December at Adoption: The Bear Facts

December is quickly drawing to a close which can only mean one thing. It is round up time! Here all the best bits of the past month with the three Bears.

Events:

It’s a good job I keep notes over the month to help me write this post otherwise I would definitely forget about the things that happened right back at the start. It seems an age ago but the first events of the month were our craft fayres. My friend A and I accidentally agreed to run a stall at 2 craft fayres to sell our homemade Christmas tree decorations. I say “accidentally” because all I actually signed up for was a cup of tea and some grown up colouring in!

One of the events was an all-day thing at a high school and the other an evening event at the boy’s school. Despite being rubbish at the mental arithmetic part of things and being slightly stressed that at 37 weeks pregnant, A might give birth behind the stall, it was loads of fun. Between Facebook and our stalls we ended up making and selling about 600 decorations in the end. I was ready to have a break from making them but actually I’m starting to miss it a bit now and A and I did work very well together so you never know whether we might try to make our little business a bit more all year round in 2017… Plus, I did get a pyrography pen for Christmas…

Another positive aspect of the fayres was that Big Bear was really interested in helping me make the decorations. After panicking that he was going to use up our wood supply and that a 7 year old’s decoration is obviously not quite as polished as one made by a grown-up, I decided the best way forward was to let him set up a sister business. He made his own decorations in his own signature style (which I would describe as Avant-garde!) that he then sold from a corner of our table. He had his own float and managed his own sales. He spent most of the evening walking around selling from a tray and he was brilliant at it. He made about £22 which I think he should be extremely proud of. At one point I’m sure he was selling more than we were!

The following week, we ended up going out for tea after school with my parents. It is not something we would usually do as it’s quite challenging for Little Bear to behave himself at that time of day and in a place where you have to be relatively quiet and sit on a chair but he managed brilliantly. We have noticed a big improvement in his ability to engage with table-top activities and to spend a bit of time focusing on them. He is getting quite into drawing and trying to write which is the main way we keep him busy in restaurants etc. at the moment.

As term drew to a close there were quite a few school events to attend. Both Bears went on a whole school trip to the theatre which seemed to go without incident (?!), Little Bear performed in his Nativity and there was a Mince Pie Afternoon at which each class came in and sang a song, as well as there being performances from the different music groups.

The Nativity wasn’t a total success. At the performance that Grizzly and I and his Mum attended, Little Bear started off being quite entertaining with his dancing and off-beat singing but by the end my heart was in my mouth wondering what he was going to do. Half-way through the look came over his face which means “I am grumpy. I am looking for trouble. I could do literally anything now”. I saw him take a piece of paper from the TA’s hand. On the stage he squared up to a couple of children and I really thought he was going to hit them. He put his foot up on a bench to prevent the Angels from getting up on to it as they were supposed to. He started poking Mary in the head.

He didn’t do anything really naughty but he was just simmering on the cusp of it and it made for nerve-wracking viewing. When I reflected on it afterwards, I remembered that he hadn’t coped well before school either. Maybe it was a bad day? I also felt that the performance wasn’t very inclusive for him. All he had to do was stand there (for 45 minutes) which is pretty boring. The songs were far too wordy and fast for him, though he was trying to join in, and there weren’t even any actions for him to do. I decided that taking him back to school later on for the 5pm performance was probably one step too far. What if he actually followed through on the behaviour? I didn’t want him to go down in history as the child who knocked Joseph out.

However, the reason I include this tale here, in my post full of positives, is that when I suggested not bringing him back to his teacher, she said he had been really well-behaved the rest of the day and in the practises and she felt he could do it. In a very uncharacteristic moment I decided that as long as I couldn’t see what he got up to it was worth the risk (!) and kindly sent him along with my parents.

In the end, he did ok. I don’t think he was perfectly behaved but he survived it without major incident and it did mean that my parents got to see him performing. He was praised by everyone and he didn’t feel as though he had missed out by staying at home. Overall, I will take that as a win.

