Friday, 31 August 2012

Life Story Book.....

A few weeks ago, two years and four months after Katie was placed with us, we finally received her Life Story Book.  It was a very long wait for a book that should have been with us by the time Katie was legally adopted. It appears it is not unusual to wait a long time for the book. Some adoptees I know have never received a book.

Be My Parent describes life story work as this:

"Life story work helps children separated from their birth families make sense of their past experiences from birth. Some children may be too young to remember or understand what has happened in their lives. Children in care often experience many changes of social workers and carers and, as a result, information about their past and heritage may be missing, lost or forgotten. 
 A life story 'book' is usually prepared with the child by a social worker, foster carer and/or adoptive parent or permanent foster carer. The book includes the recording of significant information and events for a child to refer to when they are older or as they grow up, such as a description of their birth family, where they were born, significant people in their lives, and their care history."

A lovely Social Worker had been drafted in to write Katie's Life Story Book and we helped as much as possible by sending photographs and providing information of Katie's life since she joined us. Grandma very kindly provided lots of information about Katie's life from birth and prior to becoming part of our family.  Katie loved the book we made her when she first met us and she was very excited that she would be receiving a book all about her and her story so far.  We were really positive about it. We have always answered her questions - even the ones that are asked in the middle of a shopping centre at full volume.  We are honest about her story.  We don't tell her anything untrue but have never said a negative word about either of her birth parents.  I have a lot of compassion for both her birth parents and this is reflected in my answers.  She has seen pictures of her birth family and we have discussed with her the basic reasons for her adoption in 4 year old terms.  We felt confident that she would be OK to see her book and we asked her Social Worker to read the book to her on the day she arrived armed with the book.

Over the past few weeks I have been thinking that this was a BIG MISTAKE! Not just because of the book but because of the big changes that Katie is currently going through leaving pre-school and starting infant school. Was this the best time to bring this into the equation as well?

The book is great and I have no issue with what is written or how it is written for the long term.  I don't feel that it is written for a 4 year old though and both Daddy and I wanted to stop the Social Worker from reading the book to her once she had started.  Why didn't we stop her? Isn't it amazing how that dynamic between us and a Social Worker over-rides our parental logic? We thought (probably naively) that the Social Worker would read the book to her in the way a 4 year old could understand. The way we would. But she didn't. She read it to her word for word. Every last detail including her full birth name and the reasons she had to be adopted. Several weeks on I am still finding it difficult to articulate how I feel about Katie's reaction (and mine) to the book. I have a strong reaction to Katie having easy access to her birth name in these days of social networking sites.  It's not that we would try and stop her contacting her birth parents, should that arise, but we just don't want that contact to happen in an unsupported way.

For several weeks after reading the book Katie queried the fact that we had changed her middle name and said she wanted to go back to her original name.  We talked about the fact that Katie had helped decide on her new middle name and I said to her that her Birth Mother gave her her first name and we gave her her middle name. She seems content with that now.

The second thing that happened was that Katie started wetting herself during the day.  This had stopped some time ago but we had about 6 weeks of wetting.  I think this was partly due to her feeling unsettled by leaving her friends at pre-school and partly from reading the book.  We seem to have finally resolved that issue this week and she has been dry all week again.

We have been experiencing a lot more angry behaviour. It's hard to tell how much of this is just the fact that she is 4 and this attitude seems fairly common amongst her peer group at the moment.  She's definitely been challenging our rules more and we've had to tighten her boundaries again to help her through this phase. This seems to be helping her calm down a bit.

At first she was really excited about her book and wanted to show everyone and read it all the time. Daddy and I decided that we wouldn't actually read the book to her again, as we were feeling worried by this point, but would answer any questions that arose from her looking at the book. We didn't want her to feel that the book was out of bounds or wrong in some way so it was left easily available for her to pick it up and flick through.  She asked to show the book to some of her friends who come to our house for tea and during the holidays regularly.  I asked the older of the girls not to read the book aloud but to ask Katie to tell her the story.  This was fine until they came to a picture of Katie's Birth Mother and Katie got quite angry and refused to tell the girl who the picture was of. I asked Katie if she wanted to put the book away and she said that she did.  The book went away on the shelf in the dining room and she hasn't asked to see it since.

