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