Saturday, October 29, 2016

Proximity Alert

If, like a Star Trek star ship, I had a proximity alert sensor, it would probably have experienced catastrophic systems failure by now, taking out a couple of anonymous redshirts along the way.

Either that or I would have taken a phaser to it, enraged by the frequency of its klaxon. Beep! Beep! Beep!

OB is keen on being close. Very close. If he can't be in close physical proximity, then he keeps up an incessant thread of noise to tie us together.

This behaviour is a classic draw for the "all kids do that" response. But I don't think it applies. I've seen other kids playing by themselves or occasionally going into another room. Not all the time, of course, but sometimes. OB is nearly six. I definitely know that other 6-year-olds are not all like OB in this regard.

If OB is playing and I leave the room, he will follow within moments, even if I'm only on the other side of the French doors . . . and the doors are still open. If I go out of his sight, he has to know exactly where I am going. On the rare occasion when he does not, or can not, follow, he will keep up a steady stream of questions that I must answer at the top of my voice, or risk total meltdown.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

If either of us are going to the toilet, it has to be announced. He must know where everybody is at all times. If I take a moment too long in the toilet, he comes to the door and asks what I am doing. He used to come in, but I don't allow that any more. I enforce it by wedging my foot against the door.

If I spend too long putting the laundry in, or emptying the dishwasher, he invents or engineers some catastrophe that means I have to stop what I am doing and come immediately to his aid. Yesterday I came running to his screams to find that his predicament was being 'buried' under a sofa cushion and apparently totally unable to free himself.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

If I go and sit on a chair in the same room as him, he is immediately up in my face. He wants to sit on my knee, but he can't sit still, so he's crawling, climbing, jabbing me with his elbows. If I protest, he gets off, but then waves his arms right in front of my face, or raises his foot so that it's millimetres away from some part of my body. If he's resting against me, he's always pressing some part of his body into mine a little harder than is necessary.

If I bend down to pick something up, he climbs on my back, knocking me over. If I sit on the floor to play with him, he clambers onto me.

Beep! Beep! Beep!

If I talk to somebody else or pay attention to something else, he physically interposes himself between me and whatever or whoever I'm looking at. If I'm working at the kitchen counter, he suddenly has need to get something out of the drawer or cupboard I'm standing in front of.

He shoves his head up my clothes, puts his hands in my pockets, touches my hair, my face, my earrings, my glasses. When we stand in the corridor at swimming, waiting for his lesson to begin, he stands on my feet.

Beep! Beep! Beeeeeeeeep!!!!

There is no neat ending to this blog post, no solution or clever analogy about life. I sometimes long to put my shields up and go to red alert, but it's not the answer. This is how we are, and I have turned my proximity alert off for the duration.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

45 Years From Now

In 45 years time, OB will be 50 - the same age as adult adoptee Chris, whose story appeared in the papers this week as part of the National Adoption Week coverage.

Reading his story, I couldn't help looking for information between the lines, and hints at threads woven into the story that might help me to empathise with my own children's experiences. There was mention of a shaky start to life, some turbulence during the teen years, and a search for birth family that culminated in the significant moment when this adoptee finally looked into somebody else's face and saw glimmers of his own features. There was relevance there.

But this was perhaps not a 'modern adoption' story. There was no mention of problems accessing post-placement support, difficulties navigating the education system, the ongoing battle of trying to get various professionals to 'get it', the radically altered expectations of family life, the realisation that everything you thought you understood about parenting is not going to cut it here.

And then I took another look at the list of things not mentioned, and I realised that most of the things on that list are not my children's stories. They are mine. It is me who researches all things attachment, me who works so hard to keep our lives safe and predictable, me who makes the phone calls and sends the emails again and again. I am the one who mentally prepares answers to questions my children might ask about their early lives. I am the one who adjusts our environment to reduce anxieties, who de-escalates dramas before they become crises.

I am not saying that none of these things affect my children or are relevant to them. Of course not. Adoption has happened to them. Loss of birth family has happened to them. Not to me. What I am saying is that their story is not mine. I have my story as an adoptive parent. They have their stories as adoptees.

