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

It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to…

The Other Mrs Reed Warbler celebrated her birthday this weekend. Celebrated is inaccurate. We knew that Little Chick had struggled on my birthday so we purposely made low-key plans, barely acknowledging her special day. But even this passing acknowledgement was still too much for Little Chick.

I fully understand that adoptees’ own birthdays are problematic, bringing together their past and present, their birth and adoptive families. But I couldn’t quite fathom why other people’s special days were so difficult. Rather than remaining ignorant, I turned to Twitter for help, hoping that more experienced adoptive parents – or adoptees themselves, ideally – could clarify just why birthdays are so tricky for (some) adoptees.

As with so many issues in adoption, it appears that fear is at the very heart of the matter. A fear of being forgotten. A fear of being left out. A fear of what has happened. A fear of what could happen. That’s hard. Little Chick is already surrounded by fear due to the transitions of starting school. Adding an extra layer of fear, especially one that he might be forgotten or not wanted as much, is incredibly painful.

The fear of abandonment is extremely real to Little Chick presently. I was a few minutes late for school collection one day and it majorly dented his confidence in me. Worse, it dented his confidence in himself. His already low self-esteem took a battering in those moments and it will take a lot longer for him to recover. At just four years old he has expressed feelings of worthlessness, of being rubbish, of not being important. Being late doesn’t help that. But nor does focusing on other people.

Our plans to bake a birthday cake were shelved, seeing how upset Little Chick was by the thought of not having control. Not being the one to blow out the candles. To control when it is time to cut the cake. To an outsider he may have appeared selfish and spoilt. But we saw him hurting and needing to be seen. So, we each had our own mini cakes, made in mugs, zapped in the microwave. Everyone was equally ‘celebrated’ and there was less chance of overeating, a consequence of anxiety and fear for Little Chick. His relationship with food is complicated (so is my own) but he has improved significantly in the past eighteen months. But since the summer he has fallen back into old habits and looked to food as a comfort again (mind you, I’m probably guilty of this too).

In the long-term we will need to find effective ways to help him. We understand why he sabotages our plans and ruins our day. It doesn’t come from malice but from a place of hurting, a place of fear. But others won’t recognise that. They will label him naughty or silly. Worse, they may think him unkind, when he is anything but.

In the short-term, we will probably avoid birthdays, both celebrating our own and attending peers’ parties. It seems sad that Little Chick is missing out on supposedly nice things, but if these occasions heighten his anxiety and unsettle him then it’s kinder to decline invitations. But not celebrating brings it’s own problems, triggering shame, which many adoptees have by the bucketload. Shame is toxic and consuming. Speaking with other adopters, birthdays will almost certainly get worse before they get better. They may never get better. They may just be annual reminders that, for many, adoption is trauma.


Postscript: I would like to hear from adoptees how they feel about birthdays. Hopefully, they may even feel able to share tips so I can help Little Chick, even if it is telling me what not to do rather than offering solutions.

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.

Adoption Support

Earlier this month we contacted Adoption Support. This was the second time we had made a request, though the first had been before Little Chick’s adoption order was granted so we were guided then by our designated social workers. This was the first time that we had called the duty line and played the lottery of which random social worker would answer our call. I know that social services will argue that every duty officer is an experienced professional and will help us, but I was genuinely impressed by our initial call. We haven’t had any formal follow up yet (when can we start getting Bolshy?), but I was pleasantly surprised by our initial encounter.

We probably should have contacted adoption support sooner than we did. Partly, we didn’t have the time. Partly, we didn’t quite know what to say. Partly, we thought things may just settle down and resolve themselves. Partly, I hate speaking on the telephone. For some reason, telephone calls with strangers send me into a tizzy, even when I know exactly what I want to say and have confidence in my knowledge, understanding, and/or request. But phone calls with people in positions of authority are worse still. I am a gibbering wreck within minutes, jabbering away incoherently, going off at any number of tangents despite my compiled notes and salient bullet points. But I persisted and the kind, patient lady on the other end persisted and we made some progress.

