Saturday, 27 December 2014

A Rookie Error!

I always find it hilarious when I attend an adoption event and I'm billed as an "experienced adopter". I'm not entirely sure what I'm experienced in really. The adoption process? An experienced adoptive parent?

Well I'm not so sure it's the latter, not by any stretch of the imagination. I made an adoptive parent rookie error on Christmas Day.

In my defence, awareness of the issue that the mistake relates to is relatively new in our family and I've not really wrapped my head around how to manage it. Regular parents would read what happened and wonder what all the fuss was about. After all, isn't that actually in the parenting 101 handbook as an example of positive parenting? It's still the default position for me and I know I'll struggle with how to remodel it.  All I can say is forgive me, I'm still transitioning from the regular parenting handbooks and venturing into the more specialised adoption parenting books. 

So what happened that had such a devastating effect? What was this rookie error? 

Well I, quite simply, paid Katie a compliment. I congratulated her on her wonderful behaviour to that point on Christmas Day and reflected on how nice it had been. We were walking back from the park (well Katie was riding her bike very nicely and I was walking along with Pip holding his little hand ) and before I could edit my words, I'd already said it. She had been wonderfully behaved and we had had a fairly relaxed day. I'd pitched all the Christmas presents right for both children and they were delighted and so I was feeling a little smug. We'd had a nice time at the park and I was feeling chilled and Katie and Pip were lovely company. I thought it would be nice to tell her how I was feeling and now proud of her I was.

Bad idea and the impact was virtually immediate. 

Within 5 minutes she started riding off and then she disappeared around the corner and didn't return. Now we weren't far from home and it was very quiet but I'm pretty strict about roads and being out of sight. She is only 7 after all. She didn't come back when I called her. A knot of fear clutched at my stomach. I couldn't chase after her because I was walking with Pip, very slowly as he has short little toddler legs. After what seemed like ages she appeared back with a defiant look on her face. I reminded her that she had to stay where I could see her but again she rode off. 

Ever since then she's been on a mission to be as annoying and rude as possible. It's like she is winding herself up into a frenzy. She had a maniacal pitch to her laughter on Boxing Day and moved herself to hysteria within seconds of something being wrong. A total nosedive. 

To be fair Boxing Day was a mixed bag of behaviour but it turned on a dime from acceptable to awful. She helped me beautifully when I was making Bubble and Sqpueak for lunch. I gave her a very grown up job of cutting up the left over roast potatoes and parsnips and she did a wonderful job and seemed very proud of herself. She asked if I'd given her the job because she was so grown up with the knife and I confirmed this's she glowed with pride. She helped taste everything as we were cooking (because she'd said she didn't want B&S so my cunning plan was to get her to help me and taste it as we went along. That worked brilliantly until we sat down to eat when she refused to eat it citing that she didn't like it! 

"Errrrr sweety you just ate some whilst we were cooking and said it was lovely!"

She did eat some eventually after she'd said she was too full up to eat it and I'd pointed out that there would be no popcorn whilst watching the film after lunch as she was full up! 

The rest of the day was a strain and Katie went to bed undear a cloud of silly decision making including tantrums and hyperness and finally going into her brother's bedroom after I'd said goodnight to her. She put her hot water bottle and new FurReal Daisy in him whilst he slept and then said she wouldn't go to sleep until she had them back again.  She's not allowed in Pip's room after lights out so she was looking for mischief and was one step ahead of me. It didn't help that I was feeling exhausted and just couldn't find the energy to do much at all. 

Today I was at desperation point by 10am so I stuck the kids in the car and took them to a nearby miniature steam railway where we rode the trains and played in the park and soaked in the puddles (Pip ended up knee deep in a ditch!). The change of scenery and a bit of fun seems to have helped and Katie seems to have blown off some attitude whilst we were out. I'm learning to use a reward instead of a punishment to turn difficult days around because reprimand just seems to make things worse. I'm also learning, albeit slowly, that compliments seem to trigger something in Katie that requires her to then sabotage the positivity. It feels wrong not to compliment a child when they are doing well but I'm learning not to compliment her behaviour. Instead I can own my own feelings and say how happy something has made me or how much I've enjoyed her company. 

I feel that I seem a lot of time lately correcting Katie generally. In fact I feel like all I do is tell her off. I know that's not helping but some of her choices are very silly. Pip ended up getting a nose bleed Chrustmas Day after she pushed him over after we'd removed her to calm her down. She was incredibly anxious that she'd seriously hurt him. I'm not sure if she was worried that she'd hurt him or worried that she could get into trouble. She was fixated on what might happen if he needed to go into hospital and what would I say had happened. She wound herself up into a total frenzy and I think all those stress hormones are taking the time to settle. Pip is ok so there is no need to worry.

So yet another Christmas with Katie causing arguments. On the plus side we did make it to 4pm which I think is a personal best. Maybe next year will be better and maybe I'll learn to rephrase my praise!

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas Wishes!

Sending Christmas wishes to everyone! I hope that wherever you are you have friends or family to share it with. Thank you for reading my blog and sharing your experiences over 2014. I look forward to sharing more with you over the coming year and hope that 2015 is a kind year to you. 

Gem xxxx

Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Crazy!

There are times in life when the crazy strikes. The crazy is a set of external events that can fall very heavily upon you. It can swoop in suddenly or it can creep in, slowly building momentum until, like a tornado, you find yourself battening down the hatches and wondering what will be left when it passes. It can be an inner crazy that is yours alone or it can be a shared crazy, one where the impact is also external to yourself. It can strike at the very heart of your family unit, leaving you floundering and unable to function well together. Being able to function well together would probably help beat the crazy back more quickly but, because each person is deep in their inner stress, it's difficult to synch and be in the same book, let alone on the same page. 

The other problem with crazy is that it is contagious. It seeps into the pores and fabric of the home waiting for a moment when its next victim is tired or emotional. Then it become endemic and you can't pinpoint where it started. Tempers are heightened and sensitive. Voices are tense and angry and raised. Patience runs thin very easily and the family snaps at each other like hungry crocodiles. 