There are many experiences of being an adoptive parent, and many experiences of being an adopted person. We need to hear them all, even if they do not fit with the narrative that runs in our own heads. If I was to be asked to tell the story of my own childhood in 500 or so words, I would probably amaze my parents in what I have remembered and what I have completely forgotten.  It's a long time since I was a child. Perceptions of an event differ from person to person. Some things fade and blur, others remain in sharp relief. Hindsight affects perspective. Things that consume my world now might be barely noticed by my son. His current concerns might surprise me.

In 45 years time, if my son should happen to be interviewed for a national paper about his experience of being adopted, I do not know what he will say. But I do hope that he will tell his story, and not mine.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Not Like Any Other Parent

National Adoption Week is coming up. I'm probably not going to write about that this year, although I've blogged about it in previous years here and here and here. This week, though, I'm sticking to my fostering roots.

There have been quite a few changes in my LA recently. I can't call it cost-cutting as apparently the changes didn't actually save any money overall but, unfortunately for me, the net effect is that allowances and expenses that I receive in my particular situation will be reduced. In response to some of these changes, I wrote a letter to some of the big bosses at the LA in which I challenged some of their basic assumptions about what foster carers do and what we need. They replied to my letter, taking each of my points in turn, and reiterating their basic assumptions.

I didn't expect anything different really, but one phrase really took my breath away. The writer was at pains to ensure that I understood that any fostered children I look after should be made a full part of our family life, and that I should handle a particular situation "the way any other parent would do".

The way any other parent would do.

Leaving aside the fact that I am not the parent, that they already have parents and, depending on their legal status, the state may be partly their parent, here's a list of ways in which a short-term foster carer is not like "any other parent":

  • I'm not allowed to call myself a parent - the term is 'foster carer'
  • In order to become a foster carer I had to go through a gruelling year-long approvals process which resulted in a social worker who was a complete stranger eventually knowing more about me than my closest friends do
  • Children can arrive in my home with as little as 90 minutes notice
  • They can stay for a few days, a few months or a couple of years, but they will eventually move on
  • I have to keep a daily log of all our doings which a social worker will read and sign
  • Two different social workers will visit me every 4-6 weeks and, amongst other things, check on the quality of my 'parenting'
  • Once a year I have a 360 appraisal of my 'parenting' and every professional I meet from Health Visitors to Contact Supervisors to Nursery Teachers gets to contribute
  • I have to attend at least five training events each year in order to maintain my 'parenting' standards
  • I must adhere to a strict 'safer caring' policy which affects how we live in our own home
  • My home must meet prescribed health and safety requirements, which I am responsible for maintaining
  • I have a 'delegated authority' document which details exactly which decisions I'm allowed to make with regards to a child's care, and which I must ask permission for
  • I have to take the children to visit their actual parents 3-5 times each week
  • If a child has siblings living elsewhere, I probably have to take them to see each other too
  • If a child injures themselves or has an accident, social workers will come to my house and I'll have a load of forms to fill in
  • If a child becomes ill and has to go to the hospital, I phone the social worker immediately after I phone the ambulance
  • If somebody has an allegation about the quality of my parenting, social workers will come to my house, forms will be filled in, any children may be summarily removed and I could lose my livelihood - I might never know the reason why
  • My regular babysitters ought to have up-to-date DBS checks (none of them have actually but that's another story!)
  • I can't take a child on our family holiday without their actual parent's permission
  • I can't take a child for a new hairstyle without their actual parent's permission
  • I regularly have to attend meetings, medical appointments etc. pertaining to the child's 'looked after' status, over and above normal childhood requirements
  • If I become sick, any children could be removed and I could lose my livelihood
  • I must parent each child with love, knowing that one day I will hand that child over to somebody else and may never see or hear from them again

Apparently, foster carers are getting their own union. I have seen some comments querying the value of this, mainly based around the idea that foster carers should be doing it for love, not financial gain (mostly written by people who have never fostered a child). The truth is, we are doing it for love. If I was doing this for financial gain, I wouldn't be doing it. But any idea that foster caring (I'm talking about short-term fostering here) is basically just like having someone to stay as part of your family while everything else carries on as it did before . . . well, it's just plain old-fashioned and wrong.

And what is frustrating me most at the moment is that it is the people who run the system who are the ones holding on so tightly to this idea.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Massive Mummy-Fail at Build-a-Bear

As part of our recent adoption celebrations, we made our first ever trip to Build-a-Bear. It wasn't planned, but we walked past the shop on our way to the restaurant and I had this sudden bright idea of getting customised bears for the two children to commemorate the day.

