The Building Work is Finished!

Here’s the thing: I can’t think about sensible, important things all the time. It’s tiring. I don’t watch the News because it’s frankly terrifying, though these days you can’t really escape international acts of terror or crazy world leaders or snap elections even if you try. I usually focus my brain space on important things happening closer to home: my family, the children’s education, any adoption-related issues we are having etc. But even then it can be hard work analysing and cogitating and wondering all the time. If I’m honest, and at the risk of sounding shallow, sometimes I just want to think about making things look nice…

I love colour and pattern and genuinely believe that if I wear things and surround myself with things that I enjoy the look of, I will feel happier. It’s not a vanity thing; it’s a creativity thing I think, especially as I’m not bothered what other people think of my choices. As long as me and the other Bears like it we’re all good. I think that thinking of outfits and decorating choices is probably actually a form of self-care for me.

This week has been a bit topsy-turvy as everyone has been feeling poorly and my brain just fancies a bit of making-things-look-nice self-care, so what better time to share the pictures of our FINALLY completed building work?

We have been working on the house pretty much constantly since last summer. You can read about the first phase of building, when we cut a bit off our L-shaped living room and knocked the kitchen wall down to make an open plan family room here: July at Adoption: The Bear Facts. This work left us with a brilliant family friendly living/ dining/ kitchen space at the back of the house. It also left us with a weird miniscule room at the front of the house that wasn’t in any way practical or useable. It was mainly used for storing bits of furniture and tons of boxes of books. We applied for planning permission to extend out the front of the house to fill in the space between the tiny front room and our porch which used to jut further out.

Building work on the second phase started in October/November and has really only just been fully completed. Although the work to make the family room was more major and affected our living areas more, it only took 6 weeks from the beginning to being completely done and it was fairly stress free. The second phase has in comparison felt like it has taken FOREVER and been a marathon. Towards the end of the project, I was feeling quite stressed and wrote about it in Juggling. It is therefore a massive relief that we are done.

For those of you out there who also love looking at stuff here is what it looks like now:

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The tiny front room has become a second living room and office area. All the books are out of their boxes and happily residing on shelves. I am VERY excited that I now have an ‘office’ (what I actually mean by that is ‘a place to keep my extensive stationery collection’!). I also love having more shelves that I can display my collections on and fiddle with and make look nice. So far I have mainly only managed to LOOK at my office and definitely need more time to be in it, working.

As part of the work we also decided to fill in our open porch. This has made our hall bigger and meant we had to re-decorate it. I was pleased about that because we could finally get rid of the tester patches I had painted all over the place in a fit of foolhardiness several years ago. Everywhere is now quite grey but is very much brightened up by our new mustard front door.

We used the space from the porch to create a cupboard. That sounds ridiculously dull but it has changed my life because we no longer walk straight into a wall draped with hundreds of coats and there is no need for shoes to be scattered ALL over the house. I did also paint the cupboard fuchsia pink and put yellow hooks up so it is a very happy cupboard.

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 The last few weeks have involved a huge spring clean and sort out while we have been trying to move everything back around the house again from the places we had been temporarily storing it in. I am still striving for whole-house order and tidiness but I’m not sure it will ever be achieved in a house full of boys. Apart from that, there is one last job to be done. We need a new carpet for the stairs… Obviously I have set my heart on a bright patterned one to lift the grey walls and it sadly doesn’t seem to exist. Well, it does, in the form of the most expensive carpet in the shop that unfortunately does not have any redeeming features such as being impervious to dirt. If anyone knows where to get a manmade pink spotty carpet that will not break the bank I will love you forever*.

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*By the way I totally realise that this is a “first world problem” and that there are far more important things that I should probably be concerning myself with, but it would look fabulous.

 

 

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The Building Work is Finished!

My Monthly Round-up: May

I’m not sure how it has happened but ANOTHER month has passed and it’s time to sit back and reflect on all the best bits.

As ever we have been busy: new work projects, ongoing home projects, school, preschool, beginnings of school transition, parties, playdates etc.

A big project for me was finally delivering my Early Communication Workshop which I had been working on for some time. I wrote all about it in This week I… ran my first communication workshop for adopters..