It takes huge effort to step back and reflect and take action against the crazy. Slights are still felt and can pull you back down into the quagmire. With energy running low it can require super human emotional strength to crawl back out again and to offer a hand to others still swimming in the deep. You may start to question why you are offering a hand and it is tempting to just focus inwardly at your own inner turmoil. Yet someone has to find that strength and try and pull the rest of the family to safety before the vortex spins too fast and makes rescue impossible. The problem with a rescue mission though is people have to desire rescue. It isn't something you can force.

This year has been one of the toughest emotionally for a very long time. The crazy just keeps on coming our way and the effort required to keep our heads physically and emotionally above water often feels too great. The weight of grief at the loss of Pops and responsibility for Nana plus the house build and the children drives a wedge within the family impacting on all parts of our life. It will ease. It will pass, I know, but it will leave its legacy. That legacy can be seen already in the tension in us and between us and now that spills over to the children. The challenging behaviour of the children then adds another layer of stress and tension and so it continues. This Christmas feels the saddest we've experienced in many, many years. It is only one day I tell myself, yet the day is filled with the legacy of so many other experiences and feelings. I feel like I'm fighting to make it special for the children yet am being pulled back all the time. I've done my best, that I can say, but the day will be a challenge.

My wish for 2015 is to finish our house build and get back to the safety and security of our home to regroup. We have had so much to deal with in a house we don't call home which induces vulnerability. I know I need that feeling of security and space again and to feel my roots resettle and bring strength and to nurture me. We won't be home until at least April though and I fear we will, as a family, limp slowly and numbly towards that date. The crazy isn't showing signs of pulling back and I am fearful for how long I can hold everything together for everyone. I will continue to do my best and hope that my best is sufficient but I'm so very emotionally tired that it feels like a daunting task. My attention is required constantly by so many different people that I feel totally over-stimulated and hyper-aroused. Time is a precious commodity and there is little of it to spare for seemingly frivolous things like fun and relaxation yet these are the very things that will nurture us and enable us to maintain perspective.  It's a conundrum for which the answer remains obscure and is heard differently by each of us.

In the meantime I will continue to beat back the crazy with my chocolate stick and hope that it starts to pull back and give us all breathing space. 

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Knots and Biscuits

I'm sitting downstairs at 6:45am, a woman on the brink of losing her temper so I've come downstairs and made a cup of tea and am dunking gluten-free Rich Tea biscuits to feed the knot that is in my stomach.

It has been yet another early wake up call.  Pip has been waking at around 4:30am-5am most mornings since going into his Big Boy Bed.  I think he must move into a lighter part of his sleep cycle and whereas once he might have fallen back to sleep whilst still in the cot, now he has the freedom to get out of bed he's stumbling into our bed.

It wasn't Pip who woke up early today.  Well not initially. Initially it was Katie but if Katie is awake then the whole planet has to be awake.

I suspect Katie woke up early because we had an awful bedtime last night.

I was supposed to be going to my Reiki healing group.  It's an early evening start, 6:30pm, so I had organised the children to have early baths and Pip was due to go to bed early.  Katie was having a treat and was allowed to go back downstairs after her bath.  That all seems sensible doesn't it?  Well it did until a very tired and not very well Pip decided he didn't want to go to sleep.  That's OK to a point.  I sat in with him until he was slowing down and TCM was around and about with Katie.  He came up to relieve me so that I could get ready, albeit a little later than scheduled but still workable. I got ready and went downstairs to see a snuggly Katie under the blanket watching a film.

Katie has been stealing sweets and biscuits etc for quite some time, I don't have a problem with children having sweets and biscuits in moderation and would happily let her have a biscuit or two each day but the problem is that more than 2 biscuits will make her totally and utterly hyper so we've had to put a serious embargo on sugar products after 5pm.  Katie when she is hyper is unmanageable so she was on a pinky promise that she would simply sit and watch the film. A pinky promise is a big deal  in our house.  It is something that WILL happen.  So I went to kiss her goodbye and caught my breath as I smelled chocolate.  I then saw the tale-tale smear of brown around her mouth.

"What are you eating Katie?" I asked.

She sort of triumphantly pulled back the blanket to reveal the two large bars of dark chocolate I had bought for baking earlier yesterday.  Thankfully she'd been nibbling from one only and also thankfully it was very dark chocolate so she hadn't eaten too much and wasn't too sugary.  She knew though that being caught stealing would mean certain bed.

"Right then it's time for bed Katie" I said.  I also added for the first time that I was very disappointed by her choice because we had trusted her and she had let us down after pinky promising that she would watch the film and not go into the kitchen.  I don't often say things like that to be honest but I'm so fed up with it.  All the other sweet things were on high, locked away, so we take precautions.  Katie will do things like take all the Frubes from the fridge and eat all of them.  You can tell because suddenly she will lose the plot and start running around like a crazy puppy,giggling madly like a person possessed and will not do anything she is asked.  She is literally off her face.  We can't bring any sweets into the house without them being stolen and wrappers found under the cushions or behind the TV.  I am mindful of the reasons why because I was an unhappy child and I used to steal biscuits to numb the pain - see how this blog post started?  Nothing much has changed for me except I don't have to steal them anymore.  I'm not sure that Katie is numbing pain though. I think Katie is doing something because she wants the chocolate or sweets and her impulse control currently is at an all time low.

Me insisting on bedtime led Katie to have the mother of all tantrums which of cause set Pip off as well.  I won't let an argument go out of fear of waking another child in the house because I feel that leads to an air of facilitation when the other child will know that they can get away with things because the parents are fearful of waking up the other child. Katie went to bed and I got changed out of my Reiki clothes (I don't have specific Reiki clothes but I had changed to go out) and went to sit in with Pip until he fell asleep.  I was so cross because I've not made it to Reiki in a while due of Pip's new sleeping arrangements and the impact on the rest of the house (as you can see from this post TCM can't simply sit with Pip whilst he goes to sleep and let Katie watch TV or do anything on her own because she will most definitely utilise that time to do something she isn't allowed to do) and I really need the time-out for myself. We can't put a stair-gate on Pip's door because the frame isn't wide enough in our temporary house.

