Pretend I’m In Your Tummy, Mummy

Most children go through a phase of imaginative play when they are developing. They pretend, they act and they direct you to take your role in the game. They often play the same game over and over.

I can remember when Big Bear was about 3 or 4 he constantly wanted me to “make the man talk”. It was usually a Lego man and there would be some sort of scenario panning out in which I would be tasked with a specific role. Often he would tell me what words I should say and would be quick to correct me if I was getting it wrong. There was one particular game that involved a Lego man waiting on a platform for a train. Every time the train got to the station I would try to put my man on. “No” Big Bear would say, “Wait for the next one”. The next one would come and the same thing would happen. It was a game that required a lot of patience!

There was also a lot of dressing up pretending to be Batman or a fireman or a doctor. I think sometimes he pretended to be a cat.

This was Big Bear, still living with the family he was born into, following typical patterns of development.

Recently, I have discovered that this type of play with Little Bear is not quite the same. There are similarities but trauma has added an extra layer of complexity. This is a familiar conversation at the moment:

Little Bear: Pretend I’m in your tummy, Mummy

Me: Ok (cuddling him on my knee)

Me: Ooh, I wonder what my baby is going to look like. I can’t wait to meet them.

LB: I’m out now.

Me: Oh look, he’s gorgeous. Look at those eyes! He looks like a …Little Bear. I’ll call him Little Bear (In reality I say his actual name – I don’t really pretend he is a bear!) I’ll look after you and keep you safe forever.

If I don’t do the naming part he whispers to me “tell me I look like a Little Bear”.

LB: Pretend I’m a dog

Me: Have I just given birth to a dog?!

LB: Yes, you are a mummy dog

Me: Oh right

LB: No! You’re a dog! You can’t talk, you have to bark!

And so the confusing tale continues. Little Bear keeps replaying the part where I meet him for the first time. I don’t know if this is because I keep telling him how much I want him and how I’ll keep him safe forever in an attempt to be therapeutic or if in fact he keeps coming back to it because I haven’t yet said what he needs to hear. Your guess is as good as mine.

I think it is fairly obvious that the game has to do with seeking a sense of belonging, of claiming (and being claimed)* and is due to him wishing he had come out of my tummy as his brother did.

Interestingly there is another version of the game that involves me pretending he is a puppy who has got lost. I have to pretend I am following his footprints and discover him buried in a heap of snow. He pretends he is lost from his owner and that I rescue him, taking him home to warm up and have some food. Does this symbolise me back in my role as adoptive parent, I wonder? Coming in where someone else has left off? I’m intrigued that he would see that as a rescue.

Sometimes, once I have rescued him from the snow, he talks about his mum and dad coming in and finding him again. I always wonder if he means his birth parents but when I enquire who he means, he says Grizzly and me. By this stage I’m fully confused as to my role in the whole thing and whether I’m quite possibly just overthinking it.

Little Bear is definitely at the stage where fantasy and reality are fully entwined and he switches from one idea to another moment by moment. One minute I’m rescuing a puppy, the next he is a gorilla. On one occasion the baby I had given birth to was in fact an egg and I was a hen. It’s pretty difficult to keep up. I suspect the games are an amalgam of several ideas floating around his head at any one time.

A couple of times, over recent days, the games have taken a darker turn. I rescue the cold puppy, who initially seems to want some love and cuddles but who then suddenly switches to wanting to bite me. This could just be the new version of the game but as I am permanently in analyse everything and look for hidden meanings mode, I can’t help but wonder if this is like reliving the early days of our adoption. We chose Little Bear, we were excited for our future with him but when he came home he hit, bit, scratched, kicked and threw things and was generally distressed. Little Bear was 3 and a half at the time and likely remembers it. Is he double-checking my response? Do I still want to rescue the puppy if it turns out to be aggressive? Will I still take it home and love it?

I know that I might be over-analysing but I am careful with my response just in case. “Don’t worry little puppy” I reassure, “I think you are a bit frightened at the moment. I think that might be why you tried to bite me. I won’t hurt you. You are safe”.

In the game, this seems to calm the puppy.

Little Bear has instigated similar games before; right from when he arrived he wanted me to pretend he was a baby. I would lay a large blanket out on the floor and he would lie in it and get me to swaddle him. I had to be careful in the early days because it was easy to cross an invisible line into ‘too much to deal with’ territory. He would let me coddle him a bit – stroke him and coo over him like a baby but often I would unwittingly overstep the ever moving mark and be rewarded with a bite or hit. It always felt like it happened when he had allowed himself to let go for a moment and then accidentally let me in a bit too much, so that it had felt emotionally weird or frightening and he needed to back off again.

It has changed over time. I have had to persevere despite the re-buffs and he has evidently slowly become more comfortable to the point where he seeks a lot of physical comfort now. I rarely feel that the line is even there.

I find it interesting that over two years in, these acted games still feature and new ones are still appearing. I wonder if he wanted to play these recent ones before but his language skills wouldn’t allow him. Or whether he is only now reaching the appropriate developmental level. Or whether it is because he has a better understanding of his life story now. Or whether he is still seeking something I am not giving…

When I used to make the man talk for Big Bear I didn’t have all these extra things to think about. It really was about a pretend man getting onto (or at least trying to get on to) a pretend train. No hidden meanings. Little Bear’s play, on the other hand, is laced with them.

