Sunday, 28 June 2015

Smile and Wave Boys!

I've not blogged that much about life just recently, mostly because I just don't know where to start or what to say.  The pace of life with the house build and all things children has reached a critical velocity over the past few months to the point where I literally get up each day and fire fight on all fronts and then collapse in a heap on the sofa.  Often the collapse can come during the middle of the day as I also battle with what I suspect is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  That's not to say that there aren't moments that are fun and happy but the balance is definitely being tipped in the favour of stressed and grumpy for all members of the house.

We are limping towards moving back home.  We've now been out of the house for nearly a year and it's tearing us apart living where we're living.  It's not really the fault of the house. It's a lot smaller than we are used to but that's not the issue so much as the space is quickly filled with all our furniture and toys.  Our furniture is used to filling bigger spaces so it's larger in its dimensions that the house can handle.  Our sofas alone take up most of the lounge. Add my precious Clavinova; our CD collection; a side board; our TV; a few guitars; a dining table and chairs and a ton of toys and we are tripping up over mess all the time.  The hallway is now full of IKEA boxes with Katie's new wardrobes waiting for one or both of us to generate sufficient brain cells to decipher the ridiculously obscure flat pack instructions.  Ordinarily I am a wizz at putting flat packs together but even I looked at the indestructions and realised my mind was boggling.  If I could fall at the feet of my wonderful builder and beg him to achieve the impossible and let me move back immediately into my house that is currently minus a kitchen and has a just about water-tight extension I would.  Sadly being an adopter doesn't qualify me for DIY SOS but I do go to bed dreaming of 90 tradespeople descending on my house to get it all finished.  I'm too tired to even get excited about the thought of those tradespeople in a Diet Pepsi kinda way!

I don't think we realised what we were taking on when we embarked on this house build.  I think that's possibly a good thing because we might have scaled back our dreams and not ended up with the amazing house we will have.  We are currently a cliche of most of the people on Grand Designs at this stage of the build; running out of money and desperately doing everything we can to sweet talk the bank into giving us some more money whilst keeping the build going with smiles on our faces so no-one on the site knows how stressed we are.  I'm taking hope from GD (which I now watch nearly every single night!) that it all comes right in the end for all the people on the programme (although they never tell you on the Revisited programmes if the people have ever paid the bank back or whether they are still living on baked beans!).

Add two crazy kids into the mix and it's easy to see why I have a very glazed and stressed expression on my face and how I actually managed to fall asleep whilst talking to the wonderful Mrs VanderCave on the phone the other afternoon.  That was a first for me!

The children are in bonkers mode at the moment. It's hardly surprising considering TCM and I are all at sea with everything going on with the house and trying to sort out my Mother-in-Law's affairs after the death of Pops in September.  This is nowhere near resolved so the situation will continue until our case is heard by the Court of Protection at some point this millennia year.

Katie particularly is on a mission to extract as much attention from us as she possibly can, by all means necessary - fair or fowl - mostly fowl. She's back to taking about 2 hours to get to sleep every night and is as controlling as the Head Controller of the company called Controllers  R Us.  She is exhausting.  She lies about everything - even the silliest of things.  She attempts to blame Pip for her deeds except she keeps forgetting Pip can now talk and tell me what's happened.  She's into being mean to me.  I'm often called "You bloody woman" which is very pleasant.  We are playing the Points Game with some success and she is now getting 10 points in the morning if she either goes straight to sleep or stays in her bed until she falls asleep.  It comes as a surprise to Katie that you have to actually lay down in your bed to fall asleep and that getting out of bed repeatedly prevents her from falling asleep!  Her temper tantrums are reduced from what they were but she was stopped from going to a birthday party half an hour before it started on Sunday due to her particularly unpleasant behaviour on Fathers Day. Her reaction to that decision was explosive.  Last night an overnight stay at my sister's house was cut short by 7pm when Katie wanted to come home because of an upset tummy. That would have been absolutely fine except she changed her mind on the way home and had a tantrum the size of China when she realised she really was coming home which resulted in me restraining her in the garden for about half an hour when she lost the plot.  It was a horrible half an hour with her screaming and biting and telling me that I wasn't her mother and she didn't feel safe with me.  I had to just ignore everything being thrown at me (and the fact that our neighbours appeared to be planning a BBQ) and focus on being calm and loving (not easy when someone is attempting to head butt you). It was productive though because Katie eventually realised she would have to calm down and comply to resolve the situation. I will just note that as soon as Katie calmed down and had a cuddle with my sister she was straight back to me to snuggle in my arms like a baby - not the behaviour of someone who doesn't feel safe with me at all. She apologised to me afterwards and said that she didn't mean anything she had said to me.  She acknowledged she was angry and wanted to upset me.

