Behaviour – a dirty word?

Around this time last year, I wrote this post – High School Visits – about our experiences of looking around high schools for BB, and how, although it wasn’t about him, I began to think about LB’s future needs and how they would be supported by the schools on offer. I drew the difficult conclusion that the boys may well end up at different secondary schools.

BB – my first born, my baby – is approaching teenage-hood fast. He’s officially in the final year of primary school and now we really do have to choose a high school for him despite this all having happened far too quickly (and me not being ready and wanting to weep into my cup of tea). We are re-visiting schools A and B from last year’s post as well as adding school C into the mix, to help us choose before the October deadline.

It’s looking like a choice between B and C for BB but in reality, he could go to any of them and I’m sure he’d be fine. Although we are going to have some worries about catchment areas and places filling up, the reality is that the world is BB’s oyster. All options are open to him and its largely going to come down to preference.

However, the more schools I view, the more concerned I become that LB will not have such a choice. The picture I’m getting is that schools are inclusive to a point, but not beyond. None of the schools we have visited are ‘selective’ though one is independent. They are all therefore, theoretically, inclusive. However, when you scratch even lightly at the surface, you soon realise that they are not. What they are is inclusive with exceptions, which is pretty weird when you start to consider it more deeply.

What I feel they’re really saying is that some special educational needs are more acceptable to them than others. That if your child has Dyslexia or Dyscalculia or Autism (certain presentations only), or a physical disability, perhaps a mild vision or hearing loss, they’re ok. They can come in. However, as soon as there’s a whiff of the unspeakable ‘b’ word, no thank you very much.

I touched on this in last year’s post – that some schools see behaviour issues as selfish, disruptive to others, and stemming from a flaw within the child displaying them. I can tell they do, from the way they lean forward conspiratorially when they mention it, lower their voice slightly, just automatically assume that you will agree with their view point that we don’t want Them in This School. It is always delivered in such a matter of fact way that you know the deliverer can’t possibly envisage a scenario where the child with ‘the behaviour’ is anything other than a huge problem, to be avoided at all costs.

Today, we presented smartly, we talked about BB with his good academics, his good social skills, his extracurricular activities, his all-round sunny disposition. We must have seemed a safe bet for the ‘not in our school’ behaviour chat. We evidently didn’t present as the sort of people who would have another child with behaviour challenges. But we do. That’s because there are many reasons for a child to struggle with their behaviour and generally it is not that they come ‘from a bad family’ or whatever it is people assume.

I get that schools want to cultivate a certain image and maintain certain standards. I get that if it is a fee-paying school, other parents will expect certain learning conditions for their children that perhaps don’t involve disruption from a classmate.

However, as a parent of a child with behaviour challenges – which, incidentally, he gained from having a really shitty start in life (very much not his fault) – it all feels pretty exclusionary. The reality is that neither school B, nor school C will be welcoming towards LB and his specific set of needs. Grizzly assures me it’s fine, because we will consider each boy individually and attempt to get them into the best school for them.

While this is all well and good, another part of me wonders why it is ok for BB to have three good options available to him but LB, so far, has one. It makes me feel that his background continues to limit him because as hard as we work to improve things for him, and as prepared as I am to fight for his needs to be met, he isn’t going to have the same choices. For me, a school that talks about behaviour like it’s a dirty word is never going to be appropriately understanding of it. Those schools may be inclusive on paper but they aren’t in reality. And if they’re not truly inclusive, they’re not truly an option.

Wouldn’t it be refreshing if you went to view a school and when they talked about behaviour they said something along the lines of being committed to understanding the underlying roots of it? Something about how they see the potential in every single child, no matter how they present? How they are committed to tailored approaches and working in partnership and thinking about the things children can excel in, rather than excluding them for the things they can’t help? What if they said every child is a success waiting to happen?

What if it wasn’t just the occasional school, but every school which had that opinion?

What if, and imagine this, children with any additional need could be supported to have an equal chance at life?

What if we ditched this weird concept of a hierarchy of acceptability of need? Stopped thinking that struggling with literacy was in some way more okay than struggling with emotional regulation. As a society we don’t appear to blame children who can’t read – it’s pretty obvious to most that it’s due to brain differences or lack of appropriate support. Why, then, do we think it acceptable to pin the blame for a children struggling to regulate their behaviour on the child themselves? Why don’t we think it’s due to brain differences or lack of appropriate support for them?

I suspect it’s just more convenient this way. Children who can’t read impact other people a lot less than children who struggle to regulate their behaviour. That’s an unpalatable but true fact. Children with behaviour challenges can disrupt classrooms, they can be hard work, they can hurt people, they can turn people grey, but do we really think that they are less deserving or worthy of the right support than a child with literacy difficulties? And if we do, what exactly is the justification for that stance?

Our recent visits to schools would suggest that the prevailing viewpoint is just this: that children with behaviour challenges are less deserving of a good education. As a society, we seem to think it’s acceptable to keep them away from others, to isolate them, to exclude them, to send them to schools where restraint is regularly used and when all that fails, lock them up in an Assessment and Treatment Centre (ATU).

I’d say we’re failing them.

We’re thinking of the majority and excluding those who don’t conform enough. Shouldn’t we be thinking of each child as an individual? The herd mentality is not really any good for anybody – just one approach is never going to work for all. But if we had many approaches that could be moulded and tweaked for individuals as needed – might that not be inclusive?

It’s really about a shift of attitude. These children with behaviour difficulties aren’t at fault – they have neurological or emotional or sensory or psychological reasons behind their behaviour. We are not affording them empathy. We are not getting things right for them. Schools are not getting things right for them. Inclusion is not including them.

These children are some of the most vulnerable in our society. They are already at risk of poor life outcomes so why do we think its ok to alienate them further?

I don’t know the solution but I know I’m pretty fucking mad about it.

Behaviour – a dirty word?

Reflections on Adoption 4 Years In

Every year since LB came home, I have written a reflective blog post to mark the anniversary of his arrival in our lives:

Reflections on Adoption One Year In

Reflections on Adoption 2 Years In

Reflections on Adoption Three Years In

It’s time for this year’s so I have just looked back at the previous three. In year 1, I reckon I played down the true horror of our experience. I probably wasn’t that comfortable sharing on social media yet and still very conscious of what others might have thought.

In year 2, I was analytical. It’s clear I had already come on quite a journey in terms of my knowledge of attachment, trauma, ACE’s etc., how it all fitted together and what it meant for LB. I was well into my constant quest to fathom his behaviour.

I don’t know what happened to me in year 3. I’ve just read it back and sneered to myself – and not in a good way. It’s lovely that I was so positive and all glowing about how ‘normal’ our life was but had I lost touch with reality?

I do think year 3 was a good year for us. I do remember struggling for blog-fodder because everything was ticking along and being quite unremarkable. Ha. What a fool. I should never have tempted fate with my glib positivity because in contrast, year 4 has been significantly more difficult. Last year, I seemed to have lulled myself into a weird false sense of security that we were following an upward trajectory and the only way to go was further up.

That was not the case. It’s not that things have been awful – they haven’t – but they’ve been hard enough that I know without a shadow of a doubt that our ‘normal’ is not normal.

I suppose in our third year as a family, LB was settled in his second year with his very favourite, gentle-natured teacher. Once he had formed bonds with his TA, there were no significant upheavals for him. Our fourth year has seen him have a difficult transition into year 2 and we’ve had the most trying time yet attempting to get his teacher on-board. Though we did eventually achieve significant progress and breakthroughs, it felt as though the entirety of the academic year was punctuated by mini-crises, every few weeks or so. This was exhausting, stressful and highly frustrating. I think I came the nearest I have come to having some type of school-based meltdown.

It follows that a tricky school year would equate to a tricky behaviour year and boy, have we known about that. I think the most concerning thing is that behaviours we hoped were long gone, such as Childhood Challenging, Violent & Aggressive Behaviour (CCVAB)  have returned. I don’t know if I would say they are worse than before but the experience now that LB is 7, instead of 3 or 4, certainly feels different. Thankfully he still can’t really hurt me but where I used to dither over whether his lashing out really could be classed as CCVAB when he was smaller, I know it would be now. He’s bigger, he tries to be intimidating and we have to work hard to de-escalate situations at times. Thankfully, CCVAB is not our everyday experience but it has become more frequent of late, making us feel as though we are regressing and as though we are re-living that challenging first year when we should be forging forwards with confidence into our fifth.

We are finding this an emotionally challenging parenting situation – one that is almost impossible to navigate without anxiety taking hold. How is it possible to be back here? If we are back here and we stay here, what on earth does the future hold?

Over recent weeks and months we have worked harder than perhaps ever to maintain equilibrium in our little family. Grizzly and I have had many despairing chats. We know our world has got smaller – we have said ‘no’ to more things because we know LB won’t cope, or, sometimes, that there is a high likelihood that LB will kick off which will make a situation a nightmare and we won’t cope. We are acutely aware that there are times when four people are ruled by one person and he’s the smallest.

I think one of our strengths as a couple has always been our ability to keep on keeping on – to brush off incidents quickly, to move on, to not let them mar our days or hang over into our tomorrows. Grizzly, in particular, has never stopped doing things because of fearing what LB might do – he’d pretty much do anything with him and if an incident occurred he’d deal with it. I’m naturally less like that but once that first year was over, I have never gone to bed worried about the next day. I might pick and choose activities carefully but I’d never overly concern myself with what LB might do somewhere or how I might cope with it. I suppose we have, in the main part, been pretty confident in our ability to parent him.

That sort of sounds like a happy accident but I think it has been a lot more actively cultivated than that – it has been born out of us being well-read and researched, having a clear priority list (think NVR baskets though we had actually not heard of them when we started doing it) and purposefully using a highly joined up approach. We have actively refused to fear the more challenging aspects of LB’s behaviour from the outset and always made sure we’ve had plenty of tools in our parenting toolbox. We have had a clear vision of how to handle things so it has almost been like we’ve had a set of pre-planned instructions we could just follow in any given scenario.