I am probably different too though – far more aware that there might be hidden meanings and far more attuned to looking for them.

What I want Little Bear to realise is that it doesn’t matter to me whose tummy he grew in, I love him just the same. But I guess they are only words to him; he needs to truly believe it and feel it within himself.

I guess we will be pretending he is in my tummy for a while longer yet.

 

*There is definitely a claiming element to it, not just biology, as Little Bear has also pretended to be in Big Bear’s tummy. Big Bear, being Big Bear, took it fully in his stride and ‘gave birth’ to Little Bear on the kitchen bench (!), before rocking him on his knee, cradled like a baby. I have no idea how an 8 year old came to be so instinctively therapeutic but he’s a natural.

** I’m very lucky to have two such lovely boys.

 

 

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Pretend I’m In Your Tummy, Mummy

The Little Things

This week is National Adoption Week. Last year, my first year of blogging, I was all keen and wrote a blog post for each day of National Adoption Week. I’m not doing that again because it nearly killed me, and also because my feelings on the subject have grown more complicated. Last year I was happy to use any small influence I might have as a blogger to raise awareness and potentially encourage others to consider adoption.

I say ‘potentially’ and ‘consider’ on purpose because although I was less knowledgeable then I still wasn’t naïve enough to think that everyone should be happily hopping out to round up some children.

The theme last year was ‘support’ and I did take the opportunity to point out some support needs adopted children and their families may have – specifically around blending birth and adopted children and speech and language therapy ( Speech and Language Therapy Support for Adopted Children, Ways to support your child through adopting a sibling)

In the year since then I have continued to read voraciously around the topic of adoption. I read lots of blogs. If there is a new article or TV programme I am keen to have a gander. I read the Adoption UK magazine and order books that pique my interest. I have met many adopters through my workshops and always love to hear their stories. The more I learn and the more I reflect the more complex the adoption landscape seems.

Are we considering adoptee’s voices enough (or at all)? What exactly is the birth parents role in all this? Do they get any support? How should I feel about them? Are there alternatives that could be better? Do we really need alternatives? How would they work? Should we consider more direct contact with birth families? How would we keep it safe for our children? Why is post adoption support so variable? How come I am able to access excellent support but Twitter friends are left to fend for themselves? Why don’t schools get it? How could more people get the speech and language training and support they need?

I could fill this post with questions. I don’t know the answers by the way, but it makes National Adoption Week more complicated. I can’t really just say “do it! Adopt! It’s brilliant!” It is brilliant (for us) but while I have all these questions floating round it would seem a bit disingenuous to encourage others to be doing it.

Which leads me on to wondering what role I should be playing in promoting adoption anyway as an adoption blogger?

For some, National Adoption Week gets a bad rap: it is accused of using perfect-world pictures and stories to ‘trap’ would-be adopters; to lure them in, naïve and unawares, into an imperfect, tumultuous and unsupported world. I am aware of the responsibility incumbent upon me, as a blogger, to be balanced. I do think it is important to be honest and to get real stories into the public domain, so potential adopters know about the realities and risks. I certainly try to be frank when I’m writing.

Then there is the other side of the coin: if we are too honest and too vocal about the difficulties, are we going to cause some serious publicity damage? Are we going to terrify the pants off prospective adopters to the point where no one wants to adopt anymore? And what then?

I feel a real affinity with prospective adopters as it is not so long since I was one. I have never had as many sleepless nights as when we were engaged in the Matching process. It is a worrying enough time without hearing all the scary stories too.

As a blogger I certainly don’t want to frighten anybody. While I feel my responsibility to inform, share and wear my heart on my blogging sleeve, I hope I do it in an accessible way that allows others to see that whatever the challenges are, I love my son, I am 100% happy with our decision to adopt him and that he completes our family.

The thing is that for us adopters there are many big things to fill our thought-spaces: developmental trauma and how it is manifesting in our homes; any additional needs our children may have and how they are being met; whether our children’s educational establishments truly understand them and can meet their needs appropriately; any sibling issues or family dynamics that might be going on; any contact arrangements we might have with our child’s birth family, to name but a few. It is no surprise that adoption bloggers spend most of their time writing about the Big Things. Perhaps, when I think about balance, we can be guilty of omitting the Little Things.

Any respect you did have for me is about to evaporate as I turn to One Direction to illustrate my point. They sing about the Little Things and I could easily steal their words for Little Bear:

 

Your hand fits in mine like it’s made just for me

But bear this in mind it was meant to be

And I’m joining up the dots with the freckles on your cheeks

And it all makes sense to me.

 

You never love yourself half as much as I love you

You’ll never treat yourself right darling but I want you to

If I let you know, I’m here for you

Maybe you’ll love yourself like I love you oh

 

I’ve just let these little things slip out of my mouth

Because it’s you, oh it’s you, it’s you they add up to

And I’m in love with you (and all these little things).

 

The song (as most songs are) is really about a bloke singing to a girl about how he loves her with all her perceived imperfections but the words really resonate with me. There is nothing lovelier than Little Bear’s warm hand in mine; than his drainpipe laugh (that is no longer restrained by self-imposed limitations); than his huge brown eyes wide with mesmerisation. And there are all the Little Things Little Bear does that fill me with such pride and happiness. It is the Little Things that show me his progress.

