Control

Control – or lack thereof – is a major issue in our household. Seemingly, we all feel the need for control. This just isn’t possible, not only because the three of us – the Other Mrs Reed Warbler, Little Chick, and me – sometimes want control of the same thing in a different way, but because our lives are often controlled by adoption. I don’t just mean our local authority, though that was often the feeling during approval and our extended waiting period. I mean that adoption is at the heart of everything – both good and bad. Although we suspected this would be the case, we weren’t prepared for the reality of it.

Obviously, I can only speak for myself. An adopter. I can say how tricky it is or can be. But I do recognise that I am in a privileged position. That I chose to be in this position, even if the landscape is not what I was expecting. My son – the adoptee – had no say whatsoever. No choice. No control.

His lack of control – or inability to control – is causing problems at home and at school, for him and for others. I won’t go into detail, but I will say that school are supporting us brilliantly. They quickly realised that they were only managing Little Chick and his behaviour and that this wasn’t good enough. They took control and have worked with us and other agencies to make school better for him. His attitude to school has improved enormously. Which is great. But as he enjoys school and works hard to control circumstances (and himself) we get the fallout. That’s right, but it’s hard. We have all lost control of various elements of our life, but sleep is the worst. We are all affected and we are all suffering. Little Chick is at the centre, dysregulated and overwhelmed. We are so shattered – physically and emotionally – that we are struggling to parent therapeutically more often than we would like. We are trying to help him but feel a bit (lot) useless. We feel out of our depth and out of control.

So, we are taking control of the things that we can control. The things that aren’t at the mercy of adoption. We are looking and hoping for little wins as we wait for help from the people who hold the purse strings and control our fate.

This month, we have taken control of our finances. We have been more realistic about our outgoings and limited our luxuries, excluding those already paid for or purchased (such as weekends away and tickets to the Adoption UK Conference in October). For the past few years, I have been self-employed with some ongoing part-time work to ensure a regular (though small) income. Since being matched to Little Chick in September 2017 my workload has decreased to allow flexibility to prepare for introductions then adoption leave. However, we had anticipated that my workload would be stable again by now with a reasonably regular income. It isn’t. And it isn’t anywhere near to being, either. This makes me feel guilty and like a freeloader, while it places enormous pressure on the Other Mrs Reed Warbler to be the sole earner. On the days when life is overwhelming, in the fleeting moment when you just want to quit your job and abandon all responsibilities, I’m sure she must resent it. Understandably so. I can’t contribute financially yet, not until our life is in better order and Little Chick is better regulated, but I can help control the incomings and outgoings that we have.

Next month, we will focus on regaining control of the house. This has already begun but we aim to dedicate time and resources to making our home a better environment for us all: calmer, more organised, better suited to our changing needs. We’re conscious that we have made several home improvements since Little Chick moved in with us. They were all made with his specific needs in mind, though sometimes we have tried alternatives before realising the merits of the original plan. Little Chick cannot comprehend that these alterations are made for his benefit and sometimes he is visibly upset by the changes. Now, two years later, we have finally worked out the best solutions for our family. Our aim is to implement these and take control of our home and our lives. The first step has been establishing which bedroom works best (and how) for Little Chick. This includes buying and swapping bedroom furniture to create two designated bedrooms and an office/guest room. If – as we hope – this contributes to better sleep, for everyone, then it will be time and money well spent. It will be invaluable. But that is a long way off right now.

We are so far away from being OK and in control of the big things. But controlling the things we can control will help us to help Little Chick. And that must be a win-win.

Adoption UK Conference 2019

Throughout October we experienced some giddy highs and nauseating lows. I haven’t blogged much and have shied away from social media. I had penned a post called ‘Trick or treat’ (which the lovely Ali Scothern had kindly illustrated), but it felt imbalanced and angst-ridden. With hindsight, it was written on the days when I was at my lowest point, when I felt like life was constantly tricking me. That’s valid, but it’s not representative of every day. I was underappreciating the treats that I was also granted. I began to forget that they were happening but, worse, I stopped believing they would happen again. I was losing hope.

Cue the Adoption UK 2019 Conference.

This year the event moved from Birmingham to Harrogate, kickstarting the tour over the next few years of conferences being held in different venues (next year we are Bristol bound). The theme for this year was slightly broader than in previous years: “Stronger Families Brighter Futures”. Rather than focusing on one single aspect, such as education or life story work, they considered a wider range of issues affecting adoptive parents and their children. There was an addition to the proven format, with delegates choosing two workshops (from a list of seven) to attend.