I gave Katie a goodnight cuddle, after she had stomped downstairs to remind TCM that he had promised I would give her a kiss and a cuddle (I had thought she was asleep at that point in my defence). I told her that I loved her very much but that there are rules that we all follow and that she would be getting no sweets for the next week as a result of her stealing again.  Whilst I am sympathetic to the emotions she is having she really needs to learn that stealing is not acceptable.  I am hopeful that this is just another childhood phase that she will grow out of and we will continue to work on whatever emotions are underlying.  As I said previously I really don't think Katie is stealing to feed emotions per say, I think she is stealing the sweets because she likes them and she feels that she doesn't have to do a single thing that we have asked her to do.  Having said that I feel we really need some guidance on all this so I hope our referral to Post Adoption Support is actually helpful. I'm not holding my breath though.

I did the ironing instead.

So predictably Katie woke up at 5:25am with a voice as loud as a fog-horn.  I tried to shhhh her into our bed for a cuddle but she was wriggling and chatting and fidgeting instantly.  I lay there and counted about 2 minutes until I heard a familiar voice yell out from the other bedroom...


Pip was awake too.  We, stupidly, attempted to bring them both in for a cuddle. Pip will do this happily and generally does most mornings but Katie was poking him and prodding him and singing and generally refusing to be quiet when asked.  Eventually TCM put her back in her room amidst screams and shouts but any hope of snoozing was past.  I felt the familiar knot tighten up in my stomach and thought how fed up I am of our house being The Katie Show.  I'm just exhausted currently and my reserves are gone so I got up to make drinks and wash up last night's dishes which I was too exhausted to do after the ironing last night and thought I would make myself a cuppa and have a few biccies and a little writing time to calm myself down.

So here I sit. A bag of knots, feeling tearful and overwhelmed by everything going on in my life currently and dunking my biscuits (well actually they've all gone now but I'm sticking with my metaphor) and wondering what the hell to do about it all.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Big Bangs and Birthdays!

It's a common theme amongst adopters that birthdays and other holiday celebrations seem to bring about a change in our children's behaviour, not for the better sadly. Katie is no exception to this rule. I'm not sure if it's the excitement that leads to an overload in her sensory processes or something more deeply rooted but I do know it means we're in for a stressful time.

We saw some elements of a heightening of rude and aggressive and very hyper behaviour around Pip's birthday. A Bonfire Night party at our local toddler group caused a massive shift in Katie, we think from the fireworks. Katie has always been unsure about fireworks. Come to think of it, as I write this I am aware that Katie is unsure of most new things and experiences. She copes well at school and happily goes to after-school club and to swimming and gymnastics but she has a lot of difficulties with new foods and textures and, a toddler she struggled with loud noises to the point of tears if she felt something was too loud. 

At the bonfire party she had a lovely time eating the breadstick sparklers (breadsticks dipped in honey and sprinkles) and played with a school friend without any anxiety. When it came the time to head outside she fascinated by the bonfire and the fireworks, as was Pip who thought they were epic. All we've heard from him since bonfire night is "Mama? Bang bang?". Katie became quite hyper aroused by them though. I think she enjoyed them, for the most part, but found the noise levels and the close proximity of the fireworks a bit too over-whelming.  She had a massive tantrum at the car when we went home and when we arrived home her behaviour became incredibly aggressive and hyper. She couldn't seem to calm down. I'm wondering if the internal shock that you get when you jump at the bang sets off the hyper-arousal for her (plus the sugar she had consumed in the breadstick sparklers). 

Katie's birthday comes hot on the heels of Bonfire Night, as does Kip's and then our Familversary (the anniversary of Katie's adoption). Christmas isn't that long afterwards too so it feels like there is a lot of excitement and not enough calming down time at this end of the year.  With everything else going on in our lives at the current time it is hard to find the energy to think therapeutically. This is why I enjoy writing this blog because things start to occur to me and make sense as I type.  Just typing this I am seeing a link between the sugar intake and the fireworks and the impact inside her body. She didn't have time to internally settle after Bonfire Night before she had Kip's birthday party which I'm sure must bring up all sorts of issues for her. Her birthday was a big excitement for her. We only had a small party this year for 7 of her friends at the house we're currently renting. A lady from the local nail and beauty salon gave them all tattoos and painted their nails and did their hair. We made bracelets and played games. I made lots of loom bands for presents which were a big hit. She had a lovely time but kicked off big time at bedtime because she wanted to stay up and practice her Heeleys which wasn't unexpected but still spoilt the end of the day considerably. Since then we've had lots of repeats of this aggressive behaviour including again after a firework display this weekend to celebrate the turning on of our local Christmas lights. I can't see a trigger all of the time although have the odd moment where I can see a clear pathway towards the meltdown i.e. fireworks.  She speaks to both myself and TCM like we're something vile she's stepped in nearly all the time and escalations seem to happen swiftly and without warning. She's also started copying Pip's behaviour including biting which is frustrating. Interestingly I've also noticed that Pip also seems to get hyper-aroused when in a busy setting such as a toddler group.

One thing that is wonderful to watch is the development of the relationship between Katie and Pip. I've said before that Pip worships the air that Katie breathes and she finds it hard to ignore such adoration and has started to respond well to him.  She takes him off probably to indoctorine him into all sorts of mischief.  He loves playing hide and seek with her and dressing up in her dress-up clothes. I find myself smiling when I see him beaming at her and see her warming up inside.  It gives me hope that they will have a strong bond through their lives.

Much of this behaviour is fairly typical of 6/7 year olds as far as I can tell but I'm not sure the continuation of the behaviour is the same as her peers. The diva-esque attitude is rife amongst her friends so I'm trying to separate out what is regular behaviour and what is something more. I met yesterday with a Social Worker for the first part of our post-adoption assessment because I think Katie needs an Educational Psychologist's or CAMHS assessment. I want to understand her cognitive processing and assess for hyper-arousal. I don't think she has ADHD but there is a BM link of ODD which I've always understood to be environmentally caused but I'd like to just rule that out.

