Alone Parenting

I’ve written plenty before about the challenges of adoptive parenting or parenting a child with SEMH needs (Social, Emotional or Mental Health needs) and the different ways it can impact you. I’ve written about the need we have, as parents, for affirmation – for someone to tell us now and again that we’re doing a good job. I’ve written about CCVAB (Childhood challenging, violent or aggressive behaviour) – the taboos around this, the terror of it, the ways it can keep you awake at night. I’ve written about external factors like the impact of school and professionals who come on the journey with you, and even how you can feel judged by random members of the public. There are times when I have written pretty frankly about the hard bits of our parenting journey, my anxieties, our messier moments.

This morning I have been reminded that I have revealed and discussed all of this from within the comfort of my supportive marriage. My marriage in which I can be brutally honest with my husband, and him with me. My marriage in which I have a place to off load, to discuss, to compare notes, to problem-solve, to rant, to moan, to cry, to celebrate the tiniest success, to despair, to have a hug. In my marriage, I have a co-pilot who I can switch with and who helps me navigate and make this journey.

Outside of my marriage, I have parents and a parent-in-law and a brother and soon to be sister-in-law who are all there, supporting our journey.

Outside of that, I have good friends who I can talk freely to, who bring their own knowledge to the table, who listen, counsel, support.

I’m very lucky.

This morning, I realised that even cocooned within all those layers of support, there have been times when I have felt desperate and despairing. I don’t think I’ve experienced those things too much on a prolonged basis but there have been times that I’ve felt them. I think all parents do, sometimes.

Then, I thought, what if all those cocooning layers were stripped away? What if a person didn’t have friends who understood their challenges or their child’s challenges? What if their family – their parents, their siblings, their cousins – whoever they have – didn’t understand their challenges? What if – even worse – their partner wasn’t supportive? How desperate and despairing would that be?

What if their partner not only wouldn’t work in partnership but actively avoided things that might help (such as engaging with any external support offered or reading helpful books)? What if their partner were critical or didn’t offer affirmation or a shoulder to cry on or a listening ear? What if their partner refused to co-parent or use therapeutic strategies or just didn’t bother to get their hands dirty with the business of parenting at all?

What if a person had to walk this journey truly alone?

I suspect many of us are guilty of seeing that a person has a partner or spouse and assuming they provide them with the support I talked about above. But what if they don’t? What if their relationship is a lonely place? What if they have polarising view points on parenting or discipline or how to manage CCVAB? What if they can’t even talk about how to parent anymore? What if every chat ends in an argument? What if one of them mentally (or even physically) checks out, leaving the other to deal with everything alone? What if their differences lead to inconsistencies and unpredictable boundaries? What if the children feel this and it further discombobulates them? What if the CCVAB becomes directed to one parent only? What if the other turns a blind eye? What if one is made to feel it’s their fault? That it’s their bad parenting doing it. What if that person’s confidence has become so eroded they think it’s their fault too?

I know you can adopt as a single person. I think the hope would be that the next layers of support – the wider family, the close friends – would step closer, ensuring you are still well cocooned. And this can work as beautifully as a good partnership. But what if it doesn’t? What if they don’t step forward? What if a parent is left with an empty moat where the support should be? What if they experience external judgement and criticism to such a level their confidence is eroded to nothing?

How desperate and despairing would they be then?

I guess it’s hard to speak out about it if you’re trapped in it. You think it’s your fault or just what you deserve anyway. You fear what the speaking out or the being honest could do.

This post is for you. I see you. I see how hard you’re trying. How you’re giving parenting everything but you’re exhausted. And worn down. How you think everyone must be doing it better than you are. How scary the future is. How alone you feel. How difficult it must be to have the courage of your convictions or to make choices about which way to manage challenging situations for the best. Alone.

You do deserve to be heard. You do deserve support. This parenting alone thing – its fucking rock solid, not just hard. It’s hard enough with the support but without it? I don’t know, but I’m upsetting myself imagining it. Please believe that what you are doing is a great achievement, in the most trying of circumstances. You’re doing it. You’re persevering. You’re getting up every day and doing it again and again and again.

Don’t look at the rest of us and imagine we have everything sewn up and tickety-boo. We don’t. We lose our shit, our houses are messy, we cut parenting corners. I mean it’s winter – if you can’t be bothered to iron a school shirt, it’ll hide very nicely under a sweatshirt. Not managed to bath them today? So what? Give them a quick wet wipe.

Sometimes survival is enough, for all of us. It has to be.

