Pets, Children & Why We’re Not Getting a Dog

We keep thinking about getting a dog. We have favourite dog breeds and have even thought about dog names. We are not getting one though, unless I actually want to have a nervous breakdown, which I don’t, so we are not getting one. Not in the foreseeable future anyhow.

It is not as though we haven’t got any pets. We have two cats, outside fish, inside fish and up until fairly recently we had three hens (they got old, don’t worry, it isn’t a grizzly fox story).

The cats are good pets for Little Bear. The cats are quite straightforward with clear boundaries; if they are happy they show you with purring, if they’re not they show you with a scratch. They literally never get over-excited, I don’t think cats can be bothered, and if Little Bear is too rough or over-exuberant with them, they either walk away or give him a nip. Obviously I don’t want him to be nipped or scratched but it is a natural consequence of not treating the cat properly and has led to him being very gentle with them. He has learned that if he is nice to the cats, they will reward him with cuddles and sleep on his bed. Whenever that happens I always tell Little Bear how much they love him, otherwise they wouldn’t want to be in his bedroom or on his bed and that makes him feel good.

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Little Bear has started to get involved with feeding them and knows when they’re hungry. He is also good at keeping them company on the way to the vets. He is less pleased when the little cat goes on a killing spree and brings all sorts of half-maimed creatures into the house but he has helped to catch a live mouse on more than one occasion and has also tidied up dead birds (I don’t make him do that, obviously, but he likes to help). The cats have taught both boys a lot about life, nature and responsibility.

The fish are quite entertaining to look at but I have to admit they are the least exciting of all our pets for children. Little Bear enjoyed building the pond though and enjoyed keeping it ice-free over the cold spell we just had. He likes to feed the inside and outside fish and helps to clean out the tank. Pets definitely provide opportunities for helping and feeling successful.

Our hens have been our most fear-inducing pets, though only ever in other people’s children, not in our own. It has always been a bit of a surprise to folk when they have come across them in our back garden as we live in a typical cul-de-sac, with a not-very-big garden and you don’t really expect to find them there. We have fenced off part of the garden at the side and the hens are generally free range in that bit. Children have to go in there to get to the trampoline though which is what causes the consternation.

We already had the hens when Little Bear came home and he was pretty interested in them from the beginning. I have some lovely photos of him holding one of them and also him inside the hen house with them all outside! I was pretty impressed with him that at the age of three he was brave enough to get hold off one (they were friendly but you did risk a whip from a wing if you didn’t hold them firmly enough). The look on his little face of pride and happiness is just lovely.

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Little Bear has learned quite a lot from the hens. When he first arrived I don’t think he’d ever seen an egg before and he certainly didn’t know that hens lay them. The first time he was left alone with the freshly laid eggs, he threw them all on the ground and trampled them. I often talk about the incident in my workshops and I genuinely think it was because he didn’t understand the context. He didn’t understand that the hens had laid the eggs, that we could take them inside and cook them or that we could eat them. I think he just thought “they look interesting” and explored them on a sensory level.

Funnily enough Little Bear is a good little helper in the kitchen these days and whenever we are baking or making pancakes, he is always in charge of the egg part.

Little Bear has always enjoyed a practical task and would often help Grizzly to hose out the hen house or to re-fill the feed or water or just give the hens some treats. Our last hen, Yoko, recently became poorly and it was obvious she was going to die. It was during the Beast From The East so we brought her inside and she sat in a washing up bowl by the back door for several days while we gave her ‘end of life care’ (the poor thing had lost her ability to move about). Both boys were good at sitting with her and stroking her. Big Bear even suggested she might want to watch You-Tube on his I Pad!

I think that having her inside and letting her go naturally was helpful for the boys who could get a bit used to what was happening and were not shocked when she did die (though the three of us did stand there for quite some time staring at her, trying to decide whether she was breathing or not. It’s harder to tell than you’d think!).

Having pets has certainly brought another dimension to our lives and I do think the boys have gained from it. They have developed empathy, caring and the practical ability to look after something.

I could see us with a dog: I could see the boys would get a lot from one too. Only we just can’t get one. It’s a bad idea.

Little Bear LOVES dogs. I don’t think I’ve ever met a child who loves dogs quite as much as him. When he was smaller he would just run at them, whether he knew them or not and would be desperate to get his hands on them. We have had A LOT of chats about not knowing whether dogs are friendly or not and that you must ask their owner first before you can touch them. Little Bear has learned the rule well but it has not stopped him from gate-crashing stranger’s picnics to make a furry friend or trying to wrestle a lead from someone so he can walk their dog. Once, we were in the country park near to home and I happened to turn around just at the instant Little Bear had over exuberantly scooped up a Dachshund and was dangling it face first above the ground, the poor thing no doubt scared out of its wits. Another time we met a Chow Chow on the high street and within three seconds of being acquainted with it, Little Bear popped his hand in its mouth, probably as he was intrigued by its dark tongue. Dark tongue or no, you can’t go round sticking your hand into random dog’s mouths.

My brother has a dog. She is only about a year old, massive and EXTREMELY bouncy. She is a Tigger of a dog. She is very friendly and has no malice in her whatsoever. She never growls and loves the children. However, and it’s a big however, she has some issues with regulation. She basically can’t regulate herself and hence can be poor at listening, unruly and very, very excitable.

Before we go to see the dog, Little Bear and I always have a little chat. I remind him that if he runs and jumps at her, she will jump up at him. I remind him that if he wants her to be calm, he needs to be quiet and calm and move about slowly. Little Bear knows all this and can tell me the rules. I believe he has every intention of sticking to them.

When we arrive, the dog will be beside herself because some new people have appeared and not only that but some of them are tiny people and that’s way more exciting. Her tail will be wagging with such vigour that she’s knocking things over and she will be being held by her grown-ups to stop her from jumping at everyone’s faces. As she is considerably bigger than Little Bear on her hind legs there is a very real possibility that she will knock him flying. Little Bear doesn’t mind one jot and is just as keen to get to her. What usually ensues is a tangle of human and dog, lots of licks and possibly an accidental scratch.

Already, Little Bear has forgotten the rules. Then mayhem breaks out. The more times the dog licks him or stands on him or knocks him over, the more excited Little Bear gets. The more excited and loud and fast Little Bear gets, the more excited the dog gets so the more she leaps about like a lamb and the more Little Bear laughs and falls over, the more the dog tries to bury under him and the more it tickles and the more he laughs. The dog and the boy reach fever pitch within the first 5 minutes of meeting each other.

