We have had a bit of a roller-coaster ride for the last few weeks, one thing after another after another. It’s no surprise that both of the kids are feeling insecure. Where we normally try to stay in control with good routines and planning events have left us going from one catastrophe to the next. Girl is teary and fragile and Boy, well he’s angry. Really, really angry We are battling from one tantrum to another and this is unusual for Boy. He wants control of everything and when he doesn’t get it? He really knows how to tell us how pissed off he is.
A few weeks ago Boy caught chickenpox and ended up in hospital after a high fever and turning blue around the hands, feet and mouth. When we got to the hospital we were rushed through A&E and within minutes had about eight doctors plus nurses all trying to do different things to him, boy was so poorly he barely reacted to any of it but what was scary for us as parents must have been terrifying for a toddler because once his fever had settled we could relax into ‘phew, he is going to be ok’ but Boy? Well besides age-appropriately not really understanding, here he was in a strange place again, strange bed, strange smells, feeling poorly, he had been jabbed multiple times because they couldn’t find a vein, a nurse was taking his temperature every hour and administering medicine; not bad in itself but imagine what Boy is thinking ‘hey that’s mommies job, last time somebody took over my mommie’s jobs I got taken away by them’ not actually thinking that but probably it had to be there in the subconscious, a little alarm bell warning him of danger (see where I am going with this?). All this time Girl is sent to her grandparents, knowing that her little brother is really poorly and that she was ‘second best’ because we her parents didn’t want to take her to the hospital.
Life settled down a little, we adopted a puppy the puppy nearly died (more trauma) and then Boy got sick again, high fever, a fall down the stairs, head pain, tummy ache, leg ache. We had NHS direct on the phone during the night and Girl was aware of all of this, another disturbed worrying night for both kids. A few days later we are still worried about Boy and his unwillingness to eat and complaining of tummy aches all the time, I had a feeling it wasn’t through being ill but made a doctors appointment anyway just to be sure. The Doctor (bearing in mind this was the third visit since the chickenpox because Boy has some lymph glands swell up) had a check over Boy and sent us straight to the hospital, his heart is galloping like a racehorse he could have a serious illness. Shit! What did I miss? Was Boy really ill and I had been putting it down to a control issue?
So if you read regularly you probably know that I don’t really swear on my blog but this is how bad things are. We got to the hospital and had to endure more blood tests, more searching for veins, a long, long wait to hear any results and an unavailability of any senior doctors to check the raised blood results so yet another night in hospital (by this time it’s after midnight and we are all exhausted). In our haste we had had to dump Girl at my parents house with no change of clothes and with the knowledge that there was something wrong with her brother’s heart as she had been to the GP appointment with us.
Well, this is the thing. There was nothing wrong with Boy’s heart. The GP had misdiagnosed a child’s faster heartbeat for a galloping heartbeat. It was quite, quite normal. In fact there wasn’t much wrong with Boy at all except for a viral infection from the chickenpox. We were told that we could leave once Boy had eaten his lunch. Boy refused to eat his lunch, we were back at square one, the reason we had visited the GP in the first place. Eventually we coaxed some lunch down and left the hospital with our tail’s between our legs. Traumatised, tired, battle weary after a number of meltdowns, a refusal to let mummy do anything for him and this is continuing. Boy is barely eating anything consistently except for breakfast. He does not want me to help him. He is having screaming fits over the slightest thing, he wants control over every aspect of what we do and if he doesn’t get his own way a full scale tantrum ensues, hitting, being spiteful to Girl, refusing to eat but making demands of sugary foods. Life is difficult and of course all of this is having a massive knock on affect on Girl.
So we are back to trying to make Boy feel safe, he won’t accept a cuddle from me but will let me press his nose or ruffle his hair so we are at the very least maintaining touch until he is back in a good place again. The timing could not have been worse really as Boy always feels more insecure when Girl is not at school and with us only the first weekend into the Easter holidays I am expecting a testing couple of weeks.
Three little words, ‘I Love You’. From most people they probably mean a lot, I know when my husband says it it’s coming from a genuine feeling of love and funnily enough it usually follows me cooking his favourite dinner.
From Girl it’s a little bit more complex than simply expressing an emotion of love. Take for instance, on Friday night Girl had a sleepover at her grandparents house. She really enjoys a sleepover, a lot of adopted children don’t, it can put the fear of god into them but I think it gives Girl a bit of peace and quiet and some one-to-one time that she desperately needs and that we can’t always give her having a very needy two year old in the house.
