Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Celebrating a Daughter

The day that a judge does whatever he does that means you have a new daughter or son by adoption feels like a day that should be celebrated. It's an odd day because it all happens without you, and the phone call to the court almost feels like an anti-climax after all the months of working and waiting, but still, it seems right to mark the occasion.

Over three years ago, when the judge did his thing for OB, my parents happened to be staying with us on a trip that had been arranged months before we even knew the date. This time, we happened to be visiting my parents, again, taking a trip that had been booked when Birdy's adoption was still well and truly stuck in the mire. I was delighted that we could have the same family celebration for Birdy that we did for OB.

We did, we really did try to celebrate in style. Except we were in France. In August. Throughout France, August means only one thing: Les Vacances! In vain, we called all the nicest restaurants in the area, hoping to secure a celebratory lunch together. The result? En vacances, en vacances, en vacances.

And so it was that we found ourselves eating McDonalds out of the wrappers on a bench at the side of the river. Somewhere mid-Big Mac, I called the court and got the news that all we had hoped for and worked towards for 17 months had finally got the legal stamp of approval. We toasted the news with wine from plastic glasses and oodles of French patisserie. The sun shone, the children ran about, over-dressed for riverside frolics, and we took our first photos of mum and daughter, grandparents and granddaughter, brother and sister. Happy day.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Trust Issues

Birdy has spent a fair amount of time around swimming pools but, sadly, for her it has mostly been watching OB's swimming lessons through a huge glass window. So I was equal parts excited and apprehensive to get her in the pool at my parents' house in France and see how she went on.

We were here last summer, of course, and she went in the pool a bit then, but it was a long time ago and her eczema was so bad at the time that we really restricted her exposure. This time, with her skin so much better and her little chubby legs having finally mastered not only walking, but also running, I was hoping I'd have a water baby on my hands.

From the first day, it has been great. She was appropriately wary, and often keen to have her feet on the floor of the shallow step, but she allowed herself to be carried all around the pool by any of the adults there. If we held our hands out to her she would reach for us and let us pull her along the water to us. One time she adventurously dived off the step towards my stepdad when he wasn't expecting it and got a face full of water. He caught her immediately and we all clapped and cheered her, so she clapped and laughed, water streaming down her face.

OB was almost exactly the same age as Birdy when he got his first proper taste of the pool here, so I can't help myself comparing the two of them. Their reactions were so different. After a while, it struck me where the difference lies: Birdy trusts us. Yes, she's in an unfamiliar environment, and yes, she's a bit nervous about it, but basically she assumes that any one of the adults around her will make it ok, whatever happens, so she's willing to give it all a go.

With OB, I have learned that trust is a hard-won commodity, and can be easily lost for no real reason at all. On his first trip to my parents' pool, he preferred to stand on the shallow step with a watering can. In fact, 'step' was a word he learned that summer, which he would call out with increasing urgency whenever someone took him away from its safety.

We worked hard for two weeks and made good progress, but the following year, it was as if we had to start again. The third summer, my Mum managed the awesome feat of persuading him to jump off the poolside into her arms. I have photographic evidence! Yet we have been unable to repeat that success in two subsequent trips . . . well, there's still time yet this summer so you never know.

I am heartened though, because I know we can make progress with OB, and not just in the pool. Among other things, OB is terrified of dogs - I mean really, viscerally, out-of-control terrified. My parents had been dog-sitting my nephew's dog prior to our visit and we had introduced her to OB via skype, so when my nephew came to visit and asked if he could bring the dog, OB said yes, he would like to meet her.

But when the moment came, he couldn't control his terror. He had to be carried everywhere, high above the dog, and shook and wailed whenever she came near. As with all phobias, rational explanations carry little weight. My nephew's dog is clearly a gentle, soft-hearted animal. She lay perfectly still while Birdy 'stroked' her and shook her paw, yet OB was so scared we had to put the dog outside.

Despite it all, though, change has come. OB loves his cousin, and wanted to love his cousin's dog too. Tiny bit by tiny bit, OB steeled himself first to stand on the ground while the dog was in the room, then to allow the dog to walk past him without losing it. By the end of the second visit, the miraculous moment came when OB voluntarily touched her, and then stroked her, and then shook her paw. After that, he started constantly asking when the dog would be visiting again. His experience proved that our words were true, and a new little layer of trust was laid down.

Trusting others doesn't come easy to some kids. Knowing that Birdy trusts us is a wonderful thing. Knowing that OB can learn to trust is no less wonderful, whether it's fleeting or permanent.

Friday, August 5, 2016

My IRO Fairy Godfather

The saga of Birdy's adoption process could fill a multi-volume tome. It has been at times brutal, incomprehensible, upsetting and frustrating, but now the end is tantalisingly close. We are daring to hope.

Today we had what I sincerely hope will be Birdy's last LAC Review. It was just me, the IRO (a new guy), and her social worker (also new) sitting on sofas in our playroom, surrounded by brightly-coloured plastic toys.

The social worker called in advance to say that she was going to be unavoidably detained, which left me entertaining the IRO alone for nearly half an hour. I made him a brew. He decided to fill himself in on the background details as, in his words, there are some aspects of the paperwork that "seem rather irregular".

In particular, he wanted to know why I, as a foster carer and previously approved adopter, was pursuing a private adoption for Birdy. An excellent question I thought. So I told him the whole tale. He raised his eyebrows a lot. He seem perturbed. He interrupted several times to say things like, "Why would they say that?" and "That doesn't make any sense!"

I cannot express how gratifying it was to hear someone in a position of authority say that, yes, all that we have been through for the past 16 months has been, well, ridiculous and unnecessary. This professional used the phrase 'best interests of the child' several times and actually seemed to have an understanding of what that means, day to day, in our real lives. I could have hugged him. I didn't.

When the social worker arrived, one of the first questions he asked her was what steps the LA are taking to learn from their mistakes in this process. To be fair to her, she has only picked up this mess of a situation in the last two months and has been the one to get it sorted out, so she takes no blame. The IRO acknowledged that, and suggested that he would make those enquiries himself.

Then he asked the social worker to make sure that she wrote a Post Adoption Support Contract for me. I have been told several times that PAS won't be an option for us (despite legal advice to the contrary). The IRO wanted the PAS contract in writing so that there could be no question about eligibility in future.

Then a thought occurred to him. He turned to me and asked me very sincerely if I felt I would be able to approach the LA for PAS in future, considering the way I had been treated. If not, he would authorise for our future PAS to come from a different agency. Wow. I got that urge to hug again. I resisted.

As it happens, I am already accessing PAS through the LA for the boy, and it's going rather well actually (so far), so I declined his offer. Anyway, I'm too feisty to just let them off the hook like that. But how reassuring to know that this option could be made available.

I've sat in meetings with quite a few IROs now. They can be shadowy figures from a foster carer's perspective, blazing in for reviews, all efficient, and then disappearing for months. Sadly, I've experienced their excellent recommendations being completely ignored in the meantime. I know what they are supposed to do, but sometimes I've wondered what tangible effect their work really has. Today I found out, and I like it.