Sunday, 29 December 2013

I'm just a dad

I read a smashing article in the Independent on the need for increased adoption support today. I thought it was a good piece but I found one phrase irksome, adopters were described as "unsung heroes". This coincided with a Tweet I read extolling the virtues of adoptive parents, again claiming exceptional qualities.

Now as Mrs C will no doubt testify I like being praised and generally thought of as a top bloke, but as an adopter, and good grief, an adopter of SIX children I object to being described as an unsung hero.

Now, you may think I'm being churlish, disingenuous even,  fear not Mrs C may be the first to set me straight on this. But, I am a dad first and an adopter second.
I freely acknowledge that because my children were adopted their experiences of life are different from many other children. But all children present challenges and all biological parents enter into it with high hopes and deal with whatever their child brings, be that illness, genius, criminality, priesthood, whatever, whatever, whatever.

So, in almost all respects we are the same. Yes, we have a CPR and a matching report and this and that, but we have no guarantees of anything, good or bad. So, as adoptive parents we just go with it, we cope, we rise to the challenge, we make mistakes and do stupid things, we have good days and bad days and a lot of days in-between, we have quiet words in teacher's ears, we advocate, we laugh and we cry, we go the extra mile and we turn the other cheek.

We are parents.

Having sat on an adoption panel I can testify to meeting many hopeful parents and the excitement and the privilege of being part of that process was an honour. However, I spied no heroes. I saw a variety of people, all shapes, colours, backgrounds, education, faith, but all of them had made the decision to be parents, mums or dads.

They just wanted to be parents.
 

Calling adopters unsung heroes places them on a pedestal, with unattainable levels of parenting skills and powers. If I were to bring my children before you they would not hesitate in sharing the reality of having me as a dad. Grumpy, self righteous, smart alec and smelly may be words you'd hear. Certainly, Flossy is not backwards in coming forwards with her opinions on my parenting. However, I'm their dad.

When I meet people I am in a quandary, eventually the conversation gets round to children and the nature of my family means sooner or later the truth will out and they discover I'm a serial adopter. Then they look at me differently, but I'm just a dad, not a modern day Bernardo or anything special.

But, I am playing the hand I was dealt, admittedly, I picked up the cards and have made choices how to play them. But I am dad, just a dad.
The minute I consider myself a hero then I stop being a dad and then all is lost. My children are not a project or a mission. They are my children, not my 'adopted' children.

Now I freely acknowledge that I have a flair for being wrong, so feel free to disagree.

Friday, 20 December 2013

A Christmas week in the life of an adoptive family

Twas the week before Christmas and all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.

I wish.

Monday, Peanut's adoption order was made. Mrs C, Queenie and I had a sneaky glass of Champagne once the wee ones had gone to bed.

Tuesday, Flossy had an anxious moment before school as it was her debut performance in the school panto. Did I say 'anxious moment', I meant to say 'total freakout', demanded I did not come tried to dispose of my ticket, screamed, shouted, sobbed and gave me the evil eye during the performance. I had earlier in the term tried to bribe the school and asked them to not cast her, however they got a bit airy fairy social worky and give her a small part, with a moustache. Oh, that helped her unresolved identity issues. Cheers. Freakout.
Tuesday continued,  Mrs C took Queenie, Lotty and Peanut to the dentist while I had our 13 year old dog, Meg, put down. The "best dog ever" as Mrs C declared as she sobbed. Flossy and Lotty take it well, but who knows what feelings lurk inside. Consequently, I was late in getting Flossy to the evening panto performance. That helps.

Tuesday, the revenge, we found out that Gracie was likely to move out. Blessed relief, we acknowledge we can do no more. You can lead a horse to water but a pencil must be led (to quote Stan Laurel).

Wednesday, I sign the contract for my new job, gulp, I'm starting to feel like a proper Social Worker now. Uncle Dick returns from the dark continent after 18 month expedition, he's got, and I quote "a touch of Malaria', Mrs C slightly concerned she may catch it! Flossy and Lotty go to the big city panto, they don't come home til 5:30. Result! We could get used to that.

Thursday, despite liking our Adoption Social Worker we shed no tears as we say goodbye to her involvement. One Social Worker down, one to go.
Flossy takes umbrage at having to go to the shrink "again", she questions how long must this go on for. Subsequently, has the best session 'ever' and then kicks off at home. People wonder why I'm confused.

