Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Visitor

Twice a year a heaviness creeps into my heart and my limbs. It sneaks up on me quietly, with no fanfare heralding its arrival. It catches me unawares every time and it always takes me a while to recognise that it is there. For someone as self aware as me this surprises me. Once I realise it has joined me again a wave of recognition floods through my being like meeting an unwelcome friend from my past.

"Why are you here" I whisper to myself? 

"I wasn't expecting you". 

Its arrival does not appear to be lodged within my conscious thought. I don't look at the calendar and want to feel sad and yet it comes nonetheless; 2 weeks before my birthday and as December arrives the visitor sneaks in as well.

Generally I'm a positive and optimistic person. I consider myself a person of considerable strength. I have fought and overcome some pretty difficult experiences during my life and I stand tall and firm, a bit battered around the edges but fixed with a purpose for my life.

Every year as the grey envelopes me I ponder the reason it has arrived. My answer is the reason I am writing this here because I think it may resonate with other people and especially the parents of children who have experienced difficulties in their early lives and who may have a sudden change in their behaviour for no reason that seems clear.

I think my reactionary sadness is etched into the very fibre of my being, it is not cognitive. I consciously want to enjoy Christmas and birthdays. I want to feel excited not sad.  It is partly the result of a childhood where Christmas was a time of great stress in the household and birthdays could be complicated. I think I learned not to feel excited because there wasn't excitement around me. As an adult Christmas represents a happy family. I did not have a happy wider family and TCM and I were unable to start our own, much longed for, family so the lack of excitement and sadness continued to manifest. Now I think it is something that happens every year with subliminal triggering. I don't dread Christmas. I love decorating the tree and thinking about how to make the festive period fun for the children but I am literally going through the motions. The sense of being disconnected pervades. Being disconnected was how I coped as a child and, for some reason, that disconnectedness takes over for both those festivities. 

This year it has been particularly difficult which is really upsetting because I want to enjoy my son's first Christmas with us. Unfortunately the toxicity that was my formative life has invaded my present, awakening issues that I would like to consciously disconnect from and leaving me on the floor literally shaking with fear and anger. At another time of the year the impact of these events might well leave less of a footprint on my psyche but, at a time when I'm already using all my energy to be the person I want to be, there is little energy left over to fight a battle that I don't want to fight. Last time I fought this battle I brought the walls tumbling down and I want to react in a more adult and considered way should I decide to finish the fight once and for all. I'm actively choosing not to fight this fight at the current time. I have a young family that I fought hard to have and I'm not allowing my past to threaten again all that is good in my life. To resolve the issue it would involve police involvement and a crime to be reported. I may well report that crime but it will be when I'm ready. 

I consider myself to be a relatively well adjusted person, despite many things that could impact on that.  I have a deep spirituality that has helped me ensure I want to daily explore my possibilities as a spiritual being, yet I am effected by the depression that tugs at me twice a year. I try to experience it mindfully. I acknowledge it is there when it makes itself known but I do not dwell on it. I go about my day, doing what I do and I don't let it become all of me. I speak positively to myself and try to maintain a positive perspective. This too shall pass. I will breathe with the weight on my chest until it lightens again and I will forget about it and I will no doubt be surprised again when it reappears later in the year.

One thing I do need to do however is to learn to ask the people around me to be kind to me whilst I'm feeling low. I've always struggled to ask for help. "I'll do it myself" was my childhood catchphrase. My early experience was that there was always a price to pay if you asked for help. Generally most people wouldn't even know I'm feeling this way and I'm not really one for shouting it from the rooftops. It feels like most people are busy feeling excited about Christmas (if Facebook is anything to go by) and I'm not sure they would understand really. I feel a bit like Scrooge for even daring to admit that I struggle with Christmas. I have everything I yearned for. Why am I not jumping up and down with excitement?

Believe me, I would if I could ...... 

