Sunday, 30 December 2012

Fishy Family Day Out!

We were lucky enough to receive some tickets to visit the Blue Reef Aquarium in Portsmouth as part of a Family Days Out voucher initiative run by to find Britains Best Family Day Out. This felt like a lovely opportunity because aquarium holds special memories for us.  This was one of the places we visited as part of Katie's Adoption Day celebrations in November 2010.  Katie was only 3 when we visited previously and she sprinted through at top speed and was more interested in the gift shop at the exit.

I'm not sure why but every time we visit this aquarium it is raining.  We took our nephew there a number of years ago and it was a wet, blustery day. It rained on Katie's Adoption Day and it was raining again yesterday.  The aquarium is located right on the seafront so we got the full blast of the elements that are currently sweeping across the UK.  Because it was so wet and windy we were lucky to park right in front of the building at the pay and display meters (actually we've done that every time).

Compared to aquariums such as the Sealife Centre in Brighton Blue Reef is much smaller.  It's a lot cheaper to visit as well (although not cheap so vouchers would be a good thing to get in advance).  I would say that this is a good aquarium to visit with a younger child because you can walk around easily in 30 minutes.  Older children will enjoy spending time reading about the fishes and other amphibians that they are seeing. We certainly spent more time there yesterday than we did last time we visited with Katie.  It's actually a nice place to visit in the rain and out of the summer season because it was quiet.  I hate anything like this when it's really busy as I like to wander back and forth without getting caught up in a claustrophobic scrum. You could also visit as part of visiting the whole of Clarence Pier (the funfair is just down the seafront) or take in some shopping at the nearby Gunwharf Quays.  Your hand is stamped on arrival and you can go in and out of the aquarium all day long.  Blue Reef has a cafe next door that you can escape to for a coffee and a snack.

I must say that I love looking at fish (I got a lovely fake fish aquarium lamp for Christmas - not at all circa 1980s either!).  Aquariums are probably the only exhibit that I can happily walk around and around.  I love art but get easily overwhelmed when visiting galleries because there is just so much to absorb and think about.  Fish are so much more restful.  Daddy and I have been lucky enough to visit The Maldives twice and love snorkeling over the reef accompanied by the brightly coloured shoals of fish and, if you're really lucky, the turtles.  We keep talking about whether we could take Katie there for a holiday before she gets to the age when she wants organised activities (will I really have to have one of those holidays in the future? *groan*).

Katie and I shared a fascination of the rays as well and this is where we spent a large proportion of our visit.  Actually the rays gave us a good show yesterday and were very friendly, although one gave Katie quite the shock when it suddenly popped out of the water next to where she was standing.  Her scream can be heard on the film.  It was so funny.  She was worried she was going to dream about them last night! One of the rays looked like he was waving to us which delighted Katie no end!

There is a lovely selection of fish to see at Blue Reef.  The walkthrough tunnel was a big hit with Katie as the fish swam over her head.  You can see the fish in the tunnel being fed at certain times of the day.  I remember going to Singapore with Daddy, many years ago.  On Semtosa Island there is an enormous aquarium with a walkthrough that has a conveyerbelt that you stand on and glide through the walkway.  It was one of the most amazing experiences.

I have a real love of seahorses and I particularly love gazing at the seahorse nursery at the end of the centre. One day I would love to have my own seahorse aquarium but they take a lot of careful tending and careful temperature regulation and now is not the time with Katie being young; another child on the way and two crazy Maine Coon cats.  I might risk having a general fish tank though and see how we get on with that, so far the cats seem to be ignoring my fishy lamp - we might just get away with having a proper tank!

 It's hard going around any attraction with a young child in tow.  I don't think I can really stop to look at things like I used to.  I am always too anxious about where Katie is and what she is doing.  Being distracted seems to be a common feature of my brain since becoming a parent (along with its accompanying memory loss!).  Visually though you can walk around and just take it all in rather than doing the whole educational bit of reading up about each of the tanks.  There were some lovely tanks with starfish in and a few beautiful tanks filled with jelly fish light up with ultra-violet lights giving them a beautiful purple or blue hue.  I just wanted to stand and gaze at them for ages.  Katie had other ideas though and sprinted off excitedly.

Daddy was on star form for the visit and showed Katie the fish and spent time telling her what all the fish were called.  I love watching them together.  Katie still likes to give Daddy a hard time, telling him she chooses Mummy instead so I try very hard to step back and let Daddy take the lead.  Having the excuse of photographing and filming as we went around was really useful because Katie could see that Mummy was busy and gravitated towards Daddy for attention instead.  This is a good trick for encouraging bonding generally I think.  Katie is used to me meeting most of her needs because I'm the parent at home.  She likes to keep me onside as much as possible so feels more able to tell Daddy she doesn't want him.  I don't believe she means it but she just feels safer pushing him away than me.  He is amazing with her though and doesn't ever let it get him down.  His persistence has been rewarded and she skipped around happily with him all afternoon (except when begging me for sweets of course!).  It was a lovely change after the dramatic behaviour we have been experiencing from Katie over the festive period.  It was lovely to see her so engaged and very well behaved.

As well as the fish there is a small selection of reptiles.  These are firm favourites of mine (and another animal that I would quite love to have at home one day).  There are also frogs and turtles and otters (although the otters weren't around yesterday due to a lot of scheduled maintenance going on in the centre).

As well as being an attraction for the public, the centre is actively involved in the conservation of species and has a little nursery of seahorses and turtles, baby Nemo's...I mean clownfish, rays, pipefish and many more.  It's nice to know that some of the entry fee is going towards helping such projects and helping to keep these species alive.

