Well, life as an adoptive mummy at the best of times is…ummmm eventful? Hard work? For a while I didn’t blog as I was just trying to get on with life and it was going ‘ok’. I started my Open University degree in Psychology and also a Photograhy Studio and then in 2015 our world came crashing down around us. I simply didn’t have the energy, head-space or time to give attention to this blog though I have thought often “I really must update the blog!”.
So what happened? It all started on Christmas Eve in 2014 when Adoptive Daddy(AD) had a hospital appointment because he hadn’t been well. Without getting too personal they wanted to perform a minor procedure there and then but given the date they couldn’t because they were short-staffed. It was decided that further urgent investigation was also required but at a different hospital where AD had had surgery in the same area some 20 years previously. It was all very complicated, the original consultant had been struck off, AD’s notes had been lost, AD should have been having regular annual check-ups as he was high risk for Cancer but he had no idea of this. By the time the original hospital had accepted the referral back to them it was late February.
AD was examined by the new Consultant and admitted the very next day for urgent surgery as they suspected a kidney stone and blockage which could have caused kidney failure. A biopsy was taken as they didn’t find a kidney stone but a mass instead. A few weeks later AD was given the news that everyone dreads… cancer and a rare type too – this after having been told by the consultant when they discovered the mass that you couldn’t get cancer in that particular area.
Things got steadily worse. The hospital were un-supportive, no palliative care was offered- even at the time of diagnosis. AD was told and 5 minutes later was out of the consultant’s office. It is normal procedure for a palliative nurse to attend and offer counsel and advice, answer any immediate questions; we only found this out later. After a second consultation AD sought medical treatment elsewhere as we had no confidence, we were referred to a hospital in London who were very experienced in this area.
So, if that was not bad enough, around the same time I had been seeking medical help because of my periods, they were unmanageable and interfering with life, the PMT was having an impact on our family. One of the last solutions offered was a Mirena Coil and at the time of fitting the consultant spotted took a biopsy,to this day I don’t know whether she spotted something or whether it was routine. In the same week that AD was told he had cancer, I was told that I had pre-cancerous cells (not cancer but the pre-cancer of the type most likely to develop into cancer). I questioned why it had not been spotted in a recent smear and was told it would never have been spotted because it was in the uterus and not the cervix. It was recommended I have a hysterectomy. As an aside I would recommend that if your periods are unusual and have changed/worsened, go and see your GP. Had I just put up with the periods this would not have been found, I thank my lucky stars for that.
So, the course of action for AD’s cancer was major surgery, thankfully no chemo or radiotherapy was required. AD had to have a number of operations last year and once he has been in remission for 3 years more surgery will follow. During surgery AD had a number of lymph nodes removed and now has Lymphoedema which can be debilitating. This has a knock on effect of the sort of activities he can do with kids. Previously he was going on long bikes rides, building camps in the woods, we would go camping and for long walks, all of this is now more difficult not always absolutely impossible but definitely harder and thought has to be given to location and convenience. AD is in remission but life will never really be the same again. Consequently, AD had to close his business and as my studio was based in half of his business unit my new business had to close too, I still get quite emotional about that.
Every single school holiday last year one of us was hospitalised. My hysterectomy took place in the first week of the summer break so you can imagine the impact of that. Hospital for AD meant overnight hotel stays for me as the hospital was not local so the kids got shunted around from pillar to post. In the meantime our dog Harry died from heart failure, he had been poorly for a while and had gone into congestive heart failure on Christmas Day 2014. He made it a few weeks past his 10th birthday in May. We were in financial straits because of having to close both businesses and this took a long time to sort out. Hospital stays and travel was expensive and then there were the exasperating things like turbo went on my car (expensive), my 40th birthday weekend trip had to be cancelled, we did not take a proper holiday with the kids… all these things minor in relation to the illness all take a toll on emotional wellbeing.