Ever the optimist, I'm always hopeful that things will improve.  There are a tough few months coming up which isn't helping the situation.  We will be moving back home and Katie will be starting a new school within a few weeks of each other.  Moving might prove a nice distraction from school or it might tip her over the edge.  Watch this space.  Her current school are helping with extra visits to the new school and a laminated book with pictures of the new school and it's classrooms etc and a story to go along with the pictures. To help everything we are also currently having Theraplay input from our Post Adoption Team.  The exercises we do are all focused on Katie's need to control( and I will write separately about these in case they are useful to anyone else).  TCM takes Pip out so Katie and I can do the session on our own.  Doing the sessions has really brought home just how controlling Katie is.  It is a bit of a lightbulb moment and I'm seeing it in so many different scenarios and really clamping down on all the areas where Katie is attempting to sit in the drivers seat.  What's also challenging is the fact that Katie has realised that we are having the input because of her behaviour and she is feeling embarrassed about this and this then leads to more challenging behaviour which then continues ad infinitum.  I'm hoping though that if we can get through this uncomfortable feeling she might be able to start owning her behaviour and taking a little bit of responsibility for how she reacts.

Along with the Theraplay I am really beginning to see that we need very tight boundaries at home and very few choices given for the time being.  It feels challenging to be so restrictive and it's not something that comes naturally to a generous person who want to encourage independence and tends to use reason and placation at a way of maintaining order.  That approach just isn't working so I'm sadly having to face the experiences of my own very aggressive childhood that left me fearful of arguments and violence and accept the way I currently need to parent Katie is in a much more hands on and assertive way as I did last night.  I will admit I find this difficult because the shame we talk about for adoptees is very much a part of my own identity where violence is concerned and having to manage violent behaviour really isn't something I am well equipped for emotionally although I am trained to restrain physically.  I am reminded of my incredibly aggressive mother and feel great anxiety that I will become like her.  I do have the capacity to tip over into being angry as a defence or emotionally shut down to dissociate from the experience so I'm having to cope with my own emotions as well as Katie's.  I can do this.  I am doing this but it raises a lot of pain and guilt and anxiety about my own "good enough" parenting abilities and I could do with a little more emotional space to process how I'm feeling.  That's not really possible currently though so to keep perspective and parent as therapeutically, in the midst of a war-zone, as is humanly possible I am reminding myself of my Reiki principles of "Just for Today". I'm also reminding myself that I'm not embracing a Game of Thrones parenting model which is means I am not permanently turning into my mother!  I'm hoping that with commitment and consistency we will win through and things will calm down.

On top of the situation with Katie, Pip is incredibly good at being 2!  He's excelling at being 2 in fact. There isn't an opportunity for a tantrum that he ever lets pass him by (he's learning from the master of course!).  He's decided he's not sleeping through the night anymore and generally either screams for me or (more recently) sneaks into our bed at around 3am.  Rewards for staying in his bed don't seem to be working so I'm parking this issue for resolution until we're back home.  I am currently attempting to be incredibly firm with him but am using treats as a bribe for good behaviour.  He's discovered he can open the lock on his 5 point harness car seat so I'm bribing him with a little gummy bear sweet for each journey he leaves it alone. We're having better success with this one although I had to drive home from his Childminder the other day with him screaming all the way home because he didn't get his sweet.  He will run away at every opportunity resulting in going on the reins or lots of hand holding whilst screaming and falling to the floor.  He managed to turn the freezer off resulting in the loss of all our frozen food and the freezer is currently so frosted up you can barely get anything out of it because he keeps getting in there.  Yes I do have locks on the freezer but if I say his nickname is Hercules then  you'll understand why they don't always work and why stair gates don't contain him because he drags the chairs to the gate to aid the climbing over of it. I will say though that smile of his gets him out of so much mischief.  He is a little pickle.  Sadly his tantrums have an added Brucie Bonus because he's learned from the Tantrum Mistress herself and he'll add a well placed kick or punch whilst I'm dealing with his tantrum (usually when having his nappy changed!).