Knowing that Little Chick would be happy, safe, and well with his grandparents, we took the opportunity to head to Harrogate on Friday afternoon. This was a canny move considering the floods affecting Derbyshire and parts of Yorkshire but, more importantly, meant we could attend the pre-conference drinks. I love the idea of things like this, a chance to meet with like-minded people and talk about a shared interest. But putting that theory into practise is terrifying and my social anxiety does not always allow it. Fortunately, I found a few other people who were happy to forego small talk (yuk) and delve right into the big talk (yay). Even before the event had officially started, I felt connected and affirmed.

The welcome was given by Rob Langley-Swain (Head of Membership for Adoption UK, hosting his first conference – and performing admirably), who instigated the ‘snowball game’. Every delegate was asked to write what they wanted to get from the day onto a piece of (high quality) paper. That paper was then scrunched into a ‘snowball’ and, when directed, everyone threw theirs in the direction of another person or table so that we could see and share some thoughts. In a moment of brevity, I wrote just one word. Worried that my paper might not make it to another table, I launched my snowball, throwing it straight over the adjoining table into the wastelands yonder. This seemed a fitting metaphor.

Sue-Armstrong Brown (CEO of Adoption UK) gave the opening remarks, focusing on the results of the Adoption Barometer survey. There were, understandably, statistics showing issues with the adoption process, recurrent problems within education and then issues gaining employment and training, as well as difficulties accessing ongoing adoption support. Overwhelmingly, most adopters surveyed (approx. 4 in 5) said they would encourage others to adopt despite the challenges they face. This set the tone for the day. This was a room of people who want the best for their young people and will fight for them.

Joanne Alper – Encouraging resilience

Founder of AdoptionPlus, Joanne Alper focused on the need for and importance of resilience. At the heart of this, she highlighted vulnerability. Embracing and accepting vulnerability allows flexibility, a vital component when building resilience. She drew on her own experiences to show this, which I believe helped delegates feel more at ease. I’m always impressed that the speakers at these events demonstrate immense knowledge and understanding but deliver this with humanity. It feels like we’re all working together – a theme that was touched upon several times throughout the day.

Further, she highlighted the importance of self-compassion and the need for parents (all, but especially adoptive) to be kind to themselves. I especially liked her reminder to stay curious, as this is something I try to do but often forget. But when I am curious life is better, and easier, for me and my family.

My biggest takeaway from her informative and compassionate talk was the value of finding your tribe. This is something I have been exploring a lot recently, especially as we await official adoption support, and it was reassuring (though a tad frustrating) to know that others felt the same. At the Adoption UK conference, I found my tribe, some of whom I already knew (in real life or from social media), some I met for the first time. I am ridiculously grateful for that.

Adoptee panel hosted by Sally Donovan

This was a highlight for me at last year’s conference. The young people sharing their experiences of adoption were brave, honest, funny, clever, and bloody amazing, quite frankly. But, my goodness, the tears. I should have learned from last year that such raw emotions will require tissues. Perhaps these could be supplied next year.

Sally Donovan facilitated the panel perfectly. Her measured approached and gentle tone seemed to help Nellie, Louise, Lara, and Martin feel at ease. I cannot emphasise enough how impressive they were. They were absolute stars.

I’m conscious that adoptee voices aren’t heard enough and that adopted people are not always granted the same platform as adoptive parents. The four young people were immense and their tips and advice on what they believe helps make Stronger Families and Brighter Futures were insightful and well considered: their standing ovation was deserved. They highlighted the benefits of connecting with other adoptees, the role pets can play (as non-judgemental companions with unconditional love), and the importance of supportive parents who listen to them and never give up on them. I will try to remember these lessons now and as my son grows and vow to always champion him.

Dr Dave Williams – Building the village

Next, Dr Dave Williams, an adviser to Welsh government on children’s mental health, spoke about supporting one another and the strength that comes from being acknowledged and heard. He used the analogy that there is too much focus on a person who is ‘drowning’ and not enough on teaching them to swim. As someone who feels they are treading water at best this was a valuable mental image. Again, he promoted the need for a collective group, a village, to help children and families. The message that families can only become stronger by asking for and receiving support was loud and clear by the time we entered the coffee break.

Workshop 1 Becky Brooks – Home education

Although school have been brilliant so far, I thought it might be prudent to have home ed on our radar. I didn’t attend the workshop with the intention of removing him from school the following Monday. Rather, I wanted to know how people arrived at the decision to home educate so that I could learn from them, from their successes and their mistakes.