I could have a separate rant about the standards we set ourselves and the random demands we think society expects of us, especially in the run up to Christmas – the mountains of presents, the outfits, the bloody elves on the shelves – but I’ll try to resist. Ignore it, if you can. Set your standards, stick to those. You’re doing your level best and at the end of the day, it’s all you can do and it’s all that matters.

I think what I’m trying to say is, if you are truly alone in this, I am truly sorry. Please look after yourself. It shouldn’t be this way, but if it is, be your own warrior. Don’t stop fighting to be heard. Don’t stop standing up for what you believe in. Don’t stop trying.

Twitter used to be an amazing place to connect and get virtual support but it is sadly not as safe as it once was. However, there are still those of us whose direct messages are always open and are more than happy to talk without judgment (@adoptionblogfox). We are all in this together, cocooned or not.

 

 

If you’re a person who sits in judgement, thinking how well you are doing and how good your parenting is and how lacking others’ is in comparison – stop it. Most of the time we have not a clue what does or does not go on behind people’s doors. Until you’ve walked a mile and all that…

 

If you’re the partner who has mentally checked out or withdrawn because it’s easier or because you don’t know what else to do, please talk to your co-parent. This sort of parenting isn’t easy for anybody. But it so much easier if you can find a way to do it together.

 

Apologies for my slightly bossy tone but I’m reaching the end of my third decade, my hormones are pretty fierce and I just cannot be doing with people being shit to one another. Life is hard enough, parenting is hard enough. SEMH parenting or adoptive parenting is next level hard. Doing that alone? Hideously difficult. Let’s have some compassion and look after each other.

Please reach out to someone if you can.

Virtual hugs,

xx

 

Alone Parenting

Being an SEMH-needs family

I suspect this blog is going to be hard to write without coming across badly. I know what I want to say, but it will require an honesty most people may not be comfortable with. You see, when you discover you have a child with SEMH (social, emotional or mental health) needs, you enter this weird dark underworld where reality shifts a little, standards become idiosyncratic and parenting as you thought it might be is turned on its head. You don’t just have a child with some needs; you become a family with needs. Each one of you now has SEMH needs to think about, contend with, manage. You might not have them inside of yourself and I’m not for one minute saying that those of you around the person with the needs suffer as they do, but you do all now experience life with SEMH needs in your pocket.

Some things go without saying (but I shall say them, for clarity): everyone loves the person with SEMH needs. They remain your child, brother or sister, grand-child, niece or nephew and you love them as such. They remain a fun, kind, clever, gorgeous human. Their SEMH needs do not define them and will always be a larger, heavier, more cumbersome sack for them to drag around than for any of you.

Nonetheless, those SEMH needs irrevocably affect all of your lives to one degree or another. This is the bit that people doubtless find hard to talk about because they fear the judgement of those who haven’t walked such a path. They fear them suggesting that the facts in the above paragraph can’t be true if you’re saying what you’re saying, or are directly disproven by your honesty. That if you say that living with a child with SEMH needs is hard work, you are making it about you, when it clearly should be about them. That if you say you are, at times, embarrassed by their behaviour, you are evidently a disloyal parent.

Why? Why isn’t ok to be honest about these things if they are true? Clearly nobody wants to disparage their child and writing or saying disrespectful things about them is never ok. But what about the need for better understanding of such children and such families? How can we expect the public or teachers or other parents to be more understanding if we don’t try to explain to them what this weird underworld we inhabit is like?

Recently, I’ve felt a few things that I suspect many parents of children with SEMH needs feel, but aren’t comfortable being honest about. I’ve felt as though I were being forced deeper into the underworld by these issues; even keener to hide. But my child with SEMH needs is just as entitled to his life experience as anyone else. I am just as entitled to my parenting experience as anyone else. BB is just as entitled to his own particular feelings about being a sibling as any other sibling. Our experience is different. It sets us apart. It complicates things. But it shouldn’t make us lesser. We shouldn’t have to cower in the underworld.

So, you know me, here comes some honesty.

One thing that people don’t talk about is that having a child with SEMH needs make you all individually and collectively more visible. If you’re all together, the noise and behaviour itself tend to draw attention. Everyone always knows you are there. You never melt into the background or pass through an event or situation unnoticed. You are certainly noticed and not necessarily in a good way.

It can be hard not to imagine that everyone in the vicinity is looking at you, observing you, scrutinising how you handle the behaviour. It is easy to feel judged. I know that all parenting involves an element of this but SEMH parenting is by definition more visible. SEMH parenting means that it’s your child drawing more attention than everyone else’s. It is your child breaking the rule, having the tantrum, shouting, throwing something.