And there was more… at the same time as all of this was going on Girl was seriously assaulted at school and Boy was having huge problems with school. His behaviour was difficult, the other kids knew that he was wound up easily so he was constantly picked on but because he was a difficult child little was done. He would come home every day from school stressed out, wound up and ready to lay in to his family. In October we eventually withdrew Boy from school totally and would have taken Girl out too but there were too many reasons not to, most of them positive such as the relationship with her teacher this year and friends.
In some ways home-schooling Boy was a good decision. It meant that we had a chance to be with Boy without the demands of Girl. In other ways it was very hard. Boy has difficulties responding to any requests so adding learning to the repertoire of things that were expected of him at home was stressful, his difficult behaviour not so much escalated as we were getting little respite from it that we would get while he was at school. Around the same time our old PASW got involved as we wanted help with negotiating with schools, we got a ticking off for not contacting her earlier. I pointed out that our problems were not actually adoption related to which she responded that everything we do is adoption related, if the family is stressed the adopted children are stressed and it’s her job to support us with that.
The very same day we pulled Boy from school we also had a working diagnosis for Autism. As with most adopted kids diagnosing the why’s and wherefore’s of why he behaves the way he does is not clear cut but the Psychologist conceded that a working diagnosis would be helpful for us accessing support for his behaviour.
The disruption to our lives this year has been unbelievable. We had to cope with emergency visits to A&E with complications, people visiting the house to sort out our financial affairs, hospice nurses, stabilising medications, holiday cancellations, social worker visits, traumatic school meetings, being pestered from all sides about finding a school placement for Boy – (except from family who have been absolutely marvellous). I was adamant that Boy was not going back to school unless I was sure the setting was right for him.
The year is ending with AD needing more surgery this year…and I will be having surgery on my nerves too, I have a trapped nerve somewhere (more tests required) but yesterday after a hospital visit I discovered that as a consequence of nerve damage crucial muscle has wasted in my hand. I am hoping that the operation is sorted out quickly, I don’t want any more muscle to degenerate. Two of the things I love to do photography and crochet require use of both hands.
So, we have been through a considerably difficult year but I want to end on a positive note and tell you about the good stuff that has been happening. I got a distinction for my second year of study in my degree and this year the module revolves around the reason I started studying, attachment and child development. Some of the stuff I have learned has been fascinating and I will share with you in an informal manner. We got a new dog, a rescue Cavalier and this has been brilliant for the kids. Harry was always my dog in a way, he was here before we adopted the kids and they could take or leave him and vice-versa. Boy is now settled into a new school. We still have difficulties getting him out of the door for school but he likes his new teacher, he is making friends. The school is very small and so this means he gets more attention and it is more intimate than the massive primary school he was attending. The best thing of all is that dinner break is structured, they have a sports scheme and Boy likes to participate which means he is not getting into trouble and conflict with the other children. Girl… where do I start? We have less problems than we did. She is confident, she is happy and we are able to give her responsibilities. She still has some issues around executive functioning but in the grand scheme of things happiness is far more important.
It’s International Day at Girl’s school today, this took me a bit by surprise this year. We have had an issue this school year with Girl not bringing letters home so we missed the newsletter with the date of International Day, then Tuesday of this week (nothing like a bit of notice) a text from the school ‘Your child’s class is Norway, don’t worry about dressing up as there will be activities’. I didn’t click it was International Day, something the kids ALWAYS dress up for, I just thought it was a school project. It was only when chatting to another mum on the playground yesterday morning I realised I needed to sort out an outfit. I could have followed the text and not worried about it but that would have put Girl in the position of ‘the one who’s mum didn’t bother’. Not on your nelly!