Little Bear’s school place was confirmed in mid-April and his pre-school key worker wasted no time in beginning the transition process for us – she had a meeting arranged with his school by the end of the day on which we received the confirmation! I am so grateful that she is so proactive and that we have such an effective working relationship. If only I could bottle her and keep her with him for the next few years of school…

This month we had the said meeting at school. I think it went quite well, though the teacher did seem a bit rushed. I’m a little unsure. However, Little Bear’s current keyworker did a good job of sharing information about him in an honest but positive way. She was very keen on the teacher coming to meet Little Bear as soon as possible and invited her to the preschool to spend some time with him and to get to know him. She has subsequently done that and it went pretty well. When I explained to Little Bear that his new teacher was coming to meet him, he said he wouldn’t show her around his pre-school and he wouldn’t play with her! Thankfully, this was all talk and he was friendly towards her on the occasion.

Little Bear will take part in the same visits as the other new children in July but he will also get a Social Story and photographs to look at over the summer. And his new teacher is going to visit him again soon.

At the transition meeting I found out that there will be 15 children in the class and 4 of them are adopted!! I find this quite an amazing and unlikely statistic but what a brilliant way of making adoption seem “normal”.

In other news, my brother has been home for the month, after 6 months overseas. Although Little Bear had met him and spent quite a bit of time with him before he went away, I think he was confused when he returned and muddled him up with one of our friends. The familiarity was still there though and both boys have been very happy to have him back. We have had some lovely family time – a day exploring and building log bridges in the forest; a trip to the park with high jinks on the rope swing (mostly Grizzly!); football and trampoline fun in the garden. I even managed a civilised day out with my parents and bro for a bit of shopping and lunch while the boys were at school. (I am certainly enjoying getting a whole day of freedom each week and very much making the most of it! There is only so much shopping and lunching you can do without feeling a teensy bit guilty though so this week I spent my day gardening and doing house jobs. So sensible!).

Sadly my brother and his girlfriend are off on their travels again next week but they are toying with the idea of coming back permanently and might settle not too far away… Fingers crossed.

I used another of my Wednesdays to spend some time with Grizzly’s Gran. She’s 85 but young at heart and it’s always lovely to have some quality time with her. She shares my love of writing, shopping and colour so there is always a lot to chat about. She is quite naughty too and the subject of Simon Cowell’s bottom did feature!

Little Bear and I have continued to enjoy our Mummy Days and I have noticed that I have got much braver about where I will take him on my own. In the early days I would need to psych myself up sometimes, depending on where we were going and how many things could possibly go wrong. However, his behaviour is much more consistent now and I think I’m more relaxed about managing his challenges in public. Yes, he will be noisy and he might be verbally rude but to some extent that’s par for the course. It doesn’t embarrass me generally as I know he’s trying his best and I feel that others need to accept him as he is. It does bother me if he hits out at other children but thankfully that is quite a rare occurrence.

We have tried out our local ice-cream farm and been for more adventures in the woods. I wrote about one of our mummy days in A Friday with Little Bear

Snapshots:

I haven’t included this before but sometimes a little snippet of an event or a moment stays in my mind, as though I have photographed it. There isn’t really a story to accompany it, it is just an image that creates an emotion or a memory that I want to cherish. Here are my May snapshots:

  • Little Bear laying on his back on the pavement while the puppy he just met licks his tummy and Little Bear giggles fit to burst
  • Little Bear lying on the grass in a big pile of pink blossom and he’s got bits of it stuck to his curls
  • Big Bear running across the hall after his assembly, encircling Little Bear in his arms and the two of them spinning around cuddling each other

Operation house improvements:

We have been busy gearing up for phase 2 of our house project. I talked about creating a playroom in April at Adoption: The Bear Facts. The next step is to create an open plan family room which will incorporate the kitchen, a dining space and a living space. As well as getting fed up of mess, we have begun to regret the choice of a pale coloured living room carpet and non-wipe-able sofas! It’s impossible to keep them looking nice with two boys and two cats so it’s time for them to go. The new plan involves wooden floor and leather sofas. I’m thinking practical but beautiful.

