Great Expectations.

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”

Charles Dickens, ‘Great Expectations’

I was thinking today, whilst I was pottering in my potting shed in an attempt to regain some mental equilibrium, that the weight of expectations on adoptive families and on individuals within those families sometimes seems overwhelming. Some of those expectations are of our own making, but there also seem to be a lot of outside pressures bearing down on us at the moment. Here are a few of them:

Both Bubble and Squeak are going to therapy sessions.  Whilst Bubble’s is currently focused on building our attachments, Squeak’s is aimed at reducing her anxieties, and helping her make sense of her story so far.  Therapy is draining for all of us, and our therapist clearly expects us to be Super Therapeutic Mummies All Of The Darn Time.

Squeak is having problems at school.  She’s the smallest girl in the school, and she is attracted to ‘trouble’. This is not a winning combination. Recently having left her at the school gate as usual,  she did not appear in the classroom.  She was found 30 minutes later playing tig in the car park, with another girl. Her teacher dealt with this really well and agreed with me that she needs extra support for the beginning and end of the school day, as well as at playtimes.  Of course the school can’t put this into place until after Easter. Why on earth would I expect otherwise?

Bubble’s teacher has just admitted that perhaps we were right that Bubble needs more direction and support at the end of every school day (just as she had had in previous years).  Better late than never, but we don’t expect to see this realisation translated into action.

Bubble was just beginning to show the first small signs of settling down a little after the upset of one of her sisters returning to foster care. But this week we will be celebrating Squeak’s birthday, so Bubble is currently feeling jealous and acting mean. Cue extra vigilance to ensure Squeak is not physically hurt. I am expecting at least one family member to comment on how well Bubble is coping with her sister’s birthday celebrations later this week.

We continue to ensure that our girls see their sisters, and with one of them having returned to foster care, this has become increasingly complicated.  After enduring 3 months of nonsense from social workers about ‘contact’ and a refusal to give us the foster carer’s phone number, they now expect that we will provide free respite for their foster carer! It is also expected that we will facilitate ‘contact’ with all of the sisters.  We don’t see either of those things as our role, so we won’t be doing them.  What we will be doing is focusing on the best way forward for our girls, and doing what they need us to do.

I’m going to attempt to throw off all expectations over this week.  It may help.  It may not.  I don’t have any great expectations either way.

 

 

 

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We laughed. We cried. We survived. 

National Adoption Week is nearly upon us again.  Tempting as it is to assume Head in Sand position, I am trying to change my narrative, so I’ve decided to embrace it. Well, not exactly embrace, more tolerate it, try to make the best of it. The old Blitz mentality.  By the end of the week I may have resorted to gathering up my pinny, doing a little jig, and waving my fist around wildly, whilst screaming ‘Do your worst, you haven’t got me yet!’

My problem with NAW is that the focus is on recruiting potential adopters, without much in the way of discussion about the reality of parenting a traumatised child. I don’t want to rain on any parades. I’m gay, ergo I love a good parade. It’s in the Gay Rule Book: thou shalt love a good parade.  What I would like though, is for NAW to reflect the reality of being adopted and being an adopter, rather than some honey coated version of ‘lucky’ children and ‘amazing’ adopters.

So here’s our family’s reality over the last year:

Bubble was diagnosed with ARND, Alcohol Related Neurodevelopmental Disorder.  Aha! I hear you cry. Bet that diagnosis had the professionals flocking to offer support! Err, well, no actually. Nothing. Nada. Diddly squat. Zip.  The Consultant Geneticist told us there was ‘no point’ referring Bubble to the Paediatrician. Oh hang on! I’ve just remembered. There was an offer of support: school wondered if she needed a hearing test.  I found myself having one of those Twilight Zone Floating Above Your Body As You’re Saying It Because It’s So Ludicrous That You Should Have To Say It experiences, explaining to a teacher, SENCO, social worker, and educational psychologist, that it is Bubble’s memory and executive functioning that are damaged rather than her ears. We’ve been left to work out for ourselves what this diagnosis means, how best to support Bubble, and to once again plead with the school to embrace her differences and needs.

Having been advised Bubble would not get an EHCP,  we’re currently completing the forms ourselves.  We don’t think we will be successful, but we have to do everything we can to attempt to get the right support for Bubble.  We’re hoping that at least with it all written down it will focus the school a little more on the support she needs to reduce her anxieties.

We attempted to have a dialogue about Bubble’s transition to a secondary school setting. We asked for a therapeutic educational environment, but were advised by a social worker that in order to possibly come anywhere near achieving this Bubble would have to ‘fail and be excluded’ from a local secondary school. (Insert your own swear words here.  I’ll stick with my new favourite phrase, courtesy of @NowWeAreSix, ‘say WHAT now?’) We were then advised to ‘go private’.

We visited a semi-local secondary school, and were delighted to discover the SENCO actually Gets It.  The school is fairly small, all the staff have been trained in Attachment Awareness, and the SENCO has agreed to come to our next meeting at Bubble’s junior school.  Cue virtual kissing of said SENCO. I am still wondering whether I actually dreamed this meeting.  I don’t think I did, as the SENCO was wearing what can only be described as stripy Cuban heels, and I cannot imagine that my subconscious would tolerate such a fashion faux pas within an educational setting that is not the New York School of Performing Arts.

We finally started Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy. We have a fabulous psychologist and are now obviously in a wonderful state of co-constructing narratives with Bubble, who would much rather be eating or watching television. We take our co-constructing chances where we can.  We will get there.  This will help. We have decided this.

