A huge thank you to all the Lockdown Heroes

This is by no means an exhaustive list and I will (unintentionally) miss off people, but I wanted to share my experience of Lockdown (so far) and thank all the Lockdown Heroes who have helped me and my family.

The NHS

It’s an obvious place to begin, given the circumstances. We have always had a positive experience of the NHS, even if waiting times are long and services woefully understaffed. But they have reached new heights of awesomeness. Calling 111 a second time (the first to discuss suspected COVID), the responder was concerned by my breathing during the phone call. Within half an hour an ambulance arrived, and two paramedics checked on me. My first thought was gratitude and relief, as the unexpected call out had heightened my anxiety to silly levels. My second thought was concern that their PPE would frighten my son. Yes, he was anxious, but not because of the PPE. Honestly, I have better protection when decorating than they had for tackling a potentially deadly virus. The sight of those two lovely souls in cheap masks and disposable aprons hammered home how much our key workers are at risk. Thankfully, my (suspected) case was mild and hospitalisation was unnecessary. But that will not always be the case when they respond to a call.

I am indebted to all the NHS staff who place themselves in danger to help us. Thank you.

School

I follow several teachers on Twitter and have watched with interest their new takes on ‘home schooling’. I have seen them dedicate hours to preparing new resources. They have taken the time to reassure students and their families. My sister, an assistant head in an independent school, has taken a significant pay cut and almost doubled her weekly workload, to ensure that pupils are provided for and that there is a viable, functioning school to return to afterwards.

Little Chick’s school have been incredible. Having collaborated with several local schools, they have kept provision going for children of key workers and those that need it. Little Chick was offered hours, but we declined them. However, now that I have (probably) had Coronavirus (and the health risks are lessened) and he has been off school for eight weeks (due to various issues before Lockdown) we feel that he needs that interaction. He is a sociable wee fella and he misses his friends. The phone calls from teachers have buoyed us, the headteacher has contacted us regularly, including with video assemblies and messages. We have sent his beloved TA photo postcards to show her what we have done and to stay connected. She has responded with videos of stories, hilarious tales that make him giggle that little laugh that only Mrs F can elicit.

School is a funny place for Little Chick. It can cause ridiculous levels of anxiety and dysregulation. But, especially with the tailored provision the school have put in place for him, he is starting to see it as a safe place. And a fun place. And he misses it. And, boy, so do I!

Thank you to all the school staff who are finding new ways to engage and reassure children, to be virtual safe spaces until we can all commune safely.

Key workers

Having been ill, with a school-aged child, it is no surprise that the NHS and schools start the list. Often other key workers are overlooked. Wrongly. Even in this section, I will miss some. And I am sorry for that. For the oversight now, but mostly for doing so in the past. Taking for granted the people and services that keep our lives ticking along nicely. The unsung heroes who keep us happy, safe, and well. Particularly, I am grateful for our postie, an affable chap who always has a smile, whatever the weather. He has helped keep us connected with others, delivering letters, packets, and parcels, which bring us joy, good news, and even gifts.

Our local delivery service has been depleted, but you would never know it from their commitment and attitude. Thank you.

Food is a sensitive topic in our house. Although scarcity of food has never been an issue, control over food is something we must watch. With limited and irregular supplies, the past few weeks have been tough for Little Chick. The unpredictability of meals has been trickier than we imagined. He has also sought comfort in food, something he has not done for over a year. Maintaining and improving the supply and delivery of food to our home has been vital to all of us since Lockdown. The delivery people have been greeted with beaming smiles and requests for Babybel.

Everyone in the food chain has kept us well fed and lessened the stress. Thank you.

Other key workers have made life more manageable for us too. Even our post adoption support social worker has kept things ticking along, checking on us and chasing our adoption support fund application, as well as fielding our calls and emails.

A massive thank you to all the key workers who are keeping the country going at great risk to themselves.

Our neighbour

We moved to this area ten years ago, knowing no one. A work colleague lived close by and became a friend. When we moved home (a mere mile up the road) we became neighbours. And it was one of the best things that has ever happened to us.

Our neighbour is a legend. She is one of those fascinating people who knows something about everything and always knows the person who knows more or can help you out. She is also the embodiment of kindness. She makes you feel good about yourself just by being around her. We cherish our time with her (and her partner). She was a guest at our wedding, one of only a handful of non-family members, and was our referee when adopting. We love her. She has always been a reliable person to call on but never more so than during Lockdown.

