First Of The Last Calls/ Diet Mordor

 

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In about 1977, my forward thinking primary school admitted a boy with profound physical disabilities. Let’s call him Ray.

In those days, children with just about any physical or cognitive disabilities were sent to places like “St Boltoph’s Really Special School for the Sake of Wider Societies Discomfort” or whatever passed for that dreadful Functionalism thinking at the time. There would be a big sign out the front telling everybody how special everybody inside was, and a sort of grim awe of the place, like it was Diet Mordor.

I mean, I found out recently my great grandmother spent the rest of her life in a “mental hospital” (as they were called) because she had dared to have a reactive breakdown after loosing her husband in her 40’s, and having 13 children to support. True story.

So. My school explained Ray’s needs, and our expected responses, in the weeks running up to his arrival. And then came the day.

Our world imploded.

Within days the only people talking to, or playing with Ray, were some of the girls (isn’t that so true) and the scary dinner ladies, Mrs Headbutt and Mrs- Physical- Assault When- You- Go- In- The -Big -Field- Even -After- A- Football.

To everybody else, he represented an inconvenient truth. Seeing Ray reminded us that the world might be wilder and more frightening than our current reality. The cost of listening to his pronunciation was too hard, and the thought of being seen with him too uncool, and the thought of putting up with his complex emotional needs, even for a millisecond, was too dreadful.

I was a child, and a child of the 1970’s at that, so I’m not going to be hard on myself. Bear in mind most of BBC light entertainment were serial paedophiles, you played on 200 foot high building sites on your Chopper with no health and safety fences, as Bill Bryson said in “Notes From A Small Island”, the average British sitcom viewer thought here there was something richly comic about having a black person as a neighbour. It wasn’t an insightful, kind or tolerant place.

You see, from all our circle of support 8 years ago when we first had the children placed, we only have one couple left.

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The childhood passive brutality is an aside, but there are parallels with our lost friends, and me and my peers of 1977.

Our “funky” adoption scared, appalled, disturbed and weirded out a lot of people (I mean aside from us) and we got ghosted out of their life with “the first of the last calls” and terminal full diary’s. It really was too hard too watch for many, and the damage on the children so enormous and scary. The casserole of primary and secondary trauma.

We are completely cool about it, by the way. We would likely done the same. This isn’t a moan, but more a “Oh yeah!” moment when you realise you never see baby pigeons, and its really hard to buy a Star Bar.

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A lot of it is just normal life as well. People grow apart and all that. We are all too busy, and too dispersed- if not by miles, by travel times.

But you won’t make it without friends.

Some time ago, we came to a crossroads in our friendships. We started to be intentional about friends, and as Ken Robinson states in his book “The Element”, we decided to try and find people who belong to our “tribe” – for “when tribes gather in the same place the opportunities for mutual inspiration become intense”. We are friendly with everybody, but not everybody gets into the inner courts.

We were especially careful of anybody, no matter how well meaning, who made agreements with negativity or reminded us how hard things are. We said it before on here, but it has to be glass half full all the time.

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The kind of friends we have in our life now are friends who know us warts and all, get our children (or at least accept them because they love us) and also have the ability to speak into our life. Our friends have seen us in tears, depressed, and without hope. Our friends have had their house- or even children- damaged by our children, and haven’t pulled the eject cord.

We have friends who have helped us financially when we had nothing. There was a period when I was out of work, and transitioned to very part time work to be D’s carer. I remember selling electrical goods at Cash Converters to buy rice, and searching on tiptoes in the back of kitchen cupboards, hoping there was a can or some lentils lurking there we forgot about. Our mortgage got paid when I had no job, our grocery’s bought during the same period, and many a time our letterbox flapped in the night and money was put through. Our church gave us some money to fix something really expensive once in a time of utter desperation.

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Find your tribe, but understand why you aren’t in other tribes. That includes in the adoption community.

By the way, still waiting for the call about moving in………

 

 

 

 

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Black Fax/ Born Sandy Devotional

Before I begin, I just want to thank you all for the encouragements so far! I want to remind you all this blog will blog about therapeutically flavoured smallholding primarily- as soon as we move. We are currently in limbo, waiting for solicitors to finish an exciting right of access document, that appears to need 34 trillion years.

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So. Not everybody has diffcult adoptions, if by difficult you mean so impossible there have to be massive changes and evasive red alert shenanigans to keep the adoption alive, and the adopters sane enough to have any quality of life.

Ours has been, and currently still is, a hard adoption. But things are changing, we are changing, and we are pursuing a hope and future. Hang in there, make the necessary big changes, and you will too.

I worked at an adoption charity support department once, and some of the stories were so sad, bleak and unjust they still haunt me.  Such adopters would contact the charity by various means, and one popular contact was via the message boards.

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The message boards were the wild west. Few would go in there.

Some threads had become  a monument to pain and fury, and subjects were ruled by snarling Titans, who sent a perpetual emotional black fax of doom out to the world- using up people’s resources, resolve, and hope.

The Titans would often bully, insult and crush vulnerable people, if they dared to resist agreement with their doomy pronouncements and opinions. The moderators had to get medieval on occasion, and banish the Titans back to their lair.