I have to be honest and say that confidence has taken a knock in both of us of late. I think it’s because of the aggression and LB’s increased size and his increased ability to cook up a major scene. I think it’s because we have found ourselves in parenting situations that have been, frankly, pretty scary and in which we’ve had no Scooby of what to do. I mean what exactly are you supposed to do when your 7 year old spits on you in public or threatens to punch you if don’t do x or y and then does punch you when you stand firm? Even when you read a book about Non-Violent Resistance you don’t really get an answer.

This last year has seen us have to re-think our strategies and employ different approaches. I think when children are smaller, it is an accepted part of parenting that occasionally your child might have a meltdown or refuse to leave somewhere and you can simply bundle them up like a sack of spuds and transport them out of there. Although we still see that type of behaviour, that response is no longer appropriate now that LB is large and extra-specially fighty. Verbal ways of managing such situations are tricky when your child is hyper-aroused and anything that comes out of your mouth will be seen by them as provocation. We have had to further hone our skills of staying calm, literally in the face of flailing fist and attempts to damage things. I very rarely raise my voice because there is now a clear correlation between that and escalation. Where once we would have stayed with LB no matter what he was doing (for the relationship and so as to show the behaviour no fear), we now sometimes find ourselves in situations where he appears purposefully provocative and ignoring or walking away are far more effective (and safer) strategies. One day, he seemed intent on damaging the house but when he realised no one was even there to see, he got bored and switched on the TV. Had we have followed him around, trying to coach him out of it, or even worse, used a traditional telling-off method, I know someone would have been hit or kicked. It was far wiser to make ourselves scarce.

I’m finding that a chameleon-like parenting ability is required so we can alter our approaches to match the ever-changing circumstances we find ourselves in. I have also reflected a lot on this, as I’m sure you have come to expect, and a controversial part of me is whispering that since we’ve upped our therapeutic approach to parenting, LB has potentially started to view us as weaker and easier to dominate. I’m a huge believer in the power of relationships and I’m sure that is the way to lasting change but I need him to get the message that threatening people is not the way to get what you want. And that violence is never ok. Though we will of course be persevering with all things therapeutic, I am increasingly of the point of view that LB also needs logical consequences to really underline serious messages.

Anyway, since we’ve agreed on this plan, I feel stronger in my interactions with LB. This sort of parenting certainly requires a plan, in a way which ordinary parenting doesn’t. Once you have a plan, you are much less likely to find yourself off balance, flailing for a solution in a challenging situation. You still find yourself in that situation but you have half a clue how to handle it.

This sort of out of the ordinary parenting (I prefer this term to ‘extraordinary’ because that sounds like we’re fabulous at this and as you can see, we’re just feeling our way through the swamp) requires an incredible amount of strength – to get up again; to do it again; to go there again; to get in the line of fire again; to do it cheerfully; to not let that incident haunt the next minute, next hour, next day; to not be quaked by it; to love unconditionally. Unconditionally: despite it all; including it all.

Sometimes I don’t know how we’ve got this far. Sometimes it’s easy. Sometimes it really isn’t.

I suspect this is another trough in the typical peak and trough pattern of life with a trauma-experienced child. I talked last year about higher peaks and shallower troughs. Year 4 has involved many more oscillations and a more frequent swinging from peak to trough. Some troughs have been pretty deep but we haven’t languished in them for long. The weeks, and even months of relative calm I talked about last year have all but vanished. I don’t think we’ve managed more than a calm (ish) week or two before something has happened. And it has been harder than ever to pinpoint triggers. There have been some obvious things like a school residential, specific incidents in school, moments of poorly thought-through parenting etc. but at other times it has felt like a general malaise. LB certainly continues to struggle with his Interoception skills and feeling under the weather is generally expressed through increased fightiness only – he still doesn’t know he’s ill and we often don’t until several days later when someone else catches it. He has grown a lot too – I don’t know whether that could impact.

There is always a trigger. I know that. It is tricky when you are a person who over-thinks a lot yet you still can’t figure out what it is. I feel quite sure that LB rarely knows what’s behind his own behaviour at the moment – not in a way he can express in words anyway.

In the process of writing this, I’ve thought and re-thought and scrolled back through my Twitter feed looking for clues. I think I can trace the latest regression back to the blasted school residential. It wasn’t even two months ago yet LB has had three different bugs since then and just hasn’t been himself. As I say, at times it has been like stepping back three years. I wonder whether it has essentially re-traumatised him, re-awakening all those feelings he felt when he was uprooted and brought here. I think he had a taste of the wild abandon he used to experience in foster care (due to being in a large dormitory full of boys without constant supervision) and that has re-awoken his need to be in charge of his own survival. Certainly we have been able to soothe him by staying around the house, with a high level of nurture – the kind of thing we would have done when he first arrived – but as soon as we try to spread our wings a little, we are rapidly back to a tricky place. My conclusion, now I have some possible insight, is that he needs more of his world being kept small and the close nurture and the bonding. I don’t think there’s going to be much excitement for the remainder of the holidays. I hope it’s going to be enough because LB in school, trying to learn, when he’s in this survival state isn’t going to be pretty.

*

I’m sorry that I have been more negative than usual this year. I have always been mindful of frightening people but the further into this we get the more important it feels to tell the truth. In some ways it has got harder to do that – this year has also seen a rise in people questioning the very concept of modern adoption. There are many who see deep flaws in the current system – who view the permanent separation of children from their birth families as morally corrupt; who see all adopters as wrong-doers. There is a very strange juxtaposition between having an awareness of that and living this. I suspect a hard year has felt harder within a hostile climate.

All of that said there have of course been positives. Yesterday was lovely and it has never been more important to stop and acknowledge and enjoy these moments.

I am hopeful of a better school year. I was wondering aloud the other day whether the next teacher would heed any of the plans we made in our transition meetings when lo and behold we arrived home yesterday to a package she had hand-dropped off with a post card for both boys and a book for LB and an offer to meet in the holidays if it would help him. I’m so grateful and feel she understands things on an instinctive level Mr. Previous Teacher, though he was lovely in the end, just didn’t have.

Despite our wobbles, we remain positive and resolute. I remain optimistic. Here’s to some of that mystical normality I once knew making a re-appearance in year 5.

Reflections on Adoption 4 Years In

I’m in Charge. No, I’m in charge.

This sounds like the start of a slapstick comedy scene – to me, to you etc. But, to be honest, the constant need LB has to try to dominate others is not that funny. I’ve been pondering this behaviour and I can’t decide whether it is another form of the control I wrote about here: Control or something slightly different.

We have always had to be firm and consistent on boundaries. I have always assumed this was to do with making LB feel safe and that his thorough testing of them was to ensure they would remain immovable. I explored the theory behind that in the post mentioned above. But, recently, I’ve found myself wondering if there is more to it – a desire to actually be in charge perhaps?

This week we have been decorating LB’s bedroom. We have never done that before, not even prior to him first arriving because, due to various pressures from social services, his adoption happened much faster than expected and there wasn’t time. BB’s nursery was still nicely decorated and so we added some pictures and things we knew LB would like and he has been sleeping in there ever since. Anyway, he’s seven now and definitely outgrown the elephant and giraffe wallpaper. I have really wanted to make his room his own for him for a while now, but have to admit that things like him damaging his bed have made me drag my feet, as well as knowing that he would want to ‘help’ me.

Anyway, we’ve had a relatively more settled period of behaviour and Grizzly has been off this week so it seemed like the best time. Which is how I ended up shut in a small room with LB, a large tin of blue paint, a roller and some paint brushes for three hours (not to mention considerable PMS). Having anticipated the potential issues, I had got organised in advance and was clear on the boundaries from the outset: painting apprentices must listen and follow painting instructions; should painting apprentices not do so, painting must cease. I was clear that I was the painting boss and this was necessary so as not to paint anything we shouldn’t and also, because, well, grown-ups are kind of meant to be in charge.

Initially, things went well. LB stopped wielding the large screwdriver for opening the tin when asked to do so and proceeded painting in a sensible manner. Things went pretty well. However, as time went on, LB made more attempts to bend the rules, or explore the boundaries, I’m not sure which. He had full use of a paint tray, roller and brush that were just for him. I had one triangle shaped brush for painting edges. A couple of times he asked for my brush and I explained it was just for me – he had everything he needed already. He found this hard to accept and soon, the lure of my brush became more tempting than the painting itself. I decided to use that lure to my advantage – the online shop was arriving during said painting episode and I thought if I let him care-take my brush while I sorted the shopping, there’d be less chance of him doing anything opportunistic or plain ridiculous while I wasn’t supervising. This worked well but because I’d slightly changed the rule and allowed him to borrow the brush, instead of being pleased and getting back to work, he escalated his attempts to get my brush. Perhaps I should have kept an immovable brush-boundary in place so he knew where he was but that seemed a bit ridiculous and petty. I’m not so precious about my nice triangular brush that I can’t let a child borrow it. However, evidently in doing so, I had either made him feel vulnerable that I might not have been quite as in charge as he first thought or given him a glimpse of becoming top-painter. Who knows. Soon the requests to borrow the brush again were coming thick and fast. I allowed it because I had to roller too and we were both working to the same end. Then he became unwilling to return the brush to me when I needed it, which was swiftly followed by him claiming the brush was his, had always been his, had been purchased with money he’d earned himself and I could not have it back because he was now, in fact, in charge. That’s how quickly and easily a task like painting can spiral out of control.

Used as I am to these situations, I calmly reminded him I was chief painter, painting apprentices have to do what they’re told or painting ends. He rather glumly admitted defeat and returned the brush.

This did not end the battle though, oh no. It just made him wilier in his attempts to gain control. It led to this:

LB: Mum, can we play a game while we’re painting?

Me: Of course. What would you like to play?

LB: Ok, pretend I’m the Captain…

Ha! Clearly he thinks I was born yesterday. I knew full-well where this was going.

Me: Well, we can pretend you’re the Captain if you like, but I’m still in charge of the painting because in real life, I’m the grown up and it’s my job to be in charge of big jobs like painting.

LB: *Groans, momentarily thwarted*

LB: Ok, I’ll be the Captain but you can be the Boss.

Me: Okey-doke.

We pretend play for a bit.

Me: Could you pass me the roller for a minute please?

LB: Call me Captain

Me: What?