One thing that is totally frustrating is the fact that few other people ever see the behaviour we experience at home,  I had to endure my sister smugly telling me this week that she didn't know what I was talking about.  "Katie was perfectly behaved and was very mature all day long" when she looked after her recently.  She said "I don't know what you're on about with her behaving younger than her age!"  and "You go on about it all too much" and "You talk too much about them being adopted" . All I will say is that Fathers Day was the next day so Katie's usual sabotage of the day came with added challenge due, I suspect, to the energy involved in being so perfectly behaved all day.  Apparently, according to my sister, all I need to do is "leave her to get on with it", oh and to "ignore her at bedtime" (which I mostly do anyway unless she's out of bed or hanging out the bedroom window to be honest).  Nice to solve all our problems so easily eh?   Since starting this blog post earlier this week my sister finally saw the behaviour that I've been telling her about yesterday.  I had a very apologetic sister last night who suddenly realised she hasn't really understood the situation or been there for me at all.

On a semi brighter note that same sister, after the revelations of last night (and who is a little older and wiser today), has taken the children out again to give us a break.  Interestingly now Katie knows my sister is in the know about her behaviour she has treated my sister to a mini temper tantrum at soft play already.  Is it wrong of me to chuckle at this anecdote? Hopefully though this will provide a little respite to calm down after another stressful start to the day and a light at the end of the tunnel right with hope that a little more support might be forthcoming (due to other family issues you'll forgive me if I don't hold my breath for too long on that last sentence though).

I guess I'd better go and put those wardrobes together now I'm childfree hadn't I?

I'm also having a wry chuckle because I booked a floatation tank for this coming Wednesday a few weeks back.  I had a letter home from school on Friday to tell me about Katie's violin recital.  Guess when it is?

I'd love to hear any stories or techniques that you can share about how you've resolved control issues. Do grab a cuppa and share them with me.  Do you have any top tips?

Saturday, 20 June 2015


There's a sort of funny story that goes with this post.  Ironic possibly more than hilariously funny if I'm honest. It started with one of those conversations that you have with your child and immediately dismiss that then suddenly comes back to mind after an event that you quite possibly aren't so happy about. One of those "it all suddenly becomes clear" moments!

Katie came home from school a few weeks ago full of excitement and chatter about her friend's new school shoes.  These shoes sadly have one thing that I will not let Katie have in her school shoes: high heels!  When I say high heels don't get excited and start thinking 4" stiletto heels.  These are probably about 1-1.5cm high.  I'm strict though.  No heels on school shoes.  Heels for playing dress up in are negotiable but again I'm a tough nut to crack on this one as well because I'm mindful of soft bones and growing feet and ensuring that when Katie is an old lady those feet are still performing the job designated to them. Anyway, the very next morning TCM found me in the bathroom post shower and wet hair at 7:45am to inform me that the strap on Katie's school shoes had broken. Considering I had looked at the shoes at around 7:30am as I put them by the front door this was quite the surprise to me.  As I started thinking about returning the shoes for a refund TCM noted that the break on the strap was very straight.  Immediately the conversation from the previous day flooded back into my mind and I realised that someone had been busy with some scissors with the aim of acquiring new shoes.

I was not happy!

I was not happy on many levels (most of which you can guess) but mostly due to the fact that Katie had a visit to her new school that very day.  Ordinarily I would have sent her to school in trainers and made her explain to her Head teacher why she was in trainers, but I didn't want her to be "that" child on that particular day.  She has enough singling her out at the new school with SENCO support and a transition plan for the move so I didn't want her to feel obvious for the wrong reasons. So at 8:15am after a mad panic to get ready we (an incredibly grumpy Mummy and a chastised Katie) were on our way to our local large supermarket to purchase some new school shoes.  Being a stickler for properly fitted shoes this irked me considerably. However I was well trained in fitting shoes when I was a much younger version of my current self so I was able to fit a pair of shoes that will do for the rest of the term (in about 5 minutes I might add due to the time constraints). Mark my words they were NOT the ones that Katie wanted either!

