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

A bad bedtime

Last night’s bedtime for Little Bear was like stepping back a year in time. It took me completely by surprise. In fact, it’s funny how quickly I have forgotten the full extent of the challenge we used to face every single day. Last night was certainly a challenge though and if the truth be told I was quite unsure how to handle it. Even now, having reflected about it on my drive back and to work this morning, I am still none the wiser about what a better way of handling it might have been.

The thing is that we are quite familiar with dysregulation. I wrote about it in my last post as it tends to pay us a visit on Saturdays. Little Bear’s usual dysregulation is reactive: it doesn’t come out unless we make a demand of him like asking him to go to the toilet or eat a meal. Left to his own devices in an imaginary demand-free zone I think his behaviour at these points would probably seem quite calm and nothing out of the ordinary. When a demand is made, he will resist and refuse and might lash out. However, if we left him alone he would not come looking for trouble.

Last night’s uber-dysregulation (I’m clearly making up terms to suit myself here), however, was on a whole other scale. Last night’s dysregulation was combative and purposefully provocative and very difficult to manage.

Things seemed like they were going awry when Grizzly picked Little Bear up from school. He was scowling and grumpy: not his usual default demeanour any more. The teacher didn’t need a word though and although we had a bit of resistance on his arrival home, Little Bear settled quickly. We spotted the signs so fed him and let him rest in front of the tele. Tea and in fact the whole evening went without the need for remark. It was only when I said it was bedtime and insisted after some refusal that Little Bear did need to turn his I Pad off that I knew I was in for it. It’s hard to describe but there is a visible change in him at these points. His body language, facial expression and whole comportment were different. He does not seem like the same child when this happens.

I persevered with bedtime, keeping everything the same as usual. I asked him to go for his “night night wee”. He went into his bedroom. I asked him again. He rolled around on the floor. I began to count as I always do. I got to 3 and he looked me directly in the eye and didn’t move. I said “ok, that’s one story gone”. He usually has 3 books and we regularly use their removal as a consequence if needs be. This upset him and he began to cry but did go to the toilet. I could see the way this was going and tried to reason. I explained that he had made a bad decision so lost one story but if he made some good decisions now, he could still have 2. He called me an idiot. I removed another story. He started chanting “mummy is stupid” so I removed the third. It’s hard because I knew he was dysregulated but it isn’t ok to call me names every time I do something he doesn’t like. Perhaps I should have tried to ignore it instead.

As he was now quite miserable and grumpy, I tried to cajole him. “If you get ready super quick and are really sensible, you can win 2 of your stories back”. I felt this was fair. I was giving him a way out and most children would have seen that 2 stories was good, it was what they wanted and I think they would have tried to buck themselves along to get them. In fairness, I think Little Bear would have on a usual day. In fact most of the time when he loses stories I don’t give them back and he usually accepts that. Not last night though. No. Last night he began getting his knickers in a twist because he thought I should let him win 3 stories back. Perhaps I should have just let him but clearly I can match him in a battle of who is most stubborn (oh dear) and I felt it was the wrong message.

I was able to distract him though and we jumbled our way through getting into pyjamas and doing teeth well enough that I did let him have his stories. He listened well and enjoyed them. We had a nice 10 minutes of quality time together. Little Bear seemed his usual self. That is, until the second I put the books back onto the shelf. At that exact instant, Dysregulated Little Bear was back. It was literally as though someone had flipped a switch.

Me: “okey doke, lie down in your bed then”. Little Bear does not. Me: “come on, Mummy let you win your stories back and we’ve had a lovely time. Let’s be sensible now”. Little Bear: “no”. Me (probably sounding exasperated) “Little Bear, you’ve got some choices now. You can either lay down and be sensible or not. But if you don’t, you know there will be a consequence. It’s your choice but I think you’re really tired and a big sleep would make you feel better”. Little Bear (continuing to hang his legs over the side of the bed): “no”. Me: “ok”. At this point I left the room and sat on the landing so I could still keep an ear out for him.

I was swiftly followed by something (probably a dummy) being pelted at the door then various other items. I could hear a range of crashing and bashing, wall kicking, bed-rocking etc. Little Bear then started shouting and hurling insults. I chose at this stage to ignore him because I knew all this behaviour was designed to attract my attention. However, being stubborn as I am, I have previously sat outside his door and ignored him for a very long time in the hope he would run out of steam but he didn’t. I wasn’t entirely sure that ignoring would work this time either. I pondered my options.

It is difficult in these situations because there are not many options and of all the options not many are favourable ones. I feel that at these times Little Bears WANTS me to lose the plot with him. He wants me to shout and ball. Sometimes I think he wants me to hit him. Sometimes I really feel like it. I think this has something to do with Mirror Neurons though it is odd because to my knowledge Little Bear has not been in a domestic violence situation and has not been physically abused. Nevertheless, he is sparring for a fight and it sometimes feels as though nothing will work until he has managed to escalate the situation and got whatever it is out of his system. Obviously I never do hit him (and don’t think hitting is ever an actual option) so need to have a better strategy.

When he had been shouting for a while, he started saying “why aren’t you speaking to me mummy?”. I said that he wasn’t behaving very well at the moment but I would speak to him if he spoke to me nicely. I asked if he was ready to speak to me nicely. He said he wasn’t and went back to shaking his bed about.