But such people were rare. Most people in the message boards enduring dreadful situations and screaming for help/ out in pain were doing their very best. They received incredible emotional and practical support from fellow travellers. When you read the response “have PM’d you” you just knew somebody, somewhere, was climbing into a car with a bottle of vodka, tissues, a cooked meal and plans to give the adopter a weekend off.

In our darkest days, my wife used the boards to get advice and wisdom- especially on attachment, and behaviour. She is very clued up about those subjects now. I just went on a zombie video games. I’m very good at completing every level on Left 4 Dead 2 now.

The “painful subject boards” were a significant part of the whole charity. So was the helpline and support department. Thats the point. The majority of the boards were about really difficult stuff, that for a lot of people wasn’t really resolving quickly enough.

But the charity was there to promote and support adoption. Being brutally honest- or even  just honest- about adoption would put people off. Therefore the “front of house” was light and appealing. You may have had the feeling that adoption never got harder than the Simpsons, and the expert help you could receive was like all the nice professors in Harry Potter popping round your rose-covered cottage for a cup of tea.

Also, this charity was evolving (by management choice) away from the grassroots movement it had started in, into playing with the national big boy charities. This choice had a host of plus and minus factors, although two undountable benefits were increased influence in the nation, and an excellent therapeutic focus.

Here’s an example to illustrate what I mean (I can’t seem to discuss anything without analogy- I must have annoyed my wife on our first dates- or brackets, which annoys myself)

Social care doesn’t run adverts like this:

Fancy facepalming into a bottle of wine every night? Like to give stressed half attention to every case, so no child or family ever gets the skilled help they need? Want a boss who is either a white collar sociopath, or criminally weird and inept? Like to remove a child from a toxic family, and then get slaughtered in the witness box and made out to be a negligent, vindictive monster by the parents defence lawyer?

Whilst this has been my story very often, without any hint of exaggeration,  I love social work. Where else can you be a civil servant dressed in a leather jacket and T shirt? Where else can you interpret law, and helping a family, with complete creativity? Where else can you work at the coal face of the human condition without their threat of arrest, restraint, or medical procedure?

I have made a difference for good, I have an amazing boss and team at present, and its worth it.

But you get my drift. People selling social work aren’t fully honest, and often they aren’t honest at all.

When people tell me they want to be a social worker (like when people say they want to adopt) I have an internal reaction. Its part recoil, part yearning to bomb them with encouragement, part needing to laugh, part needing to soberly warn them and show them my waistline now, compared to before the kids came and I comfort ate for Britain, and part  gush of respect.

How do you balance truth and recruitment to a complex job or life choice ? How honest can you be, when you met people in the early stages of exploring a possible adoption, about your journey? How do you say it?

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Born Sandy Devotional is a classic seminal album from a band (The Triffids) who imploded before they ever received the fame and respect they deserved. Buy it, and see what I mean.

The reason I’m including it here, is that the album is often about pain and loss, and that the band have somehow managed to make those things into a beautiful experience that inspires and moves you- to deeper and better things…..you could argue the sense of emotional journey and intensity is seen in later mainstream bands like Mumford and Sons.

Maybe the adoption experience is a good, rich album. Not easy listening or lightweight, but something we develop an acquired taste on. All kinds of songs, some happy, some sad, some single material, some definitely B sides. Maybe we need to slip people our mix tape, rather than a greatest hits compilation when they ask.

Hope thats all clear, then.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Silence/ Noodles

 

We sold our house in the bleak midwinter as a kind of prophetic intentional statement.

It had taken about a year to rebuild the carnage D made (it looked like the battle for Saddam’s Palace), and we couldn’t face another destructive Christmas in the old house, once repaired. We had an amazing lodger who instead of paying rent, fixed stuff and remodelled the bathroom. You can’t really charge a lodger to live in Fraggle Rock.

There’s no obtaining new things without forward momentum.

I mean these early posts describe a lot of intentions, but who knows what can happen or where we will end up. But we won’t get there just by reading Smallholder magazine, and watching Hugh Fernly- Whittingstall. We have to make a start, be intentional.

We figured we could save money by having no mortgage or council tax- and we would totally own the buyers market for seasonal caravan purchases. When I wrote this we were living in a small caravan behind a village pub (we are at another site now- with heated toilets- life changing).

We bought an old LPG Range Rover to tow it (that was randomly immobilising itself- thigh slapping fun, I have to tell you), and with our indestructible Toyota Corolla, we have Phase 1 under control. Not sexy, but under control.

It’s “I see dead people” cold, and washing up and cooking is a nightmare. In case you were wondering, we shower at the gym and people’s houses. I physically can’t use the caravan shower, as it appears to have been designed for the smaller Bushman gentleman. But we are all together, with our lovely Lab, Moby.

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Prior to the caravan we were staying at friends, at hotels, at our respective mothers houses, often separated. It wasn’t good for our little one, M, who is highly anxious. She was always asking where we were sleeping that night. Now we are all together- but have to sleep in one überbed (a la Charlie Buckets family) because somehow we bought a two berth caravan. Don’t ask me how. We even got in a bidding war!

So. Just prior to Christmas we went on a long awaited family holiday. It was the first one over the Christmas period where D was at his new school. Because we weren’t having to factor in melt downs and danger, we focused on rest and fun, and it was great. Big and little sister came.