Each end every time she has a sleepover the day she returns is filled with some very badly acted, over-dramatised, simpering ‘I Love You’s’. ‘I Love You Daddy’, ‘I Love You Mommy’; lots of kissing of arm, hands and faces and some very over the top, dramatic hugs but also interspersed with some very sulky, petulant behaviour. Now, I am very sure she does love us but for Girl this isn’t simply a need to tell us she loves us, it’s more complex than that (of course it is, what did you expect?). She needs to know that we love her too. It simply can’t be as straightforward as her saying ‘mummy do you love me?’ because that would be far too scary for her. Girl is never good with a direct question. What if we gave her an answer she did not want to hear (we never would)? I think by her telling us that she loves us over and over again she understands that she will get a reciprocation of affection. It’s not quite so effusive (I was never good at am-dramatics) but it is genuine. ‘We Love You too Girl’. Simply put and matter of fact.
We also get this same behaviour after contact, especially recently with much more contact with her poorly grandad. She often goes into the old game of playing ‘I love you to Asda and back’ when she is struggling. When she was a toddler and we read the book with Nutbrown Hare in it Asda was as far away as she could think, so in return I would love her to Sainsburys and ba
Yesterday was different. After us all being poorly over Christmas we decided to venture out and blow the cobwebs away. Girl loved it. We haven’t managed to get out for a good walk for at least a month as that’s how long we have been poorly. She was happy and needed to show it. ‘I Love You Mommy’ she ran shouting, ‘I Love You Daddy’, ‘I Love You Boy’, ‘I Love Nanny & Granddad , ‘I Love the dog’, ‘I Love my other nanny and grandad’…It was an overwhelming expression of happiness. I would probably have ran shouting ‘woohooo I am sooooo happy, fresh air yeehaaa!’ but with Girl there was still that need to include everybody she loves in her happiness which I am definitely not grumbling about but I did find eccentric!ck and we still play the game now but sadly the game now usually comes from a place of fear but also I think from a need to regress and be babied a bit.
So with Girl ‘I Love You’ is rarely a simple expression of pure love but that’s really OK because I don’t need to hear the words to know she loves us and we love her in return. The love is expressed in her concern when we are poorly, the moments shared with a blanket on the settee, the jokes and teasing and holding hands on a walk. It’s all there and that’s enough for me.
Happy New Year x
I was sitting this morning thinking about Christmas presents, the fact that I have almost completed my Christmas shopping and as usual have gone completely over the top with the kids presents. I then started to reflect on last Christmas and previous Christmases Most adopters will tell you that Christmas is a difficult time. I believe that most kids will get a bit bratty in the run up to Christmas but when your child’s mental state is constantly set at high-alert and bracing for the unknown well that unknown can lead to some difficult behaviour. Everything is out of order, everything is exciting (and sadly over stimulating).
Girl’s First Christmas
This happened three months after placement when Girl was two or to put it another way (that I think puts the time scale into perspective), twelve weeks. Only twelve weeks as a new family. We were very excited to be sharing our first Christmas together with our new daughter. We arranged a Christmas Breakfast and present opening with all the close family we could fit in our little house, my parents flew over from Spain to stay with us and I offered to cook Christmas dinner for all and sundry. (I bet you can see where this is going…). The day dawned, the stockings were discovered, the snow fell and it seemed so perfect. Thirty minutes into the most stupidly, humongous pile of Christmas presents you have ever seen and Girl has had enough. It was all too much. The screaming and tantrums started and they carried on right the way through dinner and all the way to bedtime. It was so bad my parents moved out the next day to stay at my grandparents. My sister’s new boyfriend (who was meeting our parents for the first time) was practically cowering under the table looking absolutely petrified. I was crying, my mum was crying and we finished Christmas feeling shell-shocked and upset. In hind-sight I’d say that we expected too much but we were new parents we had looked forward to this moment for so long.
