Sunday, April 27, 2014

Garden Envy

The idea that the grass always seems greener on the other side of the fence is an old, old cliche, but still, it seems to be relevant to our last couple of weeks.

For OB, it's the idea that he'll have so much more fun at somebody else's house. Every day, the first thing he asks me is, "Where are we going today, Mummy?" Then he proceeds to extract a full itinerary, usually delivered in mumbles from a barely-awake Mummy!

He does like everything mapped and planned out. But I think what he's really looking for each day is confirmation that, at some point, we'll be "going to other people's houses Mummy". When I tell him we're not visiting his friends, then it's a barrage of "Why not?" and "Please!" that can go on all day.

So, with the Easter holiday looming, I went ahead and planned a full fortnight of activities. This was partly for his benefit, and partly so that each day when my eyes were peeled open at an unearthly hour, I'd have a ready answer for the inevitable question.

It started off well, but by midway into the second week I began to realise that it was all getting a bit much for OB. On the Thursday morning, when I told him about the playdate I had planned, he cried and begged to be allowed to stay at home and play! Unfortunately, arrangements aren't always so easy to unmake, and it was Easter Saturday before we managed a full day to spend at home, playing with toys, doing crafts and just generally relaxing.

I thought that at least I'd learned a valuable lesson, and was looking forward to our quiet day. It was about 9.30am when he asked me if we were "going to other people's houses Mummy?" Ah, the green, green grass of home . . . or of other people's houses . . . take your pick really!

So, while I'm coming to terms with the idea that, whatever I do, I'm unlikely to satisfy OB's urge to look for the greenest grass, I'm also realising that I'm not immune to a bit of lawn envy myself. It's certainly easy to look around and see people who seem to have it better or easier or more comfortable than I do.

There's a huge downside to this sort of lawn comparison though. For a start, I'm only seeing my neighbour's lawns from a distance. This means that I don't see the moss, clover, bald patches and other deficiencies in their grass - it all looks perfect from where I'm standing. But I see the problems with my own grass close up, in full detail, and too much close scrutiny means that eventually the problems are all I can see.

This means that when my neighbours come to me and share their concerns over their lawns, I am less likely to listen, to care or to be compassionate. I am more likely to inwardly think about how much better they have it than me and, in doing so, minimise their concerns and dismiss them, feeling that I am the one who should be getting sympathy, encouragement or whatever - after all, look at that grass! Unchecked, lawn envy could make me a bitter woman and a bad friend.

In reality, no lawn is immune to weeds, no matter how good the soil, how well-manicured the turf. Those dandelions and clovers and other nameless imposters will still try to come and mess it all up.

So, this week, I've decided that I'm not going to compare grass any more. This has happened:

That's right, folks! The lawn is gone! I'm done with grass, and I'm done with worrying that yours is better than mine, both metaphorically and literally.  We are going with gravel. It's less attractive, maybe, but it's practical and low maintenance. So from now on, with nothing to compare, I'm determined to look at the grass on the other side of the fence with a more realistic eye. It will most certainly be greener than mine, but since we're not in competition, I don't think it will matter at all!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

A Tribute to Generous-Hearted Adopters

NB was just short of two years old when he came to live with me. Only six days after he arrived, OB's rehabilitation with his birth mother failed and he came back to our house. Just nine months apart in age, the boys would go on to live together as close as brothers for the next 18 months. A long time in a toddler's life.

As soon as we knew that NB would be getting a new family through adoption, I started preparing the boys for the changes to come. It was no easy task, although once the photos and introduction materials started coming through from NB's new Mummy, at least we had something to go on that made the abstract more concrete.

I hadn't moved a child onto adoption before. I was unsure what to expect. NB's family finder told me that his new Mummy (let's call her 'K'!) was wonderful and a lovely person, but even so I was amazed by the effort she put into making introductions as pain-free as possible for OB and me, despite the hugely emotional time she must have been experiencing.

