Supergran

This week our beloved Supergran has found her peace and I’d like to tell you about her.

Supergran is the Bears’ great-grandmother. If someone told me to conjure up an image of a great-grandmother I would probably imagine someone extremely elderly, from another era, with thoughts and views to match: probably somebody quite distant who would want children to be seen and not heard; someone whom I wouldn’t have much in common with. Supergran, however, did not get that memo and was absolutely not like the stereotype. Supergran was Cool with a capital C.

Having had 5 children of her own, Supergran was totally used to the hustle and bustle of children and enjoyed having them around her. Although she has been too frail for many years to get down and play with them, she has always tried to involve herself in one way or another. I have a hilarious photo of tiny Supergran wielding a metre long Nerf gun. I seem to recall that she rather enjoyed shooting it too. Even if she couldn’t join in, she loved them sitting with her and chatting or showing her things they had made. I don’t remember her ever scolding the Bears and most of the time she was highly amused by their antics.

Supergran came to the hospital the day after Big Bear was born to see us. She was as excited about him as she would have been if he were her only grandchild yet she already had many by then (and now has great and great-great-grandchildren too). I remember wondering how she would react when I told her we were going to adopt – after all many elderly people can be very opinionated and there were older members of my own family who had their reservations. I should have known better though because Supergran is probably one of the least judgemental and most open-minded people I have ever met. Like anything I could have told her, she just took it right in her stride. She asked me how the process was going every time I saw her and was excited at the arrival of Little Bear.

In the 21 months we have had Little Bear, he and Supergran have not spent loads of time together as a full on tornado of a child is not an ideal partner for a frail 86 year old. However, they have spent enough time together to be very fond of one another. Little Bear knows exactly where to find the toys in her flat. He also knows where to find her ‘helping hand’: a grabber type thing that you can get up to all sorts of mischief with and her walking stick, a source of constant fascination for him. He also took her bin on a wild journey around the kitchen resulting in the loss of its lid. She just giggled and called him a “rogue”.

It was a very tender moment when they said their goodbyes. I think Little Bear knew exactly what was happening and kept giving her very gentle cuddles and strokes and he brought her a lot of comfort that day.

Big Bear was upset that on that visit Supergran was in bed and seeming very poorly so about a fortnight ago he and I had gone to the supermarket one evening and I spontaneously decided to take him to see her on the way back (Grizzly and I were seeing her regularly but generally not taking the boys as she was too ill). Thankfully she was having a better day and was sitting up in the living room. We had a lovely time with her. Big Bear had a football game the next day and I told him that Supergran has magic powers as she had correctly predicted the winner of The Grand National (and also because she probably did have magic inside her) and she rubbed some of her ‘power’ into his hair. The next day he scored a goal and now thinks she really did influence what happened. That was his last visit to her which I think is a nice memory to keep.

Not only has Supergran been a fabulous great-grandmother to my boys and undoubtedly the best granny ever to Grizzly, she has also been my friend. Although we are technically not related, we kind of unofficially adopted one another a long time ago. Despite the 50 year age gap, I have always loved visiting her and tried to go as often as I could. Being with her, in her little flat, was a very comforting place to be. It was always warm, often with a home-cooked stew or soup simmering away. I could have sat there for hours chatting with her. We chatted about all sorts. We might talk about something on television. She loved the soaps but was always up to date with Britain’s Got Talent or Strictly. She would know exactly who was in what and could probably give me more up to date information than I could give her. Over recent weeks we have spent many a lunch time hanging out and watching Loose Women.

Not in any way straight-laced, sometimes the conversation with Supergran would go in a rather rude direction. I remember having to explain ‘dogging’ to her after a particular episode of Peter Kay’s Car Share. Rather than being shocked she made a quip about maybe fancying a trip to the local woods later! On reflection she felt that the checker board roof of her little Ford Ka might make her a bit too conspicuous though.

We sometimes spoke about Politics but I was often out of my depth as I tend to purposefully avoid the news. Supergran was an avid viewer and despite having been really ill lately, she has never lost her interest in the world and we have discussed the upcoming election and Brexit very recently.