Now, if that lasted for half an hour and then everybody calmed down I could deal with it. But it doesn’t. You wouldn’t think it humanly possibly but Little Bear at least, remains at fever pitch the entire time he is with the dog. We once managed 24 whole hours at my brother’s house before Grizzly and I couldn’t bear the dysregulation any longer. People say, “but they’d get used to each other, they’d calm down after a bit” but they wouldn’t. Little Bear doesn’t get any calmer and Grizzly and I find it really hard because what everyone is seeing is Little Bear at his worst. He is completely out of control. He has lost his ability to listen and he cannot be controlled either by us or by himself. He is as dysregulated as he can get. It means that when we try to get everyone to sit quietly and watch TV or let the dog have a nap, Little Bear is not physically capable at that moment in time of leaving her alone or of being quiet or of sitting still. It means he seems very disobedient and is constantly told off.

Having written about Interoception recently, I do wonder if that is the root cause. I read that part of being under-responsive to interoceptive feedback is that you don’t know when you’re getting over-excited or when you need a break. Little Bear certainly doesn’t when he is with the dog and last time, he was absolutely exhausted when we got him home, having come down from his adrenaline-fuelled high.

Obviously if we did get a dog Little Bear would love it but you can see why it feels risky. We would do our research and get a calm breed but a puppy is a puppy and all will be excitable to some degree. We wouldn’t be able to rely on Little Bear sticking to any sort of rule about leaving the dog alone for five minutes or not playing with it roughly and I do wonder how on earth we’d be able to train it properly in those circumstances. The very worst outcome for Little Bear would be us getting a dog then having to send it back, something we are, for obvious reasons, keen to avoid.

It feels a little mean, saying our child can’t have the thing he would love most in the world but until his regulation is improved, it’s too risky. I know there is a lot written about the benefits of dogs for adopted children but I wondered whether anyone else experiences the issues we do?

I think we’ll stick to cats and hens for now. Easter is just around the corner, the perfect time to welcome some new chicks…

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Pets, Children & Why We’re Not Getting a Dog

Two Years of Adoption Blogging

This week marks the 2 year anniversary of my first tentative foray into the world of blogging. It’s hard to believe that I have written a post each and every week since then, totalling 107 posts. I think that fact probably indicates a few things. Firstly, that I have far too much to say for myself!

Secondly that when you are an adoption blogger there is an awful lot you can say. It gives some indication of the complexity and breadth of the subject matter. Whether you are writing about a particular parenting challenge, an attachment issue, an education issue, your child’s emotional wellbeing, your own wellbeing, sibling dynamics or wider family complexities, there are many perspectives or angles to consider. That is before you think about your child’s birth family, contact, the foster carers and the voice of all involved, not just the voice of you the adopter. Of course I’m also a speech and language therapist and like to talk about all things communication-related too. There really is a lot to say.

I’m finding that as the Bears grow and change so too do the worries, challenges and funny bits, further adding to the possible blog-fodder. Every so often my mind goes blank and I start to panic that I might not have anything to write about that week but without fail something always crops up.

I suppose I am a bit of a routine blogger. I know lots of others who just write as and when they fancy but I committed to writing weekly back at the beginning, in order to get me started, and I don’t appear able to stop. It is never onerous and I never bemoan my commitment to it. I have basically fallen in love with writing and very much need it to be a part of my life now (see My 1 Year Blogversary for more on how writing has helped me).

I don’t write to get read (I suspect I’d need to write anyway) but I’d be lying if I pretended it doesn’t matter whether people read or not. Of course it matters. I’m always touched when somebody comments or shares a post or I see that more than one person has viewed my blog! I’m particularly fascinated by the map that WordPress provides of which countries my blog has been viewed from – I can’t help wondering who the people are and what their story is.

I’m extremely grateful to everybody who reads or has read and especially to those who have borne with me and have read every single one of my 107 ramblings.

Sometimes people will comment that a post has resonated with them or helped them or made them feel less alone. I especially appreciate those comments because writing from your own perspective all the time can make you feel quite self-obsessed. I think it’s brilliant if my blog can help others but I have been unsure about how to do that as I have never wanted to be an advice-giver. I’m qualified to give communication advice but that’s all. I’m not professing to be an expert when I write, I’m writing as a person who is experiencing adoption and parenthood. If others can benefit vicariously through our lived experiences though, that’s perfect. I know I am often helped when I read about others facing something we are facing. Even if it doesn’t give me any ideas for practical strategies, it helps me just to know we are not alone in it.

I think I’ve been more mindful of this over the past year and have tried not to hold back in my writing. I’ve tried to be braver about sharing things that perhaps I previously wouldn’t or that others aren’t generally writing about e.g. Continence Issues  PMS and AdoptionA ConfessionA bad bedtime , Parenting in Public ,  The Other Parents .

I think it’s important for all of us that real, honest, no-holds-barred accounts of adoption exist. I am grateful that my honesty has been accepted and that the response is almost always positive. Thankfully I don’t seem to move in Twitter circles where people think it’s ok to be rude and offensive (my readers have been very polite and if they have thought I was talking nonsense have kept that to themselves. Thanks!)

I have noticed that people especially love to read frank accounts of the challenges faced in adoption and when other professionals are getting it wrong for our children. My post A bit of a rant is my most viewed post ever. It is also my most negative, angry and critical post.

Though our adoption hasn’t been without its challenges, it has also brought many positives, benefits and enhancements to our lives. Quite often I want to write about them too e.g. I love my Bears  Credit Where Credit Is Due , The Little Things . Occasionally I will doubt the wisdom of it, knowing that people prefer something grittier. However, I have been careful not to censor myself in this way as my integrity as a blogger is really important to me and I need to write my truth, not the story I think people want to hear.

I hope that the overall result is a balanced one, detailing our ups, downs and everything in between – neither shying away from controversy nor courting it either.