It is quite a skill to remain calm in such circumstances and to actively filter out those around you. It takes balls to think that you do not care for their judgement, stares, tutting; that you care only for your child and their needs and you will proceed with supporting them in the way you know works best, despite that most likely being at odds with the ideas of the multiple eyes observing you. The act of forging forwards as you know best in such circumstances is far harder than it sounds. It can require a strength you don’t have and a don’t-give-a-fig-ness not naturally associated with your personality.

It is hard, while we’re at this honesty game, not to sometimes feel embarrassed. We’re British. It’s in our nature to stay calm, maintain a stiff upper lip, act politely and with reserve. Children with SEMH needs don’t tend to have got this memo. SEMH needs don’t discriminate for different audiences – they are what they are, wherever you are. Your child’s behaviour can all too often be completely at odds with the unspoken set of behaviours expected by all, but also by you, in a particular situation. There are times, frankly, when their behaviour is mortifying and you wish you had an invisibility cloak or teleportation device. It is incredibly difficult to parent in the best possible way for your child in these situations, because that way is probably not immediately compatible with the unwritten rules either and consequently you find yourself hissing ‘stop it or else’ type threats at them in a poorly disguised whisper. This isn’t useful, and you know it, but your face is glowing like you’ve overdone a sun bed and sweat is collecting in cold puddles in your arm pits.

Being in public, with your child with SEMH needs can be exquisitely uncomfortable. (And by saying this, no, it doesn’t mean that I’m not also extremely proud of him every single day.)

But at least in public you have relative anonymity – a fact you can cling to, when things go south. Not so, within school. SEMH needs make your child far more visible than other children. When your child is the one who gets sent to work in other classes, or has their card changed to red again or their face moved onto the sad cloud, or the one who gets suspended, or sent to the Head, or put on a behaviour chart, or taken out of class to work, or has their desk in a corridor, or gets into fights, or heckles the Head in assembly, or tries to escape, or stands in the urinal, or throws something, or hides under the teacher’s desk, or swears in class, everyone knows who they are. Everyone. When this is your child, you can easily guess that households around the vicinity hold teatime discussions about what your child has been up to now. They gain a certain infamy.

I guess everyone handles this differently, but I handle it by trying my best to remain invisible myself. I don’t talk to other parents, I don’t go to parties. I keep away from situations that will further alert me to his infamy. I suppose I do my best to pretend it is happening – what I don’t know can’t hurt me. It helps me to focus on my child, and what he needs and not to care what anyone else thinks, whether indeed they think anything. It’s like I go around with a protective shroud between me and the rest of the parents and as long as I don’t interact with anybody, the shroud does its thing.

Then, a situation or conversation will arise, as one did recently, that will remind me that I am not paranoid, people really are discussing him at their dinner tables. It’s a very weird feeling, knowing this is the case. It’s a mixture of defensiveness (back off, you don’t know him, you don’t understand him), acute discomfort and a realisation that when you walk across the playground being purposefully aloof, that people know exactly who you are and what your child has been up to. It makes you infamous by association. I don’t want to be infamous, or even famous; I want to be invisible, but SEMH needs have eradicated even the possibility of that. It is not a great leap to imagine that we, the parents of the infamous one, are also subject to dinner time debate. Perhaps they thrash out the myriad ways we’ve clearly failed him, for him to be behaving this way.

I think most parents questions themselves frequently and wonder if they’re doing a good enough job. But when your child is swinging from the lampshades and ignoring every request you make, it is far too easy to descend into self-doubt, especially if your patience starts to fray and you find yourself losing your temper. I find it is shockingly easy to make the leap from thinking I know what I’m doing to berating myself for my evident parenting failures, along with the rest of society. It is far easier to imagine we’re parenting well when our children are behaving well. And instead of explaining the transgressions with their actual cause – the SEMH needs – we are more likely, as parents, to think we should have been more therapeutic or calmer or somehow better at this parenting lark.

This is partly why I think we ought to be honest about the realities of SEMH parenting. It’s really bloody hard. It’s hard on a cellular level and many of us expect superhuman levels of self-control and parenting wizardry from ourselves on a daily basis when actually, it’s pretty unobtainable, for the key reason that caring for a child with SEMH needs is a big, difficult, complex task. A task which I think should be better understood and supported by society as a whole.

