Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Things You Do Too

My dear NB,

It is less than a month now until you leave us and move on to your new home, your new mummy and your new life.  After that, you will only be real for me in my memories of the past 18 months and my imagination of your future.  I imagine it to be a very GOOD future!

Such a lot has changed for you since you came to live with us, and it's about to all change again, so this seems like the perfect time to take a snapshot of the things I love about where you are now:

  • Your beautiful, strawberry blond curls - even though I finally took the plunge and took you for a haircut a few months ago, your curls are just as gorgeous as ever
  • Your sensitivity, and the way you genuinely care when other children are crying or hurt
  • The ability that you have to sleep, sleep, sleep, right through the night, for a long afternoon nap, whenever, wherever
  • The endless curiosity that always leads you to look under, around and behind to see how things work and what makes them tick
  • The fact that pretty much everything is potential tower-building material to you
  • The way you run with total abandon, looking as though you might fall at any second with your limbs flailing wildly about
  • The conversations you have with me where 90% of your sentences consist entirely of "Ha de de de de de . . . " with just one intelligible word slipped in there somewhere - I love that you're trying so hard to tell me your stories
  • The way you still sometimes use the signs we learned when you Really, Really Mean It!
  • The way you drum in time with the music
  • Your great attitude towards your swimming lessons and tolerance of the cap!
  • The way you love to dress up and parade around the house
  • Your drawing and colouring
  • The way you 'read' your books out loud
  • The way you say "Po Po Pat!"
  • How excited you get about trains and planes
  • How beautiful you look in the new jumper I got you
  • Your pleases and thankyous
  • The way you watch Mr Tumble with such intensity and teach yourself new signs
  • How cute you look tucked up in your big boy bed
  • The way you wrap yourself around me when I'm carrying you
  • How appreciative you are about new toys, even taking them with you to bed
  • Your current obsession with your toy saw
  • The way you'll talk on a toy phone for ages, but totally clam up when somebody is talking to you on a real phone!
  • The shy smile you do every night when we talk about your new mummy in our prayers

Love you NB
xx

Monday, May 27, 2013

The Things You Do

My darling OB,

I've been thinking about treasured moments recently, and it has re-ignited this nagging feeling that these precious months and years are flying past way too quickly.  I look at you, still with your toddler's face, and roly poly baby arms and legs, and already I can see the boy, teenager and man you will become all too soon.  One day, when I am an old lady, and you are a grown man, making your own way, I'll look back on these days and wish I had recorded some of those little things that I hoped I would never forget.

So here we are.  These are the things that, right now, I love the most.

  • The way you yell "Mummy! Get up now!" from your cot each morning (sometimes very early in the morning!)
  • The way you hold your guitar like a real rock star, dancing and singing along to the soundtrack in your head
  • Your crinkly hands and feet
  • Your blue, blue eyes
  • The way your hair bobs about when you run, which is most of the time
  • The deep, growly laugh you do when you're excited about something
  • The way you sing "Shout your name, shout your name, oooooohhhhhh Dod!"
  • The fact that you call Playgroup 'Paypoop'
  • The little kiss you give me last thing before you go into your cot at night
  • The amount of cheese you eat
  • The way you are picky about what coat and shoes you want to wear
  • Your cheeky laugh
  • The way you roll your eyes to look up at the corner of the room when you're about to do something cheeky
  • The way you get excited about things, and look forward to things with such eagerness
  • Your beautiful manners and the cute way you say 'please' and 'thankyou'
  • The way you love babies, stroking them and bringing toys for them to play with
  • The way you say 'ma' instead of 'I' - "Ma do it!", "Ma sit on the chair!"
  • The way you kept coming to kiss my 'poorly back' and make it 'aaaaaall better'
  • How much you love Wallace and Grommit!
  • How much you love being outside and running around, even though it will mean quite a change for me to get used to being out there with you - more fresh air and exercise needed Mummy!
  • The way that if I say 'no' to something you want to do, you just reply "later?" and are completely fine with that
  • The way you count, saying "two, three, two, three", and "four, six, four, six" - there's plenty of time for one and five later
  • The way you won't settle in your bed until you have named all your blankets and got them snuggled over you - soft one, other one and big boy quilt
  • The way you kick off your blankets ten minutes later and then wake up cold in the night!
  • The little plastic cups of 'coffeetea' you bring to me in the mornings
  • The way you love your friends and name them every night when we say our prayers
  • The fact that you can entertain yourself for ages if I draw a drum kit on a piece of paper and give you two pencil 'drumsticks'
  • The way you say "A bit 'ot", "A bit 'ard", "A bit 'eavy", and best of all, when you called the strawberries "A bit tart"!
  • The way you tip all of your toys out of the boxes, and then line the boxes up along the floor and play trains with them
  • How much you enjoy books and reading
  • The cuddles we have at pyjama time
  • The way you love slopes and ramps and will happily run up and down them for ages
  • How observant you are
  • The way you love fruit and will eat that first off your lunch plate 
  • The way you cling to my leg when a dog comes past - I know we'll have to fix that dog thing, but for now it's nice to know that I am your safe port in a storm

And best of all, the way that all these moments are mine to treasure forever!