This year I have also become more aware of whose story this is and what the wider impact of me blogging could be, particularly for my children. I am careful not to inadvertently tell Little Bear’s story for him as it isn’t mine to tell. However I do spend a lot of time thinking about his behaviour and what it might mean and how he might be feeling and all those whys and wherefores so inevitably I do share aspects of his story. I hope when he grows up he can see this for what it is: me thinking aloud about trying my best to meet his needs; and not as a misappropriation of his narrative. I certainly think that anonymous blogging is essential for us and does future-proof things somewhat. However, it is possible that as the boys grow and become more aware of what I’m doing that it might start to feel like an invasion of their privacy. I guess time will tell but it is a little niggle at the back of my mind.

I do try, where I can, to include the voice of others, not just my voice as adoptive parent. This year the boys have been involved with The Bears Talk Adoption and I hope as time goes on that they can have further involvement.

Whilst it still feels ok to do what I’m doing I shall continue writing, posting and trying to persuade the publishing world that they really do want to turn my blog into a book…

A massive thank you to everyone who reads my blog and has commented, shared or voted for it in the Full Time Tired Weekly Round-up (#FTTWR). You are all good eggs.

 

If there is a topic you would like to read about or you would like to write a guest post please get in touch by commenting below or tweeting me @adoptionblogfox

 

Two Years of Adoption Blogging

Fantasy versus Reality

Little Bear has been everywhere, man. He really has. He has been to America, Spain, the Eiffel Tower, Australia, the jungle. He has even been to Paradise. Any country you can name, he has been there.

And the things he has got up to! He’s wrestled sharks, ridden elephants, punched President Trump in the face and even witnessed the death of Princess Diana. Many people have tried to harm him along the way but he’s killed them; or punched them in the face at the very least. He’s very strong. SUPER strong. In fact, probably stronger than Batman or maybe even the Hulk. And he’s got guns. A whole arsenal of them. He’s taken out many a good man.

And he has two Fathers, but sometimes one is dead. His Father is also VERY strong. He can do ANYTHING. He has fast cars. He’s encountered a plethora of sharks, tigers and poisonous spiders himself.

Oh, and did you know Little Bear has a special car? One that can fly to heaven and bring people back from the dead! He quite often pops there and back in the day apparently. And all those songs you hear on the radio? Little Bear sang those. And all the sportsmen on the television? Little Bear.

As for that school he attends! Well, there are frequently brawls in the classroom and the teacher seems a right one for throwing the first punch. Sometimes the Head teacher joins in. Sometimes they do PE on roof. And they hardly ever feed them lunch.

Apparently.

According to Little Bear, anyway.

I wouldn’t describe it as lying, because Little Bear thinks these things are really true. I think I would describe it as a very fertile and fantastical imagination. Most of the time, Little Bear’s high tales are very entertaining and I’m sure that when he is a little more adept at writing, he will be able to conjure up some amazing stories. Perhaps he will be an author, or film-writer; he certainly has the creativity for it.

It does have its drawbacks though. It is virtually impossible to know when he’s telling the truth, especially as he seems so good at convincing himself that things that haven’t happened really have. Due to that he can get genuinely annoyed with you for saying something isn’t true (even though it very clearly is not) as he is so bought into the idea. We can’t rely on reading his responses because his own position of what he thinks happened is so skewed.

Most of the time, I don’t attempt to call him out on his stories. The only parallel I can draw (and please bear with me as it is a bit dubious) is that if somebody had confusion (Dementia) and kept forgetting things, you wouldn’t continually tell them they were wrong and draw attention to the forgetting and the repeating. You would just go along with them so as not to upset them. There would be no real benefit to either of you to insist upon correcting them.

It feels the same with Little Bear and his fantastical tales. What does it matter if he claims to have met the Queen or have been on a midnight adventure with a friendly lion? It doesn’t matter and there is no harm in it. To be honest, we mostly find him hilarious and he often takes us by surprise with a new, even wilder tale. The story-telling is part of his charm and we wouldn’t want to discourage it.

However, it is essential that, as he gets older, he does learn to know the difference between truth and lies and that he can be relied upon to tell the truth (even if he still likes some fantastical escapism). There are times therefore that I do call him out and label what he has said as a lie. This tends to be when he has said something that sounds more like an accusation or relates directly to one of us. For example, he does have a tendency to say that people have hit him when they blatantly haven’t. I could sit with him and a grandparent or Grizzly the whole time and despite me having seen everything, he might still claim that somebody present hit him. It’s not generally malicious, more that things just come out of his mouth and sometimes he can be purposefully provocative.

At these times I will call out the lie. I will say “you shouldn’t say that Little Bear, because it didn’t really happen. It is a lie.” I generally go on to explain what the possible consequences of telling the lie could be e.g. the person you are saying hit you could get into a lot of trouble with the Police. Occasionally, over recent weeks, when he has a made a wild claim and I have asked him whether it is true or not, he has sometimes admitted it is a lie, which is reassuring and shows he is starting to develop some awareness.

Obviously I have no idea if this is the right way of handling it, I’m just following my instincts (AKA making it up as I go along).

I have to admit that I have also duped him into telling me he’s lying sometimes by convincing him that our noses really do grow like Pinocchio’s when we tell an untruth. I have no idea what possessed me, it’s a very un-me thing to have done, but I’m reluctant to reveal the truth just yet as sometimes Little Bear will make a bold claim then a few seconds later say, “has my nose grown?”. Then I know I’ve got him. It’s the only time I can be certain he’s lying. It’s quite useful for situations such as ‘have you washed your hands after the toilet?’ where you really do need to know the right answer.

Don’t worry, the irony of me lying to him about his nose having grown is not lost on me in a blog about lying! I have to be a little bit wily though otherwise I would be constantly outwitted by a five year old.

We have discussed this issue with school and with PAS. Not because we are really worried about it but because school obviously experience it too – apparently Little Bear’s account of our summer holiday began with the boys enjoying the sea in their wet suits and ended with some sort of killer shark massacre.

The conclusion we have drawn is that Little Bear is in a developmental phase that would usually happen earlier. A quick bit of research suggests that typically developing 2 and 3 year olds lie frequently and spend a lot of time exploring the boundaries of fantasy/ reality. Most studies seem to suggest that around 3 is a pivotal age for being able to separate your imagination from real life.

Little Bear has such a spiky profile that it is quite possible that this is the level he is functioning at for this particular aspect of his development. We do wonder though how much this has been impacted by his language difficulties and whether he would have been able to move into this phase earlier had he have had a wider vocabulary at his fingertips. His language skills have leapt forwards again recently; perhaps this has allowed all those thoughts and ideas that have been in his brain for a long time to finally get out?