Becky Brooks is Adoption UK’s education policy adviser and knows her stuff. I enjoy her tweets and blogs and her recent publication (The Trauma and Attachment-Aware Classroom: A Practical Guide to Supporting Children Who Have Encountered Trauma and Adverse Childhood Experiences) has been recommended to school. She was able to share her own experiences of home educating as well as guidance on legislation, requirements, and practicalities.

The other adoptive parents shared their stories, enabling me to better understand why people educate their children at home, usually as a first choice or as a last resort. Those whose children have attended school before being home educated were most helpful to me as I was able to understand what we and school need to do better to ensure Little Chick’s success. By success I don’t necessarily mean a raft of top GCSE results. I mean a child who is happy, safe, and well, who can undertake practical tasks, and is able to ‘function’ in society.

It was extremely useful to hear other people’s experiences and, although I hope we never need to home educate, I feel less daunted by the prospect. I also feel better equipped for working alongside school to create a plan suitable for Little Chick. The Other Mrs Reed Warbler chose to attend a separate workshop, giving us access to more information and resources. She learned more about sleep therapy and was able to garner a few tips. We now also have further ideas to share in our meetings with the GP and behaviour specialist.

Lunch was a welcome break. The morning was fantastic but there is a lot of information to digest and emotions to deal with.

Workshop 2 Philippa Williams – Life journey work

I find life story work one of the most interesting aspects of adoption, perhaps because of my own struggles with identity and fascination with storytelling. Adoption UK’s Philippa Williams refers to it as life journey work. I like this word choice as it suggests that it is ongoing, continued. There is also the opportunity for travel companions and help along the way.

Partly because I have attended several life story workshops or training sessions recently, partly because I am jaded and cynical at present, the introductory overview was familiar and offered nothing new. However, the second part of the workshop was the best I have experienced in terms of practical tips and suggestions.

Drawing on work she has done personally and professionally, as an adoptive parent and as Early Intervention Support Manager, Philippa Williams shared ideas of how to help adopted young people better understand their past, present, and future. Combining music, artwork, stories, photos, and artefacts, she skilfully showed how these could prompt important questions or conversations. I especially liked her idea of a magic box as this is something that we could start now with Little Chick and it will evolve as he grows.

Importantly, I was reminded of the importance of asking questions when given photos, gifts, or information. Asking who gave him that outfit? Where was this photo taken? Why did he have this? Equally, labelling things is essential, particularly with names and dates. A beautifully presented photo album has less value if it is unclear who or what is pictured.

By the end of the workshop, I felt reassured that we are doing the right kind of things with Little Chick in mostly the right ways. However, listening to other delegates, I was angered and frustrated that this work is given such low importance by too many local authorities and the quality of life story books and later life letters is still woefully poor, if they exist at all.

Again, The Other Mrs Reed Warbler and I attended different workshops. She refreshed her knowledge of therapeutic parenting and was reminded of a few practical tips that we can employ in daily life.

Simon London – Overcoming adversity

Simon London is an incredibly interesting guy – the kind you would love to chat to over a drink – and he delivered his story with a fantastic mix of humour and honesty. Recounting his experience as a black adoptee, he wasn’t maudlin or negative, despite the challenges he faced, and his call to keep looking forward and remain positive were a welcome reminder. This was his first time speaking publicly about being adopted and I hope it is not his last. I felt honoured to hear his story and I hope he can share it with others who can learn from him.

Dr Marie Kershaw – The power of positive relationships

After a long but extremely worthwhile day, I felt for Dr Marie Kershaw, presenting in the final slot. However, her talk was extremely engaging. More than that, it was incredibly uplifting and a fitting end to the day. She focused on how trauma can trap us and make us feel stuck but that we can overcome that. Primarily, this is achieved through positive relations, with other adopters, professionals, and within our own families. Her talk centred around hope. There were so many Aha! moments as she spoke, but her reminder than adults can hold onto their children’s hope until they feel able to look after it themselves resonated with me (and most of the room). As much as I am struggling to remain hopeful, I need to remember that Little Chick is facing a much harder time of it than I am. I need to safeguard his hope.

As the conference ended, I wanted to stay to chat and ask questions, introduce myself to people who only know me as an avatar and online persona. But tiredness and anxiety won out. Hopefully, I will attend more Adoption UK events in the next year and build my confidence by next year’s conference. That evening The Other Mrs Reed Warbler and I decided against our planned date night and stayed in the hotel with takeaway, excitedly sharing what we had learned and optimistically planning ahead.

