A Year On

A Year OnTo reflect on the last year, with all its grit and grime, is an extremely hard ask for me. I’ve taken a look back at the blog, one year ago, and discovered it’s a year since my boiler broke and we endured three days without heat or hot water. A painful experience that I don’t really want to contemplate again and that’s just it, most of last year I don’t want to have to contemplate again. I honestly feel that 2013 was the hardest year I’ve lived in all my 41 years on this planet. I’ve never been overly superstitious but I am eternally grateful that I won’t live to endure another year with the number 13 in it. And yet, strangely, I personally, did achieve some amazing things in that year.

I ran the London Marathon and raised a large sum of money for the charity TACT.

I started The Weekly Adoption Shout Out with Vicki from The Boys Behaviour.

I started the website The Adoption Social with Vicki, providing support for adopters, adoptees and others working in or touched by adoption.

I produced a youth play for my local amateur dramatics group.

I became a trustee for The Open Nest Charity.

I made some incredible new friends from the land of Adoption and even got to meet some of them when The Adoption Social and The Open Nest exhibited at The Adoption UK Annual Conference.

Yet I measure my year by none of these achievements, I instead reflect on the emotional rollercoaster that the year was for my family. Allowing my mind to even wander near the edge of those deepest and darkest of downward facing times frightens me. My muscles tighten, my throat constricts, and a sickness is rising from within, from the depths of my core a wave of tears is swelling. So, now I’m taking a deep breath……….I’ve found composure and I have stepped away from the precipice. I’m going to stick with my resolution, to live in the here and now and allow only hope for the future.

What I can say, is that to have survived the year can only have made each of us stronger. We are now taking tiny steps towards firmer and more certain ground and I’m sure amongst these pastures of increasing confidence and blossoming optimism, our growth will become more evident. The children are already showing signs of progress, relinquishing 2013 seem to have made a huge difference for them.

Stig has been managing and regulating his anger in a far more positive way. A contentedness, which he lacked for much of that fated year, has returned and glows softly within him. He is growing up, and I think he is coming to terms with it. Maturity can be a difficult attribute to steer at first but he is taking control and beginning to benefit from, even enjoy, the fruits that it brings.

Tink remains a boy of two extremes. Beyond his cool, astute and steely stare is a soft and squidgy little bundle, which requires the tender nurturing of an infant. The softness at his centre is well protected and few are privileged enough to benefit from its tenderness. I however am being allowed increased access to his vulnerability, as he allows me to assist him, asks for my help and even voices his concerns and fears. As always it is all very much on his terms, or so he believes, I’ve also become increasingly clever at letting him think he’s in charge.

My relationship with Mr H has near enough weathered what has been some exceptionally treacherous storms. We cling to our life together by our fingernails alone, but sheer determination that we will not be beaten by a bad stretch, keeps us holding on. There is light at the end of the tunnel and I know we can get through, but damage has been done and healing may take time. We know however that it is worth the endeavour, as at our core the embers of the love we have for each other still radiate warmth.

For me the last year seemed an endless battle with my old adversary, depression. I struggle to recall any long periods when lightness was in my step and cheer was in my heart. I feel much of my time I was weighted by worries and anxieties for those around me and strained by the intensity of living with those filled with worries and anxieties. I have started taking steps to lift myself from beneath the heaviness and I am learning new ways of keeping my old friend at a distance.

So today I prefer to look at the year ahead and hold hope in my heart for the future. In this vein I will say that a year on we are now on an upper ward turn and I am optimistic we are leaving the darkness behind.

Sharing a Story

StorytellingIt’s National Storytelling Week, did you know? I came across this fact as I perused a magazine at the weekend, and thought to myself “now there is a cause I can get behind”.  I’ve always loved reading with the boys and with my mum, granny, working in library services there has always been an abundance of books on borrow or new recommended reads, littering our home.

