Seeking the Positives

I know I promised last week that for this blog post I would write something shorter and lighter so I will endeavour to but to be honest it has been a confusing kind of day. My brain is a bit of a mangle and I’m not too sure, at this stage, how it’s going to come out.

My thoughts are around the idea that when it comes to adoptive parenting, how you feel about events really depends on how you choose to look at them. I suppose that’s true of many of life’s events but there is something specifically yin and yang about parenting a child with some behaviour challenges.

I find that in so many situations there are positives. I don’t know if my glass is half full or what, as I am very much a realist, but I do like a positive. I seek them out and collect them. The rub is that for each positive or few positives, there will be an equal and opposite negative. It’s as though when one hand gives, the other takes away.

For all the fabulous things Little Bear does, he’ll do something ridiculous and I guess it’s down to us at those moments, to decide whether we let that thing taint the good stuff or just let it go. Sometimes it’s impossible to be objective about it. Sometimes things push your buttons so much that you can’t help being irked. Sometimes you have given warnings and explained the cause and effect of an action and given ample chances and your little darling has chosen to do that thing anyway. At those points it is hard to find the positive.

At other times, I find myself dithering a bit. I find myself thinking theoretically that he shouldn’t have done x, y or z but that it hasn’t actually upset me at all and therefore should I bother making a point of it or not.

I suppose what I’m saying is that there is a lot of sifting of behaviour going on: a constant analysis of whether things have gone well or whether they haven’t, when you balance up the negatives and positives at the end of it all. This thought makes much more sense if you consider a specific event. For example, if we went to a party and Little Bear had played well with the other children and had sat for his party tea but at one point he had nicked someone’s balloon and had purposefully popped it, making them cry, is that, on balance, a successful or unsuccessful event? I could decide that the balloon popping was a big incident and therefore feel bad about the whole thing. Or, I could think that in the grand scheme of things, popping a balloon was small fry and that at parties, some incident or other is par for the course. In that scenario I can come away feeling pretty chipper and like things went as well as they should. The event is the same in both examples. The only thing that has changed is my perception of what happened.

When we became adopters (specifically of Little Bear and his particular needs), there was a natural adjustment period in which we changed our perceptions of what constituted a successful event. I suppose we made adjustments to our expectations based on his developmental level, behaviour at the time and knowledge of what he could/ could not reasonably cope with. To begin with, that was going to a place without us getting thrown out. If we achieved that and nobody ended up in A and E, it was a clear success. I think we have continued to adjust those expectations as he has developed and progressed so that now, we expect much more from him.

What’s difficult at the moment is knowing, accurately, what he really is capable of in any given situation. I think our expectations are pretty reasonable: we never demand exemplary behaviour all of the time because that’s clearly ridiculous. I think we take a lot of shenanigans in our stride. We never expect an event to go by without some sort of minor issue or three and that’s ok. We’re pretty adept at ignoring the less than perfect.

What is getting increasingly tricky are the situations when behaviour very clearly doesn’t live up to expectation; when we know Little Bear is capable of more or better. I think we are faced with a choice at these junctures: do we blame regulation/ his history/ the wind direction and allow those things to justify his behaviour? Or do we think that, actually, he is capable of more and should have tried harder? I am very much an analyser, a seeker of answers, a person who actively considers behaviour from all angles. I am very much about looking beyond behaviour, thinking about what it communicates and what may have triggered it. I do those things as a matter of course. However, I find myself occasionally wondering whether in doing so, I always find an excuse for Little Bear when, let’s be honest, all children can be little so and so’s sometimes and also that, as he grows older, he will need to take increasing responsibility for his own actions.

The reason I wonder this is because yesterday was Little Bear’s nativity. He had worked hard to learn all his lines off by heart and he delivered them perfectly. He was in all the right places at all the right times and did a sterling job. Then, as if to provide the yin to his yang, he proceeded to writhe about the front of the stage, hanging off the front and generally mucking about. He had been on the stage for approximately two minutes so even by his standards it was a remarkably short time to have got bored already. I know that he knows he shouldn’t do that. When the head teacher spoke, Little Bear was the only child who took it upon themselves to heckle him. It wasn’t cool.

