Just Plain Tough

I doubt those supporting vulnerable children, in schools, up and down the country, know what feeling truly isolated in life feels like. To have a sense that no one wants to stick their neck out and actually give you a little support. It must feel so warming to go along in your life, knowing you’ve done your job for the day, looked after “those difficult children” but thank goodness, that you can now return to a normal life with a normal family.

The safe structure of your school rules, inflexible and heartless, giving you the backbone to stand by your every judgement and ruling. Happy to take the supporting, whole, not just a hand, of a parent who only wishes to have her children understood, seen with compassionate eyes and given the break that they dearly need. But when you turn your back and announce school rules for the meaning, there is no need to think about them once again. No you don’t have to consider the way your actions may ripple through the family’s emotional wellbeing. You don’t have to worry about the doctors appointments required to increase medication, mood moderators, tablets to support you through those endlessly sleepless nights.  The cancellation of activities that aim to offer a level of freedom to some who are chained to their family, through love, dedication, necessity.

It’s ok that the chain extends as far as the school, that way this parent can always be there as and when you need, when you can’t do your job, can’t support these children.  You assure me you are trained and experienced in dealing with attachment, where is the attachment focus in the sentence? “We don’t have time to get to know your son” .

That’s when you enjoy pointing your gnarly little finger and poke at the already vulnerable people, that you know can’t retaliate.

“You are the parents, this is your fault, we of course did nothing wrong”.

Oh don’t worry, you are not the first, I’ve seen that finger repeatedly over the years, when you don’t really know what to do or say, it’s easy to see why you would point the finger, yes because it’s easy for you to do.

You load the isolation onto that family, keep on going; they are not quite broken yet. You could always reel them in again, pretend to care and then stick your middle finger in their direction, just when you think they might finally be trusting of you, again. That should do the job, if not this time, the next or the next or the next. Who said adoptive parents are some of the most resilient folk around? No school is, stronger, harder, we will break you.

Yes my children will be well educated by you; they will receive the education you so dreadfully feel they need, that I’m not providing. They will learn that the system is always punitive, you will comply or be punished. “I’m really sorry I choose to not recognise your needs.”

In life adults have the right to critise you, but you can never say anything in your defense, that is considered rude and is not tolerated, please tell your parents this rule applies to them too.

Finally, don’t ever expect empathy from this system. This is not tough love, no this is just being tough, the word love does not get used in this system of education.

“Your son is a nightmare” you tell me.

“Why should we move him into a different science lesson when he can’t even behave for the teacher he already has?” you question.

Your son, who has high anxiety around school, he’s not allowed to be late for school or we will give him a detention and you will be in trouble with the LA.  No, all the psychological reports attached to his EHC are not sufficient evidence, but if he colour codes his timetable, red, amber, green, got the idea, that will explain why he doesn’t like school. Ofstead will approve. Oh, and can you do this for us because we don’t have time to spend with your son, getting to know him and helping him to trust us.

Is it fun to see a parent contort themself around your mixed messages and lack of understanding?

Your language and actions speaks volumes about the culture of your school.  A culture where it’s ok to label a vulnerable child, “the worst kind of child” and smile smugly in your arrogance of being right, whilst you do it.

Meeting the Head Master

It was odd to see such a young and innocent face fix a more deathly than Paddington stare on his new headmaster. The man walking towards me had his arm outstretched, and as we connected, I tried to match his firm but not over assertive hand grip. He seemed friendly, yet commanding, his smile said fair but his eyes said “I have no doubt in myself”. As my boy’s eyes bore deep bloody wells into his very being, part of me wanted to commend my young man for his bravery,  the other side of me was inwardly pleading “whoa there youngster, back down a bit, I want this meeting to go well”.

As we were politely ushered into a large but plain office, the feeling of anxiety grew within me. It were as if a ping pong ball were floating up my lungs, into my windpipe and then becoming firmly lodged in the root of my throat. My breath felt shallow and uncertain.

The question asked was “where would you like to sit Tink?”

My boy responded with an under breath muttering, which was clearly audible to me, “as far away from you as possible”.

Others heard it too, and trying to keep it light the headmaster responded “well then it depends where I sit” as he rounded the table end, to sit on the far side.

Tink’s stare is fixed hard and fast from beneath his floppy, sand coloured fringe and he selects a seat on the opposite side of the conference table and I obediently take the seat next to him.