I’m a social worker (don’t you start, madam). Just before we went away, a judge wanted me to testify at some awful contested private law hearing- in the middle of my holiday. I hurriedly asked legal to get me out of it, and then after my last day of work turned off my work phone, and my personal phone, so there was actually no way anybody bar God could contact me.

Doing that takes you back to 1988. It was incredibly liberating, and strangely moving.

I grabbed a few hours away from the girls, and we had to plan to meet using geographical markers, and set in stone times. I couldn’t actually remember the last time I did that. I vaguely remember it being in Brighton in 1983, separating from my Grandmother to buy Stranglers albums…..

I suddenly had what felt like huge tracts of time I could fill with adventure and coffee. The pace of life slowed down, and there was no more white noise- no social media, no calls to speed up or down the meet.

You got on with an uneditable day. You can be intentional.

This kind of illustrates why I went part time recently, as part of the run up to the small holding dream. I want to have time for my family, and the animals, and the pace.

Pace and rhythm is something I want to talk about.

In going slow –and making sacrifices- you have time to see stuff and understand things, subtle and sometimes hidden things. They are simple life enhancers. In fact, they are life.

Our first caravan site was behind an old pub, in a strip of land of about an acre. There were eight caravans on site, with only three of them (us included) connected to electricity. Two of the caravans – including one hooked up to power- were permanently sealed, and nobody knows who lived there. Spooky, eh?

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But among the other residents were a couple building a house, and saving up for it by having no mortgage. They had been here 2 years already and building hadn’t began- they just have the land and the dream.

There was a Scottish coach driver who used to do safaris years ago. Now he has a coach being refitted into a sleeper, and he wants to take people to remote Scottish islands and build up to African trips again.

Another couple sold up and bought a custom made Landcruiser camper. They are on a world tour, having being to Nepal and South America. They came back to the UK due to a bereavement, leaving the Landcruiser in a hanger in Uruguay, ready for the next instalment .

I used to miss these stories, living in suburbia, working crazy hours while my family fell apart. Why do we accept this kind of script?

I mean, we really struggle financially with my reduced hours, but you can’t put a cost on what we gained. You suddenly realize how much of your day, a week, and life, you pour out on people and situations and stuff that isn’t worth it- or, perhaps in a social workers case, are worth it, but actually my family are way more important, and I will make no apology for that.

Before you know it you could be retired- and you missed it. As Rabbi Harold Kushner once said “Nobody on their deathbed has ever said “I wish I had spent more time at the office”.

So-we want to identify more closely with the “slow movement” and aspects of Celtic Christianity to embed this kind of vibe.

You also believe a lot of wrong things, living life at light speed.

I met some amazing farmers recently. They have invested in completely organic animals with organic diets, and only invest in rare breeds because they fear the most used breeds in intensive farming will wipe the original breeds- deemed not cost effective- off the face of the Earth.

They told me how our food chain is ostensibly poisoned. Calves and other animals are taken off their mothers too young, so yields can be maximised, and among other things this means they don’t get enough of the nutrients in their mothers milk to be immune to a lot of livestock diseases. But modern farming doesn’t care- it pumps them full of antibiotics and other chemicals to “make them better”. That’s half the reason we have so few strains of antibiotics left, because many farmers snaffle up the stocks and ram it into animals. They (vegetarian animals) are often fed on animal products, including guano.

The whole food chain is pumped full of similar crap. In another life, I was a catering student. My major coursework project discussed Pot Noodles (boom!), then a major part of my diet. Back in 1991, one of the flavours contained Ponceau 4R (which needs an award for just sounding sinister) It was known to be carcinogenic, but they kept on using it.

When I drive past a convenience store, now I just see a gaudy cave full of evil calories and fake, processed food. That’s where a lot of us- certainly those doing insano hours at work- buy our food! The meat in the chilled section is pumped with water and preservatives. The shelves are full of tinned food that could last 100 years and be could eaten if brought up from a shipwreck. The rest is chocolate and cakes, apart from a phone booth sized snood of sprayed fruit. I have certainly eaten my share of the calories, and I am taking action to loose the beef by going to the gym. But most of being fit and healthy is in the food we eat.

So on the smallholding we want to live organically and eat seasonally, where possible. We aim to forage, grow a limited amount of organic crops, and try and buy as much seasonal stuff as we can. There’s no direct link to therapy here, but living this way will consolidate thoughtful, slow lane living.

We have bought loads of books, and my mother in law bought me a subscription to Country Smallholding magazine. We are desperate to get there- every day we pray the solicitor calls with a proposed exchange date…….

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Letter/ Across the Air

 

Educationally, M had a similar journey to D. By Year 1 she too had been left behind by peers, and was painfully aware of how she struggled to keep up with them. Her only friend was an elective mute girl, and an Afghan girl who spoke little English.

She had identified with other children who had obstacles. That meant they shared common ground.

The ground of being alone.

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When triggered, and in order to get sent to the lovely pastoral manager (who was Louise Bomber trained), M would attack the other children in class. We thought that with D going to his residential school, M would blossom at home and school. But what happened is, she suddenly felt able to vent her trauma about her brothers terrifying behaviour over the preceding four years.

This is a good thing, but for our emotional healing it was as much use as an ashtray on a motorbike.