I decided to speak to him about it later because there was an evening performance too. Sometimes, if there has been a problem with situational understanding or social expectations, a little chat to make things more explicit can help. I felt he was pretty clear on the behaviour expectations. However, lo and behold, in the evening performance, he pretty much repeated his antics from earlier, adding in a fracas with the other donkey and once more loudly disagreeing with the head teacher.

I couldn’t help going away feeling as though the negatives of his behaviour had outweighed the positives of line-learning and delivery. Grizzly came away feeling similarly.

As with all situations, I think we now have a choice of how to view the event. We could continue to be disappointed by his behaviour, knowing he is capable of more. We could choose to think that if only he had tried a little harder, he could have lasted the final two minutes without incident. We could consider that the other 59 children managed it, several of whom are also adoptees, as did all the children in Reception class who are two years younger than him. That line of thought could lead us to wanting to talk to him about it.

However, it’s done. No matter what we think or say, he can’t undo it. Given that, what would be the point of expressing our disappointment to him? It would only shame him.

We could choose to excuse his behaviour. We could blame it on tiredness, the anticipation of Christmas, dysregulation, the audience – a whole multitude of possible culprits. By exonerating him, would we be at risk of thinking he doesn’t have the power to control himself when he very clearly does?

Perhaps there is another way to view it. We could decide to view it from the point of view that Little Bear wouldn’t be Little Bear if there wasn’t a moment of indiscretion. We could just write the last 2 minutes off as collateral damage. We could focus on the fact that, despite having DLD, Little Bear managed to learn 52 words, arranged into 6 sentences, all off by heart and delivered it clearly and loudly. Those facts are phenomenal and fairly unbelievable given his difficulties with auditory memory, language and speech.

I don’t think it matters too much which perspective we choose to take, because none of them can change the event itself. There are no more nativities coming up that we could hope to go differently. Therefore, I think I choose the last version; the most positive. I think I seek the positives because they make everybody feel better. The negatives are difficult. The negatives draw unwanted attention to us as parents, they call into question our parenting in other people’s minds and they cause us embarrassment. It is difficult to be fighting the fight of getting school to understand your child and their behaviour then seeing them seemingly choose to clown around in front of all the parents, staff and half the school.

For one’s sanity, it is often preferable to take the positive stance.

I’m getting better at sweeping the negatives aside and letting them go. I just hope that in doing so, I’m not lowering my expectations of Little Bear unduly and I’m not finding justifications for his behaviour when I should be demanding better.

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Anyhoo, it’s nearly Christmas and I have presents to wrap. All that remains is to say I hope you all have a calm and happy Christmas and enjoy time with your loved ones. I asked the boys if they have any Christmas messages for you. Predictably, Little Bear told a rude joke and sang a song about Uncle Billy losing his willy. Big Bear says, “Merry Christmas you filthy animals”. So, you know, good luck (I might need some) and enjoy the festivities. Lots of love from all The Bears xxx

 

Seeking the Positives

Alternative Gift Guide

In a temporary departure from my usual content, I’ve decided to put together an alternative Christmas gift guide this week. I appreciate my usual audience probably don’t visit an adoption blog to go shopping but bear with me, it’s sort of relevant. This isn’t one of those posts somebody has paid me to write – instead it is a collection of links to companies/people/ items that I have discovered over the last couple of years that I think are doing something good (I don’t get anything out it other than the warm glow of being able to spread the word). Amidst the hyper-commercialism of Christmas, it’s nice to be able to give a gift which gives to someone else or to support a small business. Here are my alternative suggestions:

Masato’s Beanies

If you are after a warm, hand-knitted beanie for yourself or a friend, this is the place to go. We bought one each last year. They’re great quality and kept us snug as bugs in rugs even when it was minus 25 degrees in Lapland. The best part of the deal is that for every hat you buy, one goes to a person living on the streets. Imagine how chilly that would be.

You can also buy socks and a pack goes to someone homeless.

I know some people worry about transparency but the website lists which other companies they work with to get the hats to the people who need them. A very genuine charity, doing it’s bit.

Here’s the link: www.masato.co.uk

masato beanies

Madlug

Did you know that for many children who move about the Care system, their belongings are moved in black bin bags? Madlug, like many of us, don’t think that’s appropriate and that young people should have the dignity of proper luggage at such a vulnerable time.

This is another ‘buy one, give one’ scheme – you buy a rucksack (lots of funky colour choices) and a rucksack goes to a young person in Care. You can also get gym bags or carry-on luggage. What’s not to like?