Perhaps if discussions around dinner tables focussed on what our child’s behaviour might mean about the life challenges they’ve had or what they need their friends to do differently to support them, attitudes might be different. Perhaps if people didn’t approach SEMH presentations with an urge to blame, us parents may not feel so isolated. Perhaps if onlookers were telepathising supportive vibes instead of judgement, we might not be so stressed in public places. I think it’s fair enough that the general public don’t really understand what it’s like or why our children behave as they do, because there aren’t many means of becoming informed, unless they have personal experience of SEMH issues. So, to some extent, it is incumbent upon those of us living it to share those experiences and help people to become better informed. Hence, you know, this blog.

 

I also want to talk about the fact that it is not just parents of children with SEMH needs who feel scrutinised, but siblings too. If you happen to attend the same school as your brother or sister who has gained infamy through their SEMH based behaviours; you are also infamous by association. No doubt you get kids coming to you in the playground, informing you of what your sibling has done now. Perhaps sometimes they are unkind or judgemental or ill-informed. Perhaps they laugh. Perhaps they find it a sport. Perhaps you witness others handling your sibling and their behaviour in ways you don’t think are fair or appropriate or commensurate with what happened. You don’t want to be associated negatively with their high jinks and rule-breaking – you don’t want people to think you are like that too – but you love them, and you can’t stand to see them mistreated either. You are willing to compromise your own reputation to defend them, if necessary. You love them but they embarrass you and draw unwanted attention to you and sometimes, you wish they didn’t and you like them a little less but you feel guilty for it, because they’re still your sibling and they can’t help it and you know that really. Your feelings towards them can be very complicated and overwhelming.

I think being an SEMH family can be a lot for siblings. It requires an emotional maturity beyond their years. Those skills we struggle with as adults – of trying to be Teflon-coated to repel the judgement of others – are challenging and often unachievable for us, despite years of practise. Siblings of children with SEMH needs have to employ those same skills in childhood. It’s an ask which I suspect is routinely underestimated.

As parents, this is another element we have to be aware of – are the siblings of our child with SEMH needs ok? Are we appropriately supporting them to wander around with SEMH needs also weighing in their pocket?

 

To conclude, life as an SEMH needs family has all these extra layers to it, over and above supporting the child who has SEMH needs, as though those needs radiate out from the child, creating ripples far beyond them. There is a visibility to it which has us trying to hide in the shadows. It can lead to uncomfortable and unwanted feelings such as embarrassment, misplaced anger, guilt. It can be isolating and vulnerable. It makes you grow a thicker skin, bundle yourself in a protective shroud, but beneath that, you can’t help but be wounded by the judgement, blame and insensitivity of others.

 

I don’t want to end on a negative, because being an SEMH needs family is not all doom and gloom. I want all the above to be better understood, but I also want people to know that our family is pretty cool. Yes, we’re different, we’re loud, we struggle with rules, we can be a little shocking to behold but we have a lot of fun. We all work incredibly hard to overcome the challenges we’ve been dealt. We are grafters, survivors, persevere-ers, overcome-ers. We are out and about doing things despite the SEMH needs. Wouldn’t it be amazing if that were cause for celebration? If we could all focus on what our son can do and all the brilliant things he achieves, instead of feeling we have to apologise for his challenges.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Being an SEMH-needs family

My Father Has A Monobrow

Today’s post is a little bit different. It’s a piece of creative non-fiction I wrote for writing reasons but have now decided should have its home here. It is largely true (with some exaggeration for writing reasons) and permission to write about fatherly monobrows has been sought. I’m sure you’ll see its not really all about my eyebrows.

 

My Father Has a Monobrow

In the nineties, when I was growing up, no one had eyebrows. I assumed they did once, at birth at least, but somewhere between childhood and maturity they’d mislaid them, leaving in their place a narrow suggestion of an arc, maybe made of hair, maybe just a drawn-on pencil line. I’ve concluded they tweezed them aggressively or, the likes of Kate Moss and the Supers, employed minions dedicated to eradicating them, rather than just naturally acquiring hairless faces through superior genes. A stray hair could kill a career, probably.

It’s funny how, as a child, your parents just look like your parents – amorphous faces signifying safety and familiarity. You don’t tend to appraise the relative merits of that eye shape or jawline. You don’t consider whether those faces are beautiful or handsome or otherwise. They just exist and you fully accept them, like there being a sun in the sky or water in the tap.

I don’t know when I noticed the monobrow. Or maybe when I noticed that others didn’t have one. This was my father – his face as familiar as home – how had I missed the bristly caterpillar lurking above his aviators?