As a result, for being “naughty”most of her days were spent in the managers office, calming herself with her fiddle box , pining for her Mummy and Daddy. She used her time to write little notes saying “Mummy and Daddy I love you, I do love you” (it was always those exact words) with a constellation of kisses. It was as if by writing this, she was trying to connect with us across the air.

I can’t imagine the stress she went through. It upsets me thinking about it, and angers me that LEA’s have a one size fits all school ethos, and just like CAMHS, appear to have a “the answer is no- now what’s the question?” stock response to all initial queries and cries for help. This situation is the result of having people ignorant of adoption issues in senior positions of Education and Social Care, and Government cuts.

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By year two she was excluded. The difference this time was that the pastoral manager was very supportive and advocated for us. But with that said, it was soul destroying to watch our two young children get rejected by the Education System- a system that has no understanding of trauma and its consequences.

We are feisty and educated, but it makes me so sad to think of people like grandparents, Special Guardians and Kinship Carers who have not had the opportunity to learn about the complex issues of children who’ve gone through early trauma- and the blame and railroading they may get by “The System”.

We weren’t about to let M go through the PRU like our son. I became the “Mad Daddy”. (Playschool voice; I know a song about that, readers!)

My little girl needed a school that could meet her pastoral needs. We were way less interested in any academic results. Traumatised kids can’t learn, anyway. She may as well have attended a petrol station forecourt.

The kind of school suitable for M doesn’t exist in our LA.  She would need to travel out of county to get her needs met.  That would have entailed a long taxi ride each way daily.  That would only have made her more anxious.

After researching, we decided that her best option would be to get her into a local primary school for children on the autistic spectrum (and allied conditions). M isn’t on the autism spectrum, but this school offered “time in”, not “time out”. Fifteen minute lessons in small classes, a sensory room…a place you were never seen as naughty. A place without escalating shame as a culture.

They said no.

There is an Special Educational Needs Code of Practice to make sure children get their educational needs met.

People, demand this gets enacted-and get creative.

To head the LEA off at the pass with their “script” for M, we wrote a letter to the Head of SEN. By this time M had been out of school for many weeks, and was not getting an education. We were not going to let the LEA further traumatise our child by just offering a pathetic, bodge job “something”, to look like they had fulfilled their duty. You know the stuff. “Alternative education” fixing sewing machines, and trips to a small wood with ex army sergeants who found comfort in the New Age. With £25 a session payable to a PLC operating out of a bedroom in Slough. Jog on.

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I sent this (anonymised) letter, and I hope it encourages and inspires anybody facing a similar situation to act- because within a week or two the Head of SEN was in our living room, saying we could have the school we wanted.

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M is now very happy. She went from bottom of the class to top overnight, and her self esteem soared. She has the gentlest, most motivated teachers and TA’s I have ever met.

 

 

 

Apocalypse Now/ Hooting

 

In an earlier post I mentioned the trinity of our post adoption support. I wanted to expand a bit on this.

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Both our kids have a cocktail of special needs- learning disabilities, ADHD, suspected SPD, and some other things rattling around. It was soon pretty apparent that neither could manage in mainstream. D, just out of nursery- which had been touch and go in itself- found his peers leaving him behind cognitively and emotionally, and he did not have the social skills to make friends. He became so frightened and alone that he would resort to wrecking the classroom, stripping off, and hooting from under the table. I would drop him off at school, and barely half a mile home the school would call for me to collect him.

One kick off was memorable. He had freaked out in the school computer lab. I had a fractured SOS from the school receptionist, like one from the last army outpost in Day of the Dead.

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I walked into the school – as I recall eerily deserted- like a character in a zombie apocalypse film. I imagine the entire school were hiding in a games cupboard, sweating and praying.

The computer room looked as if there had been a frantic last stand between an armed dinner lady and the undead. Keyboards on the floor, monitors toppled over, school displays ripped and flapping in a strange breeze. The charge of body chemicals lingering in the air. Following the breeze down the hall, I saw a manhole cover (who throws a manhole cover?) that had been hurled through the bottom of a glass door. Cubes of safety glass were everywhere.

In the school field, three teachers had cornered D in a gazebo. He was growling.

It seemed to take forever to reach him, gently scoop him up in my arms and over my shoulder. I carried him back- without speaking- to the car. He got expelled at 5 years old.

At this point the Local Authority agreed to start assessing our sons educational needs.

He was appointed a very clued up and brave Ed Psych who said that for D to get the education he needed, we should consider a therapeutic residential school.

I was poleaxed.

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This had not been on our radar at all, and it was one of the first massive realisations in our journey. Until this point we were holding out that our children were simply traumatised, and they would level out. The realisation that they had significant learning difficulties, that massive issues were emerging, was not only sobering, but now also suggested that there may not be college and University graduations, first cars and jobs, grandchildren. So many rites of passage seemed denied.

You have to start grieving.

Thankfully events overtook us so we couldn’t (and still cant) dwell long there.

In fact we recommend that you don’t stay in that place of counting your losses.

Our family journey has to be “glass half full” every time. It’s a hard choice. We are not advocating denial, but by the same token putting into words on a daily basis the struggle and the horror grows legs on problems.

And most importantly our kids are just as delightful in other ways, and their difficulties add charming blessings into our life- things that would not have been there if they were “normal” (whatever that is) We always say, adoption was the hardest and the best thing that happened to us. As we swig on vodka.

