4th birthday

Little Chick is four. Four years old. Seriously, how did that happen?! Suddenly we have a little boy in our household. A little boy who is adamant he is a big boy. Who believes he is strong and tall and almost a grown-up. And it is a delight. But it is also bloody hard.

It genuinely feels that not that long ago Little Chick was very small and babyish. He looked and acted younger than his chronological age. Now he looks every inch a boy. Not a baby. Not a toddler. A boy. He seems to have had a massive growth spurt lately (I wish I was better at recording such details). All the clothes we bought him just two months ago for our holiday abroad are that wee bit snugger and shorter. They will make it through the summer, but only just.

Not only does he look like a boy now he is acting like a boy. This is the first time that he has understood that his birthday is about him. And he has accepted and embraced that. He hasn’t been too bothered by presents but he has been keen to point out that its his birthday and we should do his bidding. Mostly we have. We spent the day ay the seaside – his favourite place and no hardship for us. We have eaten his favourite snacks and treats and allowed birthday cake for breakfast. This is the first time since he has lived with us that I have felt like a ‘normal’ family on a big occasion.

I have loved celebrating him and how special he is and how much he means to us. But the day is tinged with sadness, though I try not to share that with Little Chick. I recently read online someone’s argument that birthdays should not celebrate the person born but those who birthed him. On his fourth birthday I thought about Little Chick’s birth parents, and especially his birth mum, and how they must feel. Some occasions or anniversaries may not be precise for them (for example, they will know he will start school in September but will not know the date or details), but his birthday will always remain the same and be inextricably linked to them. We have not started Letterbox with his birth family yet and part of me wishes I could just let them know that he is happy and well. Not to rub it in their faces. Just to let them know that he is getting big and strong, that he is growing into a kind boy, that he is just a normal four-year-old.

 

Holiday!

We are fortunate enough to have not one but two holidays this year. The first was in May, when we travelled abroad with Little Chick for the first time. We are currently enjoying the second, in the UK. Aside from the locations, there are many differences. For example, I have found time to write on this holiday. Correction: I have made time to write on this holiday. I need to write, even if it is only scribbles that go in the bin minutes later. Often, I need that cathartic process of getting out the words, expelling them, then forgetting them.

This holiday has been more about self-care. I have been mindful that I need to feel happy safe and well to keep Little Chick happy, safe, and well. Yes, I want him to have a fab time and make memories, but I also need to enjoy it. And so does the Other Mrs Reed Warbler. And the rest of my family who are staying with us.

Our holiday abroad was, generally, a success. Though it was hard it has not stopped us considering future foreign holidays. Interestingly, Little Chick has said that he has enjoyed/is enjoying this holiday more. I think there are several reasons for that.

Whenever we go away – whether it’s for a night or a fortnight – we are careful to make it clear that it is a temporary abode. We always emphasise that we will be going back to Little Chick’s house – that we will be going home. This week Little Chick has voiced his desire for this to be his home. Again, I think there are a number of explanations: it is a gorgeous house, with lots of space and a flat, enclosed garden; it is near the seaside, his favourite place; it is filled with more people than usual, people that love him and want to spend time with him. This week I think Little Chick has begun to understand the concept of home as a feeling as well as a place. I think, because he cannot communicate this even if he is thinking this, that he is feeling happy, safe, and well and, above all, loved.

We are making the most of the heatwave and are spending as much time as possible outdoors. Living in a landlocked county, we all love the openness of the sea and Little Chick especially enjoys the freedom of frolicking on the beach and splashing in the sea. He is like a different child when he is in wide open spaces and I am thankful that we have so much outdoor space at home. But he truly comes alive at the seaside and his joy and giggles are contagious. Having the weather to truly enjoy it is a massive bonus. If we could guarantee the sunshine in the country, I would be happy to holiday here more often. The sun lifts my soul and, as I get older, I feel that I need those rays increasingly more. Good weather that lends itself to playing and eating outdoors for every meal is a little slice of heaven for all of us.