Little Tink took to words like a duck to water. I still remember the day when he requested a turn at reading the 20 or so word cards I had stuck on the back of the kitchen door for his struggling older brother. Smiling sweetly, I played along and allowed him to step forward, my smile was soon agog in a gapping jaw drop, as he rattled them off with little effort.

“Oh you can read then” was all I could muster and popped the obligatory reward sweet into his grinning mouth.

Anyway from there on in his reading has been what only can be described as ferocious, completing all the Harry Potters at aged six. So when a child is so eager and happy to lose themselves in a book, it is easy to forget the joy and importance of reading to them.

However, struggling with bedtime and sleeping has brought back a more structured night time ritual for my now nine year old and that has included me reading to him again. I recently chose “The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas” for us to share. I had already read and thoroughly enjoyed it, and was sure that Tink would too.

He is a complicated little soul when it comes to choosing a suitable read. A lot of the books for his age don’t challenge him sufficiently, but moving into books for older children, teen books, can sometimes bring questionable content for a nine year old. However he has a very intelligent understanding of the world for a boy of his age and can recognise and understand subtleties on the page, which he finds very hard to handle in his own emotions.

The subject matter of The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas, The Holocaust, is a huge subject matter to grasp, but he had previously read “The Diary of Anne Frank”, so I knew he already had some understanding. However, as this story is told through the eyes of a nine year old son of a Nazi Commandant, it also requires the ability to translate his skewed perception on the events.  At times we’ve stopped to discuss what is being referred to, or what is in reality happening, and at each point he has known precisely.

We have been reading the book a chapter at a time and at the end of each one Tink is eagerly anticipating what will happen in the next. We are nearing the end and the story is now becoming very tense. Last night as we read, his little body leaning against mine, I could feel him tightening as the intensity of the situation on the page grew, he was truly gripped. Obviously reading stories also gives me another outlet for my dramatic talents, as I offer up varying tones and accents to the characters and intersperse the odd pause for theatrical effect.  Already knowing how it all ends, I am not looking forward to but, will be very interested to see how he responds to the outcome.

So the littlest thing of storytelling has recently offered a wonderful shared experience for me and my youngest boy.

I’ve linked this post with Mummy Never Sleeps.

All the Small Things - MummyNeverSleeps

Fix You

fix you

Stretched out on a lounger, soaking up the sun and twiddling that circular bit on my IPod mini, I came across an album I’d not listened to in a while, Coldplay X&Y. Now I know not everyone is a fan but for me this album evokes many poignant and still very tangible emotions. It would be safe to say that back in the day I hammered this album. The car, the kitchen and drunken nights slouched on the sofa absorbing each and every melody and lyric.

The album release date was June 6th 2005, no I’m not that much in love with the band or in any way a geek, I Googled it. The exact date may not be etched on my mind but the events of my life at that time are. Following painful exploratory surgery for my husband, we had discovered that we were going to be unable to conceive our own children. My husband was broken, and into my heart a wrench had been placed and sadistically twisted. Although we had suspected it to be the case, the knowing for both of us was a deep and choking pain.

Some months later I was sat in the car, navy blue VW Polo if you must know, radio tuned to Jo Whiley on Radio 1, she was bosom buddies with the Coldplay boys. She had first play of their new track “Fix You”. It began, piano cords tinkling through my car stereo and I gasp audibly at the emotions it stimulated within. I could feel my teary existence of the past months lodged in my throat, pushing its way to the surface. My skin pimpled with goose bumps as I cupped my hands over my mouth and my breathing became laboured and obvious.

When you try your best but you don’t succeed,
When you get what you want but not what you need,
When you feel so tired but you can’t sleep,
Stuck in reverse,

And the tears come streaming down your face,
When you lose something you can’t replace,
When you love someone but it goes to waste,
Could it be worse?

Each word and phrase spoke to me, I felt the meaning of every lyric tunefully twisting and turning through my own existence. The tears did start streaming down my face. It was the message I wanted to convey to my husband, through the pain and loss that we had been suffering.

