Safe

From day one, we have made it clear to Little Chick that it is our job to keep him safe, but it’s also what we want to do. He seems to have a good understanding of this and as he has (seemingly) grown more secure with us he has used the word more often.

Lately, he has been using ‘safe’ a lot, incorporating it into games, especially chase and hide and seek. He has also devised and instigated a game with safety at the heart of it, specifically me keeping him safe and protecting him from dangerous outsiders.

Little Chick loves the Trolls movie – in truth, it is a family favourite that we enjoyed before even meeting him. On one level, he understands that the Bergens are not villains but misunderstood creatures who haven’t experienced true happiness. But that is pretty deep and a conversation for when he’s older. On another level, he knows that the Trolls retreat to safety from the Bergen attack and this is the aspect he incorporates in his play.

Initially, he was happy to shout the warning of “Bergen!” and we would both hide from the imaginary enemy. We would then re-emerge once he deemed it safe. This has now evolved to us diving for cover in Mummy and Mama’s bed and hiding under the duvet until the danger has passed. Further, he has started encouraging me to talk with the Bergen and negotiate with him (or her – Mr and Mrs Bergen both turn up uninvited). The scene plays out like this.

Little Chick [breathlessly, hiding under the covers]: Bergen! Hurt me. Mummy, talk. Please.

Me [politely]: Hello, Mr Bergen. How are you? (pause while I pretend to listen to his reply) Oh, no. I won’t let you come and hurt Little Chick.

[firmly] He’s my special boy and I love him very much. I promise that I won’t let you – or anyone else – hurt him.

[still firmly but a little softer] He’s my family and I will keep him safe forever.

[firmly, think best teacher’s voice] Go away!

(Here I leave a pause for Little Chick to think about what was said and, sometimes, to regulate his breathing. I then gently stroke his hair or reassuringly place one hand on his back)

Little Chick [takes a deep breath then calmly speaks]: Safe.

Part of me worries that this is a latent memory of a real time when he was scared, but I also appreciate that it is most likely the creation of a fertile imagination. For now, I am happy to play the game and am satisfied that he feels secure enough to ask us for help and protection. Our home is his safe place and we are his safe people and we need to work hard to maintain that.

Cathy

Little Chick has developed a new, incredibly irritating habit of pushing on the stair gate at the top of the stairs. The stair gate is fixed so that it can’t be pushed open. However, the gate will not stay secure when it is partially opened by an adult then launched at by a sturdy little boy. In that instant, the parent will scream, the little boy will squeal, and the parent and health visitor downstairs will worry. Fortunately, we have a staircase with a landing after five shallow steps or it could have been far worse when a toddler takes a tumble.

The immediate tears that sprang forth from Little Chick were simultaneously alarming and reassuring. He was conscious, at least. He was visibly shaken, but didn’t seem physically hurt. All the same, we took him to our local minor injuries A&E.

Checking him in, I recounted the incident and mentioned that he was still in care (as we continue to await the adoption order). It was one of those moments when I felt like I was offering up his story without being asked for it and I felt like I was almost betraying him.

After just a few moments wait – much to Little Chick’s dismay, as he was enjoying playing with the Happyland rocket – we were seen. I repeated the details of the incident. Throughout, Little Chick was superb. He listened well, responded appropriately, and didn’t fiddle with too much medical equipment. In short, Little Chick demonstrated what a wee star he is. Coupled with his looked after status, it was obvious that the nursing staff developed a soft spot for him, confirmed when I was asked if Little Chick was allowed a teddy.

The Freemasons donated teddies to the hospital that could be dispensed as the staff see fit (or that was my understanding). It is a generous initiative by the organisation and a thoughtful gesture from the nurse, who then enquired what colour Little Chick would prefer. When selecting pink from the options (rather than blue, green, or yellow), the nurse double checked this with him. Little Chick repeated pink. The nurse then asked me if he was sure: I confirmed that pink was one of his favourite colours and he was sure. He wanted the pink one. Though frustrated, amid her kindness, it didn’t feel like the time to argue gender politics and plead her to let toys be toys.