Squeak moved up to junior school, and twice endured being referred to by her birth surname.  The first time was in front of her entire year group on the taster day. Cue apologies and assurances from the Head that it would never happen again, staff understood how upsetting this was etc and so forth. The second time occurred on Squeak’s first day at junior school. This time her old surname was plastered over books, coat peg and drinks bottle.

Squeak is now bed wetting most nights.  Sometimes twice a night.  Her anxieties are ramped up. Her controlling behaviour is totally over the top. At least we don’t need to wonder what prompted this. We’ve asked for an assessment for life story work.

My employers decided that after 2 years flexible working I had to work full time. No negotiation. According to my then line manager I ‘knew what I was taking on’ when I adopted. Caring for 2 developmentally traumatised children doesn’t really fit with being a full time social worker in a local authority, so I forked out for a lawyer, won my case, and left.

We worried all summer about the possibility of one of Bubble and Squeak’s siblings returning to care. Thankfully it did not happen. They’re all still clinging on. Theirs is another adoption reality story.

My adopted niece continues to run away from the local authority care to which she had returned. Currently she is hiding out at a ‘boyfriend’s’ house and refusing to return to the care home.  There’s more adoption reality for you.

My partner and I set up a local adoption group.  To be fair the local authority had made an attempt to do this a few years ago, but there was very poor attendance at their initial planning meeting so they immediately gave up.  Oh well!  They had tried, hadn’t they?  The ‘we tried, honestly we did’ box had been ticked for the inspectors.  We now have a thriving, supportive, friendly group of adopters who share knowledge and experience, and help each other to do the best they possibly can for their families. How did we do this? We networked. We used our charm and ready wit. We made it appealing. We chose a comfortable friendly venue. We offered sandwiches.

We got a lot out of @TheOpenNest’s brilliant conference in July. We met some lovely people. We also had good feedback about some badges we sold for the charity, so I opened up the Thelmatopia shop on e-bay.

Last, but not least, we found a babysitter. And I think this one will stay, despite Squeak’s best efforts. Huzzah! Selfcare hash tags all round.

And there, gentle readers, we have it.  Our own adoption reality highlights of the last year. We’ve laughed, we’ve cried, we’ve survived.  Just. So, with a Gypsy Rose Lee flourish, I bid you adieu, and urge you in the forthcoming National Adoption Week  to embrace the Adoption Reality Sharing Experience.*

*The very lovely and wise @ProseccoSue advises not to shorten Adoption Reality Sharing Experience as a hash tag on twitter.

 

 

 

Connections

I’m not going to talk or think about ‘attachment’ for a while. I’m finding it too difficult: at the end of each day when I have a little reflection (you can take the girl out of social work, but… etc.) I’ve  been having various thoughts: that there’s a problem with my attachment with Bubble; that after 3.5 years we should be further on; etc and negative so forth.

So I’m going to stop thinking about ‘attachment’ and start thinking about ‘connections’. I’m going to really notice the little things. The moments when eye contact is made, when humour is shared, hugs are given. Very infrequently Bubble tells me she loves me. Instead of wishing she would say it more often, I’m going to treasure the times she does proclaim love. I’m going to store this all up in my memory banks. Snapshots of connection.

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And maybe, just maybe, Bubble will be storing these memories too, and her connections will be getting stronger.

Catawampus

Catawampus!

That’s Dictionary.com’s word of the day. Adjective: askew; awry

Yep. That about sums up how I’m feeling right now. It feels like discombobulated mixed with anger.

Normally I’d be trying my damndest to supress this feeling. I have to be on top form. I have to make sure everyone else is ok. But today, just for a few hours, I’m going to go with it. The girls are at school. OH is at the gym. So I’ve taken myself off to our garden room with Cat to experience catawampus.

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The weather matches my mood. Cat and I are basking in the glow of a weak electric fire which has pumped up the temperature to 7.9 degrees. The roof leaks. So, chilly and wet. Apt. Askew. Awry. (Those aren’t bars on the window by the way. They are my home grown skew-whiff pea sticks.)

Last night OH and I organised the second meeting of our local adoption support group. This time 4 others pitched up and it was great. We’ve planned the next one. We’ve planned a day out with the children. We’ve even got the local authority to pay for our venue. And we had sandwiches. Brilliant. No catawampus there.

When we got home I checked my e mails. There was one from my old union rep, who was asking me to look at an attachment – which she had not attached – from HR about the investigation into my line manager. I left work 5 weeks ago. The union were not supportive when I was going through hell. Now, after I have given up my job, they decide to take action?! My sleep last night was marred by nightmares about work. I woke up exhausted and in a funk.

And then I turned on the radio. Big mistake. I caught the tail-end of Thought For The Day, which annoys me intensely at the best of times. This morning there was some chap banging on about motherhood. Maybe I got the wrong end of the stick, but in my funk I thought he was implying that adopters are not ‘real mothers’. I stewed in the shower.

Bless twitter and @MendingMum for making me laugh, and @mumdrah for telling me it is ok to be angry.

I’m only just beginning to believe that it is ok for me to be angry. I tell Bubble often enough that it is ok to feel anger, and I try to help her explore how she can let that anger out. And I truly believe that for her. But I grew up with the very firm message that Nice Girls Don’t Do Anger. I’ve carried that message all my life. And we all know The Body Keeps The Score. So now it’s time to discard that message for me. A little bit at a time. And what better way to do that than basking in some catawumpy ruminations in a chilly and damp garden room, with Cat on my lap?