Little Bear has always favoured the colour black and would only draw or paint with black. He has recently started using “mix-y colours” and making things look “bootiful”. It’s a Little Thing but it’s a lovely thing.

IMG_9174

Little Bear, despite having Developmental Language Disorder, has started having spelling tests at school. He has achieved full marks 3 weeks in a row. It’s a Little Thing but it feels HUGE.

I have tried to up the therapeutic part of my parenting recently. I have been wondering more. When I get my wondering right Little Bear often bursts into tears. I know this sounds like a bad thing but it’s good because previously he would have hidden his real feelings behind anger. Now he lets it hang out. We couldn’t have verbalised his feelings before but now we can. Little Bear might say “I still feel upset mummy” and let me comfort him a bit. It’s Little Things but these sorts of Little Things can really help with the Big Things.

Big Bear was feeling unwell recently so he lay on the floor on the landing. Little Bear went to him and sat beside him, gently stroking his hair. It is a Little Thing but it shows me what a lovely little human he is.

Last night Little Bear said, “You know Van Gogh Mum? He painted Starry Night and The Potato Eaters”. It sounds like a Little Thing but this is a boy who used to struggle to talk about the here and now. He didn’t know his own name or a word for TV but now he can tell me about a famous artist and name 2 of his paintings. It’s phenomenal.

A few days ago Little Bear told me about Venus Fly Traps. He couldn’t quite remember the name but he gave such a good description and gesture that I knew exactly what he meant. It’s a Little Thing.

Everyday there are Little Things.

If I’m thinking about whether others should adopt I can’t lie about the Big Things. There are Big Things in adoption and you need to know about them and be as ready as you can be. You need an Agency that will be there for the long haul and that will truly support you with the Big Things as and when you need them to. The variation in post-adoption support is, frankly, criminal. Do your homework about any adoption agency, choose carefully, they are not all the same.

I would say that if you feel you can handle the Big Things (bearing in mind living it is not the same as imagining it) then know you will get the Little Things too.

The Little Things are amazing. For me, the Little Things make everything worth it.

I guess there have been times when the Big Things have taken over but a Little Thing will always have popped up from nowhere and made me smile.

Adoption is complicated. There are no straight answers with good reason. There are many viewpoints and voices to consider. Personally, I will always be grateful to adoption because it has brought me my second son and all his Little Things.

There is an unparalleled joy in having a heart full of Little Things, even if your head is full of Big Ones.

 

PS. I’m very sorry, One Direction, if you happen to read this and notice that I’ve wantonly quoted bits of your song to suit myself.

PPS. I do wonder how Little Bear is going to feel if he reads my blog when he is bigger and sees that I talk all about him and his life. I hope that he won’t see it as a misappropriation of his story. I hope he sees that he has a Mum who loves him very much indeed and spends an awful lot of time thinking about the best ways to help him.

PPPS. I fully appreciate the need to hear adoptees voices and I can’t wait to be able to include Little Bear’s once he is able to contribute.

 

The Little Things

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

Brothers

Little Bear made me chuckle this week. He has Show and Tell at school every Thursday and this week when I asked him what he wanted to bring he said “Big Bear”. He had hatched a whole plan about how he was going to find Big Bear’s classroom and get him out to bring to show his friends. Something really tickled me about it and in the end we were so busy talking about the imaginary plan that Little Bear forgot to take anything at all. The underlying sentiment was very sweet though: Big Bear is one of Little Bear’s favourite things.

A few other things have happened recently that have got me reflecting on the boys’ relationship. I have talked before about our anxiety over whether getting a sibling would be a good thing for Big Bear. I have also talked about how excited Big Bear was about the prospect of getting a sibling in advance and how disastrous the start of their relationship was when it happened (See Getting brother or sister). It took a long time (months) for Big Bear to trust Little Bear and to stop fearing what he might do to him. It took even longer for him to start to see the upside of having him. That said I have felt for quite a long time now that they have developed a good relationship and have had an extremely positive effect on each other.

When I wrote about my Reflections on Adoption One Year In I talked about how well their relationship had developed and how nice it was to see them together. At that point I think I thought that we had reached a happy balance and this was probably the best their relationship would be. There weren’t any negative connotations associated with that thought; their relationship had already confounded our expectations and hopes. However, recently, I have noticed some changes.

Although the Bears got on very well, Big Bear had quite a lot of parameters that were non-negotiable in the relationship. These rules mainly related to his possessions. His bedroom door remains resolutely locked and Little Bear is not allowed to cross the threshold. In the playroom Big Bear’s toys and Little Bear’s toys are separate. They each have their own boxes and drawers and it has always been clear that Little Bear isn’t allowed to open any of Big Bear’s, let alone touch anything in there. If Big Bear was given a present, he would not allow Little Bear anywhere near it, let alone allow him to touch it or play with it.

That description makes it sound as though Big Bear was calling all the shots in the relationship and that we were standing by and not teaching him about sharing. Right back at the start of the process we tried hard to listen to Big Bear because we knew that there was a greater risk of an adoptive placement breaking down if there was a birth sibling involved. We had been told stories about birth children who had had to give up their beloved pet or share their room when they didn’t want to in order for an adoption to happen. We could see how things may have started badly for the birth child in those situations and we were really conscious of the need to keep Big Bear as happy and undisrupted as possible. His main concern had always been his stuff and we had made assurances to him that if he didn’t want his future sibling to touch his things then we wouldn’t let them. We felt it was essential that he knew we would listen to him and we would respect his feelings. We needed him to trust us and we needed to keep the lines of communication between us wide open.