So after hunting for a Viking outfit during the day yesterday and coming up with nothing I took Girl to Hobby Craft. First we visited Asda for a white t-shirt as I had an idea and on walking in the door a woolly hat, scarf and glove set in Nordic design right in front of us and even better, in the sale! Perfect, it was like it was handed to me on a plate but it wasn’t enough. We bought the white t-shirt then proceeded to the haberdashery area in Hobby Craft. My little tomboy always struggles to hold in her inner girl in the haberdashery. We decided to make a flag for her t-shirt, I was thinking simple fabric paint, Girl had other ideas. First Girl suggested I make the flag using marabou. Marabou, I ask you!!! That was a definite no from me, I would not have known where to start! We agreed on sparkly. So with ribbon, sequins and sparkly material we headed home.
Over the top for school? Maybe. I could have dressed her in red, white & blue as the teacher suggested but International Day is something we have always made a bit of effort for, as do most of the other children. Four hours later, the t-shirt was finished. This morning before I was even out of bed Girl came running up the stairs, wrapped up in her new woollies and wearing her t-shirt, grinning from ear-to-ear. Girl always appreciates somebody taking time and doing something special for her (as do we all).
It’s the making of the t-shirt that mended our relationship.
Food is a funny issue in our house, an issue experienced by many adoptive families. Boy uses the food as a tool for control but also has sensory issues around food so from one day to the next we cannot predict what he will eat, if anything. It’s something we are just getting on with and not making too much fuss of.
With Girl even now we still have the negotiations about what she is allowed to leave on her plate, usually she will want to leave roughly two forkfuls of food however much we put on the plate. Two forkfuls of food doesn’t sound like a lot but if we had put three forkfuls of food on her plate she would still negotiate to leave them so it’s not the amount she is leaving that’s the issue; it’s the desire to negotiate about leaving some.Granted it’s not every day but lately we have noticed a new pattern of ravenously hungry Girl.
The first time she was ravenous was at nanny’s house, they were serving up SpagBol. Girl likes the spaghetti but has never been so keen on the meat, I usually leave it out and do a tomato and basil sauce instead but this time she ate serving after serving after serving. I was surprised, it was unusual. That is I was surprised until I got home and realised she had not eaten her lunch, she would have eaten anything. For lunch she had eaten some cheese spaghetti, a Frube and just barely a quarter of a sandwich and none of the fruit supplied so by the time she got to nanny’s house for tea she was ravenously hungry because on a day of PE a bit of cheese, a frube and quarter of a sandwich is not enough for a girl as active as Girl, the Girl who runs everywhere.
It’s a pattern that is starting to develop and grow. We have frequent occurrences of her not eating her lunch and being ravenous when she finishes school. When I ask why she has not eaten her sandwich she has ‘accidentally dropped it on the floor’. Girl is a messy eater, has dyspraxic tendencies but at home she has rarely dropped her sandwich on the floor, at school she seems to be doing it all the time. She always eats the sweet yoghurt and the cheese, more often lately she leaves the fruit and Girl loves fruit. She knows I have no control over what she does at school, that she can eat just the sugary yoghurt and the cheese and get away with it.
Our other routine is that every morning Girl has her cereal and then she likes to eat something else like a piece of toast or a crumpet. A routine she has had from foster care. The last few mornings she hasn’t wanted the second item, this morning she ate two spoons of Shreddies then said she didn’t want anything else. She looks tired but I’m pretty sure she is not ill, I think there is something else going on that is making her go back to using food as control. I told her that I am worried that two spoons of shreddies is not enough, that food is her fuel to make her brain work and concentrate but I can’t force her to eat.
It sounds like not a lot to worry about but sometimes it’s the little things that are completely out of character for a girl that likes routine and the familiar that give the biggest signals and since returning to school there have been a lot of these little signs of something being not quite right. I guess the best thing I can do is not make too much of an issue of it but I worry about her lack of concentration in class because of hunger when she is already struggling at school anyway.
It’s been a bad day and this is one of those hammering it out on my keyboard before I have a nervous breakdown sort of posts but somehow it is sort of important to me to write it all down and think about what happened, why and what I can possibly do about it. I don’t expect you to actually read it, I just need to get it out of my head before I go to bed or I will not sleep well. This sort of day is one of the reasons why I started the blog in the first place, my counsellor thought it was a marvellous idea!