At the point when I felt his bed might actually fall down I decided I had to try something different so I went in to speak with him. I gave him another chance to make a different choice and lie properly in the bed. He did not take it and probably called me something inappropriate so I decided to get him out of the bed and try a ‘time in’. I sat him a couple of feet from me on the landing, making sure there was nothing within his reach that could become a missile. I could see him from the corner of my eye. His behaviour continued to be provocative – moving from the spot I had told him to sit on, trying to turn around, trying to move behind me. It felt like a battle for control.

I distinctly remember sitting in Prep Groups talking about managing behaviour. We were talking about distraction and why that is so much better than a consequence and one lady piped up saying “but then you’ve let them win” and we all inwardly groaned because we knew the whole lesson was about not making it a battlefield or about winning or losing. As a parent you have to be the bigger person. You have to let some things go purposefully unnoticed. You have to pick your battles. You are meant to be therapeutic.

However, how do you distract a child at bedtime? I don’t want to distract him, I want him to go to sleep. I also have to be very careful with Little Bear because the rules need to be the rules. He knows where he’s at then, without any uncertainty. Consistent rules make him feel safe. I can’t have a rule where you aren’t allowed to bounce on your bed except when you’re feeling rubbish and then you can. That doesn’t work. The rule is that you can’t bounce on your bed. If I made an exception one day, the next day, Little Bear would think he could do it again. Last night, he was checking all the rules and I felt I had to make sure they were still there.

I also felt that he was spiralling out of control and on some level he needed me to make sure things stayed under control so that he felt safe. He needed me to keep him under control. In that way it WAS a battle for control.

Needless to say that having all these thoughts and insights is all well and good but you still have a spiralling child who you have now been trying to get to sleep for 2 hours. I did eventually lose my temper and shouted at him and it was a shame because although when he first arrived you could practically explode and he wouldn’t bat an eyelid, he does now look pretty frightened if one of us shouts. It took holding him for a while and some more discussion and wondering to get him to calm down. Even then he still said he wasn’t ready to go to sleep sensibly.

I left the room again and after a minute or so, he said “mum, I happy now” and when I went back in it was as though the switch had been flicked back again. Whatever “It” had been was over. We had kisses and cuddles and he settled down.

I didn’t feel good about my handling of it. I wished I hadn’t shouted at him in an angry way. We have found before that unless he has a good cry and gets everything out of his system he won’t settle and somehow you have to make the escalation stop. I’m open to suggestions if anybody has any wise words.

The saving grace is that he could have been having that meltdown at the school disco which would have been MUCH worse.

I don’t know what was behind it but I’m hoping that the Easter Holidays are going to be just what we all need.

A bad bedtime

Saturdays

When Saturday rolls around I think most people are grateful and ready for a rest. No school run, no work, no expectations. Saturday is meant to be a good day. Saturday should be about a slower start, family time, fun and freedom. However, since Little Bear started school we’ve started noticing that Saturday has stopped delivering. Saturday is now actually quite tricky.

On Saturdays Little Bear is shattered from a week at school. He has worked hard, tried his best and by Saturday seems to be hitting a wall of tiredness. On Saturdays Little Bear is dysregulated.

Grizzly works very hard all week too. He works long hours in a high pressure job and, like many of his colleagues, struggles to adjust from the working week to the weekend. He is shattered and in need of a lie in and a bit less pressure. He needs easing in to the weekend. He needs a break.

Big Bear is normally pretty chipper on a Saturday morning because he plays football for his team. He usually marches into our bedroom not long after 7 with the announcement “number 15 is approaching the pitch!”. He is over excited.

Little Bear has a swimming lesson at 9am on a Saturday morning. I have to admit I don’t love it but at least it gets it out of the way and the rest of the day is free. Usually I take Little Bear swimming and Grizzly takes Big Bear to his football match, occasionally the other way around. Nobody gets a lie in.

After swimming we try to get Little Bear to have a rest and a snack. Sometimes if we have to go somewhere else and he doesn’t have time for that things tend to go AWRY.

How Big Bear is depends on the football match. If they have lost or he has not scored or somebody has fouled him or all of the above then he might be in a football GRUMP.

We usually re-convene after lunch and attempt to do something or other. This may or may not go well. Often it involves Little Bear ignoring all instructions/ doing the opposite of them and Grizzly increasingly struggling to remain calm. Little Bear seems to know that Grizzly is finding the day hard too and seems to be especially disobedient for him. This pattern generally continues until bedtime when Little Bear often loses the plot entirely.

Every now and again we don’t have the energy for this type of Saturday and we try to keep things EASY. This weekend Big Bear’s football match was cancelled and Grizzly was especially tired from travelling so we decided to skip the swimming too. When Little Bear woke us at 6:30 am we gave him his I Pad and he lay in bed with us playing on it for a while. It meant we were able to shut our eyes for a bit longer, even if we weren’t actually asleep. Although this is a nice bit of lazy parenting which definitely has benefits for us we do have to be careful with it as if we leave giving Little Bear his breakfast for too long, things will go AWRY.

