Re-visiting the CPR

Last week Little Bear was really struggling. We’d had a lovely first 4 or 5 weeks of the summer holiday and then suddenly there was a sea-change. Little Bear was just so angry. He could barely contain himself. A request like ‘please tidy the game away’ led to ten minutes of growling, gritted teeth and very elaborate deep breathing. He hated me several times per day and called me an ‘idiot’ countless times. It was obvious something was the matter but it was difficult to say what. With it being a week or so before school starting again I assumed it was anxiety for that.

On the Friday, Big Bear was busy doing something else so Little Bear and I had a day out on our own. It was one of those trips where I wasn’t really feeling it because I knew it could be a really difficult day and sitting around watching TV seemed quite a lot more appealing. However, having now been Little Bear’s mum for three years, I also knew that he needed that day out. He needed me to show him that I still really loved him and wanted to be with him, of my own choosing, despite him having a rotten week and being less than pleasant to me. I took a deep breath, reminded myself there were only a few more days before I got Five Minutes Peace and off we went.

We didn’t get off to a brilliant start because the road we usually use was shut so I had to turn around and go another way. In his fragile state this really bothered Little Bear. He announced the day was ruined and we should just go home. He protested all the way there that we now had to drive on a motorway and he hated motorways. Apparently it was the worst day ever.

However, once we were there, we had fun. We played at the park and because there was only he and I, it was easy to trail him and just follow him wherever he fancied going. We saw animals, went on a little train, had a go on an inflatable slide. We’d brought a picnic and I was surprised that Little Bear wasn’t in a hurry to eat and go. He wanted to hang out on the rug for a while so he played on my phone and we snuggled. It was lovely and I guiltily thought about my feelings from before we came out. We had ice cream and painted some pottery.

When Little Bear got tired we headed for home. Then, boom! In the car: an unexpected life story chat. A big one this time. Could this have been behind his behaviour all week?

Little Bear was thinking in particular about his birth siblings whom we only have annual Letterbox contact with. We have talked about them before and looked at their pictures but then months go by and Little Bear doesn’t say anything and I wonder whether he has remembered any of the chats. Well, he has. He’s remembered everything and I suspect he ruminates on it all a lot more than he lets on.

He told me he had been dreaming about them which is interesting because I recently read that our pre-verbal memories can appear in our dreams. He told me he misses them and got tearful. It was hard trying to explain why he can’t see them. I told him about Letterbox for the first time though and I think this year he will be able to get involved.

I was hit with a realisation: we might need to explore changing our contact agreements going forwards. It isn’t really ok that he can’t see his siblings, is it? To some extent we have been able to pretend they don’t exist – out of sight out of mind. Little Bear has previously not mentioned them or shown any understanding of who they are so that seemed ok. Although, really, it isn’t ok. They are his siblings. They do exist and now he has a sense that they should be together.

I feel it’s imperative that we listen to him and that, if necessary, we are willing to challenge current arrangements. The message from adult adoptees is loud and clear: listen to us, do not deny us our roots. I think for us to be the best parents to Little Bear we can be, we need to be willing to listen to what he wants, even if it is difficult or inconvenient for us.

Grizzly and I had a big chat later on. It would be easy to react immediately and to try to set the ball rolling. However, there are many things that need to be considered. Allowing direct contact with Little Bear’s siblings could risk leading their birth parents right to us. At the moment, being anonymous and in an unknown location feels important. What could be the possible consequences of taking that risk? It’s hard to say and near impossible to predict with the information we have.

Also, it is very difficult to communicate the difference between an idea and the reality of a situation to a 6 year old. Meeting the siblings would be a huge deal. I know he sort of remembers them but they would essentially be strangers and it could be extremely overwhelming for him. At this stage he wouldn’t be able to tell you which name went with which person. Perhaps a bit more of a connection needs to be built first.

For now we are going to hold the nugget of the idea in mind. We’ll involve Little Bear in Letterbox and, happily, we’ll be able to give him the reply this time. I think we’ll see how that goes before we jump in any further.

