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

Be Prepared

I’m no Boy Scout but, as an adopter, I do think it might be worthwhile nicking their motto. When you look up its meaning, Wikipedia says it means “you are always in a state of readiness in mind and body to do you duty”. Now, although I do not consider adoptive parenthood to be my ‘duty’, I have committed myself to it and do find myself in a constant state of readiness. I couldn’t tell you what I’m ready for necessarily (often a lie down in a darkened room) but I do tend to expect the unexpected.

I wouldn’t say that Little Bear is unpredictable. Well, I sort of would. He’s predictable in that I know the full range of behaviours he might display and I know him well enough to anticipate how events or states might impact him. I can often predict what he might do next or what he might say or how he might react. However, what none of us can really be sure of is what kind of day it is likely to be when he wakes up in the morning. I’m starting to realise that there can be quite a variance. Also, no matter how well we know Little Bear, he will always have the ability to occasionally throw in a curve ball or say or do something out of the blue. As well as this, even though I can often anticipate his behaviour, it is still the sort of behaviour you should be ready for. For example, if your child is a runner, you can’t go round being surprised when they run off. You won’t expect them to run off every second either but you will always have at the back of your mind that they might. You’ll be prepared to grab them or sprint after them, just in case.

On Sunday, I had a lovely afternoon with Little Bear. Big Bear had gone on a playdate then out for tea and to the cinema with Grizzly. Little Bear and I stayed at home. We got the Lego out and sat in the playroom for ages building things and pretending. Little Bear was calm and played happily with the same game for an hour or so. When I could tell he was tiring, I made him some tea and let him have it in front of the TV for a rest and also because his brother had gone to the cinema. Afterwards I ran him a bath and we had a big game of floating racing cars. He read his school book then I read to him. He chose Green Eggs and Ham and realised after a few pages that he could actually read that too. He kept saying “no, I can read this one Mum” in a slightly surprised tone and continued to prove his point until he had read the last 30 pages or so. He was an absolute joy. We had a lovely time. It felt like quality time. I felt he had benefitted from us being on our own. All was good. I really enjoyed him.

On Monday morning, I was lulled into a false sense of security. My prediction of Monday was based on Sunday’s rose tinted lenses. This was foolhardy. I should have been more prepared.

Monday wasn’t a really bad day but it was very different day. I’m pretty sure that Little Bear didn’t stop talking. At all. All day. I’ve read somewhere about ‘verbal scribble’ which is a very apt description. Little Bear verbally scribbled all the live long day. We went to the park. We wanted to walk. Little Bear wanted to play football. We played football then we walked. He didn’t want to walk. We were ready to leave for lunch. He didn’t want to leave or get out the tree. We went for lunch. He didn’t want lunch; he wanted to go to the park. You get the picture? Everything was a bit of a battle and he REALLY wanted to do a lot of things. Each time we did the thing, he REALLY wanted to do another thing. It was as though nothing satisfied him and he was constantly seeking life’s secret elixir, without any success. It was a tiring, trying of patience kind of day. It also involved loudness, constant interrupting, difficulty sitting still and a need to be fed otherwise eating wasn’t going to happen either.

I should have been prepared for the presence of dysregulation because it’s an omnipresent possibility. I’m not sure why I wasn’t but it’s certainly nicer to begin the day assuming you are going to enjoy your child rather than count down the minutes until bedtime.

Based on how Monday went, I wasn’t too excited about today. Grizzly was going to be at work and I was mostly going to be having 1:1 time with Little Bear.

This morning, he surprised me with one of those unexpected, out of the blue curveballs: a life story chat at 7am. There is nothing like a mention of birth siblings to wake you from a sleepy stupor and get your ‘be prepared to answer whatever array of questions might be coming your way hat’ on.

Life story work is one area I can’t really predict with Little Bear because it happens so infrequently. Months go by with no mention at all and then all of a sudden, bang, a big question when you least expect it. However, because we are adopters and because we know he might do this now and again, it is in the backs of our minds and we are sort of prepared for it in an expecting the unexpected kind of way. So today started with perusing of the life story book and the fishing out of some photos. I think the chat went okay. Little Bear seemed satisfied with his information and I didn’t go away deriding myself for having said the complete wrong thing.