She has shopped for us, dropped off surprises (from a safe distance), baked birthday cakes so occasions are marked, brought flowers to cheer me up, texted to check how we are and if we need anything.

She has been a constant before and during Lockdown. What more could we ask for in a friend and neighbour? Thank you.

Our family

We have stayed well connected with family, sending regular messages, cards, and photos. We have used FaceTime, Zoom, and Skype, with mixed success. But nothing beats giving someone a hug, looking them in the eye, and saying hello. I love you. I missed you.

Little Chick has found it especially difficult. Having not seen other family members for over three months, this is the longest he has gone without physical contact. He is not a fan of video or phone calls and runs away when asked to greet a grandparent. But they haven’t taken it personally and have sent videos that he can watch when he wants. Videos of pets, videos of cousins playing in the garden, videos with songs, videos with stories. Videos sent with love. They have given him some control in a time where everything must feel completely out of his control.

For this precious and thoughtful gift, I am extraordinarily grateful. Thank you.

Adoption UK

Since we became members a few years ago, I have always been impressed with the work that Adoption UK does. We joined to gain support and help influence regional and national policy. We sought connection with others who ‘get it’.

During Lockdown, their support has reached another level. Having introduced webinars by specialist guest speakers there is even more knowledge readily available to be shared. Hopefully, these new technological opportunities will continue post-Lockdown. Equally, I have found the online community welcoming and reassuring, a sense of connection, but I am looking forward to meeting up in real life.

More than ever, I am thankful for my fellow adopters, for my tribe.

Friends

I sometimes worry that I don’t have many friends, certainly not as many as I should, but Lockdown has reminded me that it is quality over quantity that matters. The few friends I have fulfil different but essential needs – I have the friend that makes me laugh every day, the friend that will offer sage advice (or a Pinterest link at a pinch), the friend who ‘gets’ our family and understands the dynamics between us all. Over Lockdown I’ve reconnected with old friends and I’ve forged forward in new friendships.

Whether we have known each other for years or weeks I am grateful for them all. Thank you.

My wife

I genuinely would not be here writing this today if it weren’t for her. Even though I’ve sometimes questioned her level of dedication and care (sorry, please blame the illness), she has kept me afloat. She has kept me mentally and physically well. We have spent more time together than normal, including small pockets of quality time, which we needed to reconnect. On a side note, I’m also grateful for her therapist, who has helped us both, not least because she has echoed many of my concerns and suggestions, though with considerably more gravitas and far less passive aggression.

The Other Mrs Reed Warbler – Thank you!

Our children

My head and body are tired, so very tired. But my heart is bursting with pride. Pride at how well our children have done. All the children. All the small souls who have had their worlds turned upside down with no warning, no tangible explanation, and no end in sight.

Little Chick has astonished me, yet again. Yes, he has found life tricky and some days have been so catastrophically bad that we have simply vowed never to speak of them again. But some days have been glorious, rich with magical moments that seemed impossible just a few months ago. Overall, we have treated this period like nesting, that time immediately after introductions when adoptive families are encouraged to spend time together and apart from the wider community, to nurture and deepen attachments. It hasn’t always been easy, but we are certainly feeling the therapeutic benefits. Little Chick is like a new boy. Rather, he is like the little boy we knew before the anxiety, fear, and dysregulation of school sent him into a tailspin. We loved him no matter what but now we are seeing all those characteristics we loved and missed: his smile, his laughter, his ability to make us laugh, his earnestness, his kindness, his sense of adventure, his dancing, his curiosity. Most of all, we have seen how different our life is with regular, quality sleep. It has been truly transformative, for all of us.

To all our children, who are facing new obstacles daily but keep on trying, thank you.

I am truly grateful to everyone who has carried me this far through the COVID pandemic: You are all Lockdown Heroes. Thank you!

Put on your positive pants!

I’m well overdue a blog post. Not because my readership (I jest) demand it. But because writing is one of the best ways of keeping me sane.