Little Bear will refuse to go to the toilet/ come to the table/ eat the breakfast. When we insist that these things do have to be done, he will say something rude like “idiot” or “stupid mum” and growl. We will try to ignore him.

Grizzly and Little Bear find everything easier if they can go outside so even though they are at risk of winding each other up, they often go outside together to do some jobs. This Saturday they cleaned Grizzly’s car and moved some gravel about. Big Bear and I popped to buy him some new trousers as he insists upon growing and got some plants to finish off the front garden.

We then needed to have an early lunch as we were meeting some friends at the park afterwards. When Little Bear is tired he is not too good at eating his meals. He tends to sit at the table but fiddle with anything and everything but not his actual food. He will try and lie on the bench or sit on the back of it. It can be incredibly irritating, especially as he is hungry and will eat the food if we feed it to him. It must be some sort of control thing but I’ve never properly understood it and it can be frustrating, especially if we are in a rush. Grizzly finds it particularly difficult.

We eventually all managed to get into the car. Unfortunately we got stuck in roadworks on the way to the park. Little Bear gets quite anxious if we don’t get somewhere quickly and tends to talk non-stop. He will say things like “over take the cars Dad” and will get increasingly annoyed when you don’t do it. We will try to explain to him that it’s a queue because they are working on the bridge and the cars have to wait for the green light. We can’t over take because it would be dangerous. Little Bear seems to have a bit of a fascination with crashing though and will then start talking about how we should crash and will argue that black is white and that crashing would be good and that it wouldn’t matter if it hurt people. I don’t really think he means it but because he has set himself on that trajectory he doesn’t seem to be able to stop.

Ignoring Little Bear at these points is not really a useful strategy because it tends to make him more insistent or louder or he turns to insults. Distraction can work and sometimes a calm explanation can but at other times he gets “beyond himself”. I can’t quite remember how it started but on this journey he disagreed with/ disliked something Big Bear had said. It wouldn’t have been much – you could say that the sky is blue and that might annoy him at these moments. Whatever it was, the two of them started with a “I will” “you won’t” kind of argument. If Little Bear isn’t getting the outcome or response he’s hoping for, he will say something like “you will or I will kill you” or “fine then, I will chop off your head”.

It is quite disturbing how often he references decapitating somebody but we try not to get too excited about it. I don’t think he actually means it, I think it is a way of verbalising his inner discomfort at the time. However, it is unpleasant and he does need to learn a more appropriate way of expressing himself. Usually at these points we will say something like “if you carry on being rude, you can stay in the car with Mum/Dad when we get to the park. It’s your choice” and then try not to engage with him. The explicit consequence seems to help and the fact that he knows we would follow through with it.

It is difficult because whilst it is important to be understanding of Little Bear’s feelings and to empathise with the reasons behind his dysregulation, his behaviour does impact on everyone else in the car and it can feel like a pressure cooker ready to blow. We find we do need to somehow stop the escalation otherwise it’s too difficult to drive the car safely. On a couple of occasions it has been necessary to stop the car but thankfully not many times.

I find it can be a fine balance between being therapeutic and drawing a line under behaviours that are not acceptable/ adversely affect everyone else. As a Mum I have to meet everyone’s needs as best I can and that does mean there are times that Little Bear needs to “get on with it” even if he doesn’t quite feel like it.

Once we were at the park, everything was calmer. Little Bear was tired and wanted a lot of cuddles. He did quite a lot of spinning on his tummy on the roundabout. The sun was shining, Grizzly and Big Bear found some people to play football with and all was well.

When we got home, we made sure Little Bear had a rest.

Tea time brings the same issues as other meals but Gary was here and we were keeping things easy so she fed him and got cuddles and all was fairly well.

At bedtime we quite often have some refusal issues with getting ready but Little Bear loves his stories and the threat of removing 1 of those usually works to keep him focused. He listened to his stories and we had some cuddles. We skipped him reading his book because I knew he couldn’t manage it. It is after I settle him and go out of his room that the monkey business usually starts.

We still sit outside of Little Bear’s door for this reason. If we fully removed supervision I’m not too sure what he would get up to but I know it wouldn’t be sleeping. This Saturday he got out of bed/ threw things/ shouted various things through his door (which wasn’t shut, just to, as he doesn’t like being shut in a room). I think I sat there for about 45 minutes or so. It wasn’t too bad but most nights are much better than this now. Often Little Bear will chat a little but settle down and sleep quite quickly. He mostly doesn’t try to get out of bed or scratch the walls or throw things any more. He usually says “I love you Mum” not “hideous idiot mum”. But not on Saturdays. Saturdays can be tricky.

The good thing about Saturdays is that they are followed by Sundays which are usually a much nicer kind of day. One of us usually gets a lie in. This weekend it was Mother’s Day so we both got up and all had a nice breakfast together. We usually manage some quality family time on a Sunday. This weekend we went to the zoo. Little Bear walked beside me, he followed instructions, he was calm in the car, we chatted about the animals, we went on a boat, we had FUN. Little Bear is like a different child on Sundays. We had the odd small blip – I got a slap because he was getting over-hungry but generally we had a lovely day.