The Other Mrs Reed Warbler and I are more relaxed on this holiday. We still have a few issues to contend with, just by being away from home, but we also have more factors within our control. Little Chick has his own room and can maintain his own routine better. Noticeably, he is sleeping through so that both he and us are well rested each morning. We can control his meals and mealtimes more easily, making good use of the impressive kitchen facilities in our self-catering cottage. We have our car so that we can just nip out for an hour or two, if the mood takes us or Little Chick’s mood dictates it. We also have the benefit of lessons learned from our holiday in May, especially knowing what doesn’t work well. In many ways, it is a cheaper holiday (though I am always astounded how much you can easily spend) and I think that eases some of the pressure too. There is less resentment and/or disappointment if things don’t quite pan out. It is much easier to manage our expectations as well as Little Chick’s.

Our holiday isn’t over yet and there is plenty of time for things to go south, but for now I am enjoying it. I am thankful for the time with my family, thankful for the glorious weather, and thankful for the opportunities – those we have embraced and those we have let pass us by because we know that rest is just as important. This feels more like the family holidays of my childhood and those I imagined sharing with my children.

 

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.

Introducing Herbert and Rose

I am super excited to announce a new collaboration with the extremely talented Ali Scothern. Trading as Herbert and Rose, Ali is a Derbyshire based artist and creates gorgeous paintings and illustrations, some of which will be gracing my website in the coming weeks.

Additionally, Ali and I are working together to create a range of resources for adoptive parents and their families. These will include books, life story aids and prompts, as well as greeting cards and prints. Our primary audience will be adopters, but everything will be designed and made with adoptees in mind. The tools and resources will be aimed at supporting them through issues such as identity and life story work as well as difficult emotions, particularly recognising their early years and ongoing trauma.

Ali will be illustrating my website pages and I couldn’t be happier. I have always known that I needed to add photos or artwork but couldn’t find the right style. Because I always had Ali’s work in mind, and I was delighted when she agreed to work with me.

I will let you know when our collaborative work is ready; in the meantime, you can pop over to www.herbertandrose.com to see more of Ali’s work, follow her on social media, or even commission her yourself.

Adieu, but not goodbye

Now that our Adoption Order is through and several months have passed, we are no longer assigned our social worker. We will still receive support through the East Midlands Adoption Agency, but it will be more ad hoc. It is time for us to move on. We will be just like other parents. Kind of.

I’ve appreciated the accountability of having regular appointments and checks. On occasions they have felt a tad intrusive or unnecessary, but I fully understood that they were intended to safeguard the child and help us. Moreover, we have a great relationship with our social worker, so it’s never felt burdensome. It has been a genuine pleasure and I will miss seeing and speaking to her regularly.

However, it is a case of adieu but not goodbye. We are keen to continue supporting the adopter training, which she regularly runs. Having benefitted from this we want to give back, sharing our experiences and knowledge, in the hope that they will help someone. Should we consider adopting again in the future, she will likely be our supervising social worker once again, a factor which may sway our decision.

I know that I have praised our social worker before and I’m probably getting a bit repetitive, but I think it is worth saying. Social workers get a lot of stick, sometimes rightly, and as a profession they can be derided. But M is one of the good ones. We honestly wouldn’t be a family now without her. She guided us gently and never tried to manipulate or change our opinions. She always let us make our own decisions, then gave a huge sigh of relief when we selected what she believed would be the best for us. And often she knew us better than we knew ourselves. Her insight is remarkable. I will miss her wisdom, warmth, and wit. I will always be grateful that she helped forge our forever family.

Home from holidays

When I first started making notes for this post, I considered naming it “The Aftermath”, since that’s what it initially felt like. I felt shell-shocked and the least rested I have ever felt after a holiday. However, I soon realised that “Lessons Learned” was more appropriate. As tricky as the holiday was at times, we are determined to learn from it and try again.

Preparation was key. I knew we couldn’t prepare for every eventuality but considering possible obstacles and thinking about how we could help Little Chick to overcome them was vital. Without doing this the holiday would have been much tougher.

Checking in and the time spent at the airport in the UK was relatively straightforward. The busyness and noise were difficult – for all of us – at times, but we coped. We were some of the first people onto the plane, which helped Little Chick to settle, but the additional time on the tarmac unsettled him. By the time we took off, he had been in his seat for an hour and was keen to take off.