She has asked questions since. She has asked why she can't be with her Birth Mother and she has found a renewed interest in playing with her baby dolls.  They came with us everywhere for many weeks and she packed a bag for them every time we went out.  She talks a lot about being a mother and tells me what her children are up to.  I wonder if this is some sort of healing play therapy for her? Her Life Story Book went into a lot of detail about how babies need to be cared for and she has asked me many questions about this section of the book. I get the feeling that she is righting the wrong in her mind somehow.  Over the past week the babies have been replaced by her toy dogs and she has a bed full of soft dogs at the moment.  This has coincided with her being dry.  I do wonder if these two issues are linked somehow? Has she emotionally ingested the book and moved on somehow now?

I know this will be an ongoing topic of conversation in our house. It has raised a bigger question for me however and that is how much we take at face value the advice we are given by Social Workers and how much we should trust our parental instincts. We have followed the current thinking about adoption and told Katie that she is adopted so that she will never remember being told about it (it helps that she was older when adopted so she remembers living with Grandma).  We are open with her and answer her questions as much as possible.  Several people have queried with me whether it is in a child's best interest for them to be aware that they are adopted and whether this keeps pulling off the scab on a wound. I don't know is the answer to this. We have been guided by our Social Workers and from things we have read about adoption.  I suspect it varies from child to child and how they emotionally cope and their resilience and past experiences.  I do wonder though whether we should have given Katie her book just yet or whether we should have held off for a while.  I definitely think we should have read it first. What were we thinking?  I have asked for a copy of the slide with her birth name on and plan to remove that information from her book until she is old enough to manage that information.  This goes against the advice of Katie's Social Worker who wasn't happy with us for doing this. In fact, she was quite scathing and I think she thinks that we don't want Katie to know this information.  This is not the case but we want to ensure that she can handle that information appropriately when it is given to her and not the first day she gets a Facebook account when she is older.  We will definitely be giving everything more thought in the future and not just going along with current thinking.  I am feeling a bit like a puppet and am trying to work out how I feel about some of this stuff so that we can work out how we handle some of this stuff in the future.

I am not naive enough to think that this information will never upset Katie. I'd like to protect her from that but she will revisit this over and over and over throughout her life - of that I have no doubt.  Maybe it is better that she starts to process some of this now so that she slowly makes sense of it all as she grows up. Is it fair to expect a 4 year old to have to carry the weight of this information though? She's just a baby still. She needs protecting and that is our job. I worry that we didn't protect her enough on this issue. Parents are supposed to protect their children.

I wish I had a crystal ball to know what the best thing to do is. I am sure I will re-read what I have written here and want to challenge my own thoughts and emotions on this. For the moment I will just leave it here and see how we all feel as time goes by.

It's funny but I've just read a blog post by Sally Donnovan on the same subject and realise that she has come to the same conclusion as me.  We are taking control of this subject and trusting our own instincts (and Katie's) about how to move forward with this subject.

Wednesday, 29 August 2012

Fun at the Circus.....

Last week (well it was last week when I started writing this post but another week has gone by since then. Last week sounds far less tardy than "nearly a fortnight ago" doesn't it?) Daddy, Katie, my 8 year old nephew and I joined some of the other members of Tots 100 for a day out in Hove at the Zippos Circus.  I wanted to write this post up sooner but the six weeks holidays are interfering with all life that doesn't involve my beautiful 4 year old. The fab ladies at Tots 100 put together a really good deal for our day out and a I think a great thank you goes out to them. We only paid £25 for the four of us.

And what a grand day out it was. (At this point I'll put my hand over my mouth and simply whisper under my breath about the continual bickering and arguing of the two children for the journey there and back in the car and some unresolved issues arising from those arguments on the walk to the circus which brought about tears from Katie.  All I will say is that threats were made by myself and Daddy at various intervals about their behaviour with each other and they were very lucky indeed that they had a McDonalds on the drive home and not the sandwiches that I made to take with us.)

So all in all.....with everything taken into consideration...... it was a great day! I really enjoyed myself and, judging by the sticky face painted smiles, the rest of the family did too.