It is also important to consider how Little Bear presented in all of this. When he first arrived he had absolutely no conception that some things were his and that other things belonged to other people. In fact he used to frequently go around picking things up saying “mine” when they clearly weren’t and at the foster carers house we saw him going into the other children’s bedrooms and sweeping their things onto the floor. He also had no idea of how to look after items, frequently lobbing things across the room or slamming them down. Had he have been able to get hold of Big Bear’s toys he would undoubtedly have broken them.

Little Bear was also somewhat of a dominant force. He definitely thought that he was in charge and tried to assert himself by telling people where they should sit and by demanding they did or didn’t do various things or by hurting Big Bear whenever our backs were turned. Had we have allowed this to continue I have no doubt that we would have reached a point where Big Bear was terrified of him and where Little Bear was unmanageable.

Given the fact that we needed Little Bear to assume his place as littlest in the family and to have respect for others and his environment and that we needed Big Bear to feel safe and secure in his own home, it made sense to uphold Big Bear’s rules about his possessions. It was going to do everyone a favour in the long run.

In practice, upholding the rules was difficult. To start with we didn’t have a lock on Big Bear’s door, we just kept it shut. The rule was supposed to be that the Bear’s would knock on each other’s doors and ask before entering. This failed immediately because Little Bear had no concept of rules and the closed door was somewhat of a challenge for him; it just made him want to get in more. Also, he was very opportunistic and before I realised that in order to provide him with the level of supervision he actually needed I would have to be glued to his side at ALL times, he managed to lull me into a false sense of security and shut himself very quietly inside Big Bear’s room. This was probably on about day 2 or 3 and needless to say it went down extremely badly with Big Bear and I felt terrible. It was after this incident that the lock was fitted, removing chance from the equation.

If we had have left Little Bear alone with the toy boxes he would certainly have opened and explored them. On some occasions, when he did manage to escape our watchful eyes, even for a few seconds, we would find him having scaled furniture to reach something he knew he shouldn’t have.

It wasn’t surprising that Big Bear was reluctant to bend his own rules. He didn’t feel Little Bear could be trusted and in reality, he couldn’t.

Last week we were sitting at the table having our dinner. I had let Big Bear spend some pocket money ordering one of those fancy pencil cases where you press a button and a container pops out. It had arrived on the day in question and Big Bear was super excited about it, fiddling with it while he ate. Little Bear was also interested in it and kept leaning across the table to get a better look. Big Bear dropped something on the floor and bent down to hunt for it. Little Bear immediately saw an opportunity to touch the pencil case while Big Bear wasn’t looking and his hand shot across the table, his pointy finger poised to jab a button. However, about a centimetre away from the button Little Bear stopped himself and withdrew his hand, looking at me sheepishly. “You were really tempted to press that, weren’t you?” I said. He nodded. “Well done for stopping yourself” I told him. Big Bear reappeared above the table. “Well done mate” he said, “here, press this” and proffered the tempting button.

That interaction summed up everything that has changed between the Bears. Little Bear has learned to respect other people’s possessions and to control his impulsivity. If I leave Big Bear’s door open (which I do every day while they’re at school to let it air), Little Bear tells me off and shuts the door. He never attempts to go in even though he must be really tempted. If he wants to play with one of Big Bear’s toys he always asks him and more often than not, Big Bear says yes now. We recently exchanged very belated Christmas presents with some of our friends. Big Bear got a particular toy that both of them really liked. I was amazed that Big Bear allowed Little Bear to play with it that day and to wander off with it out of his sight. Little Bear was careful not to lose any pieces and brought it back when Big Bear asked him to. Quite a few of the toys in the playroom also seem to have become universal. Big Bear knows how hard Little Bear is trying and is very good at encouraging him and rewarding his good behaviour by letting him have things without any need for an adult to prompt him to.

I’m surprised that 20 months in we are continuing to see these types of changes. I’m glad we didn’t force the toy issue because evidently this is the length of time they have needed to reach a happy compromise. We could have allowed Little Bear to rampage around touching whatever he wanted and we could have forced Big Bear to share all of his things but I think it has had a much more positive impact on their relationship, and in fact their wider life skills that we didn’t.

I have also noted recently that Big Bear seems to have stopped pretending that it is a nightmare having an adopted brother. The relationship seems a lot more straightforward now. Although Little Bear still attempts to boss his big brother around, Big Bear has found a very calm and friendly way of standing his ground. It is extremely rare that they fall out and even rarer that anything ends in violence.

I suspect that we have intervened far more in their budding relationship than you typically would between two birth siblings. I think the ‘normal’ way is to let them figure things out between themselves, even if that means the odd fisticuffs. However, we have put so much emphasis on the success of the adoption being related to the success of their relationship that we have felt it necessary to intervene and control things from the word go. We have had a zero tolerance policy on physical aggression so they don’t tend to engage in the pushing and pulling and scrapping that siblings usually do.

We can’t engineer everything though and you can’t force people to like each other if they don’t. The fact that they are so tuned in to each other and have so much fun together is all them. Becoming brothers hasn’t been easy for either of them and they have both worked tremendously hard at it. I suppose it should have been obvious that it would take a long time for their relationship to bed-down and for all the creases to be ironed out. I didn’t think it would take this long or that what seemed a perfectly good relationship at 12 months in could have become even better still 8 or so months later.

