The silence is deafening

Little Chick is spending a few days at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, his first solo visit and stay, giving us the opportunity to catch up on jobs, uninterrupted, and get some much-needed rest. We can enjoy some peace and quiet.

But it is silent. And the silence is deafening.

Being child-free for a whole weekend sounded magical. Honestly, I’ve hated it. I also feel guilty for wanting it; after all, we waited years to be parents. Then I feel guilty that I need this time. I’ve been pleasingly resilient over the past twelve months, but I can feel that things are not as robust as they should be, I’m not as robust as Little Chick and the Other Mrs Reed Warbler need me to be.

I’ve needed a break for a while. While I do get full days when Little Chick is at nursery, I needed to feel that I could properly switch off, relatively guilt-free. This new to parenthood, I didn’t expect to feel entirely guilt-free at a weekend without parental responsibilities, but I didn’t think I would feel so bad. Or miss him so much.

I’ve had time without Little Chick, notably my trip to Brazil, but I was occupied and busy. I barely had time to miss him. I was also in a new unfamiliar and exciting environment. Now I am at home and I expect to see him. Seeing his room makes me sad; it’s almost like I’m grieving. It’s weird. Strangest of all is the absence of laughter, music, requests for more snacks and drinks. It’s eerily quiet.

I knew my life would change beyond recognition when we adopted, but this is not what I expected. I didn’t think I could love him or miss him as much as I do. My body aches. This is a stark reminder of how his birth family must feel. It is too much. I need the noise. I need Little Chick.

Support network

Physically and mentally, I’ve been feeling a little fragile lately. I can sense that I’m not quite right; I’m not working at full capacity. This happens every so often, but this is the first time since Little Chick has been with us.

Little Chick’s presence has complicated things. It’s not so easy to slope off for a duvet day when a three-year-old is vying for my attention. And even when I do manage some alone time, I’m usually too wracked with guilt to enjoy it immediately. Theoretically, I know that it is essential self-care, but it’s another thing to willingly accept it.

In the past I have suffered in silence. Now, I am better at recognising that my ‘down’ days are just part of who I am and no reason to punish myself. Rather than struggle alone, I now willingly ask for help. It took me many years to realise that my health impacted my wife’s life and that I need to consider her needs as well as mine when seeking help. Fortunately, I have realised much quicker that Little Chick needs me to be as well as possible; he needs my best me.

In the almost year that Little Chick has been with us we have utilised our support network to varying degrees: occasional babysitting, adult conversation, grownup advice. This week we have used our support network well: for the first time, we have admitted that things are tough and that we need some hands-on help, above and beyond the usual emotional support they provide. Little Chick will be enjoying his first solo visit to my parents’ house. He has stayed with Grandma and Grandpa several times now, but he hasn’t stayed there alone.

Everyone is excited. Little Chick wasn’t given much notice of his future excursion (we didn’t want to unsettle him), but he is bouncing. Already he is reeling off his wishlist for the next few days: soft play, walk the dog, play outside, play doh, painting, cars, walk the dog, Grandma’s treat tin, big boy bed, walk the dog (again). Grandma and Grandpa are looking forward to some quality time with their only grandchild. We are excited by the chance to sleep well, catch up on work and jobs, and enjoy some downtime. I can’t wait to pee unsupervised.

But I am also feeling strange. I am not anxious. I know that he will be happy and safe with Grandma and Grandpa and that they will provide everything he needs in our absence. But I will miss him. And I feel guilty that I am not on top form and that the need to reach out to our support network has arisen.

Our support network bears little resemblance to the one we mapped in Stage One of the adoption process. Friends and family have been understanding, supportive, and patient, but we grossly underestimated the problem of distance. Both sets of grandparents live 90+ minutes away, which doesn’t lend itself to quick visits or impromptu meet-ups. Instead, we will make the most of overnight breaks and short stays. It’s not ideal, but it is what it is and we will make the most of it.

We have made new friends, primarily other adopters, and they have been a welcome addition to our existing support network. Our ‘real life’ friends have offered companionship for us and Little Chick. Our online community has also been a vital support, readily available night and day. This is one group that we only briefly considered when predicting our support network and certainly the one we underestimated most. Other adopters don’t need a preamble or explanations. We can just be. It’s easy. It’s a relief.

