Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Stuck in the middle with you.

I understand that normal is a relative term and we all classify things, people and experiences as 'normal' based on our own knowledge and experience. Clearly, it represents a spectrum of experience and perspective.

However, I increasingly realise that as a family we have strayed from the accepted ‘normal’ and into a place that is anything but that. Of course that is not exclusive to adoption, but many friends and acquaintances that have adopted have made this journey and testify to this. 

The common denominator being that we are the parents of children who’s view of themselves and the world they find themselves in is not comparable to their peers’ views. Nor does it align with the 'normal' views of their families or the adults that they interact with. From this they act and react and as they see it their behaviour is a natural and justified response to the world they live in. 


eg.
In many parts of the known universe if you drop something on my toe it would be 'normal' to say sorry and I'd say it's fine.
However, in my little corner of the universe things run to a different 'normal' order. If you drop something on my toe it's my fault for having toes and actually I should apologise for being hurt and while we're on I'm an idiot.

Living at the intersection of these two ‘normals’ is challenging. Managing the needs of our children, families and the world we interact with.

Either clearing a way ahead, having a quiet word in the football coach/teacher/family member/visitor/friend/schoolyard parents ear. Asking to not be invited to the roller disco, sleepover or birthday party. Not to win the prize or act in the play.

Or


Sweeping up behind, giving palatable explanations, saying sorry or asking if we could not be invited next time. Getting shouted at, screamed and spat at and bearing the bunt of the fear and pain. 

We balance the needs of these opposing world views, whilst embracing them both.
I raise a glass to the men and women in the middle. 

Friday, 23 January 2015

Aim Higher

We are bereft, undone and broken.
We did our best and resisted the authorities but they will have their way.
We know it’s in her ‘best interests’.
We stalled as long as we could postponing the inevitable.

With a heavy heart we announce that Peanut is going to Nursery.
Yes, she’ll look cute on the first day, but that is no consolation.
I know peanut and her story, though crestfallen, I’m confident Peanut will do fine.

I cannot say that for all my children.

The recent Twitter feed from the @BAAFAdoption conference on education was interesting to follow.
Stark facts on the educational outcomes for children in the care system that are shadowed, varyingly, in adopted children’s lives.


The # for the twitter feed was #aimhigher and being honest I could not help but reflect on the aspirations that I have for my children.

We have had a spectrum of experiences with schools good, bad and everything in-between. By the time Peanut leaves school we will have been at the school gates and parents evenings for 28 consecutive years, we've seen a lot.

I confess to having different priorities for each of my children and they reflect each of children’s unique experiences, view of themselves and the world they live in.

Generally:

I want them to be and feel safe.
I want them to be at school not marginalised/excluded.
I want them to have a few good friends
I want them to feel able to do their best.
I want them to have hope and aspiration.
I want them to participate positively in the world around them and enjoy it.

I want them to be literate and numerate but not at the expense of the above. 
Being honest I'm not sure what my child can learn when not feeling safe. The terror that gripped Sarah when being asked to read a word to me aged 6 shut her down for 10 minutes, unable to speak for fear.
Reading didn't seem so important after that. 

Maybe I’m out of step with the government, school league tables and the parents next to me at the school gate.

So be it.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Come that day

I've never felt insecure about my status in my children's lives, I'm not their biological dad but I am their dad.

I'd earned my dues.
Wiped backsides, cleaned up the aftermath of projectile vomit, suffered hours of homework, crap TV & an eternity of parents evenings. Blue light hospital trips, nights on hospital wards, dentist traumas and hours in casualty.

I've had my nose broken, accidentally she claimed, by Sarah.

My leg bitten til it bled, she was a tiger she explained, by Gracie.

Two black eyes simultaneously, I was a duvet monster in his defence, by Ginger

All in the line of dad duties. I admit to not being a Waltons type dad, no sage words whilst sat on the porch, I'm not their 'bestie' and I don't want to be,  but I took the good from my childhood and we did ok.
Then this summer for a fleeting moment all seemed lost.

Birth family stepped out of the words in case notes and became flesh. Sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins and dad...........and DAD

What if they make their future exclusively with them?

I thought I was secure, I thought I was progressive, open and forward thinking. I thought all that history counted for something.

It was a like the sensation of being winded and for what seems like an eternity you can't breath. You forget how to, and something that you've done countless times suddenly is forgotten and outside of your control. Straining to draw air, panic rises.

I floundered, what if they were going to leave and put the last 15 years behind them. All my dues counted for nothing, faded away, those experiences did not make me a dad. The years of being there suddenly meaningless.

All that 'stuff' meant nothing because I love them. I couldn't consider them not being part of my life.
For a few hours the threat of loss enveloped me and permeated me,

Then you breathe. You catch air again.
They are not leaving just exploring, broadening, rediscovering.


They are my children and I am their dad.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Mr Postman

Without doubt some of the most important and significant people in my children’s lives are their biological mother and father. I’ve previously blogged on them describing them as ghosts that lurk in the shadows of our lives and consciousness.

Over the past few weeks other birth family members have begun to step into the light and it has been a very interesting experience for a multitude of reasons.

For whatever reasons we never got the chance to meet birth mum and dad, we said we were willing but it just didn’t come together. Having been filmed for the BBC we knew that we were known to them and had heard through an intermediary there was no animosity towards us. We heard no more for 15 years until this summer when ‘Matilda’ a sibling, younger than Sarah and older than Gracie and Ginger found us.
After the initial whirlwind of discovery slow and careful contact has been made. Culminating a few days ago when Mrs C sat with our children’s birth aunt, a very emotive and profound experience for them both. She was little more than a child at the time of her niece and nephew’s move into care. Hearing the impact that this move and the events and circumstances had on her and the wider family has been a not unexpected revelation. The stories of the lack of information, the differing version of events, the mess and the pain for the wider birth family and the long term damage the removal caused.

In the midst of it all we hear of our annual letters coming to the family, being passed from member to member bringing news and hope.



Mrs C dutifully wrote the annual letters to Birth Mum and Dad, there was a limited response in the early days but even this dried up after a few years.
However, at the forefront of our minds was the benefit that the letters were for our three. So Mrs C persisted even when there was no response.

Thinking now I can imagine what I would write in their circumstance, how to reply, what to say, what not to say, lives lived in stalled grief and continuing pain. What could they write?

Mrs C would agonise over what to write each year, I would watch TV, if I confess avoiding the task out of laziness and confidence in her wisdom and writing skills.
Mrs C saw it very clearly, we're building for the future, maintaining a positive link, offering hope and trying to ensure that a link could be maintained. We were demonstrating to our children our lack of enmity to their parents through our actions.
As the three grew we would show them the letters and they’d help pick photos we included. It was an opportunity to revisit events, reframe memories and bring context to growing understanding. We would promote empathy and respect , listen to thoughts and feelings.

When Sarah got to 18 and having not had a response in nearly 10 years we stopped.

But Mrs C and the Aunt’s meeting this week justified all the work she’d put in; the chore, the conflicting emotions, the disheartening lack of reply. We know now that the letters found their audience and forged a delicate and essential link. We now that they were eagerly awaited and passed from hand to hand bringing news of children lost.

We aware that we are at the beginning of a new chapter and there have been lots of tears. But we are confident that there is no rush our children have their lives to restore and establish relationships with their first family.
I am grateful as I know that for some children and families the hope of contact is incomprehensible, impractical and dangerous.


For us we always knew that this day would come. Thankfully we had already begun to build bridges.