The new plan also involves knocking down a wall and building a new wall. It involves workmen being on site for approx. 3 weeks. The original thought had been to wait until September as the level of disruption would probably be easier to manage with both boys at school full time. However, we had been thinking and planning for so long that we just wanted to get going. Plus neither of us is too good at waiting in general, we both end up feeling like we’re wasting time and life is already short enough. So true to form we are just going for it.

At the moment we are in the halfway house of having sold some furniture we didn’t need any more and having packed some things away for safe keeping. The living room is looking a little crazy as a result.

Today we had a window replaced with a French door which looks fab and will mean that we can finally take food directly outside from the new family room without having to trek through the utility room or through the playroom. Little Bear was VERY interested in what the guy was up to and kept saying “Man, what’s that?” and pointing at his tools. When he didn’t get a response he just said “Oi MAN!” as loud as he could. I had to explain several times not to touch specific things. Little Bear would then say “we no touch that” whilst pointing at it and yes, touching it with his finger. In the end I had to try to keep him upstairs but every time he heard any sort of noise he was jumping up and trying to see out of the window. I think I have an idea of how stressful those 3 weeks are going to be! I’ll tell you all about it in June’s round-up.

My Monthly Round-up: May

My partner in adoption

In the blogosphere I talk about my little bears all the time. I don’t talk so much about my largest bear, Grizzly, and I think he’s starting to feel left out. It’s his birthday this week so I thought it might be his turn to have a share of the limelight.

Grizzly and I have known each other nearly forever. Do we have the perfect relationship? Well I’m not sure that really exists but we have been lucky that time and life’s challenges have brought us closer together.

It has not always been so. The first year of Big Bear’s life was extremely challenging for us. We were unable to communicate effectively with one another and we disagreed on crucial issues such as how to manage Big Bear’s significant difficulties with sleep. Although living under one roof, we somehow muddled through that period quite separately; neither gaining the support we felt we needed from the other.

As bad as that sounds, we can look back and reflect that it did wonders for our marriage and in fact our ability to parent together. We learned a lot about communication and honesty, both of which have helped us hugely with adopting.

When it came to adoption, there was never any disagreement. It was something we had both wanted to do for several years. We did differ on the timing – Grizzly got there first. As an only child, he had always wanted more than one. I needed a little longer – a bit of a break once Big Bear was at school, but Grizzly made sure not to pressure or rush me. I think he knew I would be ready soon enough.

The adoption process helped us to reflect on our relationship. I had worried it would highlight flaws or chinks but in fact it reinforced the positives. The process did challenge our roles within the relationship though. I had always taken the lead in organising us – booking holidays, knowing where things were etc. This was quite a lot due to Grizzly having somewhat of a reputation for losing things. I recently heard him advising Big Bear “put things in the same place each time then you won’t lose them”. I couldn’t help but point out later on that Grizzly didn’t know about this gem of advice when he was 6 or when he was 26 either. There is the tale of the lost cheque book (found sometime later rolled up in a shoe under the bed); the lost passport (shoved inside a book on the overflowing book case, just don’t ask which one); the frequently mislaid keys and work pass; the almost missed flights due to loss of said passport.

However, when it came to the adoption paperwork, Grizzly could lay his hand on anything we needed in a matter of seconds. It didn’t matter if Little Bear’s disorganised Social Worker had misplaced something, Grizzly would have a copy safely stored. And the never-ending form filling which made me feel claustrophobic from the sheer volume of paper was no bother to Grizzly. Who knew? He had been super organised the whole time.

It also turned out that I was purely rubbish at the admin side of things and that my “filing” gave Grizzly a headache. Needless to say I have been more than happy to relinquish that aspect of household duty since!

In retrospect I shouldn’t have been surprised that Grizzly is so efficient and organised with paperwork. He does after all have a very sensible and senior job and is a proud provider for us as a family.

It is just that, in real life, no one would describe Grizzly as “sensible”. I am a worrier and a planner. He just does stuff and deals with the consequences as and when they happen. I don’t mean irresponsible things, I mean things like taking Little Bear to Big Bear’s swimming lesson then wondering how to entertain him for half an hour next to open water. The kinds of things that I would stay awake thinking through the night before.

