Seeking the Positives

I know I promised last week that for this blog post I would write something shorter and lighter so I will endeavour to but to be honest it has been a confusing kind of day. My brain is a bit of a mangle and I’m not too sure, at this stage, how it’s going to come out.

My thoughts are around the idea that when it comes to adoptive parenting, how you feel about events really depends on how you choose to look at them. I suppose that’s true of many of life’s events but there is something specifically yin and yang about parenting a child with some behaviour challenges.

I find that in so many situations there are positives. I don’t know if my glass is half full or what, as I am very much a realist, but I do like a positive. I seek them out and collect them. The rub is that for each positive or few positives, there will be an equal and opposite negative. It’s as though when one hand gives, the other takes away.

For all the fabulous things Little Bear does, he’ll do something ridiculous and I guess it’s down to us at those moments, to decide whether we let that thing taint the good stuff or just let it go. Sometimes it’s impossible to be objective about it. Sometimes things push your buttons so much that you can’t help being irked. Sometimes you have given warnings and explained the cause and effect of an action and given ample chances and your little darling has chosen to do that thing anyway. At those points it is hard to find the positive.

At other times, I find myself dithering a bit. I find myself thinking theoretically that he shouldn’t have done x, y or z but that it hasn’t actually upset me at all and therefore should I bother making a point of it or not.

I suppose what I’m saying is that there is a lot of sifting of behaviour going on: a constant analysis of whether things have gone well or whether they haven’t, when you balance up the negatives and positives at the end of it all. This thought makes much more sense if you consider a specific event. For example, if we went to a party and Little Bear had played well with the other children and had sat for his party tea but at one point he had nicked someone’s balloon and had purposefully popped it, making them cry, is that, on balance, a successful or unsuccessful event? I could decide that the balloon popping was a big incident and therefore feel bad about the whole thing. Or, I could think that in the grand scheme of things, popping a balloon was small fry and that at parties, some incident or other is par for the course. In that scenario I can come away feeling pretty chipper and like things went as well as they should. The event is the same in both examples. The only thing that has changed is my perception of what happened.

When we became adopters (specifically of Little Bear and his particular needs), there was a natural adjustment period in which we changed our perceptions of what constituted a successful event. I suppose we made adjustments to our expectations based on his developmental level, behaviour at the time and knowledge of what he could/ could not reasonably cope with. To begin with, that was going to a place without us getting thrown out. If we achieved that and nobody ended up in A and E, it was a clear success. I think we have continued to adjust those expectations as he has developed and progressed so that now, we expect much more from him.

What’s difficult at the moment is knowing, accurately, what he really is capable of in any given situation. I think our expectations are pretty reasonable: we never demand exemplary behaviour all of the time because that’s clearly ridiculous. I think we take a lot of shenanigans in our stride. We never expect an event to go by without some sort of minor issue or three and that’s ok. We’re pretty adept at ignoring the less than perfect.

What is getting increasingly tricky are the situations when behaviour very clearly doesn’t live up to expectation; when we know Little Bear is capable of more or better. I think we are faced with a choice at these junctures: do we blame regulation/ his history/ the wind direction and allow those things to justify his behaviour? Or do we think that, actually, he is capable of more and should have tried harder? I am very much an analyser, a seeker of answers, a person who actively considers behaviour from all angles. I am very much about looking beyond behaviour, thinking about what it communicates and what may have triggered it. I do those things as a matter of course. However, I find myself occasionally wondering whether in doing so, I always find an excuse for Little Bear when, let’s be honest, all children can be little so and so’s sometimes and also that, as he grows older, he will need to take increasing responsibility for his own actions.

The reason I wonder this is because yesterday was Little Bear’s nativity. He had worked hard to learn all his lines off by heart and he delivered them perfectly. He was in all the right places at all the right times and did a sterling job. Then, as if to provide the yin to his yang, he proceeded to writhe about the front of the stage, hanging off the front and generally mucking about. He had been on the stage for approximately two minutes so even by his standards it was a remarkably short time to have got bored already. I know that he knows he shouldn’t do that. When the head teacher spoke, Little Bear was the only child who took it upon themselves to heckle him. It wasn’t cool.