A teenager now, with a knowledge of heritability and a desire to be desirable, I became well acquainted with my tweezers. I squinted into the slightly too far away bathroom mirror, worrying at the place my nose met my forehead. There was, thankfully, a sizeable glabrous patch but the hairs at each inner edge of my brows grew wild and haphazard. Would they encroach with time, I wondered, like grass that sidles into flowerbeds and between paving stones? Was this the start of my very own monobrow? Certain this would only further my social challenges – brought on by an extremely uncool and insatiable desire to get only A grades – I plucked them aggressively away.

As the noughties approached and society demanded ever increasing levels of pre-pubescent smoothness, before people thought of Frida Kahlo as an icon and before Cara Delevingne made hirsute brows de rigueur, I cursed the blasted monobrow.

Eyebrow husbandry, it turns out, is a little tedious. You have the energy for it in youth but less so in the fullness time with a house to run and babies to tend to. Left mostly untamed, it turned out I was less lupine than anticipated – a happy accident coinciding with the trend for a fuller brow. I felt a little smug that I had not over plucked and could still grow a fulsome pair, unlike some of my friends who would be drawing them on forever. The monobrow got little thought, if a small nod of appreciation.

Then we adopted our youngest son and I gave the genetics of our faces a whole new level of consideration. Does he, I wondered, stare at my husband’s face, asking himself impossible questions about his future self? Does he know that he can’t inherit that distinctive nose, those hazel eyes, that mass of copper curls?

At least I knew about the monobrow. I suspected there was a comfort in seeing those eyebrows, those high cheekbones, that prominent nose, that triangle of moles, mirrored in the faces around you, anchoring you to your tribe.

I wonder what fears creep into the gaps left by not staring at your genetic brethren over the dinner table. Is our son concerned about his future appearance? Does he fear a particular feature – one he has concocted in his imagination – such as a bulbous chin or patchy beard? Does he wonder whose eyes he has or where he got his freckles? Does the lack of genetic sameness leave him untethered and lost? Or does it free him to not even wonder?

My father has a monobrow and I love a son I didn’t conceive. I don’t know if genetics are everything, or nothing at all.

 

 

 

 

 

My Father Has A Monobrow

Adoption is a dodecahedron

Adoption is like a dodecahedron it has so many sides. Adoption is love: parent to child, brother to brother, grandparent to grandchild. But adoption is also loss: of biological connection, of love, of place.

Adoption is contradictions and opposites.

Adoption is hard and easy. It is easy to love a child you didn’t create; far easier than most would imagine. You might not love straightaway – it does take time – but a little cheek against yours, a hand in your hand, a small arm slung around your shoulder? The love comes and it bowls you down. But it’s hard, because adoption brings trauma and trauma is almost an entity of itself. Trauma needles and furrows and clings. Trauma demands energy and patience and dedication. It begs a resilience you don’t always have.

Adoption is happy and sad. A child filled to the brim with mischief and curiosity and cuddles and laughter is the ultimate in happiness generation. But their tears? And their nightmares and self-loathing? Deeply sad.

Adoption is push and pull. It’s moving towards danger, not running from it. It’s ignoring the push and being resolutely present. It’s standing firm, no matter what. It’s allowing the pull of a cuddle or the pull to play even when you’re busy. It’s prioritising. It’s you, being present.

Adoption is angry and calm. Adoption is fighting for understanding; fighting for support – being your child’s warrior. It’s avoiding fists and teeth and nails and words that sting. It’s curling up on the sofa for a cuddle and a film. It’s playing board games and just being. It’s a smile and a wink.

Adoption is delay and progress. It’s ‘working towards’ and ‘below expectations’. It’s additional support and funding and an intricate knowledge of the education system. It’s learning times tables when you couldn’t count. It’s learning to read when your early years tried to stop you. It’s standing up in assembly and saying all your lines perfectly. It’s surpassing all expectations. Adoption is overcoming. It’s success, despite the odds.

Adoption is yours and someone else’s. It’s a birth mother with empty arms; birth siblings missing a brother. It’s foster carers who remember and a social worker who will never forget. It’s the speech therapist and the nursery and the psychologist and the school.

But at night, when things are escalating? It’s just you.

Adoption is not for the faint of heart.

Adoption is challenge and reward. Adoption is plumbing the depths of your patience and self-control. It’s not reacting. It’s reacting differently. It’s counter-intuitive. Adoption can be desperate. But it’s also amazing, humbling and heart-swellingly proud. It’s unquantifiably special.