Our biggest surprise/disappointment has been the lack of friends from nursery, both for Little Chick and for us. Since the children attend nursery on different days at different times it is rare to see the same parents regularly. Moreover, we use the earliest and latest drop-off and collection times so people aren’t keen to dawdle; real life beckons. We are looking forward to Little Chick starting school and becoming more involved with village life and our local community. Though socially anxious, I thrive in well-chosen good company and look forward to making new friends and embracing new opportunities.

During the adoption process, our social worker praised our willingness to ask for help, while recognising that this wasn’t easy and had taken years to achieve. Equally, we want others to see us as part of their support network. Again, this is easier with other adoptive parents. I’m conscious though that we’re not the support we once were for our friends and family. The focus was always on who would help us, but little thought was given to how our changing circumstances would affect others. Notably, we can be less spontaneous. We weren’t exactly spontaneous before, but we had the possibility to be, if we wanted. As we all settle into family life, I aim to be a better friend to those I have overlooked these past twelve months. Going forward, I aim to better support our support network and extend the same kindness to them, offer them the support that has sustained us.

The balloon of anger

For the past week or more, something has been building up in me. I couldn’t put my finger on exactly what it was, but I knew that it was making me feel uncomfortable, both physically and emotionally. Leaving the house to collect Little Chick, I turned on an audiobook I had failed to finish for several weeks. As I opened the gate, the recording resumed, a gentle pause followed by the narrator’s calm steady voice.

“Balloon of anger.”

Bang.

For a second, it felt that the words had conjured up a balloon, large and red in my mind’s eye, which immediately burst. The figurative explosion literally made me jump.

Epiphany.

I was angry. I was filled with anger. I was full to the point of bursting.

Continuing through the gate, I headed into town, the words and blood simultaneously pounding in my ears as I strode purposefully. The audiobook, An introduction to play therapy, could not have been timelier. Reaching the section of possible activities to help children, I realised that I needed help. I was angry and I wasn’t dealing with it properly. I’ve never dealt with it properly.

How can I help Little Chick deal with his anger when I can’t or won’t deal with my own anger?

Identifying my anger was a breakthrough. Using the exercise to manage my anger was a further step in the right direction. But there is still a long way to go. It seems I have been angry about a lot of things and a lot of people for a long time and that is not going to change overnight. But discovering the balloon of anger exercise put me on the right path and helped me release some of that anger in a controlled, healthy way. In time, it is an exercise I can use with Little Chick, but I must help myself before I can help him.


Balloons of Anger

Therapeutic Rationale

It is crucial to help children understand what anger is and how to release it appropriately. Balloons of Anger (by Tammy Horn; see Kaduson & Schaefer, 1997, pp. 250–253) is an enjoyable, effective technique that provides children with a visual picture of anger and the impact that it can have upon them and their environment. It allows the children to see how anger can build up inside of them and how, if it is not released slowly and safely, anger can explode and hurt themselves or others.

Description

Materials needed: balloons.

First, the child blows up a balloon, and then the therapist helps tie it. Second, the therapist explains that the balloon represents the body, and that the air inside the balloon represents anger. The therapist asks the child, “Can air get in or out of the balloon?” “What would happen if this anger (air) was stuck inside of you?” “Would there be room to think clearly?” Third, the therapist tells the child to stomp on the balloon until it explodes and all of the anger (air) comes out. Fourth, the therapist explains that if the balloon were a person, the explosion of the balloon would be like an aggressive act (e.g., hitting a person or object). The therapist asks the child if this seems like a safe way to release anger.

Next, the child blows up another balloon, but instead of tying it, the child pinches the end closed. The therapist tells the child to slowly release some of the air and then pinch it closed again. (The child will love the noise that the air makes as it slowly seeps out.) The therapist asks the child, “Is the balloon smaller?” “Did the balloon explode?” “Did the balloon and the people around the balloon stay safe when the anger was released?” “Does this seem like a safer way to let the anger out?” At the end of the activity, the therapist again explains that the balloon represented anger. By talking about what makes us angry and by finding ways to release the anger appropriately, the anger comes out slowly and safely. The therapist reminds the child that if he or she allows anger to build up inside, it can grow and explode and possibly harm the child or someone else. The therapist then discusses various anger management techniques.

Applications

Balloons of Anger is effective for aggressive children who have difficulty controlling their anger and for withdrawn children who internalize their anger instead of expressing it. This technique can be used in an individual or a group format. Bottle Rockets, by Neil Cabe (see Kaduson & Schaefer, 2001, pp. 282–284), is a variation of this technique that uses exploding canisters to demonstrate what occurs when anger is not released slowly and safely.