I wonder how things will change as time goes on? I hope they remain as close because it’s lovely to see, they are great friends and we are extremely proud of both them.

 

 

Brothers

I love my Bears

During a period of procrastination earlier in the week (I should have been decorating)I found myself reading back over all my blog posts from 2017 so far. I realised that in pretty much all of them I have been sounding more stressed and quite a bit less sunny than usual. Whilst there has been plenty going on to warrant my mood I can’t help but prefer being cheerful. With that in mind here is an unashamedly upbeat post about my gorgeous Bears and why I love them so much.

As Grizzly said recently our Bears are their own men. They are both quirky but completely at home in their skin. They are happy being themselves and it is lovely.

Little Bear likes to layer his clothes: 4 football tops one on top of the other; 2 pairs of socks; 2 Spiderman costumes for double muscles or 3 pairs of gloves like woolly Russian dolls on his little hands. He is also somewhat of a clothing comedian. He still sleeps with comfort blankets (muslin squares) and now and again thinks up a different place on his person to stockpile them. Once it was in his socks so he had to waddle about on fat ankles. Another time it was up his top. He has a lot of blankets so he looked as though he had developed a beer belly overnight. It was hilarious. I kept laughing at random that day, as the image of him as a miniature Santa figure kept popping into my head.

Little Bear’s strong opinions on clothing choices can be a little tiring at times. If someone suggests a kick-about in the garden he spends 20 minutes trying to find a full matching football strip. Sometimes Big Bear does too.

Big Bear is a little obsessed with football at the moment and starts many a conversation with “Mum, you know Naymar Junior? Well…” or “Mum, if you could have any Barcelona players on your team who would you pick?”. He starts conversations with grown men about football matches and it is never long before they start looking surprised that they are having a detailed bloke’s conversation with a 7 year old boy.

Grizzly has taken him to a couple of matches and said it is hard to believe how excited Big Bear gets and how loudly he shouts. Apparently people in the stadium turn to look because despite there being 70,000 noisy fans chanting and clapping, Big Bear’s voice still blares out! His passion and enthusiasm, not just for football, are very refreshing.

Both Bears are naturally gregarious and tend to get fully involved with things. I love to watch them enjoying life and having fun. There is nothing more uplifting than hearing them erupt into fits of giggles.

Big Bear has a proper deep belly laugh. It is as though he finds things funny with the whole of his body and he really submits to the humour. He can usually be found doubled over laughing several times a day. He is very free and generous with his laughter.

Little Bear’s laughter is a bit harder to come by but he is a lot freer with it than he used to be and when it comes it is incredibly infectious. He was watching Tom and Jerry the other day and nearly crying with laughter. The visual slapstick humour is perfect for him though who knew that a mouse whacking a cat on the head with a mallet could be so funny?! I was finding watching Little Bear much funnier than the cartoon.

Sometimes the Bears will invent a game together that makes them both laugh uproariously. Most of the time it isn’t clear what the game is or what is making them laugh so much but they seem to understand each other on a whole other level. Sometimes one of them only needs to make a sound or move a toy in a certain way and the other one is in hysterics. It’s gorgeous. Completely unfathomable but gorgeous.

Both Bears have a caring and sensitive side too. Big Bear is incredibly adept at saying things that people want to hear. He gives a good compliment. I love it when he praises Little Bear without any sort of adult nudge. He’ll say things like “well done mate, that drawing’s brilliant” or “you’re getting really good at football aren’t you?”. He is very tuned in to the need to help others feel good about themselves.

Little Bear is full of surprises. Sometimes he can be purposefully hurtful but he hardly ever does anything to upset his brother. He is generally very considerate towards him. He is also caring towards his friends and tries to comfort them if they are upset. Sometimes I worry unnecessarily about how he might be in a situation. Last weekend we took the Bears to visit Supergran. We told them she is “very poorly” and explained the need to be gentle towards her and calm (if that’s possible). Grizzly and I were a little fearful of how the visit could go but as soon as we got there Little Bear was on a mission to find her. He searched the flat and when he found her in bed he seemed to instinctively understand. He gave her the most enormous yet gentle cuddle he could. He gently inspected her arms where she is bruised from having cannulas fitted and stroked her wrinkles for good measure. He kept going away and then coming back to lay his head on her again. Supergran loved his uncharacteristic show of affection and he did make her feel happier than if he hadn’t been there. It was one of the most tender and deeply human moments I’ve ever seen: he didn’t use any words but said everything he needed to.

I’m always proud of my Bears but was especially so that day.

Thankfully both Bears are affectionate towards us because I can’t help but want to cuddle them and smother them in kisses. Although I really dislike it when Little Bear wakes me 35 minutes before my alarm each morning I secretly love it when he says “but I love you Mum, I just want a cuddle” and he crawls in next to me. I try to enjoy the 5 seconds of quiet snuggle I get before he starts jabbing me with his bony elbows and trying to engage me in conversation.

Big Bear has grown so much now that I definitely can’t pick him up and he’s getting a bit too cool to kiss me in the playground. Luckily Little Bear still likes to press his soft cheek against mine and weave his little arm around my neck. He still likes me to carry him occasionally and I don’t mind at all when he shoves whatever I’m holding out of the way so he can clamber onto my lap. I try to make the most of every cuddle because it won’t be too long before he pretends he doesn’t know me at school either.