Friday, Gracie is offered an accommodation placement. Hey ho the wheels begin to turn and nothing can stop it now. She's going.
Flossy and Lotty comes out of school like banshies, apparently "NOTHING" has happened at school today. Hey ho, using all my social work powers; mediation, persuasion, distraction and threat the situation was brought from the brink and we can get on with Christmas. Which, as we all know is a total cakewalk for children with developmental trauma issues.

I love January.



Thursday, 12 December 2013

Joseph - adoptive dad

I am aware in the heart of the nativity scene is a man agreeing to raise someone else's child as their own.
Now the circumstances are clearly different from a contemporary story, no social work assessment, no adoption panel and no matching process. I've had the a few intimidating meetings with social workers in my time but I would imagine a visit from the angel of the Lord could be quite stressful.

So Joseph agreed and the whole nativity story progressed as I'm sure we all know. But then Joseph raised Jesus, taught him a trade and other than that there is not a vast amount mentioned of him.
However, the story of the boy Jesus being accidentally left at the temple for three days intrigues me. Joseph and Mary finally track Jesus down and I presume quite frantically ask where the blue blazes he has been. Jesus responds "I was in my father's house". It is one of those stories that I have heard preachers use but I have often thought about what that meant for Joseph as Jesus' adopted dad.

In other circumstances with different players I'd would can imagine the words of an angry child trying to hurt an adoptive father. The subtext being you're not my dad I was in my 'real' fathers house.

In fact, recently, in the middle of an epic hoo ha with Flossy she declared that "Anyway, your just my step dad!". Now,  Flossy and logic are not happy bedfellows. So, even though Google confirmed my explanation she'd wanted to hurt me and put me in my place rather than confirm the legal nature of our relationship.

I am no theologian but I am aware you can take almost whatever you want from the bible and our own perspective influences how we read it.

But, reluctant to bring a fundamentalist Anglican jehad on myself, I would dare to suggest that Jesus's words were not meant to hurt but rather to remind Joseph that he was part of the picture to the whole picture.
As an adoptive father the reality is that I am one of my children's fathers, the current one. To forget or deny that is folly and risks segregating me from a significant part of my child's life. As parents we need to equip them and support them to manage this information and its consequences, big or small, in their lives.

I wonder what Joseph thought and did when he heard Jesus say that. Clearly, we have no way of knowing and anything I say is a guess. I would like to think that he smiled, considered the last Dan Hughes book he'd read, gave him a hug and kept on loving.



Thursday, 5 December 2013

Dark Days at Coates Towers

We seem to have been caught in a pincer manoeuvre, the ongoing wrangling with flossy and a shock assault from child X.

I'm being purposely vague to protect the innocent.

With both Flossy and child X we have reached this point for very different reasons through different journeys.

However, both situations are the consequence of trauma, loss and neglect. Both are the consequence of trying to build lives in the world we inhabit without the confidence or surety of solid foundations. Those foundations, the vulnerable early years, were fundamentally sabotaged with security, safety, sustenance and love constantly in short or inconstant supply. So, now the life that is built is at any moment at risk of subsidence or collapse, at the very least it's wonky.

So, Mrs C and I have to face the reality that our love, boundaries and consistency, our training, the seminars, the DHBPBP Method (DanHughesBrucePerryBryonPost) is not going to replace what is missing.
We know we've done our best and will continue to do so, we will continue of forgive, turn the other cheek and love.

We look to chemical assistance for one child, fortunately everyone is an expert, everyone knows someone who extinguished the spark in their child's eyes or brought peace and rest.

Perhaps something more drastic for the other.

But we have to make the decisions and we have to live with it.

We feel like we failed, 8 years for one and 14 for the other of rolling a boulder up a hill only to let it roll back down, again and again.

But our normal is not their normal you can't explain "calm and safe" to Flossy as you can't describe a colour to someone who has never had sight.

Acknowledging that you can do no more can be a place of humility but also a place of grace and freedom.

The shock troops of social care are on the way.

So this may be the best hope for Flossy and Child X




Friday, 22 November 2013

I want my day in court

The letter has arrived and a date has been given, the 30th January. Our Adoption Celebration Hearing has been scheduled and we will go up to the big house and see the Beak and Peanut will finally be legally embraced into our family.