On Sunday we prepared to return home, armed with new ideas, renewed confidence, and hope. We received a surprisingly warm welcome from Little Chick, a timely reminder that he is why we attend such events and why we want to be better parents and advocates.

After conversing with other adoptive parents, adoptees, and professionals, our chats with family (who politely enquired what we had gained from our experience) were welcomed but frustrating. The conversations revealed how much people wanted to know and understand but how far they are from that point. This theme recurred throughout the conference and is, perhaps, an idea that could be considered next year. It is also something we will be discussing further with our own regional adoption agency.

Overall, the Adoption UK Conference was the shot in the arm that I needed, at the required moment. I felt that I had found my tribe, been reminded of the importance of a village, learned new things, consolidated existing knowledge, and felt more like me than I had done in weeks.

Oh, and what was the single word I penned on my snowball? The one word that worried me I hadn’t written enough? The one word I needed? HOPE.


I should have posted this sooner – building on the momentum of the day – but I have had neither the time nor the headspace. The Adoption UK conference was immense and we had a truly fabulous weekend. After the elation of such an event we have crashed back to Earth with an almighty bump. However, I still have hope, kindly given to me by the speakers, organisers, and delegates of the Adoption UK community. This will sustain me and my family, hopefully until we receive formal adoption support from Adoption East Midlands (promised within the month), and I am extraordinarily grateful for that.

It takes a village

I’ve been thinking about this post for a few weeks but still managed to miss my (self-imposed) deadline. That sums up our current life well.

10th October was the two-year anniversary of this blog. Fittingly, it was also World Mental Health Day. Everyone in the Reed Warbler household has been struggling lately; each of us striving for better mental health. We are all feeling the effects of Little Chick starting school. Obviously, he is feeling this most keenly and it breaks my heart to see him in a constant state of fear, confusion, and pain. His lack of sleep is affecting us all. After almost three months of disturbed sleep we are all barely functioning. He needs us to be therapeutic and to practise PACE (Playfulness, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy). We are trying but our reserves are running low. There are myriad issues that need to be addressed but we can’t face them properly until we all find a better routine and catch up on much needed rest.

The past ten days or so have been particularly tough, a catastrophic series of events, seemingly triggered by Little Chick’s first school disco. Many days he comes out of school and his relief at ‘being released’ is evident. He is a whirlwind. He cycles through Fight, Flight, or Freeze modes. Before the disco, we experienced all three and questioned whether going was such a good idea. I’m thinking I should listen to my gut instincts more. But I don’t want him to always miss out and I want to give him the chance to try new things. In fairness, he was brilliant throughout the disco. A few wobbles, but no more than his peers (and far fewer, in some cases). All hell broke loose when it was time to leave. I hold my hands up. I managed this badly. Partly, this was avoidable and was me falling into a false sense of security. Partly, this was unfortunate and unexpected. As I say, he was great during the disco. I was so proud of him. There were a lot of people in a very small space and it was something of a sensory overload. He was brave enough to buy his own snacks and gave me the change (rather than pocketing it or buying extra). He couldn’t understand why no one was dancing at the disco – this baffled me a bit too, but that’s the problem with an event including four- and eleven-year-olds – but danced merrily on his own anyway. He regularly checked in on me but didn’t want me to stay with him. In short, he exceeded all my expectations and my heart swelled with pride.

But it all ended too suddenly. I should have been more mindful of the time and given him the usual countdown, signalling that we would be leaving soon. I could have controlled that, but I didn’t. I couldn’t have foreseen that he would want to go the toilet five minutes before the end and the disco would be dramatically ended whilst he was out of the room. That he would return to bright lights and bodies. To silence. I think the dark was more comforting in that situation: he didn’t need to make eye contact or meet social expectations. He could just be himself and dance his heart out. The suddenness of the change led to a tricky transition. He had been having fun and didn’t want to leave. It’s logical. But impractical when people are tidying up around you as you madly try to corral a four-year-old and take them home safely. Yes, it was frustrating for other parents and staff to see me running around like a loon, an incompetent, overweight halfwit. But that’s par for the course now. I don’t want them to think badly of Little Chick. I want them to remember his enthusiasm, his sweet moves, his manners. I certainly don’t want them to confuse this for naughtiness. It infuriates me that Little Chick’s behaviour is so easily and so often seen as attention seeking rather than connection seeking.

