Got the pox!

It’s official: we’re in quarantine. Little Chick has got the pox!

My experience of chicken pox in children is very limited. Aged four, my sister contracted the illness. As did our neighbour’s children. As did their friends. Somehow it missed me. I carried on attending school and missed out on the communal scratching, TV watching, and ice lolly sucking. Naively, I thought it looked fun, enviously observing the camaraderie of dabbing one another with calamine lotion. Eventually, I got my time off school – though it was in my first year of teaching, so not such a treat.

As a seven-year-old, I recall thinking that it seemed a lot of fuss over nothing. That the children were hardly spotty at all. I’m not sure whether age alters perception, the mind plays tricks on you, or little Chick is just unlucky. But he is covered. His beautiful porcelain skin is barely visible between the scarlet beacons.

Unfortunately, his illness has coincided with the Other Mrs Reed Warbler’s absence. Though he was poorly before she left, the pox only took hold once she was 35,000 feet in the sky. I’ve played down his symptoms for her, but I have been worried. Especially at his loss of appetite. Little Chick will happily eat and eat and eat, but only rocket lollies have passed through those lips over the last three days. But he’s well enough and she needs the break. I can’t give her peace of mind, but I can try to ease any unnecessary guilt.

He is so vulnerable. He is limp, physically and emotionally. This is how I imagine he could have been as a tiny baby. This time, I will ensure his needs are met.

Seeing him in such a fragile state is shocking. My strong robust little bruiser looks so small and delicate. He clings to me in a way he never has before. I didn’t think it possible, but I think I love him more. I feel like I’ve glimpsed his life before us, before foster care, and I’ve seen him. Exposed. The protective armour he has donned since his arrival has suddenly fallen to the ground. In a perverse way, his illness has been a blessing for me, accelerating the building of the bond between us, deepening the attachment.

We are cocooned, the two of us. The highs and lows of parenting juxtapose. The love grows.

Toilet training

During Introductions, I thanked Little Chick’s foster carer for all that she had done for him – and, by extension, us. She accepted my praise, downplaying her positive impact on Little Chick’s life by saying it was both her pleasure and her job. Then she cackled with laughter: “At least I haven’t had to toilet train him. You can have that fun!” At the time, I brushed it off with some ill placed humour. But I get it now.

Toilet training sucks.

It is hands down the hardest thing we have had to contend with so far. I appreciate that toilet training is rarely easy and that boys tend to find it trickier than girls do. But I hadn’t accounted for a child that doesn’t complain when he is wet and/or soiled. Worse, a child that seems to enjoy the sensation and find some perverse comfort in it.

Recognising that Little Chick’s past experiences and developmental delay may make it a tougher proposition, we agreed early on not to push toilet training. It would happen when he was ready. Nursery have been supportive of this and haven’t negatively commented, even though most of his peers are already in pants. But lately we (I) have been a little nervous about the progress he’s making, or lack thereof. With one eye on starting school in September, I’m keen for him to make progress at his own pace – but quickly and now! Obviously, this pressure won’t help Little Chick and I’ve tried not to convey my anxiety to him. But he must sense it. He’s a smart boy and emotionally aware. And I do not have a poker face, especially when wiping up wee or poo.

Listening to our health visitor’s advice, we have tried skipping the potty stage and moving straight to the toilet. But this seems too bold a leap. Little Chick seems prepared to tolerate us if we allow baby steps. So, we have invested in potties. Plural. In various locations. In countless colours and styles. Heck, we even have one shaped like the small toilets at nursery with its own inbuilt flush. We have used bubbles to engage him – and encourage movements. We have added target signs to make it fun. We have stocked relevant reading material beside his potty. Perhaps we are doing too much…

Like everything with Little Chick right now, we will be led by him. I can’t imagine how tricky this must feel for him and how frustrated he is when he sees his peers succeed and our veiled disappointment when he doesn’t quite get it. But we will keep trying. Because, bless him, he is trying his hardest and that’s all we can ask.

Bouncing

Little Chick loves bouncing at the moment, usually on our bed. It is clearly joyful – his shrieks of delight attest to that – but it is also regulating. Adoptive parents shared the trampoline tip with us before we were even approved, and Little Chick has a small trampette in the garden. But he has outgrown that, and a full-size trampoline may follow.

Before we forked out for an expensive gift, we needed to lay the groundwork, physically and emotionally. Our garden is incredibly steep and doesn’t lend itself to jumping apparatus that requires flat ground. The designated area would require serious excavation before a large trampoline could be used safely. More importantly, we knew Little Chick enjoyed bouncing on our bed, but it wasn’t clear whether the thrill was the activity itself or the elicit nature of it, doing something he shouldn’t, in the one room of the house that is explicitly not his. We reasoned a trip to a trampolining centre would clarify this. So, I am sat in the viewing gallery as I write this, while Little Chick and The Other Mrs Reed Warbler are below.

It’s fair to say it has been a slow start. The necessary safety briefing caused some tension for most of the waiting children and I fully expected Little Chick to come bombing out of the tunnel, raring to go. But he was far more cautious, considered. This surprised me until I realised it wasn’t the bouncing that worried him: it was everyone and everything else.