Lights will guide you home
And ignite your bones
And I will fix you….

Tink was on occasions a real nightmare on holiday. One morning, not long after rising he approached his brother about playing a game with him, one which they had discussed and agreed on the night before. Stig’s refusal to participate cut Tink with a sharp knife of rejection. I didn’t realise until we later talked and reflected, but this sent his self esteem spiraling into a pit of self loathing.

The rest of the day was filled with angst riddled behaviour, provocative interactions and a lot of damn awful rudeness. Nothing appeased him and at one point whilst trying to remove him from yet another confrontation he spat at me and attempted to bite me. My displeasure with him grew and his awareness of this fed his belief of being unloved.

Towards the end of the day, I saw some sense beyond my annoyance and realised that the confrontation between us was not getting us anywhere. Often Tink refuses to discuss how he feels or admit to an emotion but I threw caution to the wind and went with. I purposely opened my body to him and softened, messaging a truce with the language of my limbs. “I can see you look angry and I don’t think that feels very nice for you”.

His eyes welled ever so slightly; only my seven year study of those steely eyes would have spotted the subtle change, the minute lowering of defence. Slowly and cautiously we unravelled the events of the day, right back to the planted seed of doubt. My insides lurched at the sudden realisation of his fragility, how a message of self doubt is so easily delivered and then built on, creating the self hating monster we had spent the day with. I soothed as much as he would allow and small droplets of tears stained his sun kissed cheeks. Realising he needed down time, to exist in switch off mode for a while, I offered up some Sky TV (a major advantage on more than one occasion of the accommodation we had).

With relief in my bones I stretched out on my sun lounger and pressed play, X&Y pulsed forward from the portable speakers and I settled into my book, peace. Fourth song in and suddenly the hairs on my arms are standing to attention. All the strain of this day and every day before is wedged in my throat again, all the stress and anguish of seven years bubbles and simmers just below the surface once again. I can’t help it, I cry.

The tears stream down your face,
When you lose something you cannot replace,
The tears stream down your face
And I …,

The tears stream down your face,
I promise you I will learn from my mistakes,
The tears stream down your face,
And I….,

My tears are not for me, not for my husband but this time for Tink. The broken little boy, that’s “lost something he can’t replace”.

“Could it be worse?”

And as I taste the saltiness of my sobs, I think about the boy that often “feels so tired but he can’t sleep”, unable to sooth himself, give comfort to his mind and release himself from his day.

“I promise to learn from my mistakes”

I will try to see the hurt more and not the behaviour.

I want to provide the light that ignites his bones with a love for himself and a belief that he his loved and wanted. To fill him full of all the love I have for him, to “fix you”.

The Week that was all about the Birthdays

birthdayIt’s always a bit of a full on week that we have at the end of July. Both boys’ birthdays arrive within 5 days of each other. On top of it all, it also always falls with the end of a school year and all the anxieties and excitement that come with that. So to be on the other side of it, remarkably unscathed, feels a bit of a relief.

Stig’s birthday came at the weekend, he was awake early and to keep upset and stress to a minimum, we brought him up to our room and he opened his few presents before his brother woke. I was concerned about how Tink was going to deal with the day as he had been moaning all week about Stig’s birthday being first and how “it’s not fair”. Not exactly sure what he would like me to do about it, well actually I have an idea, and I think it would go along the lines of “let’s cancel it”.

So one happy 10 year old received a Kindle Fire with a few apps already downloaded, charged and ready to go, his beaming face made it all worthwhile. Surprisingly Tink was very amiable, produced a lovely card he’d made for his brother and made little to no fuss. Daddy and Stig went off to do some necessary jobs (one broken pair of glasses had arrived home on the Friday) and I took Tink to do another necessary job, buy a cake.

Later we attended another little boys party, he was turning three. We had given Stig the choice of attending or not but he had wanted to see these good family friends. We spent a couple of hours relaxing whilst the kids played really well with the other older and younger children there, before we left for a family meal.

