My little drummer boy

Although it may not seem like it, I usually try to have a clear topic or coherent theme to my blog posts. Currently, I have so many thoughts swirling around my head I’ve found it difficult to pin them down, trickier still to sort and file them under headings. So, this post is something of a hotchpotch of ideas. But that is necessary to clear my mind and free me to write.

When I was first thinking about this post – several weeks ago before the black dog had taken up residence in my mind – I asked Ali for an illustration of Little Chick playing the drums. I visualised the idea of him going to the beat of his own drum, celebrating all his uniqueness and that he seems happy enough to do things his way, unworried by people’s thoughts or reactions. Or the drums would represent his musicality – inherited from his birth father – and his enthusiasm for his school music lessons.

These are all still true. But thinking on them for so long I keep coming back to the same thought: how proud I am of Little Chick.

His first term at school was hard. It is for all children. Rather than dwell on the challenges and obstacles I want to admire how he has faced and overcome them. Even in November we had reservations about how he would cope with Christmas and the end of term. Pantomimes, performances, and parties are all wonderful in principle but are potentially a waking nightmare for Little Chick. And I allude to sleep because we have had so little of it – and rarely in solid chunks at the expected time. All this looked set for a torrid time crammed with epic meltdowns and complete overwhelm.

But Little Chick was amazing. His behaviour was excellent, he joined in, he played with (rather than alongside) his classmates, some of whom could now be seen as friends. The school nativity, which had the potential for complete dysregulation, was a triumph. He smashed it! His comic timing was unintentionally perfect and his joy was obvious. I think his friends and their families glimpsed the real Little Chick for the first time. School – who have been brilliant – already seem to have a good handle of who he really is and what makes him tick and I genuinely believe, in time, he will flourish in such a nurturing environment.

After a long hard term came Christmas. The school festivities led straight into family celebrations. We tried to keep things low key – our Christmas tree was not up until mid-December and only a fraction of our decorations was put out – but it is still a big change. Little Chick likes routine and predictability. We all do, really. Over the past eighteen months we have made several changes to the house, swapping rooms, rearranging furniture, adding or removing items. All this has been done for his benefit, but the process is disruptive and settling. It is something of a necessary evil, but we still feel awful unsettling him in his home. Extra bodies in the house does this too. Although we had family visit, they stayed locally, giving everyone space, and keeping the family home as close to normal as possible.

Little Chick did brilliantly well until Boxing Day. Unbelievably well. But as soon as the first guests left you could see a physical change, a release in him. By the time it was just the three of us again he was in full meltdown mode. Again, not unexpected, but so disappointing (for him). As much as we tried to keep things simple or the same it is just too much. Next year we may need to pull it back further. It seems unkind not to have lavish celebrations in the festive period, but I think it is a case of being cruel to be kind. Little Chick needs stability more. Since starting school his attachment issues have intensified. We realise now that he was not as securely attached as we assumed and we need to show him that he can trust us, that we are reliable adults who will keep him happy safe and well. If that means foregoing festivities and temporarily upsetting the wider family so be it. Little Chick comes first.

This small boy astounds me. Daily. I never cease to be amazed at what he can do and how much he is growing. Currently, this is even more remarkable considering how little sleep he is getting. Fuelled by pure nervous energy, he is working miracles. If we can help him sleep better and feel even more secure, this boy will move mountains.

Happy New Year

My last post was written in November following the Adoption UK Conference. That post was a success: it was a pleasure to write and I felt buoyed by the positive comments and feedback. Since then I have found it difficult to write, both figuratively and literally. A combination of sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression, and general malaise has prevented me from finding the time, motivation, or means to write. Many of the side effects of sleep deprivation and depression are the same (for me, anyway), but my inability to physically write, to actually use a pen to craft words legibly, is unique to my depressive state.

So much has happened in the past six weeks that I wanted to articulate and share. There were giddy highs and soul crushing lows. Going back and picking over the details makes sense in the context of having a narrative flow through this blog. But it is utterly futile for me and my mental health. Instead, I will draw a line and move on. It is no coincidence that this realisation happens at the dawning of a new year (and decade). This year, reflecting on what has passed is not helpful. That may be an activity for some other time but, for now, for the sake of my family, I need to look forward. I need to hold fast, keep the faith, and remain hopeful.

Hopefully, normal service will be resumed shortly, and I can return to regular blogging. It is a sign of wellness and it is a comfort to me. I still have questions about the ethics of it and that may affect how and what I write about, but I know that I need to keep writing. To anyone who has tolerated my self-indulgent ramblings in real life or online THANK YOU.