We had a few direction problems on arriving at Hove Lawns because we misread the email and walked in the wrong direction along the sea front until I found a cafe and decided to ask where we should be going.  I will just say thank you to Tots 100 for giving us the postcode for the nearby multistory car park which was found with no trouble whatsoever.  Thankfully we were soon back on track and found the "Top Hat" (as Katie calls it) with no more problems.  We were welcomed at the entrance to the circus and signed in and the children were given a choice of a flashing toy each (miraculously stopping an arguments in their tracks as they played with them). We were also given a sticker each which gave us refreshments from the circus food stand so the children ordered hot dogs and chips and Daddy had a lovely panini. As always I, the coeliac, had had to bring my own lunch with me but I was delighted that I could eat some of the chips!  The children also had two lots of candy floss (which I helped them eat) which probably heightened some of the arguments on the way home and some popcorn during the show (and that was just me!).  We met up with Anya from Older Single Mum at lunchtime which was great as I was really hoping to catch up with her again having last met her at Britmums Live a few months ago.

After lunch we had a workshop with some of the stars of the circus which included insights into how to train budgies by Ringmaster Norman Barrett and horses by Yamine Smart and her beautiful horses (see Diamond pictured). I have to admit that I found the budgie training very interesting (probably because I used to have a very cute yellow budgie called Whizzy who was very difficult to train - mind you, my Mother-in-Law managed to train her budgie to swear). I also adore horses so I enjoyed wandering around meeting the horses and watching some of the training.  The circus team were all friendly and happily answered questions. Our workshop session had to be cut a bit short because the show was about to start however.  We had been queueing up for face painting but ran out of time before the start of the show. Luckily we were first in line at the interval.  I wanted to have my face painted like a grown-up so that I could see what one looked like! 

The show itself was pretty good, mixed with a few bits that the children loved but Daddy and myself found ourselves shuffling around in our seats a bit.  It was Katie's first ever circus so it was wonderful watching her drink the experience in (whilst madly waving her flashy thingy around and around, nearly knocking everyone out nearby).  I couldn't tell you the last time I went to a circus and it was interesting to experience it as an adult. It all seemed so much smaller than I remembered and clowns have definitely changed and become more modern (I used to do a clown act when I was a Redcoat so I do have an affinity with clowns). 

Speaking of clowns, I really enjoyed the Delbosq Clowns (Emil and Andrea).  They did a really funny sketch where they were dressed as a Cowboy and Indian and pretended to have a fight in slow motion that gave me a really good chuckle and another sketch where members of the public were involved in recreating a scene from Star Wars. Very cleverly crafted indeed and gave all the audience a really good giggle.  I'd love to see a longer show with them in.  Katie also loved the clowns, particularly when Andrea the clown pretended to do a big fart and a cloud of smoke blew out of her bottom! Questions about how she did that kept Katie busy all the way home (when she wasn't arguing with her cousin that is!).

We all liked Roman Stefanyuk, the trampolinist, whose precision when trampolining was easy to underestimate. The kids thought he was hilarious and I was very impressed with his skills which aren't of the expected somersault and flip kind but more how cleverly he uses his body and the trampoline in the act.  There was one section where he dropped backwards from a high board and landed on his back and then sprang back up onto the board. He repeated this over and over. I can only imagine the hours of practice to get his body in the right position to be able to do this.

One of my favourite acts was a group of performers called The Kenya Troupe who did pyramid balancing routines and a fire routine. They were modern, cheeky and funny as well as being very talented (and rather good looking).  Their fire Limbo act was really rather good. "How low can you go" was given a whole new hot meaning! In more ways than one!

However the act that stole the show for me was the final act "The Globe of Death". It literally had me holding my breath. At one point three motorcyclists were loop-the-looping inside the globe with a member of the circus standing inside the globe. It was so fast that it was impossible to photograph unfortunately so I've had to use an image from Zippos website. The dare-devilry and sheer courage (or is it madness?) of those riders was quite phenomenal in my opinion. In fact I would love to see that act again.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day out at the circus. It was lovely to spend time as a family (warts and all) and for Daddy to have a day off work. I think he enjoyed the day more than he was expecting to, which was an added bonus. I enjoyed meeting up with some of the other bloggers who also went along. It's so nice to put faces and names to the people whose blogs I read.

Thank you to Tots 100 and Zippos Circus for organising a lovely day out. I can't wait for the next one!!

Saturday, 11 August 2012

It's all go....

.....In more ways than one at the moment in our house. 

