Friday, October 24, 2014

Not quite as advertised!

I am sitting within easy reach of all my internet-enabled devices today because I am anxiously waiting for an email to tell me that the Agency Decision Maker has signed off on the adoption panel's recommendation in favour of BG's adoptive placement.

I have no reason to believe the answer will be anything other than 'yes', but we are now at the end of the third week after the panel made their recommendation, and this is the last possible day for the ADM notification. We are due to start intros on Monday.

"Why leave it so last minute?" I hear you ask. I really don't know. I'm aware that other LAs get it done much quicker than this but, as with so many things, time scales vary enormously from area to area.

So, I have a bag of intro materials waiting - photos, scent items, DVD - and I'm chomping at the bit, waiting to get them out and, at last, begin the process of introducing BG to the people who she will be living with in just over a week. I hope the scent items still have scent after over a fortnight sealed in a plastic bag!

Meanwhile, BG has gone totally off plan. It's only a few short weeks since I met her prospective adopters and lauded her as practically the most perfect, easy-going baby that has ever lived. In the meantime, things have started happening in her gums. Anybody who has been through teething with their little one will know that this horrible experience can turn the most placid child into a touchy, grumpy, wailing mess.

So now, the cuddly bedtime bottle has turned into a nightly battle - a major struggle to get a couple of ounces down. If she was staying longer I'd probably switch to a cup as part of the problem is that BG is fighting sleep so doesn't want to lie down quietly and suck. These are two activities guaranteed to bring on a pleasant slumber and so must be avoided at all costs if the fun and playing are to continue!

Thankfully, once in her cot, she still obediently snuggles up and goes off to sleep but her previous 10-11 hours of unbroken sleep are now a thing of the past. She's waking up regularly during the night, uncomfortable and a bit tetchy. The milk feed that used to happen at 5-6am can now be demanded anywhere from 2am onwards in part because of the lack of a filling bedtime feed. Teething is making her fill her nappy more often with toxic contents that must be dealt with immediately. Any sneaky night-time poo results in an appalling sore bottom. More discomfort, more waking.

In the daytime, her usually sunny, smiling nature is occasionally now replaced by inconsolable wailing, fist sucking, dribbling and proper full-on tanting. She is in pain and discomfort and, like anyone else, she responds by going to the edge of her emotional scale and teetering on it.

None of this is really a problem for me. I feel sad for her because teething is horrible, but I know it will soon be over (until the next lot at least!) and, despite everything, she really is mostly easy-going and a delight to have around. But we have an intense week ahead of us, and I can't help feeling that BG's new parents won't have the pleasure of experiencing BG at her best for a while at least.

Silly teeth. We've waited ages for you and now you're arriving with the worst possible timing!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Taking Care

Our stories are important. And they are unique. I heard much, felt much and learned much at yesterday's 'Taking Care' conference, hopefully the first of many to be organised by The Open Nest, but the thought that sits strongly with me today is how vital it is to take care of our stories.

Taking care of our stories, and those of others, means listening properly to them - the sort of listening that seeks to understand and not simply to reply.

It means accepting another's story without seeking to judge it, fix it, alter it or sanitise it.

It means resisting the pressure to make our stories or anybody else's fit into the narrow frame of some training we went to, or what it said in the books we have read. Just because it is true for many does not mean it has to be true for all.

It means being so comfortable and confident with our stories that we do not take other people's different stories as implied criticism of our own.

Our stories are important. They are unique, vibrant, living and growing. When we share them, we contribute to something much bigger than ourselves, and make connections across time and place.

Thank you everybody for being open enough to share your stories yesterday in York, whether from the front of the room, or from the tables, whether in brief or in detail, whether eloquently expressed or incoherently breathed out with a little help from the wine! My story is better now because of all of yours.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Making Carers and Adopters Welcome

At the recent Home for Good Summit, we were all given a little pack of leaflets and information which, I admit, has been lying around on my kitchen counter ever since. This morning, while waiting for the kettle to boil and the toaster to pop, I idly leafed through the little colour leaflets inside, and came across one entitled "Supporting those who adopt or foster: A Care for the Family guide for churches".

I read it. I nearly cried into my coffee.

I'm not sure why really. For those foster carers, kinship carers and adopters who go, church ought to form a vital part of their support network. While I have heard sad stories, I must say that my church is excellent in this regard. I am not the only foster carer there, and recently we have started a little support group - we have only had one meeting but it was really lovely to talk and share and pray together and I feel very positive about it.

Not only that, but I have found that people who have no prior experience of fostering or adoption have gone out of their way to help me, support me and understand what is going on in my house. Of course, there can never be complete understanding, but does anybody really fully understand another's situation? The best we can do is listen, support, offer help. And that does happen for me. Only yesterday my friend's husband looked after my son all afternoon while we both went on a girly shopping trip with the babies. Today another friend took both the children for a couple of hours so I could get some much-needed tidying and cleaning done in the house.

The booklet contained a lot of quotes from actual carers and adoptive parents and I think I was moved in equal measure by both the positive and negative experiences they had had.

For instance:

"When we hit a really bad patch, the church pulled out all the stops to support us practically"
"The church has loved the children we have fostered and welcomed them"
"One lovely, childless, elderly lady was particularly supportive of me and our daughter. She told me I could ring any time, day or night."