Often, when he is telling his tales, I am not worrying too much about the content but am marvelling at his fantastic turn of phrase and narrative structure. Only a Speech Therapist would say that, obviously, but nevertheless, I stand by it as a year ago, when he started school, Little Bear really struggled with those reading books without words that require you to make up one sentence to describe what is happening. And here he is, using words like ‘return’ and ‘sadly’ and ‘supposed’ and structuring a whole story that is cohesive and makes sense. It’s incredible really.

Whilst I do think this is likely to be a developmental phase, I came across something else today that really resonated. I was reading the Coventry Grid*, a resource developed by Heather Moran, to pull out the differences between the presentation of children with Autism and those with attachment difficulties. In the ‘mind-reading’ section, there is a subheading of ‘problems distinguishing between fact and fiction’. Here are the descriptors for children with attachment difficulties:

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I’m sure you can see why it resonated. Who knew that this type of presentation could be another result of a neglectful start? Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) have so much to answer for I’m finding; their effects being so pernicious and wide-ranging.

It also amazes me how much there is to learn about our children and despite reading a lot and thinking about Little Bear a lot and writing about him a lot, I am still learning new things and continuing to grow in my understanding of his behaviour.

 

 

*The Coventry Grid is an excellent resource that I would highly recommend. You can find it easily on Google.

I don’t actually spend all my days reading sensible things; I was working at the time. I was interrupted by a giant anteater appearing from my computer screen though. It sipped my tea with its long snake-like tongue before engaging me in a sword fight. I won.

 

Has my nose just growed?

 

Fantasy versus Reality

Guilt

The Bear’s had a bit of an incident with one another during the holidays. It wasn’t anything major, probably an everyday occurrence in most households. Play had got a bit over-excitable resulting in Big Bear accidentally hitting his brother instead of the ball he was aiming for. Big Bear immediately felt guilty which makes him uncomfortable. I think he did apologise though (I was upstairs letting Grizzly handle it). Little Bear, stinging from the blow and also because his favourite person in the whole world had delivered it to him, was upset.

Upset is easily confused with anger by Little Bear so instead of crying or moving away, he gave his brother a sharp kick (no doubt he had flown straight into Fight or Flight territory). Now both Bears were upset and a little enraged. Grizzly attempted to referee but at that point neither was ready to see sense.

I could hear Grizzly explaining that Big Bear had hurt Little Bear accidentally. He had not meant to. He had said sorry. The incident should have ended there. He explained that Little Bear should not have kicked him back. He suggested he too say sorry and then the whole thing could be forgotten.

Little Bear was not ready to apologise though. He wasn’t calm. He was very annoyed. I suspect by this point he was starting to see the error of his ways and the anger was beginning to turn inwards. He was feeling guilty.

A big difficulty, when you are someone who feels bad about yourself already, is that this type of normal self-condemnation is difficult to deal with. I suspect that when your heart is already filled with self-doubt and feelings of worthlessness, an additional feeling of guilt can be too big an emotion to squeeze in. What often happens here, and has been happening for the past year or so (previous to that Little Bear didn’t really experience guilt I don’t think), is that because the guilt cannot be contained and dealt with inside, it tends to spill outwards.

“Big Bear is an idiot!” I can hear him shouting. “He’s stupid. You stupid Big Bear!” and so followed a tirade of further insults.

Big Bear, already upset from hurting his brother and having had his apology thrown back in his face, could not deal with the name calling and marched off to his bedroom, slamming the door for good measure.

Little Bear, aware he had further upset his brother, no doubt felt even worse about his own actions and also marched off to his bedroom, also slamming the door for good measure.

“Well that went well,” remarked Grizzly sarcastically, coming to find me upstairs. As we started to chat about whether I should get involved or not and who Grizzly should go to first, we heard movement on the landing. There was a knock on a door then a little voice. “I’m sorry Big Bear” we heard. “I’m sorry I hurted you. You are very strong. I love you”.

It was unfortunate because Big Bear was still upset and not really ready to accept the apology in a gracious way. However, it did mean that Grizzly could go to Little Bear and make a big deal out of him being so mature and sensible and apologising by himself without any help from us. Because it really was a big step forwards and we were both very proud of him for how he dealt with it.

During similar previous incidents one or other of us has had to sit with him for a long time, trying to explain that he isn’t actually annoyed at the person he has hurt, even though he is shouting at them and insulting them. We have tried to explain that it is because he feels bad about what he has done. That he feels guilty. We have tried to explain that you don’t need to keep feeling bad about it. You can say sorry and maybe have a cuddle and then it is finished. You need to forgive yourself. Sometimes, if Little Bear has purposefully hurt himself and had similar feelings of guilt, we have encouraged him to afford himself the same respect. You ‘apologise’ to yourself, square the incident off and move on.

Obviously all that is pretty complex for a 5 year old, especially one with language difficulties, but it really seems that he is starting to take it on board. Understandably, in the heat of the moment, he still becomes upset/angry but he is certainly able to calm more quickly and is getting much better at identifying his own emotions and making more positive choices about how to react. Previously guilt would have led to a downward spiral and all sorts of other behaviours would have appeared. A small incident like the one I have described could easily have ruined a whole day.

The concepts of ‘forgiving’ and ‘guilt’ have been useful in other situations too and Little Bear is beginning to use the words himself.

This holiday we have also spent time with my brother, girlfriend and their dog. The dog is still young and can be pretty boisterous herself. Little Bear LOVES the dog (I suspect he over-loves her if that is even a thing). We took her for a walk. Little Bear had a great time throwing the ball and playing fetch. On the way home, he got tangled in the lead and fell over. It hurt his knee, as well as his feelings. “I don’t forgive you” he kept saying to the dog. No, we reassured, you don’t yet. You are still upset with her because she hurt you. She didn’t mean to though, look, she feels bad about it. She’s sorry. When you’re ready, you can forgive her and be friends again.

On that occasion Little Bear was able to verbalise that he wanted to hurt her back, because she had hurt him, but he did manage not to follow through physically. After a bath, he was ready to move forwards and announced that she was forgiven!

There is clearly still some way to go but I’m pleased we have made a start at unpicking some of these more complex emotions and that Little Bear is able to reflect on them.