Saturday, May 25, 2013

Treasuring the Moments

This week's #WASO theme is 'Treasured Moments'.  Seriously, I could write about these all day!  I've written before about some of our successes and moments to remember (here and here) and recently we've had a plethora of memorable times with Final Hearing and then Celebratory Hearing and all the related celebrations.

All of that was amply documented and recorded via literally hundreds of photographs and in other ways, including several blog posts.  So today, I want to take a slightly different tack on the subject . . . .

Unlike many adoptive parents, I have been lucky enough to have experienced many of OB's treasured moments, achievements and 'firsts'.  It was me who saw him roll over, sit, stand and walk for the first time.  I nursed him through his teething, gave him his first solid food, took him for his first haircut and first shoes (with his birth mother on that occasion).  I took photos and made videos, filled in his red book and baby book, and recorded our daily doings in my foster carer's diary.

In fact, due to our daily diary, I probably have a more complete record of OB's first two years than most birth parents would have of their own child's!

Throughout his period in foster care with me, I made meticulous records, either in writing, or in photos and videos, of nearly everything that happened.  But I made them for someone else.

'What's the difference?' you might think. 'At least you've got all of those memories recorded now.'

So true.  And I'm grateful for them.  But I must admit there's a part of me that wishes that I could go back and relive those wonderful moments knowing what I know now - that one day I would be OB's forever mummy and all these memories and moments would belong to the two of us together and not just to him alone.

I took hundreds of photos of OB - OB eating, sleeping, walking, playing; OB at the park, in the pool, in France, Switzerland, Germany; OB on his own in so many places.  There are very few photos of OB with his adoptive mummy. If you browsed through his photo album, you'd be forgiven for wondering where I was!  Since I made the decision to adopt, I've been collecting photos of the two of us together from family and friends to try to put myself in the picture.

When OB would do something clever, or new, my thoughts would be that I must record it and tell his birth mother about it.  Everything was about working with birth mum, supporting and visiting birth mum, encouraging the bond between OB and birth mum.  When we took his birth mum with us to buy his first shoes, I only took photos of her and him, not me and him.  When he was rehabilitated to his birth mum, I sent those shoes, the hair from his first haircut, many beloved toys and clothes.  I never saw any of those things again.  When he returned a few short weeks later, he came in slippers and borrowed clothes.  Very little came after.  Much is lost.

Caring for a child temporarily means that you can never, never let yourself think about the future.  If you see some personality trait in him, or some budding skill, you must not allow yourself to imagine nurturing that to fruition.  You can't say "Next year we'll . . . " or "When he's older, we'll . . . . ".  However strong a bond you make with the child (and I do tend to go for super-strong bonding!), there's always a part of you that must be held back, or else it would be unbearable.

So, now I have permission to have all those thoughts and make all those plans, I'm making up for lost time!  I'm going back through our memories together and trying to create a story of a mummy and her son, rather than a temporary carer and her charge.  Of course, OB will know the truth about how he came to be my son, but he will hopefully also see that we shared many treasured moments together along the way.

We're also working hard to make sure that every new, unexpected, wonderful moment is treasured and cherished as well!  Those treasurable moments sometimes come along when least expected; they can be surprising, poignant or hysterically funny, taking your breath away, filling your heart to bursting with love and joy, or brimming your eyes with tears.

And now those moments are all mine.  And I'm glad.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Prepare for Information Underload

Recently I have found myself using the phrase, "Ummmm . . . I don't know" quite a lot.  NB's new mummy is preparing herself to receive her new little boy and she's doing it by asking lots and lots of questions.

This is, without doubt, a Good Thing.  It is in everybody's best interests that new mummy has as much information about NB as possible and I'm extremely keen to furnish her with whatever she needs to know, but so often over the past couple of weeks I've found myself unable to do much more than look thoughtful and scratch my head both in person, by email and over the phone!

None of new mummy's questions have been in any way unreasonable - certainly they are questions which she might reasonably expect that I would be able to answer.  But sometimes, I just can't.  NB's social worker phoned me the other day with a list of questions new mummy had sent her in response to receiving NB's medical information, and I'm afraid I was woefully inadequate to the task!