I decided to speak to him about it later because there was an evening performance too. Sometimes, if there has been a problem with situational understanding or social expectations, a little chat to make things more explicit can help. I felt he was pretty clear on the behaviour expectations. However, lo and behold, in the evening performance, he pretty much repeated his antics from earlier, adding in a fracas with the other donkey and once more loudly disagreeing with the head teacher.

I couldn’t help going away feeling as though the negatives of his behaviour had outweighed the positives of line-learning and delivery. Grizzly came away feeling similarly.

As with all situations, I think we now have a choice of how to view the event. We could continue to be disappointed by his behaviour, knowing he is capable of more. We could choose to think that if only he had tried a little harder, he could have lasted the final two minutes without incident. We could consider that the other 59 children managed it, several of whom are also adoptees, as did all the children in Reception class who are two years younger than him. That line of thought could lead us to wanting to talk to him about it.

However, it’s done. No matter what we think or say, he can’t undo it. Given that, what would be the point of expressing our disappointment to him? It would only shame him.

We could choose to excuse his behaviour. We could blame it on tiredness, the anticipation of Christmas, dysregulation, the audience – a whole multitude of possible culprits. By exonerating him, would we be at risk of thinking he doesn’t have the power to control himself when he very clearly does?

Perhaps there is another way to view it. We could decide to view it from the point of view that Little Bear wouldn’t be Little Bear if there wasn’t a moment of indiscretion. We could just write the last 2 minutes off as collateral damage. We could focus on the fact that, despite having DLD, Little Bear managed to learn 52 words, arranged into 6 sentences, all off by heart and delivered it clearly and loudly. Those facts are phenomenal and fairly unbelievable given his difficulties with auditory memory, language and speech.

I don’t think it matters too much which perspective we choose to take, because none of them can change the event itself. There are no more nativities coming up that we could hope to go differently. Therefore, I think I choose the last version; the most positive. I think I seek the positives because they make everybody feel better. The negatives are difficult. The negatives draw unwanted attention to us as parents, they call into question our parenting in other people’s minds and they cause us embarrassment. It is difficult to be fighting the fight of getting school to understand your child and their behaviour then seeing them seemingly choose to clown around in front of all the parents, staff and half the school.

For one’s sanity, it is often preferable to take the positive stance.

I’m getting better at sweeping the negatives aside and letting them go. I just hope that in doing so, I’m not lowering my expectations of Little Bear unduly and I’m not finding justifications for his behaviour when I should be demanding better.

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Anyhoo, it’s nearly Christmas and I have presents to wrap. All that remains is to say I hope you all have a calm and happy Christmas and enjoy time with your loved ones. I asked the boys if they have any Christmas messages for you. Predictably, Little Bear told a rude joke and sang a song about Uncle Billy losing his willy. Big Bear says, “Merry Christmas you filthy animals”. So, you know, good luck (I might need some) and enjoy the festivities. Lots of love from all The Bears xxx

 

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Seeking the Positives

December at Adoption: The Bear Facts

December is quickly drawing to a close which can only mean one thing. It is round up time! Here all the best bits of the past month with the three Bears.

Events:

It’s a good job I keep notes over the month to help me write this post otherwise I would definitely forget about the things that happened right back at the start. It seems an age ago but the first events of the month were our craft fayres. My friend A and I accidentally agreed to run a stall at 2 craft fayres to sell our homemade Christmas tree decorations. I say “accidentally” because all I actually signed up for was a cup of tea and some grown up colouring in!