Although Big Bear was not ready to move on as quickly as Little Bear after the hitting/kicking incident, there was a difference in his reaction too. Previously this type of altercation with his brother would have led to catastrophizing. It would have dredged up all the old feelings of whether he really wants a brother at all. This used to lead to him being generally unhappy and us needing to rally round and involve the grandparents to make sure he got some extra special time (and a break).

This time, though he needed a bit more time on his own, he did still say, “I love you too” back through his closed door. There were no fallout chats later on.

Less than an hour later, having allowed both boys to eat their tea separately and on the sofa (I find it’s always wise to eliminate any blood sugar issues), they were friends again. They snuggled up together watching a programme like Ninja Warrior and laughed a lot. All was forgiven.

If anything I think they were extra nice to each other because a little bit of guilt was still lingering.

Guilt

Regression

“Get off me” he says, shrugging away from my touch, his body becoming stiff and unyielding. I’m struggling to engage with him in any meaningful way. He’s either zoned out on the IPad or running around slightly manically outside. His concentration span is pretty much zero and despite trying, I can’t get him to sit down and play with anything. He is wetting several times per day. Meal times are equally as challenging. He is struggling to stay seated for more than a minute or two and unless the food is spooned into his mouth he won’t eat. There is little to no conversation; my attempts are met with noises or just ignored. It is hard to find the bond between us. Last night, at bedtime, he looked into my eyes and pinched my face as hard as he could. This evening, before tea, he refused to follow any instructions and when we insisted, there was a punch. He would not sit at the table and when physically stopped from climbing on the back of the bench and pulling on the radio, he said we had hurt him. An angry face, a tense body, a fist raised in threat. A darkness; a distance.

 

“I love you forever” he says, snuggling closer, pulling my arm tighter round him. We sit for a long time, watching the film. Occasionally he leans his cheek against mine or shifts his position a bit so we can cuddle more comfortably. He jumps up. “Pause it Mum” he says, “I need a wee”. We chat about the film and what we might do later. We joke and he laughs a lot. His laugh makes me laugh. At teatime he feeds himself. The next day we go for a bike ride. He rides on the road for some of it and listens to every single instruction given, including ‘turn left’ or ‘turn right’. When we say ‘stop’, he stops. It’s a fairly high risk activity and we trust him to do it sensibly. We have a lovely time. When we get back, he changes his clothes as he’s asked and we sit down to play a building game. We imagine, we build, we chat. We have fun. As I’m getting tea ready, he plays with Grizzly. They play a game with challenges in it – he writes words down, he does simple number puzzles – in between throwing a ball about. There is a lot of laughter. Relaxed body, happy face, relaxed atmosphere. A warmth; a closeness; an enjoyment in being together.

 

It sounds like a description of two different children, but it isn’t. They are both Little Bear. You’d be forgiven for thinking they were two different people though, even in the flesh, the contrast being as stark as it is. The first paragraph is a presentation of Little Bear during a regression, the second how he presents normally. I would say the child I’m describing in the second paragraph is with us the majority of the time, upwards of 80% of the time. But the child in the first paragraph does appear sometimes, usually quite out of the blue. It can be a bit shocking when that happens because we are so accustomed to the second presentation that we almost forget that the first one is a possibility. On the other side of the coin, when we are in a regression, it can be hard to imagine how we will get back to the second paragraph. Is that even possible? Have we imagined that life is usually like that? Where has the close bond with our lovely little boy gone? And most concerning, how is it possible to feel this distant from your own child? What does it mean for the future? As well as several other concerns that can easily spiral from there.

I know from experience that there is no need to be quite that dramatic because we have consistently passed through regressions and back to paragraph two on countless occasions. However, when you are in it and it’s happening, it can be pretty wearing. It can be easy to doubt what you are doing and your ability to navigate the challenges in the best possible way. At those points I generally have to remind myself that although we no longer know the child in the first paragraph very well, we did used to. It was the child in paragraph one who moved in two and a bit years ago and he was the child we lived with day in day out for months and months while he slowly flourished into the child in paragraph two. We do know what to do. We can reach him, despite him seeming unreachable at points.

The regression I’ve described above is quite a severe one by current standards. Usually we can hover about somewhere in a grey area between the two descriptions. It could just be that Little Bear really struggles with toileting for a while or we have a phase of needing to feed him or he loses the ability to sit and read to us. Sometimes it is several of those things and before Christmas it was all of the things, exactly as I have described.

We are versed enough in Little Bear’s behaviour that we can identify a regression pretty quickly now. We also know that something will have triggered it but as I wrote about in Adoptive Parent: Behaviour Detective it can be extremely difficult to figure out what the cause is. The behaviour described above was present for three or four days, getting progressively worse, after we returned from Lapland. I had blogged last week about our trip to Lapland in A Magical Adventure? and was starting to feel stupid that I had been so positive about it when actually the fallout was just happening afterwards. I remembered about when we had A Mini Crisis and Little Bear had seemed completely fine at the time but had spent the rest of the weekend at melting point. Come to think of it, he is pretty good at adapting to situations when they happen but can become discombobulated afterwards. Had Lapland been too much?

Grizzly and I had a chat, as we always do when things seem to be going awry. Could it be Lapland? Could it be the change to routine of the holidays? Could he still be feeling unwell? What could it be and what would we do?

The problem was solved surprisingly quickly for us on the very next morning by Little Bear himself. It was Christmas Day and of course Santa had been and left full stockings. Little Bear wandered into our bedroom, stocking in hand, with a massive grin on his face and none of the darkness of the previous evening. “I didn’t think Santa would come to me but he did” he beamed and just like that, the gorgeous little man from paragraph two was back (and has stayed).

Whilst I was obviously relieved, my heart did break a little. What had made him think Santa wouldn’t come to him? I know it’s obvious. I know all about how difficult Christmas is for children who have had adverse life experiences; for children who fear they are too bad to warrant gifts. I just hadn’t anticipated it for Little Bear because we have had two previous Christmases with him, which he has coped exceptionally well with. It sounds a little ridiculous now, but he hadn’t said anything. He hadn’t given any indication that he was worried about Santa. He had shown us, through his behaviour and we did know there was something amiss but my detective skills had let me down somewhat.