I feel bad about it, partly because I want new mummy to feel increasingly secure in her decision to adopt NB, and it seems to me that good information must help with that, and partly because I worry that my inability to answer questions makes it look at bit like I haven't really been paying attention to what's been going on with NB for the last 16 months!  How must it seem to you as a prospective adopter to realise that the foster carer can't seem to answer what, from your perspective, are the most obvious and basic questions?

Unfortunately, prospective adopters might need to be aware that, when it comes to getting good information from the foster carer, what they might experience is a little bit of information underload.  I think there are two main reasons for this:

1.  I didn't know you'd want to know about that, so I haven't mentally filed that information!

Different people look for and value different things in life and in parenting.  NB's new mummy is an art therapist, so she had loads of questions about how he responds when given art materials and suchlike.  Well, it's not as though he's never done any arts and crafts, but I'm not particularly arty myself, so I probably haven't really paid that much attention to the intricacies of how he responds and what he does in these situations.  I really had to rack my brains!  Now, I'm a musician, so I'm very aware of how he responds to rhythm and song, whether he sways or dances, whether his singing is approximately in tune, whether he's keeping a steady beat on his little drum, whether he holds his toy guitar like a real guitarist (he does!) and so on and so on.  To me these things are obvious and as natural as breathing so I have to remind myself that other people might not be so aware.  Of course, now I know that this is important to new mummy, I'll be paying more attention in the future!

It might not be something so specific as this.  People's lifestyles are different - what might be very important in your lifestyle might not come up at all for someone else.  NB's new mummy asked whether NB minds getting dirty and playing in the mud.  Honestly, I've no idea - I'm not a terribly outdoorsy kind of person, and our garden is totally unsuitable for the children to play in at the moment (permanent swamp!), so I can't honestly remember a time when he went outside and covered himself in mud.  Let's put it this way, NB might not mind getting covered in mud, but I'm not so keen on the idea!

2.  As a foster carer, I'm not necessarily given as much information as you might think

While many professionals are capable of seeing foster carers as another link in a professional chain, others insist on seeing us as little more than glorified babysitters and therefore leave us out of the information-sharing, not understanding that the more information we have, the better we are able to fulfil our roles.  This annoys me, but it's the way it is.

I know virtually nothing about NB's life before he came to me; the only information I have is the events that occurred immediately before he came into care.  I know that this final crisis was at the end of a long process of involvement by professionals, but I haven't been given any real information about that and only know what I've been able to pick up, or have been told because I've insisted.

I know nothing about what happened during NB's contacts with his birth family as I was not present at any of them.  The contact supervisors would occasionally share some tidbit with me as I picked him up, but as the family where always standing right there, and I had OB in the car waiting, these conversations were necessarily brief and actually, I don't really see it as my right to pry, unless something in NB's behaviour leads me to believe that there has been a problem.

I don't know as much about NB's medical situation as you might think.  Although I have taken him to LAC medicals and a pre-adoption medical, and the doctor has said various things in front of me (but not to me as they usually address the SW if present), it has really been on a need-to-know basis, i.e. I get told what I need to know in order to get him to whatever medical appointment is next on the list.  New mummy received NB's medical information this week and asked whether the ENT referral that is mentioned in the paperwork ever happened.  I didn't even know that a referral was being made, and no, it hasn't happened.  I have never seen NB's Red Book and know nothing about his medical history prior to being placed with me.

My feeling is that foster carers are very much seen as being at the far end of the chain when information is being shared - we are lucky if things filter down far enough to reach us.  This is a shame because it means that new mummy gets a pile of information from the SWs that, in its formal and institutional language, seems far removed from NB as a person, and at the same time, she gets a real-life picture of NB from his foster carer that is incomplete because it is almost entirely anecdotal and without much context.

In an ideal world, given better information, the foster carer would be ideally placed to give new parents a fully contextualised account of the children they are adopting.  Sadly, in the real world, we have to do the best we can with information underload . . . please be patient with us!


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Celebrations!

We have finally reached our much-planned and much-anticipated week of adoption celebrations and it feels GOOD!

My parents arrived on Monday night, so the boys have been super-spoiled and super-fussed all week, much to their delight (and mine - the spoiling extends to me too!).  On Thursday, we went to court for our Celebratory Hearing.  I wasn't sure what to expect to be honest, as I've never even been in a court room before (it was very posh and hi-tech!), but in the end, it was informal, low key and rather sweet.  The judge put his funny wig on OB and let us take a ridiculous amount of photographs, and then he gave both boys some sweeties out of a tin he obviously keeps for these occasions.