As Christmas approaches this year I want to try and stay mindful of over-stimulation and how best to manage the holiday season with that in the forefront of my mind. It will be difficult to slow the fizz down though I think.  We have a history of doing a homemade advent calendar for Katie and she is excited about that already so it's not something I can eliminate from our holiday build up. I think I will just have to minimise excitement after school and keep things as calm as it is possible to whilst living in such close proximity to each other as we are currently.Christmas will be a different affair this year as we deal with the death of TCM's father recently and are currently working towards his mother moving into residential care after a sudden dip in her mental capacity due to the Alzheimer's.They have spent most Christmases at our house recently although there is a small part of me that is relieved we won't have to deal with the aggressiveness that Nana displayed towards everyone last Christmas. It's very sad though and the thought of them not being here feels wrong.  All that coupled with the house build I will admit that I'm finding it all a bit too much currently. This is a familiar moan just recently and there is little let up and little support from family.  I have recently engaged a Childminder for Pip and he will be going there one day a week. It broke my heart to leave him yesterday for the first time but I think it will be better for him that constantly having to visit Nana.  He's with a lovely lady and there will be other children to play with. It will also give me a chance to spend a little time with Katie on her own after school on that day and we're planning a weekly girly Costa treat for hot chocolate.

If you have tips for keeping things festive but not too wild and exciteable I would love to hear about them. I'm keeping the Bach Flower Remedies close at hand to help support everyone's emotions over the festive period but would welcome any ideas and suggestions you might have. How do you manage the build up?

Monday, 10 November 2014

Big Boy Bed!

I'm not sure I'm ready for this yet. Katie was three and a half before we decided it was time for her to transform the cotbed into the bed. She never showed one inkling towards climbing out. I was warned it would be different with a boy. 

It was! It is!

My, only just, 2 year old little man has been honing his climbing skills for the past month and he breeched the cot wall two days ago when he was resisting having a nap. My reward for insisting he have a sleep was that he climbed over the side and marched out the bedroom door. My heart sank. No more would I be able to contain him for a nap. It was time for the Big Boy Bed, if only for his safety. It's certainly not for my sanity. 

You have to admire the logic of the universe. It lets me finally get Katie sorted again at bedtime and, just as we were starting to enoy being able to put the children to bed with ease, Pip learns to climb out of his cot so now needs a bed which he can climb out of with no hassle at all. This obviously means we're back to Bedtime 101 again.

I guess it's a good excuse to drink wine!

And I am a pro at bedtime these days. I barely break a sweat with a two hour bedtime battle although I am pretty fed up with being back here again.

Bring it on.....

So today. I transformed the cot into this....

I indulged in a little soppy, sad moment as I said goodbye to my baby Pip and acknowledged this will be the last time I have a baby in a cot. I do love cots. Children are so adorable in a cot. Pip is growing up so very fast. My baby is very much a toddler now.


So how was our first bedtime?

I was ready for battle. I put Pip to bed and waited outside his door for the inevitable thud, patter, patter, patter followed by the door handle turning and the door creaking open. We did that 12 times before I changed tactics and sat on the chair in Pip's room, in the dark, and closed my eyes and did my yoga breathing. Pip isn't yet brave enough to get out of bed when I'm sitting in the room so he closed his little eyes and was snoring within 5 minutes. 

I crept out of the room on tiptoe, slowly turning the creaky door handle and sneaking outside onto the landing. 

Katie, TCM and I did marshmallow high fives outside his room and cursed the noisy fireworks that I was terrified would wake him.

It was short lived though because a little body pattered into our room at 4am. His bed was too cold to send him back into it so he came in with us. After a lengthy 3/4 hour of excitement at having cuddles he finally fell asleep until 7am. I have added a full sized duvet to his bed tonight and tucked him in tight to try and counteract that issue.  After the excitement of Katie's birthday party today however it took me 2 hours to get both children to sleep with most of those 2 hours sat in Pip's room, in the dark, trying not to fall asleep myself and listening to my stomach rumbling. It was like a comedy of errors. The cats started pawing at the door and Katie kept calling me. Pip sat gazing up at me with his big blue eyes, taking it all in. If I left the room, he padded out. I tried laying on the bed with him which he thought was great and he kept kissing my hand. Sitting in the chair seems to work best. I was wishing I could have my iPad after the 2 hours. I was fit to combust by the end of it all. We finally ate dinner at 10pm!

So that's that. The cot has gone. I wasn't quite ready for it but my son moves at a sprint and, as usual, I'm trying to keep up with him. I foresee some testing times ahead as he adjusts to the bed. If you have any tips for getting such a little one to stay in bed I'd be delighted to hear them. I guess strapping him down is unacceptable?

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Becoming Four: Adopting Siblings #NAW2014

We do love the Otters!
It's 11:33pm and I've finally sat down in bed to try and write a post for National Adoption Week 2014 (NAW). I should be asleep. I'd like to have been in bed at least over an hour ago but life as a family of four is busy. Add to that a house build and caring for my Mother-In-Law who has Alzheimer's and you'll probably understand why I'm writing this post at 11:33pm. It's important to me to be involved in NAW each year because adoption has changed my life in so many ways and I've always hoped that my blog would provide an insight into adoption for people who are considering adoption.  This year the theme for NAW is siblings and it's a subject close to my heart.

There are so many sibling groups of children who are waiting to be adopted. They are termed "hard to place" because adopters often want to adopt a child as young as possible and they generally only want to adopt one child. The children are often older than the majority of adopters are considering, Often they are separated from each other or they have to wait longer to be adopted or they hope for a long term foster care placement so they aren't passed from pillar to post. I have two Brothers who I don't know (due to stupid parental decisions during my childhood) and I know that the longing for a relationship with them is one that never leaves me.

I will put my hand up and admit it. We were those adopters. We were open to the idea of two children but we were concerned about our coping skills and experience and there were many scare stories about adopting older children and we wanted a younger child.  I wouldn't change how things have worked out for us for all the tea in China but I will just say I know a lot more now than I did back then and I would consider things very differently now if I were a prospective adopter chatting to my Social Worker about the children we hoped to adopt.