We don’t do any of the Elf on the Shelf malarkey or in any way push the whole you only get presents if you are good thing but I suppose now that he’s at school and his comprehension skills are much improved, Little Bear is more affected by outside influences. Thinking about it, the big guy himself in Lapland had asked the boys if they had been good and I had cringed at the time (but drawn the line at correcting Actual Santa!).

Little Bear has such a complex tangle in his brain and evidently he still struggles to express his thoughts and fears with words. It is at these times that a regression tends to happen, or when he is poorly, and I guess for now, we will need to continue to ride them out, firm in the belief that we will return to paragraph two sooner or later. We have to remind ourselves to be patient, consistent and as nurturing as possible when the regression is happening. It is essential that we wonder and try to see the world through Little Bear’s eyes in order to possibly figure out what might be behind it. Realistically we need to accept that we won’t always be able to detect the trigger. We might never figure it out. It might not be something that can be consciously identified anyway. But we must ask the questions, and endeavour to stay in paragraph two, because regressions aren’t fun for anybody, least of all Little Bear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Regression

A Magical Adventure?

Back in the early summer, shortly after we lost Supergran, we were in the mood to seize life and make sure we lived it. We also knew that Gary was going to need something to look forward to, to help her find a way through her grief. So, without thinking it through too much, we booked a holiday to Lapland for the end of the year.

Grizzly has always wanted to go and was very excited. I, on the other hand, have been gifted with a brain that immediately leaps to the darkest places. Neither Bear has flown before (or been abroad) so consequently I have not left the country for 9 years. What if I had developed a fear of flying? What if the boys were terrible flyers? What if the plane crashed? What if there were terrorists in the airport? What if one of us got frostbite?

Sadly I’m not joking: this is just a small selection of my actual thoughts.

Thankfully by the time December came I had pretty much got over my irrational preoccupations and was finally getting excited. So excited in fact that we had to bring forward the date for telling the boys before I imploded. We had purposefully left it to the last minute so as not to overexcite them months in advance. I have no idea how we got away with it as we did loads of prep right under their noses!

In the end, we told them with 10 days to go. The news came in the form of a personalised letter/ invitation sent by Santa himself (!). Little Bear was immediately excited whereas Big Bear was immediately nervous about flying (I suspect he has inherited the going to dark places thing, bless him).

I had planned to use our light box as a visual countdown but it turned out that Little Bear didn’t need me to. For the first time he has been able to keep track of the countdown himself – each day knowing how many more sleeps were left, as well as managing to keep track of which door to open on his advent calendar. I was really impressed with how he managed it: his grasp of time and numbers has progressed a lot recently.

There didn’t appear to be any extra anxiety and whenever I tried to reassure or explain about flying, Little Bear just claimed he had flown before (which I know he hadn’t) and that he had been to Lapland before (hadn’t) and therefore knew all about it already. It was kind of difficult to argue with.

At the halfway point of the countdown I saw some PAS colleagues. As I was telling them what we were up to (the week before Christmas, with a potentially dysregulated child) they did look at me like I might be off my rocker. Was I?! Could this be an ill-thought through hellish disaster?

With 4 days to go, Little Bear woke up with a vomiting bug and proceeded to puke every half an hour for most of the day.

With 3 days to go, Little Bear was thankfully feeling a little better but we had a power cut so he couldn’t watch TV and I couldn’t have life-saving cups of tea. It felt like the week was turning into a black satire of the twelve days of Christmas. On the third day of Christmas my true love brought to me cabin fever hell, lots of vomit bowls and travel doubts a-plentyyyy…

Somehow, it all came together, as these things do, and we were getting up at 4:30am to go to the airport. I have to say I am extremely proud of how both Bears coped with the early start, airport mayhem and the travelling itself. We had a slightly dubious start as Little Bear marched confidently onto the plane and seated himself at an emergency exit. It was the stuff of nightmares! I could only imagine what he could get up to if we took our eyes off him for three seconds in that position.

Of course children cannot sit at emergency exits and instead Gary and I had to endure the talk about what to do if they shouted evacuate, evacuate, evacuate, which did at least clear up the issue of whether I had developed a fear of flying or not.

Entirely to his credit, it turns out that Little Bear is a brilliant flyer and not one bit of bother if allowed his IPad. Big Bear felt unwell to start with which was a shame but he got used to it too and had no difficulty on the way back.

Arriving over a snowy forest and landing on a runway hemmed by snow was pretty amazing. We had taken off at sunrise in the UK and landed three hours later at sunset in Finland. As Lapland is so far north (inside the Arctic circle in fact) they only have three hours of daylight at this point in the year. It was very confusing arriving at the hotel in the pitch black, a bit after 3pm, having just had breakfast on the plane. The dark was pretty difficult to get used to the whole time we were there really.

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The hotel was lovely – warm, Christmassy and traditionally Finnish. No frills but cosy and with everything we needed. Previously we have only ever gone on self-catering holidays and being tied to the hotel timings was a bit tricky. Although we don’t stick rigidly to a timetable at home, we do stick to meal and bedtimes wherever we are or whatever we are doing. It is with good reason as those things remain a predictable constant and help Little Bear to stay regulated. In the hotel, the evening meal wasn’t available until 6pm, which is the time Little Bear usually gets ready for bed. With a bit of tactical snacking and turning a blind eye to Little Bear eating chips for every meal, we managed this ok.

The next morning however, I did nearly lose my calm due to a booking cock-up which meant that an excursion we had pre-booked from the UK for that afternoon was no longer available to us and the only time we could now do it was from 6:30 to 10pm at night. The Rep didn’t seem to be able to get his head around why that would be such a big deal to us. I think people think you should ‘just go with it’ but that is actually much harder than it sounds when you have a child with additional needs and you work so hard to keep things manageable for them. After a bit of a wobble (me) we decided to go with it to the best of our ability and changed our afternoon plan to ‘nap’ and hoped for the best. I am nothing if not resilient.

In retrospect (as much as it irks me to admit it), I have to say that I am grateful for the booking cock-up. Without it we would not have had the opportunity to whizz around a completely dark, peaceful, snow-drenched forest in a sled pulled by huskies, lit only by our head-torches, the stars and the green glow of the Northern Lights! It is hard to describe how awesome, calm and breath-taking it was. At minus 23 degrees it was also a little chilly. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience for all of us that I wouldn’t have wanted us to miss.