Both of our social workers were there, and I was very touched when our adoption SW gave us a lovely gift of a teddy and a sweet little book about a kangaroo who 'adopts' a little birdy.  OB loved the teddy and gave it a huge cuddle straight away.  All in all, it gave a welcome sense of closure to the legal part of the adoption.

This morning the new birth certificate arrived which felt like perfect timing as today was the day of our party at church for all my friends to come and celebrate with us.  We had activities for the kids, balloons, an awesome celebration cake, and lots and lots of food - way too much food actually, but nobody was complaining!  And again I was touched by the really beautiful and thoughtful gifts we received, including a tree to plant in the garden of our new house, a 'Mum' photo frame, an adorable shirt for OB and a custom-designed Memory Box for all his treasures . . . we'll be making good use of that.

I hadn't really been expecting gifts - again, I didn't really have a precedent on which to base any expectations - but it was fantastic to receive them for all sorts of reasons.  I've blogged before about how I have longed for all the things that any new parent would experience, even though the way I have become a parent isn't the usual, and today I really felt that all my friends and family pulled together to acknowledge how wonderful and special it is to become a parent, however it happens.

For a record of the event, I asked everybody to write messages on a huge piece of card with a picture of OB in the middle, so that the messages would frame the photo.  After everyone had gone I just took a few minutes to sit quietly and read those messages, and the ones on the cards people had given us . . . it's hard to say how much it means to me to read those things.  I'm sure I'll read and re-read them over and over again in the years to come.  I'm sure those loving words will remind me of the joy, and bring me comfort and strengthen my resolve as we face the ups and downs of our future together.

Tomorrow we will hold a Dedication Service at church; a whole other kind of celebration.  But for now, I'm too tired to write any more, so I'll finish with words from a beautiful card we received today:

I didn't give you the gift of life
But in my heart I know
The love I feel is deep and real
As if it had been so.

For us to have each other
Is like a dream come true!
No, I didn't give you the gift of life,
Life gave me the gift of you!

Saturday, May 4, 2013

NB's New Mummy

Finally, the photograph turned into a real person sitting on my sofa for almost three hours yesterday afternoon.  A real, live, forever mummy for NB.  Alongside a parcel of social workers!  What is the collective noun for social workers?!

Once I'd finished making umpteen brews for all of these people who had descended on me (3 social workers, new mummy, new mummy's moral support and me) and sandwiches and cakes had been handed out we got down to business.

Although, on reflection, I don't think we got down to business quite as efficiently as we could have!  I hadn't really been sure how the meeting would go as I haven't done one before, but basically, once introductions were over, NB's family finder simply encouraged me to 'wax lyrical' about NB.

No problem.  I waxed lyrical for ages, telling funny stories, highlighting the most significant points of his recent development, explaining various medical and speech therapy interventions and answering lots of questions.

It was only after it was all over and everybody had made like a little train down the garden path that I realised there were loads of details that I completely forgotten to mention.  Mostly practical details, like the type of car seat he is used to, the type of washing powder we use (so that his new house smells like his old house), his clothing and shoe size . . . lots of things like that.  Now I am obsessing over the fact that his new mummy might not know what car seat to get.  Worse still, she might not even think about car seats at all until she's here, taking him out, and we're having to lash him to the front seat with ropes and belts!  She has my email address but I don't have hers, so she can ask questions . . . but she will only ask the questions that she knows she needs to ask.

Of course, his new mummy is a lovely, bright, articulate lady who has been round loads of kids, including many nieces and nephews, so of course she will know about car seats, and probably won't need my advice.  Doesn't stop me checking my email every day though, to see if she's messaged me so that I can reply with vital car seat information!

Fuss, fuss, fuss!!

Next time I'll make a list!

I am delighted with the match though.  We got on like a house on fire, and I just know that NB is going to have a wonderful, lovely life with her, full of stimulation, opportunities and love, love, love.

Not only is she an Art Therapist (so awesome with NB's love of all things technical and manual), but she has vast experience in dealing with trauma as well as with delayed speech.

And to top it all off, there's a railway line at the bottom of the garden, so NB can sit on a little chair by the window and watch his beloved 'choo choos' go past all day long.

And that's how I'm always going to picture him after he's gone: perched on a little chair in the fading light of the afternoon, his beautiful curls catching the last rays of the setting sun, and shouting with delight at each train that passes.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

My First Taste of Post-Adoption Support

It was an evening training session entitled "Adoption: What to Tell and When".  I don't normally go for evening training unless it's completely mandatory, but when I saw the title and description I thought it would be just the thing for a new adoptive parent!