And while we were there, I managed to commit a mummy-fail of fantastic proportions. In my defence . . . no, I fear there is no defence.

Let me tell you, and you can decide....

So, we'd never been there before and, confronted with a vast array of bears and accessories, I had to resort to asking a staff member what on earth we were supposed to be doing. First: the bear skin. OB, of course, immediately chose the first one his eye lit on. I encouraged him to look at everything, so he chose the second one his eye lit on. I pointed out that the little bear outfits wouldn't fit on that one, so he chose the third one his eye lit on.

Meanwhile, my Mum had picked out a cute doggy for Birdy, because Birdy loves "doddies". I liked it but had my heart set on a traditional teddy. I found a very cute curly-haired one.

Then it was on to the gadgets. Another vast array of choice. Let me just say, I'm not good with choice. I become paralysed by indecision. First was the choice of sound for the bear's paw. At first I thought I wouldn't bother, but they all have this obvious press-pad on their paws - it would be strange to press it and have nothing happen. So, we soldiered on.

OB, having seen the bear I'd chosen for Birdy, had ditched his choice, and selected the same. We listened to loads of the sounds but none of them appealed to me. Especially not the one that said, "I'm your best friend!" in a squeaky voice, and not the "Let It Go" special either. OB decided he wanted a roaring noise, but we couldn't find the right one, so off he went with Grandpa to get one downloaded off the Build-a-Bear computer. After that, I didn't see his bear again until it was finished and a costume selected.

I was also dimly aware that my Mum was getting the doggy for Birdy anyway. I was still struggling to find a sound I liked for Birdy's, but I couldn't leave hers without a sound if OB had one. Then I found the 'record you own message' doodads. Cheesy? I thought so, but it was at this point that I had the sudden realisation that Birdy already has a Build-a-Bear. Her birth mum got it for her over a year ago. She recorded a message on it.

I tried hard to remember what kind of bear it was. Could it possibly be the exact same bear that I had chosen? What were the words of the message? Might I be in danger of recording a similar message? If I recorded a message, would it be as though I was competing with birth mum? If I didn't, would it look like I didn't care as much as birth mum? Was I over-reacting? Most likely, but apparently it's what I do in Build-a-Bear!

In the end, under pressure to just make a decision, I recorded a message, hastily, in a stairwell, with no preparation or forethought, and a deep sense of dread that I'd be listening to it for years to come.

And it wasn't over! No! Then there was the decision about what sort of heart I should put in the bear. On full throttle by now, I went for the beating heart without thinking about it too much. I just wanted all the decision-making to be over!

So, Birdy left the shop with a doggy with a beating heart and woofing noise, and a teddy bear with a beating heart and a message in my very own dulcet tones. OB left the shop with a teddy bear with a roaring noise and a complete Batman outfit, named "Batbear".

If you've managed to make it this far, you've probably spotted several opportunities for disaster. Which do you think was the one that had us back at the Build-a-Bear shop four days later?

Well, no prizes for guessing it was the recorded message.

When we got home, one of the first things I did was run upstairs and get Birdy's first Build-a-Bear down from her memory box. It was a rabbit. Relief.

But it wasn't long before OB noticed that Birdy's bear carried my voice. He played it quite a few times and then said, "I hate that!", before playing it several more times. In fact, he just about wore it out on that first day.

There was no meltdown. There were no angry demands. But I knew. And I thought, how could I have let that happen? How did I possibly manage to give my daughter a bear with a message of love recorded on it, and not my son?

I apologised. We hugged it out. I suggested going back and getting another bear, with my voice on it. He wanted the exact same message as I'd put on Birdy's. When we went back, we found a bear with batman fur. He asked me to call this new bear "Batbear" and change the old bear's name. So we printed out two new birth certificates, both with the birthdate of the original bear, re-named the first one "Superbear", and re-dressed it in a Superman outfit.

It was a little self-deception that we colluded in, but it seemed to do the trick. Batbear and Superbear now have pride of place in the bedtime line up. I often hear my voice emanating weirdly from Batbear's paw when OB thinks I'm not listening. I think we rescued the situation.