Our primary request is to access some form of Non-Violent Resistance (NVR) training. Somewhat predictably, the child parent violence has notably decreased since we contacted East Midlands Adoption Services for support. We half expected that, which is why we had been slow to contact them, but we cannot take the risk that it will return and escalate the next time we deal with transition and change. We need to help Little Chick and be able to keep him (and ourselves) safe.

I was simultaneously pleased and saddened that they did not question my request. It’s par for the course it seems. I was pleasantly surprised when she spoke about accessing the adoption support fund, especially when her mental arithmetic showed that she was making calculations based on his full annual allowance. Of course, this was a short initial conversation but I was encouraged by the possibility we would receive the support and financial help required.

Similarly, I was pleased with the suggestions the worker gave to help us in the meantime. Yes, they were mostly things we were already trying or services we were already accessing, but at least we are all on the same page. During the conversation, I realised that we still need to work on our support network and continue to access all opportunities to learn. As a non-driver in a rural county I sometimes struggle to make the most of the training available, especially since regionalisation has made some of the venues significantly further away. I’ve spoken about the possibility of a ‘support’ group locally and even investigated it. I didn’t proceed because ‘life got in the way’. But that’s no excuse. I need to priotise this, as a form of self-care, to keep us all bobbing along, keep us afloat.

In our meeting with Little Chick’s headteacher I mentioned that we have been in touch with adoption support. I wanted them to know that we are struggling now but we are proactive. I wanted them to know that we are collaborative and unafraid to ask for help. I wanted them to know that we parent therapeutically and need them to support and recognise that as best they can. I wanted that to set a precedent for our ongoing relationship with them. Because school will become (hopefully) one of our greatest allies, one of our greatest sources of adoption support.

What have you done today? Hurt Mummy

While he may tell the occasional white lie, Little Chick is generally very honest, especially when asked something outright. He won’t deny his mistakes or wrongdoing – he owns them. I admire this quality in him, and I hope it is one he maintains into adulthood.

When the Other Mrs Reed Warbler came home from work she asked him what he had done today, expecting a reply of playing in the garden, using the Kindle, going for a walk, or any of the other stock answers he gives based on our regular daily activities. “Hurt Mummy”, he replied. The Other Mrs Reed Warbler was surprised by the candidness but not the answer itself. Little Chick’s aggression and violence has increased dramatically and is now a daily occurrence. It generally begins around 2pm, when he begins to feel tired and in need of a nap. During the holidays we are happy for him to nap if that’s what his body needs, knowing we can adjust this pattern before school starts. But he fights it. Boy, does he fight it. And it’s not always clear if he is in control or not. At times, his little body is just a shaking ball of rage. These outbursts can last up to two hours, ebbing and flowing with punches, kicks, and hair pulls. Then they subside, often as quickly and as unexpectedly as they began.

The real outbursts come at night. As much as Little Chick is fighting us, he is also fighting sleep. Now, this is a boy who loves his bed, has always slept a minimum of 11 solid hours, and thrives on routine. So even just a few nights of eight hours sleep can greatly unsettle him. More than a fortnight of less than six hours is taking its toll on the whole household. The Other Mrs Reed Warbler is struggling most. Little Chick and I can lay in and catch up on sleep. It doesn’t help the routine but it just about maintains sanity. The Other Mrs Reed Warbler doesn’t have that luxury as she maintains her work schedule.

At night everything is heightened. We are conscious that our neighbours, working during the daytime, are home and trying to relax and rest. The cacophony seeping through the party walls must disturb them. This causes us embarrassment: worrying that they think we are hurting Little Chick and humiliation that he is the real aggressor. We try not to let this bother us, but it does, and the additional anxiety increases the tension in our home. At night we expect him to sleep. Being overtired and desperate for bed ourselves, we find it much harder to parent therapeutically, but keep trying all the same.

When we mention it to other parents, they reply, “Oh, all children do that”. Really? All children beat their parents, gouge their eyes, bite them? Certainly, there seems to be a whole cohort of four-year-olds who will soon start school who are acting out and showing more aggression than usual. But this seems more than that. This is full on and is becoming the norm. I don’t want that. For us or Little Chick.

