So we survived the Easter holidays - and actually I’d go as far to say we did pretty well, the secret being (I think) that we kept the whole holiday pretty low key.
The first week was filled with visits to familiar places with familiar people (Kew Gardens, Bushy Park, and Brighton to name a few). Thankfully the weather was all right (dry if not warm) which meant we were able to stay out and about, which both kids need. We stuck to our usual routines with dinner, bath and bedtime so it didn’t feel too weird for Duckling & Gosling, and I had stocked up on craft activities from Tiger which kept the kids occupied at home when they looked like they were getting antsy.
Three mornings in the first week were also filled with swimming lessons. Both Duckling & Gosling love the water and they did really well. Their swimming has come on so much in a really short space of time.
The middle weekend was where it really could have fallen apart but was miraculously brilliant. We took the kids to Center Parcs. They swam, cycled, swung from rope ladders, pedaloed, went bowling, built sand castles, decorated Easter eggs, stayed up late (8pm) and totally knackered themselves out. We all had an amazing time. They were really relaxed and enjoying themselves, which was so lovely to see. It also felt like Tom and I had a holiday as well. At one point we were sitting in the sunshine drinking a beer while the kids played BY THEMSELVES for half an hour. It was bliss.
We did some really good prep with them about the holiday, making it clear we were going away for three nights and then we were coming home. We avoided referring to our cabin as ‘home’ as we wanted the places to be differentiated. We also showed them videos and pictures of the cabin, swimming pool and activities before we left. We did all of this two days before we went; any sooner and they would have hyped themselves up into a mania and any later wouldn’t have given them enough time to process it.
The second week was much the same as the first to begin with, but it all started to go downhill after we had a picnic with some of Duckling’s school friends. I thought it would be good for her to spend some time with her friends as it would help her feel more part of the social aspect of the school. It was going so well, with all the kids playing brilliantly (including older and younger siblings), but as I should have expected when the end came all hell broke loose. Duckling was inconsolable when I told her we had to go. This was despite being given a countdown, a little extra time, and having been there for five hours! She screamed and cried for about twenty minutes, which set Gosling off. I stayed calm for ages trying to soothe them both but my God it was hard work. I sometimes wish I could put a sign up saying “It’s OK, they’re traumatised and I’m trying to be therapeutic” to try and stop all the looks and sneers from other parents (thankfully not those from school who know our situation). The following day was calmer in the morning and I took the kids for a bike ride to try and capatalise on their new-found love of cycling. Unfortunately when we got to our local park to finish off, it was filled with kids that Duckling knows from school. And right on cue at the end we have more screaming and crying. This time I didn’t handle it so well and ended up shouting at them and then having to try and fix it with hugs and apologies. The next day was a play-date with a friend and her daughter who is also adopted. Everything was low-key and familiar but once again the ending was horrific.
On each of these occasions Duckling’s angst continued into the evening. One of the things we’re trying to work through with her is being able to let her emotions out throughout the day rather than bottling them up and letting them out in one big catastrophic mess. (Gosling, on the other hand, calms himself quite quickly and gets on with playing.)
By this point we’d got to the weekend and the end was in sight. We had planned to go on a family visit but I was really worried about how Duckling in particular would cope with it all. In the end we decided to go for it and I’m really glad we did. Both Duckling & Gosling are really settling into our wider family and it’s so lovely to see them playing with the cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. Duckling had come up with a new game which involved running after an Easter egg that had been thrown down a hill and then eating some chocolate. We played this alongside an Easter egg hunt in the garden.
We spent Easter Monday just the four of us relaxing at home and getting ourselves ready for going back to school and nursery. And eating a lot of chocolate while watching a film on the sofa. It was the perfect end to what was overall a really good holiday. We’ve learnt some lessons which we’ll put into practice for the summer holiday and we all feel really relaxed. It was just the tonic our family needed. But most importantly, we have made some wonderful memories we can all cherish for years to come.
Twice in the last few weeks I’ve been struck by different thoughts about parental love.
