Ay!

Little Chick is angry. We’re not sure why exactly. But he is definitely angry.

There have been fewer words this past week and even fewer sentences, even two-word combination. The single words he utters are shouted or whispered bitterly. There doesn’t seem to be a happy medium.

Requests are met with “Ay!” Cuddles are dismissed with “Ay!” Easy breezy conversation is shut down with a firm and final “Ay!”

“Ay!” precedes hair pulling. “Ay!” is accompanied by pushing. “Ay!” follows pinching.

This seems like more than normal toddler aggression and anger. This is scary.


Edit (August 2018): During adoption training and from speaking with adoptive parents, I learned that Child Parent Violence (CPV) can be problematic for adoptive families. I didn’t think that what we were experiencing with Little Chick met this definition*, but I wasn’t taking any risks either.

Speaking to Little Chick’s social worker, we arranged an appointment with a psychologist through Adoption Support. The psychologist knew nothing of our situation before the appointment and only spent an hour with us. But that was enough, for now. Unpicking it together, this was Little Chick’s way of communicating with us. He felt deregulated and overwhelmed and this manifested in his behaviour, understandable since his speech can be limited. The main advice was to maintain routines, encourage time in, and practise therapeutic parenting. We try to do this anyway but acknowledged several changes recently – change of bed and night-time routine, Mama returning to work – on top of the general issues of leaving his foster carer and moving in with us. She offered practical tips too, such as avoiding playing games on the floor where he could more easily attack us (we should maintain our height advantage), tying up hair and avoiding wearing jewellery, and a range of play therapy games. I cannot share these publicly but if you would like a copy of the play therapy games please contact me.

In the past weeks the physical aggression has lessened. Little Chick seems calmer; subsequently, so do we. It was embarrassing to admit that a two-year-old was hurting me, that I was being beaten up by a toddler. But I knew that, whatever the reason, we needed to meet the problem head on, for all our sake.

*“…any harmful act by a teenage child intended to gain power and control over a parent. The abuse can be physical, psychological, or financial.” Cottrell (2003)

Cottrell’s definition focuses on teens, but I know several adoptive families with preschool children who face this problem.

Hard

“Hard.” Usually followed by a melodramatic sigh.

Little Chick uses ‘hard’ in the same way many adults employ ‘can’t be arsed’. In one syllable Little Chick conveys how little care or energy he has for a task.

“Tidy up, please.”
“Hard.”

“Brush your teeth, please.”
“Hard.”

“Pick up your bag, please.”
“Hard.”

None of these jobs are difficult – the toys are clustered together; the toothbrush is primed with toothpaste; the bag is lightweight – they’re just boring. They’re tedious but necessary tasks.

Most of the time I encourage Little Chick by helping, trying to be playful and make the task less onerous. We put the toys away one brick at a time if necessary. Sometimes I realise I need to pick my battles – and this is not my fight.

Occasionally, Little Chick’s utterance of ‘hard’ stops me dead in my tracks. It always surprises me how something as innocuous as tidying away toys can remind me of Little Chick’s past. The word ‘hard’ takes on more emotive meaning. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), neglect, snippets of his Child Permanence Report (CPR), form in my mind. It bombards me: there is no gentle filter here.

That is hard. Little Chick’s early life was hard. Little Chick’s later life will be harder because of it. It’s an explanation not an excuse, but I’ll cut him some slack. Life will be hard enough without me opposing him.

I will be his protector, his champion, through all that he faces. And that will be hard. But we will get there, together, even if we have to do it slowly, one brick at a time.

Man

“Man!”

Little Chick yells. Before the word has escaped his lips, he is already on the move; the urgency in his speech and movement.

“Man!”, he repeats, more excitedly this time.

“OK”, we reassure him. “It’s OK. Nice and calm. Big breath.”

You would be forgiven for thinking this man is a special guest or even an intruder. Certainly, someone of note.

It is the postman.

It is the Morrison’s delivery man.

It is the man selling door to door.

It is a man. His gender is the sole explanation for Little Chick’s excitement.

You would be forgiven for thinking this is a rare occurrence, the first time in weeks. It is not. It’s not even the first time today.

Every time a male comes to the house that Little Chick does not know by name he bellows “man”.

We anticipated this, kind of. Little Chick’s world is predominantly female: in the home, in the nursery, in his small social circle. The volume was unexpected, by both us and the incoming males. Many recoil as they hear Little Chick’s war cry, genuinely surprised and startled.

Although he acts alarmed by men, he does not seem scared by them upon closer inspection. When we clarify that it is the postman delivering letters or the delivery man bringing food he is placated. I’m not sure that he’s reassured, but then I’m not sure I would want him to be. I don’t want him to be afraid but some stranger awareness can go a long way.

Women aren’t greeted in this way. Women – currently all women – are seen as safe. In some ways this is a bigger problem than men being yelled at. There is no distinction, no discernment. But that will come. With time and through teaching.

During our training before approval to adopt we were asked how we – a female couple – would include men, especially role models, in our hypothetical child or children’s life. We answered that we had fathers, brothers, friends, and by extension they would be grandfathers, cousins, mentors, and friends to Little Chick. We didn’t see a problem.

I don’t think we have a problem now, but we are mindful of preventing one. We want Little Chick to be a proud boy. Any mentions of him being or wanting to be a girl are age appropriate and associated with being more like us. He is not yet ready or able to celebrate his difference. But that will come. We will help him. The men in our lives will help him. So will the women. We will support him in reaching his potential. To being the kindest, happiest, best man he can be.

Turn

This week’s word is another with double meaning.

Little Chick is fascinated that ‘turn’ can describe his dizzying spins as well as when he is allowed to do something. He is giddy with excitement, triumphantly using both meanings together. “Little Chick turn turn”, he giggles, as he points to himself and swivels on the spot. It will blow his mind when I introduce further meanings, especially explaining that he will turn three on his next birthday.

This development has delighted me. In my mind, this is sophisticated thinking; certainly, it is more advanced than Little Chick’s previous showings. It may also be the first tentative steps towards a lifelong love of language. He is starting to play with words, take joy from them. It’s exciting to think that one day he will roll words in his mouth, turn them over, and take as much pleasure from them as he does his favourite delicacies.