In terms of behaviour we did not think we could top the first Christmas and actually Christmas Day itself was fairly quiet. Having had three previous attempts with Girl and being Boy’s first Christmas with us we felt fairly experienced and decided to keep it as low key as possible. We had the whole day to ourselves which worked out brilliantly. Unfortunately, Boy had just had an operation a couple of days previous to Christmas and was poorly, needing a lot of attention and the whole run up to Christmas was probably one of our worst periods as adoptive parents, Girl’s behaviour was so off-the-scale last year that we did not put the tree up till the last minute, did not go to see Santa or partake in anything very festive and this is what prompted me to write this blog post. I had been remembering how this time last year I broke down. I drove to my parent’s house (they had moved back from Spain by this point) sobbing and not really understanding why.I broke down on their doorstep and my mum packed me off to bed. We learned a lot from the experience of last year, started to understand Girl a lot more. I understand now I was suffering from Post Adoption Depression and Girl was utterly traumatised by well, frankly everything in her life at that point, new school, new brother, adoption, hospital runs for her brother…
Despite how terrible this last year has seemed at points I am happy to say that we are excited about Christmas. We are always excited about Christmas with the kids, I mean you have to have hope that they will be fine else what else is there? But it’s different this year. We are coping, we have learned a lot in this past year more than any year before and madly we are not having a very low key Christmas, in fact both the grandparents are coming to dinner. Yes it might be bedlam, yes I am expecting some humdinger tantrums from Boy (he’s two, it’s his right), yes I am expecting some sulks and stroppy behaviour from Girl (but happily not expecting the violent outburst we had last year), yes I am probably going to have a few meltdowns myself (I’m a mum, it’s my right to get stressy over the sprouts) but as a family we are in a good place. My therapist taught me that although its probably not healthy to be always expecting the worst if I do find myself anticipating a worst case scenario (because that can be our life at times) I can plan positively how to deal with it, mentally prepare myself and mostly I have to say it works.
Well what can I say about our future Christmases other than I hope they will always be merry and bright? I’m hoping to learn from this Christmas (but no too much eh?). Something that stay’s with me now though is that some of the other day’s over Christmases past have meant more to me such as waking up Girl last year to watch the New Year Countdown and share some late night quality street, a Boxing Day steam train ride, a Frosty walk… so even if Christmas fail’s miserably there will be other days to get oh so right.
I have recently had a lot of opportunity to mix with some new adopters. I always enjoy mixing with other adopters and hearing their experiences which are mostly positive. The one thing I find really interesting and I have done it myself in the past, is when asked how the child is settling in to hear the reply of ’oh fine, but she was in foster care from birth so we are not anticipating any problems’.
Gulp. I say nothing because like it or not from what I have read and seen and experienced all adopted children are going to have at least a few issues, the younger they are the better but I think experiencing the trauma of losing everything you know at any age is going to have a monumental effect, how could it not?
As adults we grieve for the people we love when we lose them and we know to recognise our grief, for relatives that pass away, for lost pets, friends who move away, when we move out of our parents house a certain amount of homesickness and lets face it I get homesick on holiday after a while. We experience loss and anxiety for all these things and more so why would a baby or a toddler not feel these things after moving from foster care?
I guess the important thing is to recognise that fact and understand it, which if I am honest is bloomin’ hard when you are embracing your new family and moving on and your child cannot express or probably even understand how they are feeling. It’s hard to see that your outwardly happy, seemingly settled child is probably inwardly anxious and to remember that they have felt loss that we for the most part would barely even begin to comprehend. So our wonderful, spirited little fighters are hard wired for self preservation from an early age.
I do believe that a lot of us go into adoption with an certain amount of naivety, me included, both times. Yes, it is joyful to finally make your family complete but it is not a bed of roses or a fairytale ending and it’s as well to recognise that from the start. I am not trying to be all doom and gloom or a naysayer, I love my family to bits but it is hard to adjust your life and come to terms with the fact they are sort of different from other children, that their young, tender hearts are already bruised from loss and trauma. It’s hard not to constantly be analysing their every move, is that an adoption behaviour or quite normal?
Both of my children have issues and both of them had completely different experiences of foster care. Yes they were both placed from birth, yes they were both with one foster carer throughout. One was cared for adequately and the other was not. One struggles with attachment, the other struggles with separation anxiety. Apart and with individual and constant attention they are both lovely children. Together, whew. Word’s can’t describe!
To be honest we are struggling to know what to do for the best at the moment, Girl is struggling with everything and the family is taking the impact. There is no easy solution with two children, we are just muddling through the best we can and hoping that we do a job of raising our children that is ‘good enough’. I am long past striving to be perfect!
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- Natyjoco on Executive Functioning and Adopted Children, Can’t Do or Won’t Do?
- AdoptiveMummy on Exposure to Life
- nh on Exposure to Life
- AdoptiveMummy on Executive Functioning and Adopted Children, Can’t Do or Won’t Do?
- Natyjoco on Executive Functioning and Adopted Children, Can’t Do or Won’t Do?