We talked a lot about clothes and shopping. Supergran has never had much in the way of money and when she was a young mother, she only had one dress. She used to wash it at night, hang it up to dry and put it on again in the morning. She took a lot of pride in presenting her children well though and was canny at obtaining material. She was a good seamstress and made all of her children’s clothes. Although never on anything but a tiny income, in later life Supergran was more able to buy clothes and treat herself. We also figured out that the best present we could give her was gift vouchers – total guilt free shopping in an envelope – and a couple of times per year Gary and I would take her for a big spree in a large M and S. We all loved those trips and it was so nice to see Supergran able to get whatever she wanted and getting such joy from the range of materials, patterns and colours on offer. Sometimes she would try on a trolley load of things but if none of them were any good we’d have to go around again! She couldn’t bear to come away empty handed and I often felt out-shopped by octogenarian!

As I am a terrible shopaholic and fellow lover of colour and pattern it has always been something we have in common. Over the past months Supergran has not been well enough to get dressed so I have tried to provide her with some vicarious enjoyment through my clothes. I haven’t worn the same outfit twice to visit her and have had to plunder the depths of my wardrobe to come up with something suitably colourful and different each time. She always likes to check out what I have on and makes me come closer so she can feel the fabric or look at the cut. I have told her that going forwards I will be blaming her every time I buy a new dress and she was pleased she would still have a bad influence on me.

My favourite times were when Supergran would tell me stories about her life or her children. She frequently told the same stories over again but it never bothered me in the way it frustrated other family members. The stories were usually amusing and she had a very soothing way of telling them. Occasionally she would tell me something I hadn’t heard before which would pique my interest. Supergran has truly lived her life and had many interesting stories to share.

Supergran was also a talented poet: our shared love of writing another thing we have in common. She would write as and when inspiration took her, usually on the back of an envelope and her poems were laced with her trademark intelligence and wit. When I visited she would tell me about her latest one then pull herself out of the chair to go and locate it and read it aloud to me. Often while she was up she would seek out the latest item of clothing she had succumbed to buying to show me too.

We are very, very lucky to have had Supergran in our lives as long as we have. She is a very popular lady and will be missed by many. As my Mum said, she was a small woman but she has left a big hole in our lives. She had a big, pure heart and there wasn’t a scrap of badness in her.

I know she doesn’t want us to be sad and though it’s hard at the moment I’m trying to focus myself by choosing a fabulous outfit for her funeral party (not wake, party) because I’m 100% sure she would want me to do that.

We love you Supergran. Rest in peace xxxx

 

*I have to apologise for my dodgy shifting about of tenses; it is still a bit soon for past tense.

 

Supergran

Seeing the Educational Psychologist

I recently requested a progress meeting with school to discuss how Little Bear is getting on. I feel lucky that so far the staff have been very approachable and accommodating. We had the meeting and as usual were able to identify progress and also areas that we want to work on. During the meeting Little Bear’s teacher wanted to ask me something: would I consent to him being seen by an Educational Psychologist (EP)?

She explained that the EP had made routine contact with school to check whether they needed to consult regarding any pupils this term. The SENCO had thought of Little Bear. What did I think?

I had a couple of initial thoughts, most of which I kept to myself. Firstly, eek! Out of the whole school of almost 200 pupils Little Bear was the first child that they thought of. In fact, I have since found out that he was the only child. What did that say about the severity of his needs? Those old feelings around whether I really do accept his needs, just as they are, were getting a little airing.

My main thought though was one of cautious gratitude. I couldn’t see any negatives of involving another agency and if anything it could lead to positives such as more tailored input or dare I even think it, funding. My previous experiences of working alongside an EP Service elsewhere were of an extremely stretched and in demand service. Children frequently waited long periods to be seen and schools had to juggle and prioritise the most needy to maximise their allocation of time. Once a school’s EP allowance ran out, children just had to wait, irrespective of their level of need. Given that experience I felt lucky that in his second term at school, Little Bear was already getting an opportunity to be seen, without me even having to ask for it: no battle needed.

I consented straight away then instantly became anxious that the appointment might happen without any of my involvement (not that I’m a control freak!). When I worked as a Speech and Language Therapist (SaLT) in an NHS Department I worked closely with the EP’s. I knew them and they knew me. We had a mutual respect for one another’s work and often spoke regarding specific children. Occasionally we would have some healthy professional debate (AKA a polite argument), usually when I was putting my neck on the line about a child needing a specific provision that nobody wanted to pay for. However, most of the time we worked in partnership to make things happen for children.

It was feeling very strange to be on the other side of this equation. Would I be respected and listened to in my role as parent? Would I be involved at all?