LB: I’m only doing it if you call me Captain.

Me, internally rolling my eyes: Could you pass me the roller please, Captain?

LB: No, I’m in charge of the roller, its mine. I’m the Captain.

If I could roll my eyes on screen I would. The whole thing went fine because I didn’t allow any of these scenarios to escalate but it was a case of constantly managing the situation and constantly having to re-iterate my authority. I’m pretty sure this isn’t ‘normal’ parenting. It feels a bit mad and unnecessary to be locked in battle over painting some walls but I feel I can’t renege all control because what would happen then? It’d be Lord of The Flies all over again but with a triangular paint brush instead of a conch. As it was, he’d already asked me if paint was edible so goodness knows what he’d get up to if left in charge.

It’s possible to argue this was a new bedroom specific scenario – that as LB hadn’t had a new room before it was raising all sorts of memories for him about previous different rooms and moving homes and wobbling his sense of permanency. It’s possible to argue it was an unusual/different scenario which was throwing him out of his comfort zone.

But…

I’m not sure. We have these mini-power battles all the time. Yesterday, LB moved back into his bedroom and, I’m assuming because he likes it so much, decided people couldn’t enter unless they paid him a fee. When I say people, I mean me, the person who facilitated the whole thing. And I don’t mean pretend-play pay, I mean actually pay with actual money. Obviously that isn’t something one can get into but rather than accept this, LB starts to escalate the situation by threatening people with what he’ll do if they don’t pay or taking money from their purse/wallet. “It’s my bedroom. I’m in charge. I decide who comes in. I decide how much they pay.”

Gary came to babysit and he let her in, with only a minor fee skirmish but tried to control where she sat, commanding her to “sit” on the floor, rather like you would a badly behaved dog and banished her from the bed.

Perhaps some of it is a social skills/empathy thing – he can’t quite connect the fact of him being rude to people making them want to stay out, not in.

I guess it’s fair enough that he wants to be in charge of his bedroom, as he’s proud of it and it is his. But these type of scenarios tend to escalate – he’d be ‘in charge’ of the bathroom next as its next door and, given a week, he’d be running the whole upstairs and charging people to sleep in their own rooms.

I guess we are still struggling a bit with the balance between appropriate autonomy and him accepting that as parents, we are in charge. I hope our calm but firm reminders are the right way of managing this. I certainly don’t feel that allowing him to command adults onto the floor is appropriate, nor allowing bedroom entrance fees, nor over-throwing of painting bosses. Conversely, it doesn’t feel right to ban him from new rooms or helping with painting either. I like to think we’re guiding him through these scenarios within appropriately slightly rubberised boundaries – he can deviate a little but if he deviates too far, the boundaries ping him back into place again. There has to be some deviation, surely? A blanket rule for not using other people’s brushes seems a bit extreme, yet I’m quite convinced that without boundaries, there’d be a rapid spiralling into chaos.

I don’t really know whether this is a trauma thing or an LB thing – I’d love to know if you experience similar. I do know that it keeps us on our toes and adds an extra layer to the most seemingly-benign of scenarios.

As for the thought of the teenage years when authority is naturally challenged…

Eek.

I’m in Charge. No, I’m in charge.

Mislaying The Positives

I think everyone knows that the last few weeks have been a little trying. Between school residentials and transition, there has been plenty to get my knickers in a twist about (if you somehow missed it, see Hysterical , The Big Trip and Is Dysregulation Rocket Science? ). This isn’t unusual, I’m frequently banging on about some issue or other, more often than not relating to LB’s education. I’m aware though, that in getting caught up dealing with the myriad issues, it can be all too easy to skip over the positives. It means that things, that when you stop to think about them are actually amazing, can pass you by with barely an acknowledgement. I don’t want to skip over these things – these achievements of LB’s – because they are massive within the context of his history and should be given the credence they deserve. I’m going to share one thing, in particular, today. First, I need to tell you some facts.

I don’t like bragging. That’s a fact. I can’t bear it when people go to parents evening then write #giftedandtalented on Twitter or Facebook. Or when someone asks you if you’re concerned about your child and you say yes, and then they say how they aren’t at all worried about theirs because they are exceeding expectations in every area. I don’t like it when people brag about how expensive their house is or how much they earn or how clever they are or any of the others ways that people try to seem better than other people. Just, no.

Here’s another fact. When LB started pre-school, his development was measured to be two years behind the typical expectations for his age – so he was functioning round about the level of a two year old, when he was four. That’s a very tricky educational starting point. There were many barriers between LB and formal learning – behavioural, emotional, linguistic.

When LB started reception class, he couldn’t count. I’m not exaggerating – he literally couldn’t count to three in the correct order. This was not through a lack of trying on anyone’s part – it was mainly due to his Developmental Language Disorder (DLD See Developmental Language Disorder or DLD & Education ), as well as his tricky start. It did mean that numeracy was going to be extremely difficult. It is impossible to do sums if you don’t understand the currency you’re dealing with. It literally must have been like adding apples and pears for him.

By the end of year 1, though LB had made incredible progress in all areas, he had never quite managed to hit an expected level in any subject. It didn’t matter. We were extremely proud of him because of all the things he had achieved and really, from a starting point of 2 years behind, how could he?

Year 2 felt like a big jump. Year 2 had SATS. SATS were going to be hard for someone working below the expectations of the curriculum; someone who had only been able to count for 18 months or so. Fact. We didn’t even know if we’d let him sit the SATS – if they were going to feel too big an obstacle.

Somehow, despite all those facts, at the end of Year 2, LB managed not only to sit his SATS but to pass his Maths SATS. Not only that, but he smashed it, gaining close to a ‘greater depth’ score. He has also been deemed to be working at the overall expectations of the curriculum in numeracy, so in his report, he got his first green light. In fact, he got one for science too.

Why are you telling us this, if you don’t like bragging? I hear you whisper.

I’ll tell you why.

The ACE’s index (Adverse Childhood Experiences index) came about as a way of measuring the impact in later life of various different adversities that could befall a child. This is important because it is only fairly recently that society has begun to acknowledge that things that happen during childhood can continue to impact a person throughout their life. It is important we understand that childhood abuse, neglect or the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death, imprisonment or moving into the Care system doesn’t stop impacting a person once the event is over. It is really important these things are widely understood. The old adage that ‘the child is safe now so the past can be forgotten’ really does need eradicating and something like the ACE’s movement helps with this.

The ACE index also tells us that the more ACEs a person has experienced, the greater their risk of mental and physical health difficulties, substance abuse and unemployment. In short, the worse your start in life, the higher the likelihood of your life outcomes also being poor. A double-whammy body-blow.

ACES another one

 

It is beginning to be recognised that though this information is well-intentioned and to some extent needed, by encouraging people to count numbers of ACEs, you are really misunderstanding the way trauma works. It’s feasible that a person could score just 1 on the index, for an event that may only have occurred once, on one specific day. The index would suggest that this event would only have a minor impact on the person. However, from what we know of trauma, this is isn’t accurate. Depending on the person and their own reactions, that single event could have anything from a minimal to a profound lifelong impact upon the person. Similarly, because you have a large number of ACE’s, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will end up homeless, addicted to alcohol and drugs and suffering several health complaints, and I think there is a danger in suggesting you would.

ACES

 

For a young person, growing up with the knowledge they have a high ACE score could well make them feel hopeless about their future, and is that really what we want for our most vulnerable children? Surely the message should be that, yes, rubbish things that happen in childhood can impact upon a person and as a society we acknowledge it. We should also be offering all the extras a child could need – therapy, education, social/behavioural/emotional support – to help them in overcoming the impacts of those ACES. We should be acknowledging that children with any ACE score need more from us – more care, more love, more support. We should be flagging them up as at risk of the future harm the ACE index suggests whilst providing them with what they need to negate that risk.

I think there’s a danger in suggesting that something that happens early on will categorically lead to x or y later. These things are not set in stone. With the correct support, children who’ve had adverse starts in life can and do overcome the barriers their early lives attempted to block them with. I’m not saying it’s easy – it will undoubtedly be harder for them than for children without ACEs – but shouldn’t we try? Shouldn’t we aspire for the best we can for all children?

So, when a child comes from two years behind expectations, having experienced neglect and the severing of links with their biological family, and several moves, and despite all that catches up with expectations for children who have dealt with none of that, shouldn’t we be shouting from the roof tops? I think so.

Often, it is the most privileged who brag the most. It is hard to be impressed by the gains of those who already had a head start, but when the one who was lagging behind, who joined the race a long while after the others and kept on running despite being so far back, manages to catch up, that’s truly brag-worthy.

This is not all about catching-up though. Even if LB hadn’t have caught up, but had kept running, that would be a significant achievement too. He’s still running when it comes to literacy and he may always be, as may many of his other adoptee peers who have educational mountains to overcome, and I think it’s important we acknowledge that every next reading level, every percentile, every point on every scale, is harder won for our children with ACEs. But they’re doing it. They’re out there, surpassing expectations all the time. And I don’t want that to be lost in schools that don’t understand their behaviour or in parents having to fight or getting dragged down by the multitudinous battles they’re facing. We mustn’t mislay the positives. These positives are huge and indicative of something bigger even than ACEs. They’re about human fortitude and our ability to overcome. And a beacon of hope for what can be achieved, when we properly support our most vulnerable.

 

 

 

 

 

Mislaying The Positives

The Big Trip

Last week I was getting all irate because I couldn’t get LB’s TA to understand the magnitude of LB going on a residential – see Hysterical . I was also worried about how LB himself would cope, following moments of distress and him struggling to sleep.

After that, things improved a bit, seemingly because they’d spoken more about the details of the trip in school, resulting in LB realising they weren’t in fact camping out in tents. The idea that they were must have been worrying him because he did settle when he realised they weren’t. I have no idea where he got that idea from in the first place – it just goes to show that not all worries are predictable.

I didn’t press any issues with school because things seemed to be ok.

The night before the trip, LB grew anxious again. He really struggled to get to sleep and got himself in quite a state. He was worried about “missing us too much”. The next morning, we woke to him to him crying and shouting the house down. It was such a shame to hear because it isn’t like him to get so distressed.