Little Bear wanted to get a cuddly bat. He announced it on the way there. He has some birthday money so we said he could. We went all around the zoo and had lunch and an ice-cream before we went to the shop. Little Bear didn’t moan once and was very happy to be united with his bat when the time finally came. He has creatively named it “Bat” and it apparently slept hanging upside down all the way home in the car.

Little Bear is such a good boy but Saturdays can be tricky.

 

 

Saturdays

Juggling

I tried to write a jaunty blog post yesterday because last week I promised positivity and also because I wasn’t feeling quite myself and I thought it would cheer me up. Now that I’ve read it back I’ve realised that it sounds like a person trying really hard to be upbeat but not quite achieving it and for that reason comes across as quite fake. As much as my default is to try to put a positive spin on things I do also feel strongly that my blog should be honest and representative of our real life. With that in mind, here is the honest version of how things are at the moment (cue a massive juggling analogy).

Any parent knows that managing day to day life is a big juggling act. You have a whole array of balls that you need to keep in the air at any one time. There are the ones everybody has: making sure there is food in the cupboards, meals on the table, clean clothes in wardrobes and a house that is vaguely tidy and clean. There is the keeping your children and any pets you might have alive ball. There is the making sure you have a card/ present as appropriate for any relevant birthdays/ weddings/ christenings/ funerals/ new homes ball. There is the making sure you give enough attention to your friends/ family ball. There is the work ball. For me that is currently self-employed work which means going out and finding work and selling myself. I’m loving it and getting lots of job satisfaction but nevertheless I have to make sure it fits in with everything else.

There is the stuff logistics ball – has each person got what they need for today’s activity? Is the reading book in the book bag? Is the football kit clean and dry? Where exactly have the shin pads gone?

There is the parenting nitty gritty ball. Are your children happy? Have you done enough reading with them? When exactly did you last remember to wash them? I find they take turns to give me the most concern but parenting Little Bear is represented by a larger ball than the other things so far in this analogy. Parenting him involves a lot more analysis and unpicking of behaviour. I have to be on my toes. In yesterday’s jaunty post I wrote this sentence: “behaviour-wise nobody has said “could we have a word” for a while” and then I went to pick him up from school and his teacher said that very phrase. Little Bear had, out of nowhere, had the worst day he has ever had in school. He was in trouble at lunch time for spitting milk in children’s faces and slapping them on the head. His behaviour didn’t improve back in the classroom and he had more ‘thinking time’ than anything else. He also tried to jab some children in the face with scissors. Hearing that list of behaviours in reference to your child is never a positive experience. I then added “talk to Little Bear and try to figure out what on earth is going on” to my list of things to juggle that night.

This morning I reminded him about our chat, saying “please don’t stab any children with scissors today”. In a voice trying to come across as very reasonable, Little Bear replied “I wasn’t stabbing mummy, I was trying cut their heads off and find their (Adam’s) apple”. Add in a ball of concern about the future and well, just general concern.

Sometimes, due to the size and weight of Little Bear’s ball, it can throw out the whole juggling act. Sometimes it takes all my energy to keep from harming him. Sometimes the whole family can be impacted if he is having a bad day. We have moments when it seems as though his weighty ball could knock all the others to the floor and scatter them about. I always have a keeping going no matter what ball and a therapeutic parenting ball up my sleeve though, just in case.

Parenting Little Bear also involves keeping on top of appointments with other agencies such as Audiology, Educational Psychology and Speech and Language Therapy. It involves keeping up to date with where his development is at and figuring out ways to overcome any difficulties he might be having. For example he was really struggling with learning to blend sounds together for reading so I tried lots of different ways of working on it, before realising that his auditory memory was not sufficiently developed to hold three sounds in it e.g. ‘c’ ‘a’ and ‘t’. I realised that he would never be able to blend until he could do that so had to figure out ways of developing his auditory memory. I love the challenges he poses me and I love being able to help him overcome them. Nevertheless, keeping on top of Little Bear’s development is another ball that I juggle.

Occasionally the other services involved do not meet Little Bear’s needs in the way they should and I have to advocate for him. Last week I wrote about our experiences of the local Speech and Language Therapy Service which led to the addition of another ball: making a formal complaint. For interests’ sake I have not yet received a response…

Grizzly helps of course with this whole juggling act where he can but he has an exercise ball sized work ball that he has to keep in the air.

Generally I would say that we have the above juggling act covered. Of course I haven’t mentioned internal pressures such as the trying to keep vaguely in shape ball (10,000 steps a day and as little sugar as possible. That’s the plan anyway…), the keep the blog up to date ball, the try to get a book published ball, the should we start a craft business ball. There are many more but I won’t bore you with them, you know the kind of things I mean.

There are quite a few balls in the juggling act but we’re used to it and in the most part everything works pretty well.

What has happened recently is that we seem to have gathered some extra balls. Some are self-inflicted, some unexpected but they have threatened to topple the whole act.

The main thing that we have added is the lets build an extension ball. It seemed like a good idea at the time and the end result will undoubtedly be brilliant and I will be going around marvelling at its beauty for months after its completion. However in the meantime it has meant adding in a manage all the workmen ball. I have to say that we have been very lucky and they have all been very personable. However, there have been the sorts of issues you would expect such as electricians turning up before you’ve had chance to plan where you want the sockets and turning off the power just as you are trying to cook the boys’ tea. There have been a lot of pressured decision balls and trying to remain calm in the face of builders telling you they’ve discovered a massive problem balls. There has been a whole additional layer of people and stuff management.