........and I really, really want to.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Audience

I was intrigued to read that Channel 4 were showing a programme called "The Audience". It is a documentary where 50 people aka "The Audience" answer a dilemma faced by another member of the public. They follow the person around their daily life; meet members of their family and friends; pose challenging questions and eventually reach a decision regarding the dilemma. The reason I was intrigued was because the dilemma was whether a 42 year old single lady, with a degenerative condition (Klippel-Feil syndrome, a rare degenerative disorder which restricts the movement of her neck) should adopt a child or not.

I will admit I was actually quite concerned about the programme and its subject matter. Would it be sensationalist? Would it be sensitively filmed? How would the herd of people following her around come to a "verdict"? Why would a person want to ask a random group of people whether they should adopt or not? Surely this is a decision you should be able to make yourself? 

My initial questions were the obvious ones. What was this lady's medical condition? How would her medical condition impact on her ability to parent an adopted child? How strong was her support network? 
 I was also interested to know who would advise on the specifics related to adoption during the programme. 

I actually found the programme very interesting and, mostly, sensitive if a little contrived. I found myself feeling enormously supportive of Jane Mason, the lady with the dilemma. In many ways the 50 members of the panel posed questions that an assessing Social Worker might ask. I felt that Jane must have felt very emotionally exposed, which was reminiscent of our adoption process. We only had one Social Worker to discuss all the emotive details with though, Jane was faced with 50 faces. I thought she was very brave to put herself through the process. As a person Jane has had to live her life with great strength and daily challenges due to her disability, qualities that will stand her in good stead when she is a parent. She appears to have a wonderful support network. People who care about her deeply and would help her practically and emotionally on a daily basis. That is so important for any parent but doubly so (I feel) for an adoptive parent.

The programme did leave me feeling that the panel did take their responsibility seriously and that they worked hard to overcome some initial judgements about Jane's disability and sexuality, although one panel member seemed a little too homophobic to me, adding fuel another stereotype in his wake. I felt annoyed that there was a lot of pressure in the questioning about Jane's decision to pursue adoption as a single adopter although eventually there appeared to be understanding that, at 42 years of age (the same age I was when we adopted Katie), sometimes you have to get on with achieving the things you want in life even if the circumstances aren't perfect. I was also left feeling frustrated that the panel's decision was based on their perception of raising a birth child. Not an adopted child. No advice from adoption experts appeared to be accessible or given. Whilst I felt that Jane would make an excellent adoptive parent with so many experiences and skills that would potentially help a child, I felt that she needs more information on the realities and practicalities of being an adoptive parent to make her decision properly. I hope that this support has been offered to her. It was invaluable for me during our adoption process. 

I will give credit to The Audience and Channel 4, and mostly to Jane Mason. This programme was far more sensitively portrayed than I anticipated and I wish Jane the very best in her pursuit to become an adoptive parent. Next time though Channel 4 can you give the panel and the person seeking a decision some access to proper professional insight to help them ruminate their decision with all the facts? 

Monday, 2 December 2013

Dream Toys

We love Disney in our house.  I love the movies, although I still say "films".  Ever since I wept at Bambi when I was 8 years old I have loved them.  I love the music and songs and can still sing all the words to the soundtrack from The Jungle Book. I love how the films represent the changing of cultural norms over time.  Hearing the stiff upper lip narration (not to mention the cigarettes) in The Aristocrats and 101 Dalmatians reflects a time long passed.  The modern films are able to showcase newer technology but Disney have always managed to maintain wonderful story telling.  Films such as The Lion King teach children about life and death and the importance of looking after our planet.  The Toy Story films are simply brilliant, mostly because one of the writers is one of my favourite writers and directors, Joss Whedon.