That was only part of the big conversation though. The enormous question of ‘why did my birth mum want to give me away?’ reared its head for the first time. I explained she hadn’t wanted to and how it all works. I very quickly exhausted the basic narrative that has covered his questions so far: your birth parents weren’t good at looking after children. Then I had another realisation: if he asked me more questions about details of exactly what happened I might not be able to answer them very well. My memory of the details (beyond the content of his Life Story Book) was fuzzy to say the least. If anything, I’m guilty of creating some sort of weird rose-tinted view of his birth parents. I have them painted as a victim of their circumstances and that they hadn’t actively done much wrong. I had even got to the point of wondering why the children had been removed when they were trying their best.

My strange little internal view of them was at odds with what I know about how child protection services work. It didn’t stack up. So I realised I had better go back to the paperwork and refresh my memory of the details of what really happened.

So that’s how Grizzly and I ended up sitting here, in our pyjamas, on a Friday night, when most people are out-out or watching Netflix, pouring over Little Bear’s CPR (Child Permanence Report – the lengthy report you are given about your adoptive child that gives the full history of how they ended up in Care).

It was much worse than I remembered.

I haven’t read it for more than 3 years and when I read it last time, I hadn’t even met Little Bear. I suspect that what I looked for in it was quite different to my current viewpoint. Then, I was alert to how many times he’d moved, what things had specifically happened to him, whether mum used drugs or alcohol. I suppose I was looking for red flags. I probably didn’t pay too much attention to the bits about his siblings because they weren’t going to be adopted. Because Little Bear was the youngest, there wasn’t a lot about him specifically in the report. However, now that I’m reading a report about my youngest son, not a child I haven’t met yet, I’m attuned to other clues. This time, I wanted to get an idea of his birth parents (an accurate one) and what the home environment was really like. I needed to know about the reality of their day to day lives. Who are these people? How do they tick? What were the risks back then? What are the risks likely to be now?

The picture I now have of them is much less rosy, let’s just say that.

This time I paid much more attention to the siblings – what had they been through, how were they likely to be coping now? The thing is that they aren’t just random children who don’t matter to us; they are our son’s siblings. They do matter. In fact, the journey of one in particular is hard to read and it was the bits about them at which I cried, not any of the bits about Little Bear.

I don’t think the birth parents can really change to any dramatic degree. I don’t think they have the capacity to change the things that would make a difference. Things for the siblings though are very much subject to change. A lot is going to depend on the care and guidance they have now. They could be a product of their earlier childhoods or they may have been able to overcome that early adversity. They could gravitate back to birth parents or take their lives on a completely opposing course. We don’t know. I don’t know if we’ll ever know but if we go down the route of increasing contact, we’ll need to ask some questions. There is certainly a fine balance between giving your child access to their past and keeping them safe in the present and future.

For the first time I feel the weight of responsibility of being a custodian of Little Bear’s story. The choices we make now and the things we do or don’t do could have a huge impact on how Little Bear will feel about being adopted in the future. I read so much about adoptees feeling marginalised and misunderstood that obviously I want to avoid the mistakes they feel were made for them. At the same time, I feel the pain of their adopters who no doubt wracked their brains and their hearts, as we do, trying their best to figure out what the right decisions are.

 

*I have absolutely no idea how I managed to create a rose-tinted view of LB’s birth parents. Perhaps it was subconsciously more palatable? Either way, I can highly recommend revisiting the CPR at moments of doubt, even if I was haunted by some of the information for a couple of days afterwards.

 

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Re-visiting the CPR

Beginnings of Life Story Work

Little Bear has now been with us for 16 months but we are just in the fledgling stages of talking about his life story.

In the early days together Little Bear did not have enough language to ask any questions or to understand any explanations we might have tried to give about many things, least of all his complex start in life. We kept a photo of him with his foster carers, Karen and Bob (not their real names) in his bedroom as a starting point and as a way of showing him there was something else before us. He looked at it sometimes and we talked about Karen and Bob openly: about things Little Bear had done at their house; about things we had done when we first met him there; about whether he might be missing them. After a few months he would sometimes say that he was going to go back to them. I wrote about that phase in I’ll stay. No, I’ve changed my mind..

I think Little Bear has always understood that he is adopted, even if he didn’t necessarily know that that was the word for it. I think he knows he didn’t always live here and can certainly remember being at Karen and Bob’s. I don’t think he can remember anything before that. For the majority of Little Bear’s time with us, this has been the extent of his life story knowledge. He hasn’t asked many questions and just seems to accept that he lives here now.