It was a lovely afternoon.  It wasn't actually what we were planning to do yesterday.  We had planned for Katie to stay at her Auntie's for the day and we would go out for lunch and finally get to see Skyfall.  Unfortunately Katie's cousin fell ill and has been really poorly so we've had to postpone that visit for another time.  We needed to get out of the house and having these tickets handy was really useful so we bundled up in the car and drove down to Portsmouth (mostly avoiding the heavy rain which was travelling in the opposite direction to us).

We drove home in the setting sun (after a mad dash through heavy rain back to the car!) and all commented on what a lovely afternoon we had had.

Thank you for the tickets and a lovely family day out!

Saturday, 29 December 2012

The Santa Claws.....

Phew! Talk about blink and you might miss it! After all the weeks of preparations the big day has come and gone. It was a blur of wrapping paper (how much of a waste is wrapping paper environmentally btw?); food; drink; people; noise; laughter; tantrums and tears (and not just from Katie).

As a parent there is a lot of pressure to make Christmas a really special day. I wanted to make Katie's Christmas magical because I want to make her feel happy and loved. It's easy to get carried away though. How many conversations did you have with parents wondering aloud if they had bought enough presents? There is pressure to make this one day of the year the perfect family experience (just look at all the perfect Christmas pictures and stories posted on Facebook). What does perfect mean to you? Is it the perfectly coordinated Christmas tree? A mountain of presents? A house full of food? Cooking the perfect turkey? Having all your family around you all singing merrily beside a piano played by Auntie Edna?  Having a quiet day on your own? The reality of Christmas is a bit like cooking the roast dinner that accompanies it: lots and lots of prep and coordination; a moment's pause whilst you sit back and savour your creation (Christmas Eve) and then it's all demolished in 5 minutes (Christmas Day) and you then have to clean up all the plates and wash up (and then sit down with a glass of wine and a migraine as was the case in our house)!  It's the bits that happen in between that that make it a special day but it can be hard to savour them whilst you're in the midst of organising it all.

We waited an age to become parents. We want to make it all lovely for Katie. This year we've visited Santa; put out reindeer food; written a letter to Santa; received a letter from Santa; received an email from the PNP; made a wonderful Advent calendar; made fake Santa foot prints from our wood burner in the kitchen to her presents. We've made Father Christmas really come alive in our house. All that is added to the build up at school with rehearsals for the school play and the performance; the excitement of sending Christmas cards and the thought of what was to come. By the time the school broke up for the holidays all the children were as high as kites and on emotional rollercoasters.

What for? What has been the end result? Several days after the event we still have an over-excited and over-tired and over-emotional child whose behaviour is generally pretty undesirable right at this moment in time (although she is currently watching TV very quietly so I'm hoping we're starting to come down now). It's all pretty stressful. That is my reason for asking what all this is for. Not to be a Scrooge or a Humbug but merely to wonder what we are trying to achieve?

Christmas Day was a crazy day. Katie woke up around 6.45am (which is about her normal time) although we had a panic around midnight when she woke up from a bad dream moments after I put a few presents under the tree in her bedroom. I rushed in to soothe her and get her back to sleep whilst angling my body in front of the tree so she couldn't see the presents. I thought I'd succeeded; that she had fallen asleep; but, no, she caught me out and opened her eyes just as I moved. Her eyes refocused and she gazed with wide open eyes at the presents. "Are those for me?" she whispered. I nodded but said that they were for the morning, not for now. She whispered excitedly that Daddy's presents were under her bed. I hushed and shushed her and she closed her eyes. I sat nervously in bed panicking that she would now wake up but no, she went back to sleep. Relief!

Seeing Katie's face with all the magic of Christmas as she came downstairs in the morning and saw her presents and the footprints in the "snow" aka my gluten-free plain flour (might as well use it for something as I use self-raising for everything else!) was fabulous. I don't know how many magical years we'll have before someone at school gives her the low-down and the innocence and magic will be gone. It didn't take long to rip all the paper off her gifts from us and ask to move on to the presents under the tree. We're now working out where to put all these presents (the mini piano seemed like a good idea at the time!)

As is our family tradition now Daddy and I cooked up a Christmas Day storm for our nearest and dearest. It was a lovely day in so many ways and I am so grateful that we still have
Daddy's parents to join us. They are getting older and Nana is in constant pain with osteoarthritis; scoliosis and now has the onset of Alzheimer's to contend with. Pops had a double lung transplant about 7-8 years ago and is doing amazingly well with his health but now has a lot of pressure caring for Nana. My sister and 8 year old nephew also joined us. It had been a tough year for many at the table and I wanted to ensure that everyone enjoyed their food and that the children had a good day. I felt awful that nobody (including myself) thought to buy my sister a present from her son so quickly wrapped up a new top I had bought and was going to give her and ensured he was able to give her something. Once everyone was replete and content with food I took the children out for a nice walk about 4pm to burn off a bit of excess energy. My nephew rode his fab new MGP scooter and Katie proudly pushed her double buggy with her new baby Annabel and baby Chou Chou (barely dressed) inside (they even swapped for a while!). I needed the walk as much as they did! I'm a fairly sociable person but get very tense with too many people around me at one time (Ma Walton I will never be I'm afraid!). I rarely relax when I'm entertaining.

We decided before the day that Katie would be going to bed at 6.30pm on Christmas Day (her normal bedtime). We learned last year that even 7pm was too late. We've learned not to let Katie stay up late on special occasions - even though some people think we are being mean. No we are really not being mean! Katie needs her sleep - even more so after an exciting day. Even 6.30pm was too late on Christmas Day judging by the 30 minute (annual) meltdown that we shared with Katie at bedtime (that's not included in the picture perfect Christmas brochure but it appears to be remarkably common from what I can gauge).