Introductions with Katie
When we were matched with Katie in December 2009, who was 2 years old, there was also the prospect of a sibling (Kip) who was a newborn at that time, joining us in the near future. This seemed like the ideal prospect. We had time to settle into our new lives as parents and then introduce another child. Our family would be complete. Something didn't feel right for me though. I wasn't sure what felt wrong but I was deeply worried about how Katie would cope with a sibling arriving so soon after her own arrival. Moving to us was a big thing for her because she was incredibly happy in her foster care placement.  We were anxious to make sure that nothing impacted on her attachment to us. Attachment takes a lot of time to deepen and it's different for every child.  Katie's transition to us was easier than the Social Workers predicted but there was an attachment to transfer from her Foster Carer to me (primarily) and we were anxious that nothing disrupted that.  Interestingly (although it was more of an anxiety at the time) I also didn't feel a connection to pictures of the baby, Kip, in the way I had with Katie. As the months ticked by the niggle grew into a real anxiety. I was worried about how Katie would cope and also how I would cope. I carried with me a lot of anxieties about parenting siblings due to a difficult childhood myself.  I grew up being told never to have more than one child because it "ruins your life".  It took me a long time to realise that the voice whispering those words to me was not my own inner voice but was that of my Mother's.

As fate would have it, I was instrumental in helping to find Kip's Birth Father. Katie, Kip and Pip all have different Birth Fathers.  I worked for an agency that specialised in supporting young people and was able to give our Social Worker advice about how she might find him. Kip's Birth Father fought for custody and Kip now lives with him and his FiancĂ©e along with his Step Brother and newborn Brother. I now feel strongly that my anxiety about Kip was because I knew Kip wasn't meant to live with us and the timing wasn't right for Katie.  I am very relieved that Kip is now where he was meant to be. Kip is very much a part of our lives though. He lives only a few minutes away from us and we see him regularly. He seems happy and well adjusted and we have a wonderful relationship with his Father.  It all feels right, if a little unusual.

Introductions with Pip
Time went on and TCM and I felt the time was right for Katie to have a sibling at home and we went through the adoption process for a second time. We initially were seeking to adopt a sister for Katie. Another toddler, just as Katie was when we adopted her.  It was during this process that we were notified of the imminent arrival of Pip and asked if we would adopt him when he was born. This changed all our plans but this time it all felt right and Pip moved in with us, aged 7 months, in May 2013.  Katie and Pip are the image of each other, yet Kip looks more like my Nephew.

Fast forwarding to where we are now 18 months later. Katie turns 7 this week. It always seems poignant that her birthday (and Kip's) falls within National Adoption Week. Pip turned 2 about 2 weeks ago. Life is noisy and hectic and both children are like whirling dervishes. Katie appears to be coming through what has been a very challenging period since Pip joined us and also meeting Kip for the first time a year and a bit ago, reinforcing my fear that she might not have coped with another sibling so close to her initial placement with us. She is sleeping well again and seems to be accepting that Pip is here to stay.  That acceptance has been a massive challenge for her, and us, but it's wonderful to see their love and familiarity growing for each other and see Katie relaxing into our new life as a family of four. Pip is getting older and becoming more fun for Katie to play with and, due to Katie's emotional regression, they meet each other age-wise somewhere in the middle. Pip is embracing being 2. His nickname at home is Hercules because he is so broad and brawny and like a rugby player and powers through everything in his way. He takes life at full speed.  He utterly adores his big Sister whom he thinks is the best thing since sliced bread and he loves seeing his older Brother too. I often joke that we are a modern, adopted, blended family. We truly are a family made by adoption in so many ways. We now have both sets of Foster Carers in our extended family as well as Kip and his family.  It's strange and I think I would have said you were crazy if you'd told me four years ago that this is how it would be, but it all works.  

The children love washing up!
It has been hard though. It is hard still. There are many daily challenges that we spend a lot of time trying to understand and parent. We get it wrong on a daily basis and I regularly feel stressed and out of my comfort zone but I love being with the children irrespective of that.  Our children are bright and funny and intelligent and loving but both were exposed to drugs and alcohol in utero and have both experienced a huge move in their lives from Foster homes they were happy within. This can bring challenges for them, and us.  Both are emotionally behind their peers. Katie is emotionally delayed and often regresses to a 3 year old so we have to remember to parent her age appropriately rather than chronologically. She is doing well at school and in her hobbies though and her more negative behaviour is mostly saved for her homelife. Pip could be slightly speech delayed although is now embracing his words more and more daily and I'm not overly worried. He seems more babyish than most of his peers however although passed his 2 year check with flying colours, speech aside. 

I am grateful that my children have each other and also their middle Brother. I think that the sibling link is so very important. I worry about what will happen though when the phone rings and we hear about sibling number 4. We want to keep all the children together but cannot base our lives totally on the decisions of other people.  I know I am going to find it very hard when that call comes because I don't think I would be able to offer the best home to another child or the one after that or the one after that etc and I know we will have to say "no" at some point. These are issues that many adopters will potentially face and it's important to be aware of it. 

Waiting for the cows
Although I'd like life to be a lot less complicated than it currently is I wouldn't change our life as it is. We were blessed to have two amazing children who adore each other (that doesn't mean they play together like little angels though - I can't misrepresent the truth!). I'm so pleased we've been able to keep the children together. I think it will be so important in the future for them all because siblings will be around a lot longer than us parents and I hope that they will continue to be a part of each others lives throughout their lives and offer each other love and support.

All I would say to prospective adopters is to discuss siblings with your Social Worker. Be open to discussions. Consider an older child as part of a sibling group.  Ask to speak to adopters who have adopted older children or sibling groups and get an honest picture. Ultimately go with what feels right for you though.  All sorts of adopters are needed so don't feel that you might not be suitable for reasons such as being single; or being gay; or for cultural, faith or race reasons.

I'm linking up with Coram this year for #NAW14 and I'm sharing some of their videos made with adopters to help raise awareness of the option of adopting siblings.  There will also be lots of Twitter chatter at #NAW2014 so do check it out and read all the other blogs that people will be sharing this week.  Many of the blogs written by other adopters are linked on the left hand side of my blog.  Do also take a wander over to The Adoption Social  where you will find a veritable plethora of information and resources and other adopters who are writing and sharing their experiences.  Here is the video from Paul and Graham who have adopted siblings through Coram.  

I chuckled when I watched this video particularly as lovely holidays and lie-ins are definitely a thing of the past here too.  Like Paul and Graham we wouldn't change our lives or go back to life before the children.  Katie and Pip enrich our lives in ways we could never imagine before we adopted and I'm glad I didn't listen to my Mother and only have one child.

Is Adoption an Option for You?

