Looking back/looking forward

The problem with looking back is that you’re examining with fresh eyes, filtered, usually with the benefit of hindsight. In January I would have said that the year had started as badly as the previous one had ended. Now, I can barely remember the events that passed or how they made me feel. February – when Little Chick was placed with us – was a tiring month, but overall satisfying. But the details that felt so clearly imprinted on my mind are fading and memories are becoming jumbled, out of sequence, out of time.

No single month in 2018 was exclusively good or bad, though I suspect that’s how it’s been for every year of my life. In December, some of our lowest points were juxtaposed with what we hope will remain our most cherished memories. It’s a cliché to say it’s been a rollercoaster ride, but it’s apt.

I realised that I’ve tended to look back over my year when I’m least satisfied: unsatisfied with my performance, my achievements. It’s a frustrating and foolish task and one not suited to my temperament and unhelpful for my mental health.

Rather than looking back this year I’m looking forward.

I’m looking forward to:

  • Our first family holiday abroad
  • More walks and adventures
  • Seeing Little Chick in his school uniform
  • Hearing Little Chick utter even more words
  • Falling further in love with my forever family

I won’t be using the Word of the Week format in 2019. Little Chick’s speech is developing well: all being well, it is just a matter of playing catch up. Thinking of a word to sum up the progress Little Chick has made, I immediately thought ‘Proud’. But pride infers implicit responsibility, acknowledging your role in the success. That doesn’t seem right and isn’t testament to the tenacity Little Chick consistently displays.

Awesome.

He inspires me with awe and inspires me daily. He is truly awesome.

I will continue to write next year, and I hope to be braver: braver with the content and braver at sharing.

The Reed Warbler family wish you and yours health and happiness in 2019.

And me!

December has been tough. There have been some absolutely gorgeous moments though, such as time spent with family and Little Chick attending his first proper birthday party, and these have shone even brighter against the darkness of a difficult month.

Despite the deregulation, the lack of routine, the general sense of uncertainty, Little Chick has been brilliant. Typical of his can-do attitude, he has embraced everything – new food, new experiences, new people. Sometimes this hasn’t worked out – notably, me accompanying him on a nursery trip – but that’s never stopped him from trying again. Each day’s highs and lows have been punctuated by “And me!”, as Little Chick’s willingness to join in has endured even the trickiest of times.

December has been tough. But Little Chick has been tougher.

I’m fine

“I’m fine” is Little Chick’s go-to reply when something happens that he’s absolutely not happy about, but suspects he is to blame for or results from not listening to us. The phrase is usually shrieked, accompanied by hand flapping, and, occasionally, tears.

We have heard “I’m fine” a lot lately. He has also heard the same reply repeated from us, “Yeah, you’re really not, mate.”

Without dismissing his initial reaction, we are trying to show him that it’s OK to not be OK. Fair enough, it took us decades to learn this, but if we start early enough maybe he will get there sooner. Equally, it’s important that we recognise that he isn’t always fine and consider if we could have prevented this. Certainly, there have been more preventable moments this month. The festive build-up has taught me to follow my gut instinct more because it is invariably correct. Each time I have second guessed and gone against my instinct Little Chick has become overwhelmed and upset at some point. Yes, I have supported and consoled him, but I owe him more than that. As much as he is learning so am I: I hope that soon he will say “I’m fine” and we will both knows it’s true. He will learn to accept that not being OK is an option and I will learn to be better at managing the circumstances, so he is fine.

Pretending

In the past ten months, Little Chick’s imaginative play has improved enormously. Initially, his ‘people’ (Happyland toys) were bounced around a play mat with occasional excursions in vehicles and very little dialogue. Now, Little Chick is creating scenarios, albeit very simple ones, and acting them out. When I ask him what he is doing, he replies “pretending”. He is differentiating fiction from reality, in some ways anyway.

Little Chick has created several imaginary friends, and these have recently moved from Miffy the rabbit to Jack with the orange hair. All previous incarnations have been animals or clearly fictitious. Jack seems a more rounded character; there seems more truth in him. Specifically, “Jack pushed me”. This can be announced at any time: having fun in the playroom, driving home from the shops, eating breakfast on the weekend. When we ask where Jack is now, we are told “pretending”. Trying to unpick this, we ask if Jack is real. Sometimes he is, sometimes not. It seems that Little Chick is getting muddled. Elements of fantasy are mixing with reality. I believe this is not unusual behaviour for his age, but I am mindful that truth will be especially important to Little Chick when we progress life story work. I want him to be clear on what is real and what is pretending.

‘Pretending’ has also extended from imaginative play to little white lies or fibbing, like “Mummy did something”. Again, I believe this is typical, but it scares me. When he bellows “don’t touch me” I worry that the neighbours assume I am battering him. In truth, he is across the room from me, furniture dividing us, and I couldn’t touch him if I wanted to. If I ask why he said that he may reply “pretending” or say nothing at all.

I am thrilled that Little Chick is developing confidence and his ‘pretending’ through play is helping his social standing with his peers. I am anxious that the blurred line between reality and make believe could become problematic, for him and for us, as false accusations are made, and genuine memories are confused.


Edit (January 2019): Speaking to nursery, we have learned that Jack is now in Little Chick’s preschool group. There have been some incidents of pushing between them, but nothing worth worrying about. It is just two little boys finding their place. In a way, I am delighted. First, Jack is real (though he doesn’t have orange hair) and Little Chick is starting to tell us about his time at nursery, often a mystery now we only receive one short weekly update. Secondly, he is beginning to navigate relationships, even if he is pushing and shoving his way there. I would much rather he test this out on his peer in a highly supervised environment than he does it with much older, bigger boys and/or in an unsafe setting. Their fighting is only ‘pretending’, but they are learning valuable lessons through play, lessons that only his peers can teach him.

Igloo

Christmas is big, loud, and brash. This can be exciting, but it can also be terrifying. The lack of routine can be confusing; the deregulation can be mind-blowing. Since Christmas now seems to begin as soon as the Halloween decorations are reduced in shops, it can be a two-month long panic-fest. And that’s how it feels to well-adjusted adults. For young people who have encountered Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) it can be simply too much to bear.

In the swirl of all this madness, home has changed. We have been cautious to keep Christmas decorations to a minimum, but we still want to acknowledge a period that can be fun, which Little Chick’s peers enjoy, that he may even have enjoyed in the past. We want to protect him and keep him safe, but at the same time we don’t want to deny him potential pleasure.

As we search for this middle ground we have invested in a new safe space for Little Chick. An igloo. It meets the requirements of a winter wonderland of festive whimsy, but, most importantly, is a haven. This cardboard construction (a bargain at just £6 from Hobbycraft) will take pride of place in our living room until twelfth night. A wee raft of tranquillity in the ocean of Christmas mayhem.


Edit (January 2019): The igloo was a resounding success. Lined with a duvet and stuffed animals, it was a cosy Christmas dwelling. All visitors commented on it and Little Chick took great pride in showing off his new abode. Those people he was most comfortable with were even invited into his inner sanctum, though not all could squeeze into the tiny structure. We will purchase another (or a suitable alternative) next Christmas, the first of our new Christmas traditions.