Carrots

Little Chick eats pretty much everything. Except most vegetables and salad. We have tried making them look more desirable by following Pinterest boards with beautiful suggestions and have hidden them in or amongst preferred food. But Little Chick sniffs them out and refuses to eat them.

However, carrots are now on the menu. The solution was so obvious. He loves helping to prepare meals, what if he helped provide the food?

Each year Grandad sets a birthday challenge for all his grandchildren. Usually, it is growing or creating something: for his 70th he required both. Little Chick and each of his cousins were to grow their own carrots then include them in a carrot cake, which would be judged and sampled at Grandad’s birthday party.

We were given plenty of warning so that we could grow our carrots in advance. Little Chick assisted us at every stage: he diligently watered them every day through the summer, often nipping out of his paddling pool to check if they needed sun lotion.

This dedication, and the happy accident of using an irrigated compost bin to plant them, resulted in a bumper crop of giant, tasty carrots. I was always going to be biased but they were the biggest and best by far. In the short time we have known him I have never seen Little Chick look so proud as when he harvested his vegetables and declared “my carrots”. Nor have I been as surprised as when he brushed off the soil and took a huge bite, murmuring with delight at the taste he had produced. Taking ownership of his food production continued as the Other Mrs Reed Warbler helped him bake a cake, following the issued recipe, to allow for fair judgement.

Little Chick loves baking. So does the other Mrs Reed Warbler. I’m not a fan. Happily, it can be something he shares with Mama and I perform taste tests and deliver appropriate praise. The care and attention he gave that cake was astonishing and belied his tender years. His repetition of “Grandad’s cake” also made it clear that he knew it was a special gift for a special person.

When Grandad’s birthday finally arrived, the whole family kindly and genuinely applauded his efforts; graciously Little Chick accepted their praise. All children were awarded a medal for participation and a trophy (engraved – this competition is taken very seriously). His prizes now sit on the shelf in his playroom, pride of place.

Next year’s challenge will be confirmed in the coming months (there are rumblings of growing fruit then producing jam). I hope it will stir as much excitement as this year’s has, promote as much pride, and produce such great results.

Carrots are important because they showed Little Chick that trying new things can be good, that he is very capable, that we can all work together as a team, that not all veg is yuk, and that commitment pays off. They also remind me of the kindness and patience people have shown us, how they have accepted Little Chick, and welcomed him into the wider family. Carrots taste of love.


Edit (January 2019): Little Chick has continued to eat carrots and added further vegetables to his diet. In the spring, we plan to encourage more gardening and growing and have set aside a small plot solely for Little Chick’s use.

Miffy

Miffy (nijntje in her native Netherlands) is Dick Bruna’s most famous creation and a firm favourite in the Reed Warbler household. She has become symbolic of Little Chick’s development and growing confidence.

The first new book we shared with Little Chick was Miffy in the Snow. I had enjoyed the bright illustrations and simple rhymes as a child and hoped he would share my pleasure. We chose Miffy in the Snow as our first tale, since Little Chick’s arrival coincided with several weeks of snow. Amidst all the upheaval of introductions even the weather conditions were unusual and unpredictable, but Miffy made them a little safer and less threatening. The story includes Miffy finding a home for a little bird, which allowed us to share our love of ornithology and develop a narrative of looking after/being looked after. Echoing text from the book’s final page, “See you in the morning, bird” are always my last words and promise as I kiss him goodnight.

Having enjoyed more books in the collection, we introduced him to the movie. Until this point, he hadn’t watched much television and, frankly, we needed an electronic babysitter to give us a few minutes to ourselves. The film is American rather than European and was insufferable the first time we watched it. But Little Chick sat quietly, rapt, so we agreed on another viewing some days later. As I learned to blot out the terrible accents and whiny voices, I realised that it provided education as well as entertainment. Miffy at the Zoo encouraged Little Chick to identify colours, numbers, animals, and he tentatively joined in the songs, or demanded that we sing them to him at bedtime.