We decided to keep it quiet on Boxing Day partly to let the dust settle and let Katie calm down a bit and partly because Daddy was on-call. I have taken to privately calling Katie "The BC" ("Bonkers Child") over the past week or so because she has totally lost the plot and seems unable to hold her behaviour together. We are to blame really for this plot loss. "We" being our society's build up over Christmas and also us as parents for allowing it to happen. Is a 5 year old able to be grateful for a mountain of presents and know how incredibly lucky she is on many fronts? Is she able to regulate her excitement and channel it into calmly playing with her new toys for any length of time? Of course not. There is an expectation on children though to be able to keep a sunny disposition through a time of changeable routine and excitement. Are we being fair on them? Not a jot - we just want to wind them up; build up all the excitement and then expect them to behave themselves! Tough on most children but tougher still on many adopted children who often need the predictability of their routines.  Tougher still on adopted children who've witnessed domestic violence or experienced physical or sexual abuse (how do you explain a strange man coming into the house to leave presents to a child who has had those experiences?) How many houses have parents shouting at their children to calm down around this time of year? Errrrr is that fair when we're the ones who wind them up in the first place? I'm not standing in judgement here as I've been that parent!

We've decided to try and keep things quiet for a few more days. We went to soft play with some friends yesterday and let the children run around madly for 3.5 hours (hopefully that will help burn some of it off!).  We'll be visiting the Blue Reef Aquarium to visit the fishies and reminisce about our Adoption Day 2 years ago (and I'll also be writing up about that visit because the tickets were very kindly donated as a family day out by The Money  We'll be hosting a NYE afternoon Chilli and Brownies get-together for Daddy's family members and we're going to the panto on New Years Day but, other than that, I think we'll try not to overdo things too much.  Actually that all sounded much calmer in my head but it still sounds like a lot of stuff going on.....

This post has taken me since Boxing Day to actually complete so I'm going to post it now before I get distracted again......

Will I learn from this next year I wonder?

What has your Christmas been like?..................

Friday, 21 December 2012

The gift of Christmas

It's such an evocative word.......Christmas. It conjours up images of perfect families; of laughter and joy; of warmth and brightness and mountains of presents and food.  For me it also digs out memories of childhood excitement mixed with a mum who I don't think enjoyed Christmas particularly.  It brings up emotions from many years of very grown up, childless, Christmases filled with longing for a family and surrounded by miscarriages. This has now moved aside to make room for the giddy excitement of my little lady but the impact of those years has left its legacy.

I was planning to write a post about how I feel over Christmas but my reflections have changed shape over the past few days to see a slightly different picture. About the real gifts of Christmas.

I met an old work friend the other day who probably sparked this chain of thoughts.  Times are really tough for her and Christmas is a reminder that she doesn't have the money to spoil the people she loves.  She needs the money just to put food on the table.  She is not alone.  We are living in times of austerity.  People are struggling to make ends meet.   I started thinking about what Christmas represents both personally and theologically and how that differs for many people around the world.  I thought about how much pressure we put upon ourselves to try and recreate the media images of the perfect Christmas; about how grumpy I've been feeling this week because I want to try and get all the presents wrapped and feel in control of this one day of the year and my frustration at my plans being constantly thwarted by the never-ending needs of other people.  I thought about all the people for whom this Christmas will not be a picture-perfect happy occasion:  The mum at school who received a call to say her mother had had a stroke and who was desperately trying to hold it together to get her children to school before rushing to her mother's bedside; a friend whose husband is posted overseas with the army and won't be home with his family at Christmas; all the families who have experienced the loss of children and other loved ones in the recent shooting in Connecticut; people around the world who don't have their loved ones with them.

All this made me think about the gifts we give at Christmas and what we are celebrating.

In our house we celebrate Yule as well as Christmas.  We celebrate that the day and night are of equal length and that the sun will slowly be more prominent in our lives again.  The sun that will bring our crops and all the life that is sustained by our sun.  We also celebrate the birth of Jesus, not as traditional Christians, but as an acknowledgement of a man who brought so many incredible messages to our lives.  Most importantly that of love.  Love for everyone.  We also naturally enjoy our family time and all the food and presents.  Who doesn't enjoy that part?

Sadly Christmas often throws a spotlight on what is not right in our lives.  How are lives do not match that picture perfect image that the Coca Cola and John Lewis adverts portray.  For me it highlights the people who are not in my life and the stresses and sadness and complications attached to that.  It can be a very bright spotlight.  It brings me down every year.  Christmas is an emotive time of year for many reasons.  Feelings often seem intensified at this time of year.

But this morning I had a mini epiphany.  Christmas for me is not going to be about all the presents and food this year.  It is going to be a celebration of the people who are in my life.  The people that I love.  The people I choose to spend my time with and that I am grateful that they are actually still here to celebrate with me.  I will raise a glass to all those people who cannot be here in person.  I am not going to worry about everything being perfect.  I am no longer going to feel intimidated by all the glowing pictures on Facebook of perfect trees and perfect systems for organising Christmas and I'm going to accept that this is me.  This is how I do things.  All a bit last minute usually but this is quite a theme in our lives and probably won't change just for one day! This is our family and I'm so lucky to have each and every one of them.  They all bring something into my life.  Some bring more challenges and learning for me but I choose to no longer wallow in those challenges (well at least for the next few weeks! LOL).  This Christmas I'm going to wrap my arms about my daughter, the daughter I didn't think I would ever have, and relish the love we have for each other and how lucky I am to be able to have her in my life.  I'm going to appreciate my husband for all the things he does instead of all the things he doesn't that drive me nuts; I'm going to love myself a little bit more; forgive myself a little bit more and I'm going to love those around me a little bit better by showing them my love. I am so very lucky in so many ways and I'm going to enjoy every single minute of that.

