Tuesday, 21 July 2015

The Final Week....

A version of this appeared in last month's 'We Are Family' Magazine.

For most children the end of the school year can be an exciting time. The exams are over, usually by half term, and the final six weeks or so are focused on the ‘fun’ social aspect of schooling like sports days, the end of term concert and play within the classroom – dressing up days etc.

However, for some children, particularly for children with additional needs and for many adopted children, with the often overlooked additional need of attachment disorder, this period of term can also be a challenging one as the routines that they cling to in everyday life are suddenly removed.

Children who rely on routine can often become unsettled and this can lead to a disruption in their behaviour. The teacher can then be at a loss as to why the child is suddenly behaving like this, after all it’s supposed to be fun, right?

But for the child who has experienced a chaotic household in their early years routine offers a safety net and, in their eyes, ensures that the chaos they had experienced is in their past.

Our eldest son struggled terribly at the end of both the Summer and the Christmas Term. A normally well-behaved child suddenly became tearful or angry, or both, and I was constantly being called into school to comfort him or to take him home as he simply wasn’t coping. Of course, as we are same sex parents, the school were well aware that our sons are adopted and worked with us to try and ensure that the routine was kept as manageable as possible. Our son was given a list of things that would happen the next day on the day before as he left the classroom and we were then able to talk him through it. He held onto that piece of paper like Dumbo with his magic feather, even though he couldn’t possibly have read it as he suffers from severe dyslexia, which also makes his ability to remember what happens next in the day difficult as it is. If you then change that timetable after he has spent a term getting used to it, well, he simply went off the rails.

Eventually I sought help from the Post Adoption Centre, who were brilliant at helping me to deal with a number of the issues we were experiencing both at home and as school and I was surprised at how common the ‘End of Term Anxiety’, as they labeled, it was amongst adopted children.

And they highlighted a point, the idea of boundaries. If a child has experienced life without any clear boundaries and seen what that can cause, then that child comes to rely on those boundaries, as set by adoptive parents and the school, as a means of ensuring their own safety. We know that domestic abuse, alcohol and substance abuse all lead to children being ignored or left to parent themselves in a boundary free environment and, after adoption, we aim to create a safe environment with the necessary parental boundaries and once those carefully established boundaries are removed then the child goes into a state of fear – fear of not knowing what will happen next.

Family members are always amazed that even on holidays our children want to go to bed at a certain time, we’ve even been accused of being ‘too tough’ but I know that any deviation from our family routine can be problematic. Our younger son panics if his meals are any more than thirty minutes late – probably a throw back to times where he was left unfed for days and any deviance from our normal pattern can seriously effect him. However, we are lucky that his school understand that and never rush him at lunch time and on one occasion, even allowed him to eat his lunch with the kindergarten group so as not to upset his routine.

Hopefully, its something they will grow out of as they take more control of their own lives, hopefully!

Just because we think that coming off curriculum is fun we shouldn’t necessarily assume that it is the same for our children.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Looking for a Sore Point

So this week I was intending to post under the Adoption Social's theme of 'Sore Points' highlighting areas of adoption that we have trouble with and I think, for most people, its this time of year that we sit down and write our contact letters to birth family.

As I said in my last post, I'm going to be doing that for the first time with KC as he has shown an interest in his birth family and wants to let them know how he is getting on.

But when it actually came down to it, I couldn't find any sore points this week - unless you count breaking up a week earlier than his brother which has caused friction - having two boys in different primary schools can definately be a chore.

I have actually allowed KC to sleep in - to stay in bed until I have managed to get TJ packed up and off to school. As long as TJ doesn't see KC in the morning then the school run can carry on as normal. but the one morning he realised he was going to school and his brother wasnt... well, let's just say I'm glad I wasn't his teacher that day - he left in a foul mood, slamming doors and screaming all the way to school - that was a sore point.