I hope that 2020 is a year of peace, wellness, and happiness. And not forgetting hope.


Postscript

The illustration for this post may not make much sense since I am writing after Christmas. But I wanted to include this image from Ali Scothern for two reasons. First, Ali has been a great source of encouragement and collaborating with her has been a highlight in a tricky year. I look forward to working with her more in the future and making great things happen. Secondly, who doesn’t like puffins?!

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

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.

Life lessons from birds

This summer we have had more breeding birds in the garden than ever. The list of species includes blackbird, blue tit, great tit, dunnock, wood pigeon, house sparrow, robin, magpie, and goldfinch.

It’s costing us a fortune in seeds, nuts, and fat balls, but it’s worth it. Especially as Little Chick is taking great interest in keeping the feeders topped up and caring for our feathered friends. The overflowing feeders have also encouraged a few more daily visitors, including Jack the jackdaw and Cyril the squirrel.

We have enjoyed watching their lives play out before us, the large living room window offering a cinematic view of their comings and goings. As a genus, I took no interest in birds until I met the Other Mrs Reed Warbler. Before then, I kept a healthy distance. Now, I am surprised at how much we can learn from these wee creatures that share our homes and gardens.

I say homes because we have house sparrows nesting in the eaves of our roof. They have successfully fledged several broods over the past years and have done so again this summer. House sparrows are the Other Mrs Reed Warbler’s favourite birds. They are the bird of her childhood, conjuring memories of a simpler time. They are understated and overlooked. House sparrows are declining in numbers in our cities and are symbolic of how we are damaging our and their natural environment.

In the garden, we have watched the various species mark and defend their territories. The blackbirds are particularly vocal in this and provide great entertainment when the neighbouring pair try their luck on our feeders. ‘Territorial’ usually has negative connotations. Before parenthood I probably would have agreed. But watching them now, as a mother, I admire their tenacity in protecting their family.

The blue tits are probably my favourite visitors, not least because they often occupy the nest box with an inbuilt camera and we can observe the minutia of their lives, including when the eggs hatched and the first chicks fledged. However, what struck me most was how industrious these birds are and how hard they work. This summer has been tough for the Other Mrs Reed Warbler and me; we have felt exhausted and overwhelmed at times. But seeing the blue tit pair physically and emotionally broken gives you a sense of perspective. Especially when the chicks they have so valiantly fought for are predated by the local tom cat.

It is almost impossible to distinguish between the blue tit sexes, unless you are an expert, are in ultraviolet light, or are holding the blue tits. Goldfinches, dunnocks, and great tits are equally difficult to separate. I like this. Even at four-years-old, Little Chick has some ideas of male and female qualities and projects these onto the birds in the garden. Mr Blackbird goes to the office; Mrs Blackbird stays at home; Mr Sparrow goes out all day; Mrs Sparrow looks after the babies. This doesn’t follow the roles in our same-sex household, but he has learned it anyway. When we cannot identify the sex of the bird our expectations change; we accept them as they are.

We are reminded that looks can be deceiving. Our luscious hedgerows are home to several species and provide the backdrop for the most intense drama. Dunnocks have crept into my list of favourite birds, simply because they are so common yet unusual. Typical little brown jobs (LBJs), they are boring at first glance. Upon closer inspection, they are not just brown or even just one shade of brown. They are unexpectedly glorious. And there is certainly more to them than meets the eye. They are by far the friskiest birds in our garden and their sex lives are curiously fascinating. Every time they scamper after each other, ‘The Benny Hill Show’ theme plays in my head. Unlike most species, both sexes, rather than just the male, has a breeding territory. The female will encourage male suitors in order to get the best sperm, a classic example of survival of the fittest. Rival males will peck out competitor’s sperm from the female’s opening to ensure their lineage. However, the female is not above allowing several males to believe they are the father, ensuring the best provisions and protection for her offspring. Dunnocks would not be out of place on ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’.

Occasionally, we will be visited by a passing bird of prey. Buzzards often ‘kee kee’ overhead and sparrowhawks occasionally soar through the garden or perch on the feeder. Birds of prey were my most feared birds but now they are among my favourites. Spotting a rarer species in the garden is a true joy and a reminder that we live in a genuinely wonderful place. It is easy to lose sight of that.

Corvids, including crows, jackdaws, magpies, jays, rooks, and ravens, are amongst my favourite family of birds. They show such guile and intelligence and are incredibly entertaining. Jays stand out from the rest since they appear uncommonly exotic while the others are uniformly black. But the sombre backdrop makes the magpie’s iridescent wing feather shine brighter. I love the magpie’s habit of borrowing and curating to make something beautiful. I feel this is something I try to do with my crafts, creations, and writing, though I’m also mindful of plagiarism.