The Mince Pie afternoon was a far lovelier affair. Big Bear usually hates anything that involves singing what he describes as “boring songs” to an audience but he must have liked the one his class sang and looked very chipper throughout. Reception class came out last of all, with their noses painted red. They looked exceptionally cute and Little Bear proceeded to completely melt my heart by dancing from foot to foot throughout and singing very loudly a beat after everyone else (it’s not his fault, he can’t process the language any faster). At the end he shouted “that’s my mum” and blew me kisses. Just gorgeous.

On the 17th December, A’s baby arrived safely. I’m always happy to hear when a friend has had a baby but as this was a Rainbow Baby (A’s first baby, Lucas, came far too early and sadly left us far too soon) it was extremely good news. I don’t think I’ve ever known someone was in labour before but I did this time and it was incredibly nerve-wracking. The baby’s safe arrival has been a huge relief and one of the best things that have happened all year. We are both absolutely made up for them. We got to meet the gorgeous lady herself when she was 4 days old. Weighing in at 5lb 8oz she is absolutely teeny but completely perfect.

Over the last couple of years it has become traditional for our family to meet up with 2 other families and go on the Santa Train together. It’s a traditional steam train that is all decorated and the staff dress up as elves and are all extremely jolly. Santa goes down the train giving out presents; you eat mince pies and go on a little journey. A band comes on board and everybody sings Christmas carols. It marks the official start of the Christmas season. We had a lovely time as we usually do and Little Bear coped exceptionally well.

We also had a very successful trip to get our Christmas tree. I mention it because we have never had a successful trip previously. One year the process was very quick but the tree had a distinctive cow poo smell; another year the woman selling the tree was very rude to us; another year we queued to see Santa for nearly an hour and a half and Big Bear was furious to find out after the agonising wait that he wasn’t actually giving any presents!!! This year we ditched all attempts at going anywhere fancy and just went to our local garden centre. It was perfect. We chose a tree, looked at the decorations and had a hot chocolate. Big Bear chose a giant reindeer and Little Bear a dancing Santa which had them both in hysterics. The needles may have fallen off the tree prematurely but I honestly don’t really care. My friend tells me you need to water them with lemonade so hopefully that’ll be us sorted next year!

I loved the fact that the boys had made all the decorations and that was definitely the best thing about the tree for me.

 

Christmas:

Big Bear ended up staying at home on Christmas Eve and helped with preparing for Wigilia which was lovely.

I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging but we had a bloody brilliant time over Christmas. The whole family stayed, everybody mucked in, I didn’t bother getting stressed about any of it, the children loved their presents and it seemed to be over in a flash. Everybody spontaneously stayed a second night. ‘Twas all good in the ‘hood.

Since then the Bears have played well with their new toys. Grizzly re-lived his youth by sourcing a game he used to have called Super Cup Football for Big Bear. That seems to have gone down well and there have been some very competitive matches. Little Bear is very happy with his Transformers, a remote control monster truck he has randomly named “Fat Fella” (no idea how he came up with that) and his Playmobil boat for in the bath. I also got both Bears a box full of craft activities each. They have both chosen to do a few things from them already which has been nice to see. We got Little Bear some giant Hama beads which he coped really well with and managed to complete his dinosaur with a bit of encouragement to stay on task:

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Big Bear has coloured some sun catchers and been busy with his beads too:

 

Yesterday we had a trip to the zoo with some friends. It was cold but clear and sunny and some of the animals were very friendly. Both boys came to nose to nose with a tiger (through some glass) which doesn’t happen every day. We also enjoyed watching a mummy orang-utan and her baby climbing up to the top of their enclosure to feed. I could have watched them all day.

Grizzly is off work until next Wednesday so we are planning more family time and meeting with other friends over the next couple of days. Things are so much more settled than this time last year and I am feeling very lucky.

Operation Home Improvement

Our extension is currently half-built. It has walls, most of a roof and holes where the windows will be. Thankfully all the work so far has been outside and I’m still quite in denial that as soon as January rolls around it is probably going to start encroaching inwards.

I have been busy measuring and ordering various things. A fairly major item is our new front door. It is going to be custom sprayed mustard on the inside and outside much to the consternation of the man selling it to me. He keeps saying things like “but EVERYBODY has it white on the inside” or “I have never sold a yellow door in my career”. I know, I say, but trust me, it will look beautiful.