It was very special for Little Bear as he LOVES animals. He had been particularly excited about seeing the huskies before we went but we had warned him that they may not be friendly and we probably wouldn’t be able to stroke them. Before we got into the sleds for our safari, we went into a Kota (Lappish polygonal wooden hut) to have some hot berry juice and gingerbread and to warm up. The door opened to allow a guide to enter and in trotted a husky. The look on Little Bear’s face when he realised he could pet her was priceless. It turns out the huskies are highly trained, fully domesticated and love human attention. Little Bear and Nia became firm friends and it really made the trip for him (so much so that I need to print some photos for his room as he is missing her).

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We were also able to pet the huskies who took us on our adventure. I discovered that a warm lick is a great way to warm cold hands afterwards!

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It was a truly fantastic experience and the highlight of the trip for all of us.

Little Bear coped admirably with his very late night. He did ask to go to bed a few times and finally crashed out on the way back to the hotel in the coach.

Unfortunately on day 3 we couldn’t let the boys sleep in because we had to be on the coach at 8am for the next excursion. It was the trip to see Santa and I was concerned that we might have been dragged out of bed for a huge dose of crowds and commercialism. Once more, Lapland proved me wrong and massively surpassed my expectations: a feat which is difficult to accomplish as I am notoriously hard to impress.

Lapland doesn’t seem to do commercialism, just take-us-as-you-find-us natural beauty. We met Santa in a log cabin nestled beside a frozen lake, skirted with frost-encrusted trees. It felt authentic and pure. Somehow it didn’t feel overrun with us tourists, probably because it was a large-ish space and there were plenty of other things to do. The boys played snow football on the frozen lake, we sledged down a hill again and again and when our fingers and toes got nippy we went inside to ice gingerbread. No gift shops, no gimmicks, no glitz.

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The Fins also seem to have a fairly lax attitude towards health and safety which meant that Grizzly and I both got to drive a snowmobile (and the husky sleds) after a three second tutorial (the Bears and Gary were in the sleds, on the back of a snowmobile or in a sleigh pulled by a guide). I’m not exactly known for my daring but I bloody loved it and could have scooted round on the snowmobile for ages if they’d have let me.

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By the afternoon, Little Bear was wilting in front of our eyes. His ability to listen and co-operate was diminishing by the minute. The itinerary for the evening was a Festive Finale beginning at 7pm. Grizzly and I could tell that this was not a risk worth taking. The signs were there that we would not be able to ‘just go with it’ this time and in all likelihood it would be an unmitigated disaster. Not seeing the point of setting him up to fail, we decided that I would stay at the hotel with him and put him to bed and Grizzly and Gary would take Big Bear to the party.

The Rep tried to tell me how much we would be missing out on and though he was trying to be nice, I just wanted him to p*** off as he had no clue about Little Bear, his needs or what would go down if we did attend (it wouldn’t be pretty). Sometimes you have to trust your judgement and know when not to be swayed.

Big Bear had a fantastic time running wild with his new friends and evidently screaming, judging by his husky voice today.

Other than the tweaks/ blips I’ve mentioned and a bit of a tricky passage through Kittila airport with an over-hungry and over-tired and overwhelmed Little Bear (the airport is tiny but packed to the rafters with people), the overall trip was a big success. Even when we weren’t going on trips or doing activities, the Bears just loved being in the snow. They have never seen snow that deep or fluffy before and stepping into it right up to their thighs never grew tiring for them.

The trip was over in a flash and no one was quite ready to go home.

There were minor challenges (there were always going to be) but thankfully no major ones. I would say that our few days were no more difficult than they would have been were Little Bear enduring the final days of term in school. If anything, they were a bit easier, and we had a whole lot more fun and an unforgettable experience. I certainly wouldn’t be averse to taking the children out of school again (at this point in the term) and we now know that travelling abroad is a risk worth taking.

Lapland, we have loved you, you were truly spectacular and you may well have given us the travelling bug as well as some unforgettable memories.

Thank you from all the Bears xx

 

A Magical Adventure?

Self-Care

For some reason I have been a bit reluctant to write about self-care, perhaps because it is well-documented already? I don’t know. Maybe because I haven’t always been brilliant at it and I have had to work at seeing the importance of it (for me). I suppose it can seem like quite an abstract, self-indulgent concept.

More recently the penny has finally dropped. Self-care is essential. It is not a pleasant add-on or luxury. It is crucial to our good mental health and to us being able to manage the myriad demands thrown at us in our day to day lives. I think when I spotted ‘Looking after yourself’ as one of the blocks in Kim Golding’s House Model of Parenting (an essential block, without which the house would fall down and upon which many other vital blocks sit) I got the message.

Self-care is a subject fairly widely bandied around by adopters (with good reason) but I truly believe it is a necessity for everyone. We are all busy, under pressure and juggling many-a-ball. If we are not mentally and emotionally well, we can’t function to the best of our abilities. We can’t support those around us who need us and we leave ourselves open to illness.

With my professional hat on I have been working with a young person who is currently under a lot of exam stress. A diligent and bright pupil, they are working extremely hard, leaving little to no time for rest and relaxation. As a consequence their stammer has worsened significantly. My main therapy has been around teaching the need for self-care, much to their surprise.

We are not designed to be under permanent stress, though modern life does tend to lead to it. We know, because of our children and how they have been impacted by their adverse starts in life that Cortisol (the stress hormone) wreaks havoc. A quick Google indicates it can impact on blood sugar levels, cause weight gain, suppress the immune system, affect the gut, damage the heart and even impact on fertility. Cortisol is meant for special occasions when we really need it, it is not something our bodies should be flooded with all the time.

We can juggle all the balls, work hard, play hard, look after others and achieve all we want to but, crucially, only if we look after ourselves. If we don’t make time for self-care activities, take the breaks, listen to our inner wellbeing voice, the consequences can be dire. A close friend experienced just what can happen when you forget yourself. I’ll let her tell you, in her own words:

“Self-care is life-saving. I do not say this lightly. Around ten years ago I had a very severe mental health crisis, resulting in me being in hospital for 7 weeks. It was horrible. It was caused by depression and exacerbated by me not taking care of myself. Forgetting myself. Putting everyone above myself. I worked solidly, because I felt so sad. If I was at work I was busy, if I was busy I wasn’t thinking. There is only so long you can do that, and then you crash. I crashed. When I was well again I had to make dramatic changes to my life, and the major one was how to actually look after myself.