When I crouch to tie the boys shoe laces both Bears tend to steady themselves by placing the flat of their palm squarely on the top of my head. I find it strangely endearing.

Like any mum I do moan about their mess, their inability to entertain themselves and the incessant noise and between them they do give me all sorts of things to worry about. But I know that I’m really lucky. My Bears are gorgeous inside and out and I love them just the way they are.

 

I love my Bears

September at Adoption: The Bear Facts

I am very pleased to say that, unusually for us, September has been a quiet and fairly calm month. The children are back at school, I have finished work and the nights are drawing in. There’s a chill in the air, the conkers are ripe and autumn is beckoning. I LOVE this time of year. I love the switch from summer brights to olive green, burgundy and mustards. I love boots and cosy cardigans. I love weekends in the woods crunching in the leaves then warming up with a hot drink. I love Saturday nights in with Strictly and X Factor. I love mid-week TV, thank you Cold Feet. I love the promise of what is to come, the burgeoning excitement of Christmas. And as always I love my Bears. Here are all the best bits of the past month:

What we’ve been up to:

The boys have settled back into school brilliantly (see School section below). I was a bit concerned that once they were both at school, we might struggle to give Little Bear enough 1:1 time. However, this term Big Bear has found several after school clubs he wants to join. I have signed him up as he’s never shown that much interest before and I think it will be good for him to try some different things. It means that 3 times per week Little Bear gets me to himself for an hour. Everybody seems to be coping pretty well with the new arrangements so far and I’m just about keeping on top of who needs what when – clean uniform, football kit on Wednesdays, a pound on Thursdays for a bacon butty, show and tell stuff, golden time stuff etc. Again, I have no idea how people cope with more than 2 children!

At the weekends the boys are continuing with their Saturday morning swimming lessons. They are both enjoying it and doing well. I’m not sure Little Bear knows any technique but he seems to like spending a lot of time under the water and manages to propel himself along somehow.

The rest of Saturday usually involves chilling out as both Bears are shattered from school and maybe a trip to the park later on. On Sundays we have been going to our local country park for a bike ride. Big Bear has been *able* to ride his bike for a while now but has not actually been riding it as he lacked confidence and was pretty paranoid about falling off. We kept saying we must get him on it but due to general busyness we hadn’t. A couple of weekends ago, out of the blue, Big Bear announced that he was going to ride his bike that day. We seized the moment and trooped off.

We spent a lovely morning in the park. Big Bear tried really hard and although he needed help to get going, he was soon riding around in a fairly straight line! The fact that he was now riding his “big bike” meant that Little Bear could ride the smaller bike. It is a Police bike with a siren and a storage container on the back which is clearly the stuff of dreams for small boys. Little Bear is a pro on his balance bike so we had never really anticipated him needing the stabiliser stage but he loves it so we have let him get on with it. They were both very happy and we got to walk around behind them, enjoying the early autumn colours and having a modicum of adult conversation.

Last weekend some friends and Grizzly’s Mum joined us for the cycling trip and we all went out for a spontaneous pub lunch afterwards. The pub has a garden and play area so we sat outside afterwards and the 3 children played without incident. In the end we only moved because it started raining. It was lovely.

The rest of the time the boys are at school and as I have now finished working, I am left to my own devices.

Although leaving work is definitely the right decision for me, it was sad to say goodbye to my colleagues and the buildings I have considered my work home for the past 13 years. I will still see everyone though and they have promised to keep me in the loop about any meals out etc. In fact I’m popping back in for lunch next week.

At home I’m still getting used to being off. It’s hard to slow down and acclimatise to the break being indefinite and not time limited like an adoption or maternity leave. I have a very long list of all the things I want to get done now that I can. I seem to be attacking the list with some vigour and relishing getting things done. People I chat to seem to think I’m probably sitting about reading all day and though I find this slightly irking I think they probably have a point. There is certainly a balance to be found between tackling “the list” and having some relaxation. Nevertheless, it is quite sad how much pleasure I’m getting from jobs such as clearing out my spice cupboard (nobody needs things that went out of date in 2005!), tidying the top of the wardrobe or organising all the photos! I’m having a true spring clean (in autumn) and I think the people in the charity shop pretty much know me by name now.

I feel that once my home is in order, I can move on to other things that are a little more career focussed. I did meet with our VAA yesterday and have agreed to run some more Communication Workshops for them later in the year and next year which is great and a start to moving things on career-wise. Hopefully watch this space for further updates…

It has not been all work and no play though. It is a fairly unique situation to be in – 5 free days between the hours of 9 and 3, so I do feel the need to celebrate it. There have been quite a few shopping trips (all those new season clothes and colours…) and I have been catching up with friends. I have a couple of friends off on Mat leave so it’s nice to spend time with them.

I spent a lovely day out with Grizzly’s Gran. She has just had her 86th birthday and it has become a bit of a tradition that we give her M and S vouchers then Grizzly’s Mum and I take her to the big M and S for a spree. She absolutely loves it and we always have a laugh. This time, she had to admit that the walking was a bit much and we borrowed a wheelchair. It’s the first time she has allowed it, having always been too proud. However, it made the trip much easier for her and by the end she was practically doing stunts! I’m glad that she saw the possibilities wheelchair use could afford her (more trips out, not more time stuck at home) and that she faced it with her usual good spirit and humour.