Beyond the home and garden, there is so much more that we can learn from birds. Starlings work together splendidly, creating one of the true natural wonders of nature. Anyone who has seen a murmuration in the wild, the communal flocking dance before they roost, will know exactly what I mean. Geese are a great example of working smarter not harder, as they employ a V formation to conserve energy and increase efficiency. Long tailed tits will work together and help each generation thrive not just survive. I love when a little gang of young long tailed tits alights on our trees or feeders. Their rotund bodies and ridiculously long tail feathers always bring a smile to my face.

My favourite species is found far further afield: the Atlantic puffin. Puffins waddle. They shouldn’t be able to fly. They are impressive swimmers. Their beaks regularly hold up to ten sand eels, crisscrossed to utilise the space (the largest haul on record is 62). They live in burrows underground. Rather than a melodic song, they growl, a noise somewhere between a cow mooing and a muted chainsaw. Their multicoloured beaks have earned them the nickname ‘the clowns of the sea’. In short, they are extraordinary.

Little Chick likes puffins too, because they are funny, star in a cool TV show called ‘Puffin Rock’ (highly recommended viewing), and are my favourite. In time, I hope he will find a favourite for his own reasons, similarly inspired by these amazing creatures.

Birds are beautiful, tenacious, industrious, adaptable, brilliant, competitive, protective, understated, and incredible.

Be more bird.

A Room of One’s Own

In Virginia Woolf’s famous quote, she argues, “A woman must have money and a room of her own”. She says this is a prerequisite “if she is to write fiction.” I agree. But I think it is also a condition for sound mental health.

Currently, I’m lacking both and feeling the effect. It will be tricky to find a solution to the money problem, but it is something we will tackle soon. With some careful consideration and a whole lot of Pinterest, we realised that we could improve the room situation now.

I’m getting desperate for my own space. Somewhere to sit and scribble. To ponder and produce. To just be. I’ve even considered rehoming the tumble dryer so I can enjoy the tiniest of nooks under the stairs. Ultimately, we realised that this was not even a medium-term solution and we would soon need to rethink. The only possible solution (that didn’t require planning permission) was to swap around the upstairs room. Again.

To be clear, Little Chick has not lost out in this arrangement. He has a different set-up but just as much, if not, more usable space. But while things are in flux the house is chaotic and messy. And he really cannot cope with that. I’m not a big fan of it either and find it a trying time. But I am privy to and able to see the big picture. I can envisage the result and sense the satisfaction of completion. Little Chick, understandably, cannot. And it is affecting him and his behaviour greatly.

We have undertaken a lot of DIY and reorganising in the past eighteen months, simply because as our daily lives have found a rhythm and routine, we have needed to make changes to ensure safety, efficiency, and calm. But the transition time is hellish. Little Chick is clearly disorientated. Whether he thinks that he is as dispensable as our belongings and furniture I don’t know. We have tried to reassure him that this is not the case, that this is his forever home with his forever family. But words aren’t enough sometimes. We try to show him, hoping that our actions will affirm our good (and long-term) intentions. He has returned to his original bedroom, though the toys that cluttered it have been rehomed in a downstairs playroom. It is a room fit for sleeping, dressing, and reading. And that’s it. This clarity helps him. The blurred lines of mixed purposes and multiple users confuses him. His name is on the door; he has staked ownership. We have added wall stickers of Hey Duggee to match his bedding and create a loose theme. Slowly, it is becoming clear that this room is his. That the playroom is principally his. That the many changes (and, boy, there have been many) have all been made to make it better for him. This is the only change to date that hasn’t been directly for him, though his needs have firmly underpinned all ideas.

To me, a room of one’s own feels decadent, outrageously luxurious. But it is necessary self-care. I need to remember that to be the best parent for Little Chick, I need to feel happy, safe, and well too. It might take me some time to reconcile the heart and head but, like everything we do, hopefully I, and Little Chick, will see that it has been done in the belief that it is ultimately the best thing for him.

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.

Unravelling

It is nearly seven months since we saw the profile of a young boy we knew would be our son.
It is almost four months since we were matched to him.
It is a further three months since we thought he would be placed with us.
And still we don’t know when it will happen. Now we are starting to wonder if it ever will.

I am unravelling.

My mind and body are no longer as one and I am losing confidence in both.

Time is slipping away from me. I no longer know the day, month, year.

Each day stretches out like a swamp before me, that I must wade through to reach peace and safety. But the other side is not in sight and feels further and further away.