It won't come as a surprise to you to learn that currently Katie's favourite Disney character is Rapunzel.  We have various Rapunzel dolls.  A doll that sings "At last I've seen the light" (although she now has less hair after Katie radically cut part of it on Christmas Day two years ago! She probably can see the light far more easily these days!);  a head-sized Rapunzel that you can make up and do her hair;  and a general Rapunzel doll.  We have read the original Rapunzel story and the Disney version over and over.  Katie is desperate to have hair as long as Rapunzel, well she was until I showed her a video of the lady who actually has the longest hair in the world and we discovered how many health problems the weight of her hair gives her.  It places much illumination of the words in the song Rapunzel signs in Tangled "I brush and brush and brush and brush my hair, wondering when will my life begin?"

Katie was very excited that Disney have brought out a Rapunzel doll, as part of their Dream Toys collection, whose hair you can brush and it changes colour and was beside herself with excitement when this very doll arrived from Argos.  She's called Disney Princess Colour Magic Change Brush Rapunzel.

Mummy was ordered to get the doll out of the box as quickly as possible!  Actually this order was easier than I was expecting.  Usually the packaging is so sealed that you need military grade tools to access the toy but the external packaging was removed without even the need for scissors, which was a nice change.  Scissors were required to access the doll inside however, although I probably could have retrieved her without scissors if I had a spare half an hour and wanted to lose my nails.  With any toy the mission is to get the toy up and running as quickly as is humanly possible, preferably before your child internally combusts with excitement and frustration.  We almost managed this although we didn't read the instructions fully enough so delays were experienced.

This particular Rapunzel has a magic brush that changes parts of her hair from blonde to pink when you run the brush over it.  On first reading it appeared that you filled the brush with cold water.  We circumnavigated how to open the brush and fill it with water and rushed to brush Rapunzel's hair but nothing happened.  Not a trace of pink in sight.  I re-read the instructions and read (in the small print of course) that crushed ice works best in the brush.  We quickly refilled the brush with crushed ice (because we are lucky enough to have a fridge/freezer that makes it all quickly for us) and, Hey Presto, pink stripes appeared.  Katie was delighted and spent half an hour brushing her hair.  She then realised (without my knowledge I might add) that you can make her hair turn really pink if you run the hair under the cold tap.  I don't think this is what Disney had in mind for the toy though but kids will be kids and they do like to explore all the permutations that a toy has to offer.  Rapunzel has now had to dry off on the radiator on many occasions.  She seems to be holding up to it all though. 

Katie's verdict of Rapunzel?


Pip is far less discerning in his choice of toys at the moment.  Being 13 months old means trying to get into as many cupboards as possible and pulling everything out of the drawers rather than playing with the lovely toys that fill the playroom.  Pip was happy to receive from Argos a Fisher Price/Disney Baby Play Pals Bambi toy that accompanies his Disney musical train set. Obviously I had a hand in choosing the Bambi due to my love of the little fella.  This toy is aimed at young children aged 6 - 36 months.

I will say that Bambi was much harder to get out of the box than Rapunzel.  I'm not sure if the manufacturers have seen how easily my little monkey can get into things and were taking precautions but scissor support was required to access him. 

For children wanting a toy that's all singing and all dancing then this isn't the toy for them. I like these toys because they can grow with a young child.  A baby can enjoy holding the toy; feeling the texture and moving the legs about.  An older child can play with the train set and interact with the toys, supporting the development of creative play.  Pip is a bit in between these stages at the moment.  He did have a little play with Bambi and particularly enjoyed his current favourite game of flinging the toy as far as he could.  I think he might be a bowler when he grows up.  He can certainly fling his toys a considerable distance.  I will say that the toy has held up to lots of flinging about so is very durable.  I've also noticed Katie (and some of her friends) playing with Bambi and his friends as well and they are now mostly aged 6, suggesting that Bambi and his friends might be hanging about in our playroom for some years to come.

Pip's Verdict?

 If you want to find out more about the toys above then click here for the full list of the Christmas Dream Toys available at Argos. 

All the views contained in this review are mine, Katie and Pip's (as much as he is able to give a considered opinion at 13 months old).