This month we have also had our First Experience of Letterbox.

School:

You can read about Little Bear starting school here: Little Bear Starts School.

He continues to be settled though we are having a lot of wetting incidents. Although I am not pleased about the constant washing of school uniform, I am happy that this is the only ‘issue’ we are experiencing at the moment. I can deal with wetting if behaviour and everything else is good.

Little Bear is making friends, which is lovely to see and hear about. Interestingly he has gravitated towards the other 3 adopted children in his class. He seems to play with 2 of them as a trio and separately with the 4th boy. It is such a positive thing for him to have specific friends whom he talks about at home and who he is able to play constructively with. A year ago, when he started pre-school, Little Bear played alone. I think this was mainly out of choice, because he didn’t trust others and probably thought it wouldn’t be worth the effort. Maybe he thought he would leave them soon. It took a long time for him to even learn anybody’s name. I’m so pleased that he is now forming relationships, playing with others and being kind to them.

A side effect of Little Bear be-friending his fellow adoptees is that I have met 2 new sets of adopters (I knew one of the families already). It’s strangely comforting to know that there are parents nearby and in the same class who get it. And who might experience similar issues to us.

Little Bear has started bringing a book home now and learning his phonics. The book only has pictures and he is supposed to talk about what is happening in them. So far, he’s finding it pretty hard due to his language skills. Sometimes he just manages one word. As always, I am trying to see it as a language-learning opportunity and am doing a lot of sentence modelling for him.

Big Bear is happily settled into Year 3 and so far we are not experiencing the anxiety issues that we did last year… I’m keeping everything crossed.

Big Bear’s Mini Projects

We are still doing them whenever we can though we don’t manage one every evening now that we are back in the school routine. We are still in quite a major Hama bead phase and Big Bear has been making flags with them. Today we got creative with pipe cleaners and made this wacky bouquet:

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Snapshots:

  • At tea time on the first day of school I asked Big Bear if he had seen Little Bear at school. He said “yeah, I saw you in the dinner hall, didn’t I mate? We had a big hug. You were eating your dinner really well weren’t you mate?”
  • Seeing Little Bear try really hard at swimming and get moved up to the next group
  • Seeing Big Bear master confident bike riding
  • Little Bear seeing his friend at football pick-up and offering him a turn on his bike without any prompting

Project home improvements:

Our planning permission has been granted which is great. We are now getting quotes from builders etc. and choosing everything. I am particularly obsessed with choosing the right front door. I’ve never had a new front door before and it is a lot more complicated than you might think!! Hopefully more news soon…

September at Adoption: The Bear Facts

Little Bear Starts School

Over the past few months we have been a little trepidatious about Little Bear entering full-time education. I think my biggest concern was over his behaviour. It’s pretty much a given that you have to do what you’re told at school. You can’t really growl at your teacher or tell her to “shut up” if you don’t like the sound of what she’s telling you. You definitely can’t scratch, bite or hit her. Or anyone else for that matter. It’s better if you don’t scream the place down. You shouldn’t try to climb over the fence to get out. All of this could be, well, challenging for Little Bear.

Secondly I was worried about how he would cope academically. The combination of plenty of early neglect and significant speech and language delay has led to him being significantly behind typical expectations for his age. I didn’t want him to be out of his depth at school. I didn’t want him to feel as though the teacher was speaking a foreign language or that nothing around him was making sense.

However, at the same time, Little Bear was showing us he WAS ready for school. Throughout the past year of dropping Big Bear off every day Little Bear has been asking if he can go too. His transition went really well and he was pretty angry with the summer holidays for impeding him from getting to where he wanted to go: school. He was very excited about shopping for his school shoes and about the arrival of his school uniform.

When Big Bear started school I knew they would be prising him from my leg for weeks to come. He’s the youngest in his class and although I didn’t have academic concerns about him, he wasn’t emotionally ready for school. It felt like a huge wrench to me that my first born (and at the time, only) child was leaving me and I was very weepy for the first few days. Then I discovered my freedom and realised there is definitely a positive in having your child in school!

When it came to it this time, my earlier concerns were mainly on the backburner and taking Little Bear to school for the first time was a happy and positive experience. He was super excited and went in confidently from day one. I do think these milestones are easier for children with older siblings as they have a much better idea of what it’s all about and they know what to expect.

I did feel the need to check in with his teacher at the end of the day but she said he had had “a brilliant first day” and there had been no behaviour incidents.

So far so good.

The Bears’ school doesn’t have a staggered start – it is full days right from the beginning. I figured that towards the end of the week, as Little Bear got tired, more behaviours would appear. But they didn’t.

We are now over 2 weeks in and his teacher recently described his behaviour as “impeccable”. I am genuinely astonished by this as his behaviour at pre-school would never have been described that way, nor his behaviour at home.

However, I have to say that his behaviour at home has settled too. Obviously we have had our moments – not least weeing on everything in sight on Saturday, including the swimming pool changing room floor and up the wall in McDonalds’ toilet! We have had countless wet pants and weekend mealtimes were characterised by hysteria and hyperactivity.

Despite that, Little Bear’s compliance has been good and we have not seen a regression in any of his skills (apart from the wetting) like we did at the start of the summer holidays.