That is my gift this Christmas.

And with this post I am sending my love out to everyone in the world who needs a little love.


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Adopt an opinion....

Over the past week I've found myself having several intense discussions over the whys and wherefores; wrongs and rights of adoption and fostering. More specifically over the issue of gay adoption and fostering.

I know I put myself out there. I write this blog and I'm often stupid enough to admit to writing it when people ask me how I spend my time now I'm a stay at home mum. I can't help it. I have met some amazing people and had some fantastic conversations as a result of being so open. I accept that my views may not always be the same as other people's and I love a good debate. One thing I don't love though is prejudice and unfounded narrowmindedness.

It's fair to say that there are a lot of strong opinions around adoption and fostering. People often like to share those opinions inappropriately. Some people have questions. I'm fine about that (not always the inappropriately timed questions in front of my daughter though). I do my best to answer any questions.

I'm nervous about writing this blog post if I'm honest. I am not a voice for the gay community nor am I trying to be but I would consider myself an advocate for adoption.  I do want to share my experiences though because I think viewpoints should be challenged wherever possible.

So what happened?

Well, the first time was when I found myself in the middle of some button pushing views at my local garage. It was sparked by the front page of the newspaper that was in the garage and the story about the foster carers whose foster children were removed because they are members of UKIP.

We discussed the decision to remove the children and the seemingly generalised view taken by the council related to racism. It seems to me that you need to ascertain the interpretation of the politics by the individual before deciding whether they are racist or not. I am not entirely convinced that the other person shared this view.  This then led on to how inappropriate the other participant in our conversation found gay couples being allowed to adopt and the potentially confusing message about families this might give the child/ren. This conversation then led on to the extremely ill-advised and quite unbelievable statement made by Winston McKenzie to The Metro:

"To say to a child, 'I am having you adopted by two men who kiss regularly but don’t worry about it' – that is abuse. It is a violation of a child’s human rights because that child has no opportunity to grow up under normal circumstances. A caring loving home is a heterosexual or single family. I don't believe [a gay couple] is healthy for a child."

I'm not even going to repeat the other conversation I had, so much was it an ill educated viewpoint.  I can't even bring myself to write what the person said or write it in a way that isn't overly inflammatory.

Ok this isn't me but I couldn't resist!
So in response to both conversations I did what I do everytime my buttons are pushed, I turned into The Educator! I found the nearest metaphorical phonebox and put on my cape; donned my metaphorical pants over my jeans; pushed my glasses up my nose; took a deep breath and waded in to save the world from another.... errrr.....ummm....(am desperately trying to think of the right word but don't want to be mean).... person in need of education and a few less homophobic thoughts. I should admit that I've adopted this role twice in the past week....The Educator that is....not the person needing a few less homophobic thoughts.

On both occasions I pointed out that there are many different types of family in the world.  In addition to the "traditional" family setup of a mum and dad there are single parents; aunts, uncles, friends, grandparents and other relatives bringing up children. Gay adopters are just another type of family within a huge variety of families in my opinion. From the reading I've done I've not found any studies that prove that gay parents create gay adults. As I pointed out to our friend above, and the person not mentioned, I think the majority of gay people actually originate from within heterosexual families.  As I pointed out this might bring the nature/nurture debate into the discussion!

Tim Chivers in The Telegraph wrote a really interesting and well referenced article about this very subject.  Here's a quote but I recommend reading all the article and the links:

"There has been some research into all this. A review of the literature carried out in 2002 by the Scandinavian Journal of Psychology looked at 23 studies, examining a total of 615 children of same-sex parents and 387 controls. They looked at "emotional functioning, sexual preference, stigmatization, gender role behavior, behavioral adjustment, gender identity, and cognitive functioning" – exactly the sort of criteria we discussed above. They found that "Children raised by lesbian mothers or gay fathers did not systematically differ from other children on any of the outcomes"; more specifically, the studies "indicate that children raised by lesbian women do not experience adverse outcomes compared with other children", and the same appears to be true for gay men, although more research was needed given how small their sample was. "

For my part, I tried to explain that children are matched with adopters that are considered able to meet the needs of the individual child. It may well be better for a child to be placed in an all female or male household if they've experienced certain types of abuse for example. A loving home with capable parent(s) is what any child needs. Children who have had traumatic experiences need parents who have the strength to go beyond typical parenting. Adoption these days in the UK isn't about having a healthy, baby straight from birth. Children who are in the care system waiting for parents need parents who can understand their feelings and experiences; their anger and confusion. They need parents who can support them within all that.  Adoption services seek people who have had life experiences so that they can relate to their child and the experiences they may have had.

Anyone who can bring all that to the table should be greated with open arms and not with any form of prejudice in my humble opinion.......


Friday, 14 December 2012

Birthday Time!

This post is as late as the "Thank You" cards that are still waiting to go out (in fact I should probably be doing those instead of writing this but I won't tell if you won't tell!). I wanted to mark a happy occasion though because I've been a bit stressed and grumpy in other posts lately.

So the big news is that Katie turned 5 just over a month ago.

I can't quite get my head around how quickly the time has passed by and how grown up my little lady is becoming. She's wearing aged 6-7 clothes most of the time (except in skirts where she can still wear an aged 3 because her waist is so tiny); her beautiful blond hair now hangs half way down her back (not far off being Rapunzelesque), she has beautiful blue eyes and size 12 feet (flipper feet!). She is cheeky and gorgeous and incredibly pretty. Issues from other blog posts aside she is pretty damn cute and amazing. She is now reading her Biff and Chip books with a bit of prompting from me and is writing endlessly.  She is every inch a girl.  A pink one at that! She really doesn't get that from me - it's a rare occurrence to see me in a skirt!