LB came into bed for a cuddle and soon rallied. He started doing my make up while I was still half-asleep and, despite, or perhaps due to me looking a state, it cheered him up considerably.

When BB got up, he did a fabulous job of encouraging LB – telling him that he was nervous when he went on the trip too but that all his friends would be there and it’d be ok. He is so instinctive that boy, it really does make my parenting job easier.

It was almost as though once LB got his head straight that he wanted to go and that it would be fun, even if he was nervous, he just focussed himself on getting ready. Soon we were at school, amongst a throng of similarly excited children and LB was fine. He didn’t struggle to separate at all (as I thought he might have) and went right on in.

I had a quick word with the TA and impressed upon her the importance of calling me, should he need her to. I could see her reluctance, but ensured I got my point across.

 

It was a very strange evening at home, that night. It was so quiet. And so tidy. And something was palpably missing.

Our thoughts were not far from LB all evening. I checked my watch every ten minutes, trying to think what he’d be doing at each point. I was surprised by how much BB worried about him – he too wondered aloud about him much more frequently than he would if he had been staying with grandparents, for example. We all knew this was a huge deal and could have gone any which way.

From about 8pm onwards, I kept thinking my phone would ring any second. But it didn’t.

I kept checking the school Facebook feed but it hadn’t been updated since 4pm so that revealed nothing.

By about 10pm, I figured it was safe to take my shoes off and have a cup of tea, whilst simultaneously wondering if they would call the second I sat down.

But they didn’t. It seemed unlikely they’d call during the night so I assumed this was us: he was really doing it. It would have been really appreciated had someone taken a couple of seconds to send me a message saying he was fine, but that didn’t materialise either. I half thought, due to them having me down as mildly hysterical and neurotic, that they would have sensed the need for such a message. But there we go.

 

By school pick up time yesterday, I was very keen to get him back again. I had half envisaged him running out of the classroom door to be swung into a swirling hug, but, this being LB, our reunion was a lot more nonchalant. I had forgotten that we’d probably get a bit of the cold shoulder because we had been separated for twenty-four hours. That’s always the way of it. But, in the grand scheme of things, it was ok. He didn’t hate us, he was just a bit quiet and standoffish.

He was also, what Gary would technically describe as, “dead dog tired.”

It happened to be parents evening, so between the information LB shared, the chats I had with his teachers and accusations made by random children in his class, I managed to piece together an accurate-enough account of what actually went down. I think he enjoyed it overall. Apparently at teatime on the first day, LB began to droop and asked to go to bed. He does go to bed early and his body is very much ruled by a strong circadian rhythm, and affected by not sticking to it. The staff jollied him along because they hadn’t done the bonfire and marshmallows yet. LB managed to power through but then, obviously, went beyond tired and by the sounds of it, struggled to get to sleep. I suspect there was a degree of high jinks. However, I’d rather that than him be upset and crying for us. And, according to his TA, “all the boys were a nightmare for bed.” And, well, I did warn them.

I suspect the second day was trickier – LB was tired and no doubt struggling with regulation. But, he came back in one piece and so did all the staff.

I think this is a probably a time where I don’t need to worry about the details too much – instead focussing on the bigger picture. That picture is that LB, at seven years old, with a history of neglect and trauma, has managed his first residential, without any significant ill-effects. What a guy.

I thought he’d have been fast asleep early last night, but no. I suspect if there are any lasting effects, it will be tricky bedtimes for a few days, while he re-adjusts and maybe a dysregulated weekend – no big deal.

I hope that him going away and us still being here when he came back is powerful for him. We all told him how much we missed him and how weird the house was without him. We told him how proud we are of him for managing it. I hope it’s another step forward with his attachments, and with his self-confidence too.

LB might be the smallest member of our household but my goodness he’s a big presence. Even when he’s asleep, the house feels fuller and more complete when he’s in it. I think the trip gave us all a strange vision of what life would be like without him. It would undoubtedly be tidier – the tornado of discarded clothes and toys notably missing; quieter and calmer. But, jeez, it’d be boring. Who wants sedate when you could have exuberant, unpredictable and hilarious? I know which I’d choose, and there’s no contest.

 

Addition – Saturday

As you can tell from the above, I thought we’d survived and were kind of okay.  I didn’t anticipate that I would be called into school on Friday evening, faced with teachers who were surprised at LB’s lack of ability to control himself and have a smiley face chart waved under my nose as a supposed cure-all.

I actually despair.

Surely it is not that difficult to attribute dysregulated behaviour the day after a trip, to the trip? Surely, it should have been obvious to all that Friday would be a very tricky school day? Surely, or so we naively imagined, the demands and expectations would be reduced accordingly, to accommodate LB’s temporarily reduced window of tolerance? Surely?

Err, it would seem not.

Instead there was outrage that LB wouldn’t do what was asked of him and that he was rude to some teachers. We just cannot accept this behaviour, there have to be consequences.

Groan.

Then, without consulting any of the members of staff who know him best, and without reading any of LB’s paperwork, two members of the senior leadership team thought they knew how to sort him out. A smiley face chart. Seriously. I think they actually thought I’d be pleased with this new fangled invention.

I’m just so frustrated that every time we think we’re there; that school understand LB’s needs and how to support him, something like this happens to suggest the polar opposite.

Grizzly and I now feel we shouldn’t have let him go on the trip. School clearly aren’t able to accommodate and support his needs properly when dysregulated. They can’t even recognise that he is dysregulated. Essentially, they can’t keep him safe. And if that’s the case, they can’t take him on any trips. Its so frustrating because I told them and I told them, but they thought I was exaggerating. Then when the behaviour we predicted does occur, they think its nothing to do with the trip, it’s him getting spontaneously extra naughty. Not my words – how I imagine they think of it.

I could scream.

And while I’m ranting, getting dragged into school means my children are left in the playground, to their own devices, which is clearly unwise for LB. I’m discussing his behaviour while he’s given further opportunity to misbehave.

It is exhausting being a parent of a child with behaviour needs – not because of their needs – but because schools just cannot wrap their heads around them, despite training and meetings and about a gazillion discussions. The patience of a saint is required and mine is running out.

 

 

 

The Big Trip

Hysterical

One of the biggest problems, I find, with attempting to get other people to understand the emotional and behavioural needs of your child with SEMH issues is getting your points across without those people drawing the conclusion you are hysterical. I’m pretty sure I’m not being paranoid about this – I have read it frequently in people’s body language, facial expression and even in their choice of words. Here she goes again, being all over-anxious and fretting unnecessarily, they think. When I say people, I mainly mean teachers, though this isn’t exclusive to them.

When you do have a child with SEMH issues, you become adept at predicting their triggers. You know the sorts of situations that may challenge them and, in an attempt to parent them the best you can, you try to anticipate potential problems in advance so that tweaks or alternatives or supportive measures can be implemented to minimise their stress. For me, that just makes good sense. Why leave a child to flail and panic and worry, when you could prevent that with a bit of forward planning or heightened awareness? Obviously you can’t predict everything, but where you can mitigate potential problems, why wouldn’t you?

It’s this attitude that brings me to teachers, raising possible problems with them in advance of them happening. Unfortunately, what I see as a wise anticipation of issues is more often than not interpreted by them as over-anxious parenting. I’m pretty sure they have conversations about how I’m creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and bringing LB problems where he didn’t have any before. “Her anxiety will be rubbing off on him,” I can imagine them whispering, “It’s not him, it’s her”.

This has come to the fore because next week LB is going on his first residential. I do not feel it is excessive to say this is a big deal for him. Staying away from home without any of your family would be a big deal for most 7 year olds but is even more so when your early life has involved moving from place to place: staying away might trigger all sorts of difficult feelings and anxieties, not least whether you will actually return home again. This is compounded by embarrassment that you wear pull-ups at night when your friends don’t and the trip will involve you staying up way beyond your bedtime; a time that you already struggle to stay regulated for in your own home.

So yes, I think there are some very real concerns about the trip and in an attempt to help LB as much as possible, I have been pro-active in discussing my concerns with his teachers. I wanted them to be aware of his continence issues so they could help him subtly. I wanted them to know his bedtime is early so that when he starts to spiral they will be able to recognise it as dysregulation due to tiredness, not bad behaviour. I wanted them to be aware of the reasons why a trip away from home might trigger feelings from his past. I wanted them to be aware of all this so they could support him through it.

I thought this was all tickety-boo. They had seemed to listen and had been reassuring about how they would deal with it all.

However, as the time draws closer, LB’s behaviour is beginning to spiral. I have noted it at home. They have noted poorer listening, poorer compliance and an increase in fidgety behaviour at school. LB has started saying he doesn’t want to go on the trip. To me, it is obvious he is anxious about it. This anxiety is being expressed through the changes in his behaviour.

School, on the other hand, are scratching their heads about this change of mood. Why is he all of a sudden throwing things and threatening to kill his TA, they wonder. To help them out, I’ve tried to make the link between the two things for them. This has involved me having to elaborate on why exactly the trip might be anxiety-provoking now, before it has even happened. The problem is that I don’t think they’re really getting it, so I find myself harping on more than I’d really like. The more times I even reference the trip, the more convinced they become that I am a hysterical, over-reactive mother.

This morning, as a small part of the coherent explanation I was trying to weave on the spot, I mentioned that LB has only ever stayed with us or his grandparents (I thought the ‘since he’s been here’ part was obvious) so staying somewhere else might be quite triggering. “He won’t be alone in that,” his TA says, “many of the children won’t have slept anywhere else”, as if I am being quite unreasonable by making a point out of something common to all the children. What I want to say is something along the lines of, “Yeah, but, before these other children moved to their forever home, did they live with foster carers who randomly took them to other houses for respite, with people who were not always registered as carers? Did they get left there without explanation for inordinate periods of time? When they came to their forever home, were they just dropped off by people they had lived with for several years who would then just disappear never to be seen again? Before that, were they suddenly removed one unpredictable day from the family who conceived and gave birth to them? Where they? No? THEN IT REALLY ISN’T THE SAME!”