Of course his face is also flushed, the baby-faced boy, with the hint of sun kissed skin, has cheeks the colour of a rosy apple, reminding me of the face of a teething tot.  It is obvious, to me anyway, that he is extremely nervous about the encounter we are about to have.

Tink had created quite a commotion two days previous when he refused point blankly to “reflect” on another, previous incident, declaring “I don’t want to talk about it”.

Insistent that some kind of conversation would take place, the support worker in question steamed ahead with the proposed talk. Now “steamed” may be a little unfair, I’m sure a great amount of delicacy was placed on these proceedings but in Tink’s eyes, he was being approached by a steam roller which aimed to flatten him.

My sound advice to the responsible adult in question is, don’t start something like this with Tink, in a room full of other students, if you are not prepared to clear the room of said other students when the boy digs his heels in. All students were removed from the room.

The eleven year old took firm control over the situation, spinning round and around on his chair, muttering and occasionally directing comments, which could be construed as rude, to those offering him the support.

The support, from his account was a succession of increasingly important people asking him to “stop and come to my office”.

“I mean an office, as if I’m going to go there with them, that’s way to formal, and she kept using that word consequence…. consequence, consequence, consequence, I didn’t hear her say anything else.”

The final straw was the headmaster. He came, he talked, he gave five to ten minutes for Tink to think about it, and the answer was still “no”.

The exclusion which follows is for disrupting the room full of pupils and wasting people’s time, it is made clear to me that Tink having wasted a good half an hour of the head teacher’s time is massively unacceptable. As is Tink completely having control over the situation, a power struggle between a small boy and the head honcho, the line needs to be drawn, clearly, so he realises this is not acceptable.

So for this reason we sit across the table from the head, me and the boy on one side of the table, him and the support worker on the other side. Tink stays five minutes listens to the speech about making right choices, is asked a couple of questions which he refuses to answer, and so I hurriedly answer on his behalf and he leaves, fixing me now with a stare.

I think this stare says “don’t make me go”. I feel a sharp pain in my heart as he is released from the meeting which I spend another hour in.

So we met the headmaster, he was okay, I say okay because I’ve been too quick to say “he/she was great” on meeting new possible allies. So we’ll start with okay because I didn’t leave weeping or with a sense of doom. Nor was there skipping down corridors with a fist punch to the air as, finally, early life trauma is triumphant and school punitive disciplinary rules fall to their knees in surrender. No, the small victory is that this time, the time away from school will not go on his record. However the same process of exclusion will apply the next time and we all know there will be a next time. So, the relationship with the school is improving, we understand each other a little more, there is confidence in long term commitment, we can even share a smile but it’s still a very long, long way from I love you.

Raving or Behaving at Forty Plus

Hac

The child like faces streamed past me and I wondered “what the hell am I doing”. I should have known better, I shouldn’t be here, my head raced and then, to make matters worse, the bouncer told the young girls in front “have your ID’s ready”.

I was nervous, this was something I did every weekend in my twenties, go to a club, dance all night and feel amazing doing it.

What if I couldn’t dance the night away any more?

What if I found it all too stressful and couldn’t enjoy myself?

What if I felt so very old that those young faces made me believe I should be home in bed with my cocoa at eleven o’clock?

We joked with the bouncer,

“Will you ask us for ID too?”

“If you want me to” he replied with a cheeky smile.

And there is the first of the many things that have changed. Now I am a forty something clubber, the bouncers are more friendly. They no longer seemed scary, more an older face in the crowd I could share a joke or frivolous comment with. Oh my goodness the bouncers are younger than me.

So here I am on a Saturday night out with the best of all friends, someone I shared many a long and exciting club night with in my twenties, clubbing again in our forties. My beautiful friend had bought tickets for, what was billed as a revival night, for our favourite club from our youth, as a birthday present for me.

I took a deep breath and entered the club (after a sniffer dog had declared us clean of anything untoward, another new one on me), the intense base beat of the dance music hit me like a wave of nostalgia and my anxieties were suddenly  disintegrated and now there was excited anticipation.

My friend and I dithered slightly about where would be the best place to dance, but after trying a couple of spots, we set ourselves up on the balcony overlooking the DJ. Difference number two, the DJ was in a small booth somewhere undistinguishable in my day, now they are centre stage, the star attraction. To confirm this shift in the world of clubbing, a young man later questioned,

“Who have you come to see?”

See? I never came out to SEE a DJ, I came to hear them.