But where has the time gone? 

It won't be long until she has been with us three years!!!!
Talk about blink and you'd miss it! It's a bit scary if I'm being honest.

She was so excited about her birthday and most importantly about her party. She'd wanted a party at our local soft play area. She's been talking about having her party there for the whole of the year. This was actually a good idea as she had lots of boys to invite and we didn't think they'd appreciate a princess party! It's also a great venue and the parties are really quite good there.  We had booked a little added surprise for Katie for food time as well. "Hello Kitty" was coming to give her the birthday cake and play for a while.

There was a limit of 23 children for the party.  This number proved to be very difficult as there were so many children, both from pre-school and from big school, that Katie wanted to invite.  We'd been working on inviting 30.  We had to be quite tough with our list in the end. Thankfully I didn't have to worry about doing the food but I did have party bags to make up (I decided to give all the children a Charlie and Lola book and some sweets) and the cake to sort out (Moshi Monsters - a big surprise as Katie chose that over a Princess one - there is hope for her yet!).  We decided to have the party on Katie's actual birthday so it was her first ever after-school party.  I was secretly hoping that this wasn't going to be a very bad idea and that over-tiredness wouldn't bite our butts as the day wore on.  I was organised and ready for most things.  I had a spreadsheet of all the children's names; their parents names and telephone numbers. I had all the party bags made up and labelled; spare napkins - you name it, I had it.  I even made brownies for the grown ups (gluten-free of course so I could actually have something to eat too!)

I think I can easily say that Katie had a blast at her party.  In fact all the children did I think.  My only rookie-error was not realising that, because the party was from 4pm - 6pm, the food wouldn't be served until about 5:15pm.  Children coming out of school are hungry at 3:15pm.  There were drinks available but no snacks on arrival so I quickly bought 20-odd bags of crisps and put them into bowls for the children to take the edge off their hunger (and grumpiness) before too many hungry tears ensued.

One thing I will say about this particular play area is that they do some great food at their children's parties.  There is a range of hot food and sandwiches; crisps; fruit and biscuits and there is plenty of it.  All the adults and additional children accompanying their siblings were able to dig in and eat as well.  The children were very ready for their food after an hour's running and tearing about the place.

When Hello Kitty arrived during food time to say hello Katie's face was a picture.  Her jaw dropped and she beamed from ear to ear.  She could hardly contain herself. She was up and out of her seat for a cuddle faster than you could say "kitty" (which I was very relieved about after my Sister had been winding me up about the children being scared of the characters). Most of the children quickly followed and the young lady playing the part of Hello Kitty did a magnificent job.  I had a chat with her beforehand and she said she was going to be a Blue Coat next year so I told her all about my life and times as a Butlins Redcoat (many many many years ago). 

I was so glad that I'd decided to book Hello Kitty.  The children were talking about it for days to come.

It was a lovely day. It started with presents at home. Katie had a new pink CD player and a variety of CDs to play on it including Party 10 and Now 82.  We have been dancing Gangnam Style endlessly ever since.  She also had a Disney Princess CD.  She keeps nicking my Glee CDs though which I'm going to have to sort her out on! ;-)

The only downside of the day was at the end of it.  Katie had received so many presents at the party that we agreed she could open 2 before bed and the rest in the morning (she had an INSET day the day after fortuitously).  Just after she had opened her two presents and we were thinking about bedtime our lovely neighbours popped over with a card and present and it was that 15 minutes that tipped Katie over the edge into "The Meltdown Zone". It was to be expected and it wasn't the end of the world but it was a tough end to the day especially as Katie just can't manage her emotions when she's over-tired.  She becomes aggressive and very antisocial! I remember last Christmas being the same so will be thinking how we manage that this year.

So now I've finally written this post, I guess I'd better get the Thank You letters written.  I'm going to sneak them into the school Christmas cards and hope no-one notices how late they are!

How on earth did my little baby girl get so grown up? 

Monday, 3 December 2012

Illness and Attitude!

This week I feel like the inspiration to write has been sucked right out of me for a variety of reasons. It can probably be summed up in two words though:


Katie and I have shared the Illness bit.  She was doing a great impersonation of Vomiting Veronica on Sunday.  As for me well the very mild cold, that I thought I'd fought off last week, has turned into sinusitis this week.  Katie had stay home from school on Monday and Tuesday due to the "no school for 48 hours after vomiting" rule.  She was perfectly well on Monday and Tuesday but, by that time, I was feeling pretty crappy. I didn't really want to be an entertainer for those days one little bit! I totally understand why she had to be at home - the timing was pretty crappy though.

One of the hardest thing about being a parent is that you are still a parent even when you are unwell. You don't get sick leave! Trying to maintain parenting consistency when you just want to curl up and sleep is tough for any parent.  Katie isn't the kind of person who likes to self-amuse for long periods of time.  She needs attention and also needs to be walked at least once a day to channel and work off some of her energy, otherwise she will use that energy for less productive pursuits (maybe we should invest in a running machine?). 