The school holidays are intense; fun; exhausting; never-ending and I'm getting barely any time to write. I miss the writing. I find it therapeutic; it keeps me grounded and it helps me reflect on things that are going on.  We are keeping so busy at the moment though that we're too busy living life to write about it. I have been glued to the 2012 Olympics, particularly the gymnastics, which has been brilliant and a big well done to all the gymnasts in Team GB!

We had our first home visit today to mark the start of our home study for adoption number 2. I was Mrs Bleeping Stresshead cleaning the house (because the worthiness of my parenting abilities are obviously assessed by how messy clean my house is....duh!). The house has felt like a total tip over the holidays thus far because my motto is "keep the child happy (and out of the house and active as much as possible) and don't worry overly about the housework". The house is messy five seconds after I've cleaned and tidied it anyway. It's quite demoralising!  This theory works fine until I can no longer handle the mess in the house and then I become Mrs Grumpy Stresshead. She's not nice to meet. I'm sure Daddy will testify to this.  She's a bit of a cowbag if I'm honest.  I found myself moaning to Katie that I'm fed up of clearing up after her and Daddy. She just looks at me with a disinterested look in her eyes.  She doesn't care. When asked last night who was going to clear up the ridiculous amount of dressing up clothes strewn all over her playroom floor, she pointed at me and said "you Mummy". I need to address this situation and quickly before I become a doormat to 2 children; 3 cats and a husband (poor Daddy is at the end of the list bless him).  I think we might start bringing in tidy up time before tea-time (just as Katie is starting to get to the grumpiest time of the day - is that likely to work?).  On second thoughts, maybe it's easier to tidy it up myself?

So, despite the fact that I'd barely stopped sweating like a pig perspiring after the whirling dervish of cleaning this morning (and Daddy was almost still covered in grass cuttings), the home visit went very well. Our new Social Worker seems very nice and positive, quite lovely in fact. The meeting felt very relaxed.  We have a date for panel in December (although these things do get moved so I won't be holding my breath on this just yet). Katie entertained the Social Worker with her endless chatter and general nosiness about what was in her bag and also wanting to see inside her car).  The Social Worker commented that she wasn't worried about having her chat with Katie in the next week or so!  Katie did choose today to insist that she actually wants a brother and not a sister. I had to explain to the Social Worker that the reason for this is her ongoing (and never-ending) fascination with parts of little boys anatomy. I don't think this is a good enough reason to have a brother! Thankfully the Social Worker agreed with this so we are looking at Plan A, which is to adopt Katie a little sister.  Katie told the Social Worker all about how she would play with her sister and how she might be too little to go on the trampoline with her. That was so sweet.

The cats also played their part in entertaining our visitor and showing us up by jumping on the tables. I explained that I've always had high expectations of my cats behaviour until I had Maine Coons. They are a law unto themselves so now I just spray the table off before we eat on it. Katie is rarely ill.  The Social Worker commented that a bit of dirt never hurt anyone (I hope she was talking about the cats and not the general state of the house - which was almost shining like a new pin - as much as any house does with a 4 year old around!). I was gutted that she didn't get a Q tip out and test for MRSA!

One thing that I do think is pretty awful really though is the fact that our Social Worker (who is an Agency Social Worker) had not been briefed about us at all prior to her visit. She had no idea that we were second time adopters and had not seen our previous Form F assessment. I'm going to email her my copy of our Form F so she can get up to speed. How ridiculous is that? How can she be expected to do a proper assessment without being given all the paperwork thus far? To any agencies reading this blog I beg of you to please look at your policies around using Agency Social Workers and to understand that they need information about the people they are assessing. It's not fair on the Social Workers to be put in that position (particularly as they are doing home visits on their own) and it's not fair to expect that Prospective Adoptees have to go over all the information that they have already provided to their Local Authority (and in our case a whole previous adoption). It's also not fair to only let Agency Social Workers see the information within the LA building when an assessing Social Worker employed by the LA would be able to take that information home to read.  The Social Worker should have had that information prior to her first visit so that s/he can plan her time and her assessment and know what information s/he needs to find out.

The other downside of having an Agency Social Worker is that they are only involved for the assessment and do not stay on to oversee the matching process. We have requested to be able to have the Social Worker we had during our adoption of Katie again for this part of the process because she knows us as a family. I wonder if that will happen?

So, we now have our meetings booked in and we'll see how it all pans out. Watch this space!