The builder also thinks I’m bananas as apparently he hasn’t fitted the glass we have ordered for beside the front door since 1978. Despite his protestations we are also going for an internal round window, which, again, he thinks is old fashioned. Retro, I say. Vintage. Trust me.

 

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December at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Christmas Traditions

When I think about childhood Christmases the main thing I usually remember is Christmas Eve. It has always been a big deal in our family as we have Polish heritage and follow the Polish tradition of Wigilia.

Unlike most of our friends who put their tree up early in December, my parents’ tree never went up until Christmas Eve. I was usually in charge of decorating it whilst my Mum and brother, when he was old enough, set to in the kitchen. They would be preparing a feast of 12 dishes that we would all sit down to in the early evening. I believe it’s 12 to represent both the months of the year and the 12 disciples.

It was like a cooking marathon, beginning after breakfast and continuing all day, getting more intense as the time went on.

After I had finished the tree, I would set the table and then chop veg or arrange food on platters. I was mainly in charge of making things look nice including turning tomatoes into lily-flowers as decoration (it was the late 80’s/ early 90’s after all!).

We would normally have guests arriving to join us and stress levels would rise as the time grew nearer and dishes remained incomplete. My mum would be heard counting and re-counting the dishes, getting a different figure every time and gradually getting more heated and European. My Dad would usually disappear to “wrap presents” (hide from everyone shouting at each other in the now hot and cluttered kitchen).

I can remember the feeling of anticipation and excitement that bubbled in my tummy as we all took turns to man the pans while the others changed into smart clothes. There was a real sense of occasion.

Weirdly, the guests were always Grizzly, his Mum and his Gran as our Mums were friends long before we were a couple. It’s nice to think that the Wigilia tradition is just as much a part of his life as it is mine.

It is also part of the tradition to set an extra place, in case somebody calls unexpectedly and is in need of food. Nobody ever has called but I can remember the mystery of wondering if they would and concocting far-fetched tales of whom it might be and what events may possibly have led them to our door.

When the food is ready, a wafer called Opłatek is given out (it’s like the ‘bread’ in church). Everybody has a bit and goes to each person in the room in turn. You swap a piece of your Opłatek for a piece of theirs, eat it and wish one another a Happy Christmas (or Wesołych Świąt if you can manage to say it), often with a kiss on both cheeks. Finally you get to sit down and dig into the feast. The tradition is for a meat-free meal (it’s a day of abstinence) so it is mainly fish dishes.

Afterwards, feeling full and sleepy, we’d move to the living room and chat or play games. Thoughts would turn to Christmas Day and if we were really lucky we might be able to open one present.

All these years on we continue to celebrate Wigilia, though things have changed a bit. We put our tree up a few weeks before Christmas now and even my parents put theirs up a bit earlier than Christmas Eve. I am slightly regretting our keenness this year though as our tree is barely holding up, with the merest nudge sending pine needles cascading all over the floor. It will be a Christmas Miracle if it survives until the Big Day!

This year, Wigilia will be at our house so that the Bears can join in but still get to bed at a reasonable hour and the party can carry on downstairs. I’m not quite so into the cooking until you drop approach and we have managed to persuade my mum over the years to make it easier by sharing the task and cooking simpler recipes. This year she and I will do 6 dishes each, some fish, some veggie.

My Dad, Grizzly and the Bears will probably go out somewhere while we cook. I’ve realised in writing this that so far I haven’t involved them much with preparing for Wigilia and maybe I need to find ways of making the tradition more interesting for them. I have chosen a colour-in table cloth this year though, in the hope that it will entice them to sit at the table a bit longer!