Increasingly I have also found myself taking the role of Little Bear’s SaLT – out of necessity to fill the gaping void left by our local NHS Service. I wondered whether my opinions with my SaLT hat on would be considered or valued when the EP came either.

When I asked Little Bear’s teacher whether we might be able to meet with the EP or be part of the consultation when the time came, she replied with a brisk “I wouldn’t have thought so”, confirming my fear that they thought I didn’t have anything to contribute as a parent or as a professional. Feeling a little disheartened and somewhat undervalued I felt as though I would just have to go with it. I can see how easily you can become disempowered as a parent, particularly one of a child with additional needs.

However, something changed somewhere and a week or so later I got an e-mail inviting me to attend the meeting with the EP. Greatly relieved I then began to wonder what the EP might be like. Although not meaning to stereotype I assumed it would be a middle-aged no-nonsense lady.

This week Grizzly and I have attended the meeting. It turns out that the EP was actually a young man and he was lovely. He was very good at listening to us and tweaking his advice accordingly. He wasn’t in any way judgemental and we did feel like valued members of the meeting. I think that is so important.

We had been told that the EP would have seen Little Bear prior to the meeting and would be feeding back to us. However, in reality it was a consultation meeting and the EP had never met Little Bear. Apparently we would create strategies during the meeting and then reconvene to review them before deciding whether Little Bear would require further assessment or not. I think school might have felt a bit fobbed off by this.

In the meeting, Little Bear’s teacher talked about his educational levels, his behaviour in the classroom (generally a little less challenging than at home) and his attitude to learning. I had expected much of the focus to be on his communication difficulties and ways to manage that within his learning. However, we talked a lot more about his social communication, his ability to identify and regulate his own emotions and ways to develop his skills in these areas. The EP seemed versed in early trauma and attachment and was interested in our perspectives. He was clear on the links between Little Bear’s early life experiences and his approach to learning now. We talked about how he can be oppositional and how the very fact of you wanting him to do something makes him not want to do it. We talked about him not showing his full ability and sometimes making purposeful errors. We talked about Little Bear easily entering fight or flight mode and how that can lead to him lashing out.

Whilst acknowledging and problem-solving these things with us the EP was not alarmist. At the moment the challenges do not seem to be things that we cannot overcome. The strategies seem practical and hopefully fun for Little Bear – including an adapted version of Lego Therapy to help build his resilience and ability to play with his peers with less adult support. We had to adapt it because Little Bear doesn’t always have the resilience for Lego so school have agreed to try it with Duplo instead.

A lot of the strategies were around Emotional Literacy – giving Little Bear a wider emotional vocabulary; helping him to identify his own feelings; giving him strategies to use when regulating himself is difficult. School are going to identify a safe space for him to retreat to when he needs it and will support him in using it appropriately.

We both came away from the meeting feeling pleased.

Another bonus for me was some of the comments the EP made. He said he felt we had “already done a lot of psychological unpicking” and that we understand Little Bear’s needs well. At the end he commented that he had enjoyed listening to our story and was pleased to hear so many positives in our descriptions of Little Bear.

It is very easy to forget how hard we work (I mean all adopters) and how much time and effort we put into trying to understand our children and what makes them tick. It is easy to forget that we are experts in them. If I went on Mastermind and my specialist subject was Little Bear, the only other person in the world who could beat me would be Grizzly. Nobody knows him like we do. It is hugely beneficial and confidence-boosting for that to be acknowledged by a Professional person working with your child.

I also found it surprisingly emotional to tell our story (the EP knew nothing more than Little Bear’s name so we had to fill him in on his background and progress to date) and to hear Grizzly sharing parts of our story. In the day to day craziness of our lives, it’s so easy to forget the highs and lows of the rollercoaster ride we’ve been on. At one point we spoke about how Little Bear used to bang his head and I had honestly forgotten that he used to do that. I felt proud of us as a couple for having tackled so many things in such a joined up way. As a parent it is easy to fall into a mode of constant self-deprecation but occasionally you have to allow yourself some credit. Perhaps we are doing an okay job after all.

At the end of the meeting we booked in a review date. The EP said he felt he knew Little Bear quite well now and didn’t feel the need to actually see him. Grizzly said he felt an observation would be useful and so did Little Bear’s teacher. She commented that in all her years of teaching, she had never taught a child quite like Little Bear! And I don’t think she meant because of his background as she has 4 other adopted children in her current class, irrespective of any who have gone before. I do know what she means; he is a complicated little chap.