Here’s the link: www.madlug.com

madlug

Centrepoint

Centrepoint is a charity for homeless young people. Unfortunately Care leavers are amongst the most vulnerable to becoming homeless – with as many as 14% spending time on the streets. On the Centrepoint website you can choose to give a gift to a vulnerable young person at Christmas. You can give anything from a hot meal to a jumper to a box of useful utensils to a room for a night. There is a wide range of options, from a £10 donation to much, much more for those who feel able.

www.centrepoint.org.uk

centrepoint

Buddybox

I think the idea behind these subscription boxes is brilliant. They are dubbed ‘a hug in a box’ and are intended for people who are depressed or having a shit time for any reason. As a friend I tend to feel quite helpless if someone I know/ love is in a situation like that. I tend to want to do something but often, there is nothing practical you can do, especially if you are far away from that person. This is the solution to that uncomfortable feeling: send them a Buddybox.

You can send a one off box, as I have tended to, or you can buy someone a subscription for 6 months or a year. I heard about it because someone has bought a subscription for my friend whose baby had died. It was such a lovely thing to have done at such an awfully sad time.

You can even gift one to a stranger.

The contents are different every month and are always designed with self-care in mind. They describe the contents as ‘gender neutral and ageless’ so they are inclusive for all.

The perfect gift for a struggling adopter?

A lovely way to say ‘I’m thinking about you’ or ‘you are not alone’.

And if all else fails and you feel fed up, order one for yourself.

www.blurtitout.org/buddybox

buddybox

Steph’s Sock Monkey Store

This one is not so much a charitable cause as a small business trying to survive in tricky times. I found these sock monkeys totally by accident, fell in love with them and ordered one each for the boys last year. They’re great quality, bigger than you might think and make gorgeous presents.

There are currently some for sale whose profits are going to Marie Curie and ones where you can sponsor Yorkshire Air Ambulance. You can also buy gift vouchers so the recipient can choose their own monkey during the year.

www.stephssockmonkeystore.co.uk

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Books

I have read a couple of books recently which are relevant to my blog content – both to do with communication and both an excellent read. The first is this one by Cynthia Pelman:

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It is an account of a young boy, Joshy, who has DLD. It is told from the perspective of his speech therapist, his mum and him. It’s the only published account of DLD that I’m aware of at the moment.

 

The second book is written by an inspirational young man, Jonathan Bryan, who painstakingly wrote the whole thing by eye-pointing to an alphabet chart. This is a must-read for anybody interested in communication (especially alternative or augmentative communication) or those working in special education. It is also an inspirational read for anyone who is fascinated by people and overcoming adversity. Some proceeds from the sale of the book go to Teach Us Too – Jonathan’s charity which campaigns for schools to assume learning competence in children with profound disabilities and to give them the opportunities to become literate.

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You can follow Jonathan on Twitter @eyecantalk or read his blogs at www.eyecantalk.net

I’m not going to add links for buying the books because I don’t want to just assume Amazon is the only option. There are other booksellers out there!

Baby banks

Up until a couple of weeks ago I had absolutely no idea what a Baby Bank was or that they even existed. Think Food Bank but for baby essentials – nappies, formula, clothes, equipment such as prams and cots. It’s heart-breaking that in England in 2018 we have the need for such a thing but we do. Apparently it tends to be mothers fleeing violent relationships or those who are refugees and cannot access benefits who require the services. However, a recent documentary highlighted that women who work in low-income jobs can struggle to meet the costs of living and having a new baby can be the tipping factor into crisis. One family had been reliant on the Dad’s job as a painter and decorator. He was unfortunately in a car accident which meant he could no longer work as much/ do such heavy jobs and then a baby came along. Baby Banks are there for such situations.

I think many of us have a loft full of no longer needed baby or little people gear – perhaps this would be a good way of getting it to people who really need it. I know they don’t just want tiny things – coats for toddlers are particularly needed over winter. Some are also doing a Christmas campaign where you can help struggling families with Christmas gifts for their children.

I know that when I can finally face sorting out the clutter of my loft, this is where my pre-loved items will go.