He loved taking off. He looked so chilled and took it all in his stride. But he was also excited and amazed by the experience. Once we levelled off and the seatbelt signs came on the trouble began. We kept our belts on to encourage him to stay still, but he wanted to explore. I should have foreseen this as he always performs a full inspection when we visit somewhere new and there was no reason why he would see this as being any different. The lengthy delay added to the feeling that the flight was not just long but too long, for all of us. The toys and distractions worked reasonably well, and the snacks were happily devoured, but the Kindle barely left the bag. With hindsight, Little Chick displayed signs of hypervigilance, aroused as he was by the unfamiliar setting, all the new sights, smells, and sounds, not to mention the vast number of people in such proximity.

We arrived at our destination airport late in the evening, though the lack of lighting in the terminals made it feel considerably later. This also made everything feel slightly more chaotic. One thing I hadn’t considered was the different language. The staff in the resorts all speak excellent English but I had forgotten that it would be a much greater mix of nationalities and languages in the airport. At times the noise was deafening and the words were indecipherable. I think this was probably the hardest part of the day for Little Chick and I will need to consider how we can ease this pressure should we fly abroad again.

In some ways the travelling was as tiring as the entire holiday, especially when he didn’t sleep on the way home, even though it was a night flight and he was beyond shattered. Any future holidays may need to involve less travelling and waiting time. Though, like most things, I also anticipate that the more we do it the easier it will become. The fear of the unknown is hard for Little Chick, but my own anxiety can also make things harder than they need to be. I need to consider my own self care in order to make it easier for him.

Our time abroad was definitely a mixed bag. Undoubtedly, the biggest issue was food and mealtimes. Little Chick is a good eater and will try most things, which he did. But he struggled with the number of people and the necessity of staying still. We have experienced this a little when having meals out in the UK, but those occasions are few and far between. Since we had an all-inclusive package, mealtimes were plentiful and painful. The sheer abundance and availability of food was too much for Little Chick. By the end of our holiday we were taking shifts and the five of us were unable to eat together. But we all ate well and mostly enjoyed the occasion.

As we had an open plan apartment Little Chick essentially shared a room with us. This disrupted his sleep, even though we made allowances, such as putting him to bed much later than usual, so that we were all on similar timetables. His lack of rest equally disrupted us and the combined tiredness was not pleasant. Having grandparents in the adjoining apartment was a blessing and he had a couple of sleepovers to allow us to restore our energy and refresh ourselves for lots of time in the pool.

Little Chick is such a water baby, but the public baths are too hot, too noisy, and too crowded for him to enjoy. The openness of the outdoor pool suited him much better and his confidence and ability in the water improved incredibly over our stay.

Undoubtedly, the best outcome from the holiday was Little Chick’s progress with toilet training. About a week before leaving he had announced he wanted big boy pants. We happily obliged and encouraged this. Our previous attempts to get him dry for school in September had been futile: this was the moment we had been waiting for. He did brilliantly well at home and at nursery, so we decided to run with the momentum of his success and try it on holiday. He was a superstar. The good weather, the regular toilet breaks, and the child sized toilets all contributed to major progress. Admittedly, I wouldn’t want to put my head in the pool as I think that may have been used as a giant toilet but… This leap forward is a relief for us. We suspected that he might not be toilet trained by September and, while we appreciate that it must be in his own time, we didn’t want him to stand out from his peers. More importantly, Little Chick has grown in confidence and takes such pride in his newfound skills. Though we did make more than a dozen trips to the toilet on the flight home just in case he really did need to go. We didn’t want to do anything that would dent his confidence.

To be honest, if you had offered me the improvements in toilet training and confidence in the pool for the cost of the holiday, I would have snapped your hand off. So, anything else – the day trips, the sun, the unlimited ice cream and cocktails – was a bonus.

So, would we do it again? Probably. But not yet. It was entirely different to the holidays the Other Mrs Reed Warbler and I have enjoyed in the past. It was often tense and the lack of sleep made us more tired upon our return than before we left. But we spent quality time with Little Chick (and my parents) and we saw his joy. Yes, there were bleak moments where I think we all considered thumbing a lift back to the airport, but overall it was filled with memories. And that’s what holidays and family are all about. And, hopefully, Little Chick will learn that one of the best things about going away is coming home again.