As I pull him close, feed him milk with his baby bottle, I remember that I am parenting two children simultaneously. The four-year-old who “Hurt Mummy”, who is dysregulated, who is hurting. And the eighteen-month-old who is still finding his place in the family, who craves our full attention, who loves us deeply. Reconciling the two is tricky, but not impossible. I just need to find a better way of keeping them both happy, safe, and well.

Get your penis off the furniture (and other things I didn’t expect to say)

“Get your penis off the furniture” is not a sentence I have ever expected to say. But when Little Chick decides he wants to feel the fresh air around his genitals I politely remind him that pants have a purpose and that no one wants to see his willy or sit where it has been. The past few weeks I have noticed how many of the things I say are so unexpected to me. Some are baffling (see above), some require explanation (again, see above). Some are the result of my own upbringing. Lately, I’ve experienced the realisation that I suddenly sound like my own parents, especially my mother.

This really shouldn’t come as a surprise. Eventually we model (at least some of) the behaviour we experienced as children, and this extends to speech. Our adoption preparation dedicated a significant amount of time to exploring this: considering how we were raised and how that might influence us as parents.

But it has shocked me all the same. Currently, I’m reflecting on what my parents said to me, as well as how they said it. The school holidays are catching up with me and my patience has taken a beating. I worry that my speech is suffering because of this. Drawing on my long-term mantra, I try to remember to THINK before I speak. Before opening my mouth, I ask if what I am about to say meets the following criteria. Is it:

Thoughtful

Helpful

Important

Necessary

Kind

I believe this is important with everyone, but especially with Little Chick. Overtiredness has led to a few careless words this summer. It has shown me that the positive affirmations need to be repeated multiple times, even hundreds of times, before they are processed and believed, but negative slights are swallowed up whole and immediately fuel Little Chick’s toxic shame.

Above all, I need to be kind with my words. That’s not to say I can’t correct Little Chick if he makes a mistake or misbehaves. But I need to think and parent therapeutically, remembering connection before correction.

I realise this post is a bit of a muddle. It seems to go in one direction before exploring something differently entirely; only ever scratching the surface. But that’s where my head is right now. And I think that’s where Little Chick’s head is too. We are both dysregulated and out of sorts. We both need kindness and patience. We both need me to think before I speak. We both need me to say what we expect me to say. We both need that consistency and reliability. We crave it.

B is for biting

Since returning from our holiday, Little Chick has continued to be unsettled. There could be so many reasons for this and often it is a matter of guesswork as he isn’t fully able to communicate his emotions to us. I’m assuming that staying in another house in another country has been a large contributor to his dysregulation. We emphasised the temporariness of our vacation by constantly calling it his holiday house and never using the word home, but maybe this overcomplicated matters. Home is a building, but it is also when he is with us, or at least that is what we have tried to show him over the past year or so.

His dysregulation is, unsurprisingly, more apparent when he is tired and is mostly taking the form of biting. And it bloody hurts. Little Chick has clean strong teeth, sparkling white and in good condition. This can be unusual for care experienced children, so I take it as a double blessing, though not when those pearly whites are gnashing on my flabby bits, of which there are many. My backside is his favourite target. I realise that this is a sizeable target, but it also means he avoids eye contact. Little Chick is full of shame. I am not always clear whether he knows what he is doing or is in control of his actions, but on the occasions he is, I can see a mix of anger, sadness, fear, and remorse in his eyes. That is what I need to remember as my buttocks throb. Anger is a secondary emotion; it has been labelled the bodyguard of fear. And as his teeth sink into my wobbling flesh, I need to remember that he is afraid. Of course, there are better ways of expressing this. Hopefully, we can help him with those, develop them over time. I’m not suggesting we grin and bear it for now, but we do have to have some understanding of the thought processes flying around his synapses.

It is easy to get lost in the thought that A is for aggression, B is for biting, C is for controlling, etc. Rather, I need to remember that A is for anxiety, B is for bewilderment, and C is for cowering. Little Chick is a gorgeous wee boy who has experienced things no one should have to. That’s not an excuse, but it is an explanation and that should give me pause for thought, to remember that under the anger, frustration, and aggression is a small scared boy who is trying his best. B is for beautiful, brilliant, bold. And that’s what Little Chick is.