Transitions are our toughest challenge now, but especially coming out of school. We have tried to be consistent but it makes no difference. It doesn’t matter whether we walk, drive, or catch the bus. If it is sunny, cold, or lashing it down with rain. If I am a few moments later or waiting at the gate for forty-odd minutes to make sure I’m on time. If I’m on my own or with someone else. The outcome is always the same. Fight, Flight, or Freeze. All three are awful for him, but Freeze is easiest for me to manage. I can get him home as quickly as possible and keep him safe. Fight is painful, literally. And embarrassing. And now sometimes requires help from the teaching staff. But Flight is by far the worst. Usually because it always surprises me. There is no indication that its coming. Often things seem OK (maybe that’s what I should be more alert to and worried about) and then WHAM! Everything is turned on its head in a millisecond. I am wrong footed. I am as out of control as he is. This has happened several times this half term. On three occasions, I have experienced panic attacks as a result. The last time, I had to call school to request help to keep us both safe. The Other Mrs Reed Warbler and I have always agreed to be as honest with school as we can be, in order to help Little Chick, but I never expected to be so vulnerable. Though, that only gives me a glimpse into the heightened state of anxiety Little Chick currently inhabits.

We have always said that things were pretty much OK and we, generally, bobbed along nicely. Other adoptive parents, knowingly, said “wait until school starts”. As much as we prepared Little Chick, and ourselves, for this transition, it has hit us like a brick wall. Adoption is trauma. And we have hit a trauma wall. Two years ago, we felt like we had hit a brick wall with the legal process. Adoption is ridiculously frustrating. And I realise I say that as the most privileged person within the ‘process’. Privileged to have received the most and lost the least. To have a voice that is listened to (not just ‘given’ a voice or ‘allowed’ a place to speak). Yet, I am still conflicted by events such as National Adoption Week.

Two years ago, despite having been approved for a few years and matched with a child, we were still on the edges of understanding adoption. Sixth months ago, our daily lives matched our expectations. Today, we are in the thick of it. Now, we need to champion Little Chick and be the parents he needs and deserves. And we will give it our all. But it is tough. And tiring. But it is worth it. He is worth it.

We will give it our all, but we need help. We have contacted Adoption East Midlands regarding formal adoption support. We have our friends and neighbours who offer daily, practical support. Our family who offer emotional support – and practical when they can. We underestimated the importance of local, physical, practical support. We have some relatives nearby but more would always help. And that would be a two-way thing, not just us always on the take. Starting school has been ridiculously hard. But it would have been impossible without the support of the staff. We do appreciate them.

The adoptive community has been a great source of comfort and wisdom, both in real life and, especially, online. I assume most people reading this are doing so because they are involved in adoption in some way. They are reading to find common ground or learn how to help others. They say it takes a village to raise a child: they are looking to be part of the village.

To all those who have helped, and continue to help, us to grow as a family – thank you. To all those who help us, individually and as a couple – thank you. To all those who help Little Chick meet his potential – thank you. Despite my moans and asides, I am extremely grateful for my village.

As a member of our village, you can download a free digital print below or from Herbert and Rose.

FREE DOWNLOAD // Created by Ali Scothern of Herbert and Rose

Starting school

Now that the dust has settled, I’m able to consider how Little Chick starting school has affected us all.

First, I need to say how proud I am of this wee boy. Starting school is a major challenge for any child, but there are added complications for children who struggle with change. Of course, there has been fallout but he has coped admirably. And, in the grand scheme of things, he has been heroic.

Frustratingly, our biggest challenge could (should?) have been foreseen. I failed to spot the correlation between transitioning from nursery to school and leaving his foster family to join us. I didn’t make the connection between the transition activities for adoption and those for starting school. Logically, Little Chick assumed that going to school meant leaving us, despite our protests. His experience is that visits, stories, and books mean leaving his safe place and people he loves. It’s no wonder he was so afraid.

The lead up to starting school was painful, literally. The violence increased and we all started school battered and bruised. We all started with a deficit of sleep after weeks of co-sleeping and restless nights. Fortunately, the first week included a couple of INSET days; a full week may have broken us. As soon as Little Chick started school something changed. His body seemed lighter, looser somehow. It was like flicking a switch. The difference was instant and obvious. The two-month interval since the transition days must have felt like an eternity to him and he surely questioned whether it would happen. I think knowing that something – even if it wasn’t necessarily something he wanted – was happening was a reassurance of sorts.