One of the events was an all-day thing at a high school and the other an evening event at the boy’s school. Despite being rubbish at the mental arithmetic part of things and being slightly stressed that at 37 weeks pregnant, A might give birth behind the stall, it was loads of fun. Between Facebook and our stalls we ended up making and selling about 600 decorations in the end. I was ready to have a break from making them but actually I’m starting to miss it a bit now and A and I did work very well together so you never know whether we might try to make our little business a bit more all year round in 2017… Plus, I did get a pyrography pen for Christmas…

Another positive aspect of the fayres was that Big Bear was really interested in helping me make the decorations. After panicking that he was going to use up our wood supply and that a 7 year old’s decoration is obviously not quite as polished as one made by a grown-up, I decided the best way forward was to let him set up a sister business. He made his own decorations in his own signature style (which I would describe as Avant-garde!) that he then sold from a corner of our table. He had his own float and managed his own sales. He spent most of the evening walking around selling from a tray and he was brilliant at it. He made about £22 which I think he should be extremely proud of. At one point I’m sure he was selling more than we were!

The following week, we ended up going out for tea after school with my parents. It is not something we would usually do as it’s quite challenging for Little Bear to behave himself at that time of day and in a place where you have to be relatively quiet and sit on a chair but he managed brilliantly. We have noticed a big improvement in his ability to engage with table-top activities and to spend a bit of time focusing on them. He is getting quite into drawing and trying to write which is the main way we keep him busy in restaurants etc. at the moment.

As term drew to a close there were quite a few school events to attend. Both Bears went on a whole school trip to the theatre which seemed to go without incident (?!), Little Bear performed in his Nativity and there was a Mince Pie Afternoon at which each class came in and sang a song, as well as there being performances from the different music groups.

The Nativity wasn’t a total success. At the performance that Grizzly and I and his Mum attended, Little Bear started off being quite entertaining with his dancing and off-beat singing but by the end my heart was in my mouth wondering what he was going to do. Half-way through the look came over his face which means “I am grumpy. I am looking for trouble. I could do literally anything now”. I saw him take a piece of paper from the TA’s hand. On the stage he squared up to a couple of children and I really thought he was going to hit them. He put his foot up on a bench to prevent the Angels from getting up on to it as they were supposed to. He started poking Mary in the head.

He didn’t do anything really naughty but he was just simmering on the cusp of it and it made for nerve-wracking viewing. When I reflected on it afterwards, I remembered that he hadn’t coped well before school either. Maybe it was a bad day? I also felt that the performance wasn’t very inclusive for him. All he had to do was stand there (for 45 minutes) which is pretty boring. The songs were far too wordy and fast for him, though he was trying to join in, and there weren’t even any actions for him to do. I decided that taking him back to school later on for the 5pm performance was probably one step too far. What if he actually followed through on the behaviour? I didn’t want him to go down in history as the child who knocked Joseph out.

However, the reason I include this tale here, in my post full of positives, is that when I suggested not bringing him back to his teacher, she said he had been really well-behaved the rest of the day and in the practises and she felt he could do it. In a very uncharacteristic moment I decided that as long as I couldn’t see what he got up to it was worth the risk (!) and kindly sent him along with my parents.

In the end, he did ok. I don’t think he was perfectly behaved but he survived it without major incident and it did mean that my parents got to see him performing. He was praised by everyone and he didn’t feel as though he had missed out by staying at home. Overall, I will take that as a win.

The Mince Pie afternoon was a far lovelier affair. Big Bear usually hates anything that involves singing what he describes as “boring songs” to an audience but he must have liked the one his class sang and looked very chipper throughout. Reception class came out last of all, with their noses painted red. They looked exceptionally cute and Little Bear proceeded to completely melt my heart by dancing from foot to foot throughout and singing very loudly a beat after everyone else (it’s not his fault, he can’t process the language any faster). At the end he shouted “that’s my mum” and blew me kisses. Just gorgeous.

