First and Lasts

Just to be contradictory I will talk about the Lasts first.

This week has been Little Bear’s last in Reception class. As of Monday he will be taking part in two transition weeks in his new Year 1 class (and ditto Big Bear in his new Year 4 class). I think many children who are Care-experienced find goodbyes difficult: they tend to stir up lots of emotions about loss, lost relationships and missing people. Goodbyes can be pretty anxiety provoking and hard to find a way through. Little Bear has been lucky this year in that the goodbye is really only to his classroom as his teacher is moving up with him. We are very relieved about this as it should definitely ease the anxiety and I’m hoping it will mean a smooth run into Year 1 without any need to play catch up while a new teacher figures out all his quirks. Likewise all the same children will be in his class.

However, there is still the finality of last shared reading sessions, last days in Reception and on Friday a last day afternoon tea for parents. We nearly didn’t make the last shared reading session as I had caught a bug and had succumbed to sleep on the bathroom floor (yes, grim indeed). Thankfully Grizzly was working at home and reshuffled everything to make it. He was really glad that he had as Little Bear was over the moon to see him and had been anxiously waiting for one of us to appear. He was well aware that it was the last time we would have the opportunity to go to it.

Although still a little green around the gills I made sure I was there for the afternoon tea on Friday (I just pretended that the children hadn’t really made the scones and that they wouldn’t be at all contaminated by sticky fingers and that mine didn’t really have a hair on it!!). Little Bear was so happy to see me and was more clingy than usual. We spent a lovely 20 minutes or so building a Duplo house. Little Bear was not keen on sharing the Duplo or me with any of his peers. He didn’t really want to come away from me to join his class in singing to us, even though I was right there watching.

The parents all went outside for a few minutes whilst the children did final registration. I must have been slightly out of Little Bear’s eye line while I ferreted around in the ‘jumper dumper’ (a depressing wasteland of sloughed off sweatshirts) and he must have panicked that I had left him, though I never have disappeared before. He tried to distract himself with another scone but the TA said he couldn’t have one. This was the final straw in what was evidently a simmering pressure cooker of emotions. Little Bear made his last exit from Reception class by pelting his toy at the waiting parents and screaming.

Thank goodness for the emergency KitKat in my handbag.

The emotions continued to be untameable on the walk home when Little Bear insisted upon balancing alongside the roadside curb edge despite me telling him several times to walk on the path part as it would be further from the cars and much safer. Little Bear was unable to heed my instructions and I eventually had to move him to the safe part of the pavement. This resulted in a hit and a scratch which I chose to ignore.

A few seconds later Little Bear said “I just scratched your hand” in a small sad voice. “Yes, you did” I replied “but I’m ignoring it because I think you’re feeling a bit sad”. I suggested that when we got home it might be a good idea to have a rest in front of the TV. When we got in Little Bear wasn’t particularly up for that plan. Nor was he keen to go to the toilet when I asked him to and was starting to get offensive.

Usually at these times you can talk, reason, cajole, shout, fully lose it to your hearts content and Little Bear will not heed your words. However, somehow he got onto my knee and must have listened to what I was saying (though it didn’t look or sound like he was listening at all). I did some wondering about how he might be feeling and maybe it had something to do with it being the last day in Reception class. I gave reassurance about his teacher going up with him and Big Bear chimed in, in that instinctive way that he has, about how Year 1 is not scary and will be fun. I suggested that Little Bear was likely to head towards getting himself into trouble if he continued as he was and that I was trying to help him not to do that by giving him a rest. By some miracle something resonated and he asked if I would sit with him on the sofa.

We spent the next hour or so with Little Bear wedged between my thighs, his legs atop mine, the back of his head pressed into my chest watching Paw Patrol. I didn’t think it was a coincidence that the programme he chose to watch was one he used to choose when he was a bit younger.

Lasts are so hard for our children. Evidently the last day had brought all sorts of other things into question for him, most basically, was he still safe with us or were we leaving him too? I wonder how long he will need to be here before he can stop asking that question.