On the way home, we asked Little Chick what he was going to call his teddy. Cathy. We were both surprised but touched by the choice: Cathy was the name of the nurse and his health visitor.

Cathy represents people who help us. Hospital and the medial staff can be scary, but, ultimately, people are trying to keep us safe and healthy or make us better. In a world where grownups can be unsafe and unpredictable, it can be tricky to convince Little Chick that these strangers are good people, allies, potential friends. But we must keep trying.

Brazil

Strictly speaking, Brazil is not Little Chick’s word of the week. It is mine.

I write this from my hotel room, overlooking Copacabana Beach. Having attended a friend’s wedding, I am now enjoying a week in Rio with my best friend. The Other Mrs Reed Warbler is solo parenting and Little Chick, despite my best efforts to explain the situation, thinks I am on an extended shopping trip. He will be expecting some stellar presents upon my return.

To prepare him for my absence, I started laying the groundwork early, drip-feeding information without panicking him that I would be leaving at any minute. Additionally, I compiled a few bits and pieces for Mama to use, as she sees fit, in my absence.

Little Chick and I both love Miffy (Dick Bruna’s sweet little bunny) and the character is special to us and our relationship. I bought a special Miffy plush toy for myself, partly because it is adorable and partly so that I could leave it with Little Chick whenever I am away. I am away far less often than Mama, who leaves for work several times a week (but always comes back), so we haven’t had the need for anything before now. I kissed and cuddled Miffy with Little Chick before departing so that he knew she was special to me and that she could pass on my love. He also has Tag, the cuddly dog we gave him during introductions, which is a link to both Mummy and Mama and affirms our status as a family unit.

Although we share responsibilities and try to alternate who does activities with Little Chick (so that he doesn’t become dependent on or detached from one of us in a particular circumstance or setting), Mama takes the lead during bathtime and I am in charge of bedtime stories. I love stories and reading to our child was one of the things that most excited me about becoming a parent. In my absence, I have recorded some stories onto the Kindle so that I can still share stories with Little Chick and be involved in the bedtime routine (if appropriate).

I have promised him some small presents upon my return. These will include a replica football shirt and sundries from the hotel. I cannot give him toiletries because of his sensitive skin, but I think he will enjoy having his own comb (in its own special box), writing paper, and pen. I have also swiped some honey from the breakfast buffet, a mini jar that will be just his, which he doesn’t have to share.

The physical stuff is important, serving as tangible reminders. But I also want to remind him of the less tangible, such as me coming back. Since introductions, I have reiterated to him that while we sometimes go away, we always come back. I have emphasised this message over the past weeks and given myself more opportunities to prove that I always return. This has benefited both of us. It has reinforced my reliability to Little Chick and has forced me to focus on myself more.

For the past six months or so, Little Chick has been the sole focus of our attention. It is right that he was our priority, but sometimes we have focused on him to the detriment of ourselves; ultimately, that hasn’t benefited him either. Until I took this break, I didn’t realise how much I needed it. OK, a fortnight in an exotic location is good for most people, but I had underestimated how much I need a change of scene, some time for self-care, and adult company.

The weather in Rio is unseasonably poor for this time of year but it is still considerably warmer and more uplifting than back at home. Different sounds, sights, smells have all invigorated me. I have been excited for things for my sake, not because they thrilled Little Chick or given me five minutes’ peace. I saw a Toco Toucan and squealed with delight; the magnificent frigatebirds and black vultures have captivated me from the rooftop terrace; Sugarloaf Mountain was breathtakingly beautiful.

Adult conversation has been tricky. I left the UK feeling poorly and arrived in Brazil with full-blown tonsillitis. Over the course of the first few days I gradually lost my voice until I was no longer audible. I was finally in adult company and I couldn’t talk. Initially, I was gutted, knowing I would be even more on the social periphery (being amongst chiefly strangers and not struggling with social anxiety). But as time passed, I realised that I didn’t know what to say or have much worth sharing. Perhaps my ailments were a blessing in disguise.