The past few months have been tough. I’ve had illness after illness, punctuated by the occasional infection or ailment. I’ve been functioning well below my usual ability, both physically and mentally. All of this has taken its toll. Then Coronavirus came along. I have been fortunate. I don’t think I have been affected, physically; though many of my symptoms matched, so self-isolation ensued. In many ways, I live quite an insular life anyway, through choice. So, I have not felt the imposed lockdown as keenly as others. But I am a contrary bugger and, as soon as I’m told not to go out, I’m suddenly itching to explore the great outdoors, do all those things I’ve never done even though I’ve had ample opportunity.

Lockdown has tested our family. We are entering our fifth week and relationships are ever changing. Little Chick swings from wanting to be inside our skin to rejecting us completely. It’s all extreme. There is no middle ground. Perhaps because of this, mine and the Other Mrs Reed Warbler’s relationship has followed a similar pattern. We go from acting like teenagers in love to an embittered couple on the brink of divorce. Again, there is no reasonable behaviour between these poles. Overall, I would say that our relationship with Little Chick is improving daily. The problems caused by school – fear of rejection, anxiety, dysregulation, over-stimulation – have lessened. He misses school though – bloody hell, so do I – but his sense of loss is, mostly, manageable. We’ve even experienced periods of good nights, even restful sleep, helping us to restore our depleted reserves of energy and patience, both of which are in great demand now.

I have started drafting this post in my head several times. I never committed to paper because it was all too maudlin. I feel the need to be honest as much as possible, but nobody needs to hear ALL my doom and gloom. I needed to expel the negative feelings so that I could start afresh, with renewed vigour and hope. I asked Ali for an illustration, requesting a pair of pants – boy’s briefs – that I could use to highlight some of the accomplishments of the past weeks and months. Little Chick is extremely secure in his toileting now and this is a breakthrough for us all, and one that will especially benefit him when he returns to school. Previously, he would don his pull-ups whenever opportunity arose but, now, he is shunning them for big boy pants. His power pants. He pulls them on and strikes a pose. Hands on hips, chest puffed out, chin in the air. He knows he is powerful. He has mastered something that challenged him. Once again, he has overcome the obstacles before him.

The Other Mrs Reed Warbler and I also have power pants. These are the pants that, allegedly, hold in our stomachs, fooling casual observers that we are svelte. Because we have mirrors, we know that the power pants have limited capabilities. But they make us feel more confident, if only because we know we have ‘made an effort’. And confidence is not to be sniffed at. It leads to positivity and triumph. So, I have renamed them: now, they are my positive pants.

We are now in the fourth month of 2020 and, honestly, I don’t feel like my year has started yet. My best-laid schemes have ‘gang aft agley’, courtesy of Little Chick or Coronavirus. And for a while that bothered me. Ate me alive, bothered me. But now I know these things are beyond my control. So, I need to put on my positive pants, plant my hands on my hips, thrust out my chest, lift my chin(s) skyward, and know that I have the power and positivity to take on the things that I can control. I can draw a line under the first quarter of the year. I can choose to forget what could or should have been.

One thing I can control is writing. Even if it is infrequent and irregular short bursts of scribbling, I need it. I can control my narrative – literally and metaphorically. I have also realised how much I miss photography. Not just snaps on my iPhone, getting out there and capturing moments. Obviously, I can’t control where I go and what I see to the extent I would like right now. But I can control how I deal with that. And I will, deal with that.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or low because things aren’t going your way and everything seems out of your control, please realise that you are not alone. If I can help, by listening or sending you memes, please let me know. I hope you are all happy, safe, and well. And I hope you are all in possession of a pair of positive pants, even if you’re not quite ready to put them on yet.

Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We don’t deserve dogs

A couple of weeks before Christmas we had to make the difficult decision to have our Border Terrier (BT) put to sleep. Terminally ill, he had lost his essence and his verve; he was a poor imitation of the lively, loving dog we knew and loved. Conscious that Christmas is a tricky time anyway, with the potential for intense feelings of loss, we didn’t want BT’s death tied up with that. We wanted to preserve the memories of him in happier times, before he was in pain. We also had no idea how Little Chick might react.

I have written before about the difficult relationship I have with our dogs, especially since Little Chick. As fraught as it was, it was always a loving relationship and BT’s death hit me hard. The Other Mrs Reed Warbler was hit hardest: partly due to her compassionate nature, partly due to her role as their primary carer and chief walker. Little Chick has always been quite ambivalent towards the dogs, though expressed favouritism for BT in his final days (possibly because we spoke of him more than our other dog, a female West Highland Terrier).

