their letter in some depth.

Having now successfully managed to deflect all attention away from us being granted the AO I must now try to re-gain some focus! Grizzly and I seem to do this a lot – taking fairly major milestones or events in our stride and just trucking on without actually celebrating them or even pausing for a momentary pat on the back.

We spent approx. 30 seconds briefly acknowledging that this was indeed a milestone, we had got here without even considering divorce and everyone was still alive. Good. That’s settled then. What about these tiles that have been delivered but half of them are smashed? And so went the evening.

We are aware that this is a rubbish way of going about things so we think we might right all the non-celebrations of the last year with a big party once all of our building works are complete. And of course there is the celebration court date to come too.

As I said at the beginning, although it has seemed like a long journey, in other ways it is hard to believe that we have reached this point already. Fittingly, today is exactly one year to the day since we first saw Little Bear’s profile. If you’d have told us on the 10th June 2015 that in one year’s time this gorgeous little man, smiling at us from the piece of newspaper, with 5 scant sentences residing beside his head, would not only have been living with us for 9.5 months but would legally be one of us, I don’t think we would have believed you – especially as, at that point, we had only been approved as adopters for 10 short days! The whirlwind continues. .

 

The Adoption Order