This is not the first time we've had an "Adoption Celebration Hearing". After years of legal fights and wrangling, failed introductions more tears than I care to remember and a collection of scars we took Flossy and Lotty to the big house and saw the Beak. It was a good day, a milestone and an opportunity to mark the end of one chapter and the start of a new. It was an important day and we remember it fondly.

However, I confess to being a bit unimpressed. "Adoption celebration hearing" sounds a bit made up, a little bit airy fairy social worky. The real business of law has been done and dusted and this felt like an invitation to the after party, skipping the main event.

I do understand the reasons for not taking children into courts and the potential for birth family to disrupt. But......

If I turn the clock back to 2000 I recall a very different day. Mrs C and I got up early, gathered the Big one, Gracie and Ginger, and made our way to court. All of us nervous, all of us excited all of us ready for a new life. We'd all travelled a rocky path to get to this moment. We arrived early to miss the crowds, unsavoury sorts the clerk explained, and we sat before the three Beaks.
This was a big deal, our family members were not allowed in the courtroom, this was a very serious business. The chief Beak asked some appropriate questions of us all, little ones too. Our hearts were in our mouths at what response they would give. Fortunately, all questions were answered appropriately.

Then the moment came, memory has blurred the works but not the feelings and as I write my heart is pounding and I'm holding back tears.

Then the order was given.

The Big One, Gracie and Ginger were no longer the children I looked after, they where my children and I was their father, Mrs C their mother. They weren't even my adopted children, they became my children

Two families had walked into the court and one new one walked out.



I can't describe the wave of relief and joy. After the years of trials and tribulations it was done.

As I say, I enjoyed Flossy and Lotty's Celebration Hearing, it was fantastic but it was like watching the replays on tv, just a reflection of an amazing moment in court.


Friday, 8 November 2013

Adopt?

Adoption has defined the majority of my adult life.

At 26 years old I made a decision with Paula as we sat on a park bench on a sunny January day in 1998. We had no idea of the consequences of that decision.

I've been through one preparation group, five adoption social workers, 5 panels (one deferred and we sat outside one waiting for a court ruling) and two visits to court. While I write we wait another court date to see Peanut's adoption finalised. I am the father of six children.

However:

I've sobbed and been brought to my knees.

I've prayed until I was hoarse, day after day, and been brought to the end of myself.

I've seen hope destroyed and been lifted up by friends.

I've despaired at my failings as a father.

I've regrets and I wish I knew then what I know now.

I've been punched, kicked and head butted.

I've been bitten (blood drawn several times, Gracie and Flossie God bless you).

I've had my nose broken (The Big One still maintains it was an accident).

I've been called a 'fook' by a five year old repeatedly (she'd forgotten the exact prenunciation).

I've been insulted, provoked, baited, accused, hated and loved.

Would I do it again?

Like most every other parent (adopted or not) I would say 'yes'.

Would I do it differently?

Like every other parent (adopted or not) I would say 'probably'. But hindsight is wonderful.

Would I recommend it?

Hmmm..............

My children continue to challenge, and some days it seems more than I can bear.

But yes, always yes.

The privilege of loving and being loved.

So, yes.

National adoption week, throw yourself in.











Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Adoption growth - I think we need a bigger boat

Yesterday I had a revelation, not unlike Chief Brody in the film Jaws at the realisation of he task that he'd taken on.


Clearly, I'm making no comparison between having adopted children and killing rouge sharks (That's for another day). But as we sat together to eat our tea last night I had a realisation of the task I'd taken on.
The Big One had returned from London with her boyfriend and one of her friends had come and was staying for tea. So, due to the increase in numbers we ate in the dinning room. The First Middle One took a break from her busy social life and joined us, so that was 10 for tea. Queenie stayed in her boudoir so it was 11 really.
The enormous dinning room table that we'd bought when we moved in the house suddenly seemed small. This was no special occasion, just tea on a Tuesday night, but we were massive & noisy.
Flossy was having a lasagne related rage incident, Lotty was trapped in a bubble of noisy,  shouty ecstasy as the Big One had returned. Peanut was happy, Ginger was nonchalant, the First Middle One was loud and the Big One was playing mum. Boyfriend and friend were fine, they knew what to expect, they'd been before.
I then realised that we were only going to get bigger, more partners, spouses, friends and hangers on. Then children, with 5 daughters, lots of children. We are going to need a bigger boat

Xmas dinner 2025

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Kung Foo

I'd hate you to think it's all bad.