Edit (July 2019): When you’re in the midst of things it is hard to see clearly. Similarly, it is easy to remember only the stress and disappointment rather than the successes and moments of joy. Looking back, it was tricky, but it could have been much trickier. We have paid for the holiday in the form of dysregulation and other fallout, but we have also gained a much more confident little boy who can (occasionally) show pride in his achievements. Ultimately, it’s about whether Little Chick managed it and enjoyed it. He says he did and wants to go again. I doubt that we will go abroad again next year (not least for financial reasons) but it is encouraging to know that it has not been ruled out entirely. As I’ve said before, we love travelling and have gained so much from our experiences. We want to share that with Little Chick, but only if it is helpful and beneficial.

Instagram

Lately, I’ve been questioning my decision to have social media accounts associated with adoption. Initially, I used Twitter as a prospective adopter so there were no moral quandaries about sharing a child’s story. But Twitter has – for me, at least – become a bit of a toxic environment lately and I’ve turned to Instagram to connect with fellow adopters.

Like on Twitter, I have a locked account, meaning I must approve any followers. Obviously, this doesn’t guarantee security – it is important to remember that all social media platforms carry risks – but it does make my content more private. It also means that I am more discerning about who I follow, choosing accounts that edify or educate, rather than just building an unmanageable horde of random people to follow.

I try to ensure that I only share photos of Little Chick from the side, behind, etc. and not face on. Partly, it’s a security measure; partly, it’s respecting that he might not appreciate me sharing some of his story. I hope that he – and others – can see and understand my intentions. He is an amazing little boy who deserves to be championed and celebrated. Our life is generally happy, but mostly mundane. And I think it’s helpful for others, especially prospective adopters, to see that.

My biggest concern with Instagram remains the same, the reason why I’m so late to the party. It’s a bit false. All social media can be fake but on Instagram it is especially easy to view things through a lens (terrible pun intended). When I started posting I vowed, to myself anyway, that I would be realistic, posting candid shots rather than staged shoots. And for the most part I have succeeded. Ultimately though, it is just a snapshot, a tiny glimpse into a life. I try to use the text to give a balanced view, explain that the angelic smile captured in that instant was followed by a frustrated fist coming my way. I don’t lie but I guess I’m not entirely truthful. It’s not that I’m fibbing, more that I’m misleading (mostly unintentionally) by omission. I want to give a true representation, but I also want to be fair to Little Chick. I need to be cautious in not oversharing his story. But equally I don’t want people to think I’m a pompous, egotistical bore. It’s a tricky balance.

If you’re an adopter, adoptee, foster carer, or birth family on Instagram and want to share your account please message me your details. I want to use Instagram, as I have done Twitter, to learn from others and broaden my understanding of adoption. If you have any suggestions for other accounts or hashtags to follow please also share.

World Book Day 2019

We have books in every room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am genuinely ashamed.

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

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

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

LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week 2019

As February ends, we leave behind LGBT+ History Month. But the pride continues, as next week is LGBT Adoption and Fostering Week (4th – 10th March).

Statistics from the Department of Education show that LGBT+ couples account for 1 in every 8 adoptions. Since this doesn’t include bisexuals, single LGBT+ adopters, and trans people not in a relationship, it is fair to say that the real number is even higher. However, more LGBT+ adopters are needed – and encouraged.

We adopted through Derbyshire County Council and were impressed by how they approached our same-sex status. It was always discussed fully and frankly: there was no rainbow elephant in the room. Since we were approved, several LGBT+ couples have followed. Some of these have been assigned to our assessing social worker, who now has working knowledge of assisting lesbians in the adoption process and becoming parents. She put us in touch with same-sex adopters to help us broaden our understanding; now we have offered to return the favour, by sharing our experience with prospective adopters.