 

The First that I wanted to talk about is much more positive, though it has been hanging in the balance for most of the week. Little Bear was meant to be going to stay at my parent’s house this weekend. It would be the first time he had slept out since being with us (23 months now) and when I thought about it, I realised it was a pretty big deal.

Big Bear has slept out quite a few times now (sometimes because he needs a break) and on the last few occasions Little Bear has felt quite left out. Up until recently we would not have considered it all, being as though it would only have been fair to the grandparents if we could have sent Little Bear with some Valium and a flak jacket for them. As that wasn’t possible, we really couldn’t have inflicted the task on them.

However, apart from one fairly bad occasion, my parents have put Little Bear to sleep at our house successfully several times and sometimes he can be angelic at bedtime these days. The problem is that bedtimes are still very variable and we couldn’t guarantee what kind of night he might have if he went there. Irrespective of all that, my parents were feeling brave and we had pencilled in this weekend to have a try.

Bedtimes throughout this week have not been good. Things have been thrown, pulled, poked and spat on. Grizzly and I decided that if Little Bear could not show us that he could be sensible at bedtime, at least on Friday we couldn’t allow him to go. It just wouldn’t be fair and could go really badly. Of course we wanted the first attempt to be successful. However, we were pretty keen on it going ahead because Big Bear was super excited about getting some Mum and Dad time and as always we would have to balance both of their needs. Little Bear really wanted to go and has been excited about it for ages and my parents really wanted him to go.

I was very clear with Little Bear last night that he needed to get into bed and try to sleep. He shouldn’t be standing on the other end of his bed or pulling his door or shouting or throwing things. I was clear that if he couldn’t be sensible he couldn’t go to his grandparents. I know he understood this because he explained it back to me.

Bedtime did not go particularly well. It wasn’t horrendous but he certainly wasn’t trying to sleep and I did get called an idiot. It took quite a long time.

This is where adoption gets complicated. Although I know that Little Bear understood the rules I don’t honestly think that he can control himself enough yet to stick to them (not all the time anyway). This is where giving a consequence is unfair – is it really right to punish something he cannot control? Well, no. However, I could not have re-iterated and reinforced the rules more and as I had been clear about the consequence in advance, would I now be undermining myself and the rules if I didn’t follow through? How would Big Bear feel if his plans were scuppered by his brother’s behaviour? How would Little Bear feel in the morning when he found out that the consequence was really happening? Would it damage his self-esteem that I didn’t trust him to try the sleepover? Another day a fresh start and all that…

It is very easy to tie your brain in a knot of over analysis.

In the end Grizzly and I reached a compromise we were both happy with and I ran it by my parents to check they were on board too. Little Bear did get a consequence for his bedtime behaviour: he was not allowed his I Pad today (we are consistent in our use of this rule and feel it does have a useful impact and has helped with sorting the bedtime behaviours in general). However, we agreed to let him try the sleepover. If things went awry and he did not co-operate my parents would bring him home. Big Bear would get his evening out and I would keep everything crossed that Little Bear could manage.

This morning Little Bear woke me before 6:30, already half- dressed and asking me for a “packing bag”. I was pleased that I wouldn’t be dampening his enthusiasm. He was fully dressed and packed by 7am.

Although Little Bear was excited, he seemed a little nervous too. He wondered if my parents would come if he shouted them. He was upset Big Bear wasn’t going too. He would miss him. He needed reassurance that it was just one night and he would be back tomorrow.

It is not just Lasts that are complicated – Firsts have their fair share of issues too.

I have purposefully waited until this evening to blog because I really didn’t know which way things would go but I’m very happy to say that Little Bear has managed to get to sleep at my parent’s house and though I’m sure there will have been some shenanigans they were not sufficient to end the mission. I’m so pleased that we will be able to tell him how proud we are of him tomorrow and that we have missed him (the house is strangely quiet) and that he can sleep over again another time if he wants to because he behaved himself and my parents enjoyed him being there. Well done Little Bear, another fabulous first to celebrate.

Also well done and thank you to my parents as the three of us have had a lovely time going out for a grown up tea and seeing Despicable Me 3 and Big Bear is very happy.

Phew. I wonder what next week’s first days of Year 1 will bring?