When we realised that Little Chick would not or could not sleep in a room with all his toys, we decided to create a separate bedroom purely for sleeping, at the expense of the guest bedroom. This small space contains just a bed and a few books, allowing for optimum rest and calm. To make it less like a monastic or prison cell, we set aside a budget for adding personal touches. Now Miffy adorns the walls and watches over him as he sleeps (not as creepy as it sounds). We had already decorated most of his bedroom before he moved in, but this time, he was able to see the room take shape and watch as his personality and interests were reflected in the décor. When the finishing touches were complete, he literally jumped with joy at his ‘big boy room’ that he shared with his friend Miffy.

More recently, Little Chick has started talking to and playing with imaginary friends, including Miffy. Initially, his soft toy of her likeness would sit at the table in the playroom and enjoy tea parties. Now there is no visible sign of her as Little Chick pours her another cup and offers one lump or two. His creative play is developing as he becomes more confident with us and more confident in his own abilities. These skills have probably shown the greatest improvement, and will no doubt continue to blossom when he resumes nursery in a few weeks and can regularly play alongside his peers.

Miffy has been a companion to us all these past six months, binding us together. In six months’ time, she may no longer be relevant to Little Chick as he replaces her with a new interest, a new character. But Miffy will always have a special place in my heart for the part she has played in getting to know my son.

Grandma

Having taken a holiday in May, the long summer stretched out before me with no anticipated break. This early into placement we have been mindful to not overwhelm Little Chick with too many changes and have limited new experiences, settings, and people for all our benefits. But when my mum invited us to join them in Wales for a week I could have wept with joy.

Little Chick adores his grandparents. He benefits from Grandpa’s quietness and steadiness. This ability to just be and spend time with him is often underestimated and underappreciated, certainly by me. But it centres and calms Little Chick and brings joy to my dad too.

Grandma is Little Chick’s partner in crime. She is a friend and safe place rolled into one. Initially, I have been jealous of their bond, worrying that I am being replaced and that I have introduced other people too soon before securing our attachment. But I have been heartened that he looks for me even when happily playing with Grandma. While swimming, his giggles and splashes were interspersed with calls of “watch me!” and furtive looks to check I was close by. My initial jealousy was reasonable but unfounded and seeing Little Chick so happy with his grandparents makes my heart sing. This is ‘normal’.

In turn, Grandma cherishes her time with her best boy and her boundless enthusiasm and attention offers me down time without worrying that he isn’t happy or cared for. Her willingness to join in with the evening entertainment each night also gave me a break from self-consciously jigging and allowed me to watch Little Chick dancing freely, joining in the games with the other, often older, children, and even braving karaoke. His rendition of ‘I can sing a rainbow’ may not have wowed the audience but I could not have been prouder.

Spending a week away from home was tricky, but manageable. It was the longest Little Chick had spent away from the house and the first extended stay away from Mama. Considering that, he was brilliant. Yes, there were moments when I wanted to scream and pull out my hair, but, really, they were to be expected. His behaviour was typical of any three-year-old excited to be somewhere new with his pals. If we were to do it again, I would perhaps rethink the accommodation: you don’t realise how many doors there are in a static caravan until everyone has been opened into or slammed in your face.

Bedtime was the only major issue of the week, with Little Chick refusing to settle, a departure from our successful night-time routine at home. By the end of the week, we accepted that he wouldn’t readily go to sleep – even with me in the opposite twin bed – while he knew Grandma and Grandpa were still pottering about mere feet away and let him stay up until he crashed through exhaustion. Not ideal but the least stressful for all of us.

As much as Little Chick has enjoyed getting to know his grandparents, I have also appreciated my parents in these new roles. I never doubted that they would be good grandparents, but I hadn’t expected them to be so perfect for Little Chick. Between them they offer him so much that he wants and needs: calmness, adventures, quiet rest, high jinks, safety, fun. Unprompted, Little Chick lists them among his family. He loves Grandma and Grandpa and they love him.

Happened

“What the…? Mess how?”

“Happened.”

Leaving the room for less than a minute, I am stunned by how much chaos Little Chick has created. I have learned that keeping questions simple and to the point is best for eliciting the truth. Lately though, Little Chick will only reply “happened”, with a Gallic shrug and perfect pout.

Initially, I laughed. It was funny. Little Chick responded to this – he loves making people laugh – and now overuses the phrase. Every time he does something it is followed by an enigmatic “happened”, whether it is accidental (dropping cutlery during meal time) or deliberate (smacking me around the face when we’re singing nursery rhymes, usually because he is unable to regulate himself).