Sometimes my executive lifestyle means I return home late in the evening after a few days away. Most of the children will be asleep and as every parent knows, children are very easy to love when they're asleep. So, I creep into their bedrooms, sit on the edge of their bed and imagine we are the Waltons and I'm the ever patient, ultra wise, uber-dad. I stroke their precious little heads, say a little payer and all is well in Coates Towers.

However, the last time I enacted this lovely moment I received a very different response.

Lotty half opened her eyes and a loving smile beamed from her face as she wrapped her arms around me with a love supreme.

I rocked, I am the man. I am the Daddy. I floated out of her room with a feeling of unsurpassed wellbeing.

So, onto Flossy.

Flossy half opened her eyes a look of abject terror flashed across her face whilst she simultaneously  threw a perfectly aimed karate chop at my neck.

I am used to a certain level of child to parent violence and normally adopt a perpetual state of readiness, however I had not anticipated this reaction and was initially subjugated.

After a minor scuffle, peace was restored.

My intellectual understanding of the hyper vigilance in children has now been developed through learned experience.

I can't help wonder what she dreams of.



Monday, 30 September 2013

Happy Birthday


So the gauntlet of 3 birthdays and a wedding anniversary compressed into 5 days is over.

It is easy to forget the days when flossy had to be discretely taken into another room during the singing of happy birthday. Or that a ‘safe person’ would hold her tight while we all enjoyed the cake being presented.

A remembered fear would rage inside her as we sang. A fear not tamed by reason or explanation but searing through her little body as though her life was threatened by the words and tune.

Fight, flight or freeze. She’d fight every time. In the face overwhelming emotion fight, fight someone safe, fight mam, fight dad, fight a sister or a brother.

The little girl is a big now, the song can be sung and cake welcomed but the feelings lurk, brooding, mam and dad forget, but the fear and the fight remains.

The fight simmers for days leading up, finding arguments in the little things and the big things and anywhere.

The government offers £19.7 million to help the adopted and most say ‘fantastic, thank you’. But some say ‘really’, spread across the 4,500 children adopted this year and the three thousand last year and for each child for the last decade.

High quality effective intervention costs between £15,000 and £50,000 per year.

The bean counters rub their hands, £600,000 cost reduction for each child adopted versus one off payment for good publicity.

Of course it will help: but only for the few. Those with loud adoptive parents, with access to skilled professionals, with a geographic advantage with the luck of the draw.




The cake is all gone now and Flossie feels better, for now. She doesn’t even know why she feels better. 

We all feel a little better. 

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Beginning

I could start at the beginning, but that would take too long. So, I'll start where I am today.

I am a moron, a twerp and am stupid. Flossie was feeling somewhat miffed at my attempts at managing her anger and was trying to spread the fun around.  I was surprised at how well I took it.

As Mrs C often notes:

"The issue is not the issue"

Well that's all well and good but she's putting Peanut to bed and I'm entering into a critical stage of negotiations. Through the wall of sarcasm, sniping and insults I manage to slip in a question that causes a momentary pause. "Has something happened at school today?" I ask.

Through the burning fires of unfettered hatred in her eyes I catch a small pause and realise I might have got her. "Did something happen to a friend? Did you get into trouble? Did you see someone get into trouble?". She's on the ropes, the vitriol is waning and I say "tell me what happened"

It all spewed out, Tarquin lied and told Mrs Teacher that Darcy and her had flushed Leggo down the toilet and she said, he said, blah blah blah.

Apparently
The issue was not the issue.


A slice of toast and a glass of milk later I was not a moron, twerp or stupid and she was not going to destroy all my work on my computer and I am not the worst dad in the world and she'd stopped hitting me and we were all happy.

Well she was.

I'd re read that day on the impact of toxic stress on brain architecture. The impact of the negative environment and experiences, the pull of the familiar, safe and comforting negative emotions. The way the brain doesn't develop the subtle nuanced emotions and coping strategies and in flossy's case jumps straight to anger, the default setting.
It makes perfect sense, crazy, messed up, backwards thinking, perfect sense. Unfortunately, it doesn't make it easy.

But it helps me love her.