We were keen to be factual with Little Chick. I’m a bugger for flowery language but I knew that euphemisms were more likely to cause confusion and false hope. Bluntly (though hopefully not brutally), I explained that BT’s body no longer worked. We tried not to place too much emphasis on age, since his concept of age includes that we are ancient. We didn’t want to worry him that we might imminently shuffle off our mortal coils, especially since I have a landmark birthday this year.

As heart wrenching as BT’s death has been, there has been one positive. And it’s a big one. Little Chick and our other dog, let’s call her Westie, are now able to spend more time together. Westie has a much calmer temperament than BT and is more accepting of cuddles and fusses, even actively seeking them. She has buckets of patience, which she has shown as she and Little Chick learn to live in closer proximity. I have been able to enjoy more time with her too. I was overwhelmed by two dogs but am more confident with one. I have enjoyed cuddles and walks that weren’t possible with BT (and his jealousy issues). The whole dynamic in our home has altered. Westie has become something of a therapy dog for Little Chick and I, at a time when we both need unconditional acceptance and someone who is pleased to see us. And she seems to be reaping the benefits of greater attention and freedom. Many of her negative behaviours, learned from BT, have vanished. This sounds like I am glad BT is dead. Not at all. However, I think I am relieved. We had no control over his illness, but we could manage his pain and death. At a time where we have had little control and much chaos, this has been a blessing. In a period of sadness and turmoil we have experienced new joy. In a way, BT’s passing has given us renewed hope – our watchword for 2020. It has reminded us to take heed of that popular phrase: “Be the person your dog thinks you are”.

Little Chick has announced that Westie is his best friend. Playing with her and stroking her makes him feel good. He has recognised that she has the same effect on him as using his calm kit. This is major stuff, therapeutically speaking, and is more than we could have hoped for in such a short time.

We truly don’t deserve dogs.

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

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.

Be brave

Often, I describe Little Chick as brave. Sometimes I say this to other people; usually I say this to his face. He is not a confident boy, but he tries incredibly hard at everything he does and shows enormous bravery every day. I’m not paying him lip service; I try to demonstrate to him how he’s been brave. When he struggles to leave us in the morning to enter the classroom, I remind him that he’s done it before and commend his bravery. Rather unfairly, I have now come to expect bravery from Little Chick.

This is wrong of me. Not just because he faces new obstacles every day and must bravely overcome them. But because I am not leading by example. I am shirking my adult and parental responsibilities by living a timid life, playing it safe. My personality is not disposed to big, bold gestures, but I am determined to be brave so that I can begin to show Little Chick that the benefits of bravery continue into adulthood. That adults are practising what they preach and not just upholding unrealistic expectations of our younger generations.

So, today, I’m taking the first step. I have been writing this blog for almost two years. I have published it online and then hidden it away several times. I have shied away from putting my writing – and myself – out there. But that changes. Today.

(You may notice that my post is published on Friday rather than Wednesday this week. Bravery is something I have been building up to).

I commit to sharing my writing. Leaving it online, making it available. What’s more, I will tell people about it. OK, it might be a while before I tell some friends and family, but I will inform others within the adoption community.

I have been more cautious than usual of publishing posts lately as several adoptees are voicing their anger on social media. They are rightly angry, and it is their right to share this in a public forum, but I haven’t always appreciated the way they have voiced their opinions. I have felt they identify and scapegoat adopters for what they have said or done. I haven’t approved of this, but I haven’t said anything. I have ‘liked’ the bold posts of braver adopters who have challenged this, but I have remained an observer. My silence has made me complicit. I want my son to grow up able to discuss his thoughts and feelings about who he is and where he comes from without fear. Without fear of reprisals from others. Without fear of upsetting me and the Other Mrs Reed Warbler. Without fear that we will reject him if he wants to learn more about his birth family.

I need to be brave and face the challenges head on. I don’t want to place myself as a target, but I need to do more to encourage all sides to engage and learn from each other. I want to champion voices within adoption. I want people to hear all sides of the complex stories.

For my son’s sake, I vow to be brave.