Saturday, August 30, 2014

A long not-so-hot summer

Summer stretches on, if we can call it 'summer' considering the weather we're having. OB doesn't go back to Playgroup until 9th September, a whole seven weeks after he finished for the holidays. At some point during the summer break, we've dropped our afternoon naps. This means that sometimes, many days go by where OB and I don't get a minute's break from each other. It's starting to fray our nerves.

Even when Playgroup is open, he only goes for three mornings - that's just 9 hours each week - but it's amazing how much of a difference it makes when those precious hours of respite from each other are taken away.

Don't get me wrong. It's not as though I don't enjoy OB's company - I really do. But sometimes, we can all benefit from time apart even from those we love to be with. Without those times, or even the benefit of another person in the house to break the mood, annoyances quickly become major irritations that consume whole days, irritations build up over days and weeks to become habitual behaviour and speech patterns, and eventually you start to wonder how you got to be this person you seem to have become.

Thankfully a kind friend, noticing my plight, has taken OB out for a couple of hours for the past two Fridays. Bliss. I haven't done anything particularly spectacular. On the first Friday I cleared out and reorganised a massive storage cupboard in the nursery. On the second I did the grocery shopping. It actually felt like a little holiday to be able to wander round Tesco, taking my time over the shopping without the constant vigilance required to prevent threenage armageddon in the dairy aisle.

Today, though, has been a doozy. BG was sick in the night, and OB's nappy leaked, so both lots of bedding needed washing. After breakfast (a mighty task involving a surprising amount of complex negotiation) I put the first washing load on and then went to empty the dishwasher. The stuff didn't look particularly clean. With my preferred 'head-in-sand' approach I loaded it up again and put it on anyway. Twenty minutes into the cycle the fuse for the kitchen sockets tripped. I was in the middle of negotiating my newly-purchased food processor at the time, having decided that this would be a major cooking/freezing day so it took me a while to locate the source of the problem - the dishwasher. It's completely died.

Of course this meant that the washer had stopped too. Had to start the cycle again from the beginning. No matter. Got on with cooking stage one, seriously regretting the ambitiousness of the project as the washing up mountain grew in the sink and no dishwasher to save me. Lunchtime approaching and OB still adamantly refusing to get dressed, I decided to pick my battles and did lunch in pyjamas. Half way through her lunch, BG vomited so copiously that I had to give her a bath and disinfect half the kitchen.

Mourning the apparent total loss of the dishwasher, a faithful friend for 15 years, and mindful that this will probably mean yet another postponement of our new car plans, I decided that we needed to get out of the house. Thankfully a summer festival was going on in town today, so I prised OB out of his pyjamas and into clothes and off we went. As I set off, the car made an unwelcome bleeping noise and informed me that the indicator was broken. I checked. It was, indeed, broken.

At the festival, I couldn't stop scanning the crowd for the faces of OB and BG's birth families. You never know. I queued for quite a while to get OB a balloon shaped like a snake, let him go wild at the pick 'n' mix and paid £2 for a turn on a merry-go-round ride that lasted all of one minute. His response? A total, screaming meltdown because I wouldn't pay a further £2 and queue for what looked like about half an hour to let him go on another less-than-impressive ride. We came home, via the bargain shop where I had been reliably informed that Pampers were on special offer. They were. It was a highlight of the day.

Back home, I reduced the washing up pile a little and completed the cooking extravaganza to a persistent soundtrack of OB wailing because he was "soooo tired Mummy". As I emptied the tumble dryer and folded the newly-cleaned bedding I experienced a moment of gratitude that it was the dishwasher that broke and not the washing machine or tumble dryer! It could definitely be so much worse.

I was pretty pleased with the results of the cooking efforts (despite the incredible mound of pots stacking up in the sink) and proudly served up a made-from-scratch-with-my-own-fair-hands pie for tea. OB said "I'm not going to like that Mummy," as I got it out of the oven. He slashed it with his knife for about 20 minutes and then said he'd had enough. I said that if he didn't eat any of it then he wouldn't get one of the jam tarts we had made. He ate most of it. I burnt my finger testing whether the jam tarts were cool enough to eat. They weren't.

We skyped Mamy and Papy after tea because it's Papy's birthday today. OB was on top note, trampolining a la 'Tumble' on the sofa next to me, using his 'dog on a stick' like a lethal weapon and eventually dragging his toy drum kit through the house with the intention of putting it right next to the computer and playing on it. I drew a line at this. On the plus side, BG's tea remained in her stomach.

At bedtime I issued dire warnings to OB about what might happen if he faffed about until after 9pm like he did last night. Then I came downstairs and, instead of loading the dishwasher (10 minutes), I did the mountain of washing up (40 minutes). It's not much, that half an hour, but I definitely feel robbed!