Of course, this was compliance on his part. We expected this ‘honeymoon period’. We expected it to last more than three days. Though, again, Little Chick’s logic was flawless. He had been brilliantly behaved at school for three days, had slept better (not well, but better), and there was no violence. When he realised he had to return on Monday, he was not happy. After tracing four letters he was ‘done’ with writing: after three days he was ‘done’ with school. The compliant boy of the first week vanished as quickly as he appeared, melting into a pool of hysterical tears when it was time for us to leave him.

Every morning of the second week he cried. He felt rotten. We felt rotten. It sucked. He increasingly showed more signs of disjointed attachment. We increasingly showed more signs of helplessness. The Other Mrs Reed Warbler had maximised her flexi working hours to help with drop off and collection in the first two weeks. Since our long-term plan is to utilise breakfast club in the morning and for me to walk him home after school, we began this routine sooner than anticipated. We had held off the early start and extra exercise to conserve his energy but something had to give. The first morning he was dropped off at breakfast club he never looked back. The choice of cereals was far more exciting and enticing. And we haven’t had tears since. We’ve experienced resistance, but nothing to cause us concern.

Our main tasks are to get him to school on time, collect him when the bell rings, and clothe him appropriately. We’re progressing with the first two but washing?! Oh, the washing. I naively believed we would do less washing than when he was at nursery and at home. Even with enough uniform for each day (and spares) we have found ourselves putting on a half load at stupid o clock. Most days he is returning home in the change of uniform we leave at school. We anticipated that he would have toileting accidents, having regressed over the holiday and faced with new stresses. My champion has not had a single toileting accident! I am overwhelmed at how he has managed this. However, his penchant for painting, water, and generally messy play has (thankfully) been encouraged. His hair has been especially pretty colours, sometimes several colours at once. The constant washing is frustrating but it’s a small price to pay when I know how happy it makes him.

As a teacher and learning mentor I spent (too) much of my working day chasing homework and it frustrated me. So, I feel for Little Chick’s teachers. He has a very fixed idea of what happens at school and what happens at home. He will happily look at books for hours but if I try to show him one for his book bag, I’m in trouble. He shuts down. To paraphrase Kipling, School is school and home is home and never the twain shall meet. Currently, school are happy with this but I doubt it will be tolerated indefinitely.

Saying that, I have been extremely impressed with the staff so far. His headteacher is wonderful. She genuinely seems to get it and speaks with an awareness of attachment and trauma without sounding like its rehearsed or forced. Our conversations about Pupil Premium Plus spending have been candid but encouraging. Obviously, it’s early days but we have been greatly encouraged by what has been said and done so far. They genuinely seem to like Little Chick and want him to meet his potential, in all aspects. There are plans for a nurture group next term and he is already receiving 1:1 time. He was thrilled to play in the woods with the TA who helps at breakfast club (he actually told us about something he did at school!).

I attended a Stay and Play session last week, spending an hour in Little Chick’s class. This was further confirmation that he struggles when home and school collide: I experienced similar behaviour when I accompanied him on a nursery trip last Christmas. We have already agreed that grandparents will be drafted in when volunteers are required within his classroom. We had already been told that he plays alongside other children rather than with them, which was no surprise to us. However, seeing it up close was heart-breaking. He was so awkward and out of place with his peers. Not knowing how to play with others, he ultimately ruined their games, causing tears and tantrums from the other children (though I was impressed with how well the teacher diffused the situation, which is lucky as I suspect this might be a common occurrence this term). A few of his classmates engaged with me and have since said hello at home time.

Most people think I am friendly and chatty and I certainly try to be. But I suffer terribly with social anxiety and small talk can absolute drain me. Polite chit chat at the school gates takes everything I have. And I was dreading it. I’m still not comfortable with it but it’s not as bad I thought. I’m tied to these parents for the next seven years (probably longer with secondary school) and that terrifies me. I don’t want to make a fool of myself now and have it haunt me (and Little Chick) for the rest of his education. I’ve enjoyed the adult company over the past few weeks but I’m painfully aware that I have nothing to say. It feels a little like university freshers’ week where you talk to everyone but ask and answer all the same questions. Instead of ‘What A levels did you study?’ it’s ‘When’s your child’s birthday?’ or ‘Do they have any siblings?’ I’ve already been involved in several childbirth conversations, blissfully ignorant on the periphery of the conversation. I’m keen to help and be involved – with conversations and events – but I think it will take me time. I’ve offered to bake for the school disco (why?! I can’t bake! But it was preferable to making small talk) and volunteered to listen to readers (I’m fine with children). That’s enough for now.