When it came to week 2 of introductions, which involved travelling across country and staying with the two boys in a hotel, my parents offered to fly over and stay nearby to give us a hand. We agreed that they'd keep out of the picture so as not to add the the potential strain of the week. It was K who insisted that they stay in the same hotel as us, spend as much time with NB as possible, and visit her in her own home. "After all," she said, "They were a big part of [NB]'s life too." That was a special week for us all.

Since handover last June, K has been in touch several times through email and Skype. We all met up at a neutral half-way location back in November and had a great time at a soft play centre. That first meeting had me a bundle of nerves, but it went like a dream, with no significant fall out for OB.

During introductions we discovered that each year, K and her family drive across Europe for a skiing holiday. Their route takes them within minutes of my parents' home in France. So, earlier this year, the whole family, aunts, uncles, grandparents and all, visited my parents' house so that they and my sister could see NB. Yes, really!

And today we spent another lovely day together, this time here at my house and at a local park. K also made sure to include some friends of mine who were a big part of NB's life when he lived with us. We finished off the day by planning a return visit at the end of next month as I will be travelling south anyway so it seemed opportune!

At my recent fostering annual review, I was congratulated on how well NB's transition to adoption had gone. Glowing things were said. I had to hold my hands up and say that this was, in large part, due to the generosity and open-heartedness of K, the preparation she had done, the understanding she displayed and her amazing willingness to accommodate the feelings and experiences of the others involved, despite everything that the process must have meant to her.

I know that contact with foster carers is not in the best interests of every child. I know that not every adoptive parent will want to connect with foster carers, and I respect and support those decisions. I hope those reading this who aren't in contact with their children's foster carers don't feel criticised - it's different for different families, and rightly so. I wouldn't initiate contact with an adoptive parent, and would always leave it to their discretion.

But I can hardly express how much it means to me, and especially to OB, that K has been willing to continue this contact with us. OB talks about NB quite often. He asks me if I remember him! We sometimes look at pictures together and share our memories. It's so helpful to him to be able to see NB in this new context. It helps him to cope with the loss of his playmate, and also provides a context for us to talk about OB's own background.

And K realises that it's good for NB too, provided it is managed carefully. It helps him to connect his past and his present. On his recent birthday, when he mentioned me and OB, K got out the scrapbook of photos I had made, and the two of them spent the first part of his birthday looking at pictures of his previous birthdays with us, and talking about his memories. On his first birthday with her, they talked about us.

K is not alone in this. I know of lots of other adopters who have maintained good and healthy links with foster carers, where this is right for their children. I want to say a huge thank you to you all. It takes an open heart to willingly share your child like that, and I hope you all know how much it is appreciated and valued.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Forever Day 2014

About three weeks ago, while sitting next to me in the car (of course!), OB suddenly said,

"Mummy, why did I have a train cake when I was 'dopted?"

I was really taken aback. Not only was I shamefully under-prepared for adoption-related questions - although I've mentioned it many times, I was never aware that he was really taking it in - but I was also amazed that he would remember the design of the cake we had for his Adoption Celebration Party nearly a year ago now.

Yes, it's been a year already. We celebrated the adoption with friends and family in mid-May, after the Celebration Hearing had taken place, but actually, the official order was made on April 9th, almost two years to the day after OB had moved in with me.

Right up until a couple of days before, I was unsure how we'd mark the day. I felt that there was no way that OB would really understand what it meant - he doesn't even know what a 'year' is! But I also felt that it was important to mark the occasion somehow, and to lay down a precedent for future years, however our approach might change in the future.

So we began the day with a look at a photograph of the two of us with the judge at Family Court. OB was amused all over again by the funny wig. When I talked to him about the day and visiting the judge, he showed no sign of remembering, but later, when I said we were going to bake some cakes, he asked me if we were going to make a train cake, so there must have been some connection made.

Then we went off to gymnastics class, and OB had a mega nap afterwards! This was great, as it gave me opportunity to pick up the present that had been delivered to a neighbour while we were out, and wrap it up for him. He's been getting excited about car transporters recently, so the triple-decker one I'd got was a massive success!

We finished the day with a trip to the park, and baking and decorating cupcakes together.

A low-key day. But special for us nonetheless.

Happy Forever Day to us! Here's to many more!