And why am I telling you all of this? Because there's nobody else here to tell. This is single adoptive parenting. It really is all you, all of the time.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Day Our Reward System Worked

I'm blogging this for posterity because today we started a new rewards system for OB and it has worked really well. I'm fully prepared for the possibility that it might go completely pear shaped tomorrow but, for today, I'm basking in the warm glow of a day well done. And if this is the only day we get, then I want a permanent record!

OB is not an easy one to reward. There aren't many things he's all that bothered about. He can leave half a packet of sweets in the cupboard for a week so, although there are days when my 'no rewarding with food' principles could easily be thrown out of the window without a second thought, I don't because it really wouldn't work anyway.

He's not so bothered about TV and, to be honest, on the rare occasions when he does actually choose to sit and watch something, I'm so glad of the break that I'm reluctant to do anything to limit it in case I end up punishing myself! When we did potty training I tried to reward him with a choice of little toys. On the fourth occasion that I took him to the toy selection to choose one, he said that he didn't want any. That was the end of that.

But now we do have something that he wants. After seeing his delight when given a chance to play on other people's iPads, I have taken the plunge and bought us a cheap little 7" tablet (not an iPad!). He loves it and will happily spend ages playing on the CBeebies app.

This revelation, combined with a depressing increase in unacceptable behaviour towards me (foot stamping, shouting 'no', finger pointing, sulking, hitting, throwing things and a total lack of basic 'please' and 'thank you') which seems to be more and more immune to our usual methods, brought me to our new system.

It's very simple, and probably similar to what thousands of parents are doing every day. Every time I catch him speaking politely and behaving kindly towards Mummy or BG, he gets a bead in a jar. At the end of the day, we count the beads up and each one converts to one minute on the tablet.

Today, it has worked perfectly. He has been really engaged in choosing the beads and popping them in the jar, selecting the different colours, shapes and sizes (a bit of home ed thrown in!). A couple of times, when he's been getting rude, I've simply said "That won't get you a bead in your jar" and he's tried again in a more reasonable tone.

It's been the first day, so I've been pretty generous. A bead every time I hear a please or thank you. A bead for eating his tea without complaining about it. A bead for spontaneously bringing me Baby Girl's bottle when I had left it on the table. It has been so nice to concentrate on rewarding the good rather than resisting berating the bad.

I didn't allow the counting out until about half an hour before bedtime - a calculated move! He had 19 beads, so I set the tablet up for him and set a timer. He played happily, giving me all that time to clear away the tea things and get the baby ready for bed without interruptions. Then, to minimise stress when the time was up, I promised a bead for stopping without complaining, and segued quickly into our bedtime hot chocolate and cuddle in front of a TV programme of his choice, which he does enjoy at the end of the day.

Bedtime, which has been a bit fraught of late, was accomplished without incident with the promise of further beads for tooth brushing and settling down in bed straight away. And here I am, downstairs, three beads in the jar, and feeling in control.

Yeah, like I say, maybe tomorrow it will be different. Maybe the beads will lose their fascination. Maybe he'll decide he doesn't even like playing games on the tablet any more. But for today, I'm feeling pretty good! Let that be put on record.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Triggers

When you're being approved for fostering and adoption, the social worker will ask you lots of questions about your childhood and the way you were raised and disciplined or rewarded. They'll also ask you about your own experience of being with children, and what behaviours you find particularly challenging or difficult to manage.

They're trying to get you to think about your 'triggers' - behaviours or situations that are likely to evoke a strong emotional reaction in you. Unfortunately if, like me and many other adopters, you've never experienced actually living with a child permanently in your house then, believe me, you almost certainly don't know what your triggers are. You might think you know, but be prepared to have all of that blown out of the water fairly early on.

For instance, I was pretty confident that I'd be ok with nappy changes, night feeds and tantrums, and I have been. I knew that I hated kids messing around at mealtimes, so I came up with strategies for that which have (mostly) worked. However, in the messy reality of parenting, those things have faded far, far into the background, to be replaced by issues that, in my wildest imaginings, would never have occurred to me:

Incessant Touching

I think of myself as a fairly touchy-feely person, but I just don't have the stamina to withstand OB's constant touching, fiddling, leaning against me, pulling at my clothes, inserting his head up my t-shirts, patting and drumming. It turns out I'm the kind of parent that yells "Look, for goodness sake, just get off my cardigan!" in public places.

Incessant Noise

OB talks a lot. I'm ok with that. I talk a lot too.
OB is loud. I'm ok with that. I'm extremely loud. There's an awful lot of what sounds like yelling as part of our everyday life. We're used to it.
OB likes to fill empty spaces with white noise. I'm not ok with that. I'm not ok with sitting in the car next to a person who can make tuneless robot noises for hours. And when he's particularly distracted or stressed, he sings shouts a little tune of his own devising with the words "Wah wah wa wa" - I've included the notation here for anyone of a musical persuasion. He can keep that up for what seems like eternity. It's like having a woodpecker permanently having a go at the side of your head.