It was a tough couple of days, made worse by the fact that Katie has developed the attitude from hell.  She has been giving progressively more attitude since starting school.  She's tired, I get that.  We've moved her bedtime back to 6.30pm on a school night because she's just too tired to hold it together.  If we don't get her to bed within a small window of time then she loses all sense of perspective and it's not possible to reason with her.  If she's over-tired then she will play up at bedtime.  She'll keep getting out of bed and coming downstairs.  She becomes aggressive and rude.  Our house mantra is "Kind hands; Kind words; Kind feet".  You can probably guess why.  She'll kick and punch and scream and even spit when she's in her tired zone.  I explained to her the other night that she won't get anything from having a temper tantrum.  She seemed quite surprised by this.  "Really?" she said.  Bless her, she's not realised that she never gets what she wants if she kicks off about it.  She's doing a lot of grumpy grunting like Kevin the Teenager.  Everything is an argument.  If I'm honest, she's quite hard work at the moment. It's made harder by the fact that I've not been feeling well.  I've felt like I've been punched in the face all week (and still do).  I don't forgive myself easily for not being the best parent I can be.  I've learnt that I have to but that doesn't mean that I like screwing it up.  I have shouted a few times this week, although I've managed a lot better than I might have imagined despite extreme provocation.

It can be hard when you are an adoptive parent not to read "adoption" into everything that happens behaviour-wise.  One thing that I am extremely grateful for is that I have a wide group of adopters as friends and I can draw on their experiences and normalise a lot of Katie's behaviour.  I no longer get bogged down with worrying about whether the behaviour is because she is adopted.  Many Reception Year children are little shits very challenging outside of school.  They have to deal with a long day in school where they have to behave......all day long.  This is such a change from Pre-School and is a tough gig for a 4/5 year old.  We parents get it in the neck once that bell goes.  I'm glad it's that way round.  At her first ever Parents Evening recently Katie's teacher said she was a "joy to be around" and that she is a great member of the class and is learning well.  Her only note was that Katie often doesn't believe in her own abilities.  She didn't tell us anything we didn't know there.  Katie often has to be led kicking and screaming through something new before she suddenly realises she can do it.  The positive side of Katie starting school is watching her enthusiasm for learning how to read and write.  We have spent hours practising how to write an "e" and she can now do it.  Her happiness is wonderful to behold.

Katie is trying out the power of words a lot at the moment.  Poor Daddy is constantly told that she wants Mummy and she doesn't love him.  She was hell on legs on Wednesday night when I went out to my Reiki group.  She was annoyed that I'd gone out (how very dare I?) and wouldn't go to bed.  Poor Daddy didn't get his dinner until 9pm!  When she's with me she'll moan she wants Daddy as soon as she's told off for anything (yeah you and me both sugar-plum!).  "I don't like you anymore" is a commonly heard statement. I've even heard "I want another Mummy".  She doesn't stick with any of these statements for long.  She will sidle up for a huggle and tell me she loves me.  She's just testing.  She's bloody good at it, I'll give her that!  I've heard her being a bit of a Meany-Peg to one of the girls in her class at school.  I won't tolerate that so I've had a word with her teacher about that and asked her to try and pair the girls together to encourage their relationship a bit.  I don't think Katie is malicious - she's just trying out her power.  The cats know all about Katie experimenting with her power!  She also hasn't developed remorse yet.  I notice some of her non-adopted friends have developed this and this is definitely where she is developmentally delayed.  This is fairly common for children who are adopted.  We'll keep working with her on it and have to put up with the "don't care" attitude until her brain fires up that developmental phase.

So how are we dealing with it? Getting Katie to bed by 6.30pm is top of the list. We're being very patient. We're using the techniques learned in the Triple P parenting course and I'm reading "123 Magic Parenting Book"  at the moment.  The techniques are working fairly consistently.  Katie is learning that if I get to 3 then she goes on Time-Out.  Now, before anyone gets testy with me, I know Time-Out is a much contested technique amongst adopters.  I think sense has to be used with this technique.  Katie doesn't have any attachment issues as such so I don't feel that this technique is inappropriate for her.  She also goes straight to Time-Out for hitting; kicking etc etc.  I try to head behaviour off if I see it coming.  I use my sing-song voice to encourage her along when she's tired.  I reward her as much as possible for good behaviour.  Again it's that balance.  We have found that reward charts don't work overly well for her.  I can use a chart for one behaviour i.e. going to bed.  We work towards a reward (7 nights seems to do the trick with  bedtime) and then we stop. Katie is fairly immediate.  She needs to see an outcome very quickly.  She seems to learn better that way.  I have a variety of techniques that I bring out of the bag.  Sometimes though it's just a simple case of moving her bedtime back.  She's been in bed as early as 6pm recently.  She's a persistent young lady.....but she has a Taurean for a mum!  She doesn't stand a chance LOL!  I invented the word "stubborn"!

There are positives and I do like to keep those in mind.  It's far easier to focus on the things that aren't going well but you need that balance to keep the whole in mind.  Katie and I do fun stuff together.  She is riding her bike well now without her stabilisers.  We dance together and are both getting quite good at the Gangnam style dance.  We read together and do her homework together.  We snuggle up to watch DVDs together.  Katie has recently gained her BAGA (Gymnastics) Badge 8 and her 10 metres swimming badge.  In fact things are fairly OK as long as she's not over-tired.

 My other mantra is....."it's just a's just a phase....."  Usually it is.  Of course one phase often over-laps with another - just to keep things interesting.  But we're getting there.

We are!!!!!!!



Sunday, 18 November 2012

Mad as a March Hare..

Be warned, I'm feeling quite fed up whilst writing this.  I'm going to moan. 

I actually wanted to sit down and write about Katie's lovely birthday party today and make a joke about the fact that Katie had her first ever sleepover last night so it really was a "Silent Sunday" in our house but this needs to be written down first - just to get it out of my system so I have some hope of re-finding my usual positivity about the adoption process and I can then write the other two posts in my usual upbeat manner.  I'm also extremely frustrated at having to write this one week after all the positivity of last week's National Adoption Week.