Like many adopters, I’ve been told countless times that all my children need to make them ‘better’ is love and hugs. And while love by itself clearly isn’t enough, there is some truth to this idea.
I love both my children. Obviously it didn’t happen straightaway but my affection and feeling for them grows every day. Unfortunately I don’t love them as equally as I should and/or would like to. Loving Gosling is easy – he’s charming, has a smile that melts your heart, has an infectious and genuine laugh, and is very loving in return. But I’ve had to work really hard with Duckling – and it’s an ongoing struggle.
Parenting therapeutically is so much easier when you really love the child in question, and you can take the hitting, rejection, and anything else that’s thrown at you (metaphorically or physically). But of course it’s a vicious circle because the one child that really needs my unreserved love is the one I struggle to always give it to.
I know it’s early days but I do beat myself up over the fact that I’m not yet the parent I want to be: selfless, generous and always there for their children (the list is exhaustive). One like my dad, for instance – which very neatly brings me to my second thought…
My dad, an eighty-seven year old Irish Catholic, just about coped with my coming out as gay, but six years later was very much the proud ‘father of the groom’ at Tom and my wedding. The thought, however, of his gay son having children was definitely not something he would even entertain as possible, let alone morally acceptable.
Fast forward six months and to see him tickle and cuddle Duckling and Gosling, I can see he has accepted them and loves them unconditionally, as an extension of his love for me. It brought a lump to my throat to see it and made me hope that one day I’ll have the same, fully-fledged unconditional love for Duckling and Gosling that he does for me.
The Good Stuff
In last week’s blog I wrote “I’m not a cryer...but this morning the floodgates opened, and five months and two weeks of ignoring the truth poured forth. I feel better for it”. How wrong I was.
As the week continued, I carried on feeling more and more irritable, short-tempered, and lacking in any patience at all. In short, I was not remotely therapeutic in any way shape or form. As a result, the kids’ behaviours (which had been deteriorating) escalated, which made me feel worse and worse… You get the picture.
It all came to a head on Thursday when Duckling’s teacher asked if I was OK at the school gate. I had to walk quickly away to avoid bursting into tears there and then. By the time I got to the end of the road, with a scooter over one shoulder, a bag of library books over the other, and Gosling on my shoulders eating breadsticks (the debris of which crumbled into my hair), I was sobbing uncontrollably. If I thought the floodgates had opened last week, this was the Hoover Dam bursting! I must have looked like a lunatic. At one point, Gosling patted me on the head and asked why I was sad. I remember saying I was upset because I wanted to make him and Duckling happy and felt that I wasn’t. His reply was a massive squeeze and telling me he was happy.
I managed to call Tom, who came to get us. In nearly 15 years of being together, Tom has never seen me cry in that way. He took Gosling to the library while I sat in the car and cried some more. I’ve never felt more lonely in that moment – the one person I really wanted, and needed, to talk to was the one person I couldn’t because he was looking after Gosling.
I texted Denise, our SW, who immediately called back. We spoke for an hour – after I calmed down enough to actually make any sense. She listened and gave me some words of wisdom. I shall forever be grateful to her for that one hour of her time – particularly as she was officially on holiday.
Looking back, I realise now I had been feeling low for a while. For the previous couple of weeks, I had been waking up around 5am most mornings and not being able to get back to sleep; I was finishing off a second, third and sometimes (if there was any wine left in the bottle) a fourth glass of wine as soon as the kids went to bed; I was starting to pick at biscuits, chocolate and cheese in a way that I didn’t used to. I was feeling depressed.
It felt like I was taking on all the worry, stress and anxiety of two traumatised children (and sometimes that of Tom too) and I had reached capacity. I needed to let everything that I was feeling out too.
I also recognise now that I can’t let things get like that again. I grew up with a parent with severe depression and I always thought I was quite good at letting my emotions out - but that was before it was necessary to keep it all together for the sake of my two little ones.
So, this week I do genuinely feel better. I’ve started sleeping through the night, which has given me a new sense of energy. I’ve found my therapeutic mojo again (most of the time) and things do feel like they’re settling down. And if I have a second glass of wine and some chocolate – well, life’s too short to worry about everything.