About 6 or 7 months ago we received Little Bear’s Life Story Book. Although we had had our criticisms of his Social Work Team I have to give them their due and say that they’ve done a great job on his book. We are very lucky, not least because he actually has a book, but also because it is nicely personalised and his birth parents have provided quite a lot of photographs for it, including scan and baby pictures.

I remember feeling a little freaked out when I first saw the book. It was partly because it was the first time I had seen photos of his birth parents and stupidly I wasn’t prepared for that. It was also because we hadn’t yet dipped our toes into the life story pond and it felt as though the book itself might have dormant chaos-inducing powers that could manifest if Little Bear so much as looked at it.

Our social worker, ever direct and sensible, told us to stop shilly-shallying and get on with showing it to him. With her words ringing in my ears I plucked up the courage and showed Little Bear the book. If the book does have hidden powers they are on the blink because he couldn’t have been less interested in it. I tried again a few days later but got the same response. I left it out where he could get it if he wanted to but he never did. Occasionally I would say “shall we look at your special book?” but this was always answered with a definite “no”.

Hoping we weren’t causing some sort of deep-seated harm, we followed our instincts and followed Little Bear’s lead. If he didn’t want to look at the book, we wouldn’t make him.

A couple of months ago, not long after Little Bear started school, he learned which month his birthday is in and went around proudly relaying the information. One day when we were in the car, Little Bear asked Big Bear when his birthday is. Then, as he does, he asked “why?”. I explained that was when Big Bear had come out of my tummy. I can’t remember whether Little Bear asked or whether I just took the opportunity to explain that he had not come out of my tummy, he was adopted: we had chosen him. Then he asked “did I come out of Karen’s tummy?”. I said “no, you came out of a lady called Sian’s tummy” (not her real name). That seemed to satisfy him and he didn’t ask anything further.

Last weekend our friends and their new born baby came to visit us. Little Bear loves babies and was keen to be the first one to get a hold. The visit must have triggered something as Little Bear started talking about T, a baby who was in foster care with him and whom he really misses.

A day or so later, Grizzly and Little Bear were playing upstairs and came across his memory box under our bed. As memory boxes go, I think it might be a bit rubbish. There isn’t much in it, mainly clothes and some items of unexplained significance. However, there was a photo of Little Bear with his birth siblings. He was very interested in it, particularly the aspect of seeing himself as a baby.

The next morning, at 7am when he woke and came into out room, Little Bear went straight to his memory box to look for the photo again. He wanted to show me and talk about his “friends”. I explained they were his “tummy brothers” because they had come out of Sian’s tummy too. I then had to right the confusion I had caused by explaining that they hadn’t all been in there at the same time. I was able to tell him their names which Little Bear was very interested in and he tried to learn them. I told him that they were in foster care like he used to be.

Little Bear didn’t want to put the picture back in the box so I let him chose a special place to keep it where he could find it if he wanted to. He has visited it again since.

When we got downstairs I offered his Special Book and this time he was very keen to look at it. We looked at Sian and Joseph (birth father) and I got myself in a bit of a tangle over what I was calling them. I kept saying “tummy mummy and daddy” to make it a bit clearer for Little Bear but Grizzly was in the background reminding me we had agreed on “Sian and Joseph”. The problem with life story work is that it is often thrust upon you when you are least expecting it and as we are only at the beginning I’m not that confident with what I’m saying or how to explain things yet.

As usual Little Bear took everything in his stride. He was most interested in seeing himself and then his foster carers. He was very happy when he found Big Bear, Grizzly and I and we looked at photos of some of the fun things we have got up to together. Little Bear didn’t show any recognition of Sian or Joseph and didn’t ask anything about them.

The whole time we were looking at the book Big Bear was hovering behind Little Bear’s shoulder. He seems very unsettled by all of the life story work, particularly talk of Little Bear’s birth siblings. I think it makes his position as Big Brother feel wobbly. He didn’t say anything afterwards but I can tell he would rather we never had to look at the book again.

I feel relieved that Little Bear’s story is more “out there” now. There never were any secrets but his lack of interest meant we didn’t discuss things much and I am aware that some of his peers are much more conversant with their stories than he is. However, I also feel reassured that our approach of drip-feeding information as and when opportunities arise is the right one for Little Bear and that we should continue to follow his lead.

I’m sure in the future the inevitable “why” questions will crop up and no doubt they will catch us unawares. I hope that we are able to find the right words when they do.

Beginnings of Life Story Work