We dropped Big Bear off at my Mum’s for his grandparent time and headed into town together. Having not had particularly high expectations of the event, I was relieved that we had a lovely time again. I suspect that 1:1 is much needed for Little Bear and hence he generally copes better in those situations. He needed new shoes which put a spring in his step; I tactically fed him toast at the right time (and a hot chocolate in an espresso cup which is quite possibly the cutest drink a child could have); we stuck stickers; we coloured; we stroked a rabbit; we went to the library. It was lovely and I really enjoyed him. Little Bear climbed a few things and tried to swing on a few things and found it hard to sit still. But I knew he would: I was prepared.

Sometimes situations arise that with the best will in the world you can’t anticipate and they can lead you to question what you really are prepared for. When we got to the library, rhyme time was on. I didn’t know this; it was a coincidence. In this instance, rhyme time was full of parents and very small children – babies and young toddlers. The group were singing nursery rhymes and listening to stories. Little Bear was rooted to the spot, transfixed. Initially I didn’t pay him much attention, encouraging him to look through the books. When I realised he was in a bit of a trance, I watched him, watching them for a few seconds. He looked shy, curious and a little mesmerised. Having just read The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce Perry, it was fresh in my mind that children who have been neglected have often missed out on early rhythmic interactions and the singing of lullabies and nursery rhymes. It was also fresh in my mind that older children still need to experience these things in order to heal their trauma.

I looked at him looking at them and tried to weigh up the situation. He was twice or even three times the size of most of the other children. I had no idea whether you were meant to officially join the group or pay. I wasn’t really prepared for this situation. However, I concluded that the bottom line was that Little Bear, whether in the body of a lanky 6 year old or not, was developmentally well matched to the group and as uncomfortable as that felt, I would need to suck it up. “Do you want to join in?” I whispered. The answer was basically yes, so long as I came with him. I crouched beside him, to make us slightly less conspicuous, as he sat on a chair in the group.

Little Bear loved it. He was completely entranced by the songs and sat really well. He couldn’t have managed to join in when he was 3 or 4 and probably not even 5, but at 6, it was just perfect for him. Having missed out on all those early experiences and having had such significant language difficulties, Little Bear doesn’t actually know any songs. Some sound familiar to him but he doesn’t know the words well enough to sing along. That doesn’t stop him trying and results in a tuneful hum with some louder words thrown in for good measure. I watched him side-on, feeling a little embarrassed but making myself get over it, while he sat straight-backed, earnestly joining in, wide-eyed and trying his very best. I loved Little Bear so much in that instant that my heart hurt a little bit. I wasn’t prepared for the situation but I am prepared to do whatever I can to help him.

The next second his hand was going up to suggest a rhyme. I was intrigued by what he would say and slow to anticipate what was inevitably coming next. Little Bear suggested ‘jingle bells’ and broke into song and he was about two lines in when I woke from my daydream and realised this wasn’t going to be the clean version. Yep, Uncle Billy and all that…

The Scouts are right: be prepared. You don’t quite know what might be coming next.

 

 

Be Prepared

Life Story Work: Not Your Average Boob Chat

This is how I wanted to start this post: Little Bear is obsessed with my boobs. But you can’t really write that without inviting some very shocked reactions. I need to preface my starting statement by saying that Little Bear is intrigued by anything that looks like it might feel interesting, even keener to touch things I’ve told him not to touch and, well, little boys do seem kind of fascinated by boobs from a young age. I also need to clarify that I don’t actually let him honk them (despite regular attempts) and have a stock phrase of “we don’t touch people’s boobs, they are a private place” that I trot out every time because whilst I’m not keen on him going for mine, I certainly don’t want him grabbing anyone else’s.

So, now you know all that, you won’t need to freak out when I start the post proper.

Little Bear is obsessed with my boobs. I have generally been dismissing it as a sensory/ boy/ developmental thing but while we were on holiday I began to see there could be more to it than that.

One morning Little Bear and I were sat beside one another on the kitchen bench attempting to read his school book when he purposely face planted into my cleavage. Used as I am to these things, I didn’t bat an eyelid, extricated him and repeated my usual refrain.