Adoption is holidays and new experiences and discovery. It’s transformative. It’s wide-eyed and surprising.

Adoption is getting a new sibling. It’s the hardest thing and the best thing to have happened in your life so far. It’s worrying about your toys and your space and your parents’ love. It’s gaining the funniest playmate you could find. It’s about football and gaming and forming a gang of two. It’s ‘I love you’ and cuddles and someone who wants to be you.

Adoption is acceptance.

Adoption is a new home, a new bedroom, a new family. It’s new pets, a new school, new friends. Adoption is your life turned upside down and inside out. Adoption is safety. Adoption is unlocking your potential. Adoption is scary. Adoption smells different. Adoption is new rules, new expectations, new behaviour from grown-ups. It’s the best and worst thing that’s ever happened to you. Adoption is confusing. Adoption is a muddle of questions.

Adoption is simple and complex. The complexities of behaviour and education and life stories and language development and birth families and continence and sensory needs and, and…are tangled and without end.

But adoption is simple: the unconditional love of family.

Adoption is a dodecahedron.

 

Adoption is a dodecahedron

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

Light and Dark

Things are fairly dark at Adoption: The Bear Facts at the moment. Today our beloved Supergran has come home from hospital for “end of life care”. When someone you love is dying it is hard to think about anything else. When other people you love are sad and stressed about it too, it is hard not to spend a lot of time worrying about them. It is hard, in the circumstances, to get on with normal functioning. However, with small children, jobs and building work there is no option but to try. I’m finding that although there is an omnipresent darkness, there are still bits of light to be found and it is important, for everybody’s sanity, to hunt them out.

Sometimes it is just an instant – a beautiful moment captured by your brain to be kept as a memory. It is things like seeing your big business man husband tenderly rubbing his fragile gran’s back after a day in the office. It is instants such as finding yourself with Gary and Supergran in a hospital ward and all giggling like teenagers about an inappropriate joke or at the male visitor further down the ward who is unknowingly sitting on a commode. It is instants when Supergran comments on my outfit or laughs at a funny snippet and I’m relieved because although her body is failing her, she is still Supergran.

Sometimes, in trying to keep to normal plans, you can inadvertently find longer periods of light. This morning I had a work meeting. It was pretty difficult to get my head in the game but I was glad that I did because I came out feeling excited. I met with my Voluntary Adoption Agency ‘boss’ and a Manager from a local RAA (Regional Adoption Agency) about rolling out my Communication Workshops to a wider audience. It is really heartening that people are seeing the role that Speech and Language Therapy can play in adoption and are buying into the benefits of offering communication training to adopters.

During the meeting we also discussed how our VAA are aiming to provide support packages at the point of a child being placed with adopters, instead of waiting until families reach crisis point. I love this proactive approach, especially given the experiences of Twitter friends in trying to access Post Adoption Support at all. Going forwards, I should be able to provide Speech and Language Therapy (SaLT) for children as part of these packages, as and where it is required. I feel very proud and lucky to be associated with this type of quality, person-centred provision. It is in stark contrast to the reactive and limited service we have received from our local SaLT team (something which I could do without trying to tackle with everything else going on).

Something else that happens at dark times is that you find out how good your support network really is. We are lucky that a significant part of our network is my parents. They are consistently there apparently always poised to sweep in when they are needed. It is almost as though they are privy to some sort of invisible Bat Signal. So far this week they have helped me decorate (yes, still trying to get that done), tried to tackle my neglected washing pile and provided a lot of babysitting for either or both Bears. They have also taken up the mantle of worrying about Gary and are feeding her a proper meal this evening, in place of me being able to because if she comes here, she will probably catch something. It is not that I have abandoned cleanliness but that we are being plagued by a very annoying virus that just will not go away…

I could certainly do without The Virus as it is not helping with the doomful feeling one jot. Big Bear was poorly last week and had a few days off school. He made it back in on Tuesday, seeming to be on the mend but was then sent home again on Wednesday. I have kept him off the rest of the week in a bid to finally rid him of the germs. This morning, on the way back from my meeting, I got a phone call from school saying that Little Bear was not himself at all and could I come and get him too.

I feel bad saying this but I really needed them to be at school this week and I’m keeping every crossable part of my body crossed that they are in next week. Usually the boys are my main focus and everything revolves around them. It feels very odd that a situation is happening in which they have been slightly knocked off the top spot. It is undoubtedly hard for them as they are not used to me leaving them often but at the moment I’m disappearing to take a phone call or to visit Supergran fairly frequently. I know that they are fine because they are only ever with my parents or Gary and I mostly feel as though they need to get on with it as this is what real life is like sometimes. However I have also had moments of motherly guilt where I feel I’m abandoning them.