My friend and I had booked a hotel room for the night so we didn’t have to travel back to our suburban/rural lives after our night out. We shunned the need to dress to impress and be seen in a trendy bar before our night out. Instead we stocked up on gins in a tin, vodka and energy drinks which we sipped whilst lazily transforming ourselves from older ladies to attractive club land ladies.  I asked many slightly silly questions beforehand.

“How much money should we take?”

“Should I take a bag?”

“What about a coat?”

Back in the day, I’d have known what I wanted to do and not worried about what the person next to me was doing.

My friend had done this before quite recently, so calmly reassured me at every step, my goodness it was as if I was about embark on death deifying feat.

So once in the club, the music hit me and I just started dancing, immediately I lost all fear and absorbed every beat with confidence. The moves were still there,” I’m still good at this” I beamed (who knows I might have looked like I was having a fit but it felt good).

So we danced the night away and returned to our hotel room in the early hours. However there are still a couple of things that made it different as a forty something to being a nubile teenager.

  1. I took plasters with me, just in case my feet blistered and I used them, hello, mummy alert.
  2. I drank so much water I had to go to the toilet a lot. I made sure I went in plenty of time because a queue more than six deep might be a problem.
  3. On one of my toilet trips, the girl in the next cubical seemed in trouble. She was obviously splayed on the floor, as her hair tumbled from beneath the divide, into my cubical. I knocked and asked “are you ok?” My nurturing nature in full force. I asked “Do you have water?” She mumbled and I passed my full bottle of water through. She seemed grateful and asked if she could see my face. I kindly declined the offer to put my face on the toilet floor and offered her a waving hand instead. I then informed the toilet attendant about her predicament, a sensible mum in full force.
  4. I tried at one point to take a selfie picture of my friend and I enjoying ourselves. After six failed attempts I gave up. I’m sure I heard the youngster around us sniggering.
  5. The music wasn’t all good and my friend and I discussed writing disgruntled emails referring to the trade descriptions act.
  6. Once back in our hotel room we both removed all make up and showered before bed.

So there you have it, my big fun night out, a big bit of #takingcare. I’m going to link this post to #memorybox because it was so much fun and for me offered a night of complete rejuvenation that I will never forget. I will not be waiting another twenty years before I do that again.

Thoughts on Contact – A Guest Post.

I am really pleased to be able to bring you this guest post on my blog. On The Adoption Social we have had a special week dedicated to the topic of “Contact”. There are lots of posts on the site which see contact from many different view points. It has been wonderful to see the discussion it’s sparked and the need for people to share their experiences. This post is exactly that a mum who wants to share her thought and experiences.

We have two adopted children A & C. They are not birth siblings but are part of the same extended family. A is 7 and C is 3. We have a variety of a letterbox agreements with all sorts of family members; this mostly doesn’t bother me too much, I write one main letter per child and then adapt and alter as necessary. We receive some responses but not all. Again, this is okay, there are reasons I can explain to A & C for the non responses.

We have met both A & C’s birthmums; several years apart. One was a meeting that we left feeling that there were excuses given, but even after having several children removed, the birthmum could not understand what had caused it. I feel sorry for her, but I know and understand the reasons that A (and siblings) had to be removed and as she shows no remorse or regret and hasn’t changed, I am happy to write a letter to her once a year, but want to avoid anywhere she might be.

The second meeting was more heartbreaking. C’s birthmum knows why C was removed. She understands and accepts the reasons, but doesn’t think it is fair. It is harder still as C has 2 older siblings that have stayed with birthmum & birthdad, and C and 2 other siblings have been removed and adopted.

When we had the meeting with C’s birthmum she gave us the most precious photo of C taken within hours of birth. We gave her some up to date photo’s of C, that she could take away and show the older siblings. She is heartbroken & we were heartbroken listening to her. There are an awful lot of buts and if only’s in their story. We have (with the agreement of our social worker) agreed to send her photo’s with letterbox, they will be poor quality and not necessarily of his face, but she will see photos.

But it feels like it isn’t enough. I would love C to have direct contact with birth mum and birth siblings. We and our social worker sat there after birthmum left and discussed the idea (which she hadn’t talked about), and our social worker would have made it happen. But we couldn’t decide whether we thought it would be in the best interests of C, it would have been fantastic for birthmum and siblings, but we have to do what is best for C. C was removed at birth and had contact at a children’s centre until 14 months old. She has no memories, just photos in her life story book. So we didn’t progress any further with it.