If you want to find out more about adoption generally here are some helpful links to get you started:

Gem x

Sunday, 12 October 2014

The Lion Sleeps Tonight!

I've been the first to say how stressful life currently is and that will be ongoing for the foreseeable future but there has been one mammoth turn about over the last two weeks at home and that is Katie's bedtime.

You will remember I lamented in my blog post A Stakeout and some Bad News about the lack of sleep my little one has been getting due to her refusal to go to bed. Tales of tantrums and aggression; of bedding and punches thrown at me; of an inability to regulate her emotions due to her extreme fatigue. All because she didn't want to go to bed. From March until September 2014 Katie rarely slept before 10-11pm each night. We shouted, we argued, we bribed, we ignored, we instigated consequences, we despaired, I cried. All to no avail.

But there is indeed news to report. And good news it is. My most recent campaign has finally born fruit and once more Katie sleeps.... *humming The Lion Sleeps Tonight with a little dance and a huge smile on my face*

I tell you, with everything that is currently going on this is like winning the lottery because the knock on effects of Katie sleeping are wonderful. A huge reduction in tantrums and quicker regulation of extreme emotions are the two biggest outcomes plus my loving little girl is making a slow comeback. She holds my hand and wants hugs again. I need those things, especially at the moment.

So how did this turnabout come about you might be asking?

Well it's all about the hook really isn't it? What does Katie want more than to get out of bed repeatedly every night? What is so important to her that it will over-ride her need to take no notice of my pleas to stay in her bed?

It was a T-shirt!

Yes you did hear me correctly. It was a T-Shirt. 

Not just any T-Shirt of course. This is a special one. This is one for her after school Musical Theatre Club. It is pink and, if that wasn't motivation enough, it will have her name inscribed on the back. 

Oh boy did she want that T-Shirt!

Oh boy did I want her to stay in bed!

So I told her she could have the pink T-Shirt with her name in the back if she could earn 7 consecutive tokens for going to bed and staying in bed. The rules were clear. She was not allowed out of bed after lights out. To help focus her attention I sat outside her bedroom door every night, on the floor, up until Pops died. She also had interim prizes of stickers for her Frozen sticker album which I posted into her post box each night. She can gain a maximum of four packets for amazing bedtime behaviour and this number diminishes depending on any minor or major silliness. We had two false starts where she got to Day 4 and floundered. We started again from Day 1 each time and on her third attempt she succeeded. 7 nights going to bed and staying in bed and going to sleep.

Interestingly, after Pops died it started to become untenable to sit outside her bedroom door because I had a funeral to plan and in between caring for Nana and rebuilding our house plus looking after the children I have very little time to do anything else so I needed to evenings to plan so one night I said to Katie that I was going downstairs to eat my dinner but I would come back up to her afterwards. I said she could read with her reading light on in the interim. When I returned, nearly an hour later she was asleep. It was 8.30pm! I almost fell over in shock! The next night I tried the same tactic. Same result. The next night the same thing happened again. Now I do this every night. We do stories and kisses and I leave her reading or completing her Key Stage 2 Phonics Book and every night she is asleep when I return. She falls asleep with her little battery operated clip-on Hello Kitty reading light still on. It clearly comforts her and enables her to feel safe. Who cares? It works! She sleeps! She's been asleep by 8.30pm for nearly 2 weeks now. The bags under her eyes are looking much smaller and she is starting to look much healthier again.  It is wonderful!

I tell you, if I were a dog, this is the best bone to be thrown! 6 months of bedtime hell and all it needed was a pink T-Shirt, some stickers and a night light.  I'm very proud of Katie for making the decision to participate as well and turn everything around. I couldn't have done this without her finally deciding that bed is an OK place to be.

Money well spent I say!

I'll leave you with this little gem..


Sunday, 5 October 2014

Waterbugs and Dragonflies

Down below the surface of a quiet pond lived a little colony of water bugs. They were a happy colony, living far away from the sun. For many months they were very busy, scurrying over the soft mud on the bottom of the pond. They did notice that every once in a while one of their colony seemed to lose interest in going about. Clinging to the stem of a pond lily it gradually moved out of sight and was seen no more.

"Look!" said one of the water bugs to another. "One of our colony is climbing up the lily stalk. Where do you think she is going?" 

Up, up, up it slowly went.  Even as they watched, the water bug disappeared from sight. Its friends waited and waited but it didn't return.

"That's funny!" said one water bug to another.
"Wasn't she happy here?" asked a second.
"Where do you suppose she went?" wondered a third.

No one had an answer. They were greatly puzzled. Finally one of the water bugs, a leader in the colony, gathered its friends together. "I have an idea. The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk must promise to come back and tell us where he or she went and why."

"We promise", they said solemnly.

One spring day, not long after, the very water bug who had suggested the plan found himself climbing up the lily stalk. Up, up, up, he went. Before he knew what was happening, he had broken through the surface of the water and fallen onto the broad, green lily pad above.

When he awoke, he looked about with surprise. He couldn't believe what he saw. A startling change had come to his old body. His movement revealed four silver wings and a long tail. Even as he struggled, he felt an impulse to move his wings. The warmth of the sun soon dried the moisture from the new body. He moved his wings again and suddenly found himself up above the water. He had become a dragonfly!!

Swooping and dipping in great curves, he flew through the air. He felt exhilarated in the new atmosphere. 

By and by the new dragonfly lighted happily on a lily pad to rest. Then it was that he chanced to look below to the bottom of the pond. Why, he was right above his old friends, the water bugs! There they were scurrying around, just as he had been doing some time before.

The dragonfly remembered the promise: "The next one of us who climbs up the lily stalk will come back and tell where he or she went and why." Without thinking, the dragonfly darted down. Suddenly he hit the surface of the water and bounced away. Now that he was a dragonfly, he could no longer go into the water.

"I can't return!" he said in dismay. "At least, I tried. But I can't keep my promise. Even if I could go back, not one of the water bugs would know me in my new body. I guess I'll just have to wait until they become dragonflies too. Then they'll understand what has happened to me, and where I went."

And the dragonfly winged off happily into its wonderful new world of sun and air.......