Very Bad Timing

Changing baby's nappy? Arms full of laundry? Crucial stage with the cooking? Forget it. These are all times when OB will have a sudden and urgent need either for the toilet, or for a drink. Yes, it seems as though OB is always one step away from sudden dehydration. And of course we all know that when a toddler says urgently, "Mummy I need a weeeeee!!!" it really means, "Mummy I've already done a bit of wee in my paaaaants!!". I dream of a day in the future where I will actually get to eat a meal while it is still hot.

Aggressive Sharing

"Do you want to taste my ice cream, Mummy?"
"No thank you."
"Just have a taste."
"I don't really like strawberry ice cream."
"Just a little taste! You must taste it!"
Strawberry ice cream shoved into my face for immediate tasting and approval.

These are just four of the most regularly occurring features of our life together but, pretty much every day, I will find myself flummoxed by some new and previously unconsidered trigger. And so far, it seems my main strategy is to deal with it extremely patiently, shoving down my rising feelings of irritation for as long as possible until the point where it all can't be contained any more, and I lose my cool and yell something inarticulate!

Hmmmm.  Still some work to do!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Love That Burns Slow But Fierce


You don't love these foster children when they arrive. Of course you love them in the abstract in the way that you love kids or babies in general. You have something of a maternal instinct towards them. You care, of course, but there hasn't been that period of delicious anticipation, no scan pictures to pore over, no marvelling over their fluttering kicks deep inside your body.

Instead there are days and sometimes only hours of notice before a tiny stranger arrives in your home, to sleep in a cot that has been slept in so many times before. You make adjustments to your family life, rediscover the crushing tiredness, restock the nappy drawer and dig out the bottles and the tiny clothes.

And then you set out on the purposeful, mindful task of creating attachment where none exists. You remind yourself to gaze into this baby's face, stroke her skin, rock her, caress her, sing to her and talk to her. You keep at it every day because you know it'll make all the difference and, over time, it ceases to be conscious and becomes natural and instinctive. And the whole time you're doing it, you're thinking of her future, and those undiscovered people who will one day be her parents. You're doing it for her, and for them.

A few weeks in and some social worker makes a crack about whether you're going to keep this one like you did with the other one. Your resolve stiffens. You don't want to be the foster carer that can't stop adopting the babies. You remind yourself of the prospective adopters somewhere out there, anxiously working their way through approvals, hoping and dreaming.

But somewhere along the line, that slow-burning fuse bursts forth into an explosion of love so strong that it all but takes your breath. From then on you're looking for reasons not to keep her. It's the wrong time, so soon after adopting your son. There are financial considerations. You had said you would adopt an older child. It's not what you planned. It's not why you came into fostering. And always, always there are the adopters, like shadowy figures in an indistinct future.

You think about them all the time. You take photos of their future child and mount them into a growing scrapbook. You make note of baby's milestones and achievements and look forward to the day when you'll be able to proudly tell them that their little one was holding her head before two months, could sit sturdy at six months, attacked every meal with relish the moment weaning began.

You take your bright-burning love and bend it towards securing the future this child deserves. When the phone rings, you long for news of 'the ones'. You are thrilled when baby is mobbed at the activity day. You watch your emails obsessively for news.

But the weeks and months go by and nothing happens. It seems unthinkable that this wonderful gift of a child who has captured the hearts of all your family and friends has not been snatched up at the first opportunity. You let your mind wander.

And then one day, it wanders into a dangerous place. It might be a small thing. Maybe that gorgeous frock you saw in the sales that was only available a couple of sizes too big. Maybe the way she laughed so joyously when your son danced for her. Maybe one time too often that somebody in a supermarket assumed she was yours. Whatever. For one dangerous moment you allow yourself to think "What if . . . ?"

What if nobody wants her because she's supposed to stay here? What if you never love like this again? What if she's meant to be yours? Why don't you just ask . . . it couldn't hurt to ask.

And suddenly all your reasons for not keeping her blow away like so much dust. Images of a shared future flood in and consume all your good intentions. You want her and you don't care about anything else any more.

That's the day you find out that the social worker has done the shortlisting and has scheduled a visit to the top picks and you realise that your window of opportunity passed a long time ago when you didn't know how it would be. Now you do know, it's too late.

You've met the couple at the top of the list. Your shadowy adopters now have a face and a history and hopes and dreams and you're not going to trample all over that. You bathe baby, dry her and dress her and put her to bed and you know that you'll do what you have to do.

Sometimes they'll ask you how you can give them up. Sometimes it's only because you have no choice.