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.

Holiday preparations

Later this month we will have our first foreign holiday as a family. There will be lots of firsts for Little Chick, including going on a plane, staying somewhere all inclusive, and access to several swimming pools. Potentially all very exciting; potentially completely overwhelming and dysregulating. Whenever we try something new as a family, we are mindful that Little Chick thrives on routine, likes to know what to expect, and needs to know that he is safe. This holiday could be brilliant or just plain bonkers. We know that we can’t always legislate for how he feels, and he has often surprised us by coping far better than expected or even thriving in situations we thought might be tough. But we have made some preparations to ensure that we make it as straightforward for him as possible.

We have been drip-feeding information about the airport and flight for some time now. We have taken a trip to the East Midlands Aeropark so that we could watch planes land and take off, while playing with cousins and enjoying a picnic. Little Chick can be especially sensitive to noise so we wanted him to hear just how loud it could be so that it isn’t a shock.

Little Chick enjoys role play toys and we managed to pick up some Playmobil bargains, which can be incorporated with his existing play sets. The check-in desk is darn cute and he loves playing with the ticket machine. However, I fear we might have a little disappointment on the day when he isn’t allowed to work the computer. We also purchased a private jet. It’s not the most realistic example (with only two passengers), but it does allow us to run through several possible scenarios with him. One tip though: always read the product details before bagging a bargain. I anticipated that the plane would be small enough to slip into hand luggage and be played with inflight. When it arrived with a wingspan of almost 50cm I quickly realised it would be staying at home!

We have bought an I-Spy Airport book, primarily to prepare him for what he will see in and around the airport. The I-Spy element may be too tricky on the day – due to the age appropriateness of the book and the logistics of checking in and boarding – but it should familiarise him with some of the sights and sounds he will likely encounter.

My biggest concern is the flight itself. A four-hour journey is a lot for any first flyer, let alone a busy, fidgety three-year-old. I have sacrificed my hand luggage allowance to ensure he has enough storage for the books, toys, etc. we have compiled. For the past few months, I have been scouring pound shops and charity shops for small toys and blind bags. Bling bags are great because you never know what you might get, though it may be disappointing if you get duplicates. Where possible, I try to buy small toys I know he will like and wrap them in tissue paper. He loves the sensory quality of the paper and unwrapping them can last longer than the time he plays with the contents. We have several activity books, mostly with stickers, so he has a variety of quick activities to flit between. However, I am fully expecting that his Kindle will be our lifesaver. He loves his Kindle, perhaps a little too much, and we have agreed that he can use it freely on the days we travel if it keeps him happy and us sane. We have also prepared a streamlined version of his calm kit – a collection of sensory toys that he uses when he is overwhelmed and/or dysregulated. Oh, and snacks. Lots and lots of snacks.

Probably the best weapon in our entertainment arsenal is Grandma. She and Grandpa are holidaying with us, in an adjacent apartment, and will be on hand for babysitting and fun. Within reason. It is their holiday too. But I’m hoping that Grandma’s presence will help and somebody else to do a toilet run will be appreciated.

We have tried to explain that the flight is long because we are traveling a long way, making clear that we will all be coming home again. Using his inflatable globe, we have shown him where we live and where we will be going, using stickers to show both. Additionally, we have shown him videos online of the resort, so he knows where he is going. We have printed off photos for a small scrapbook, which will work as a prompt before we leave and as a souvenir upon our return (it will go in his memory box, along with any other bits and pieces he takes a shine to while we are away).

As I said, this could be brilliant or bonkers and all the preparation in the world doesn’t allow for the response of a three-year-old, much less one with a tricky start in life. We hope he will enjoy it as we have always loved travelling and hope to share that with him. But we appreciate that if he is not ready yet (or ever) then we will find other ways for the Other Mrs Reed Warbler and I to get our travel fix. The main thing is we have assured Little Chick that we will keep him happy safe and well wherever we are – and we intend to keep that promise.


NB. I will not be blogging while we are away, to ensure that my focus is fully on my family and our holiday. We have been looking forward to this time together for some time and I want to make sure I am ‘present’ throughout our time away.

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.