I think what I’m trying to say is that them being off school has both added to the darkness and provided some unexpected light. It has added to the darkness because as I am rather distracted by sadness and worry, I am not finding it very easy to parent therapeutically. I also find alone time very restorative and I have not had that valuable space this week. And well, the decorating!

All that said I have had a lovely time with them this afternoon. I have had loads of cuddles from Little Bear who just wanted to sit on my lap and told me he loved me way more than usual. Both Bears have been quite calm and we spent one lovely evening doing jigsaws (completely unheard of). Little Bear really struggled with his resilience but I did manage to be therapeutic at that point and helped him to complete the jigsaw in spite of him losing his temper every time a piece didn’t fit on the first attempt and him launching it across the room. It was worth it to see the pride on his little face and to see him wanting to do them all again straight away. Jigsaws seem to have become a bit of a trend now and Big Bear sat at the table for ages today completing a big one.

I also love it when the Bears want to get paper and pens out and sit like angels (!) at the kitchen table drawing things. They have done that this afternoon.

When I was in junior school there was a trend for marbling. You filled a school tray with water then poured coloured inks into it. If you swirled it about a bit then carefully placed a piece of paper onto it, the paper came out all mottled and swirled and usually pretty (in my 9 year old opinion). I feel as though we are in one of those trays at the moment and somebody has been a bit heavy-handed with the black ink before giving us a haphazard swirling. We are currently wading through the dark bits. Sometimes it seems that that is all there is but we keep wading because you have to and because I know that if we keep looking, we will find chinks, swirls and even big open spaces of light.

Nothing is all darkness, there is light to be found.

 

PS I know I keep moaning about the decorating but even that has some plus sides: the house is edging slowly closer to actually being finished (which will one day make me very happy) and there is nothing like a physical task to help relieve stress. Oh and the inside of my cupboard is fuchsia pink. I should have mentioned that first because it’s AMAZING.

 

Light and Dark

Juggling

I tried to write a jaunty blog post yesterday because last week I promised positivity and also because I wasn’t feeling quite myself and I thought it would cheer me up. Now that I’ve read it back I’ve realised that it sounds like a person trying really hard to be upbeat but not quite achieving it and for that reason comes across as quite fake. As much as my default is to try to put a positive spin on things I do also feel strongly that my blog should be honest and representative of our real life. With that in mind, here is the honest version of how things are at the moment (cue a massive juggling analogy).

Any parent knows that managing day to day life is a big juggling act. You have a whole array of balls that you need to keep in the air at any one time. There are the ones everybody has: making sure there is food in the cupboards, meals on the table, clean clothes in wardrobes and a house that is vaguely tidy and clean. There is the keeping your children and any pets you might have alive ball. There is the making sure you have a card/ present as appropriate for any relevant birthdays/ weddings/ christenings/ funerals/ new homes ball. There is the making sure you give enough attention to your friends/ family ball. There is the work ball. For me that is currently self-employed work which means going out and finding work and selling myself. I’m loving it and getting lots of job satisfaction but nevertheless I have to make sure it fits in with everything else.

There is the stuff logistics ball – has each person got what they need for today’s activity? Is the reading book in the book bag? Is the football kit clean and dry? Where exactly have the shin pads gone?

There is the parenting nitty gritty ball. Are your children happy? Have you done enough reading with them? When exactly did you last remember to wash them? I find they take turns to give me the most concern but parenting Little Bear is represented by a larger ball than the other things so far in this analogy. Parenting him involves a lot more analysis and unpicking of behaviour. I have to be on my toes. In yesterday’s jaunty post I wrote this sentence: “behaviour-wise nobody has said “could we have a word” for a while” and then I went to pick him up from school and his teacher said that very phrase. Little Bear had, out of nowhere, had the worst day he has ever had in school. He was in trouble at lunch time for spitting milk in children’s faces and slapping them on the head. His behaviour didn’t improve back in the classroom and he had more ‘thinking time’ than anything else. He also tried to jab some children in the face with scissors. Hearing that list of behaviours in reference to your child is never a positive experience. I then added “talk to Little Bear and try to figure out what on earth is going on” to my list of things to juggle that night.