The guests are pretty much the same as ever though it is a bit much for Grizzly’s gran now and she will join us for Christmas lunch instead. My brother’s girlfriend will be joining us too. This year everybody is going to sleep over. It is going to be a squash with 5 extra people and no doubt a bit mad but that’s all part of the Christmas fun. I think. Isn’t it? I’ll tell you afterwards…

Last year on the lead up to Christmas I was very much in survival mode. We were about 4 months into the adoption and everything was feeling very difficult. I think I fulfilled the minimum requirements of Christmas but not with much festive cheer. I do remember wondering what Little Bear had experienced before though. What traditions did his birth family or foster carers have? I had no idea and felt a bit unsettled by it. I had enough resolve in me to want to start a new tradition for Little Bear. I very much wanted him to become a part of our long-standing traditions but at the same time I wanted there to be something that had begun with him, something that he wouldn’t be excluded from if we started reminiscing about Christmases past.

I know a lot of people who get new pyjamas on Christmas Eve and I decided to steal that tradition for us. I liked the idea of there being something for the boys to unwrap after our big meal, which, let’s face it, is more for the grown-ups and also, surely anything that makes them keener to go to bed had to be a good idea?!

I knew which pyjamas to get for Little Bear as soon as I saw them. They were Gruffalo ones, with stripy legs and best of all, they came with a pair of matching slipper socks. That sounds a little odd but after several months we had finally figured out that Little Bear liked to wear socks in bed, the longer and woollier the better. Yes, you would have thought that somebody would have told us that but alas they had not.

I also chose a little cuddly animal for each Bear and put them in a gift box with their pyjamas. Little Bear absolutely loved his jammies and the little cat was probably his favourite Christmas gift, even though it was tiny. I loved seeing his face when he opened them and I’m excited for this year’s gifts too. Instead of another cuddly toy (Big Bear in particular has hundreds) I’ve got Christmas PJ’s and jumpers for their Build-a-Bear bears. Ok, the new tradition might be a teeny bit for me as well: accessorising small cuddly animals? Err yes please.

A year and 4 months into our adoption, I’m pleased to say that despite the world’s longest school term (which only ended today) and quite a lot of germs, my resilience is much better and my festive spirit is back. I’m not so worried about the chaos and an inevitable meltdown or 3. We’ll just roll with it and possibly lie down in a darkened room afterwards.

Whatever you are getting up to, I hope it’s happy and calm (ish). Merry Christmas, Wesołych Świąt, lots of love from all The Bears xxx

 

 

Christmas Traditions

Time

I have been thinking a lot about time recently: how it goes so fast and so slow and seems to bend and distort depending how you think about it. I think some of the distortion is an adoption thing.

Little Bear is relatively new to my life. He has been with us a mere 14 months. Just a baby. But he isn’t. My youngest baby is rapidly growing up. He might have only been here 14 months but he is in fact over 4 and a half years old now. He is going to his friends’ 5th birthday parties. After appearing tiny when we first got him – his head fitted in my hand like a baby’s would and he easily fitted in 2 to 3 years clothes, he seems to be getting bigger every day. I desperately need to get Big Bear’s old 5 to 6 things down from the loft otherwise Little Bear will have nothing to wear. I feel as though I have only just put the 5 to 6 things up there but in reality Big Bear is wearing 9 to 10 now so I can’t have done.

How have my Bears got so big so quickly?

When Little Bear grows out of his clothes, I am giving them away to charity because I’m pretty sure I won’t have a use for them. However, I am not feeling that comfortable about waving goodbye to all the 3 and 4 year old stuff. It seems sad that my boys are not little enough for them anymore. Ditto the dressing up costumes. Little Bear does still squeeze himself into one occasionally but in reality they are half-mast and bursting at the seams. Soon they will need to find a new home too.

I am starting to see why people continue to have more children. It is sad to think that I won’t have pre-schoolers pootling around the place any more, with their chubby cheeks and vivid imaginations. Big Bear is getting all tall and stretched out. With his grown-up teeth and distinct lack of chubbiness I almost didn’t recognise him the other day, in head to toe football gear ready to go to evening training. A friend had her first baby this week, a boy, and I couldn’t believe that over 7 years had gone past since that was me. That time has passed incredibly quickly, especially the last 3 years of it. I feel as though someone has been holding down the fast-forward button.

I wonder if children grow up quicker now. Big Bear might only be 7 but he is very knowledgeable about the world. He has opinions on Donald Trump and Brexit. I wonder whether he seems older than he is because of it and if it makes time feel as though it has gone quicker than it should.