“But I want some milk from your boobs Mum” he said. I explained there is only milk when you have a baby so I don’t have any now. “Did you have some for Big Bear?” he asked. “Yes, when he was a baby I did”.

Little Bear thought for a second. “Did my lady have some for me?” came the next question.

Aha. This was not your average random boob chat: this was Life Story Work. We haven’t had any chats of this nature since I wrote this post back in January: Beginnings of Life Story Work

We’ve decided to follow Little Bear’s lead in these matters, figuring that given his difficulties with language it is much better to give him information as and when he shows he wants it, rather than thrusting it upon him to fit our own agenda. As it had been so long since our last chat I wasn’t too sure how much he might have taken on board or remembered.

Evidently by asking “did my lady have some for me?” he did know that he had come out of someone else’s tummy at least. “Yes” I replied “Sian did have milk for you”. That’s not her real name and thank goodness it told me she had breastfed in the red book.

“Did she have some for the other boys too?” Little Bear asked next.

Ah, so he has taken on board the bit about having birth siblings too.

“Yes, I think she did” I tell him, “but not at the same time as you as they were bigger”.

“I wish Big Bear was my brother” comes the next nugget.

Big Bear IS your brother I reassure. I tell him how much Big Bear loves him and how much he loves Big Bear. “Do you wish you had come out of my tummy too?” I venture. “Yes” he says and throws himself onto my lap.

What can you say to this? I hold him tight and explain that I love him just the same as if he had been in my tummy. I tell him that there were lots and lots of boys and girls who needed to be adopted but that we chose him. “Why?” he enquired. “Because we love you and we wanted you” I say.

We have a huge cuddle.

This chat seems to satisfy the little dude for now and no further questions erupt from him, though he does proceed to suck my fingers as I won’t let him near the boobs.

I’m pleased he has shown such a good understanding of his life story so far. He definitely has the basics sewn up.

At the moment Sian seems to have taken on fictional character status for Little Bear. He doesn’t seem to remember her and I’m not sure he considers her to be particularly real or relevant at this stage, though this will surely change over time? I can foresee a point when he gets more intrigued by her and starts to wonder about why they were separated. Surely no adopter survives the journey without a “you aren’t my real mummy” thrown at them at some stage?

However, for now, Little Bear’s mind seems to be on belonging and checking that he is just as much mine as Big Bear.

Alongside this there has possibly been an increase in affection-seeking and clinginess though it is hard to tell as Little Bear is very cuddly in general. He is getting all the cuddles, carries, strokes and time on our knees as you could shake a stick at. As always we are trying to be scrupulous in making sure things are equal for the boys in all regards – physical, financial, material, time. Little Bear needs to know through our actions, not just our words, that he is loved just the same as Big Bear.

Little Bear has been telling each of us that he loves us frequently and perhaps this is an unconscious way of checking that we love him. We do tell him all the time (and I’m quite prone to randomly picking him up or smothering him with kisses while making a strange ooh noise and saying I just love you so much I could eat you!), so hopefully he knows we really do, but it is easy to see how the doubts could creep in for him.

It is the 2 year anniversary of Little Bear moving in for good this weekend and we aren’t too sure whether to make a fuss about it or not. On the one hand it is positive to celebrate it and to show him that his arrival and permanence has made us really happy. On the other, we are wondering whether too much fuss just serves to mark him out as different when, at the moment, he really just wants to be the same.

As is often the way, writing this blog has helped me to unravel things a bit and I think I’m drawing the conclusion that we might need a new tradition for coming home day. I have a kernel of an idea about a scrap book with a photo of us all and our handprints and maybe the height of the boys, which we could re-visit and update on that day each year. That way hopefully we are nodding to the significance of the day while focussing on our similarities and our identity as a family. I also think I will put the boys in matching t-shirts. Hmm, the cogs are still turning. I’d love to hear what anybody else does.

I’ll keep you updated about any further Life Story chats. No doubt they will take place completely at random and when I am least expecting it. I just hope the next one doesn’t feature my cleavage quite so heavily!

 

Life Story Work: Not Your Average Boob Chat

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