It makes Grizzly more spontaneous and probably more fun than me. He’s the one who will see a rope swing over a lake and just get on it (I’d worry about falling in). He’s the one who parked in a muddy field at the zoo and said “it’ll be fine” then had to spend half an hour trying to push us out again, wearing a children’s elf hat as protection against the torrential rain (yes, hilarious). He’s the one who will say “why not? What’s the worst that could happen?” (I’ll be somewhere behind him reeling off a list).

When it came to the adoption matching process, we were both clear on what issues we could and could not deal with. This was definitely a time when complete honesty helped.

In the early days of introductions, I felt a little more confident than Grizzly. I think the years of working with children with complex needs had prepared me somewhat for Little Bear’s challenging behaviours. It wasn’t long though before I had a wobble and Grizzly became my support. We have pretty much continued to take it in turns as to who is feeling the most stressed/ least bonded/ most shattered. Thankfully we have rarely felt rubbish at the same time.

As ridiculous as it sounds, what got us through the early weeks of placement was our daily “meeting”. Don’t worry, we didn’t prepare an agenda or write minutes but we did sit down together at the end of each day and dissect the day’s events. What had gone well? What hadn’t? What were we definitely avoiding tomorrow? Was there something we needed to weave into our routines that might help? We talked about specific incidents and how we had handled them. We debated different strategies and agreed which we would use next time.

This was invaluable because it meant we were 100% united in our behaviour management and there was a high level of consistency between us. I’m sure this has helped Little Bear to learn the boundaries, rules and routines more quickly.

We no longer have an official “meeting” but if something significant has happened or one of us is fed up or is particularly excited about something, we still have a catch up in the evening – no TV or phones, just a chat.

This is the part that impresses me most about single adopters – not managing all the practical stuff alone but managing it all without a resident sounding board. Someone who truly “gets it” and has the time and energy to discuss the minutiae of parenting our little people.

Something else that has helped is that whilst we are both reflective and put everything we can into supporting our boys, we also don’t like to be too serious. Grizzly has, at times, quite a wicked sense of humour. People often don’t know whether he is joking or not and it’s fair to say that he takes the p***. There is a lot of laughter in our house. Sometimes we laugh at inappropriate things but I think that can be a valid coping strategy. We still do impressions of Little Bear’s Paediatrician and frequently reminisce about funny things that the boys have done – like when Little Bear used to say “I’m going to shoot poo” instead of ‘shoot you’ or when Big Bear refused to go through a door because it said “assistance dogs only”.

Grizzly is fun and really just a big kid. It means that children love him (not just our own) especially as he has lots of energy for playing when the rest of us are having a cup of tea and a sit down.

It is absolutely the case that I wouldn’t want to travel this journey with anyone else. Yes, sometimes I feel as though I have three children. Yes, they are all incredibly noisy. Yes, Grizzly gets everybody overexcited and just says whatever comes into his head but he is the best daddy they could possibly have and I would be lost on this adoption journey without him.

 

 

 

 

My partner in adoption

Happy?

The Little Bear we first met was furious, nearly all the time. He had a permanent scowl on that gorgeous little face and body language to match. His hands were frequently screwed into little fists. Everything was an affront to him and he was only ever a few seconds from meltdown. He could be aggressive and even banged his head against hard objects in temper.

Although the ferocity of his feelings came as quite a shock to us (Big Bear certainly wasn’t ready to see a small angry person smacking his mum around the face), it wasn’t really a surprise. I mean Little Bear had plenty on his plate to feel confused and angry about. After all, he was about to be uprooted from everything he knew and move hundreds of miles away.  He was leaving the people he knew as Mummy and Daddy (the foster carers) and had just had final contact with his other Mummy and Daddy (birth parents) and was getting, well, a new Mummy and Daddy. Pretty confusing as things go.

I don’t think it was all about that though. From the scant information we had, we got the impression he wasn’t exactly filled with the joys of spring before the whole adoption thing happened.

Some of it could have been frustration. Little Bear has significant difficulties with speech and language. Most 3 year olds can speak in full sentences and hold a conversation. Little Bear could talk but he didn’t have enough language to express himself. He couldn’t ask questions about what was happening, he couldn’t tell us he missed somebody or something; he couldn’t tell us what he was angry about. And if I’m being really frank, I don’t think he was used to people talking to him much at all….