I appreciate that he is only three and can’t be responsible for all his actions, nor can he control his behaviour, but “happened” is getting to me. Oh, the temptation to respond in kind (say, knocking over a tower of blocks or tipping his dessert on the floor followed by a nonchalant “happened”) is overwhelming sometimes. But I know it is petty and unnecessary. I need to take a step back and respond calmly and therapeutically. But that’s easier said than done sometimes.

I also recognise that I am fortunate. Little Chick sometimes struggles to regulate himself, but for a child of his background he copes incredibly well with everyday life. He is a kind and likeable boy and isn’t remarkable from his peers. Yes, he can be a handful sometimes, but he is a three-year-old, it’s par for the course. On the days I do find parenting hard work, when I have had my fill of “happened”, my wife can share the load and give me a break, usually to regulate myself. I genuinely don’t know how single parents or parents with more challenging children cope, when the onslaught is relentless. “Happened” reminds me of the need for self-care for all, but especially adoptive, parents; it reminds me that we need to be kind to our children, parent therapeutically, but also be kind to ourselves, so we can better deal with whatever has “happened”.

Doggy

When Little Chick was first placed with us, we asked his foster carer if he had a favourite soft toy. She reassured us that although he needed a blankie to sleep it could be any from his collection. However, it soon became apparent that there was a favourite. As time passed, Little Chick showed greater reliance on this toy.

Doggy is perhaps a link between life with his foster carer and life with us. We had hoped that Tag, the toy chosen for introductions, might serve this purpose, but it makes more sense that it is a toy he has elected. Doggy has received elevated status and is a genuine comfort to him. Losing Doggy, even for a few moments, can cause great distress, for Little Chick and for us. We anticipated that a child we adopted would need such a toy, but we hoped that wouldn’t be the case. As I look at the little toy, considerably more worn than six months ago, I see Little Chick’s anxiety, real or imagined. Going everywhere with Little Chick, Doggy has been subjected to many spills and marks and has needed to be thrown in the wash several times. Even this act, intended to help preserve Doggy and keep Little Chick safe from the grimness that is festering on its fur, fills me with guilt, as though I am whitewashing over the causes of Little Chick’s need for Doggy, not respecting his life story. Mostly, I know this is melodramatic rubbish, but that nagging doubt feeds into my own concerns of whether we are doing enough for Little Chick, whether we are good enough for him. On another level, I think I am jealous of this inanimate object. Yes, I realise that is one of the most absurd things I have said in a long list of ridiculous statements. Doggy provides instant relief and comfort to Little Chick, which we are not yet able to do, which we may never be able to do. In Doggy I see all my insecurities and inadequacies, including the fact that I should be grateful for Doggy, since he is a vehicle for Little Chick to deal with his feelings and emotions rather than resent it.

Being away from home and out of our usual routine, Little Chick has been asking for Doggy more and more. I’m proud of him for recognising a problem and seeking a solution. But I want to be the solution or at least the one who helps him find a solution. At the same time, I know this is not and should not be about me and I am frustrated with myself.

I am rushing Little Chick. I am expecting too much too soon. I am expecting a little boy, who has just turned three, to deal with incredibly difficult changes in a way that far exceeds his years. I am expecting him to behave like an adult, in many ways.

Amid everyday life it is hard to see how much progress Little Chick has made and how much he has achieved. Standing back for a moment and observing our lives as a friend or family member would, I can see how incredible Little Chick is and the leaps and strides he has made. Objectively, I can see that this would not have been possible without Doggy.


Edit (October 2018): Little Chick is becoming increasingly dependent on Doggy. Anticipating that he may need it more while I was away, we sourced a back-up. Having price tracked on eBay for months, we finally secured a duplicate that didn’t break the bank. When we were choosing a toy for introductions, we purposely selected one that could be bought quickly, relatively cheaply, and easily, opting for one that was available the next day from various online stores. We had considered buying two at the outset, but it felt wrong somehow, like tempting fate. However, my top tip is to buy a spare, if you can afford to do so. The stress of mislaying Doggy, even just in the house, would have justified a far greater financial outlay. Buy a spare – for your own peace of mind, if not your child’s.