Check out www.babybanknetwork.com   (they have centres in Bristol, Exeter, Aberdeenshire & Isle of Wight) or  www.baby-basics.org.uk who have many centres across the country. Both websites have maps which allow you to find similar services close to you.

baby bank

 

Thank you for persevering with my alternative post if you’ve read to the end! Do let me know if you know of any other organisations who are doing brilliant things – I particularly like the buy one, give one schemes so would love to hear about others if they exist.

Happy gifting!

Alternative Gift Guide

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

December at Adoption: The Bear Facts

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

Events:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Christmas:

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Operation Home Improvement

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

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

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

 

December at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Christmas Traditions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Christmas Traditions

November at Adoption: The Bear Facts

It feels like literally 3 seconds since I was sitting here writing last month’s round up but here I am again and November is over. Here are our best bits:

Events:

  • Half term took place in the first week of November for us. In order to curb Big Bear’s growing I Pad addiction and to encourage him to spend time doing other things, we started the holiday by limiting I Pad time to 30 minutes per day. I was also strict about TV time. It was allowed but I didn’t want the I Pad just to be replaced by another screen. It was the best thing we could have possibly done and I truly believe it led to a much calmer and more wholesome holiday. In fact, the half hour limit is now a permanent feature at our house (mean Mum!).
  • I spent the first couple of days on my own with the Bears. Day 1 was fairly disastrous (I can see a pattern forming, the first day always seem to be a disaster) but day 2 was lovely. We went to the shops, had a wander around, bought new shoes (how had their feet possibly grown again??) and went to the Library where we got involved with a craft session that happened to be on. I have been trying to engage Little Bear with the Library for a while now. It has been a bit of an uphill battle but I was really pleased on the day in question because he took time (seconds, but still) to choose his own books for the first time and then concentrated really well for the craft. Both boys made a rocket which I’m still proudly displaying on my shelf.
  • I treated Little Bear to a comic and Big Bear to some Match Attax then we got a hot chocolate and some toast. I felt as though they actually wanted to do that and we weren’t just sitting down because I was tired and needed caffeine! We sat for a quite a while and Little Bear coloured in his comic and Big Bear looked at his cards and we seemed like a civilised family!!!
  • That afternoon we went to the cinema to see The Trolls which we all enjoyed. We happened to bump into some friends there and spontaneously went to the nearby soft play area with them to burn off some steam. It was a really lovely day.
  • Grizzly was off for the second half of the week and we went to a couple of parties. I also baked twice with the boys that week. Previously I have had double of everything so that they could have all their own stuff and there would be no arguing over whether it was fair or not. This time I chanced it with one set of equipment and ingredients and took turns to give them little tasks to do. I was really impressed with how they coped with it and what a calm experience it was.
  • We went away for the final weekend of half term as a surprise for my Mum’s 70th birthday. The boys put lots of effort into making her cards and cake and we had a really good family weekend. Little Bear was a little anxious on the journey because the plan was quite complicated (we were going somewhere else on route and though we were meeting my Mum it wasn’t at her house) and he needed lots of repetition but he settled really well once we there.

 

  • Big Bear played in his first football match. After saying that he wasn’t headed for the Premier League (Bad Mum!) I couldn’t believe how well he played! He showed a real grit and determination on the pitch that I don’t think I’ve seen in him before. It was brilliant to watch and then I nearly wept all over the mud as they made him man of the match! Little Bear coped fairly well with having to watch and was very proud of his brother. We have avoided taking him to watch again though as I think behaving yourself on the side of a cold pitch for an hour is quite a big ask and there are probably better ways we can spend the time.

 

  • When the last match was on, Little Bear and I went to pick up Aunty Giraffe for a visit. It was lovely to see her as always. Little Bear is very fond of her and the fact he hasn’t seen her for a few months in between visits doesn’t seem to matter.
  • We did family things over the weekend then on the Monday Aunty Giraffe and I escaped for a spot of shopping. Grizzly ended up being at home and was able to pick up the boys. Very selfishly, I was really excited to be out past school pick-up time and shopping turned into the cinema (to see a grown up film!!!) and dinner. Very decadent but ace.