Little Bear was used to being alone and doing what he fancied. It was a version of the life of Riley but I believe that no child benefits from a life without limits. Consistent boundaries make children feel safe. Little Bear was in charge of his own survival and it was scary for him.

Although he was used to getting up to all sorts of monkey business and this provided him with entertainment (and would be a difficult habit to break), I’m not sure how much FUN he was having. I don’t know how often he saw something new or interesting. I don’t know how often something made him smile or really laugh until he nearly wet his pants (well, his nappy, but that’s another story). I don’t know how happy he was.

Two things stick in my mind that Professionals have said to me during our adoption journey. Firstly, children’s emotional development tends to halt whilst they are in foster care – nothing to do with the quality of the care but because on some level they know it to be a temporary arrangement (even if they are too young to be cognisant of this). Their development begins again when and if they feel settled somewhere permanent.

Secondly, I remember our social worker saying that you will know when a child is happy and settled because they often grow, look healthier and flourish physically and developmentally. This seemed like made up science at the time but when Little Bear grew 5 half shoe sizes in 4 months and began busting out of all his clothes that had previously drowned him, I began to see the truth in it.

So is he happy now? Well, there are no miracles but he is certainly happIER. The head-banging disappeared after a couple of weeks. The scowl has been put away and only comes out now and again. The fists are still there and as long as they don’t make contact with anybody else, there isn’t a problem. In fact, we have encouraged him to squeeze his fists as a means of self-regulation. This seems to work for him and has reduced hitting incidents significantly.

Although Little Bear does still get angry (don’t we all?), it is far less frequently and much less ferocious. It is now mostly growling and stomping off, with the occasional “shut up” thrown in for good measure. Little Bear’s overall demeanour is very different now – in fact sometimes it’s hard to recognise him as the same child. Previously mostly angry, he is now mostly calm and happy.

He loves to have fun and he loves new places and experiences and throws himself fully into whatever we might be doing.

Certainly to start with he was happiest outside where he was unencumbered by the constraints of all the things you aren’t allowed to do inside. He was at his best somewhere big, open and safe, where he didn’t need to be restrained by handholding and could wander free, touching and exploring until his sensory needs were sated.

He still loves to be outside, preferably knee deep in mud or water but he has learned the joy of toys and can now be equally as happy inside, with an adult or brother by his side, zooming cars around the floor or pretending to be a superhero.

He looks forward to preschool and is generally settled there too (there have been incidents but that’s for another day) and we are always greeted by a big smile when he sees us at pick up time.

For one so small, I actually think Little Bear is very tuned in to happiness – his own and that of others. In a moment of possibly less than therapeutic parenting, Grizzly once said “I’m not too happy with you right now” and this idea seems to have stuck with Little Bear. Following a misdemeanour he will often say “you not happy Mum?”. Conscious of not wanting to parent with shame or make Little Bear feel responsible for our happiness, I now tell him I love him and that I’m really happy he came to live with us. I assure him that just seeing him makes me happy. Which is true.

Lots of things about having Little Bear make me happy: seeing him learn and develop before my very eyes; when he sneaks into bed for a cuddle in the morning – all tousled hair and saggy nappy; when he and Big Bear mess about and make each other hysterical and my very favourite, when he and Big Bear snuggle up together on the sofa and watch You’ve Been Framed and laugh like they are going to wet themselves at people falling over and ferrets jumping into bins.

I’d love to say that some other things, apart from my boys,  that make me happy are going out to a gig of some very en pointe band or dancing at an exclusive club, but the truth is that the things that make me happy these days are very uncool. As well as beautiful stationery and good storage (!), when I look inside my extremely tidy airing cupboard – which I tidied in a mad fit in preparation for a social work visit, because you never know – I am very happy. I am ecstatic if I can see the bottom of either laundry basket as it means my valiant attempts at winning the washing war have finally resulted in victory. The Holy Grail would be to pair up every one of the many, many odd socks that seem to be purposefully ganging up on me. I have never achieved that one. But if only I could…. Happiness Nirvana.

Happy?