But also:

"Our three foster children have been with us for two years now. They regularly come to church with us but no-one has ever invited any of them round to play with their children"
"Church is a difficult place to bring my boys as they don't fit the norm (having attachment issues)"
"Please don't say that just because they've been with us a few years 'Surely they should be all right now'"

The leaflet gives a decent, if necessarily brief, overview of the situations that lead to children being cared for or adopted, an introduction to some of the issues arising from poor attachment, abuse, neglect and trauma, and some expectation of what to expect from children who have been through such things. It is all expressed in a way that anybody could understand and, although it is obviously aimed at churches and those who attend or are involved in children's work, it would be a good, basic read for any community that is welcoming cared for or adopted children into its midst.

It explains why adoptive and foster parenting can sometimes be considered 'extreme' parenting, and why parents in these situations might need extra support. Quotes from foster carers and adopters highlight some of the main issues that regularly come up, such as people commenting on unusual parenting styles, or saying 'All children do that', or concerns around Mothers' and Father's day celebrations, or supporting families while they introduce their new children to the possibly unfamiliar experience of going to church.

Helpful suggestions are made: respect boundaries or confidentiality; train youth and children's workers; befriend the children; see beyond the behaviour; offer to make meals, help with housework or babysit; make your toddler group adoption and fostering friendly; take the lead off the parents/carers when deciding how to respond to surprising or unexpected behaviours; offer to act as an emergency back up if a crisis with a fostered child stops the foster parent from picking their other child up from football practice, for instance; consider offering financial support, especially where adoptive parents have had to give up work because of their child's needs; offer DIY help, and so on and so on. All excellent suggestions!

I was particularly pleased to note that three of the four recommended books are ones I have actually read - surprising considering how few I have read overall! I can highly recommend them too: 'Why Can't My Child Behave?' by Dr Amber Elliot, 'No Matter What' by Sally Donovan, and 'Home For Good' by Krish Kandiah.

I wish that everybody in every church could have the opportunity to read this little leaflet. In fact, forget churches, it's just a good leaflet full stop. I haven't yet managed to find out where I can get hold of more copies but when I do, I'll be getting a bag full!

Edit: The marvellous @ponkbag has found a link - you can get copies of the leaflet here.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

What the Neighbours Hear

I don't see all that much of my neighbours where I live now (apart from my friends that live around the corner of course!). Where I used to live, everybody was pretty much right out there. If there was a noise on the street, or somebody parked in the wrong place, people just came right out of their doors to stare and comment. The people on my street thought nothing of just asking pretty searching questions right to my face. Once, overhearing me explaining some aspect of NB's adoption schedule to the Health Visitor at the clinic, a total stranger asked if she could give him a packet of crisps she had in her bag because she felt so bad for him.

My new neighbourhood is much more the 'curtain twitching' sort of street. I know the names of a couple of people but mainly, apart from the curtain twitching, everybody just keeps themselves to themselves.

This means that all they really see of me and the kids is what happens on the drive as we attempt to get into the car. It's not a pretty sight. It usually involves a lot of running around and hiding (OB, not me!) and a painful negotiation increasing in pitch and intensity and ending with me urgently repeating "Just get in the car!" in a barely suppressed yell!

In photo portrait terms, the 'get in the car' ritual is just not my best side. I've considered making some sort of sign to carry with me that says "We also read stories, play and make cakes together! It's not all yelling!" I dread to think what would happen if one of my social workers took it into their head to survey my neighbours about my parenting style.

So today's seminar with Louise Bomber at the Home for Good Summit came as a timely reminder. Facilitate safety. Low-stress environment. Low-stress interactions. Pull back. Pause. Breathe before you speak.

In other words, try getting more organised in the mornings so that we're not in a mad rush getting out of the door! Or if that doesn't go to plan, just take a deep breath and decide that being on time isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Naked Cake - Lazy Baker?!

It's off the Mary Berry beaten track, but here's a little cake I made this week for a good friend's birthday.

Yes! It's naked!

Naked cakes are all the rage right now, although I can't help thinking that it's just giving an edgy name to a cake that nobody got around to decorating properly!

Nevertheless, the decision to abandon fondant and buttercream for this one was not due to laziness, I promise.

Rather than using a Victoria Sponge recipe, I decided to go with a French recipe called Quatre Quarts - Four Quarters. They sell this cake in long bars over there, and it's obligatory purchasing for my parents every time I visit as I can't resist a slice or three in the mornings with a cup of coffee. Although I enjoy a good Victoria Sponge, I really do prefer my cakes to be heavier, moister and altogether more squidgy, and this recipe promised all of those things.

Basically, it's similar to a basic sponge except with more eggs. The aim is to have equal quantities of eggs, sugar, butter and flour - hence Quatre Quarts. So I used 4 eggs to 200g of the other ingredients. The sugar is added to melted butter and the yolks mixed in, while the egg whites are whisked until stiff and then folded in after the flour and a little baking powder. (The picture shows one and a half cakes this size - the 4th layer would really have been a step too far!)

The result is a dense, moist cake which is heavier than a traditional sponge, despite the whisked egg whites. I love it!

As it's so rich, fondant icing was out of the question. With a traditional sponge I'd sometimes do whipped cream with fresh strawberries, but I thought even that would be too sweet, so I settled for mascarpone and sliced fresh strawberries, and topped it off with whole strawberries, little nuggets of fruity fudge and popping candy.

Sadly, as I had to decorate it several hours in advance, the fudge melted into the mascarpone and the popping candy rather lost its pop by the time we actually came to eat it, but it was absolutely lush nonetheless. Small pieces only though!