So observation is going to happen and the EP is going to attempt some 1:1 assessment. Oh how we laughed when he said he would allow 1 hour for that! Little Bear finds 5 minutes of an adult-directed table top activity challenging. I would love to be a fly on the wall. I guess we are going to find out what the poor EP is really made of..

 

 

 

 

 

Seeing the Educational Psychologist

Is creativity beneficial for children?

I recently read a blog post by @butterflymum83 entitled  Can Creativity Encourage Good Mental Health? . In it she talks about her need to have a creative outlet and how having one has helped her to combat Post Natal Depression. It was an interesting read and it made me think about my children and how using creative activities with them has had really positive outcomes too.

Although I consider myself to be a creative person and have always had some sort of creative outlet in my life, I wouldn’t say that either of my boys naturally are, despite having fantastic imaginations.

When Big Bear was small my parenting style was different to how it is now. Between the routine parts of our days I tended to follow Big Bear’s lead. If he wanted to run around dressed as Batman then we did. If he wanted to play Lego and get me to “make the man talk” then I did. I always offered creative activities as a choice but Big Bear rarely chose them. In fact he rarely chose anything that involved sitting at a table.

Fast-forward to last year when I now had two boisterous boys to entertain throughout the school holidays. I realised my parenting style had to change. It was impossible to follow two children’s leads at the same time, especially when one child needed close supervision and the other needed to know that my love and attention for him had not been usurped by his brother. Ideally I needed chunks of the day where both boys were in the same place doing the same thing so I could be with both of them. And to be honest, for my own sanity, I did want some quieter times when they weren’t both running around crazily.

The truth is: I have hoodwinked my children into crafting! I took to setting up activities at the kitchen table then calling both Bears to me. They would walk through the door, I would pop an apron over their heads before they even noticed and the next thing they knew they were sitting down getting creative. I quickly discovered that despite the activities not being of their choosing they both loved them anyway.

You can separate the kinds of activities we do into two broad categories: those where I provide the raw materials and the boys just go for it in a ‘creative free for all’ and those where there is a specific outcome that we are aiming for. I have found that both have their own merits.

Having a creative free for all

I mean activities such as painting, Play-Doh, Kinetic sand, decorating biscuits, glue and glitter, Lego without instructions etc.

I started with these activities for Little Bear because he didn’t have much experience of crafty-type things and following the rules was extremely difficult for him. These tasks have very few rules (mainly just staying on the messy mat) so there wasn’t much for him to oppose. They were fairly low risk for this reason and therefore there was a good chance of success for him. Also, most of them are very sensory and suited his level of play at the time.

Whilst a creative free for all was ideal for Little Bear, they were generally fun and accessible for Big Bear too. One of the first times the Bears played together properly they were making Play-Doh ice creams.

My main reason for loving a creative free for all is the huge opportunity for praise-giving that it provides. Because there is no aim or expected end-product, literally anything goes. Imaginations can run wild and free and even if they don’t, you can still say that whatever they produce is beautiful.

Thankfully both Bears are accepting of praise. That being the case I don’t really think it is possible to give them too much. A creative free for all allows you to praise how hard they are trying (my favourite thing to praise), how neat they are being, how expressive/ imaginative/ creative, how well they are sharing materials, how well they are concentrating. The boys seem to have picked up on the positive nature of the task and now take quite an interest in what the other has produced too. They praise each other’s creations which is lovely to witness. They don’t know it, but we are working on lots of other skills while we’re at it. Sharing is one that has improved significantly.

When we have created something we tend to take photos to send to Grizzly or The Grandbearants or we find some space to display it on the shelves. I think this helps the boys to take pride in what they have made and builds their confidence in what they are able to achieve. Little Bear often says “I didn’t know I could make that”.

Over time we have explored different materials such as Bunchems, spray chalk (outside) and most recently craft maize. The latter is our current favourite and kept them both busy for AGES the other day. In fact, the main problem I had was trying to get Little Bear to stop because we needed to go out. You just dampen the maize and it sticks to itself or paper or card. It’s unbelievably easy (I’m not exaggerating, I actually couldn’t believe it was that easy after looking very sceptically at it in the bag) and it doesn’t keep coming apart so has a low frustration factor, which is perfect for the little dude. I highly recommend it.