So, optimistically, despite being a person that doesn't enjoy this sort of training usually, and who hasn't been all that impressed by some of the other events I've been on, I went to great lengths to arrange a babysitter who would be willing to take on the challenge of putting my two toddlers to bed (something that has only been done by someone other than me twice before - and both times it was my Mum!) and booked myself on the course.

To say it was a bit of a let down would be an understatement.  Leaving aside the atrocious venue (brand new multi-million pound council offices in town - no parking at all, impossible to find the front door, when you do find the front door a surly security guard tells you that's not the right door, every accessway inside blocked by security gates so you can't actually get to where you're supposed to be, room too small and stiflingly hot but windows can't be opened because it will disturb the complex climate control system and so on and so on), I knew I wasn't on to a winner when the two social workers who were presenting the evening informed us at the very start that there is no right way to disclose information to an adopted child, and there is no right time to do so.

Ok, so, it might have been better to have called the training something else then!  Forgive me, but when I see the words "What to Tell and When", I get the impression (crazy I know!) that there will be something included about "What to Tell and When"!

Off to a bad start.  The rest of the introduction consisted of being told that as we're the mummies and daddies, we're the only ones who know what is best for our child, and if we just follow our instincts we're bound to get it right.  Yeah, well, considering we are all parenting children who have been removed from their birth parents for one reason or another, I think we can probably come to a consensus that not all mummies and daddies have such perfect instincts!  I am by no means wholly confident of mine.

Then there was the obligatory group activity where we were given case studies and told to decide at what age we would disclose each detail to the child in question.  This was problematic because in our group we had the people who already know everything there could possibly be to know about this subject (fellow foster carers of course - why do so many of us come across like that?!).  It rather begs the question as to why they have come on this training since they are already such experts.

Bearing in mind we had already been told that there was no right age for disclosure, I must admit I found the group exercise pretty difficult.  Between us, we couldn't agree on a specific age for a single one of the elements of this child's history to be disclosed.  This wasn't because we were arguing about it, but because without knowing the child or anything about their developmental or emotional state, it's just impossible to know whether you'd have to wait until they were 17 to tell them that their parents allowed them to be horrifically burned on an electric fire while they were in a drunken stupor in the other room, or whether they could handle that fine at 7.

The other problem with the group exercise is that, with very little introduction or preparation, you're asking the non-experts to come up with the solutions to the problems.  Now I appreciate that group activities are all the rage in the lifelong learning sector, but personally, if some expert or group of experts has already spent years researching this, then I'd rather hear their conclusions than make up my own, or be forced to listen endlessly to Mrs I-Know-It-All-Already sitting next to me.

And speaking of the lifelong learning sector, I'd love to know what they are teaching people on PTLLS.  I know for sure the speakers must have been on a PTLLS course as in our LA you're not allowed anywhere near the interactive whiteboard or video projector until you have your certificate.  Our local safeguarding children board once refused me permission to deliver Basic Safeguarding training to local voluntary organisations because I hadn't been on a PTLLS course, despite the fact that I am a qualified teacher with over a decade's experience and a Master's degree in Education.

Certainly they teach them to write as much as possible on each Powerpoint screen, and then use the screen as their notes so that they are constantly turning away from the audience and reading aloud from the screen that we can all actually see for ourselves anyway.  They must be teaching this because just about everybody delivering training in the LLS does it, and it's very annoying.  Really, if you're going to write every word you say on the Powerpoint, then why not just send everybody the Powerpoint slides by email?  That way we could just read it for ourselves, thus avoiding the painful ice breakers and group activities and saving ourselves the hassle of getting a babysitter!

They must also be teaching them to always have two people delivering training and use a technique where one person tries to deliver the actual information while the other one interrupts them continuously with lengthy anecdotes - this seems to be another common feature!

I must say that the two Social Workers who were delivering the course were absolutely lovely, and did have a good rapport with the attendees.  You could actually hear what they were saying (which was a bonus) and they did handle the discussion and feedback quite well.  It's just that the content of the course was so non-existent!  So, consequently, I am no closer to knowing "What to Tell and When".  I'll be playing it by ear.

*In the interests of full disclosure I will say that I had to leave 15 minutes before the end.  It is just possible that they packed this last 15 minutes with a complete run-through of the results of the extensive research that must surely have been carried out on this topic, discussed the best ways of using Life Story Books at length (these were barely mentioned while I was there) and provided everyone with a lovely handout showing a list of helpful tips based on said research.  Unlikely, but possible!