I feel sick and tired. I am sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

My physical and mental health are strained. Only my wife and our shared resilience keep me sane. Oh, and the tablets the doctor prescribed. I’m punishing my body for my lack of control; a vicious circle I thought I’d ended for good.

Sleep evades me. I am up for 20 hours each day, but I am not awake. Deep sleep is something I can only dream of, alongside clarity, consensus, and control.

Work has become too much for me. Lacking the alertness I need to deal with people, I don’t trust myself not to say or do something I cannot come back from.

I know with a surety I have never possessed before that I can and will be good enough for our son. If we are ever given the chance.

Occasionally, we are temporarily boosted by snippets of good fortune, promises of news. But they don’t materialise. Our hopes are raised than dashed. It now feels like cruelty rather than mere incompetence.

I am losing faith. In everything and everyone. And that scares me.


Edit (July 2018): Six months on, I have reread this post and I cringe a little. It is melodramatic and jam-packed with the same angst that filled my teenage diaries. But it is still valid. That is how I felt at the time; overwhelmed in the same way that I did in my younger years. The difference now is that I know how to deal with such situations and who to ask to help me deal with such situations. For which I will be eternally grateful. Little Chick has been placed with us for about five months now and the waiting, the frustration, and the anger is (mostly) forgotten. In fact, I have surprised myself by not unravelling since Little Chick has lived with us. I have been stronger than I expected and better than I hoped. Long may it last.

Consumption

In times of uncertainty I consume. For most of the adoption journey, mindful of my health and determined to lose weight, I have avoided filling my face with ‘goodies’. Instead I have carefully and methodically bought things for our future child or children: books, toys, crafts, and more that most children would like. For each item I have mentally calculated who we could gift it to, should the worst happen, and we were not matched. Once we were matched, I could buy more specifically, focusing on the needs and likes of Little Chick. As time has rumbled on and my confidence in him ever being placed with us wanes, my shopping habits have tailed off. But my need to consume has remained and food has filled that need. I am fed up, literally and metaphorically. I have put on over a stone in the past four months. Uncertainty is an explanation but not an excuse. I swore I would never be as big as before I started losing weight and I stand by that.

I’m not writing this to gain your sympathy or even to just have a good moan. I need the accountability. Telling people that I need to and will be better with my diet and exercise is the first step in managing my consumption. It is also the first step on a path to good self-care, something I will need to be better at as an adoptive parent.

Considering adopters on Mental Health Awareness Day

Reading adopters’ tweets and blogs, I am struck by how resilient adopters need to be. Problems such as inappropriate, insufficient, or incorrect medical diagnoses, well-meaning but utterly useless schools, and child on parent violence are regular, if not daily, occurrences for many of the adopters we follow online or know in ‘real life’. On top of this, they may also have to battle with secondary trauma as their children try to rebuild their shaky foundations. After a while, this must grind you down and affect your mental health.

We have found the adoptive process very challenging. I have a history of mental illness and still have my ups and downs. This was discussed, in detail, during the initial stages and at approval panel. The local authority needed to be sure that adoption wouldn’t break me nor would my mental mishaps break a small person in my care. While I appreciate that adoption isn’t easy or straightforward our experiences have still been unusual and particularly trying. After registering interest and hearing about the new streamlined process, we pictured a straight line to having a child placed with us. Instead it has been a twisty-turvy maze, sometimes even going back on ourselves. But the finish line – or should that be the start line? – is now in sight. At every review or panel, we have been commended for our resilience. That is not me blowing my own trumpet; I wouldn’t usually even admit that I had a trumpet. Rather, I want to highlight how adopters (even prospective adopters like ourselves) must take care of their mental health, because it is constantly challenged. And they also need other people checking they’re OK too.

I know it’s typical that only people with problems or extraordinary situations will share their experiences. Even if that is the case, there are a lot of adopters out there needing support. Even if it’s just a hug and a cuppa. I am especially mindful of single adopters. My wife is my rock and I would not be here today without her. We are a team and have only been able to persevere as a team. When I’ve felt low or despondent and considered withdrawing from the whole process, she has encouraged me. When she’s felt frazzled and fed up, I’ve given her a wee lift. I can’t begin to imagine how hard it must be for someone who is alone and faces an onslaught of physical and verbal violence each day to keep going. For these people self-care can be seen as indulgent because there are a million and one other things that need doing but it is essential. I always remember the analogy of an aeroplane crashing: you need to secure your own mask before you can help anyone else. This isn’t me telling them what they probably already know, or at least that’s not what I intended: it’s a plea that once Mental Health Awareness Day is over and no longer the trending hashtag on Twitter don’t forget about the people who might need you to ask if everything is alright and maybe just listen.