Although the centre is kitted out in the two colours most associated with its branding, it is a dazzling sea of colour, not least because of the clothes the children are wearing. Seasoned pros have realised that a bright colour for easy ID is a smart move; some have taken this further by coordinating adult and children’s colours. Twinning in fluorescent outfits is something I will consider for next time (if today suggests that ‘next time’ isn’t a ridiculous idea). The noise is deafening. Over the years I have learned to tune out children’s playful screaming and turn it into unremarkable white noise. Little Chick hasn’t learned this trick yet and I can see he is struggling. Classic Disney tunes are blaring out across the arena. Honestly, I’m loving it, but this is a nostalgic throwback for me. It is a waking nightmare for the boy.

Sensory overload aside, he is coping brilliantly. Yes, he stands out. Yes, he is becoming dysregulated. But he and The Other Mrs Reed Warbler are doing a brilliant job of staying calm and bouncing it out. He becomes braver, trying apparatus much higher and trickier. He gives everything a go. But his favourite remains the inflated pillow that you run, jump, and launch yourself onto. The only problem is, there’s a queue. Little Chick was one of the first to try this when it belatedly opened and he was able to have a full ten minutes of sharing it with just one other family, a family who were kind and patient and didn’t mind a sturdy three year old having more turns than his equal half and hurling himself towards them. But as the session went on the attraction grew more popular and the queue snaked around the neighbouring trampolines. Waiting is not Little Chick’s forte. He is three, so fair enough, but he really struggles with waiting. I could see The Other Mrs Reed Warbler explaining the need to wait his turn and him protesting. After some time, he was amazing. He fidgeted and wobbled, waiting his turn, only cutting in a few times, but he was far better than I imagined he could be. He really wanted this and was trying so hard. Only one incident marred the experience. Two inept dads cut in line with their children then stood blocking the launchpad, while their own children flailed on the inflatable. Little Chick saw red and just ran and hurled himself over the edge. He missed one of the children by millimetres; it would have been a nasty collision that almost certainly ended with tears and most likely stitches or x-rays. The father of the child told off Little Chick; the attendant told off Little Chick; the Other Mrs Reed Warbler acted with dignity while rescuing Little Chick and used therapeutic parenting rather than reprimands.

When the session was finished Little Chick was clearly overstimulated, but the act of bouncing had prevented that from tipping over. The environment wasn’t quite right for him. This was a session exclusively for under-fives, but we made a mental note to enquire about the monthly slots dedicated to children with autism, sensory processing issues, and similar conditions. Little Chick told us that he loved it and wanted to come again.  We said we would try, not clear whether the fallout in the coming hours and days would be worth it.

There was no obvious fallout, or at least no more than we usually experience from a busy, exciting weekend. There have been many requests for bouncing. We will try again, in a few weeks. When its quieter. Once the Other Mrs Reed Warbler has recovered. A long-term knee injury excuses me from bouncing duty, so I will have to retake my place in the viewing gallery. I will observe, write, and drink surprisingly well priced coffee and cake. I look forward to it.


Edit (May 2019): We did return to ‘bouncing’, again for an under-fives session. Similarly, it was overwhelming and overstimulating, though Little Chick coped brilliantly. The limited availability of the quieter sessions – just one per month with restricted numbers – means we haven’t been able to access this option. We’re not sure that it is fair to take him to the regular sessions; it feels like we are setting him up for a fall. But it has convinced us that a trampoline is a great idea for a birthday present.

World Book Day 2019

We have books in every room.

We read to Little Chick daily (and not just at bedtime).

We read or listen to books and stories every day, for personal development and pleasure.

But it struck me today: Little Chick has never seen us reading. He’s seen us reading on our mobiles and Kindle tablets, though I assume he thinks we are watching TV or playing games.

We buy books frequently, but they’re mostly delivered from online giants or high street chains. We haven’t visited specialist book shops with him, just sections in supermarkets, etc.

Inconvenient opening hours means he hasn’t visited or joined the library, even though we are both (mostly inactive) members.

He has eBooks stored on his own Kindle, but only free ones, probably irrelevant or inappropriate. I enjoy the convenience of eBooks but think the experience of reading a book and turning the pages is precious and should be encouraged from a young age. We’ve told him this but not shown him. we aren’t practising what we’re preaching…

Tomorrow is World Book Day, with the requisite fancy dress. Rather than take the opportunity to explore stories, discuss favourites, and genuinely engage Little Chick with books I have picked out a The Gruffalo costume from the fancy-dress chest. I have taken the easy option but missed the great opportunity.

I am genuinely ashamed.

My coolest ever job title was Reading Champion, with a remit of encouraging Looked After Children (horrible phrase, I know) to read for pleasure. What a title. What a job. I was paid to literally tell people how good books are and how fantastic it is to read, to escape into a book. It was an absolute joy.

And I want to share this joy with Little Chick. Stories are important to all children but care experienced children can benefit more than most from reading and life storying.

I love books, I love reading, I don’t know how I could have been so remiss. But I vow to do better. Starting now. I need to formulate a plan. I’m off to do that, armed with a £1 World Book Day voucher. But I will be back. And Little Chick will know that I am a reader.