Obviously I said no such thing, smiled sweetly, took a deep breath, and attempted again to explain things in a calm manner that might actually get my message across. That’s how it was from my point of view anyway. I suspect that from theirs, they thought, “Oh, she’s still going. I’ve covered off that point so she’s trying to concoct more. Definitely hysterical.”

What’s infuriating is that when you don’t feel heard, there aren’t many options. I don’t believe in shouting or being rude (it’s all about the long game and building relationships) so I’m really left with repeating myself or trying to find other words or other arrangements of words to get the ideas to strike home. I often find myself reaching for more extreme or more shocking examples when the tamer ones don’t resonate. It is as though I have to escalate the severity of what I’m saying to get my messages heard. The thing is that if they are still not heard, I am surely seen as increasingly hysterical.

I suggested today that we must monitor LB. Yes, some anxiety is to be expected. But as he is already at threatening to kill people levels, perhaps we don’t want him to escalate much more. Perhaps, if he does seem to be spiralling out of control, we might need to come up with a plan to soothe his nerves. Perhaps, and I was just throwing things out there, we could reassure him that we would not make him stay somewhere he doesn’t want to (trust and all that) and we could offer to pick him up from the day-time part so he can sleep where he feels safe: at home. Though, to me, this makes perfect sense, I can see that school find it an outrageous suggestion – the kind that would only be made by a mother struggling to loosen her apron strings. “She doesn’t even want to let him out of her sight for one night, for goodness sake,” I can imagine them commenting. The response from the TA only confirmed my feeling they had been talking about me in this way – “Mr Teacher doesn’t want you to do that,” she said, when I suggested it.

It really is quite a challenge to remain dignified in these situations. It is a constant balance between persisting in getting messages across and presenting like a non-hysterical, credible source of information. I do a lot of internal swearing.

I understand that they have taken hundreds of children on trips and that every parent gets a bit worried about it and that they will do their best to look after LB and that if he gets upset, they will deal with it. I know they haven’t had to call anyone’s parents before, but, if we’re honest, that’s more of a gauntlet than a reassurance. When they say, “he’ll be fine,” I hear, “we’re not taking this seriously enough”. If only they could acknowledge this is a huge deal for him, we’d be grand.

Obviously we are doing all the prep stuff and giving reassurance at home. LB does seem to be coping better now he’s realised they aren’t camping outside (you really can’t anticipate all the issues) but I am typing this outside of his door as we have another tricky bedtime. I intend to monitor him/ his behaviour over the weekend and should things have worsened, I shall be back at the classroom door, making myself look hysterical again. And I don’t really care what Mr Teacher thinks about it – should LB be crying and hanging from my leg when I drop him off for the trip, I will be picking him up at bedtime.

As tempting as it is to just pack LB off with them, with little instruction, to let them deal with whatever happens themselves, I can’t shrug my shoulders of all responsibility. He’s our son and it’s our job to meet his needs as best we can. If that means occasionally having to overrule school and to lose street cred over being anxious parents then so be it. LB’s needs are paramount and if that makes me hysterical, then I guess I am.

 

 

*The irony of me writing last week about how much I love the school is not lost on me. I should have known that singing their praises would nudge the universe into trying to prove me wrong

**The word ‘hysteria’ derives from the Greek word for ‘uterus’, suggesting that to be a women is to be hysterical; that being overly emotional is an intrinsic failing of having a womb. Marvellous. I wonder whether any of the dads out there experience a similar thing when they have worries or if this shrugging off of concerns is more prevalent when they are raised by mothers?

I’m not really trying to make a feminist point, I’m genuinely wondering.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hysterical

3 in 1

Have you seen those multi-tools you can buy? The ones that look like a pen knife but when you open them up, they’ve in fact got a pull-out spanner, a pen, a bottle opener, a screwdriver and a corkscrew somehow stashed within them? You buy one tool but you actually get five. Very nifty.

I feel as though these tools are a metaphor for adopting Little Bear: he looks like one child but I’m pretty sure he’s comprised of at least three.

Sometimes it feels more like a whole band of delinquent imps, but I digress.

There’s the Little Bear who is a complete and utter joy to be around. He’s cute, funny and gentle. He’s considerate – he wants to help you and he’s concerned if you’re hurt or upset. In fact, he will be prepared to defend you to the hilt if he perceives some wrong doing towards a loved one: there’s the time he punched a girl in the face because she picked on his brother; the time he pottered down the hall with his dummy and blanket, to give a neighbouring child a stern telling off at the front door, as they had, again, been mean to his brother. That stern word reduced a child three years older than him to tears. It was impressive, I have to say, and totally belied the image conjured up by the dummy and blankie. There wasn’t any malice on either occasion – just a pure sense of love for his brother and a strong sense of injustice. If you had to pick teams, you’d want that Little Bear on yours.

And he’ll tell you how much he loves you. He’ll weave his little arms around your neck and in your hair and he’ll press his face to yours and he’ll say you’re the best mummy in the world, that he loves you to all the planets and back again. That he loves you a googolplex. That he’s never leaving you and even when he gets married, he’s going to live at home with his wife.

That Little Bear is also thirsty for knowledge. He listens intently. He learns at an impressive rate and dedicates himself to improving – thinking about how to get on the next reading level; if he can fill up another Maths book; how to get his mouth around that multi-syllabic word that is proving a challenge. He’s receptive to direction and can show a good level of resilience.

He’s smiley and affectionate. We can take him pretty much anywhere. And when we do, he will doubtless find a person with a dog, approach them slowly, saying, “Please can I stroke your dog?” He’ll pet the dog and the dog will love it. He will thank the owner extremely politely and you will see them thinking what a cute child he is, how well-mannered he is, how unusual it is for a child to ask before touching the dog. You can see him restoring their faith in children.

Then you wake up in the morning and he’s all but disappeared. In his place is another Little Bear who is unpredictable. He’s a bit like the one I just described above one minute, and then the next he isn’t. Sometimes he wants to please you and sometimes he doesn’t. Sometimes he listens and sometimes he won’t. Sometimes he’s kind and gentle and occasionally he will whack you with a toy sword for absolutely no reason. This one can be skittish. He might sit down for a while and play Lego but when it’s dinner time he will hop and climb and do roly-polies on the bench. You can enjoy your time with this one but then you might ask him to do something that doesn’t suit, such as get out of the bath or stop playing football or to turn off his iPad, and he will become miraculously deaf.

This Little Bear is the one who might do something shockingly unpredictable from time to time, such as dip his hands in the toilet or lick the bottom of his shoe or maybe, the cat. One minute you feel like smothering him in kisses and the next like tearing out your own hair. We do meet him quite often. You’d probably describe him as ‘spirited’. He’s loud, incredibly so – in fact you wonder if this one is a child within a child, like Russian doll children, with a combined lung capacity and double-energy to match. This one talks incessantly – literally from waking until sleep – and especially when you are trying to concentrate on driving everyone home alive or conducting an important phone call.

Then he’s a dog. A puppy. And he wants you to give birth to him. Then he’s a gorilla. Then he won’t answer to his actual name because, as he’s just tried to establish, he’s actually called ‘Woof’ and he’s a different species and no, clearly he can’t understand the language you’re speaking to him in because he’s a DOG. Idiot!

And you get to the end of the day and you’re tired, but in a you’ve wrangled a mischievous pixie kind of way, not a you just can’t do this anymore kind of way, and you giggle at his antics and think how cute he is and feel quite ready to do it all again tomorrow, despite the challenges.

But that Little Bear has disappeared. The minute you wake, you sense there’s a problem. Ideally you would reach for your flak jacket and tin helmet before going downstairs, because you already know you will need them. There is a sense of mania permeating the walls. He’s speaking too loud, too fast and with a lot of non-speech noises thrown in. You know he must eat breakfast and that might lead to the return of one of the other Little Bears.

But he won’t. ‘Would you like toast?’ is met with ‘I hate you’ and ‘shut-up’. He flatly refuses to come to the table. Seconds later he is scooting around the living room, on an actual scooter, not wearing an actual helmet, a pre-requisite rule of scooter-riding that he knows only too well. The scooter riding and the circles are winding him up further. You suggest he gets off the scooter but he won’t. He starts to crash it into the furniture. If you somehow manage to get the scooter out of the situation, he finds a ball to kick at the patio door or a toy knife to saw the table with. You mostly end up sitting him in front of the TV because safe containment seems wise. You check back, at regular intervals, but he mostly still hates you, still wants you to stop talking, doesn’t agree with any of your wonderings about the situation and may or may not threaten to head butt you.

Sometimes, foolishly, you wonder if a change of scenery might help. You let him choose, to help with buy-in. Sometimes, things are ok when you get to wherever it is but then other times you might ask him to come back and he will look you directly in the eye and stride in the opposite direction. You might calmly explain that walking along the curb-edge is not wise because a car might clip you and he will look you in the eye and fully step onto the road. You will ask him to come into the ladies toilet because he’s too young to go into the men’s alone and he will purposefully walk into the men’s. You will attempt to intercept him, because what could possibly go awry in the men’s toilets feels frightening and, because he isn’t listening to you being rational, you will make the men’s toilets sound scarier and more dangerous than it likely is and he, because he feels pumped and indestructible, will tell you that he can take these weirdos down and that you are in fact an idiot and the worst parent in the world and you never, ever, even attempt to keep him safe.

You may then lose your shit with him, because you are frightened that you actually can’t keep him safe if he won’t do anything that you say. Your brain starts to fear several aspects of the future: how can this Little Bear ever cope in a mainstream high school? How will he fair in the real world where there are very real rules that really do have to be adhered to because otherwise the Police get involved?

When he’s calmer, you attempt to explain this to him. He says he will punch the Police in the balls. And you think, shit, he might. Then you explain how prison works, not to scare him, but to explain that there are consequences to such actions and he says, ‘I’d like to go there and fight the prisoners and kill them,’ and you think several more unrepeatable swear words.

This Little Bear is pretty unreachable. You can try being supremely therapeutic, you can try being very firm, you can try reasoning. But, generally, nothing works. You mainly need to resort to survival – getting everyone to the end of the day, with all their limbs still attached and without having said anything you will live to regret.