As a punishment consequence I said to Katie that she was not having any more shoes until September.  She already has trainers and sandals and wellies and flip flops and party shoes etc etc so nothing is needed other than a bigger shoe basket.

Sorted! (although it hasn't gone down very well with the mini Imelda Markos)

Here comes the ironic bit.

The very next day I received an email from Mumsnet informing me I had been selected to visit our local Brantano shoe shop to review their fitting service.  It had to be with a child aged 4-11 years old so that ruled Pip out.  I had to take Katie.  The timing of the email gave me a great laugh. The incredibly excited Katie was informed however that any shoes purchased would not be worn until September (that didn't go down very well either).

If I'm honest I had been a little happy that we didn't have to shop for shoes until September because Katie is a nightmare to shoe shop with.  It's fair to say that generally the whole shop knows we're there due to the arguments that ensue over the whole heels versus no heels debate.  I did think that we would be great reviewers though for this very reason.  Anyone getting the job of helping us would certainly earn their brownie points!

We whizzed down to our local Brantano last Saturday morning.  It was very quiet in the store so we we easily caught the eye of one of the Fitters. She was a lovely, friendly young lady whom I warned would be subject to stress as she attempted to help Katie and I come to an agreement.  She seemed ufazed.  She whipped out the foot measurer and carefully measured Katie's feet patiently encouraging Miss Fidgety Feet to stand still.  I was very impressed by the care and attention that she gave to the task. She measured Katie as a 13.5 with one foot slightly wider than the other.  You don't get the width letters that you do with Clarks but there was a promise to help ensure the correct width of shoe when choosing our shoes.  Interestingly she was the first person to ever note that Katie is quite flat footed (ironically this will mean that in the future Katie will be able to wear heels much better than her high instepped Mum!).  She then gave me a leaflet giving information about fitting your child's shoes, although our lovely Fitter said she would be close at hand once we had chosen some shoes.  She did warn us however that because Katie was a half size we might struggle a bit because the range of half sizes is significantly fewer than full sizes (this was true).

 "Brantano has stores nationwide and offer an extensive range of shoes and brands to suit all budgets. 
Offering convenient out of town shopping with most of its stores located on retail parks, the shopping experience is unlike many other traditional footwear shops, as the shoes are displayed in pairs that can be easily selected and tried on immediately. 
The stores all offer a free fitting service, with staff trained by top brands such as Clarks, Start Rite and Hush Puppies. 
The team are put through rigorous training followed by at least 25 supervised fits before being given the title of ‘expert fitter’."
Leaflet in hand and a card suggesting another measure prior to the start of term in August we were let loose on the shop. It became quickly very obvious that attempting to buy school shoes in June for September would not be a viable option. The half size of Katie's feet plus her fairly slender foot shape was an issue with finding shoes that fit her. In fact we didn't find one pair of school shoes that fit her well. This didn't surprise me as I've unsuccessfully tried Brantano for school shoes before. Undaunted we turned our attention to school trainers (well I did whilst Katie tried hard to lure me into acknowledging the many pairs of high heeled sparkly shoes that Brantano also sells - she failed miserably, and by miserably I mean sulkily, unhappily and sometimes aggressively). Going into Year 3 means no more black plimsoles and we found a great pair of turquoise Nike trainers with a non marking sole for £22. In a size 1 we could easily put these to one side and they actually could fit her now but will continue to fit her for some time to come. We were also very attracted to a gorgeous pair of sparkly silver Sketchers covered in rhinestones. If they'd sold these in adult sizes believe me I'd have bought them for me. Even better they were reduced to £28 from £40 so I was happy to get them. Because they didn't have Katie's size in stock the staff have ordered her size into the shop and we hope they will arrive within the next week. The Fitter checked the fitting on the trainers to ensure they would be suitable.

 My summation of our experience was that our Fitter knew her stuff about fitting and about the brands and stock. I felt confident in the measuring service we were provided. All the staff were helpful, cheerful and made our shopping experience pleasurable (despite the tensions between myself and Katie during the choosing part of the exercise). As in previous visits we found the selection of school shoes unsuitable for Katie's feet and I think the shop should consider expanding their range of styles and half sizes. I would definitely return to Brantano. I think Katie would suit their range of casual footwear better and I think the prices of most of the shoes is well placed to be affordable and the quality always seems very good. There is a mix of footwear ranging from fairly cheap to much more expensive. I suspect Pip will do well in Brantano as his slightly wider feet might be more mainstream than Katie's.