We have tried to make things easier for him as starting school is a huge step. The dummy is having greater use as he can’t really relax properly without it yet and Little Bear is often found lying on the sofa with it after school. I have relaxed the “try to feed yourself” rule as he’s visibly too exhausted and I’d rather he gets a good meal into him. His appetite seems to have improved considerably and so does the speed of his chewing (which has always been painfully slow) but I have absolutely no idea why that should be.

The teachers have taken on board that Little Bear needs truckloads of praise and that the green/red card behaviour system won’t work for him. Consequently he is trying his very hardest to please them and is succeeding every day. I’m sure this is in turn a welcome boost to his self-confidence.

I’m so very proud of how hard he is trying and how significantly he is confounding expectations (mine and everyone else’s).

Earlier in the week I attended a parent’s talk about literacy and numeracy in Reception class and momentarily felt the stuffing knocked out of me. He has done so brilliantly that I happily trotted to the meeting not really thinking about its content.

As I sat on the unyielding plastic chair in Little Bear’s classroom, my eyes naturally scanned the vista. Beside the teacher was a wall display consisting of a photo of each child in the class and their hand drawn self-portrait. I quickly sought out Little Bears’. Aw, cute, I thought. Two very long legs not actually attached to anything, a dot then a scribble that was probably intended as a head. Then I scanned the rest. They may as well have been produced by Van Gogh the difference was so stark. Surely someone else’s would be at a similar level to his? No.. Seemingly not. Well, never mind, he’ll be better at other things I consoled myself.

The talk began and the National Curriculum expectations for Reception were laid out: “in stage 2 your child will learn 6 sounds, in stage 3, 25 more… They will come home telling you about graphemes and phonemes and what a split digraph is… They will be able to identify the first sound in words and blend sounds together…Counting is easy, all children start school being able to do that. It is understanding quantity that’s more difficult… Great games to help them at home are Snap and Snakes and Ladders… Your children will need to count forwards, backwards, count on and do number bonds to 20… We know you all do lots with them and have been doing for the past 4 years…”

It went on. I felt a grey mist descend on me and knot tighten in my stomach. I felt tears threaten to fill my eyes. Shit. Little Bear is so far behind. He has SO much to try to do this year. The task feels colossal and fairly impossible. We haven’t had him for 4 years I want to shout – nobody helped him for the first 3. We’ve only had him a year and it is not enough. It isn’t fair to expect this of him. Counting is evidently not as easy as you think it is, unless it goes “1, 4, 18” as Little Bear thinks it does. We can’t play those games you are suggesting: Little Bear couldn’t concentrate on them, understand the rules or follow any of the number bits. I’m pretty sure he isn’t going to come home telling me about split digraphs as he’d have a devil of a time getting those words through his speech processing system let alone trying to say them. Shit.

I shouldn’t really have reacted like that (as Grizzly helpfully pointed out when I got home) because it is not so long ago that Big Bear was in Reception so I clearly did know the expectations. I also quite clearly know that Little Bear is delayed in his development and that he is bound to be behind his peers who’ve had better starts in life. I think it’s just that I have re-set to Little Bear Scales and against those he is flying. Hearing the Actual Scales brought me back down to earth with a nasty bump. Also, knowing something and hearing it from someone else is quite different e.g. I know I have a prominent nose but I don’t want anyone else to tell me that!

I swallowed back the tears and tried to be a grownup about it. I went to have a chat with his teacher. It was a good chat because she was honest. She acknowledged that he does have a lot of ground to make up and that he isn’t at the same level as his peers. She was also positive and reassuring. She said we would go at his pace. We would give him more time to settle then consider what support he might need that could be funded through his Pupil Premium money. She can see the intelligent boy trapped by his speech and language difficulties that I can see and I know she will do everything she can to help him. I can tell she is already very fond of him. She can see the progress he has made since she visited him in pre-school. She can see progress in his play skills, in his ability to now play collaboratively with others instead of alongside them and in his ability to listen and to follow instructions. This is huge progress in a short time by anyone’s standards.

She told me that on the baseline assessments they have been carrying out that most of her ticks are in the 40 to 60 month range. Now, that nearly brought the tears back as on Little Bear’s last assessment at pre-school, in July, he had just gone into the 30 to 50 month bracket. His teacher is just as surprised by the speed of his progress as I am but she said she double and triple checked her assessment to ensure she wasn’t over-estimating his abilities and she is confident it’s right.

Almost exactly 1 year ago when Little Bear started pre-school, he was assessed as emerging at the 16 to 26 month level across all his skills. I don’t think anybody would expect a child to progress from a 16 month level to a 40 month level in one year. It makes me cross because clearly Little Bear was always able to achieve, he was just never taught or nurtured. We haven’t done anything magic, we have just parented him.

The chat also restored my calm and allowed me to hope once again. Realistically I don’t expect Little Bear to meet National Curriculum expectations at the end of Reception. The ask is nigh-on impossible. However, I’m sure he will continue to progress and astound us with what he CAN do. Who cares about Actual Scales? I’m going back to Little Bear Scales. He’s doing better than fabulously on those and I’m super proud of my little dude.

So far our communication with school has been good and I feel as though they “get him” and know how to manage him. I can’t ask for more at this stage.

Though I do wonder what a split digraph is…

 

 

 

Little Bear Starts School