Thankfully the building part is now finally finished but I have instead added in a do your own decorating ball. I will be pleased with myself afterwards but at the moment I’m not too enthusiastic about it.

Little Bear has an upcoming birthday. Add in an organise a party ball and buy him some presents ball.

The things that have been pelted in like curveballs started with Gary (Grizzly’s Mum) being taken to A and E. You can read about that in A Mini Crisis. Add in a worrying about Gary ball. She stayed with us for a week then when she was barely back on her feet, the next crisis hit. Supergran, Grizzly’s elderly gran was taken into hospital. She has now been there for 12 days and is potentially very poorly. She is having more tests next week. Add in a trying to fit in regular visits to the hospital ball.

It is no secret that I adore Supergran. I think everybody does because she is a very likeable person. She may be 50 years my senior but we have lots of things in common and I very much do not want her to be poorly. Visiting has mostly been good in that we have chatted and joked and I have felt able to cheer her a little. However, Gary and I had a not so good visit this week. Supergran was uncomfortable and it was distressing for both of us. Add in a ball of worry and upset about one of my very favourite people.

Add in a Big Bear is off school with Tonsillitis ball.

At times this week I have felt the weight of all the balls above me. It is getting harder to juggle them: there are quite clearly too many. However, I’m hoping that honesty is the best policy. I don’t think that adding in a pretend everything is fine when it isn’t ball will help. The plan is to gently lay down all but the essential balls over the weekend and indulge in a bit of rest and self-care. The stress is doing bad things for my shopping habit and I’ve fallen right off the no-sugar wagon after a couple of years of being on it. I think for this weekend I will try not to concern myself over that. I just need a little break. When Monday comes around, I will roll up my sleeves, gather the balls and juggle again.

 

Juggling

A Grown-up Weekend Away

I can’t honestly remember the last time Grizzly and I went away for a night without children. Certainly not once in the 17 months Little Bear has been with us and I think we had only been away a handful of times before that. Grizzly is away fairly frequently with work (though I’m not sure that really counts) and I have had one night away for a friend’s wedding reception.

The main reason we haven’t been away before now is because asking the grandparents to have our boys feels like a big ask. We know they don’t mind but we also know how much energy is required to look after them and keep them entertained. Little Bear’s behaviour can be unpredictable and if he’s having a bad day he can be really challenging to manage. Also, Little Bear tends to test the boundaries more with the grandparents so there is every likelihood that his behaviour could escalate when he is with them. Having never been away we also didn’t know how he would cope without us being there and whether that in itself might cause some issues.

However, recently I’ve been craving a night off. I have friends who do it all the time and I was getting a bit envious of the peace and quiet and lie-in they would be having. I find first thing in the morning the most challenging part of the day with the boys. I’m not a morning person and ideally need 5 minutes to lie in bed quietly before I get up and face the world. However, Little Bear always wakes me before my alarm and always with incessant chatter. He begins work on trying to get me out of bed immediately and if that doesn’t work makes other insistent demands such as asking me to get something or make something speak. I try all the tricks to get him to entertain himself for a few minutes or just lie quietly with me but I know that in reality he will keep this up, without pausing for breath, until I get up and feed him. Though I love him dearly the thought of one day off, one morning without the incessant chatter, was becoming increasingly appealing.

My birthday is in January and I made my wish to Grizzly that all I really wanted was 1 night off. Grizzly didn’t mention anything until a couple of weeks ago when he let slip that he had booked a hotel and started to make arrangements for the boys and that we would be away on the day of my birthday.

It was difficult to know what the best arrangements for the Bears would be. We plumped for splitting them up – Grizzly’s Mum would have Little Bear and my parents would have Big Bear. Big Bear would have a sleepover and Little Bear could stay at home where everything is more familiar. This should lessen the load for the grandparents though I was worried that Little Bear might be very unsettled by being away from us and from Big Bear. I felt he might pine for Big Bear but nobody lives far from anybody else so the grandparents could bring them back together if needs be.

I was also concerned that the boys might be upset that I was choosing to spend my birthday away from them. With that in mind we decided that we wouldn’t stay out long on the Sunday and would come back in time to have a bit of a party afternoon together.

My plan for the week leading up to the Big Weekend was to make the most of getting ready. I wanted to spend time trying on outfits, getting my nails done, having long pampering shower etc. It sounded idyllic and I’m sure it would have been had things gone to plan.

The week started ok. Both boys returned to school after the holidays and though I had a cold and felt under the weather I spent a productive day ticking things off my to-do list. On Tuesday I lost my temper with Little Bear before school as we were in a rush and he wouldn’t co-operate. I then went to meet a friend and the 5 minute journey took me 50 minutes. When I got home I attempted to wrangle with our intermittent internet connection to do an online shop when the phone rang. It was school. Big Bear had been sick could I come and get him?