So a big thank you to the Mumsnet Bloggers Network and Brantano for this fun experience and some great shoes. Katie will really appreciate them in September (yes I am remaining resolute on that one!) and I'm feeling happy that one item has been ticked off the school list for September. 

I am a member of the Mumsnet Bloggers Network Research Panel, a group of parent bloggers who have volunteered to review products, services, events and brands for Mumsnet. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity”.

Monday, 1 June 2015

My Amazing Family and Me....

I remember very clearly the day I wandered around Mothercare looking for a book to celebrate Katie's arrival. I wanted the adoption equivalent of a new baby book to log her arrival and subsequent life, but there were none available. All I found were row upon row of books about babies; pink and blue books or books with baby animals to detail their in-utero journey; what they weighed at birth; stories of the day they were born; they day the cut their first tooth etc.

Those books were no good for me because my baby was 2 years old the day she came home.  She had already cut her first tooth; said her first word; taken her first steps and those were all events I wouldn't be a part of.  There would be enormous gaps in the information I could provide in one of these books. If I'm honest I felt quite sad because it highlighted that I so different from other mums-to-be and that my daughter was different from other children. I wanted to celebrate our life together but it wasn't possible using an off the shelf book.  I put the books down; walked away and accepted that I wouldn't be able to log the information I wanted to in a traditional way.  This blog was born in part to meet that need.

If I'm honest I didn't give the idea of the book much more thought until recently when I was excited because a chance tweet on Twitter brought to my attention a book published by Jesse Toksvig-Stewart and Kat Willott at Ugly Duck Books called "My Amazing Family and Me".  I tweeted Jesse and Kat immediately and asked if I could review the book and share it with all the readers of this blog.  They agreed immediately and we shared some lovely email communications whilst the logistics were arranged.

"My Amazing Family and Me" and is a welcome home book aimed specifically at adopters and families who don't fit the typical nuclear family set up.  It is a book that has been made with understanding and emotion.  The concept came when one of Jesse's mums, who is a Foster Carer, adopted a baby girl.  Jesse realised that not only was the book used for her own memories an incredibly heterosexual book, with the standard Mum/Dad sections, but that it would also not be suitable for her newly adopted sister because it would not be possible to complete sections on how her mum felt when she was growing inside her.  Just as I had felt 5 years ago when we adopted Katie.

An idea was born!

Jesse approached her friend Kat Willott who is an artist with her idea for a record book that would celebrate all families.  As a twin Kat could understand this as well so the two collaborated to create this truly lovely book. The book is beautifully illustrated with pictures that would suit children of all ages and gender.  Best of all you can start writing in it from the point you meet your child.  There are no awkward sections that will need to be crossed out or ignored.  There are sections on things your child likes to play with or watch on TV; there is a section on their arrival in their new home and how they settled in; you can write about birthdays and holidays and achievements.  It's a great concept and one that I am delighted to be able to write about.

"My Amazing Family and Me is designed for alternative families and does not specify the age of a child nor the gender and status of the grown ups in their lives. It is an open record book where everyone can enjoy the fun of documenting a child’s personality, habits, characteristics and life, in whatever family and circumstances they find themselves."
"The idea came to Jesse Toksvig-Stewart, when she wanted to buy a record book for her
adopted sister in December 2014. She could not find a memory book that did not include
very specific elements of the nuclear family set up"
"Jesse drew the typography in the book and asked her friend Kat to illustrate and collaborate creatively to produce the idea. Together they formed the company Ugly Duck Books and published a completely innovative children’s record book, My Amazing Family and Me."
From my communications with Jesse and Kat I can really get the feel for how warm and down to earth they are and that this book has really been born out of a real understanding for what is needed. It retails at £15.99 and would make a lovely gift for yourself or someone else you know who is adopting or creating their family in a non-traditional way.  It's great to know that it is now possible to create a book of memories that will mirror the books that many of my children's friends will have and we can have fun filling it in together.  I will be taking this book with me when I give talks to local adopters and I am very happy to share it with you.

You can buy My Amazing Family and Me at Ugly Duck Books....... just click here

To read more about Jesse and Kat ...... click here