We really did have to sort out D’s school quickly. We had to look at the future and whether we could continue with his violence and traumatised behavior. We soon found that facilities for children like D are few and far between. There are scant options.

Education put D temporarilry in a PRU after he was expelled. He spent his “education” (more accurately caretaking) with children who had a different range of needs to D.

As ever, D spent many afternoons under a table. Thankfully the head teacher had the minerals to state that D’s needs were therapeutic, and he shouldn’t be there. She added her voice to the Ed Psych and eventually he went to the residential therapeutic school (we will blog on our views on all that in depth later)

M’s education story is next.

 

About The Weather/ Nuggets

 

I did a blog years ago. It was appalling. But it had some nuggets buried in there. In May 2012 I recounted a trip we made to an adoption forum readers camp, up on top of a hill somewhere.

We used to go a lot. I think it captures a season we were in some 4 years ago, and about a year before D went to residential school.

The language is raw-I’m not in that habit or place now- but I’m not going to edit anything. I will also say that I’m way more positive and glass half full now. With that in mind, I just want to say I make a comment about “disruption” (without mentioning that word) midway through. To comfort readers, we have endured a form of it (D currently in 52 weeks a year residential school) that came after the below post was first written. We had to, we didn’t fall apart in guilt ridden angst, and I would totally support any ethical adopter who had to take that decision.

Anyway, here goes:

(We travelled there) with two arguing children.

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I always find the anticipation of the argument is worse than when it begins. One of the children does something that puts in “an advantage” to the other. It need only be something innocuous, but to a child with insecure attachments and ADHD, that thing takes them places. So, one child finds a mouldy banana, or delves into the mountains of crap we have taken and finds the Nintendo DS. And so begins a resource war similar in brutality and length to an African conflict.

As we were waiting at traffic lights, the kids were yelling and attempting to punch each other (with those angry, bite down on the tongue punch faces little kids do), and I’m trying to separate them but can’t because the density of packing in our Peugeot 107 has rendered my arms as useless as the forearms of a T Rex, so all I can do is swivel my head and shout.

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(On arrival) we quickly moved the contents of the car to the tent we had hired, a World War 2 era patrol hogan, and then went over to the firepit which by now was festooned with safari chairs and people drinking wine from mugs.

The camp brings together all the people who post in the forum under pseudonyms (with an optional “reveal your real name” sign up sheet) We spend the time swapping updates on the children and our experiences. The camp works so well, because it is the only place on earth where the kids can play without a constant chaperone, and we don’t have to fear peoples comments or reactions. My kids aren’t even the most funky – although they were once. My kids played nicely, most of the time, and it was somebody else’s child running past naked wearing a traffic cone and smeared in Maltesers.

I looked at the faces and bodies of the adoptive parents. Almost without exception, we are overweight, or with twitches. Those without physical phenomena have worse issues. Some of the men- and it is only the men- can only be heard, but not seen, like poltergeists. Heard shouting at the children in the tents (“Abigail, you’ve just woken the whole campsite!” “Peter- put it dowwwwwwwn! Put it dowwwwwwwwwwnn!”). One bloke I met on the Saturday I thought had just arrived- but he had been lurking in the tent, hiding, since lunchtime Friday. And most of the men who actually emerged from the tents, and were around, didn’t interact with their children. They sat looking out at more than the view, or reading papers. It was the women who engaged with the children.

I found it sobering, because whilst I don’t play with my children much (as in, get on the floor and move cars or dolls around) or invest fully in their waking hours like I should, and I swear I will improve on this, at least I was “there”. In fact M was a little bit under the weather and she sat with me and went into Hereford with me, and it was nice Daddy/ little girl time.

Magazine, the seminal band, sang a song called “About the Weather” which was poignant to this weekend in a number of ways. In the song there is this loaded line; “You dislike the climate but you like the place…I hope you learn to live with what you choose” and for so many of us, that is our adoption story. But for these men, they were trapped. I have felt that trapped- trapped because you want out of the adoption, you want the children to “go back”, and you want what you once had. But you are truly trapped because if the children go back, they are destroyed. You wont be able to live with yourself, at least without a massive alcohol or drug problem, and yet you don’t want to live in the present. So you have a choice to make- stay miserable, irritable and distant, leave your wife with the children, or try and change.

All options are agony and seemingly impossible. And so you sing along with another Magazine song “Look what fear has done to my body” (from “Because You’re Frightened”). Welcome, Tramadol and Citalapram. Welcome massive weight gain. Welcome forced career change. Welcome the slow erosion of sanity and changes.

Now, all of this is solvable. Partly through attendance at this very camp.

People need support. They need understanding. They need fellowship with people who know the score. Hearing their stories you see why most of us were in, or had been in, agony. We have to fight Total War with social care and all local authority bodies……..

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And this lack of help seems so pronounced in the UK. In Europe I’ve heard jaw dropping tales of how the state supports its people. One lady in Switzerland had given birth to a child with a genetic disability. She said that when she came back home from the hospital, a social worker was waiting (note- waiting, physically waiting at the house) with a sheaf of forms and said “I’m going to sort all your help today” and from that day on this family didn’t have to fight for all the operations, input and organisation that was needed for the little one.