This morning I reminded him about our chat, saying “please don’t stab any children with scissors today”. In a voice trying to come across as very reasonable, Little Bear replied “I wasn’t stabbing mummy, I was trying cut their heads off and find their (Adam’s) apple”. Add in a ball of concern about the future and well, just general concern.

Sometimes, due to the size and weight of Little Bear’s ball, it can throw out the whole juggling act. Sometimes it takes all my energy to keep from harming him. Sometimes the whole family can be impacted if he is having a bad day. We have moments when it seems as though his weighty ball could knock all the others to the floor and scatter them about. I always have a keeping going no matter what ball and a therapeutic parenting ball up my sleeve though, just in case.

Parenting Little Bear also involves keeping on top of appointments with other agencies such as Audiology, Educational Psychology and Speech and Language Therapy. It involves keeping up to date with where his development is at and figuring out ways to overcome any difficulties he might be having. For example he was really struggling with learning to blend sounds together for reading so I tried lots of different ways of working on it, before realising that his auditory memory was not sufficiently developed to hold three sounds in it e.g. ‘c’ ‘a’ and ‘t’. I realised that he would never be able to blend until he could do that so had to figure out ways of developing his auditory memory. I love the challenges he poses me and I love being able to help him overcome them. Nevertheless, keeping on top of Little Bear’s development is another ball that I juggle.

Occasionally the other services involved do not meet Little Bear’s needs in the way they should and I have to advocate for him. Last week I wrote about our experiences of the local Speech and Language Therapy Service which led to the addition of another ball: making a formal complaint. For interests’ sake I have not yet received a response…

Grizzly helps of course with this whole juggling act where he can but he has an exercise ball sized work ball that he has to keep in the air.

Generally I would say that we have the above juggling act covered. Of course I haven’t mentioned internal pressures such as the trying to keep vaguely in shape ball (10,000 steps a day and as little sugar as possible. That’s the plan anyway…), the keep the blog up to date ball, the try to get a book published ball, the should we start a craft business ball. There are many more but I won’t bore you with them, you know the kind of things I mean.

There are quite a few balls in the juggling act but we’re used to it and in the most part everything works pretty well.

What has happened recently is that we seem to have gathered some extra balls. Some are self-inflicted, some unexpected but they have threatened to topple the whole act.

The main thing that we have added is the lets build an extension ball. It seemed like a good idea at the time and the end result will undoubtedly be brilliant and I will be going around marvelling at its beauty for months after its completion. However in the meantime it has meant adding in a manage all the workmen ball. I have to say that we have been very lucky and they have all been very personable. However, there have been the sorts of issues you would expect such as electricians turning up before you’ve had chance to plan where you want the sockets and turning off the power just as you are trying to cook the boys’ tea. There have been a lot of pressured decision balls and trying to remain calm in the face of builders telling you they’ve discovered a massive problem balls. There has been a whole additional layer of people and stuff management.

Thankfully the building part is now finally finished but I have instead added in a do your own decorating ball. I will be pleased with myself afterwards but at the moment I’m not too enthusiastic about it.

Little Bear has an upcoming birthday. Add in an organise a party ball and buy him some presents ball.

The things that have been pelted in like curveballs started with Gary (Grizzly’s Mum) being taken to A and E. You can read about that in A Mini Crisis. Add in a worrying about Gary ball. She stayed with us for a week then when she was barely back on her feet, the next crisis hit. Supergran, Grizzly’s elderly gran was taken into hospital. She has now been there for 12 days and is potentially very poorly. She is having more tests next week. Add in a trying to fit in regular visits to the hospital ball.

It is no secret that I adore Supergran. I think everybody does because she is a very likeable person. She may be 50 years my senior but we have lots of things in common and I very much do not want her to be poorly. Visiting has mostly been good in that we have chatted and joked and I have felt able to cheer her a little. However, Gary and I had a not so good visit this week. Supergran was uncomfortable and it was distressing for both of us. Add in a ball of worry and upset about one of my very favourite people.

Add in a Big Bear is off school with Tonsillitis ball.

At times this week I have felt the weight of all the balls above me. It is getting harder to juggle them: there are quite clearly too many. However, I’m hoping that honesty is the best policy. I don’t think that adding in a pretend everything is fine when it isn’t ball will help. The plan is to gently lay down all but the essential balls over the weekend and indulge in a bit of rest and self-care. The stress is doing bad things for my shopping habit and I’ve fallen right off the no-sugar wagon after a couple of years of being on it. I think for this weekend I will try not to concern myself over that. I just need a little break. When Monday comes around, I will roll up my sleeves, gather the balls and juggle again.

 

Juggling