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 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.

Happy birthday to me…

It was my birthday this week. And it sucked. Partly because I’m creeping closer to 40 and I had a mini existential crisis (perhaps a forerunner to the impending midlife crisis). Mostly because Little Chick did not like me having a birthday.

Several times on Twitter I’ve seen adopters comment on how celebrations were ruined, plans spoiled, and that they had learned not to mark such occasions with their children. To date, we have all had a birthday since Little Chick has lived here and all have passed without a problem. In fact, he’s been non-plussed by it all, his birthday and Christmas included.

But something has changed. Instead of laughter, cake, and balloons, there is anger, frustration, and violence. And I don’t really understand why. Well, I have my suspicions.

Lately, we’ve noticed changes in Little Chick’s fight, flight, or freeze responses. When faced with perceived danger, his default mode was freeze. Over time, this had morphed into flight mode, with Little Chick darting off when confronted. Alongside this, fight mode has appeared. At the heart of these responses is fear.

A seemingly enjoyable outing with his cousins to a venue of their choice ended with hitting, kicking, general defiance, and running away – both publicly and dangerously. Whether he couldn’t cope with it being my birthday or was overwhelmed by other aspects is unclear. But he was clearly frightened. When you’re excited by your birthday and your plans get scuppered it’s difficult to (immediately) separate the behaviour from the child. To see it as fear rather than wilful or mischievous hijinks. When you’re the kind of person who still appreciates your parents’ acknowledge of your half birthday it’s hard not to take it personally.

But it’s not personal. It’s not about me.

And that’s adoption, really. It’s scary, it’s confusing, and it’s not about me.

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.