As soon as I saw him I knew there was nothing wrong with him (daft look on his face) but it was the Head sending him home and as we went out the door he reminded me of the 48 hour rule. Bloody brilliant. I’m totally down with the rule but not when your child scoffs all their meals and is clearly fine.

On Wednesday I had to clear the front room ready for the builders. Later on, Big Bear and I walked the long way round to pick Little Bear up from school. The cat decided to follow us. At the furthest point from home she decided to stop following us. Figuring that her cat skills would lead her home we eventually carried on to school. What ensued was a missing cat situation and several hours of increasing concern, especially as the weather was awful. Grizzly and Big Bear finally found her much later, exactly where we had last seen her: clearly she has no cat skills at all.

On Thursday the shower broke.

What on earth was going on?! Would we even get away for the weekend at this rate? There certainly wasn’t going to be much pampering or trying on of clothes.

By the time I had packed for myself and Big Bear, got his football things ready and organised Little Bear for the party he was going to, made lunch for a friend and dinner for my brother, I was wondering how I would sustain enough energy for the weekend.

Saturday morning began badly because Big Bear’s football match was cancelled which apparently meant his weekend was ruined before it had even begun.

We were finally organised and child free by about 11 am on Saturday. I have to say that it was brilliant. We couldn’t really believe we were actually out together, on our own and we could do anything we wanted. We definitely made the most of it, including staying out past midnight. That last statement shows how little I get out!! I won’t bore you with the details, have a photo montage instead:

I loved every single second of it. I don’t think you realise how much you need some grown up time until you get it. I missed the boys though and enjoyed picking them some little treats and looked forward to seeing them in the afternoon.

Big Bear had been absolutely fine all weekend but his greeting to me was “the weekend has been awful!” He was fairly miserable all afternoon and unusually prickly with his brother. Little Bear had coped really well and behaved well too. Seeing us again seemed to unlock something though and he seemed a little overwhelmed. He was clingy and emotional for the rest of the day.

It wasn’t exactly the party atmosphere we had planned! I think perhaps that had been the wrong plan and maybe they just needed some closeness and 1:1 time with us.

Their reaction reminded me why we needed a break in the first place. We adore them but parenting is hard core and requires a significant commitment of physical, emotional and psychological energy. I don’t think I’ll wait another 2 years for a night off. Now, where’s my diary…

 

A Grown-up Weekend Away

Is creativity beneficial for children?

I recently read a blog post by @butterflymum83 entitled  Can Creativity Encourage Good Mental Health? . In it she talks about her need to have a creative outlet and how having one has helped her to combat Post Natal Depression. It was an interesting read and it made me think about my children and how using creative activities with them has had really positive outcomes too.

Although I consider myself to be a creative person and have always had some sort of creative outlet in my life, I wouldn’t say that either of my boys naturally are, despite having fantastic imaginations.

When Big Bear was small my parenting style was different to how it is now. Between the routine parts of our days I tended to follow Big Bear’s lead. If he wanted to run around dressed as Batman then we did. If he wanted to play Lego and get me to “make the man talk” then I did. I always offered creative activities as a choice but Big Bear rarely chose them. In fact he rarely chose anything that involved sitting at a table.

Fast-forward to last year when I now had two boisterous boys to entertain throughout the school holidays. I realised my parenting style had to change. It was impossible to follow two children’s leads at the same time, especially when one child needed close supervision and the other needed to know that my love and attention for him had not been usurped by his brother. Ideally I needed chunks of the day where both boys were in the same place doing the same thing so I could be with both of them. And to be honest, for my own sanity, I did want some quieter times when they weren’t both running around crazily.

The truth is: I have hoodwinked my children into crafting! I took to setting up activities at the kitchen table then calling both Bears to me. They would walk through the door, I would pop an apron over their heads before they even noticed and the next thing they knew they were sitting down getting creative. I quickly discovered that despite the activities not being of their choosing they both loved them anyway.

You can separate the kinds of activities we do into two broad categories: those where I provide the raw materials and the boys just go for it in a ‘creative free for all’ and those where there is a specific outcome that we are aiming for. I have found that both have their own merits.

Having a creative free for all

I mean activities such as painting, Play-Doh, Kinetic sand, decorating biscuits, glue and glitter, Lego without instructions etc.

I started with these activities for Little Bear because he didn’t have much experience of crafty-type things and following the rules was extremely difficult for him. These tasks have very few rules (mainly just staying on the messy mat) so there wasn’t much for him to oppose. They were fairly low risk for this reason and therefore there was a good chance of success for him. Also, most of them are very sensory and suited his level of play at the time.

Whilst a creative free for all was ideal for Little Bear, they were generally fun and accessible for Big Bear too. One of the first times the Bears played together properly they were making Play-Doh ice creams.

My main reason for loving a creative free for all is the huge opportunity for praise-giving that it provides. Because there is no aim or expected end-product, literally anything goes. Imaginations can run wild and free and even if they don’t, you can still say that whatever they produce is beautiful.

Thankfully both Bears are accepting of praise. That being the case I don’t really think it is possible to give them too much. A creative free for all allows you to praise how hard they are trying (my favourite thing to praise), how neat they are being, how expressive/ imaginative/ creative, how well they are sharing materials, how well they are concentrating. The boys seem to have picked up on the positive nature of the task and now take quite an interest in what the other has produced too. They praise each other’s creations which is lovely to witness. They don’t know it, but we are working on lots of other skills while we’re at it. Sharing is one that has improved significantly.