Little Bear will say many things he may later regret. This Little Bear will even needle his biggest hero: his brother. He will say he’s going to kill his cat or his future wife (after asking her out first). Big Bear will understandably run of patience with this constant commentary in his ear and will shut himself in his bedroom. Little Bear will not be able to leave him alone, will not heed your instructions to do so, and will wonder why you are getting increasingly exasperated.

This Little Bear will say you’ve hurt him when you haven’t, call you all the bad names he can muster up and, if you intervene physically, to stop him absconding say, he may very well dig his nails into you or bite or hit you.

When this Little Bear visits you are very grateful for bedtime. Parenting has not been a joyous experience and you find yourself really hoping tomorrow will not be like that and that the apocalyptic future you are now imagining will not come to fruition. You wonder if you should start researching alternative high school provisions. You wished you drank and could seek solace in alcohol. Or even chocolate. But you don’t have either so you chomp aggressively on an innocent carrot.

You know, rationally, that Little Bear is not in fact three children in one; he’s one child who is differentially impacted by trauma. You also know that the harder your parenting day is, the more turmoil he’s experiencing and the more empathy he requires. You would also defy any therapeutic parenting expert to spend that sort of day with him and not lose their cool. That Little Bear would laugh in the face of PACE. Or probably punch it in the balls.

You remind yourself about the first Little Bear I mentioned. You struggle to compute that he is the same child as the last one. How could he be? They seem so polarised that you start forgetting the first one exists.

Then you wake and he’s back. A little curly head rests itself on your chest and a voice asks for a cuddle. And you forget about the last one.

Until he visits again.

 

 

3 in 1

Adoption’s a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it

Sorry to quote Ronan at you, but that song has been playing on loop in my head for the last few days – no doubt my subconscious talking – and it really is the most apt musical accompaniment for how things are at the moment. I have always likened adoption to a rollercoaster – the ups and downs are undeniable. It’s just that usually there are a couple of weeks or months that are good, followed by a trickier patch – a kind of long distance rollercoaster dipping and looping through the years. Not so this week. This week, we have been up and down several times, all in the space of five days and it’s hard not to feel a little dizzy.

I mentioned last week that the start of 2019 wasn’t particularly easy for Little Bear and therefore not for us either. When we arrived at the Easter holidays, we were all flagging and a little more in need of a re-group than usual. We didn’t do too much – a few days out but lots of time around the house too. Pretty much everything we did was low-key, together, and involved a lot of quality time. We have got much better at knowing what salves are required to sooth tired nerves and these tried and tested methods do work for us. By the end of the two weeks off, all was good with the world. The sun had shone a bit, we had all relaxed and re-charged and we all approached the back to work/ school situation with enthusiasm and good cheer.

I was certainly aware of the re-found bounce in my walk and the looseness in my shoulders and the lack of furrow in my brow. Had we turned a corner? In my sunny and optimistic mood, I thought so.

On the first day back, Little Bear knuckled down, worked hard and got himself onto the next reading level. This was brilliant. Not only that, but he seemed to have developed a new level of reading fluency overnight and was tackling the harder books without difficulty. The next day we met the Psychologist (I wrote about that in The Right Eyes ) and had a positive and further optimism-boosting meeting. Hoorah! School were next level knowledgeable and Little Bear’s needs were going to be met and I could further relax. My body and mind were very excited at this prospect. Nothing to worry about! Imagine that! I was imagining it, craving it and just plain ready for it.

The week was only four days long, due to Good Friday, and passed in a similar upbeat manner. Easter weekend was also a beautiful thing. The sun really shone, our vitamin D was boosted, we went exploring down a stream, we hunted for eggs, we saw a friend, we did outdoor sketching, we read books. It was nice. It wasn’t dramatic or exotic but it was really, restoratively nice.

I was very much settling into the relaxed feeling now. There was no reason whatsoever that it shouldn’t carry on for the rest of the term. Spring had sprung, winter had passed and taken with it the doom of the last months. We were at the top of the rollercoaster and due a lengthy stay.

The boys went back to school after the bank holiday weekend and had good days. On the Wednesday, I picked them up from football club and Little Bear told me I needed to speak with the coach. Here we go, I thought. The coach took me to one side, away from the rest of the parents and began our chat with, “I’ll be speaking to another child’s parent too.” Bloody Nora, what had they done? Brawling, I assumed.

I assumed wrong. He wanted to speak with me because Little Bear had been trying so hard and being so sensible both in PE and football that the coach was super impressed. He told me that he and the other boy, who usually have to be separated from one another due to constantly dysregulating one another, had been so sensible they had been allowed to play on the same team. There had been a foul and the coach felt sure this would lead to familiar difficulties. Instead, one had helped the other up in a very sports manly fashion. He wanted to tell me how proud he was of Little Bear; how much he was standing out for him in school, for all the right reasons, and how much he loves him.

The coach is a young guy (God, I’m old) but he just seems to understand children like Little Bear. He doesn’t automatically see naughtiness where others might. He also seems to understand instinctively, that as a parent of a child with behaviour challenges, sometimes you really need to hear good news. I thanked him and attempted to express the loveliness of what he had just done without A. crying or B. hugging him inappropriately.

Yep, we were at the top of the rollercoaster alright. The coach had taken Little Bear to his teacher and had a similar conversation with him too, so I felt confident that the following day would continue to bring positives.

Wowzers. It had been a long time since we’d had a run of positives and it was most welcome.

I was totally blindsided then, when Little Bear woke in the middle of the night incredibly distressed by a nightmare. I have to admit I slept through the drama and poor Grizzly ended up getting in the spare bed with him, even though he was working. But I certainly knew all about it in the morning when Little Bear feigned illness and announced he wasn’t going to school, the second he saw me. Cue a very difficult school run, school refusal and a very tricky ten to fifteen minutes cajoling an in turn sad and angry Little Bear to stay in the building. It took so long the playground had been locked and I had to escape through the school.

It’s funny how a bad drop off can really set the mood for your day. You can’t help worrying about how they are and half expecting a phone call. I did get a call, at break time, but it was mostly to reassure me. He wasn’t on top form but he was doing ok. I’ve never had a call for reassuring purposes before, perhaps school really were getting to grips with what might help us.

I think we were all in peril in Little Bear’s dream, which had triggered attachment and separation anxiety things again. What a shame after such a positive few days! Eeh, well. The rollercoaster plummets and you just have to ride it.

The next day was better. Just a blip. Up we went again.

On Friday, a different teacher opened Little Bear’s door and my heart sank a little. The school have introduced a new curriculum this term, which I feel pretty excited about, but none of us had really extrapolated what that meant for Little Bear. It means having a teacher who doesn’t know him and whom he doesn’t have a trusting relationship with every Friday. Hmm. His TA was there though, I reassured myself.

When I picked him up that evening, he was pale and furious looking. “Did you have a good day, darling?” was met with a very definite ‘no’. And things deteriorated from there. The evening part was ok but by bedtime, Little Bear was refusing to go upstairs, trying to break things, calling us names and threatening to punch me in the face. I somehow managed bedtime safely but it wasn’t exactly enjoyable.

The next morning, things were no better. When it came to getting ready for horse-riding, Little Bear wouldn’t, despite his brother wanting to go along to watch – the kind of carrot that would usually take Little Bear anywhere. We tried firmness, persuasion, therapeutic-ing. The works. In the end, I laid his things out and just told him they were there and gave him the space to make his own decision (I was trying to go for a Demand Avoidance friendly approach). It didn’t work. He didn’t get ready and so he didn’t go. The fact that he somehow perceived this as having got away with something, seemed to rattle him further and he began to (seemingly) purposefully escalate the situation. Anyone who has experienced that will know exactly what I mean. I realised he needed a firm barrier and told him if he wasn’t riding, he’d have to just sit on the sofa. Rampaging around the house wasn’t actually an option.

Five minutes later, he came back to find me, breaking his heart crying, saying he regretted his decision and now really wanted to go horse-riding. It was too late for that, the lesson was half done by now, and while on the one hand it was kind of helpful for him to have dealt himself a natural consequence (perhaps this would lead to a different outcome next time?), it was upsetting to see him clearly so conflicted and upset within himself. I held him like a baby and lay with him while he cried.

Obviously, my first and foremost thought was his distress and I did attempt to therapeutic the shizzle out of the situation. However, on a practical level, I hadn’t managed to get dressed, I needed to cook lunch and organise myself to get to work that afternoon. Trauma is so energy-sapping for all. Plus, what was going on with this bloody rollercoaster? Weren’t we supposed to be at the top?

The more I thought about it, the more I could link his behaviour now to having had a stranger teaching him on Friday. He’d spent the whole day feeling unsafe. Of course this had disrupted him. How bloody annoying that something so avoidable had happened and undone all our hard work during the holidays getting us back on an even keel.

I was annoyed with myself for not spotting this would be a problem when I first heard about the new curriculum. I was also annoyed that school had not anticipated any potential problem either. It was barely a week since we’d met with the Psychologist and I had got excited that they were finally on it and I didn’t need to worry any more. Sadly, it seems I was deluded. I know they won’t have meant for this to happen, and they will care when I tell them. It’s just that, for once, it would be so nice if they could take some of the responsibility for noticing these things and rectifying them, without me needing to point them out. Even better, they could start anticipating some of these things before they happen because they do have enough knowledge to do that now. And it is blindingly obvious to anyone who knows Little Bear that having a different teacher for one day a week, without any preparation isn’t really a good idea.

I have e-mailed and the SENDCO has replied, at the weekend. They are lovely and I know they will try to sort this. However, riding the rollercoaster as we are, and have been for the last months, is exhausting. We’ve barely recovered from one thing, when another thing happens. I was so desperate for that feeling of relaxation that I experienced for about a week that I’m spending quite a bit of day-dreaming time willing it back again – in between threats of head butts and absconding.

And the SENDCO, who is the saving grace in all this, is heavily pregnant and leaving for maternity leave imminently. She will send our renewal funding application first but she won’t be here when the results come in…

My brow is re-furrowed, my shoulders re-tightened. But what can you do? Adoption’s a rollercoaster and you just gotta ride it.