 

Tara M. Hall, Heidi Gerard Kaduson, Charles E. Schaefer. Fifteen Effective Play Therapy Techniques. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice 2002, Vol. 33, No. 6, 515–522

Celebration hearing

A few days ago, I started to worry about the celebration hearing. It’s a non-essential part of the adoption process and we are not obliged to attend. But it does draw a line under the legal process and, generally speaking, draw an end to the social workers’ involvement.

Wondering what we could do to make it special and memorable for Little Chick, I began searching the internet for others’ experiences. The more I searched the more I read reasons why people didn’t attend theirs: doubt started forming in my mind.

Would Little Chick understand what was happening?

Would he be frightened of the judge?

This close to Christmas, would he again question if he was leaving us? That we were letting him, even making him, go?

Would seeing his social worker after so long unsettle and confuse him?

These and many more questions kept me awake that night. In the morning I asked my wife what she thought. In the afternoon I asked for the collective wisdom of the adoption community on Twitter. They essentially reiterated what my wife had said. Grudgingly, I told her she was right. The celebration hearing was less important for what it meant now and was more relevant to its import in the future. We would have marked the occasion we officially became family and the photos and mementos would contribute to future life story work.

Amongst the valuable advice was the suggestion of The Adoption Promise. This was kindly shared with us after our request on Twitter. Credit to @mistersglluest for kindly sharing this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We love this idea and will spend the next few days sharing this with Little Chick.


We have returned from the celebration hearing. I am not feeling celebratory. I’m tired, sad, and fed up.

Despite arriving early, we did not enter the courtroom until almost an hour after our scheduled time. This was partly due to Little Chick’s social worker arriving late and partly due to delays. The strict entry requirements – akin to airport security – unsettled us, let alone Little Chick. We knew to expect them thanks to other adopters, but we hadn’t prepared for other people and their reactions. The woman alongside was not as compliant as we were and her effing and jeffing and general aggression startled each of us. The public waiting room then proved overwhelming for Little Chick, his anxiety manifesting in constant trips up and down in the lift or tackling the stairs. I happily accompanied him during these excursions as I felt my own frustration rising, while recognising that I was not well placed to respond rationally.

When we were finally granted access, I found the whole thing confusing. We weren’t told what would happen, what we should do, anything. Our ignorance fed Little Chick’s uncertainty and he became increasingly more unsettled. When the magistrates entered – not the judge as we anticipated – it was apparent that, despite their best efforts, they weren’t expecting us. It was obvious that it was all last minute. All our preparation had been futile. Little Chick was most looking forward to sitting in the big chair: the opportunity arose but, because it wasn’t instant, he became impatient and lost interest. He was given a teddy – unexpectedly and unceremoniously – and I’m still not sure he realises the bear is for him. We have safely stored it in a memory box for when he’s old enough to understand.

Our main reason for attending was to capture photographs that would aid life story work at an appropriate time. Disappointingly, we have one photo of him in the courtroom, blurred. We took many more photos throughout the day, which will aid his life story, though none are sufficient quality for displaying.

Knowing that the court session was short (less than ten minutes) and purely ceremonial I had hoped to enjoy time with his and our social worker afterwards. The delays and the imminent arrival of Granny and Grandad (who were kindly treating us to a meal) prevented this. Lunch with the grandparents was delicious, but marred by my mardy behaviour: I was simply unable to hide or appropriately deal with my frustration. For this, I am sorry. I made it about me when it was not.

Though it was good to mark our family being official it was not the occasion we hoped for. But we should have expected that. Nothing about adoption or the adoption process is what we expected. Then again, maybe it was better that it wasn’t all neatly tied up with a bow. Adoption isn’t about fairy tale endings and I am always conscious that our ‘celebration’ is at the expense of others’ loss. There will be many more moments over the years when we can enjoy our family and celebrate our lives together. We must continue to look forward.

Goodbye

Little Chick returned to nursery this week after almost three weeks’ holiday. He was nonchalant about returning, which suited us as we had expected full on resistance after nearly two weeks of just the three of us.

His night terrors worsened over the holidays, but seemed to tail off the past few nights. In fact, everything seems calm and well. The new year has started brightly and there is a sense of peace in our home.

I fear that will be short lived.