Often at a weekend we have a full range of activities planned but after the summer holiday extravaganza of going out nearly every day I decided it was time to pull back a little, have one day out and one day in, I can’t cope with being out all of the time and the house is suffering for it, little jobs getting ignored, the grass growing too long in the garden. Our family therapist seemed to think that by going out all the time we are just running from the issues (I call it diverting and winning the battle without it being a battle but ho-hum you say tomato, etc).
So far the day in does not really go very well at all, we have not had one where it hasn’t ended up in tears from one of them, both of them or me…or well if I’m honest all of us together, me usually hiding out in the bathroom having a little self-indulgent snivel, it’s cathartic to let it out i tell myself.
Every morning when Boy gets up the trouble begins, the fighting, the demands, the boisterous behaviour. On a school day the behaviour disappears as soon as Girl is out of sight. On a day-out day we strap them in their car seats and let them run it off somewhere, yesterday was the seaside, I’m not saying day out days are perfect but they are better. On a day-in day there is no getting away from it, Boy wants to be centre of everybody’s attention…and so does Girl. Battle commences.
So what happened today? Well, Boy was in one of his worse demanding moods, “I want this, I want that” and a lot of world is ending noises when his demands are either not met or not met straightaway (“I’m hungry”, “ok lunch is cooking”, that sort of thing) and Girl has been up and down herself recently, hard to read. We have had the full gamut of attachmenty behaviours from both of them today and I will tell you about the worst ones (far too many to tell you everything, it would be like trying to write War and Peace in one sitting).
Girl started the day being obsessive and weird about her new object of desire, a dreamcatcher. In theory it’s a lovely concept but bad dreams and nightmares are already a bit of an issue for Girl, it’s a subject she likes to talk about a lot so an object that makes her think about nightmares even more is not ideal for us. They have been studying dreamcatchers at school and immediately Girl started fretting because she did not have one and was sure to have nightmares. In truth I don’t actually know whether she has that many nightmares, certainly not night-terrors, she sleeps like the dead once she is gone and rarely rouses. This morning Girl brought down the dreamcatcher that nanny gave her to shake the dreams out in the garden, there was an object in the way of the back door that I had put there the previous night. It was easy to move but needed two hands. Girl went into panic mode, using two hands would mean that she had to let go of the dreamcatcher for a nanosecond. You could see her start to hyperventilate. I explained that she needed to put it down for a moment, I was busy and she did accept what I was telling her but she didn’t particularly like it. She spent the next five minutes vigorously shaking the dreamcatcher outside and then she spent ten minutes messing with it and handling it and broke it. If Girl has a new object of desire it’s very, very hard for her to put it down, it’s almost like she is terrified of the object not being in her hands (don’t get me started on the new glasses case that she spent a full 48 hours opening and snapping closed and took to bed with her).
Boy has spent the entire day blaming Girl for every little thing that has gone wrong such as when playing with a favourite car (most of the day) and the wheels kept falling off it was Girl’s fault, every time, even when she wasn’t in the room.
Girl has spent the day playing passive-aggressively (or accidentally she calls it when she rams her toy car into Boy’s leg because she was accidentally going too fast and accidentally rammed him or when she trips over him then stands on his foot for 15 seconds longer than necessary, ”I accidentally tripped over him and then I accidentally stood on his foot’. Hmmm and you didn’t think to get off when he was screaming and then you followed by saying “what’s the matter? what’s up” as if it was a complete surprise that he is screaming the house down?).
Then we have the competition. It’s not just competition for attention, it’s competition with each other. I took them both to Sainsbury’s to choose their Halloween outfits while they have a clothes offer on (more fool me). I thought it would be fun and a good diversion. I also had a tiny bit of shopping to do, literally just coffee, bread and veg. “They’ll be fine, I’ll be fine, it’ll be fun” I told The Hubster when I outlined my plan, he looked at me dubiously. Forward thinking I told them they had to have different outfits, they would end up squabbling if they had the same masks or accessories, somehow identical items cause the unholiest of rows between them.