As same-sex parents, we mostly experience parenting (specifically adoptive parenting) like everyone else. We have the highs, the lows, and the mundane reality in between. One stark difference I have noticed is that most same-sex parents have approached adoption as their first choice. Often the pain and difficulty of trying to conceive has not been a feature of our journey to parenthood. As such, we approach it differently (not better, just differently). And I think this can be a positive thing.

Same-sex parents can also appreciate, to some extent, issues surrounding identity that are so vital to adoptees. The circumstances are difference but that feeling of otherness may be the same. Living in a heteronormative society, I find that I ‘come out’ almost daily. In the past week, my wife has been mistaken for my sister and mother. Both assumptions are based on what people expect families to look like (though the latter did make me howl with laughter; she’s less than three years older than I am). I believe people make assumptions about adoption and, in turn, about adoptees. Quick judgements based on what they expect or think they know. Some awareness of this could be invaluable when adoptees are trying to piece together their story and understand their own identity.

As hard as it has been at times, adopting Little Chick has been absolutely the best thing we have ever done. And, in the circumstances, it was a good move for him too. If you are LGBT+, considering adoption, and would like to ask any questions please do contact us (you can also get in touch if you’re not LGBT+!). We try to speak as freely as we can without sharing too much of our little boy’s story (they are his details to share – or not).

You can learn more about LGBT+ adoption and fostering at New Family Social, the only national LGBT+ adoption and fostering charity in the UK. It provides support, improves the treatment of LGBT+ people in the adoption and fostering process, encourages inclusion and works directly with its members and agencies to find more new families for children in care.


Update (April 2019): Derbyshire is now part of Adoption East Midlands. They joined forces with Nottinghamshire County Council, Nottingham City Council and Derby City Council to more effectively find the best matches for children needing to be adopted and people hoping to adopt.

Twitter

Twitter has long been my preferred social media outlet, especially when browsing as an adoptive parent. The adoption community has been one of my greatest sources of hope, support, and information since starting my adoption journey and I am a great champion of the website to new and prospective adopters.

Like all social media, it does have its dark side though. Recently, the tirades and vitriol espoused on there have left me feeling anxious and unhappy. Largely, this is not adoption related, more a reaction to current events and a reflection of the mood in Britain right now. For the sake of my sanity I have chosen to step back from the platform, but that has left a void. To some extent, I have (tried to) filled this with Pinterest and Instagram: fluffier, prettier, lighter alternatives. They have served a purpose, but they cannot satiate me in the way that Twitter does.

Admitting to other adoptive parents that I was finding Twitter tough was met with support. One of the things I most love about the community on here is that people will share their experiences, frankly and fully, reassuring me that I am never completely alone. Some kind souls even urged that I don’t give up on the site, that I would be missed. I valued this and it affirmed why I would never give up Twitter easily.

However, I have decided to take a few steps back, in the name of self-care and self-preservation. I am limiting the time I spend on my account, using my iPhone settings to alert me when my allotted time is up. I have muted various words and phrases that cause general and specific angst. For now, I am muting adoptee voices. This feels like an awful thing to do, but I am struggling with the anger and despair. I empathise, but I cannot understand. I need to step back and reengage when I am stronger and more able to listen kindly and keenly. I have also stopped following several accounts – mostly non-adoption related – that offer little in the way of edification. Marie Kondo’s simple question of “does it spark joy?” could well be applied to Twitter.

After all this, I am still hopeful, because amid the doom and gloom there are shining examples of why the Twitter adoption community is so precious. @DanielHugill is gorgeousness personified. The warmth that radiates from his shared stories – of school, of family, of religion, of his allotment, of his life generally – soothe my soul. @Suddenly_Mummy is one of the most insightful and considered adopters I have met. I value all her opinions on a range of matters, but especially education, and squeal with delight when she unveils a new blog post. @adoptionblogfox responds well to the hot topics on Twitter, candidly sharing her own views and experiences. Often these are developed further through her excellent blog, allowing greater discourse and engagement.

I’m enjoying spending more time on other social sites, but I anticipate that as my mood improves, I will gravitate back to my adoptive Twitter family. I will continue to manage my use carefully and champion good practice. Perhaps I will be bolder – saying more, rather than just observing for the shadows. Probably, I will be grateful for the solidarity and community it offers me.