 

 

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First and Lasts

Little Bear’s Big Bed

At the foster carer’s house Little Bear slept in a toddler bed, so it seemed to make sense that he would at our house too. Physically he seemed tiny so the bed, although small, was ample for him. I thought he would probably sleep in that bed for a good while, not least because of his size.

When Little Bear first arrived we had a brief sleep honeymoon. After about a fortnight he started to show us his true colours. Although capable of and unfazed by settling himself to sleep, we couldn’t actually leave Little Bear to do that because he would take full advantage of the lack of supervision. Various items would end up in his bed; he would end up in various places that were not his bed; he might scale shelves or various other equally dangerous things.

Therefore to establish a sleep routine which involved staying in bed and actually sleeping, we needed to sit in his room with him. Little Bear was, understandably, furious about it as it curtailed his fun no end. Consequently whoever was on night duty was at risk of verbal abuse and being pelted by any item close at hand e.g. a teddy or dummy. Although I’m all up for self-expression, it wasn’t a behaviour that I wanted to persist so all of Little Bear’s cuddly animals moved to different parts of his room and his bed was empty of any potential missiles.

Little Bear would also wake during the night. The foster carers had told us that he did this but if they let him turn the light on and play for a couple of hours he would settle again… I wasn’t too keen on middle of the night playtime so had to provide “supervision” for several hours then too, to teach the idea that night is for sleeping and you need to stay in bed. If I didn’t get to him quickly enough he would try to climb over the stairgate or lob things over the banister. I have found him in the airing cupboard and under the desk in the spare room on occasions.

I was thankful therefore that his bed was small and low and he could not reach additional items when he was in it. I could only imagine what he might get up to if he had a cabin bed like his brother, with all the extra opportunities for climbing, reaching and swinging from lampshades it would provide. No. I would not even consider the idea until he was at least 10, maybe 15.

The really difficult sleep period lasted for approx. 5 months. I’m not too sure what changed – whether I had passed the “surviving whatever is thrown at me” test (quite literally) because I stayed with him no matter how challenging he got – or whether it was because we eventually took a two pronged approach and banned the IPad the following day if he’d messed about at night.

Either way, thankfully, things did improve to the point where Little Bear would get up once in the night, wander through to find me and allow himself to be taken back to bed again. I would tuck him back in, give him a little cuddle and go back to bed myself. And most amazingly I could mostly trust him to stay there.

Instead of being up for 2 to 3 hours, I was now up for 5 minutes which was a vast improvement and actually I didn’t mind this new arrangement at all. It felt as though he was waking for attachment reasons (a quick check we were still there) and not to test out what he could get away with. Instead of the anger and aggression we used to experience, he was now generally happy and affectionate in the middle of the night.

At some point in the proceedings (my memory fails me but probably during the Desperate Try Anything Phase) we introduced a Gro-Clock as I thought the visual nature of it would help him to understand it was still night. In the very early weeks he would not have grasped the concept but by the time we got him one, he understood very quickly that he was meant to stay in his bed until “the sun came up”. I say “meant” to, as understanding and actually doing it are not the same thing!

As Little Bear settled into a much better sleep routine, it became obvious that he really needs his sleep. There is quite a marked difference in his behaviour and resilience when he has had a good night compared to when he hasn’t. He is ready for bed early (usually asleep by 6:30/ 7pm) and needs to sleep until about 7am. Sometimes, in the winter, he would lie in until 8 or 9am! It was quite a contrast to the little night owl who first arrived.

As spring sprung and the mornings got lighter and the dawn chorus got noisier, Little Bear started waking much earlier. Sometimes 5:20 am, sometimes 6 am. Apart from not liking it ourselves, we could very much tell the difference in Little Bear’s behaviour so started reminding him about his clock and the need to stay in bed. A bed which seemed smaller by the day – were his feet really touching the end now?

Around the same time, Little Bear started asking for a bed like Big Bear’s. It’s a miracle that he knows what bed Big Bear has, as his bedroom door remains resolutely locked. However, on one of the rare moments that Big Bear has allowed him to stand on the threshold (not even a millimetre of toe can cross) with the door a teensy bit ajar, Little Bear must have clocked a significantly larger, taller and more exciting looking bed than his own.