Now Girl is very, very indecisive and maybe I should have done this without her but I always like an opportunity for her to have free choice. Boy chose very quickly. Pirate Skeleton. Girl howled in dismay, that’s what she wanted, I honestly think that whatever Boy had chosen was what she would have wanted. She had already eyed up Ninja Skeleton and Dracula so I told her she had to choose one of those. She grudgingly chose Ninja Skeleton then walked round the supermarket sulking, not understanding why she couldn’t have the same as Boy (I didn’t tell her the truth, I just said I didn’t want the outfits to get mix-muddled in the wash, believe me, this sulk was nothing on identical-item-arguments).
So to continue, I say walked, what actually happened is that both Boy and Girl spent the few minutes that we were in the supermarket pushing and jostling to be the one walking in front and this despite the fact that I had told them over and over they at the very least had to walk by me because their jostling kept putting them in the line of the trolley and other people’s trollies. In the end I had to tell them off, in the middle of Sainsburys and threatened to return the outfits if they kept jostling. They just about managed to behave until I got to the checkout then started leaping around in front of people’s trollies while I was bag packing. My diversion was not going well.
We arrived home to more leaping around. I set the living room as a quiet area, I had planned to take some portrait photos with my new studio equipment (that the Hubster had kindly set up for me while I was out) so considering the size of our living room and the size of the light stands, leaping around was an absolute no-no. Both kids were told that if they wanted to help me they needed to be calm, it’s asking a lot of young kids but Girl took it on board and really enjoyed posing for some photos. Boy used it as an opportunity to play up to my camera, lots of noise and shouting (but thankfully not too much leaping). We had a lot of squabbling about who’s turn it was to have photo’s. A lot of competing for attention when it was the other one’s turn but I managed to take a whopping 268 test photos and only one tantrum which I left for hubby to deal with. They then squabbled and fought over who was helping pack away, there was plenty for both of them but they still managed to fight for the whole time.
I then decided to put on a film, Boy wanted Underdog, Girl didn’t. My dad had bought some new dvds round for them earlier in the week, one of them something like the new Planes film but older. They both agreed on that so we put it on. Girl then had a proper toddler-like tantrum because she had already seen it before and it was too babyish (oh the irony). I decided to change the film (it was babyish, I could see). Boy was not amused but I knew he would like the other choice too so he had a bit of a tantrum too but soon got engrossed in the new film (but kept telling me it was rubbish).
Boy does not usually watch a full film so he went off to sit on the Hubster’s lap while he was on the computer and he then went to play with his tool bench. Five minutes later the film finished and Girl went and stood by The Hubster to see what he was doing on the computer and that’s when it happened. Boy flew into a rage, screaming at Girl, hitting The Hubster. I went in to try and sort it out as The Hubster and Girl were sort of cornered and the tantrum continued, kicking, hitting, spitting. I tried a time-out, I tried a time-in. In the end to keep him safe as we somehow ended up in the kitchen where the dinner was cooking (it’s sort of open plan) I hauled him into the utility room where I sat on the floor, shut the door behind me and just let him get it out of his system. He screamed, he hit, he kicked, he scratched, he told me he didn’t like me but to me at least he was safe, he could come to no harm in there. I remained calm. I tried lots of diverting like counting and showing him the measure marks on the wall and eventually he let me hold him. He cried like a 4-month old (proper waaah-waaahs) for a long 10 minutes but no tears. Just noise, lots and lots of baby crying noise. I rocked him and kissed him and spoke to him. I told him once he was calm and he told me he was ready he could leave the room and say sorry to Daddy. It took a long time for him to say he was ready, I think he was sorry earlier than he said but just needed to be rocked and babied a little more.
So all this rage just from Girl standing by The Hubster. I have spent all day giving Boy attention and getting him involved in whatever I was doing, I couldn’t not really considering the attention (attachment?) seeking behaviour but still he has this fear of being unloved or whatever madness is passing through his young brain.