When we have created something we tend to take photos to send to Grizzly or The Grandbearants or we find some space to display it on the shelves. I think this helps the boys to take pride in what they have made and builds their confidence in what they are able to achieve. Little Bear often says “I didn’t know I could make that”.

Over time we have explored different materials such as Bunchems, spray chalk (outside) and most recently craft maize. The latter is our current favourite and kept them both busy for AGES the other day. In fact, the main problem I had was trying to get Little Bear to stop because we needed to go out. You just dampen the maize and it sticks to itself or paper or card. It’s unbelievably easy (I’m not exaggerating, I actually couldn’t believe it was that easy after looking very sceptically at it in the bag) and it doesn’t keep coming apart so has a low frustration factor, which is perfect for the little dude. I highly recommend it.

Creating something specific

I generally mean any creative task that has instructions: baking (I’m nowhere near capable of making it up as I go along); Lego sets; Hama Beads (though you can go rogue); craft kits etc.

I do think children need more of an attention span and a bit of resilience behind them to get creative in these ways. However, I also think that sometimes you have to just try stuff and if you show your child you trust them enough to have a go, they often rise to the occasion.

I remember asking Little Bear’s foster carers if they had ever tried baking with him. They laughed and said “he’s too busy for that” and in so doing wrote off a whole chunk of his potential.

Admittedly I didn’t try it straight away but after a few months when I did, he was far more compliant than usual because the task was so novel and exciting for him. I love the photo I have of him proudly clutching the tray of cookies he made.

Because most of these activities are fun for children I think they are a good time to practise listening to instructions. The motivation to complete the task usually helps with the listening part. Obviously we’ve had our challenging moments but I’ve generally found that the natural consequence of not being allowed to complete the task if you can’t be sensible with it seems to keep them on track.

Little Bear continues to find tasks with too many steps of instructions difficult e.g. building a Lego model but I think the practise is helping to build his resilience and attention span. Getting to the end of a task (even if it’s with help) seems really beneficial. Seeing the end result and being able to say “I built that” (or “I builded it by my own” to be more accurate) is brilliant for both Bear’s confidence and I feel encourages them to have more of a “can do” attitude when faced with other challenges.

 

Now that both boys are in formal education I’ve noticed that the curriculum doesn’t seem to allow much space for expressing yourself so it feels even more important to facilitate creativity at home. I also feel that having more of these tasks around and having gently nudged the Bear’s in the right direction with trying them, they are both much more likely to choose them of their own volition now. This has definitely helped with getting Big Bear off his IPad (I know there is a place for technology but I honestly feel that Big Bear’s growing addiction to it was making him sad). I think he is much better now at finding something to do and doing it, rather than wandering about moaning he’s bored.

The benefits of getting creative have been wide and far-reaching for us. Apart from anything else, we enjoy doing the activities together and that alone is reason enough to carry on. I am struggling to think of any negatives, apart from the tidying up and the stress of having to surreptitiously bin a creation or 3 every now and again to make space for new ones!!

I distinctly remember a little girl we know constantly getting told off for not colouring in the lines when she was very small. It really upset my belief in freedom of expression. Creativity should be all about what you CAN do and not at all about what you can’t. Who cares about the lines? Draw in them, on them and outside of them if you want to.

 

 

Is creativity beneficial for children?

Acceptance

A couple of things have happened this week that have got me thinking about acceptance: how important it is that we instil it in our children from a young age and how hard it can be achieve as adults.

Big Bear has been having some issues with a boy we know. It seems a few people have been on the receiving end of this boy’s unkind words, including him saying that a 4 year old boy we also know is “gay” because he likes to dress up as Elsa. The 8 year old in question lives close by so, one assumes, has a similar upbringing to my Bears. However, I would be mortified if I thought that they were going around using a term describing somebody’s sexuality in such a derogatory way. Big Bear knows that some men like ladies and some like men and that some ladies like men and others like ladies. We talk about that in a matter of fact, every day kind of way because that’s how I think sexuality should be viewed. I want my Bears to grow up knowing that everybody likes something/ somebody different and that that is what they accept as “normal”.

When Little Bear made a friend who has 2 daddies, neither Bear batted an eyelid or in fact asked me anything about it.

I worry about what this boy we know has been taught about accepting homosexuality. Not only that, but what has he been taught about accepting other differences in people’s preferences? So what if a boy wants to dress up as Elsa? Is that really something that requires comment, let alone negative comment?

Admittedly, I have never been one for following the crowd. Even as a child I did my own thing:- I wore what I wanted to wear, not necessarily what was in fashion; I listened to the music I liked, not necessarily what was in the charts. As I got older I didn’t feel the need to try drugs or drink too much just because everyone else was. It did mark me out as being different. There were then and there are certainly now, pressures to conform, even from an early age and life can be hard for those who do not. However, rather than my conclusion being that we should all just conform to make our lives easier, I am now even more of the opinion that what we actually need to do is work harder at having a more diverse and accepting society.