The Good Stuff
The realisation that all was not well has been slowly creeping up on me for quite a few weeks now.
It started when Denise, our wonderful social worker, suggested we didn’t submit our adoption order papers straight away. She explained that as soon as the adoption order is granted we would lose her as our social worker and she felt we still needed her support and guidance. Initially I was quite thrown by this as I thought we were doing really well (and overall I think/hope/pray we are) but as we talked more I discovered all was not as rosy as I thought maybe it had been.
I follow lots of fellow adopters on Twitter and the blogosphere, and many of them write about really horrific experiences with their children. With the exception of some of Duckling’s screaming fits, Tom and I weren’t going through anything ‘terrible’ and I kept saying to him how much worse it could be for us. We weren’t like those “other people”. It didn’t seem to matter that we weren’t getting enough sleep, couldn’t do a single thing by ourselves without a child wanting to be carried, that NOTHING we do is ever good enough for Duckling, or that Gosling was hitting, kicking and pinching (the list could go on), because there was someone having it worse than us.
Then, last week, Denise read back to me something she’d written about Duckling & Gosling as part of an ASF application she was submitting to get them an holistic assessment. I was shocked by what I’d listened to; she had described my life completely accurately but it was like listening to one of those “other people’s” stories.
Over the weekend, I think I started to realise that although there are people having it worse than us (and there are) it doesn’t matter. Because this is our life and quite often it’s not all that great. In fact, at times it can be pretty shitty.
I remember writing in a previous blog that I’m not a cryer – and generally I’m not. But this morning the floodgates opened, and five months and two weeks of ignoring the truth poured forth. I feel better for it. It’s also allowed me to write again – something I’ve really missed but just haven’t been able to do.
Accepting that our reality isn’t what I thought it was has really shaken and upset me. They say acceptance is the first step to actually changing your behaviour and if nothing else it means Tom and I can move forward with caring for and looking after Duckling and Gosling to the best of our abilities.
The Good Stuff
Duckling went swimming for the first time and loved it.
Gosling has made a friend at nursery.
Tom and I have a babysitter at the ready for our anniversary.
Ever since Duckling and Gosling have been in the care of the local authority their social worker has explained to them that her job is to ‘find a special family for them to live with’. On the day she told them she had found an ‘extra special family with two daddies’ to be their forever family, she also gave them a bag of goodies that we’d given her at matching panel. In the bag was a book and cuddly toy for each of the children, an audio book of the Gruffalo, and a DVD. What was special about these items was that we had made them ourselves (not the cuddly toys).
The introduction book aims to let the children know about who we are and where they are going to live when they move in with us. Each page had a large picture with a description of the room it was showing. We had great fun putting the cuddly toys into each of the pictures – my favourite is the one of the two of them playing the piano. We also made sure the children’s favourite things were on show. In one picture the rabbit was drawing a princess crown with some glitter spread all over the place, in another there was a huge bowl of fruit that the cuddly toys were tucking into. We did our books in Photoshop and then sent the files to a local copy shop who printed and bound them for us. We also got a spare copy in case they got ruined with the kids looking through them.
The cuddly toys were a rabbit and a dinosaur which we’d been told by the foster carer were the children’s favourites. Being able to actually hold the cuddlies whilst they are reading the books is supposed to help the children understand that the pictures they were seeing were real.
We had also asked the foster carer what the children’s favourite book was. I could have probably guessed as it was the Gruffalo. So Tom and I set up a mini recording studio and read the story with us doing all the voices and narration. Tom then did a bit of editing and added some music at the start and end. It was really easy to do and we were really pleased with the outcome. Thankfully, both kids loved it and we listened to it at both the foster carer’s house and in the car when we were driving with them during introductions. I have to give a huge shout out to Suddenly Mummy who shared this idea on The Adoption Social.