 

 

 

Adoption’s a rollercoaster, just gotta ride it

The Right Eyes

Today, Little Bear has been seen by another psychologist. This came about because the last time we saw an Educational Psychologist, I became very irate and had to resist the strong urge to tell him he didn’t know his arse from his elbow. You may remember this ranty post which tells you all about it: Conversations

Thankfully, the Bear’s school were none too impressed either and volunteered to pay for a private psychologist to ensure a non-biased, useful report. I know that I have moaned at times, about the school, but things have come a long way. I feel a real gratitude towards them that they genuinely care, about Little Bear and us, and that they are willing to be creative and do things differently if that’s what’s required. In these times of dwindling budgets, I’m well aware that many schools wouldn’t have funded such an assessment.

It isn’t just that, but by inviting a knowledgeable stranger into the school, they were laying themselves bare to observation and potential criticism. They took that risk because they want to do the best they can for our son and they are willing to make changes to their practice if advised. There is something about us having these shared vulnerabilities and this shared desire to ensure he reaches his full potential and is as happy as he can be, that makes me a little emotional. I think (I hope) that we have reached that much longed for status of Having A Good Working Relationship. And also Mutual Respect. I hope so, because I do feel like giving them a collective hug.

So, having got the right professional across the threshold, how was it?

Other than the times someone from our post-adoption support service has come into school meetings, this was the first time that somebody with an evident knowledge of trauma and attachment has observed Little Bear and seen what I see. There is a palpable relief in that. It isn’t in my mind; I haven’t concocted his needs; I’m not exaggerating. A knowledgeable stranger has come in and is sitting at the table I have sat at many times before and is observing things and recommending things that I have previously talked about, at that very table. She’s more convincing than me because she’s a psychologist and she certainly couldn’t be accused of being a neurotic mother, but even so, it makes me feel a little vindicated.

It’s refreshing. It’s also reassuring and hopeful. It means that instead of things being okay for Little Bear, maybe there is hope of them being the best they could be. I probably haven’t aimed that high for a while – just hoping we could avoid abject failure. School are willing and keen and they like the Psychologist and she is passionate and full of useful ideas. Surely this is the most hopeful our status has been so far?

I complained in my blog about the incompetent Ed Psych, that I knew more about trauma than he did and I’m sure that’s true. (Incidentally, today’s Psychologist said almost the polar opposite of everything he said. One has to laugh). I’ve written about  Being an Expert Parent and how our children necessitate us being so. I have always been a little reluctant about it though, so when a professional appears who is undoubtedly more knowledgeable than me and more experienced than me and I can learn from them, it’s brilliant. There is a surprising relief in it, that allows me to relax a bit, so I can attend the meeting as a Mum, not some sort of parent/professional hybrid trying to do several things at once. It makes me realise how exhausting navigating such meetings can be and how much of my emotional energy is eaten up week to week, trying to make sure Little Bear has what he needs in every area of his life, unwittingly filling the gaps left by others lacking in knowledge. Perhaps I can relax a little about his education now because between the psychologist and the school, I think they’ve got this.

It also highlights how rarely I’m in a situation with a professional who is knowledgeable enough to give advice about Little Bear’s needs. This shouldn’t be the case – that a professional who is trauma-informed is a rarity. Any professional coming to advise on children with developmental trauma should be suitably trained and aware. It is wrong that we find ourselves in a situation where the only way of getting that expertise is to pay for it, especially as childhood trauma is so prevalent.

Anyhow, with the right eyes on Little Bear, what did we learn?

There are some real positives about how things are currently being done. The Psychologist commented how lovely it was that Little Bear’s teacher and his TA are both willing to be physically affectionate with him and allow him to snuggle close to them. His teacher (a man), calls him ‘mate’ a lot and gives him reassuring pats on the back or arm. In this day and age where figures of authority have to be so careful about touching children, and some establishments have become so wary that they don’t touch children at all instead keeping some kind of unnatural and cold distance, it is heartening that the Bear’s school feel able to react to him naturally and to provide him with the physical comfort/connection he needs.

There are also real positives in terms of a multi-sensory curriculum and learning being fun. Little Bear is largely happy in the classroom and his trusting relationship with both members of staff is evident to a new onlooker. These things are reassuring.

What is more concerning is that Little Bear was not observed to be regulated at any point during the morning-long observation. I’m not surprised though. We achieve periods of regulation at home but that’s because we work really hard at it and we have spent three and half years getting tuned in and figuring out what works. I can see that without a trained eye, it would be difficult to figure out the underlying causes (often linked to Interoception in my opinion). I am still very much trying to untangle Little Bear’s sensory needs and that is with Sensory Integration training under my belt and a lot of time to puzzle. I can fully understand how, without the training or the experience, school would struggle to interpret and manage these aspects of Little Bear’s needs. The good thing is that today’s visit has brought them better understanding and the report will bring many practical suggestions for ‘sensory snacks’ to hopefully improve regulation across the day. I’m excited to read the ideas and maybe steal some for home too.

Little Bear was also observed to be anxious, hyper-vigilant and attachment-seeking in the classroom. Staff were observed to be inconsistent in making Little Bear adhere to the rules and at times punished possible self-regulatory behaviour. The big take home message for school was to ask themselves, ‘what is Little Bear showing us with this behaviour?’ ‘What is he showing us he needs?’ ‘What can we do to make him more comfortable/reduce his anxiety?’ instead of saying, ‘how can we stamp out this unwanted behaviour?’

The take home messages for me were more questions to ask of myself: ‘Are we doing enough to meet Little Bear’s sensory needs?’; ‘Should I get somebody else to assess him in this area?’; ‘Do we make appropriate accommodations for his sensory needs, particularly at mealtimes?’ I do find myself saying “sit down properly” a lot more than I probably should.

We talked a lot about difficulties with executive function and employing strategies to support that, such as visual supports, timers and short sharp bursts of learning, interspersed with sensory snacks. We talked about positive feedback, a proper meet and greet, a better transition for the end of lunchtime and closer supervision if unstructured play is leading to difficulties.

One of the main reasons we initially sought psychological input was due to the upcoming need to re-apply for funding for Little Bear. Today’s Psychologist was strongly of the opinion that Little Bear’s supportive adult should not be removed from him – he needs her support to get going with tasks and frequent check-ins to help him complete them. He cannot learn without adult support currently – an opinion we also hold strongly and one of the key reasons I got so frustrated with the LA Ed Psych who thought we should be working towards independence. The fact that today’s Psychologist independently and without any vested interest, drew this opinion is a great outcome and will hopefully add significant weight to our case for funding. I would love to say I’m not worried about that but I am because there are a few wider things also happening, relating to staffing at school and some problems with our back-up plan, should the funding application be rejected. There is always something to worry about it seems, but, today, I’m going to bed hopeful that now Little Bear has been seen through the right eyes, we might be on the right track to him getting the right support.

The Right Eyes

Boys Don’t Cry

This morning, I have spent a bit of time reviewing the various bits of writing I have created over the last six months or so. A couple of pieces have found a home but I was sorting through the homeless ones, deciding what was going to be entered in upcoming competitions etc. There is one piece which I really want to have a home because the content of the story is extremely important and, I suspect, would be enlightening to many. I have been pondering where it should go and think I have concluded that I will really struggle to sell it to most (all?) mainstream short story publishers. Why? Well, it’s pretty gritty, northern, and I suppose, angry. It is also extremely sweary.

Anyhoo, to cut a long monologue short, I think I’m going to publish it here. It’s risky because it isn’t my usually content and there is a risk of offending you, my lovely readers. However, it is essentially a fictional account which passes comment on the state of our Care and Education systems and raises important issues which I feel should be heard and should be thought about by a wider audience.

TRIGGER WARNING: If reference to self-harm/ being in Care/ frequent moves/ domestic violence/obscenities might upset you, please don’t read on.

If you’re cool with all that, feel free to share with those who might like it/ be enlightened by it.

For all the Vinnie’s out there:

Boys Don’t Cry

Vinnie slouched along Penn Lane, his rucksack hanging languidly over his shoulder. Every now and again he saw a piece of litter or a stone in his path and booted them. Last night’s ‘chat’ with Barbara ran on a loop in his head. She was his Social Worker, his fourth to be exact.

“Vincent, I’m sorry love, but Marianne just isn’t coping with you. It’s the swearing, Hun. The coming in after curfew and she says what finally did it, was you stealing from the kitchen again. She’s tried her best, she has, but she can’t cope any more. So, I’m really sorry, but we’ve had to find you a new place…. I’m, err, I’m sure you’ll like this one Vinnie…. It’s a couple, Les and Maureen. They’re going to come and get your stuff tomorrow while you’re at school and they’ll meet you in the car park afterwards. Ok, love? Now, Vincent, try your best this time eh?”

Home. That’s what they call it. They’re not your parents like, but they’re gonna look after you as if they were. That’s what they say. ‘Make yourself at home Vinnie’; ‘This is your home now Vinnie’. But they don’t mean it. Cos if you eat food from your own fridge, in your own home, they say you’ve been fucking stealing.

Six weeks he’d been there now, at Marianne’s. It was just starting to feel normal, like maybe it could be home but turns out she’s just like all the others. Two-faced bitch. Vinnie felt tears prick at his eyes and that familiar ache in his stomach. All he wanted was a home. A place. His place. With people who gave a shit. He was so jealous of his mates with parents. Why couldn’t they have just let him stay with his Mum? She was a total smack ‘ed, he got that, but any shitty excuse for a human would be better than this – getting wafted about like a piece of dirt. The tears were filling his lower lids, threatening to overspill. “Man up,” Vinnie told himself, scrubbing at his eyes with his blazer sleeve, “Boys don’t cry, you pansy.”

He turned the corner onto the high street. So he was moving then? This would be the twelfth time in five years. Twelve ‘homes’. He should start one of those tallies prisoners etch on the wall in their cells to count down the days. He didn’t know where he’d put it though, seeing as he didn’t even have a wall. He had less than a prisoner which was fucking sad. Maybe he should etch the tally on his body instead cos that was the only thing that went everywhere with him. Yeah, he might do that later, with his pen knife.