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Virtually a Real Life

Every so often someone will post a status on Facebook that says something like "I'm thinking of leaving Facebook" or "Facebook is getting really boring/irritating/[insert adjective here]" and I must admit, I roll my eyes a little. Forgetting for a moment the irony of posting on Facebook about how you are fed up with Facebook, it seems illogical to me to make Facebook itself into a culprit as if you, the user, have nothing to do with the experience you're getting on there.

On Facebook, you choose your friends, you set your privacy, you can hide, block and relegate people and apps you're not so interested in. Basically everything you see on Facebook, apart from a few ads (which, let's face it, aren't all that intrusive), is there because you put it there through the choices you have made (or not made). It's like inviting a load of people into a room, sitting there for a while, and then declaring that you're thinking of leaving because this room has got boring. I only know one person on Facebook who has said they were leaving and has actually, properly left, managed to delete everything and never returned.

But even worse for me are the smug comments of people who are not on Facebook, along the lines of "Why don't you go out and get a real life / real friends" etc. etc. Thankfully I don't know anybody who says this in real life (I think!), so we face another irony: most of these are comments I read on other social media sites, comments pages or fora. As if spending your evening trolling comments pages is so much more of a life than spending it on Facebook!

I love Facebook. Love it. I'm not ashamed. And I'm developing a growing fascination with Twitter, although I find the character allowance per tweet rather stingy for someone of my natural verbosity, and I regularly lose track of conversations I'm having on there.

And why? Because I go out of the house two evenings in each fortnight - once to lead the choir rehearsal, and once to a midweek meeting at church. Not exactly living the high life. That's it. Twelve evenings out of every fourteen, once I've got the children to sleep, I'm sitting in my lounge, alone. Except I'm not alone in a sense. All my friends are there on Facebook, including friends living in different continents. My adoption buddies are there on Twitter. And that's not all. I can read the news, do online training courses, do my shopping toddler-free, find activities to fill our days on Pinterest, catch up on thought-provoking and well-written blogs on a variety of subjects and so much more. Of course, there are bits of the internet that I'm not so keen on, so I don't go there.

In an incredibly restricted 'real-world' life, the internet is a world of virtual freedom that I'm more than happy to spend some time in.

Do I read 'real' books? Yes. Do I have 'real' hobbies? Yes. Do I meet up with 'real' people? Yes! Usually with a horde of children destroying any chance of a conversation consisting of so much as two consecutive sentences!

I have as much of a 'real life' as I can manage - sometimes too much reality to be honest. So I'll carry on with my virtual life for light relief, for escapism, for camaraderie and everything else I find there. Hope to see you there! :-)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

How Far We've Come

OB has a heavy cold which means he's been waking up in the night a lot, coughing, bunged up and uncomfortable. Last night, as I cuddled him while he settled I was transported back in my mind to a time when night waking was a constant feature and cuddles and soothing words seemed to be completely ineffective.

From around 8 months old, OB would wake most nights, sometimes several times each night. He would be sweaty and clammy and would cry hysterically and inconsolably. If I tried to cuddle him, he would fight and struggle and arch away from me, crying even louder and more frantically. Every so often we'd have a few full nights of sleep and I'd begin to believe we had turned a corner, but then it would all start again.

As he got older, these night-time episodes increased in ferocity. Many times we would be downstairs for up to two hours in the middle of the night as OB screamed and thrashed around, flailing his limbs. Sometimes, I admit, I would just make sure he was safe and then step outside to let the cool night air restore my calm so that I could go back for round two . . . and three and four.

I tried everything I could think of. All my soothing words and gestures were rebuffed. Nothing could stop the meltdown express.

To be honest, I can't remember when it all changed but thankfully it did. Last night, it took nothing more than a cuddle and a few soothing strokes on his back to calm OB's crying and settle him back to sleep in his own bed. Less than one minute.

In fact these days he's so keen on his sleep that he'll pretty much take the opportunity whenever it presents itself!

I'm linking this post with The Adoption Social's 'The Things We Do' linky in honour of all those times when there is no magic wand to wave and the thing we do is just to hang on in there!