The DVD was a physical embodiment of the book and we hated making it. Tom and I both work in the arts and I think people expected great things from our DVD. However, we both work ‘behind the screen’ as it were and the thought of being on camera made us feel sick. We duly filmed ourselves in each room and Tom did a great job of using some great music and every style of edit in iMovie to make the film more exciting. The end result looked like a cheap and not very interesting edition of Location, Location, Location. As soon as we’d burned a copy and were on our way to the panel I had loads of ideas of how to improve it – songs, costumes, or more interaction with the toys and rooms - but by then it was too late.
We were told by the children’s foster carer that the children loved the toys, books and even the DVD. But the audio book went down an absolute storm and it has become a firm favourite in our house and car ever since.
We were really pleased with the introductory items we created for the children and I think they really helped in the early days of introductions. In fact reading the book together made for an easy way to chat to them and listening to the audio book was lovely when we all snuggled up together for bedtime.
If you’re making a book, DVD or anything else the best advice I can offer is to be yourselves and try to enjoy the process. The more you can show who you are it will really help the children make sense of what’s happening.
I'd love to hear what else people have done...
This morning I had coffee with six mums (I’m getting used to being the only dad around) who all have adopted children at Ducking’s school. It was all very jovial as we swapped stories about our kids and what we had planned for the weekend. But there was another reason for this meeting of adoptive parents and it turns out to be rather revolutionary.
On Duckling’s first morning I was introduced to Caroline who had adopted her daughter four months before us. Somehow she had managed to meet lots of other adoptive parents at the school and hearing how hard they had to work to get things done she decided we should all get together to support each other and get what we needed for our children. We worked out that 1 in 46 children at the school are adopted - I have no idea of the national average but 2.1% of the school cohort feels like a big enough group to have a voice. Particularly when that group brings in over £17,000 a year to the school budget.
As a relatively new parent, I have yet to encounter the heights of bureaucracy that have to be scaled in order to receive the support and help that is often needed by adopted children – whether it’s the Adoption Support Fund, Pupil Premium Plus, or just getting the SENCO to respond to an email, it seems as though a fight is often required. And a fight with the support of six other parents is always going to be easier.
So in-between cups of coffee, the odd biscuit, and the obligatory swapping of stories, we came up with an action plan. An action plan that included aiding the school in developing attachment awareness for staff, transparency about how the Pupil Premium is being spent, and the hope that the SENCO respond to all communications. We all agreed the last one on that list would probably be the one to fail at our school.
Most of us had only met this morning but we left with hugs and a flurry of WhatsApp messages, along with a sense that something might get done to make our children’s lives a little bit easier. And, just as importantly, we would now have someone to call upon when things go wrong, who knows exactly what we’re going through.
As a side note, I got called into to see Duckling’s class teacher, Ms Miller, at the end of the day. I felt sick about what I was going to find out. I was relieved to be told that Ducking had got very emotional during the day, which culminated in crying, running away and hiding, and it had taken Ms Miller a good while to soothe and calm her. Everything was OK but she wanted me to know and to ask if there was anything else she could to help. I could have wept with gratitude as I know that she’s listened to what I’ve told her about Duckling’s past and will do everything in her power to support us. We really are so lucky with school. Long may it continue.
Today marks 100 days since Duckling and Gosling were placed with us and so it felt like a suitable time to come back to my blog which has been abandoned somewhat since their arrival. And what a rollercoaster it’s been…
In 100 days we have managed to squeeze in a 5th Birthday, Christmas, Duckling starting school and Gosling starting nursery, the children meeting our immediate family and some of our close friends, eight sessions with a speech and language therapist for Gosling, two Glitter Runs*, countless trips to the park, weekly trips to the library, and I calculate 65 washing machine cycles, 1000 hours of playing My Little Pony, and at least 1,000,000 times of being asked “Why...?”.
I’ll be blogging in more depth about all of this, as well as about introductions, in the coming weeks and months.
*The Glitter Run is one of the many bizarre and wonderful games that Duckling has invented. It involves running the length of the garden with a pot of glitter and throwing it in the air when you reach the end. We have a video that I wish you could see. The joy on their faces is wonderful!