On the 17th December, A’s baby arrived safely. I’m always happy to hear when a friend has had a baby but as this was a Rainbow Baby (A’s first baby, Lucas, came far too early and sadly left us far too soon) it was extremely good news. I don’t think I’ve ever known someone was in labour before but I did this time and it was incredibly nerve-wracking. The baby’s safe arrival has been a huge relief and one of the best things that have happened all year. We are both absolutely made up for them. We got to meet the gorgeous lady herself when she was 4 days old. Weighing in at 5lb 8oz she is absolutely teeny but completely perfect.

Over the last couple of years it has become traditional for our family to meet up with 2 other families and go on the Santa Train together. It’s a traditional steam train that is all decorated and the staff dress up as elves and are all extremely jolly. Santa goes down the train giving out presents; you eat mince pies and go on a little journey. A band comes on board and everybody sings Christmas carols. It marks the official start of the Christmas season. We had a lovely time as we usually do and Little Bear coped exceptionally well.

We also had a very successful trip to get our Christmas tree. I mention it because we have never had a successful trip previously. One year the process was very quick but the tree had a distinctive cow poo smell; another year the woman selling the tree was very rude to us; another year we queued to see Santa for nearly an hour and a half and Big Bear was furious to find out after the agonising wait that he wasn’t actually giving any presents!!! This year we ditched all attempts at going anywhere fancy and just went to our local garden centre. It was perfect. We chose a tree, looked at the decorations and had a hot chocolate. Big Bear chose a giant reindeer and Little Bear a dancing Santa which had them both in hysterics. The needles may have fallen off the tree prematurely but I honestly don’t really care. My friend tells me you need to water them with lemonade so hopefully that’ll be us sorted next year!

I loved the fact that the boys had made all the decorations and that was definitely the best thing about the tree for me.

 

Christmas:

Big Bear ended up staying at home on Christmas Eve and helped with preparing for Wigilia which was lovely.

I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging but we had a bloody brilliant time over Christmas. The whole family stayed, everybody mucked in, I didn’t bother getting stressed about any of it, the children loved their presents and it seemed to be over in a flash. Everybody spontaneously stayed a second night. ‘Twas all good in the ‘hood.

Since then the Bears have played well with their new toys. Grizzly re-lived his youth by sourcing a game he used to have called Super Cup Football for Big Bear. That seems to have gone down well and there have been some very competitive matches. Little Bear is very happy with his Transformers, a remote control monster truck he has randomly named “Fat Fella” (no idea how he came up with that) and his Playmobil boat for in the bath. I also got both Bears a box full of craft activities each. They have both chosen to do a few things from them already which has been nice to see. We got Little Bear some giant Hama beads which he coped really well with and managed to complete his dinosaur with a bit of encouragement to stay on task:

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Big Bear has coloured some sun catchers and been busy with his beads too:

 

Yesterday we had a trip to the zoo with some friends. It was cold but clear and sunny and some of the animals were very friendly. Both boys came to nose to nose with a tiger (through some glass) which doesn’t happen every day. We also enjoyed watching a mummy orang-utan and her baby climbing up to the top of their enclosure to feed. I could have watched them all day.

Grizzly is off work until next Wednesday so we are planning more family time and meeting with other friends over the next couple of days. Things are so much more settled than this time last year and I am feeling very lucky.

Operation Home Improvement

Our extension is currently half-built. It has walls, most of a roof and holes where the windows will be. Thankfully all the work so far has been outside and I’m still quite in denial that as soon as January rolls around it is probably going to start encroaching inwards.

I have been busy measuring and ordering various things. A fairly major item is our new front door. It is going to be custom sprayed mustard on the inside and outside much to the consternation of the man selling it to me. He keeps saying things like “but EVERYBODY has it white on the inside” or “I have never sold a yellow door in my career”. I know, I say, but trust me, it will look beautiful.

The builder also thinks I’m bananas as apparently he hasn’t fitted the glass we have ordered for beside the front door since 1978. Despite his protestations we are also going for an internal round window, which, again, he thinks is old fashioned. Retro, I say. Vintage. Trust me.

 

December at Adoption: The Bear Facts