From:"Waterbugs and Dragonflies : Explaining Death to Young Children" byDoris Stickney

I will be reading this at Pops' funeral and thought I would share it here for anyone who hasn't read it and wants a way of explaining death and the afterlife to either children or adults.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Not Waving But Drowning.....

The world doesn't feel quite right if I don't write at least once a week. These last 17 days though since Pops died have gone by in a blur of emotions and stress and anxiety and guilt. One of the things I need more than anything is to sit down, on my own, and have a good cry. What worries me is the first time I might get to do that will be at the funeral.

I've never organised a funeral before. It's a really tough thing to do! And there is a lot to "do". Lots of decisions to make about things you just don't want to have to make decisions about and lots of second guessing what people might want and need at the service. I've had to choose flowers for everyone and try and make each arrangement personal to the giver, be it Nana or TCM or me and the children.  I'm disappointed by the lack of input from other immediate family members despite being asked to provide memories for the Eulogy. The tumbleweed has been very noticeable which makes me sad because there is much of Pop's life that will remain unacknowledged in the Eulogy. 

A funeral is definitely the strangest thing I've had to organise with some odd terminology that, if it were appropriate, I would want to giggle madly at. I can childishly barely contain myself at times when talking to our Funeral Director. He's a lovely man but he has that sort of calm and serious voice that people who work in areas of sensitivity have. I can do that voice when counselling so I hear it in other people. He also uses phrases that are designed not to offend but make me think of the Fast Show. He keeps referring to Pops as the "loved one" which I find amusing and slightly creepy in similar amounts.  There are decisions to be made about embalming and the curtains at the service. I think my need for humour is what is preventing me from falling apart though. It's definitely how I keep myself strong.

And I need to be strong at the moment. TCM needs to be able to rely on me but I am finding it hard to manage everything that is needed without dropping many of my marbles. I've organised the funeral pretty much single-handedly, other than chosing the music, which has been an emotional stress because I don't want anyone to feel I've taken over or to organise something that's not right for everyone. I've written before about Nana having Alzheimer's and Pops was her main carer so his passing leaves some big issues to resolve. Priorities such as care for Nana but also dealing with the fact that he left no Will and has therefore died intestate. Nana is unable to take over the financial responsibilities because she doesn't have the mental capacity so we will have to seek Power of Attorney. I have organised emergency Carers for Nana and a new care package is taking effect from Monday and have been trying to get over to her twice a day but it's proving impossible with Pip in tow. Nana's house isn't suitable for a crazy toddler and I have lots to organise when I get to her house as she's really unable to do much for herself. It's not fair on him to be strapped into the buggy sat in front of CBeebies all the time. I feel ridiculous amounts of guilt about Nana and her safety and I've had huge arguments with Social Services about this. 

Nana's Alzheimer's is progressing quite rapidly and her actions and behavior can be unpredictable. She understands her husband has died and is reacting appropriately with grief but her brain lacks the capacity to rationalise other things. She doesn't understand she has Alzheimer's and can't understand why the carers need to come in. She told me she is capable of "sorting herself out and can wash her face and hands and put her clothes on". Yes she can do that but feeding herself and putting the waste food in an appropriate place plus looking after the cats and the household affairs are beyond her now and she is unable to recognise that. She made a cup of tea by putting the tea bag in the kettle this week and we've just discovered her latest food hiding place...down the, now almost blocked, toilet.  She wants to stay at home long term and we'll help her do that for as long as possible but it's not really the right place for her. She's depressed and lonely and vulnerable, hence my guilt and worry. I totally understand her need to be in familiar surroundings and TCM and I worry a move could be permanently detrimental to her health but there's the safety issue to worry about and the progressiveness of her illness. Both routes lead to feelings of guilt and anxiety.  Nana doesn't want to attend the funeral which I understand.  How on earth can she go to an event where there are people she is supposed to know but is unable to remember?  How overwhelming at a time of grief might that be for her? She has been unable to participate in the arrangements although I did manage to help her think of some flowers for his arrangement.  I suspect I will have to write the card from her which makes me want to weep with overwhelming sadness.  How do I write what she would want to say if she were able?  Nana has no tangible memories of Pops other than the fact he was there and now he has died.  She was unable to remember how they met or what they used to do.  She has a few lingering memories of recent weeks probably but that's about it.  That is 48 years of his life unaccounted for other than TCM's memories, which is incredibly sad.  Those are her emotions and memories that have been eaten away by this horrible illness and even those few tangible memories will soon fade away possibly to the point when she doesn't remember him at all.  Can you imagine not remembering your husband, wife or partner or someone else you love?  I am unable to wrap my head around it all.

On top of all the funeral arrangements we are still full steam ahead with the house build. I joked that only I could speak to the Coroner on one phone call and then answer a call literally seconds later from the builders merchants about bricks. I'm trying to pop down to the house most days to check on the builders and progress but there are only so many hours in the day.

When at home Katie is obviously still her lovely challenging self and I have even less emotional and mental capacity to stay on top of it all although we appear to be having a modicum of success over bedtime....finally.  This is mostly because I've finally discovered something she really wants as an incentive. Katie wants a personalised t-shirt for her musical theatre after school club, as sold by her dance teacher. I've said I will buy it if, and only if, she gets 7 tokens from me for staying in bed at bedtime. They have to be consecutive tokens as well, so she has to go straight to bed and to sleep with no getting in and out of bed and no tantrums. I've been sitting outside her bedroom every night to keep an eye on the situation. So far she has managed 4 nights before it all goes wrong and we have to start again. She was even asleep by 8.44pm one evening, the earliest time since March. In the past it has generally taken her a week to form a new sleep habit and this is very much a work in progress still.  However, sitting outside her bedroom for an hour and a half each night is time I need to sort through paperwork and make plans with TCM so I feel quite stressed and frustrated about it all. I'm hoping some pressure will relieve after the funeral on Monday although I suspect it will just be one less thing to think about. 