There has also been an immeasurable outpouring of emotion as well. From all four of us…
Both children deal with their emotions in very different ways and we’re learning to read the signs of how they’re feeling and how best to help them deal with it. We’ve experienced screaming tantrums, hitting and thrashing about, running away and hiding, and being told (frequently) that we don’t love them. The week after Duckling’s birthday was probably our worst time but even when things seemed to settle, issues resurfaced as soon as school started. But as the days have passed, so too have the extremeness and frequency of the outbursts. Currently it’s Gosling’s turn to let rip while he settles into nursery. Hopefully it will pass.
Life has changed beyond recognition for us too. There were some times early on in the placement where it felt as if we’d made a huge mistake – but that quickly passed and now we can’t imagine our lives without our children. Of course, there is the occasional day where one of us will find ourselves in a funk and it’s a struggle to stay calm, let alone playful and empathetic, but again as the days pass those days are fewer and fewer.
We spent the first eighty days almost entirely together, so the four of us know each other pretty well by now, but we’re still discovering new foibles and idiosyncrasies everyday (including Tom and me about each other). It’s been amazing seeing them grow, both physically and emotionally, over the last three months and I can’t wait to see how they’ll grow and develop during the rest of their lives.
I wrote the first draft of this blog on Monday morning as it was the first time since introductions began that I was at home without either child or Tom. The house was quiet (except for the drone of the washing machine) and I finished a cup of coffee while it was still hot. Bliss. But I also spent the time looking forward to Gosling coming home from nursery with his cheeky smile that melts your heart; Duckling coming home from school so we can sing a song, dance a dance, or play a game she’s made up for us all; and of course Tom coming home from work so I can have a break from the madness for five minutes before bathtime.
Almost exactly a year ago today I posted my first blog. In it I talked about growing up in a large family and how I always wanted my own children.
At that point we’d started the adoption process only the month before and were constantly being told that the process could take years and there were more adopters wanting to adopt than there were children waiting.
One year later, never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be at the end of the first week of living with our two children – Duckling and Gosling.
The original idea for this blog was to take a look back at what I’d written and reflect on the past year and ponder the year to come. But there simply hasn’t been the time.
Suffice to say Tom and I are over the moon (most of the time) and we’re all settling into family life with each other (most of the time). More news soon when I come up for air…
If today wasn’t going to be stressful enough it was made just that little bit more excruciating with the fact that our social worker, Denise, insisted on talking about the day on a very busy train from London to the Midlands. I’ll talk about adoption with anyone who’ll listen so it wasn’t the subject that bothered me – it was just the environment. Thankfully she gave us a tonne of new reports about the children to read so we managed to keep quiet for a while.
When we arrived at the social services building, we were led into the smallest and hottest room in the world, where Denise, Tom, Tanya and Gloria, the children’s social workers, and me squeezed in and looked through the introduction books Tom and I had made. The panel administrator very kindly went to a massive effort, verging on the farcical, to make a cup of tea that due to the heat none of us wanted actually wanted. But we politely said yes and got even hotter. I’m sure it was some kind of final test. Finally, the panel chair introduced herself, talked us through the process and the questions they were going to ask, and we all duly followed her into the meeting room.
As is becoming a pattern, this was when I started to feel nervous. And I mean nervous. I suddenly had this dread wash over me that they were going to say no – despite all the reassurances the social workers had given us. Conversely, Tom’s nerves started about three days before but he was in zen-like state of calm when panel was actually happening. I’m not sure which I’d prefer.
The panel was made up of three adopters, one social worker, the medical advisor, the panel chair, and panel administrator – it felt positive that there were five of us, so we weren’t quite as outnumbered as we were at the approval panel. They were all very smiley and encouraging, which somehow made my feelings of doom even stronger. It started with the medical advisor talking us through the information she had about the children. What was odd was that she was clearly working from early reports and we’d seen much more recent ones so we actually had to correct some of what she’d said. They then asked Tanya for further updates on the children from when the original report was written. I understand the panel had to get the information but I wish they’d asked our questions first – it really felt like an age before they got to us.