Creating something specific

I generally mean any creative task that has instructions: baking (I’m nowhere near capable of making it up as I go along); Lego sets; Hama Beads (though you can go rogue); craft kits etc.

I do think children need more of an attention span and a bit of resilience behind them to get creative in these ways. However, I also think that sometimes you have to just try stuff and if you show your child you trust them enough to have a go, they often rise to the occasion.

I remember asking Little Bear’s foster carers if they had ever tried baking with him. They laughed and said “he’s too busy for that” and in so doing wrote off a whole chunk of his potential.

Admittedly I didn’t try it straight away but after a few months when I did, he was far more compliant than usual because the task was so novel and exciting for him. I love the photo I have of him proudly clutching the tray of cookies he made.

Because most of these activities are fun for children I think they are a good time to practise listening to instructions. The motivation to complete the task usually helps with the listening part. Obviously we’ve had our challenging moments but I’ve generally found that the natural consequence of not being allowed to complete the task if you can’t be sensible with it seems to keep them on track.

Little Bear continues to find tasks with too many steps of instructions difficult e.g. building a Lego model but I think the practise is helping to build his resilience and attention span. Getting to the end of a task (even if it’s with help) seems really beneficial. Seeing the end result and being able to say “I built that” (or “I builded it by my own” to be more accurate) is brilliant for both Bear’s confidence and I feel encourages them to have more of a “can do” attitude when faced with other challenges.

 

Now that both boys are in formal education I’ve noticed that the curriculum doesn’t seem to allow much space for expressing yourself so it feels even more important to facilitate creativity at home. I also feel that having more of these tasks around and having gently nudged the Bear’s in the right direction with trying them, they are both much more likely to choose them of their own volition now. This has definitely helped with getting Big Bear off his IPad (I know there is a place for technology but I honestly feel that Big Bear’s growing addiction to it was making him sad). I think he is much better now at finding something to do and doing it, rather than wandering about moaning he’s bored.

The benefits of getting creative have been wide and far-reaching for us. Apart from anything else, we enjoy doing the activities together and that alone is reason enough to carry on. I am struggling to think of any negatives, apart from the tidying up and the stress of having to surreptitiously bin a creation or 3 every now and again to make space for new ones!!

I distinctly remember a little girl we know constantly getting told off for not colouring in the lines when she was very small. It really upset my belief in freedom of expression. Creativity should be all about what you CAN do and not at all about what you can’t. Who cares about the lines? Draw in them, on them and outside of them if you want to.

 

 

Is creativity beneficial for children?

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

October at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Here are all the best bits of the past month with the Bears:

Events:

I find that there aren’t that many events to report on during the school term as we tend not to get up to much after school, so it’s just the weekends. The first couple in the month seemed to be taking up with getting jobs done and maybe a trip to the park. A fortnight ago we had noticed a bit of a decline in Little Bear’s behaviour during the school week so decided to keep things easier for him over the weekend. We ditched the usual Saturday morning swimming lesson and cancelled an early evening party that he was supposed to be going to. We didn’t know the family who had invited him at all and given his behaviour at the time, it didn’t seem like a risk worth taking. Now that we were free from the confines of our commitments we decided that a family trip somewhere might just be what we all needed. It felt like ages since we had been anywhere different and I for one was excited at the prospect of just escaping for a while and having some quality time with my Bears.

We ended up driving out to Monkey Forest at Trentham Gardens. It’s quite far from us so we have never been before. It was great. The sun was shining, the leaves were beautiful. We ate pie and mash for lunch, had a little mooch in the shops then went for a walk around the forest where the monkeys are free to roam about. The Bears loved it, especially when the little ones jumped all spread-eagled from the bushes and the big ones chased each other, vying for a scrap. The boys rested in the car on the journey back and to, watching their DVDS and hubby and I were able to chat. The following day we took the bikes to the park and had some more family time. It felt like the perfect autumn weekend. Don’t tell anyone but I’d be up for ditching the commitments a bit more often…

Milestones:

We seem to have had a few firsts this month. Little Bear appeared in his first ever school assembly. It was a whole school one for Harvest but his class stood up and performed a song they had learned. It is very difficult for Little Bear to learn a song because there are usually a lot of words, they are not always clear because they are sung and the pace is often too fast for him. Other parents talked about their little one driving them mad singing the song repeatedly at home but we didn’t have any of that because he couldn’t. I had no real idea how he would be in an assembly because it involves a lot of sitting still and let’s face it, can be quite boring. However, he was a little star and I felt really proud watching him. Although he obviously hadn’t learned all the words, he joined in with the ones he knew and had made a sterling effort to learn the actions. His little face looked so proud and happy about performing and he was so animated in his gestures and dancing. He looked a lot happier to be there than some of his classmates and I couldn’t help thinking he was one of the best performers, despite the lack of being able to sing the song. Don’t worry I know that I’m a little biased.