One morning, after an unpalatably early start, Little Bear started asking for the aforementioned bigger bed. Grizzly flippantly replied that if Little Bear slept in his bed until the sun came up 10 times he would buy him one. This naturally lead (brace yourselves adoption folks) to a sticker chart.

I have never tried a reward chart with Little Bear before but this one seemed worth a try. Maybe it would also show him that if you keep trying, you can achieve things. Maybe it would teach him something about the value of items. Grizzly thought this was a safe bet and he wouldn’t need to put his money where his mouth his.

It took a few days to get the first sticker but when he did, Little Bear was very proud of himself. He wanted one sticker for his chart and one to display proudly on his top. Sporadically, over a few weeks, the stickers started mounting up.

In amongst the usual chaos of our house and our imminent building work, we paid the chart little heed, except to add a sticker as necessary. I started to realise that as soon as the chart was full, Little Bear would be expecting us to magic up a bed. He would think it would be there straight away, not in a few weeks’ time when we got around to it. We needed to get organised. Grizzly was having none of this as busy at work and at home, he didn’t have the brain-space for one more task. Stubborn as ever and quite convinced that Little Bear’s first experience of a reward system needed to be a significantly positive one, I ordered his bed on the day the chart was complete. Although it did not magically appear, I was at least able to show Little Bear a picture and explain that it was coming. Little Bear, although excited and asking for his bed, thankfully did seem to understand the process of ordering and delivery.

This was Thursday. I knew that our builders were starting on Monday and that over the weekend we would need to completely clear the living room. I figured it would take a few days for the bed to arrive and somehow everything would fall into place.

I was a little perturbed when my phone rang on Friday morning and a Russian voice said “I brink you mid-slipper bed, today, wan o’clock”. Hmm, just a little sooner than planned. I then realised I had not ordered a mattress and that would be kind of essential to him being able to sleep in it. So, after doing the supermarket shop (a marathon in its own right) and before baking a Father’s Day cake (yes, quite mad), Little Bear and I went mattress shopping. Thankfully Argos had one mattress left that was rolled (so I could carry it and fit it in the car) and that was available there and then. It was a good job as having Little Bear with you is not really conducive to adding up the relative merits of sprung versus memory foam or making a full and informed decision.

That night, after Grizzly had arrived home from working in a further away city than usual, we started building the bed. Poor Grizzly was shattered and I did think he was quite long suffering that day.

On Saturday we had to move all the furniture in Little Bear’s fairly tiny bedroom around so that the bed would actually fit and then complete its construction. It was fairly stressful as I was essentially making Grizzly do it against his will; the boys are rubbish at entertaining themselves and didn’t cope well without our undivided attention; it was hot and every time Grizzly looked down to screw something his glasses fell off as he needs new ones but hasn’t had time to get them! I’m giggling now that we are safe in retrospect!

Also, Little Bear was very excited that we had power tools and a hammer out and I don’t know how many times one of us said “Do NOT hammer anything!”, “no, don’t hammer your toes”, “no, do NOT hammer the wall” etc.

Somehow the bed was eventually completed, we were all still friends, everyone had all their limbs and there wasn’t any unwanted damage to the house.

To say that Little Bear was chuffed with his bed is an understatement. It has a hidden den underneath it which is very calming and perfect for him. Every so often he will say “I just go and check on my new bed” and will disappear upstairs to sit underneath it and occasionally to have a lie down on it.

So, at the grand old age of 4, mere months after I vowed never to let him have one, Little Bear is the proud owner of a cabin bed. So far, 6 nights in, he has done nothing but sleep in it. Not even a hint of swinging on the lampshade (though now I’ve said that no doubt he will try).

There are 3 brilliant things about Little Bear having his big bed:

  1. We can hide underneath it when the building work gets too much.
  2. He is very HAPPY and PROUD of himself.
  3. He can’t wait to go to bed every day!!!

Now that we have achieved point 3, Grizzly thinks the whole thing has been a fantastic idea.

bed blog pic

Little Bear’s Big Bed