 

  • Last weekend we attended our VAA’s Christmas Party. I bumped into quite a few familiar faces: a family whose prep group I had spoken at and who now have a tiny baby in their charge through concurrency; some adopters who had attended one of my Communication Workshops and now have 2 little girls; a couple from our prep groups and their little girl. It was lovely to see everyone, especially to meet the couple from our prep groups again, in the same building where we first met, now with our little people in tow. I also met a not so familiar face: one of my Twitter friends. It’s quite surreal to meet somebody you know so much about and so little about at the same time but also lovely. Finally, our Social Worker had tasked us with finding another couple who didn’t know anybody. We did find each other and I think we have quite a bit in common (I suspect our SW knew that) so we are going to have coffee soon. Phew! My adoption network seems to be growing quite rapidly!

 

School:

School has largely continued to go well for Little Bear. There have been some incidents but I’m going to count them as positives as I’m really pleased with how school have handled them. All the incidents have taken place at lunch times when there is less supervision and the supervision comes from mid-day assistants, not teaching staff. The incidents usually involve Little Bear playing a game that he shouldn’t be e.g. fighting and the game usually ends in him kicking/ hitting/ biting somebody. From what I can tell, all hell usually breaks out at that point, a dinner lady shouts at him that’s he naughty and drags him to a teacher. Little Bear is unable to explain what has happened or why and he gets punished, not the other child who is usually also involved.

That sounds pretty bad but I spoke with his teacher about it as soon as I spotted the pattern and she had separately spotted it too. She had already spoken to the Head and SENCO to say that she didn’t think the usual system of giving a red card and getting a good talking to from the Head was appropriate for Little Bear. She had concluded that the supervision wasn’t appropriate and that the mid-day assistants needed more support in managing his behaviour in a more constructive way. She asked for my permission to meet with them and explain Little Bear’s needs to them in more detail. She would give them strategies that work in the classroom e.g. thinking time and if they didn’t feel sure about what to do, they could bring Little Bear to her and she would manage the situation. She confirmed that his behaviour is good in the classroom and it is just a matter of handling him more constructively. I did suggest he needed to be watched more closely too because if the opportunity is there, he will get into mischief. I usually ensure the opportunity isn’t there.

His teacher also said “he is not a naughty boy, he just needs more help with boundaries and knowing what is acceptable. I will not have him branded as a naughty child”. That was what I was planning to say but clearly I was preaching to the converted. So yes, there have been a couple of bumps in the road but top marks to school for their sensitive and child-centred handling of it.

There is now a protocol in place for the mid-day staff and so far there haven’t been any further mishaps…

In terms of his educational targets, Little Bear continues to make progress. He is secure in his knowledge of Phase 2 phonics so is now learning Phase 3 and working on blending Phase 2 in school. The blending is proving difficult, as I suspected it would, due to Little Bear’s speech processing and auditory memory difficulties. However, he is mostly able to identify the first and last sounds in words so I don’t think he’s as far off blending as I did a few weeks ago.

Now that he has found out what numbers come after 10, he’s got a bit muddled with seven and eleven and the whole sequence has gone a little wonky again… I’m sure we’ll get there eventually!

Little Bear has discovered pens and has even requested paper a few times recently. He is making some good first attempts at mark making now.

I am super proud of how he is getting on as always.

Me, Myself & I:

I have mainly been making Christmas decorations (our first craft fayre is tomorrow), cups of tea for builders and doing Christmas shopping. I have run another Communication Workshop which went well but we are now on a mission to improve marketing and hopefully get more people next time.

Snapshots:

  • Little Bear asking me to put the radio on then the two of us holding hands and dancing around the kitchen
  • Little Bear showing great empathy with his friend who was crying and trying to find ways to cheer him up
  • Little Bear going back into his classroom each evening when I pick him up, trying to share his treat with his classmates. It’s all good when it’s a packet of sweets, not so much when it’s a giant cookie that several children take a bite out of!

Big Bear’s mini projects:

We have made quite a lot of decorations for our tree now, with some help from Little Bear and I for one can’t wait to get a tree now. Here is a little selection of some of the different things we have made:

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Project Home Improvements:

The builders are in! Well, in fact, they are out. They are building the outside parts of the little extension we are having at the moment and they are going to wait until the New Year to knock through. Thank goodness! So far, it’s fairly painless and they are nice guys so apart from making a few decisions about where windows need to go etc. and making hundreds of cups of tea, it hasn’t really caused me any stress. It means I can do my favourite bit which is picking paint colours etc. Hopefully by the end of January I might be able to show you.

 

 

November at Adoption: The Bear Facts