Adoption Support

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

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

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

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

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

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

Life lessons from birds

This summer we have had more breeding birds in the garden than ever. The list of species includes blackbird, blue tit, great tit, dunnock, wood pigeon, house sparrow, robin, magpie, and goldfinch.

It’s costing us a fortune in seeds, nuts, and fat balls, but it’s worth it. Especially as Little Chick is taking great interest in keeping the feeders topped up and caring for our feathered friends. The overflowing feeders have also encouraged a few more daily visitors, including Jack the jackdaw and Cyril the squirrel.

We have enjoyed watching their lives play out before us, the large living room window offering a cinematic view of their comings and goings. As a genus, I took no interest in birds until I met the Other Mrs Reed Warbler. Before then, I kept a healthy distance. Now, I am surprised at how much we can learn from these wee creatures that share our homes and gardens.

I say homes because we have house sparrows nesting in the eaves of our roof. They have successfully fledged several broods over the past years and have done so again this summer. House sparrows are the Other Mrs Reed Warbler’s favourite birds. They are the bird of her childhood, conjuring memories of a simpler time. They are understated and overlooked. House sparrows are declining in numbers in our cities and are symbolic of how we are damaging our and their natural environment.

In the garden, we have watched the various species mark and defend their territories. The blackbirds are particularly vocal in this and provide great entertainment when the neighbouring pair try their luck on our feeders. ‘Territorial’ usually has negative connotations. Before parenthood I probably would have agreed. But watching them now, as a mother, I admire their tenacity in protecting their family.

The blue tits are probably my favourite visitors, not least because they often occupy the nest box with an inbuilt camera and we can observe the minutia of their lives, including when the eggs hatched and the first chicks fledged. However, what struck me most was how industrious these birds are and how hard they work. This summer has been tough for the Other Mrs Reed Warbler and me; we have felt exhausted and overwhelmed at times. But seeing the blue tit pair physically and emotionally broken gives you a sense of perspective. Especially when the chicks they have so valiantly fought for are predated by the local tom cat.

It is almost impossible to distinguish between the blue tit sexes, unless you are an expert, are in ultraviolet light, or are holding the blue tits. Goldfinches, dunnocks, and great tits are equally difficult to separate. I like this. Even at four-years-old, Little Chick has some ideas of male and female qualities and projects these onto the birds in the garden. Mr Blackbird goes to the office; Mrs Blackbird stays at home; Mr Sparrow goes out all day; Mrs Sparrow looks after the babies. This doesn’t follow the roles in our same-sex household, but he has learned it anyway. When we cannot identify the sex of the bird our expectations change; we accept them as they are.

We are reminded that looks can be deceiving. Our luscious hedgerows are home to several species and provide the backdrop for the most intense drama. Dunnocks have crept into my list of favourite birds, simply because they are so common yet unusual. Typical little brown jobs (LBJs), they are boring at first glance. Upon closer inspection, they are not just brown or even just one shade of brown. They are unexpectedly glorious. And there is certainly more to them than meets the eye. They are by far the friskiest birds in our garden and their sex lives are curiously fascinating. Every time they scamper after each other, ‘The Benny Hill Show’ theme plays in my head. Unlike most species, both sexes, rather than just the male, has a breeding territory. The female will encourage male suitors in order to get the best sperm, a classic example of survival of the fittest. Rival males will peck out competitor’s sperm from the female’s opening to ensure their lineage. However, the female is not above allowing several males to believe they are the father, ensuring the best provisions and protection for her offspring. Dunnocks would not be out of place on ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’.

Occasionally, we will be visited by a passing bird of prey. Buzzards often ‘kee kee’ overhead and sparrowhawks occasionally soar through the garden or perch on the feeder. Birds of prey were my most feared birds but now they are among my favourites. Spotting a rarer species in the garden is a true joy and a reminder that we live in a genuinely wonderful place. It is easy to lose sight of that.

Corvids, including crows, jackdaws, magpies, jays, rooks, and ravens, are amongst my favourite family of birds. They show such guile and intelligence and are incredibly entertaining. Jays stand out from the rest since they appear uncommonly exotic while the others are uniformly black. But the sombre backdrop makes the magpie’s iridescent wing feather shine brighter. I love the magpie’s habit of borrowing and curating to make something beautiful. I feel this is something I try to do with my crafts, creations, and writing, though I’m also mindful of plagiarism.

Beyond the home and garden, there is so much more that we can learn from birds. Starlings work together splendidly, creating one of the true natural wonders of nature. Anyone who has seen a murmuration in the wild, the communal flocking dance before they roost, will know exactly what I mean. Geese are a great example of working smarter not harder, as they employ a V formation to conserve energy and increase efficiency. Long tailed tits will work together and help each generation thrive not just survive. I love when a little gang of young long tailed tits alights on our trees or feeders. Their rotund bodies and ridiculously long tail feathers always bring a smile to my face.

My favourite species is found far further afield: the Atlantic puffin. Puffins waddle. They shouldn’t be able to fly. They are impressive swimmers. Their beaks regularly hold up to ten sand eels, crisscrossed to utilise the space (the largest haul on record is 62). They live in burrows underground. Rather than a melodic song, they growl, a noise somewhere between a cow mooing and a muted chainsaw. Their multicoloured beaks have earned them the nickname ‘the clowns of the sea’. In short, they are extraordinary.

Little Chick likes puffins too, because they are funny, star in a cool TV show called ‘Puffin Rock’ (highly recommended viewing), and are my favourite. In time, I hope he will find a favourite for his own reasons, similarly inspired by these amazing creatures.

Birds are beautiful, tenacious, industrious, adaptable, brilliant, competitive, protective, understated, and incredible.

Be more bird.

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.

 

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.