I’m sick of hearing about how the UK social care services and education have no money. They do have money. They spend it on reactive services, buildings, and utter bollocks- as well as over paid, fat cat, visionless managerialist losers who run the service from the top. And frankly, if there is no money, pack up and piss off home. Let the army do social care or something. Don’t create some child harvesting, toxic bullshit machine that has enough money to start a process but none to finish it.

 The night in the tent was an experience. I’ve slept in survival sleeping bags on the shores of Cumbrian lakes in midwinter, so I know cold- but that night in the patrol tent redefined cold. It started out OK. I like a cool bedroom and a warm bed, I find it aids sleep. I love the elements, especially wind and rain. So at first the wind ripping through the door, and out the other door and rustling the trees was great. I dozed off with it.

But at about 3am the cold woke me. The freeze rising through the ground through the airbed was immense. I didn’t know ground cold would penetrate an airbed like that. I didn’t know there was a point, in this hemisphere, where low temperature could penetrate a thick duvet so completely I might as well have had clingfilm over me. I tossed and turned til 6am and then had to move- or die.

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I spent the rest of the day with a low internal core temperature, and no matter what did, I couldn’t warm up. I sat in the car. I drove to Hereford with the heater on. I put my daughter on my knee and tried to absorb her heat like a vampire. I was so cold my intestines felt like coiled ice pops and my teeth felt icy inside my head.

I forgot to mention, a visionary social worker sent a prospective adoptive couple to the camp to see what they could be taking on. What a great idea- so great, in fact, it should be a rite of passage. You wont understand adopters unless you hang with adopters. You could tell they hadn’t taken the plunge, because they were dressed in lovely clothes, and responded quickly to conversation. We adopters tend to marinate answers a long time in memory banks via a series of “is this too scary?” filters when we are asked about experiences.

We came home early, in the last big journey in the 107 because a kind friend has gifted us a massive 7 seater people carrier. Our talk en route home (the children had fallen asleep, thankfully) was on the encouragements and lows of the camp.

I had been encouraged because one of the women running it came up to me and said I looked happy, and I had engaged this year. The last times I had come I hadn’t, because I was so, so unhappy. We saw how our children had grown and were so proud at how well they had played (D even pulled a girlfriend, and spent the day walking around hand in hand with her, grinning). We were just sad that children, some with less issues than ours, had been given diagnoses and medication we so desperately need and as a result the parents were almost back to normal.

There is a journey ahead.

1382348_10151660009657191_1081202213_nSo. About that journey.

Things are still difficult (a whole new menu of difficulty, in fact) but we are no longer traumatised, no longer without hope. We went though a dark couple of years around 2010, and then in emerging from those we went through a “werewolf” stage where under certain conditions we morphed into howling, feral people- and the next morning we looked sane and respectable, and almost couldn’t remember where we had been.

But now we have reached a kind of strange halfway house of acceptance and adaptation versus creative hope. We are still on a steep learning curve. However we have come to realise even the skilled helpers don’t know it all, a lot of well rated institutions may not be that amazing on closer inspection, and although we often get it wrong we have what it takes. Your adoption is your adoption, and even kids with broadly similar conditions and journeys are wired different. Different events, different reactions. Sort of like human Ford Capri’s- every one unique.

 

 

 

Siblings/ Together Alone

First, we would like to thank you all for your kind and encouraging comments so far! We have been amazed at the response! Please keep reading, sharing all this, and do make some comments here on the blog so we can do this better!

Some of you might not be aware that where the text changes colour, you can click to a webpage that further explains what I’m on about.

So. We wanted at least two adopted children.

I (Simon) am an only child. It was great all my childhood, because I got all the attention, and tons of presents at Christmas and birthdays. But going into my teens onwards, I began to feel it. I had no siblings to knock off my rough edges. Brothers to toughen me, and sisters to civilize me (I did gain three amazing step siblings mid teens, when my Dad remarried, but I never lived with them so these processes were missed)

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Then in your thirties, the pressures of life stack up, and as a single child you alone cope with rites of passage I think are best designed for the bigger family. But I might just be a big girls blouse.

Had we been able to have children together we would have aimed for two natural children, to join my then 12 year old step daughter.

Often, Social Care departments want to keep sibling groups of children together –which is a great instinctive idea- but when the siblings bond and relationship are not fully assessed this can be a disaster, and cause shipwreck later. Half the time even the concept of a decent assessment is a pipe dream. Adoption Teams often work in overload, with the few staff shifting and leaving constantly, like an ice flow.

When we were matched with our children, we were told that whilst both were removed at a very young age from birth parents (M from birth) they were placed in separate placements, even though the final plan could only be adoption together.

When I first discussed this with an academic friend- who knew all about attachment- she warned us to take one child first and build a bond, and gently introduce the other at some future point. I thought she was both rude, and cold. How could our love, good boundaries, and the sheer gratitude of the children for being chosen not solve everything?

Meh.

Our children came as a package. We were told they had a bond as they used to go to a lot of contact together (before the then Freeing Order) and then their foster carer’s saw each other through the week.

In fact the early contact sessions between D and M were a semi conscious nightmare. The parents- who came from warring, dysfunctional families- used to row, and the contacts were chaotic and badly monitored. M- a newborn- used to be driven by taxi without an escort to the contact sessions, without knowing who would pick her up the other end. On one occasion two drug dealing brothers came to the contact centre and tried to steal D as a drug debt!