Our meal was at our most favourite Nepalese restaurant, where the food is loved by all of us. It was a very enjoyable evening and we returned home with full satisfied tummies and smiles on our faces. We did candles on cake and singing, and then Stig refused his slice of cake and unusually went to bed without a fight. He’d had a good day and his growing maturity told him he’d had enough. On top of all that Tink had been a delight all day and enjoyed his brother’s birthday. Results all round.

Fast forward five days and we’re doing it all again, only difference is we now have staying guest Grandpa and Aunty W (dad’s wife). Again it’s an early rise, but on this occasion Stig is invited to the present opening ceremony. This was the start of what would be a day of feeling annoyed. Stig instantly sulked as he was asked to move over, not sit in the centre of the bed. He went as far as saying “right I’ll just go then” to which we all had to go “no don’t go”. And so it continued lots of behaviour that was undeniable y  saying “I do not like it when I’m not the centre of attention”. It surprised me because I had expected it from his younger brother and had really thought the older ones developing maturity would have got him through. Not the case.

We had dragging feet, head on table at lunch and lots of provoking his brother and pushing of boundaries. Nothing really big but enough to make it all very irritating and I inwardly seethed at him. Needless to say it wasn’t a late night for that one and after an enjoyable BBQ at home it was his bedtime.

So, phew, the actual birthdays are done but a party remains. I had pencilled in a date for a small gathering of children and adults at our home, a BBQ with games for children, lots of food and maybe some drinks for the grownups. I had cautiously not sent out invitations months in advanced, instead whispered the possibility of a do to a few close friends and family. I then kick started myself into action about a week before, when I felt fairly certain that it was a good idea, not too much for anyone involved, including myself, and party preparations were made.

Each boy had a couple of friends from school to come for a couple of hours. They played a few games, ran around the garden, ate sausages in buns, bashed a piñata and sang happy birthday whilst we did cake and candles, again. One child, as he was leaving, said the party had been “mint” so I feel it was a success and both Stig and Tink seemed really happy with it all. We moved on to adult food and mummy letting her hair down a bit.

Later as a few of us sat under our covered seating area, Mr H mixed Hendricks gin and elderflower presse for us to drink, and the storm came down and surrounded us. There was a real sense of drama as we huddled and watched the night sky struck bright by lightening. Mr H, not only the bar tender but also the DJ, provided the soundtrack too, an eclectic mix of 80’s music and it all felt really perfect. I felt a warm and happy glow inside, could have been the gin but I’d like to put it down to the company.

It has been a long time since we have confidently had people over for a gathering/party, we used to do it all the time and I always really enjoyed entertaining.  Times have been so hard that I have not felt like it was something I currently wanted to do. Too ashamed of the children’s behaviour and too drained from the day to day battles to find the energy to make our home presentable. We did it though, we pulled it off and I think I might try and do it again soon. It was a wonderful way to finish a week that was all about the birthdays.

Holiday Happiness

Sunscreen

I thought about writing a post bursting with tips on how to holiday with your adopted children, only problem was I couldn’t get past my first tip. Never go with too much expectation, and then anything else is a bonus. This then got me thinking, had we really had such awful holidays? Have they really been all that terrible that I can’t lead you to hope it will be at all fun? The answer is no, it really isn’t true.

Yes last year in the caravan was hell, with the swearing and kicking off in such a confined space and  close to other families, I’ve never felt more like going home before it was time. Yes our first holiday to Cornwall Tink did spend some time in hospital after suffering a Febrile Convulsion on arrival. His mouth went blue and he stopped breathing, I screamed as I thought he was dying there in my arms, it was the most awful experience of my whole life.  However, that aside, the rest of the week went on to be very good. The ones with grandparents have also always been well intended but all too often add to the stress, no one’s fault; it’s just the way it is.