Next week we have our celebration hearing, where we attend the family court. It’s entirely ceremonial, but seems a good way of drawing a line under the official and legal process. It will likely be the last time we see Little Chicks’ social worker (though our own will be available for a few more months). So, it will be time for another goodbye for Little Chick, who has already been bid far too many farewells in his little life. Although I don’t think he will miss his social worker’s visits – I suspect our anxiety at having to appease another professional transmitted to him – I think it will remind him that he no longer lives with his foster carer. This is to be expected and his foster carer has been forefront in his mind over the festive period. But we will see her again within the next few weeks and he can be reassured that she is happy and safe, and he is staying with us.

But this will intensify another goodbye: this is the last working week for his nursery key worker. He adores his key worker. He has attached brilliantly. Their relationship is everything we could have hoped for, plus we like her, respect her, and find her easy to work with. Unfortunately, it has met a premature end as she has been offered a great opportunity elsewhere. Our delight for her is directly proportional to our upset for him.

We had hoped that his replacement key worker might be the one he had last academic year. It wouldn’t replace the outgoing worker, but might soften the blow. Alas, she is also leaving, just a week later (I’ll worry about staff retention later). So, hot on the heels of a reminder of loss at the court will be the disappearance of his key worker, his friend. I’m not entirely sure how to help him, how to make it better. Someone commented that he is a resilient little boy and will be fine. Yes, he is resilient, but because he has had to be. And that saddens me. I just want to protect him as much as I can and for as long as I can from the sadness of goodbye.


Edit (February 2019): Without wanting to jinx it, everything at nursery seems to be going well. His new key worker has been great. We hadn’t spoken to her much previously, but she has consciously made an effort to keep us informed and be available. We appreciate this. Little Chick doesn’t give her a cuddle in the morning when he arrives, yet. This may never happen, as it did with his previous key workers. But I think it may be a sign of him being more settled generally – at home, in life, and at nursery. It is also a positive step in terms of school readiness, when the staff may be more reluctant to offer cuddles.

New year resolutions

This year, I resolve not to make new year resolutions.

I think I dislike new year resolutions for several reasons:

1. Since January 1st is a favourite fresh start for so many people resolutions become public. Mine become known to others and I hear of theirs. This feeds into my competitive spirit and, before I know it, I have set unrealistic goals and ultimately set myself up to fail. This failure kick-starts a vicious cycle of seeing myself as a failure and helps no one.

2. January 1st isn’t actually a great time to start something new, especially since so many resolutions focus on health and wellbeing. I may resolve to get fitter, but the weather conditions do not lend themselves to this; rain, cold, and dark days are not conducive to forging new habits outdoors. January is more a period of hibernation for me and recognising this prevents me from setting up myself for continued failings and frustrations (see point 1). Spring seems a much better time to commit to such ideals.

3. New year new me. I’ve used that mantra in the past and it’s been a load of rubbish. Embracing new habits, routines, desires, and goals isn’t in itself negative, but when it comes at the cost of your old self its value is diminished. To me, new year new me has suggested wiping the slate clean and starting again. It’s taken many years for me to realise that not everything about me is abhorrent and some things are even OK or, dare I say (whisper) it, good. New year new me dismisses the hard work I have undertaken in various periods of my life. Sure, some still require new focus and plenty more application (physical fitness), but some have achieved far greater levels and stability than expected (mental health). So, in 2019 it’s new year same me, but I’m open to change.

4. In my mind at least, starting on January 1st sets you a target of 365 days for success. Even though I rationally know it is made up of 52 weeks and 12 months, if I have wobbled or not met my target by, say, the 5th then it’s game over for me. Starting on a less notable date reduces (note, reduces not removes) some of that self-imposed pressure.

5. Starting on January 1st makes me feel like I need to start all resolutions together. I’ve done this several times and this quickly becomes unmanageable. Trying to lose (mumbles large number of) stone, run 10K, learn Italian, focus on my career, and see immediate progress in all areas is unrealistic. And I am the kind of person who needs immediate results to maintain the early motivation. This year I may tackle challenges like the above, but experience has taught me that starting any more than two simultaneously is a hiding to nothing.

In 2019 I will set myself challenges and goals. Many will match the clichés that bombard us at new year – eat better, drink less alcohol, exercise more – but some will be personal to me and mine. Understandably, I have focused on parenting this past year, but sometimes that has been at my wife’s expense. On occasions we have felt more like co-workers than partners, but I’m ashamed to admit that I wouldn’t treat co-workers as poorly. My wife is my rock and I often take that and her for granted.

Actually, scrap all that. I’m going to break my own resolution of no resolutions on January 1st. Instead, I promise to show my wife each and every day how much I love her, how much I like her, and how much I cherish being a parent alongside her. Not just in 2019 but always.