The most life changing aspect of self-care for me has been learning to say no. Knowing my own limitations and not being afraid to voice them. You are not a bad person because you put yourself first. If you cannot take care of you, you can’t take care of anyone else.

Also, keeping lines of communication open. Keep talking to those around you, even when it’s a difficult conversation. Silence is a killer. When I was ill I was the most scared I have ever been, and had to have hideous conversations with people, which ultimately led to me getting the help I needed. It’s ok not to be ok. There is something incredibly freeing about being so open and honest. It was so hard to talk, but ultimately has only improved my relationships with everyone around me.

Baby steps. Find what makes you happy. Do it a lot. It sounds simple but life is hectic. Work, family, kids, school runs. But you know what, that ironing pile will still be there tomorrow. The house looks like a bomb hit it but you’ve kept your kids alive and fed and so now you are going to watch strictly come dancing and admire the, erm, dancing skills of Gorka, and just relax. There will be time for the ironing. It is not tonight. Equally, if ironing is your happy place, then good luck to you!”

I’m very proud of my friend for being brave enough to write this for me and letting me share it. Having visited her on the mental health ward, hidden away down the interminably long corridor, I can vouch that it is not a place you would want to end up (though my friend did feel safe there for which I am grateful).

Self-care is life-saving. It is essential. But how the bloody hell do you do it? If it was that easy and straightforward, people up and down the country wouldn’t be ending up in crisis. I suspect the first challenge of self-care is knowing what you need. After that, you need to value yourself enough to allow yourself to have it and then actively make it happen.

Grizzly has recently moved to a more senior post which is highly stressful with long hours and quite a bit of travel. He shoulders a lot of responsibility at work. Thankfully, this was acknowledged during his induction and he was warned of the need to manage his timetable proactively to ensure it contains time for self-care. It is an ongoing challenge for him, as there are only so many hours in the day, but he is good at knowing what he needs at least (half the battle) and as long as he can run several times per week all is well. Running is not a negotiable activity: it is an essential part of his week.

Whilst running works its magic for Grizzly, I personally can’t think of a less desirable way to spend my down time.

Thinking about what works for me has been enlightening. I think it has taken me quite a long time to figure it out. However, it turns out that I’m a right unsociable so and so and find nothing more restorative than a day alone. Interestingly I don’t tend to stay at home for a self-care day (probably because it is good to escape the washing pile). I tend to find a coffee shop, sit with my back to the other customers (I know, miserable!) and read, write or draw, while consuming a massive cup of tea. I’ll generally write a blog post – in itself an act of self-care it turns out. Sometimes it isn’t just that I want to write but that I need to, just as Grizzly physically needs to run.

Blogging has certainly helped with keeping my adopter/ parenting worries in check – it gets them out of my head but doesn’t involve the discomfort of having to actually explain them to someone face to face (though I do a bit of that too).

The main self-care challenge for me has been identifying when I need it. Sometimes I can do a million and one things at the same time and be fine. At other times, one small thing can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I have had to listen harder to the little voice inside that tells you when everything is getting a bit much. It turns out it is much better to heed the whisper than to allow things to get on top of you, as you will undoubtedly snap and lose your temper with the children. I don’t like to shout at them so I have had to get better at identifying the times I might (otherwise you get the joy of dealing with the guilt afterwards). I have to be particularly mindful of my hormonal state (see PMS and Adoption) and be a little kinder to myself at those points.

I think Mum’s in particular (sorry Dad’s and everyone else, I’m allowed a sweeping statement once in a while) are adept at ‘getting on with it’ – pushing through the home and childcare duties, work and the never-ending to-do list whether they feel like it or not. Things would quite possibly collapse around you if you didn’t. However, there is a skill in knowing when pushing through is ok and when you are rapidly closing in on your limit. I’m still working on it but after a busy few weeks of going from work to sorting out the builders who have been re-doing our bathroom to the children (especially Little Bear’s growing Christmas-related mania) to making Christmas decorations and selling them at craft fayres to Christmas shopping to planning & liaising over our next project (a pod in the garden since you ask) as well as a few other things, today’s yoga class felt like one ask too many. I usually love yoga but after a lot of rushing about and being in specific places at specific times, my little inner voice was asking in a stage whisper for a day off. There are times when I would have just made myself go anyway, ignoring that little voice, but I feel so much better for having listened. A whole day off, being unsociable, having some peace. Just what my inner wellbeing guru ordered.

As well as the crucial self-care we all need, there are also acts of self-kindness: finding ways to spoil yourself a little; ways to make life easier; adding things in just because you like them or they make you happy. Here are some of the things that work for me:

  • Wandering around my garden. It is not a big garden but I love looking at how my plants are growing, watering them in the summer and generally enjoying my little bit of outside.
  • I also like going to look at the fish in our tiny pond. I have no idea why that is so relaxing but it is.
  • I seem to be getting quite into the indoor gardening too. I also wander about the house tending my indoor charges.
  • I feel particularly happy when the sun shines in on the melon seedlings and I think they might just grow some melons.
  • Shopping. Sometimes you just need to buy yourself a little gift. I have to be careful though, shopping can lead to guilt.
  • A little taste of something carbohydrate-y as I’m not really eating them at the moment but a girl needs a treat every now and again.
  • All snuggles with my boys are lovely. Giving up on all jobs and lying on the sofa for a whole afternoon of snuggly TV can be just what the doctor ordered.
  • Any sort of gift that arrives in subscription form. My friend got me a Papergang subscription from @Ohhdeer so beautiful stationery landed on the mat every month. It was amazing.
  • A good book on the rare occasions I manage to read one. The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan is a very wholesome and uplifting read.
  • A good rummage in a charity shop, especially if there are retro coffee pots to be found.
  • Low-maintenance hosting. I rarely bother killing myself preparing a fancy meal to impress people with. You are just as likely to get a takeaway here but I will sit and chat and pay you my full attention. I’d rather give my energy to you than to the cooking.
  • Ditto children’s lunches. No slaving over packed lunches every night – school dinners all the way.
  • A cheeky lunch out with Grizzly when he is working from home – dating without the need for babysitting.
  • When all else fails, putting on my fluffy onesie, lying on the sofa and watching an episode of First Dates.

 

I wonder what other people do to be kind to themselves? Feel free to share.

 

 

 

Self-Care