But, should I see birthmum in a park (there is a real possibility of this) I will not hurry A & C away, but stop and say hello and let the siblings see each other and let her see how C is growing and developing. Should C express a wish to meet birthmum (before 18) I will move heaven and earth to make that happen, as long as C is old enough to understand the reasons that she was removed and the fact that you cannot unmeet someone.

As C gets older she will have questions that I will be unable to answer, and whilst her birthmum may not have the answers either, there is the chance that if we work together we can help her understand decisions that have been made for her life.

The Finishing Line

imageIt’s not that I am ashamed; please don’t get me wrong, I would tell you all the gory details if I felt it would help. However, I know that those parents out there who live with a child who can rage with such anger that they have to hurt themselves, you and deconstruct their surroundings, already know what that is like. Those parents will also know that once your child is in that apocalyptic zone; there is almost nothing you can do to entice them out. Usually we have to wait for exhaustion to wash over him before we can see the finish line. For those that don’t, be grateful.

Crossing the finish line is somewhat harder than just eyeballing it. I’m not sure you ever have a clear finish, often the line fades or moves. There is never a feeling that you’ve cracked this one, a heady rush of success, no, when you live with a violent child the finish line is often out of reach.

However, we move as close as we can to it; a place where there is peace and where our child feels safe again or just safer. How we do this, how we reclaim the lost confidence in our relationship, is with grit and determination, amongst many other things.

Sometimes it’s through clenched teeth. I remember the time Stig kicked off on a busy train, yes that was the time someone filmed us on their phone, thinking we were mistreating him. Well by the time we’d got home he’d calmed significantly and had moved into tears and shame. Because he’d been writhing around on the dirty train floor and gotten very sweaty, I ran him a bath.

“Will you get in with me?”  he begged. Inside I hadn’t yet come to terms fully with the repeated punches I’d received on that train but I knew, if I could, I should.

“Of course” I trilled. I got in and we had that skin on skin contact that made him feel better and actually, I found that it helped me too. On this occasion, that connection was our first step towards that evasive line.

Often I take him an offering, expecting hunger and thirst to be top of his needs after such exertion of energy; I offer a drink or a snack. It’s like a little peace offering. Him accepting it is a step towards that line and often opens a  channel of communication. Cleverly I’ve worked out food is a great leveller. Only this week, to avoid a possible explosion, I made fried eggs.

There are those occasions when, even with clenched teeth you can’t do it, not straight away. I hope, on these occasions that Mr H can make those first steps alone, whilst I recoup. On one occasion only, but fairly recently, because it was one of the worst outbursts we’ve seen, we made no contact after. We stayed away for him and us to calm, by the time we did make advances, he’d fallen asleep. This made things hard in the morning, he was still on edge, as were we, unsure of the firmness of the ground on which we stood. I also didn’t sleep on that night, not one wink. So that was a lesson learnt.

In the past,when we first entered a long period of “episodes”, when they occurred weekly, I had been terrified by the possibilities of our future. Whilst I still find any outbursts very traumatic, when I realise his mind has altered to “that” state,  I shake at the possibilities of what is to come, I am now able to make a reasonable recovery. I know that there are always lessons to be learnt.

There is the lesson’s Mr H and I discover on unpicking our own contributions to the escalation, often recognising our own failings, not quite being therapeutic in the heat of the moment.  We also de-brief with our son. We try to work backwards, to find out what the trigger was and how we could have changed the outcome. We talk about bodily sensations which indicate anger; we talk about making right choices. We hope that he can make a little more sense of his emotional make up. He says he’s sorry and we say ours, maybe we could have been more supportive at the beginning. We never apologise for hold him and preventing him from hurting himself, we make it clear that if certain behaviour occurs, then we have no other option.

He often needs to be close in the following day and I find jobs for him to help me with, to occupy us whilst we talk. We unload the dishwasher, make the tea, sort washing and do the recycling whilst talking about everything and anything, although I draw a line at the zombie apocalypse.

Now-a-days, it’s not long before we can almost imagine that the event didn’t occur, we come together at a family meal and share jokes or mutually enjoy a walk, a television programme or a game. But we’ve not crossed the finish line; we are close but also maybe a life time away. A little bit of us remains with the last time it happened, as a reminder of the possibility.

Will we ever cross that finish line?

In honesty, I don’t know.