Little Bear also had his first friend over to play. It wasn’t planned, his friend lives on the same road and playing outside led to a spontaneous invitation in. Apart from an over excited ending, most of the event went really well. Little Bear shared his toys and the two boys interacted really nicely, which bodes well for future play dates and shows us how grown up and sensible he is becoming.

Although the grandparents have picked Little Bear up from school before, they have never taken him out anywhere at that point, always bringing him home and looking after him here. He gets very tired which can lead to challenges with managing his behaviour so we tend to keep after school very low key to make things as easy as possible for him. However, my parents have been away quite a bit recently and wanted to get some quality time with each Bear whilst they were back. We decided to try them picking him up, taking him to their house, having a play and some tea then coming home and thankfully, it went really well. I don’t think we are quite ready for after school activities or clubs yet but it is a step in the right direction.

Talking of after school activities, Big Bear has had a first this month too. He decided he wanted to join a football club. He has been going to training after school for a while but they don’t play matches and he wants to be “a proper footballer” We had some anxieties about this because Big Bear is by no means heading for the premier league and we have found that some parents/ clubs take the whole thing very seriously. One child we know “plays” for a local club but spends the whole time on the subs bench. We didn’t want that for Big Bear because it’s demoralising and takes the fun out of it. He’s only 7, it’s great that he’s in to sport, but neither of us wanted it to be confidence sapping or a negative environment for him to be in. Grizzly did his research and we finally found a club that still had spaces and seemed good on paper. Big Bear has been twice now for training and he loves it. Grizzly is really pleased with the set up – the coaches are strict but fair and won’t accept any name-calling or unsportsmanlike behaviour (which unfortunately does seem to be quite widely accepted in children’s football) and they give each child the same amount of time on the pitch during matches, irrespective of skill level.

Big Bear is SO happy that he’s a signed up member of a team and can’t wait to get his kit. He also cannot wait to play in a match and for Little Bear to come and watch him.

Last weekend, we were invited to another party that would involve keeping Little Bear out late and up past his bedtime. This time it was a good friend who had invited us and the party was at her house. I knew that she would understand if things went awry or if we needed to leave early so it seemed a good event at which to try the staying out late thing. It was a fancy dress Halloween party with fireworks. Little Bear went in full dragon outfit with detachable tail and wings (obviously) and loved the whole thing. He was good as gold and despite me getting him ready for bed at their house he was wide awake all the way home as being out in the dark was just too novel and exciting. I don’t think I’d keep him out late often but it’s good to know that he can cope with it now, if the circumstances are right.

School:

Apart from a small blip for about a week, school has continued to go well. We had Little Bear’s parents evening just before term ended and it was a very positive conversation. They have seen fairly significant progress even within the 8 weeks he has been in school. He is doing really well with learning his phonics and his counting is coming along too. He finally mastered counting to 4 in the right order a couple of weeks ago and in this past week he has started getting to 10, pretty automatically. It is amazing how quickly his skills can progress, once all the right foundations are in place. He is already showing interest in what comes after 10.

A huge relief for me has been Little Bear’s behaviour in school and the fact that he has straight away accepted the teacher’s authority. Apparently he is largely co-operative and doesn’t even growl at them! Of course there are still things to be worked on: at the moment things like understanding physical boundaries/ not invading other’s space; not reacting by pushing/hitting/poking; and of course educational targets. However, all I can ask is that we are moving in the right direction and that I feel able to have frank discussions with school and that we are able to work effectively together. So far, I feel all of those things are in place.

It has been a long term for both Bears and they were both more than ready for half term when they finally finished last Friday. More about that next time…

Me, myself and I:

Last month I talked about filling my spare time and getting lots of house jobs done. This month things seem to have slipped a little on the home front because I have agreed to a few too many other things…

My friend, A, and I have been having fairly regular meet ups because she is currently off sick due to pregnancy complications. We decided to do some crafting, mainly for fun but also because it is therapeutic for her. When we were going through the adoption process, she gave birth to the gorgeous Lucas. Very sadly he arrived too soon, at 23 weeks gestation and though he put up a good fight, he only lived for 18 days. As I was off then too, we spent quite a bit of time together and made memory stones for friends and family with Lucas’ name on. The creative task was therapeutic for A and she went on to make Christmas decorations later in the year (I was kind of busy with Little Bear by then).