I have been relying on Little Bear to be the little one. The one I can still carry about and pick up and rub chubby cheeks with. However, he doesn’t seem to have got the memo and is rapidly growing up anyway. I think some of it comes back to the fact that we missed the first 3 and half years of his life. Everything has gone quicker. I only had him at home for a year before he started school. His developmental delay gave us a bit of a false feeling of him being littler than he really is but it has also meant that now he is in the right environment, he has flown through developmental stages far quicker than a child usually would. Nobody normally goes from wearing nappies, sitting in a high chair and barely being able to speak to starting school and working on phonics in less than a year. It makes time feel skewed and a little confusing.

I am so happy that Little Bear is progressing as he is, of course I am. But a little part of me does wish that both of them would stay little a bit longer.

This was the point, when Big Bear had started school that I started feeling I was ready to adopt. Part of me thinks it’s happening again, that my nest has emptied and I’m getting urges to fill it. However, despite Little Bear rapidly growing and progressing, he has only been here 14 months and he is nowhere near ready for another sibling. He still needs A LOT of time and energy and I don’t think it would be fair for anybody to try and make him share that time.

Big Bear is pretty settled with having a sibling now but that has taken time too. Yesterday he allowed Grizzly to bring his Hot Wheels track downstairs so that all three Bears could play with it together. That has taken 14 months. There are still lots of toys in his bedroom that he won’t share and his door remains locked. I think another sibling would undo a lot of the good progress he has made so family expansion is certainly not on the agenda for the foreseeable future.

Time is definitely needed for an adoption to “bed-in” and feel normal for all involved.

As time ticks by and we are moving through our second year of having Little Bear, it is nice to look back and know how things were for him at this point last year, rather than wondering how they might have been. In November 2015, Little Bear was here with us. Things were hard and I was not looking forward to Christmas. I had literally no festive spirit. I spent time wondering how things had been for him the previous year and the years before that. What had his experiences of Christmas been before? Had he ever been to see Santa? What presents did he get? How did he cope with the whole experience? Did he wake up really early? How would he cope now he was with us? Were we in for a rhetorical battering?

This November I can look back and think what a shame it was that I didn’t have any Christmas spirit last year. Our turning point came just before Christmas 2015 and in the event we had a really lovely time over the festive period. Little Bear coped well and his behaviour settled down. He started sleeping and we all felt much better. When I look back this year, I know that he was safe last Christmas. I know that he had a lovely time. I know that he was excited and experienced the wonder of it all. I know that he was loved and spent the festive time surrounded by family and fun. I know how he coped with different aspects of it and I will be able to approach this Christmas with prior experience. I won’t feel so much as though I’m making it up as I go along and as though I don’t quite know what to anticipate around each corner. Time has helped us in that way too. It will be nicer still when Little Bear has had more time with us than with others but we are a way off that yet.

Although I would like to press the pause button on the Bear’s childhoods, I would be lying if I said there weren’t moments/ days/ weeks when I’ve wished time away. In the early weeks I definitely spent a lot of time counting down until bed time. I would choose tasks/ activities that passed time with the least effort. I was shattered. I was missing out on 2 to 3 hours of sleep in the middle of each night and Little Bear was very challenging during the day. We needed to re-iterate rules and consequences over and over and over to show that we really meant it and the rules weren’t going to change and we were still going to be there no matter what. It was repetitive, challenging and sometimes gruelling work. It sometimes felt like an endurance event and the best way to face it was keeping things as easy as possible. Each day passed was another under the belt and (hopefully) one closer to some semblance of order.

Now that I have sufficient energy reserves to do so, I try to make the most of every snippet of time. I try to say yes to playing and ignore my phone. I try to take all the opportunities to develop Little Bear’s language, even if I don’t really feel like repeating a phrase for the 4th time or answering the 87th question of a car journey. I try to leave my jobs for later and give the boys my time. At the weekends, it is almost all family time. I’m all too aware that one day I will wake up and they will be 18 and their childhoods will be over. And if whoever it is doesn’t take their finger off the fast-forward button soon, that day will be here far sooner than I want it to be.

Time