So that’s it, the full gamut of behaviours and I only told you about the worst of it!
When I was about 12 years old a new girl joined our tutor class at school. I was drawn to her, she was fun, she was cheeky, she was tall and lanky, she had a laugh like a hyena and she was quite unlike anyone I had ever met before. We instantly became good friends, the best of friends. She lived with her grandmother, her mother lived elsewhere but she had a good relationship with her mum, they were more like friends and I thought her leather-jacketed, chain-smoking, vodka drinking, spiky haired mum to be rather cool, a whole world away from my own parents with their rules and boring suburban lifestyle. It took me a long time to realise that her home life was not quite as it seemed.
My friend had a lot of uncles. On sleepovers at her mums when we were older I was introduced to a seedier side of life that I did not have any comprehension of, I took things at face value, it was onl later I started putting the pieces together. Uncles came and went. We were given free-reign to do as we pleased. I can remember being outdoors late at night with young girls hammering on doors in area you would not walk alone in, throwing stones at windows and running. I was always scared, it never felt right and I never joined in except for running. Knock-a-door run was never my cup of tea but I was with my mate and she was cool and I didn’t want her to think me boring and what choice did I have, I didn’t know the area we were in and was too far from home.
Where I was in awe of my friend’s boundary-free, uber-cool, have what you want lifestyle, my friend hankered after a bit of what I had. My mum was a Sunday tea kind of parent. Sandwiches, jelly and ice-cream, coleslaw, crisps and cheese. My friend always had an open invitation to Sunday Tea, later in life my mum told me that my friend had her that she wished she had a mum that did that for her.
When we left school, we kept in touch sporadically, our lives went in different ways but one day after bumping into my friend in Dorothy Perkins where she held a job she invited me to the flat that she shared with her mum, so when she finished work my boyfriend and I (later to be The Hubster) accompanied her home. What I saw in that flat shocked me to the core and will never leave me.
My friend’s mum had a belt fastened tightly around her arm, there was drug paraphernalia everywhere and a lot of to-ing and fro-ing of pretty much all the people that lived on the same floor. This was where the council put all the problem families. My friend’s mum was pleased to see me but commented I had put on weight. I don’t know why that stuck in my mind, maybe it was the mundaneness of the conversation against the sheer horror of seeing your friends mum shooting up.
I did not see my friend for a long, long time after that. Sometimes I wish that I had been there for her a bit more. The next time I saw my friend she had just left prison, she turned up on my doorstep. Her life, unsurprisingly had followed a similar path to her mums. We chatted like we had never been apart, she asked for help overnight with her cat, somebody was supposed to be taking care of it but wasn’t, I took the cat in. We spent some more time together, she borrowed some videos from me I never saw her again until a couple of years ago. I suspected that the videos were sold to feed her habit. I heard that she went into prison again.
With the advent of Facebook my friend got in touch and we bumped into each other a couple of times briefly. She had turned her life around. She had a really good job, was married and had a house, a barn conversion that I can only dream of owning. I was so happy for my friend. About the same time as I adopted Girl my friend gave birth to twins and we promised to get together for coffee, it wasn’t so easy to do at the time as we both suddenly had our hands full. We kept in touch via Facebook and then she disappeared.
The point of me telling you all this is it’s too easy to take a dim view of drug addicts and really the sort of people who our children are taken into care from. My friend’s story of turning her life around is probably quite unusual but she did it despite adversity and I am so proud of her for that. She was never a bad person, her home life had her in it’s grips, there was never really any hope for her life to go any other way unless she stopped seeing her mum. It’s unbelievably tragic that a couple of years ago my friend died from Cancer leaving her babies and her new life behind her.
Girl’s birth mum has recently had another baby and despite the emotional knock on effect it is bound to have on Girl and her sisters, the inevitable questions that are going to arise, I really truly hope that my friend’s life was not so rare that it can’t happen again.