We were asked questions about why we wanted these particular children, about the potential impact on us, about one specific behaviour that had been identified in the report, and about contact arrangements. Similarly to the approval panel we each took the lead on a question with the other one chipping in extra bits as we went along. Before we knew it, we were ushered back in to the furnace of a room while the social workers stayed behind to answer a few further questions.
After about five minutes, the social workers came out and we all had to wait for another ten minutes before the chair came back and asked us back into the room. I genuinely couldn’t read her expression and I clutched Tom’s hand while she got herself organised. It felt like an eternity but she actually very quickly told us that the panel were delighted to approve the match. Yippee!
Of course I immediately cried. I’m worried what the adoption process has done to my tear ducts which previously were pretty much unused. Denise even commented that I now have a reputation for blubbing!
There was a bit of stand-off between the panel chair and Gloria about when the agency decision maker would sign off the panel’s recommendation. Tanya had hoped to give the children as much time as possible to get used to the idea of the adoption but had been told she had to wait for the ADM. It was agreed that the ADM would put this decision to the top of his agenda and it would be rubber stamped early the following week. Phew!
The panel finished with them talking us through why they’d reached their decision and wishing us luck.
Afterwards we took Denise out for some lunch while we waited to go back to the social services building to meet the children’s birth mum (more about that in next week’s blog).
The day ended with a meeting with the children’s nursery key worker. She was great! We looked through their books which had loads of pictures of them playing and having fun. She also gave us some great tips on how to manage their behaviour and the types of things they enjoyed doing.
The day had clearly taken it out of us, as we all slept on the train back to London. Denise was off on holiday the following day and wouldn’t be back until introductions have started so we all had a big hug and said our goodbyes. The next time she sees us we’ll be parents!
Tom and I went to the pub and celebrated with a nice dinner and some wine. We talked through everything we’d learnt and how we were feeling. We were both smiley and feeling warm (and it wasn’t the wine). It was so great to have this next milestone out of the way, knowing that in sixteen days time we were going to meet our children.
We had been asked by Tanya and Gloria, the children’s social workers, if we would consider meeting with Lauren, their birth mum. Having already discussed this with Denise, our social worker, we knew it would be in the children’s best interest, and actually of all of ours, so we immediately said yes.
It was one of the most heartbreaking experiences of my life.
Lauren was tiny and clearly devastated by what was happening. She was wearing a lovely dress and a necklace and had clearly made an effort in how she looked – I suppose this image is how we’ll describe her to the children in the future.
We asked questions of each other. Ours were about the children’s past – where their names came from, their birth stories, and any special stories from their early years. It was great hearing all this as it would enable us to give them a much clearer idea of their past.
Lauren asked us about how we, as two men, would look after BG’s needs, what kind of house we lived in, the contact arrangements, and how we’d look after the children in general. We were able, with the social workers’ help, to reassure her that we would love them and look after them.
Throughout the meeting she kept saying thank you which must have been an awful thing for her to have to say, but it felt like she had begun to make some peace with what was happening – I hope so.
We promised to send her letters each year and ensured her that we wouldn’t let the children forget her or, as she was worried about, hate her.
Lauren has promised to keep up with the contact arrangements and has said she’s going to pass on the children’s scan photos, early photographs, and other mementos from their time with her, which will be amazing for the children.
The meeting was over in about twenty minutes and after a lot of tears from everyone we had our picture taken with Lauren for the life story book, had a big hug and said goodbye.
I came away from the meeting knowing that Lauren loved her children more than anything in the world – but unfortunately she was unable to look after them in a safe, nurturing and appropriate way. Seeing that love with my own eyes and being able to tell that to the children in the future will hopefully be of huge benefit for them.
I can’t imagine the pain Lauren was in when we left her behind with the social workers, but I hope that meeting us has given her some solace knowing that the children will grow up in a loving, safe and secure home.
My husband and I have adopted two wonderful children. Duckling is 5 and Gosling, her little brother, is 3. I'll be keeping track of our journey here...