Vinnie stopped outside of the newsagent, waiting for someone who looked likely. Kath from the bungalows shuffled up so he asked her. “Get us some fags will ya?” he said, pressing a note into her hand.

“Ooh love, haven’t you given that up yet? Filthy habit it is.”

“Kath, you smoke forty a day!”

“Well, yes love, but I’m old, my lungs are screwed aren’t they? But you’re young. You’ve got your whole life ahead of ya. Well, go on then, but make this the last time eh?”

The vapours calmed him a bit. He concentrated on the in, the choke-inducing hold then the out. Long, slow, deliberate.

He had Maths first thing with Mr ‘knob-ed’ Charles. He hated it. Maths made him feel proper thick. The numbers moved about sometimes, twisting and bending and making his brain throb. He could do it, if he had enough time but Mr. Charles seemed to go too fast on purpose, like getting kids brains tangled up was a sport for him. Sick, he was.

Vinnie pushed open the door and lumbered over to his desk, vaguely aware the lesson had started already.

“Vincent Capoletti!” boomed Mr Charles, “How dare you disrespect me and my Maths class by wandering in late! What time do you call this? It is Monday morning and this is your first lesson. What excuse could you possibly have for this level of tardiness? Hmm?”

“You don’t wanna know Sir”

“Well, actually young man, I do want to know, that is why I have interrupted my teaching to ask you. So?”

“So, what?”

“So, Capoletti, why are you late?”

“I’m just late Sir. Sorry. Can we drop it?”

“No, Capoletti, we cannot drop it. Not only are you late but you are rude. Stay behind at the end. And tuck your shirt in!”

Vinnie wasn’t in the mood for this. He rarely was but today school was making him feel more claustrophobic than ever. Trapped. I’m really sorry, but we’ve had to find you a new place… I’m sure you’ll like this one Vinnie…. It’s a couple, Les and Maureen.

Les and Maureen. Vinnie wondered what they were like. Maybe they collected those shit pottery dogs that all old people have. Maybe they were into really kinky stuff like swinging and that. Oh God, he hoped they didn’t have other Care kids there. He couldn’t bear it. Another life ruined by social-fucking-services. Another screwed-up brat who he wouldn’t be able to get on with cos he was scared of ever becoming them. Even though he was them already. One of those kids that literally nobody wants.

“…Capoletti! The square root of 25? It isn’t even hard and I’ve asked you twice already!” “Erm, I dunno Sir, 3?” Vinnie could hear the cool group who sat nearer the front sniggering at his ineptitude. It was alright for them and their detached houses and parents with professional jobs. They had time to care about this shit.

Vinnie was feeling edgier by the minute. He tried jiggling his leg to release some energy. It was like Krakatoa inside of him. He’d learned about it in Geography, one of the only lessons he’d ever enjoyed. It was like Krakatoa, the volcano, was inside of him, simmering and hissing and getting close to a catastrophic eruption. He tried to dampen it down, distract himself with his thoughts. All thoughts led back to that chat with Barbara though or to his sad excuse of a mother or to Marianne. He didn’t want to think about her. He could really do with a fag.

Mr Charles made him stay behind at the end for one his righteous teacher monologues. Apparently Vinnie didn’t actually need to answer any of the questions. They were ‘rhetorical’. Mr Charles took great pleasure in telling him so. He was on Report now which was just effing-fabulous.

He’d missed five minutes of break already but was so desperate for a smoke that he took himself to the far edge of the field, where the big tree was, and smoked three fags one after the other even though there wasn’t enough time. He gave himself a liberal spray of Lynx before rushing, of a manner, to French.

“Miss, can you sign my report card?” he said, wafting it in front of Madame Trudeau.

“You want me to sign your card? To say you are on time for my lesson?” she enquired in her fake-sounding French accent.

“Yes miss”

“But you are not on time for my lesson Vincent. Sit down.”

Seriously! Why would no-one just give him a break? Why did teachers have to be so up their own arses? Two tiny minutes late, that was all. Vinnie threw his bag onto the floor and scraped the chair noisily back. He put his elbows on the desk, jabbing his fists into his eye sockets. Krakatoa grumbled and threatened.

“Vincent, I will not ‘av this lack of respect in my classroom. Sit up and take your arms off the desk!”

With great effort, Vinnie did as she bid.

“Where is your homework Vincent? You owe me two pieces now.”

“I, err….”

“Well, do you ‘av it or not?”

“No, I fucking-well haven’t!”

Oh shit. He didn’t mean to say that. The words had just come out of their own accord. His tongue had run away with him as his Nan used to say. It’s the swearing, Hun. Vinnie’s heart pounded and adrenaline coursed through his veins. His body pushed him up to standing. His arms thrust forward and he shoved the table. Hard. He upended his chair, grabbed his bag and slammed the door with such force a glass panel fell out. The noise on impact with the polished floor was ear shattering; the moments afterwards foreboding in their silence. Dagger shaped shards scattered like sinister marbles and crunched under his shoes.

For a second, Vinnie felt compelled to reach for a sliver to slice his flesh with. To bleed the pain away. He’d have done it too but Mr McDermott appeared ghost-like from nowhere and dragged him off to Isolation.

“I don’t know what’s got into you Capoletti! It’s only 10:30am on Monday and somehow, somehow, you’ve already got yourself on Report, annoyed Mr Charles, annoyed Madame Trudeau and destroyed school property! That’s good going even for the likes of you. Now, you’re in here for the rest of the day. Miss. Rivers is supervising. No talking. If I were you lad, I’d get my head together.”

Why do teachers always stink of stale fucking coffee, Vinnie wondered. It was disgusting. Someone should have a word with Mr McDermott about his oral hygiene.

Vinnie chose the booth in the corner and sat himself down. He allowed his head to fall onto his folded arms and closed his eyes. They’re going to come and get your stuff tomorrow while you’re at school and they’ll meet you in the car park afterwards. He wondered what they’d put his stuff in this time. A black bin bag again? Not that he had anything much. Just a couple of trackies and his memory box. He’d have packed himself but Marianne disappeared last night so he couldn’t ask her for a bag. Locked in her room she was. She hadn’t come out this morning either so he hadn’t even got to say goodbye. She must really hate him. Maybe she was scared of what he’d do now she was turfing him out? Did she think he was a fucking thug? That he’d knock her about or summat? Treat her like his Dad treated women?

A yoghurt. That was all he’d had. He was starving and he hadn’t wanted to disturb her.

Anyway, what did it matter? He’d never see her again. He’d add her to the list later, with the other eleven, then he’d forget about her, like the others.

The tears threatened again. Vinnie squeezed his fists hard, so his ragged nails jabbed his skin. What he wouldn’t give for a hug. He couldn’t remember the last time anybody had touched him. A squeeze on the shoulder or a friendly pat, even. Nothing. They don’t touch you in case you accuse of them of rape and that. He wouldn’t do that though, he wasn’t a knob, he just wanted someone to hold him. Just for a few minutes. A memory floated into Vinnie’s mind of him as a little lad, lying with his head on his Nan’s lap, her gently stroking his hair over and over. The old feelings of safety and love pricked at him, cruel reminders of what he no longer had.

Vinnie started to panic again, a heady cocktail of cortisol and adrenaline thrumming through him. He lifted his head to look for a distraction. The booth had three walls, hemming him in. Everything was white. It was like a fucking padded cell. Vinnie was struggling to stay still. His muscles were twitching and flexing. He jiggled one leg then the other. He jiggled faster but the feelings wouldn’t stop. Krakatoa was really threatening now. Vinnie was terrified of the eruption. Catastrophic they said. No coming back from that. Part of him wanted it though. The obliteration.

His thoughts raced. His mum. In a dirty dressing gown, half her teeth missing. One of the houses. Another. Marianne. Barbara. The glass smashing. His blood.

Vinnie drove his head into the surface of the table to make it stop.

“Oi! Mr. Capoletti! How dare you disrupt Isolation! SILENCE!”

Shouting. His Dad. His mum’s black eye. A police car. That noise, of the siren. Terror. Piss soaking into his back in the bed.

Images kept coming. Ones he’d shut away ages ago. He didn’t want to see them. He was hearing the siren like it was there and he just needed it to fucking stop. He was on his feet. His leg kicked the chair over; his hand drove itself into the wall. It was happening. The magma was hurtling upwards.

He was vaguely aware of Miss Rivers radioing for the senior leadership team. Fuck ‘em. Fuck the lot of them. No one gave a shit about him anyway. No one, in the whole fucking world. The desk was upturned now. The paper contents of his bag shredded, creating an eerie juxtaposition of snow against bloodshed.

Mr McDermott was there and some of the others, handling him.

“Don’t fucking touch me!” Vinnie screamed, flailing. “Get the fuck away from me.”

“Vincent, you need to calm down son. You can’t behave like this in school. Do what you like on the streets but its zero tolerance in here. Calm it or we’ll have to involve the Police.”

The Pigs. No, he couldn’t see them. He had to get out. Away. He couldn’t breathe. He needed air. “I’m fucking going you cunts. Chill out,” he spat, grabbing his bag and pushing to the door.

“Vincent, you can’t just leave school. You have to be here. We’ll be calling your fost…” But he was gone, sprinting, his legs driving him forward. Pumped. Lava spewing out, excoriating his thoughts.

*

Later, Vinnie couldn’t remember it too well. He didn’t know how long he ran for or where he’d even gone. He had no fucking idea where he was now. He sat on a wall and looked at his phone. Ten missed calls and several messages from Barbara. He didn’t bother reading them. He was suddenly very tired. Exhausted. It was like there was nothing left of him, a gaping caldera where he should have been. Vinnie tried to think but his brain didn’t work. He couldn’t make a plan. His thoughts wouldn’t do it. There was nothing. Just emptiness. It should have been better, not having the pictures in his head and the words on loop. But it wasn’t. He was so hollow it was terrifying. If nobody was missing him and he couldn’t even feel himself, was he even real? Would he just float into the air like a spec of dirt? Would be dissipate? Dissolve? Just go?

Vinnie needed to feel something. Anything. The knife was still in his pocket, reassuringly cold and solid. It felt good in his palm; weighty. Then, the satisfying click of the blade.

 

 

 

 

Boys Don’t Cry