We’ve faced several challenges so far and I know more will present themselves soon. Of course, the first topic they will ‘study’ is about us and people who help us, difficult conversations for adoptees of any age. We’ve never been secretive of the fact Little Chick is adopted but equally it is not always our information to share. As a same-sex couple people are wondering which of us is his ‘real’ mum (I’ve heard whispers). Little Chick will not be able to take a photo of himself as a newborn, or even as a baby. The youngest photo we have was taken weeks before his second birthday. The teacher I spoke to didn’t think this would be a problem but it just highlights Little Chick’s difference. Maybe I’m overthinking it. But I need to be his champion at school and I want to be proactive rather than reactive. If I can spare him any hurt or discomfort then I will.

Since I spent some time in the classroom with him, Little Chick seems more confident with his peers at home time. He’s not making friends yet but you can see that he’s trying to be friendly. Like the class tortoise, he’s coming out of his shell. And I need to do the same. Starting school is a brilliant opportunity for the whole family to become part of the community, something we have wanted for a long time.

The importance of kindness

Partly it’s the political climate, partly it’s the general mood of the adoption community online, but I have found kindness in short supply lately. Not necessarily with close friends and family but as a general trend in society and especially on social media. This became even more obvious when the hashtag #PositiveTwitterDay began trending on 30th August. It seems like I’m not the only one in need of a kindness boost.

I try to be a positive person but my depressive inclinations mean that I can succumb to overwhelming negativity. For several years, the adoption community on Twitter buoyed me, but it seems that we are (almost) all just managing to stay afloat at the moment. The hashtag #PositiveTwitterDay buoyed me, albeit temporarily. But I realised that I need to do more to show kindness to others. I especially need to model this for Little Chick.

One of my favourite writers is Roald Dahl. I love his whimsical tales and fantastical language, but his most memorable quote does not come from his extensive body of work:

“I think probably kindness is my number one attribute in a human being. I’ll put it before any of the things like courage, or bravery, or generosity, or anything else… Kindness—that simple word. To be kind—it covers everything, to my mind. If you’re kind that’s it.”

We’ve always said that when Little Chick starts school, we want him to be able to meet his academic potential, but it’s more important that he meets his potential as a person. And, despite some recent behaviour that would seem to contradict this, he is kindness personified. He is love on legs. I hope that as he starts school, he will remember that and show kindness to others. I especially hope that others will show kindness – in its various forms – to him.

I have identified five things that I do (and will continue to do) with Little Chick to model and encourage kindness, to teach him the importance of kindness.

  1. Showing others that you are thinking of them. Often the smallest gestures mean the most, or certainly they do to me. A short note letting me know that I am remembered and considered can improve my mood drastically. So, I have been encouraging Little Chick to make and send pictures to (especially older) relatives to let them know that he cares and is thinking of them.
  2. Encouraging empathy. Generally, Little Chick is behind his peers regarding social and emotional development. But he has empathy by the bucketload. I want to keep this topped up and, while watching TV and looking at books, encourage him to consider how others are feeling. Those with no words or language are especially helpful for this as he is less likely to say what he thinks he should say. He has only recently begun enjoying ‘Timmy Time’, the Aardman Animations creation for younger children based on the adventures of Timmy the lamb, nephew of Shaun the Sheep. The lack of dialogue allows him to narrate things for himself and propose his own theories of what is happening and how people are feeling.
  3. Prompting giving. When Little Chick has outgrown something, we encourage him to give it to someone else. His clothes are usually donated to his younger cousin while toys are gifted to various charity shops. We emphasise that others need them more than he does now. We appreciate that for his age and background it can be hard to share, let alone give things away, but we try to remind him how he feels when he receives things. He is often the recipient of outgrown clothes from his older cousin; from this transaction, he seems to understand how his younger cousin feels when he too receives clothes from his admired older relative.
  4. Making connections. This grew out of life story work and has been a regular activity with Little Chick. It is much easier to be – and want to be – kind when we recognise what we have in common. Making connections can be tricky for young children and we use paper chains to visually represent what we have in common. Writing interests, skills, features, etc. on the strips, we try to use different colours for each person. By the end of the activity each person – whether it is three or thirty – is connected by things we have in common.
  5. Helping others. Little Chick loves helping and doing jobs. Some children would thrive off the praise they receive for this but Little Chick struggles with this. Instead, the endorphins he producers from aiding others (the ‘helper’s high’) is its own reward.