Today we had a visit from our Social Worker.  She came down from the north to visit us and some of our referees on this very chilly Sunday, having been ill and still not feeling well (and really should be tucked up at home in bed).  I'm feeling a bit guilty about the position she is in today if I'm honest.  The reality for her is that she doesn't get paid until we go to panel.  The joys of being an agency Social Worker.  She shouldn't have to be driving all that way whilst feeling ill - just so she can get paid and also to dig our LA out of the hole they are digging themselves into.

So what has got me all worked up (other than the normal frustrations of trying to get to panel)?  Well our Local Authority, it would seem, haven't been doing the bits of our process that they were suppose to do.  We signed our CRB checks in March 2012 after attending our prep course.  They were supposed to have been collected and sent off by our LA.  The LA never sent anyone out to check and collect them.  When I chased them they said that our SW could do it all for us.  OK that's fine (or so I thought).  It transpires that the signatures on our CRB checks were already out of date by the time our SW was allocated.  She did all the checks she was supposed to do and passed them to our LA to be sent off.  The LA told me recently that they were sent off in June but still weren't back.  I commented to them that I thought this was odd and I thought that the problems with the time delays in CRB checks had all been rectified now.  I find out today (and I'm sure you already now know where this is going) that they didn't even send the CRB forms off to be approved.  Our SW had to bring them back to us to re-check all the information so that they can be sent off. We have panel in December - this is unacceptable!  Who knows if they'll be back in time.  More importantly the SW at the LA lied to me about it.  Not only was I lied to but that lie had a lot of embellishment.  That is really unprofessional in my opinion.  I am now having to decide at what point this issue is raised with the LA.  The fear of adopters is that if you raise issues and complaints whilst going through the process, that this may hinder or even endanger your adoption.

I know that our LA are seriously understaffed due to financial cuts and also due to staff being off work with stress-related illnesses.  I am seriously cheesed-off however with the general lack of organisation and leadership.  The right hand seems to have no idea whatsoever of where the left hand is, let alone know what it is doing!  There seems to be no coordination of information.  Departments don't seem to communicate with each other.  No-one checking the cases that will be going to panel and whether all the information is present and correct.  There are no Social Workers allocated for matching after panel. If I'd known 6 months ago what I know now I would never have used this LA for this adoption.  We thought that it made sense to stick with the same agency with used with our last adoption.  We were promised an 8 month process (it's been 14 months so far).  They already have all our information and we were promised an update of our information but instead we've had to proceed as if we were first time adopters.  How ludicrous is that?  Thankfully we've had a very supportive Social Worker who has used our Form F from our last adoption and has updated that (although has since had to change the paperwork from the PAR document, back to the Form F and now to a new PAR document).  In addition to the concerns about actually getting to panel, I am now starting to have concerns about how much I can trust any permanence reports I may read about any children we are matched with.  If the SWs are so overstretched that they are unable to properly coordinate our adoption approval - how on earth are they coping with filling in all the information prospective adopters need on the permanence reports? Can I even trust that sufficient process has gone into a future match? I may be worrying unnecessarily but it is a concern that is slowly taking shape. One thing I do know is that Hubs and I will have to be really on the ball with asking questions when we are matched.

The annoying thing personally is that I watched a friend go through all this with them only recently and we made the decision to stick with the LA instead of moving to another LA.  I wish we'd moved at this moment in time.  I'm sure that when we get through all this and we're matched I will know that our instinct to stay with our LA was right but today I'm questioning just about everything.  Today I don't want to remind myself of my spiritual beliefs about everything happening for a reason and that we'll be exactly where we're supposed to be. I have no doubt that the right child will come and join our family but just for today, I just want to scream with frustration at the ineptitude of our LA.  I want to be emotionally mature and understanding about the funding cuts and the enormous pressure that the Social Work team are working under but today, I want to be immature and selfish and ask the universe why, after all the years of pain and heartbreak we've already been through we have to go through yet more waiting?

I'll live.  I'll learn and grow and all those other euphemisms we say at times like this but just for today, I just want to pout and feel annoyed and sorry for myself.  If I'm honest I'm fed up with being grown-up about it all.   I'm fed up with being understanding.  I'm probably not just talking about the adoption process anymore so time to stop and hit the "publish" button.

So in keeping with my strongly held Reiki principles of  "Just for today".......

Just for today I'm as mad as a March hare.......

Tomorrow I'll be back to being me again and following the Reiki principles as they should be followed......but I'll also be preparing my report of complaint for our LA when this is all over.  And I'm going to try and remember this.......

Friday, 16 November 2012

The Week That Was....

A week has gone by since the end of National Adoption Week 2012 and I've not had time to catch my breath, let alone write the thank you's that I need to to all the wonderful adopters I featured last week.  The writers shared their stories with honesty and openness and insight and I hope that for any prospective adopters reading this blog their stories will help you really see the realities of being an adopter at this time.  It's not all doom and gloom but it is hard work.  But it can be wonderful.

Speaking of wonderful, it was wonderful to see how many people around the country were promoting adoption and highlighting the need for more adopters.  A major well done to everyone who did their bit over the week.  If I'm very honest though I remain extremely concerned at the lack of funding going into Local Authorities to pay for the Social Workers to actually assess the potential adopters so I fear that, for many, expectations may be a big higher than the ability to deliver.  Our own panel date now looks in jeopardy because hardly any of the checks that need to be completed by our LA have been done (despite having many many many months in which to do it).  Our Agency Social Worker is trying her best to pick up the slack but there are so many things that the LA has to complete itself.  I'll let you know if our date does go ahead or not.  Our Social Worker, bless her, is having a last ditched attempt at getting everything she can possibly get ready (including coming down to visit us and our referees on a Sunday for which we send her our thanks).  If you are reading this Mr Cameron, PLEASE think about the funding issues we have here.  There has to be a solution.  Do re-read my open letter to you with my suggestions if that helps.