I knew that I would miss the Other Mrs Reed Warbler and Little Chick – that was a given. But I didn’t appreciate how much, or how silly moments would make me yearn for them intensely. Chilling on Ipanema Beach was blissful, but I became bored more quickly than I expected and looked around for my playmate to build sandcastles with me; I also knew that my wife would have loved this opportunity and especially enjoyed the fresh coconut water and cocktails being brought directly to her.

Focusing on Little Chick’s preparedness for me leaving, I overlooked my own readiness. I hadn’t steadied myself for the time apart, for the time difference, for the disrupted communications. I knew that it would be a fantastic opportunity for my wife and Little Chick to bond, having spent less time together without me. But now I’m worrying about where I will fit in on my return, whether I will be welcomed or shunned.

So, this trip has been somewhat bittersweet. I have had an amazing opportunity, but I haven’t embraced it like I would have previously. I haven’t been the fun travel companion that my best friend hoped for and has come to expect (that is something I do need to think about and try to remedy). It has been different because I have changed. I am a mummy now. And I hadn’t fully appreciated how much I love the changes until I had some distance from them. It isn’t always easy – sometimes it is downright painful – but I love my life, I love my family. And Brazil will always remind me of that.

Self

This week, Little Chick has been saying self. A lot.

Like much of his language, this word has multiple meanings. Generally, this has two distinct uses: self in terms of identity and self as an abbreviation of myself, symbolising his desired independence.

Little Chick has, or appears to have, a positive identity and strong sense of self. We repeatedly tell him he is special and, again, he appears to believe it. We say he is good. That is a given. He is inherently good. But we praise specific skills and traits. He is a good listener, following instructions carefully. He is a good helper, assisting us with tasks. He is a good friend, sharing and being kind.

In terms of our relationship with Little Chick it is incredibly early days. On top of that, he is only three years old. But we are keen to foster this positive sense of self as we are aware it may diminish as he gets older and especially as he becomes more aware of his life story. We want him to be proud of himself, of his identity, of who he is.

Little Chick is desperate to grow up, to be a big boy. As he becomes happier and more comfortable with us, he is also pushing for greater independence. We see this as a positive development, a sign of his growing confidence and his increasing attachment. Each day, each week, he is making such progress. Obviously, we are encouraging and nurturing him, but we can take no credit for it. That is all on him. His birth parents provided the genetic disposition, his foster carer sowed the seeds of his positive self-worth, and we will continue to water them and watch them flourish.

Share

Little Chick, like most three-year-olds, is not big on sharing.

In his foster placement he had to share a lot: time, attention, toys. It’s the same at nursery.

At home, with us, he has more. He has less competition for attention and the toys are (almost) exclusively his (though he is eyeing up my Lego collection).

I find it hard to strike the right balance. Sometimes I feel like I am overcompensating for his tough start in life by indulging him. There are times when I should say no (more often or more firmly). When I should encourage him to share – with us, with his peers, with his cousins.

Little Chick, like most three-year-olds, is not big on sharing. But he is trying.

During imaginative play, he is always keen to share things with us, both real and imagined. He will offer toys, including some of his most prized possessions, so that we can be happy.

He is getting better at sharing by taking turns. Even the precious resource of bubbles will be shared, as he alternates blows.

The biggest breakthrough is him sharing food, especially when he shares sweets and treats. He willingly shares little sweets if he has more than one. Chocolate is strictly off limits, though he is always keen to share ours. If he ever offers someone his last Rolo then we will know it’s love.

Little Chick will learn by listening. Sometimes.

Little Chick will learn by watching. More.

We need to lead by example. We need to show Little Chick how to share. And, that’s harder than I thought as an adult. I’m used to having my own way. Mostly, I’m used to being indulged. So, I’m having to change. And change can be hard. But it’s worth it. I want Little Chick to continue to be a kind, loving, caring boy and for others to recognise this in him. And sharing is caring.