As Little Chick starts school this week, I am reminded that children can be labelled at school so quickly. The sporty one. The quiet one. The brainy one. The naughty one. The musical one. The funny one. I hope that Little Chick, among his other accolades, is known as the kind one.

Dominoes

Little Chick flits between activities and interests. But every now and then he really gets into something. Almost obsessively. His latest passion is dominoes. I’m happy with this. I enjoy watching YouTube videos and share his admiration for Hevesh5. We even bought a second-hand domino set to build our own amazing creations.

This has not been a great success. The lorry that lays out the dominoes at set intervals to allow a smooth run doesn’t work (partly explaining the ridiculously low price we paid). Or rather, it works intermittently but the frustration we both experienced at the stop start nature was enough for me to declare it officially broken. Unfortunately, placing dominoes by hand is a much trickier endeavour than I anticipated. It tests me, a relatively calm, steady handed adult. For an overexcited fidgety three-year-old it is a disaster waiting to happen. Even when we leave the safety gap (we learned this from the pros) we aren’t guaranteed to keep them upright, in place, secure.

And that’s how it feels with Little Chick right now. Precarious. Dangerous. One false move and it will all come crashing down.

There’s a lot going on in this wee fella’s head.

Toilet training; starting school; being a big boy; being a baby; being a puppy; mummies; daddies; babies; happy; sad; angry; fed up; listening; not listening; glasses; no glasses; see better; not see; friends; not friends; hospital; safe; not safe.

And that’s just today. I’m finding it exhausting, so no wonder Little Chick is absolutely spinning. I’m just disappointed, for him, that he found his routine hospital trip so challenging today. Previously, he has been very compliant, and staff have commented on how easy he has been. With hindsight, he was in Freeze mode. Since it proved helpful for those around him, I overlooked the possible reasons why, for which I am sorry. Today – as has regularly happened lately – he flitted between Fight and Flight mode.

It’s tricky. Freeze mode was likely just as difficult for him to manage, but people (often myself included) are content to see a compliant child who is making life easier for everyone. Fight and Flight draws attention. Draws look of pity and judgement. Draws tuts and sighs of disbelief. Mostly, I can focus on Little Chick’s needs and ignore public comments, but sometimes my skin and patience aren’t thick enough. Recently, on holiday, Little Chick struggled significantly with the new. New location, new food, new sensations. Daily meltdowns were witnessed by other holidaymakers. Since the time and location (and triggers) varied they usually received new audiences who, assuming it was a one-off smiled patiently and apologetically. However, mealtimes, for reasons we need to explore further, were the worst times and often the same guests would witness his meltdowns several times, from breakfast through to the evening meal. Well-meaning people would try to intervene and calm the situation; invariably causing Little Chick more distress and making a bad situation worse.

His behaviour is the physical manifestation of his early years trauma. I wish we could ignore it, but that’s neither helpful nor kind. We need to acknowledge it. And help Little Chick. We made that promise to him. But sometimes I just feel so helpless and inadequate. It’s so frustrating that, like the domino rallies he enjoys building, one false move and it all falls down, then we have to start all over again. The safety space that pro builders use isn’t available to us. We must become that safety space. But it’s so much harder than I thought.

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.

Our family: One year on

So, Little Chick has been living with us for a year.

During the past few weeks, the Other Mrs Reed Warbler and I discussed if and how we should mark the occasion. We certainly weren’t going to call it ‘Gotcha Day’, or anything equally crass that suggests ownership or possession. We considered naming it ‘Family Day’. This recognises that it is special, but every day is special in its own way for us – as parents – so we don’t need this. I don’t mean that every day is perfect or amazing – heck, no – but every day we remember how lucky we are to have this wonderful wee boy in our lives.

But it’s also a reminder of what Little Chick has lost; it draws attention to what came before. It can be helpful to look back and reflect on what has passed, on what has been achieved, but I believe greater value lies in looking forward, both planning and hoping; certainly, at his current age. As he matures, he may want to explore his past more, including the circumstances that led him to us, and we will support his life story work in whatever ways we can.

The anniversary is also a reminder of others’ loss: his birth family, foster family, the others whose lives he has touched.

Like most of adoption, its complicated. It’s bittersweet. It’s tough to know what’s best.

I’m still not sure whether it will be something we recognise formally with Little Chick or whether the other Mrs Reed Warbler and I will simply clink metaphorical glasses in acknowledgement of the massive change in our lives. Whatever we decide, our love for Little Chick knows no bounds and we both feel we don’t need to mark a special day to acknowledge that.