Anyway I have digressed from my original intention of this post........So without further ado I send my heartfelt Thanks to:

Huge thanks also goes out to all the people on FaceBook and Twitter who promoted the stories featured; to Clare Horton at The Guardian Society Daily and to Netmums for featuring Sally Donovan's story.  Special thanks also goes to the British Association for Adoption and Fostering;  Adoption UK; Coram and Beacon Hill Training for promoting and supporting the stories.

So why haven't I had time to catch my breath?  Well was Katie's 5th Birthday during National Adoption Week and everything birthday took over my life.  I will write up more about the big birthday in a separate post but it's been rather manic here.  I'm not really sure what my other excuse is for this week if I'm honest.  I've just been busy.  I've managed to hurt my hip and hamstring and am unable to sit at the computer for any length of time so I've been very socially networky quiet this week.  Willow, my baby Maine Coon, had to go into be spayed and you can imagine our surprise to find out that she was actually "with kitten" at the time of her spaying.  Considering the only Tom she's had access to was her half-brother who has been neutured.........yes I'm asking some serious questions of my vets and have asked them to check his neuturing.  I found it hard emotionally that she was pregnant and that pregnancy was terminated (they didn't know until she was mid surgery that she was pregnant and also her brother MUST be the sire so a bit icky and genetically not really a good idea). I'm very aware that I'm attaching human emotions to my little moggy but it did make me feel quite sad.  Katie has been full of cold and generally more grumpy due to that and the come-down after her birthday; plus a load of other family stuff.  So all in all, I feel quite stretched (and not in a massagy, relaxed kinda way).  I have just had a hot stone massage which I did prioritise over doing the usual Friday stuff on Twitter so I will also send apologies for not having time to do any Follow Friday's on Twitter this week.  Must do better next week...............

So that was the week that was....... thank you to everyone who made it an amazing week!


Friday, 9 November 2012

NAW 2012 Day 5 and a half: Our Adoption Story by Laurel Ashton

I thought I’d share some diary entries from soon after Amber came to live with us. After the first week, I wrote:

It’s flown. We were prepared to be very careful, to introduce her slowly to new people, to add new clothes, toys and bedding slowly. But it all got a bit confusing. She came with a ton of stuff, but we’ve had 2 more tons delivered or given to us in the past 5 days. I no longer know what she’s been used to. But she really doesn’t care. She’s happy with all the new faces, toys and animals. We’ve had a few screams. She’s teething. We’ve seen a couple too many 2ams. She’s bitten DH. And she throws pasta on the floor. But we don’t care. She’s just learning her way around the world and we want to be there with her as she goes. One week on and being a parent isn’t at all what it’s cracked up to be. It’s MUCH better!! Perhaps we’ve waited so much longer than most people for this, that we’re savouring every moment. And it still feels like a dream, like I’m writing someone else’s story. Thankfully, I can smell her on me all of the time, so I know she’s real.’
Two months on, I wrote this:

‘I thought I loved her the first time I saw her. Something did move in my heart. But I now realise that I’ve grown to love her in a very deep way. We share a special look, or smile. She holds her daddy so tightly sometimes that it seems as though she’ll never let go. And we only now have begun to notice that we’re actually growing together – and it feels amazing.’ 

I wrote a book, Take Two, to chronicle the build up to becoming a parent and can’t believe that so much time has passed since all of those life-changing events. Right now I’m planning 6 and 7 year-old birthdays, and see their outgrown clothes in the photos of children of close friends. All that time we spent waiting to become a family, cursing the adoption process and its endless frustrations and waiting by the phone is now almost completely forgotten. We’re just a family.
I won’t deny that it was hard to adjust to being a working parent and that we had to learn to juggle so many facets of life simultaneously. When Ellie came to us 7 months after Amber (they are birth siblings, hence the rapid match), we found ourselves with two mobile children aged 23 months and 11 months and it was a bit of a nightmare. Looking back, I’m not sure that we were able to give either as much time as she needed, but somehow we all caught up. More importantly, we all got to learn to be a family at the same time and these days I still look on in wonder at these playful little sisters.
Five years on, is there anything I would have done differently? We were in the unusual situation where DH took adoption leave. For us this worked amazingly well and to this day the girls have a strong bond with daddy. I have continued to work since they came home (apart from my subsequent adoption leave) and don’t regret it at all, but then I love my job and wouldn’t describe myself as a natural ‘earth’ mother. The time I have with the girls is directed entirely at them and I do try to appreciate every moment we have together. We would also not have mentioned the fact that we are vegetarians, or that we don’t have a TV, as both of these seemed to single us out as ‘weird’. Those issues turned into a debate during home study, but they didn’t hold up the process or affect our chances in the end.
The major ‘adoption’ issue in our lives today is contact with their birth sister, who is only one year older.  We meet up twice a year and all the girls simply accept their relationship, and behave entirely like sisters who live together – hugs and kisses one minute, bickering and recriminations the next. It’s magical to watch them together and wonderful to know they will always have one another in their lives.
I’m really struggling to find anything insightful to say about adoption when reflecting on our current life together. The problem is that we’re just an ordinary family. And while we do life story work with the children and regularly see their birth sister, most days the whole adoption ‘thing’ just sits quietly on the mantelpiece and lets us get on with daily life...........  
family life, that is!

 Note from "Life with Katie" author Gem: Laurel Ashton's book "Take Two" features in the Top 10 Recommended Reads for Adoption books as recommended by the BAAF. It was one of the first books related to adoption that I ever read and I cannot recommend it enough

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