The foster carers were very loving. D had a single female, who also had teenagers in placement. D was able to run free and enjoyed being the main man. She didn’t really have any boundaries, though, beyond health and safety. The first time we met him he was enjoying the open fridge policy. Multiple Mr Kipling French Fancies lost their toppings, and he threw her mobile phone down the toilet, which she thought was amusing! He never stopped moving.

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M was with Italian carers who lived in a small flat. The mother had her on her hip the whole day, and the contact with D happened in her small kitchen- where D would pinball around and often hit M. The foster carers found it unworkable, and didn’t meet up much, and when they did, the contacts were stressful and short lived.

So by the time of our introductions to the children, we had this false image that we were buying into a family unit. We weren’t! We were given this strange rented house as our base for two weeks. We had lots of days out all together and we put the tensions solely down to the new and strange experience of the children meeting us. We didn’t know that the children barely knew each other, and the little they knew of each other they associated with rejection and loss and stress and danger. And on top of that they were meeting three new people who signified the end of their then world (for these little children, as far as they were concerned, were part of their foster carers families; what on earth can a 2 or 1 year old understand of adoption?)

I cringe now, thinking about how uneducated – but cocky with it- I was then. The way to have have done introductions was just as my academic friend had said. Note to self- the fact she was Professor in Child Development may have been a clue. And had introductions been done right, as I allude to below, maybe we wouldn’t have had both kids. The gift of hindsight is a wonderful thing.

By the time CAMHS got involved they told us the children should never have been placed together. That was years in, after we had fallen in love with both our children (and can I suggest to you it can take years to really fall in love with adopted children- not like, or want, or need, but treat utterly as if they were from your own loins) I’m not sure what that CAMHS wisdom was meant to achieve, although I suppose it helped us see our inability to cope wasn’t just because we were feckless. We did make a lot of mistakes, however, which we will unpack from time to time in this blog.

It feels like marketing a taboo saying this, but there is emerging evidence not all sibling groups should be together.

Here’s a resume of what having them together in our old way of doing things looked like:

D stayed in a special therapeutic school until the beginning of December 2015, coming home holidays and every third weekend.

We had seven weeks of him and M over the summer, and all we could do was separate the children, because by week three, it was basically The Shining.

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We separated them, because even when they weren’t fighting, their play had a high, tense quality to it, that predicted sudden violent disagreements happening. Games they invented themselves were never safe or sane. One game was called “the Dustman”, and involved D gathering everything he could move in the house (drawers emptied, muddy garden implements pulled in) and piling it in the centre of the room. Then breaking it. The only thing worse than the noise of chaos was the ominous silence…….

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Another classic was when the children were on the trampoline. Trampolines are therapeutic, but if our children chose to stay on too long, or entered it too “high”, they become deregulated. Then, they would start stripping off and swearing. They then added toys to the trampoline, so as they bounced, loads of Fisher Price stuff and Barbie’s would be flying in mid air, in rhythm to their rotating dance. It sort of looked like Daft Punks “Around the World” video, only more messed up.

When things went south with the children, we separated until bedtime. In later years we separated the kids before things went wrong, so as to leave on a positive note and reinforce the good parts of the relationship. Days became segmented into periods, and whilst it was rare for the whole day to be good, a la the Curates Egg, it was often “good in parts”.

There were days we barely – if at all- saw each other. It involved a lot of lonely wandering in the woods with one child, and time with other family, without each other. We might as well of been divorced! We actually debated whether to buy a second house- and one of us would live with a child each. We could meet at a Travelodge every month for conjugal rites and Scrabble. I’m deadly serious.

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There is no shelf life on that, folks. We adopted to enhance and extend our family, for the reasons anybody responsible has children, and not to become a dual residential care unit funded by escalating debt.

Even having coffees at McDonalds, to break the monotony, equalled hundreds of pounds over the year- and don’t forget petrol and the cost of running two cars- because they couldn’t be transported together due to the violence in the back seats- or in any seat configuration.

Here’s an illustration about what I’m trying to convey. In World War Two, Belgium was faced with impossible odds against invading Nazi Germany. They had a fraction of the men and equipment they needed. So, (Belgium being largely land reclaimed from the sea) they flooded all their fields, and pretty soon much of the country was under water, with the raised roads becoming clogged with refugees. They soon released this may have given them time to get some of the army evacuated to Britain to fight another day, but they had created a whole other-bigger- problem, and the situation was unworkable. They surrendered soon after.

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(World War 2 Belgian soldiers queueing for flippers)

What I’m saying is that in battling endlessly to “hang on”, make sure the battles are worth it. It is a subtle thing discerning at what point being stubborn and resilient becomes negligence and stupidity.

M was living like somebody enduring domestic abuse. Her nerves were shot, she was fearful- and we all deserved better. So did D.

All that time social care sympathised, but had not funded therapy with us a family unit, merely silo therapy. So M was getting this excellent mother and child support via a post adoption charity, but when D came back we regressed to Planet of the Apes.

The thought I want to leave you with is that there is always hope and a future. But progress may not always be linear, predictable, or able to be done in your current way of doing family, life, or things. Or desired timescales. In your adoption journey, you have a trinity of resources:

  • Family/ friends/ social capital
  • Professional help/ school
  • The “other”- stuff you could file under X files, the supernatural, feelings of destiny and fate…

More on this next time…..