On the whole being away from home and in the holiday mood has brought about some fond and wonderful memories of us spending time together and enjoying each other’s company. There is no doubt that the first days in a new location provide a more heightened atmosphere, particularly for Stig. At these moments I feel like I’m constantly on to him, “Stig stop that” “Don’t touch that” “Calm down” “Be Quiet”. He goes into over vigilant mode and it can be warring. However over the years our awareness of this now means we plan more and talk more about it. His added maturity means he is increasingly more self aware and able to regulate or address the situation himself. The fact that we often return to the same places on holiday, that are familiar and loved, means that anxieties of change are further lessened.

We’ve been talking holidays plenty as we have a two week break planned to our favourite sunny spot in Portugal, which we are all looking forward too. When questioned on what he likes about going there Stig replies “Ooohh that hot guff of air that hits you as you walk off the plane”. We fall about giggling at his use of the word “guff” instead of “gust”, but decide it’s quite befitting as both are describing warm wind!

Our family’s love of food is evident in another of his favourite things, eating clams in the restaurant in the cave. He fondly remembers the night we visited this magical spot and he discovered a love for these little delicacies, he was seven at the time. From that day on, every restaurant or beach bar we entered the question would be “are there clams on the menu?” We were the proud parents of a foodie until we realised, as we all tucked into our lunch time cheese toasties, that Stig was doubling the food bill with his expensive tastes.

Tink recalls shopping as a favourite thing, although he could be anywhere and enjoy that. However he does remember exactly what the first thing was that he bought in Portugal, a fan covered in flamenco dancers and frilly lace.  The water baby within also lists all things water related as his favourite things, the pool, the sea and most of all, the water park. He won’t divulge much more than this, but at the moment with his none co-operative ways I was lucky to get that much.

Mr H has some fond memories too of our trips to Portugal; he loves the family games we play. Whilst away I always have a pack of the card game “Old Maid” in my bag, something to do in any bar or restaurant to keep us all occupied.  No one seems to tire of this game, as soon as we place our bottoms on those hot metal sun kissed seats, and before we can order a cold refreshing long one, someone will always ask “can we play Old Maid?” For such a simple game it has given us hours of pleasure, the delight in giving her away and the excitement of trying to pass her on, that Old Maid has much to be thanked for. I will definitely pack her again this year.

Mr H reminded me too of our boat trip during our last holiday to Portugal, it was a treat for Stig’s birthday. We anchored in a crystal clear lagoon and the captain advised that although it appeared beautiful the water was extremely cold. Something to do with unusual cold currents for the time of year. He also advised that although my 6 and 7 year old were good swimmers that life floats should be worn if they wanted to go in; he was concerned the shock of the cold would affect their ability to keep afloat. I whole heartedly agreed and Stig keen for a dip put his on and in he jumped. He plunged in and his head bobbed up gasping and shrieking at the cold. Soon he was clinging to the boat side and asking to be pulled out.

Next to step up is Tink, we pass him the float and the firm reply is “no, I can swim”. For the next ten minutes we tried our hardest to persuade the little man that if he wanted to go in he did need to wear the item. His heals were firmly stuck into the wooden deck of the boat, in his eye it was ludicrous that a float would be required. The Captain of the boat stepped in at this point and said to save the argument he would get in the water with the boy. So in plunged Tink, his head bobs up and not a sound exhaled, just a stoic firm set face. Then in order to really prove his point the boy turned and swam away from the boat and paddled around for a good five minutes before he then agreed to come out. Shivering and shaking the determined, controlling, little boy had firmly planted a holiday memory not to be forgotten.

And so to my memories of sunning ourselves in Portugal. When I recall these times I know that I am not always as relaxed as I would like to be on holiday, there is always a need to be planning and thinking, a mindfulness to everyone’s needs. That said, without all the other day to day distractions that home life brings there is quality family time. Like my family’s favourite memories, mine revolve around the family fun, the family meals and the experiences we share together. I love the food we eat, the games we play and the funny situations we find ourselves in. Now I really can’t wait to do it all again, although I will be quiet about my hopes for the same great times, remember low expectations.