After all, if I had compromised myself and tried to follow the crowd, I wouldn’t now be the happy, teetotal, vegetarian adult that I am. I wouldn’t have chosen to adopt, I wouldn’t have shaved off half my hair and I wouldn’t have a bright green fridge. Those things make me different but they also make me who I am.

So yes, I am coming at this from a standpoint of thinking that difference is good. I suspect that, intentionally or not, I have now influenced Big Bear into a similar mind-set. Big Bear has different hair to all the other boys in his class – it’s longer – and he frequently gets called “a girl”. Whilst I think it suits him I don’t want to force my alternative ways onto him and worry about any negative attention, so I keep offering to cut it for him. He won’t let me (or a hairdresser) and is steadfastly developing his own style in spite of the negative comments. This week he went to football training with his hair tied back because that’s how some of his favourite footballers wear it. I think there were some negative comments but he didn’t let it bother him. I’m very proud that he too is carving out his own path and I hope that he is strong enough to stick to his guns as he gets older.

I am also very proud that he just accepts difference in others. Once, we were in a coffee shop with one of his friends and a lady with pink hair walked in. Big Bear’s friend started pointing and laughing. You can imagine the lecture she then received from me. Big Bear couldn’t understand what the fuss was about, saying the lady looked lovely.

Last weekend, Big Bear and I met an elderly lady with very obvious Dementia. We were in a café and she came over and started speaking to us and stroking Big Bear’s hair. She was thoroughly confused and couldn’t follow any conversational overtures that we tried to make. Big Bear did really well at just taking it in his stride. It could have been a frightening experience for a child and some would certainly have laughed or shrugged her off but he intrinsically understood that she was poorly and couldn’t help it. He accepted her for who she was and tried his best to engage with her kindly.

Quite apart from any shaping we have done through our parenting, Big Bear has a very sensitive and empathetic personality. Little Bear is already a kind and generous little soul and I hope that over time he too would be able to react in a similar way if he met a similar lady, though at the moment I fear he would probably have told her to “get off”.

Little Bear doesn’t care whether his friend wears dresses though and in fact, he is probably more of his own man than any of us. If anything, he takes it a bit too far, thinking that none of the rules apply to him! Whilst I’m keen on him doing what he’s told, I hope he continues to be so sure of himself and is not too easily influenced by others.

At the moment, Little Bear is intrigued by differences but accepting of them. On holiday we saw a lady on the beach who had prosthetic legs. She had evidently taken off her prostheses in order to get around more easily on the sand. Before I could intervene, Little Bear strode right over and asked her about her legs. He didn’t point or laugh, he was just genuinely curious. I think his brand of direct curiosity can be a good one, as long as you are accepting of the explanations.

Little Bear’s Elsa loving friend came to play the other evening. After a while both boys got tired so I put the TV on for them. Little bear asked for his dummy and blanket. I don’t know whether he hasn’t yet reached the stage where he is aware of how others might judge him or whether he just doesn’t care. Either way, he sat there, all 4 and more than a half years of him, sucking away, stroking his face with the label of his blanket and his friend sat beside him without passing comment. A lovely moment of true acceptance.

This week I have run one of my Speech, Language and Communication Workshops for adopters and I had a conversation that got me thinking about a different type of acceptance. The Dad in question was talking about his daughter’s needs and the struggle he has in not comparing her achievements with those of her similar-aged peers. As a parent you know that you should accept your child, just the way they are, without comparing them. However, in reality, I suspect that acceptance doesn’t just come over night and is not always that easy to achieve.

In my professional life, especially in my work with children with complex medical/ physical/ social needs, I have met many parents who have not yet achieved acceptance of their child/ their child’s needs. Nobody ever sets out thinking their child will have difficulties or struggles or be in any way different to other people’s children. When it turns out that they do and they are parents quite naturally have to grieve the loss of their ‘perfect’ imagined child. True acceptance can take many years. I think sometimes parents can feel that by accepting their child’s difficulties they are in some way giving up on them because they are no longer seeking ways of “making them better”.

From my own experiences as a mum to Little Bear and his developmental delay, things can take you by surprise. You can think that you are fully accepting of your child’s needs then something crops up that throws them under the spotlight and you are hit by the sickening realisation that maybe you are quite worried about how far behind they are and how such and such is leaps ahead and the unwelcome spectre of your fears about the future starts looming large.

I definitely think that achieving true acceptance of your child exactly as they are is something to strive for but maybe we need to acknowledge that it isn’t always quite as easy as it’s made to sound.

True acceptance in the adoption world can mean more than accepting your child’s developmental needs. It is also about accepting your child’s life experiences, especially those that went before you came into their lives. It can be hard to accept what your child has been through. I find it hard to accept that Little Bear didn’t get the support and nurturing in his foster placement. Whilst I’m generally accepting of the actions of his birth family, I have to admit that sometimes it is hard just to accept that they actually do exist: that there are 2 other parents in our parenting equation.

I may be a vegetarian teetotal adopter with a green fridge but I’m still working on acceptance.

In these Trump influenced times I hope I’m not the only one. Come on World, its 2016, can we please get with the programme and accept that diversity is actually a good thing?

Acceptance