 

 

 

 

Hello/ The Alamo

Around this sort of time in a family blog, people discuss how the children love ballet and football, and how we parents love jogging and home made muesli. A lot of nuclear family photos, involving supernaturally white teeth, get uploaded.  

But that isn’t that kind of blog. Or family. Although we ate muesli in 2009, I think. 

Hi! We are the Longclearing’s. We are a UK family of 5, with a dog, who have just sold our suburban house to buy a smallholding.

 

 

Our children, M (girl, 8) and D (boy, 9) are adopted full siblings and have attachment disorders, moderate to significant learning difficulties, ADHD, possible sensory processing disorders and a host of other funkiness (some undiagnosed) We also have a 20 year old, C, who lives locally.

We didn’t know the children’s extra needs when we got them. The situation wasn’t what we planned, and soon suburbia, muesli and all living in the same house wasn’t working. Our son had become extremely violent to his younger sister (and most of us) when deregulated- which was nearly always.

In the end he had to go to a therapeutic boarding school, with time at home during the holidays and every third weekend.

That was one of the hardest things we ever had to be part of, but we had the safety of everybody else to think about.

He was genuinely frightening when deregulated, and in a primal state. I would often come home to find my wife bleeding from being bitten, or hit in the face, with our daughter barricaded behind a door somewhere. He would attack my older stepdaughter C on sight, and his grandmother had a black eye and numerous injuries.

Rooms would be destroyed. French windows got smashed in, radiators were pulled off walls, settee’s were carved up with anything to hand. The damage happened indoors and outdoors. The incident that kick started a new round of social care support and educational provision happened one evening when he attacked M and my wife in the park (not unusual). This time the attack continued down the street, prompting motorists to stop and try and “help” (which was old school verbal correction, which meant nothing to him, and made it worse) and the violence followed them into the GP surgery where they were- oh, sweet irony- collecting his ADHD medication.

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This incident resulted in the Police being called, and a referral to social care. Previous referrals to social care had been refused, but this time things were set in motion and help came for our family- eventually, in a roundabout way.   That was 3 years ago, and D being at a residential school has helped us breathe, and it’s given our younger daughter a chance to feel safe and also express some of her own difficulties (which have become more apparent since D went). 

Here’s the thing, though. We want our son home, and we want to him to be part of our family.

Hence the smallholding.

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Our children love the outdoors, and animals. They love nothing more than mud, and water to play in.  They seem to thrive in nature, away from people and expectations, and we thrive with them.  With no-one scowling at our “badly behaved” children, we feel the pressure taken off us and therefore off them.  We want to be able to let our children play as loud and weird as they like (and they have cornered the market there), without fear of people being offended.  You need acres for that, and the nearest neighbor more than 5 metres away. You need The Wild Places.

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Sometimes in the woods, D would drag logs and large debris from one spot to another- exerting lots of effort- and then when he had a pile, he would do it all again. This ties in with Proprioception– basically linking movement to self regulation- calming a child who is outside of their window of regulation. In D’s case this is 80% of the time around his adoptive sister, or the word “no”. I mean, we try and avoid the “no” word, but there is only so much non confrontational spin you can put on “D, should you be bending the dog’s spine like that?” or “Look son, none of us are throwing occasional tables”  

D was subconsciously doing woodland workouts like the one above (tasks needing muscle movement, leading to the secretion of happy chemicals) to keep himself calm and pro social. Being around animals and being involved in “parallel activities” with the family -as opposed to ones that needed some kind of rules, “umpire” or competition- will further embed calming routines. To build his non existent self esteem, we want to give him small, but real, responsibilities in caring for farm animals (not bison, naturally)

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Here’s the truth.

The adoption was the best, and the hardest thing we ever did. It turned me (Simon) from a smug, proud and detached person into somebody who awoke to new parental, social and spiritual realities. We are changed forever, for the better.

(Gravelly American voiceover time) On our knees, and with our marriage in darkness, we knew that love wasn’t enough, and we had reinvent how we did family, and how we handled the children.  

We educated ourselves in issues around attachment (see here) and went to various training courses, including Family Futures excellent “Neuro Physiological Psychotherapy” (NPP)

We can’t pretend to understand much of the science, or that we are the kind of people who read tomes on the stuff and do an Erin Brockovich.

But instinctively, we figured that whilst we couldn’t buy and equip a special gym, or a soft play counselling room, we could get some land and some animals and employ NPP type techniques.  Plus, who can break a field?

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We are doing this blog to share with y’all our exploration into the unknown, and to encourage those of you in a difficult or impossible adoption situation. We want to say- we are saying – there is a hope and future.

Our plan could be called “The Alamo”. I was thinking less of James Bowie, and more of the final scenes in “Saving Private Ryan” where the beleaguered defending US troops fall back to the bridge against overwhelming forces. We are making our last stand to save the dream of our son living back in the family, and to enable our adopted daughter to have the memories and equipping she needs to lead a fulfilled life. To have all of us in the same room any day we want, to travel in the same car, to do family without fear or tension or the post apocalyptic scenes of before. We aren’t settling for the way things are. 

Join us in our real time adventures! We know nothing about farming, so this should be an amazing craic!

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