One thing I'm finding really tough is the lack of practical and emotional support we have, which is really highlighted at a time of crisis like this.  Both Nana and Pops kept themselves to themselves so there aren't regular visitors to break up the loneliness for Nana.  I am unable to sustain seeing Nana every day long term but I'm anxious about her fragility and vulnerability. I've never been involved in organising carers before and have scare stories of thefts and mistreatment in my head. I'm going to have to trust that they will be kind to her. The manager seemed nice enough and reassuring but my instincts are all off at the moment so I'm not sure I even trust my own judgement. The lack of practical family support pushes my emotional buttons as well as my stress buttons. I'm stuck feeling like I need to put on my cape and Lycra shorts and take on the world but, coming off the back of my long term Vitamin D deficiency, I don't really have the energy or fitness to sustain that. Poor Pip isn't getting the exercise and stimulation he needs which concerns me. I'm trying to get them both down the park as much as possible for a run about but our routine is totally shot to pieces. TCM is trying to juggle work and the house build plus his own grief so I'm trying not to expect too much from him but I can't be a one woman band for the longer term. I'm already starting to feel grumpy and resentful and tired and fed up and tearful and quite angry and very, very selfish as a result. I've been lucky to ask some friends and a cousin to look after Pip during one or two key meetings for the funeral and another friend is looking after Pip during the funeral but that's just a few one off's. I need to wrap my head around the longer term because I've realized that life has now changed for the foreseeable future. I feel cheated really because I just want time to spend with the children we waited so long for and to invest time helping Katie with her difficulties at the current time. I also need some time for my own interests. Other family members may want to visit Nana but the difficulty is that she doesn't always remember people and she might not answer the door. I'm not going to give the key safe number to everyone because that is to keep Nana safe and the key is for the carers so it means I will have to be there to let people in and that's a) not practical and b) defeats the purpose of others checking up on her. 

I'm particularly angry with Pops at the moment for leaving everything in such a mess and that is over-riding the feelings of sadness and loss for the man who has been my lovely, surrogate father for 25 years. I am sad that he clearly had too much on his plate but I am angry that we offered help for many years and that I've been nagging him since February to help us with Power of Attorney so that we didn't end up in a mess if he died. So we've ended up with no Will and a beneficiary who doesn't have mental capacity to manage her affairs. It will take months to get through the Court of Protection and Nana has little money until that time which puts added financial pressure on us at a time when we're using all our money to rebuild our house and spending a fortune living in rented accommodation. His financial affairs will take a long time to sort out and we have so little time during the day to sit down and sort it all out once the day-to-day requirements of the children and Nana are taken care of. Due to Katie's bedtime antics we rarely eat dinner before 9pm which is making me feel physically uncomfortable in the mornings, not to mention playing even more havoc with my already expanding waistline. I'm also angry with myself for not coping effortlessly and for feeling whingy. 

On top of everything else there has been the dilemma of whether Katie attends the funeral or not. I've been to and for and every emotion in between thinking about it. Katie, quite simply, does. It have the emotional capacity to cope with the grief of others. She's only 6 and emotionally way younger than that. She laughs at me if she sees me crying so I'm not going to put her in a funeral situation. I think I am going to pick her up from school early to attend the Wake though and she will be the Chief Balloon Letter-Goer for the letting go of the balloons and messages. I'm trying to enable her to access and express her feelings about it all at a time when I don't even understand my own.

I recognise that things will evolve and change and find their pattern and that we are currently operating in a crisis situation that is highly charged with emotion. I am currently running at beyond capacity and just feeling overwhelmed, hopefully that will change with time. My phone literally does not stop ringing with calls from the Carers and the Builder or the Funeral Director. I'm beginning to hate my ringtone. It's all heightened by the fact that we're rebuilding our house and not living at home or feeling settled. Hopefully we'll be home in Feb/March 2015 to our wonderful new home. Currently though I need most of my energy to manage Nana, TCM, the house build, the finances, homework, violin practice, swimming, gymnastics, carers, Social Services and the children, with one hand held behind my back, and am worried about how all this added instability and upset to the routine will impact on the children. Katie is already presenting with very challenging behavior. Her anger and aggressiveness is something I am struggling to manage therapeutically at the current time. TCM is suffering from hypertension and is withdrawing emotionally and practically as he struggles to deal with the death of his father and workload pressures (and added high blood pressure) plus the worry of his mum. Pip is very much a typical emotional toddler, melting down and lashing out at everything he perceives is unjust or out of his control.  His routine is all over the place and he is tired and grumpy.  I feel the same as Pip a lot of the time if I'm honest. In fact I may just change my name to Sylvia Plath, without the dramatic ending though...more of a "Not Waving But Drowning" sort of concept. 

I churlishly don't think people/family understand, or care, how stressed I am.  I put on Facebook recently that I was a woman on the edge and people (mostly) just clicked "like".  Did they think I was joking? I'm not good at asking for help, in fact I find it ridiculously difficult, and the reality is I have no idea how people can help.  A few close friends have been wonderful in offering to have Pip for meetings and one lovely friend brought us some dinner one night which was so kind.  I just don't have enough time to sit down and work out how someone else can help though but I do know I feel very isolated and really, really upset that it seems that no-one seems to care and I feel doubly disappointed for my husband who deserves better.  I find myself comparing my situation with others and wonder why others seem awash with offers of help and public displays of affection and emotion yet here I sit wondering what on earth we've done to warrant this lack of support. 

I am so sad that people haven't shared of their memories of Pops despite being asked. He was a lovely, if incredibly private man, who kept himself to himself and often separate from others.  He didn't always make it easy for people to feel close to him but I know he cared a lot about us and the children.  He tried hard to be Nana's carer and I am beginning to realise how tough that was for him.  We tried to help him with that but he wouldn't accept any help.  We often joke that he was so private that we wouldn't be at all surprised to discover he's been working for MI5 all these years.  I suspect that people close to him found it difficult to connect with him at times and this is why they've not been forthcoming in sharing memories but I'm sad that we can't fully reflect his younger years at the funeral. 

For what it is worth though Pops, I loved you very much and I thank you for all your kindness over the years and will miss you and your experimental cooking.  I'll think of you every time I make cauliflower cheese at Christmas because I used to make it for you and I will hope that you are free from the pain you felt physically since your double lung transplant and the heart problems and cancer that eventually took you from us.  Sadly we didn't know about the latter illness and we wish you hadn't soldiered on stoically, not seeing the GP, so you might have had a diagnosis and possibly treatment.  Be at peace dear man and know that we will work our way through all the mess and take care of Nana for you.

So back to it all then......