This year, she suggested we do some Christmas decorations together, over a cup of tea. What started out as a bit of a hobby to help pass the time and get her from one week to the next of her very stressful rainbow pregnancy, has well, grown out of all proportion. Over 200 orders later (generated from one Facebook post) and somehow having agreed to do 2 craft fayres, we both have Christmas decorations coming out of our ears!!

I also went a little blogging crazy during National Adoption Week and wrote a post for each day. I think it must have been first timer’s enthusiasm getting the better of me!

I also finally agreed to have some patterns shaved into the shaved part of my hair by a lady I met in the playground! It sounds foolhardy but it looked much better than it sounds (especially given that I’m not a teenage boy) and my new hairdresser is lovely. There are not many people who would shave patterns into a near strangers head without ever having done it before and without a plan of what it was going to look like. I liked her straight away.

I would sum up my actions in October by saying that I just kept agreeing to things but I’ve found that saying ‘yes’ can lead to some fun and fulfilling places. After years of automatically saying ‘no’, I think I might prefer ‘yes’.

Big Bear’s Mini Projects:

We’re still trucking as and when we can. We (I) have decided that we are going to home make all our Christmas decorations this year so that is mainly what we have been doing for our projects. Big Bear is very taken with the idea of the ones I’m making with A and has made some good attempts at helping me. He has also created some of his own. Here is some of our collection so far:

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I still cannot figure why it keeps putting the image sideways when it’s stored the right way up!! I apologise that you’re having to crick your neck!!

Project Home Improvements:

Nothing was happening and now everything seems to be happening. Isn’t that always the way? We seem to have a builder organised (though he has now been to our neighbour’s house twice in error and I have fears he will extend the wrong property). We don’t really understand what we’re doing with Building Regs but we think we’ve sorted that out (who knows?!) and we’ve had to move a load of big plants from the front garden to the back and cut a raised bed in half (harder than it sounds, it’s made of railway sleepers) to make space for the building work which could be happening imminently. I suspect I will get home one day soon and someone will be digging up my front garden. It is a good job we are used to chaos.

October at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Speech and Language Therapy Support for Adopted Children

As a Speech and Language Therapist and mother of a child with significant speech and language difficulties, this is an area that I’m passionate about. At the moment I feel that adopted children’s communication needs are not really recognised or prioritised.

As the majority of children entering the care system have been neglected to some degree, it is likely that they will also have delayed speech and language skills. Babies and young children learn language from the adults around them. If nobody speaks to them, they will not learn language as they should. They might not be used to listening and this impacts on their ability to follow instructions and understand what they hear. It also impacts on their ability to work out what sound patterns are in words. If this information about the meanings of words and what sentences sound like and what sounds are at the start and end of words isn’t going into children’s brains, age appropriate sentences and clear speech will not be coming out of their mouths.

I think it is now fairly widely acknowledged that adopting a child is not easy. This process is much harder if the child you adopt can’t listen to you, doesn’t understand what you are saying, can’t express their own thoughts and feelings and what they do say is not clear. A communication barrier is not conducive to bonding.

Thankfully I have been able to fall back on my professional knowledge and have known what strategies to use to improve things for Little Bear. Most adoptive parents would not have that luxury and I think their child’s speech and language difficulties would compound their stress at becoming new parents.

Unfortunately (despite having being an NHS therapist myself until very recently) our experience of getting the speech and language therapy input Little Bear needs has not been positive and I hope it is not representative of what other parents are experiencing. He was referred 8 months ago and although we have been offered 4 appointments, they have so far all been cancelled by them.

I would love to see Specialist Speech and Language Therapy Services available to adopted (and fostered) children which would be able to respond when they are needed (not several months too late) and would take an holistic view of a child and family, taking into account the impact of the child’s communication difficulties on behaviour, behaviour management and attachment. I would also like to see Speech and Language Therapy training being available to prospective and new adopters, as well as foster carers.

We are trying to make this vision happen in our little corner of the country but I’m not sure it is on everybody’s agendas yet.

Speech and Language Therapy Support for Adopted Children