Yesterday, KC was bored... he was really bored. Again, breaking up earlier than the local school means he has no-one to play with - apart from me. So I took him swimming. We had to work our way around the over sixties water aerobic class, but they seemed happy enough to let us share the pool, we were the only other ones there. Until KC decided he wanted to see if he could 'jet propel' himself across the pool - using his own 'wind' (if you get my drift). He fired himself across the pool, between the old ladies who were diving out of his way (I was reminded of the hippos in Fantasia during the water ballet sequence). It wasn't just the ferocity of his.. erm 'windy pops' that was surprising but the smell that eminated from the bubbles that arose from the depths of the pool was enough to clear the pool and for the instructor to ask that we remain away from the group. I apologised profusely and put KC into the jacuzzi where he could pop away unnoticed.

Maybe that was a sore point - it was definately embarrassing.

Then we received both boys end of year reports on the same day. This was going to be a sore point for sure. As you know we have been battling with the local authority to have KC assessed for an EHC Plan and finally they have agreed, although the assessment is taking place over the summer holidays, which makes little sense when they are dealing with schools - but that's another bridge and another sore point.

But the reports were excellent - especially in terms of effort. They were praised on things like team work, they were both described as popular and both seemed to be enjoying school. Maybe having them educated separately was finally paying off.

So we are getting there, slowly but surely. I shall enjoy this week as it's quite rare that we have such a positive week on all fronts (apart from the swimming pool incident, of course).

Hopefully, I shall have more weeks when my sore point is actually not having anything to write about.

Of course, next week I will be putting together the contact letter - so who knows how that will go?

Friday, 3 July 2015

What Would Happen if I Met My Birth Mum?

"What would happen if I met my birth mum in the supermarket"

I looked at KC.

"What do you mean?" I asked, trying to pretend I hadn't heard him although in reality I was just giving myself space to think.

"Well, say I was at the supermarket getting you some milk or something, by myself, and my mum was standing there, what should I say to her?"

I looked at him. This was a genuine question - he wasn't after anything or trying to play me - this was obviously on his mind. A couple of weeks ago the school had a talk from members of the NSPCC and, although KC didn't attend, his classmates have all been chatting to him about it and, his teacher told me that he has achieved a 'cool' status in being adopted, having two dad's - having experienced some of the isues they only hear about in assemblies - I'm not entirely sure he appreciates this new status as talking about his birth mum and his past life in care has never been top of his priority list - well, not to school mates anyway.

But I was't going to let this opportunity to talk openly about his adoption go, I wasn't going to sweep it under the carpet with a well meant pleasantary, "Let's talk about it later." As my sons both tell me, 'when a parent says 'later' they usually mean 'never'.

So we talked.

He had a lot of questions.

Yes we have his life story book, but he doesn't like to look at it for very long. It's not the pictures or the story that upset him, it's that they bring back memories of 'the bad things'. He very rarely talks about the 'bad things'. But today he wanted to talk about his birth mum and why she let the 'bad things' happen.

"Maybe she's changed?" he said hopefully.

"Maybe she has," I replied, "But, to be honest, I don't know. But when you are ready then we can look for her together - although legally we can't do that until you are 18."

"My friends say I can find her through the TV show, "Long Lost Family."

I stopped. We don't watch that show, not because I have anything against it - its just not my cup of tea. However, here we are at home being careful over everything the boys watch, monitoring internet and mobile phone use - doing all the right things. But I hadn't counted on well-meaning friends spurred on by talks from well meaning adults...

'I don't think thats the best way to make contact." I said.

"Do you still write to her?" he asked.

"Yes," I replied truthfully - in fact our contact letter is due later this month.

His eyes lit up, "Can I read her replies?" he asked.

I wasn't going to sugar coat things, "She has never replied," I told him. "Not yet anyway."

"Can I write to her?" he asked.

I thought about it. He is nearly 11 now.

"Why don't we write it together," I said.

"Good," he said, "I want to tell her how much I've grown and about my cricket match."

He stopped.

"Do you think she goes to the gym now and is healthy? Has she stopped taking drugs and drinking? Is she still married to TJ's dad?"

None of these questions I could answer - well, some I could - I had seen her Facebook page and it didn't look as though any of the above had been adhered too - apart from the marriage which I saw from her status was no longer recognised but I couldn't tell him that.

I think he saw I was a little moved by his questions.

"Its okay," he said, "I don't want to live with her - not after what they did - but one day I might want to visit."

He paused, "And anyway, you are always saying we can't live in the past - so I'm going to have a good day and plan my future."

I wonder if his plans include her... or his fantasy version of who she is...