Monday, January 27, 2014

Stay With Me


We have been through various sleep phases with OB. There's been the non-sleeping phase, the crying for hours inexplicably phase, the night terrors phase, the new-found freedom of the big-boy bed phase. Most recently, we've had the "Stay with me" phase.

I have found this latest phase one of the most annoying. We have a pretty elaborate bedtime routine, carefully crafted for wind-down, together time and general all-round good preparation for a pleasant night for the whole family. It takes a minimum of forty minutes from when we start to put the pyjamas on to turning the lights out and saying goodnight. OB has had plenty of input into the whole setup which includes cuddling in front of a chosen DVD with a hot milky drink, not one but two stories (one from a book, one made up inexpertly by me and, strangely, always featuring Mickey Mouse as the protagonist), a song and our prayers.

So, at the point where I say goodnight and leave the room brimful with anticipation of a precious two hours of me time to relax or get vital things done, the words "Stay with me Mummy" are almost perfectly designed to get my teeth gnashing in frustration.

What do you mean, "Stay with me"? Haven't I been with you all day? Haven't I just spent half an hour lying on your bed with you talking through the day, telling stories, singing songs and cuddling you? How much 'staying' do you actually need?!

This went on for weeks, with OB's pleas eliciting various responses from me, ranging from empathy to yelling. Any attempt to leave the room would be immediately followed by him leaping out of bed and running to the stair gate at his room door which I had resorted to some weeks before to prevent him appearing downstairs minutes after he'd gone to bed, sometimes as many as ten times in an evening. There he would stand holding his blanket and teddy and crying most heart-rendingly (or most annoyingly, depending on my various moods at the end of each long day).

I get that an onlooker might observe that OB clearly needs me, that he's suffering from some sort of distress or anxiety, that I need to respond therapeutically and calmly, but honestly, sometimes all that doesn't cut it when you're exhausted, when piles of laundry need to be dealt with, when other people are making demands on your time and you've saved all these things until the evening so they don't steal my time with my son when he's actually supposed to be awake.

Because no matter how many cute poems I read on the internet about how housework can wait and so on and so on, the truth is that not everything can wait. The truth is that OB isn't the only person in the world and I need space in my day to get other things done. I do these things after he's in bed so that during the day he gets my attention.

And sometimes I just really need to have a couple of hours without the incessant chatter and neediness of OB to remember that I am actually a person, to recharge a little, maybe to watch Call The Midwife with a massive bar of chocolate so that when the morning comes and I am woken by OB leaping onto my bed and yelling about how it's morning again, I can smile and be glad to see him and face the day ahead with a can-do attitude.

Eventually the point came where I was at a loss, and I was starting to resent all the time I spent on our lovely bedtime routine. What is the point of all that when at the end of it, it isn't enough? I might as well just shove his pyjamas on and plonk him straight in bed if I'm going to be subjected to hours of crying and pleading anyway.

And then Baby Girl came, and, whether I wanted to or not, I simply couldn't stay with OB any more. I have made it a rule that, as far as possible, OB's needs will come first at bedtime. I try to get Baby Girl all sorted out before we begin our bedtime routine so that OB can have that time with me without having to share me at all. But I can't leave her forever - newborn babies don't really understand routines.

So, after a couple of difficult nights, I finally responded to OB's plaintive request with, "I can't stay with you right now because I need to check on the baby. Wait for me and I'll come back and check on you in two minutes."  To my utter surprise, he meekly lay back down in his bed and went completely quiet.  I couldn't believe it. I came downstairs to see where Baby Girl was up to and, sure enough, she needed feeding.

So, back up I went and explained to OB that Baby Girl needed feeding and after I'd done that, I'd be back to check on him again. And again, he was completely fine with it.  When I went up the next time, he was fast asleep.

And this is how our bedtimes have gone for the past three weeks. Yes I have to go back upstairs to check on OB every night but usually only once and even then, sometimes he's already asleep.  A few days after we started doing this I clicked on a link on Twitter and found an article by Colby Pearce detailing almost this exact method for encouraging children to sleep in their own beds.

Well, all I can say is that, so far, it has worked a treat for us, and I have rediscovered the pleasure of our lovely cuddly bedtimes.



This post has been linked with The Adoption Social's 'The Things We Do' linky, sharing the little ideas and tips we have for getting through our days.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

My Day

The Weekly Adoption Shout Out theme this week is "A day in the life". I wanted to write an entertaining blog with a witty or sideways take on this rather tantalising theme, I really did, but the truth is that every day in my life at the moment is so full of feeding people, dressing/undressing people, cleaning up after people and wiping up people's various bodily fluids that not only am I short of time for writing sparkling blog posts, but also there's only so much mileage you can get out of the amazing anecdote about how you spent a fair amount of your afternoon scraping up food that had dried onto the carpet under the table.

Yeah, slummy mummy, that's how we roll!

So instead, here is an old post on the same theme from a time when I had my two boys together. OB would have been 15 months, and NB was just short of his second birthday. Those days made our current challenges seem like a walk in the park!

           ____________________________________________

Get up, breakfast, coffee.

"Get down off the radiator"

"Get down off the television"

"No"

"No!!"

"We don't stand on our toys"

"We don't throw our toys!"

"We don't poke our toys into each other's mouths!" 

Snack time.

"Stop lying on him"

"Don't squash him - you're hurting him" 

"When he's crying it means he doesn't like it!"

"Nooooooooo!!!!!"

Visit to the shops to buy new coats.

"Get down off the radiator"

"Get down off the television"

"GET DOWN FROM THERE!!!!"

Take time out to tend to injury.

"He's playing with that - choose a different toy"

"We don't snatch toys"

"If you touch his toy again I'm putting you in your chair!!"

Lunch.

Nappy change.

"Right, come on boys, sleep time now."

Half-hour walk in the pram.

"Why aren't you asleep?!!"

Half-hour drive in car.

Peace for 90 minutes :)

"Stop lying on him!"

"We DO NOT lie on each other!"

"Get down from the radiator"

"Get down from the television"

"If I have to come and get you down myself, there'll be trouble!" 

"We don't stand on our toys!"

"We don't use our toys as weapons!" 

"What have you got in your mouth?"

"Where did you find THAT?!" 

Tea time.

"Don't play with the shelf"

"Stop pulling the shelf off the bookcase"

"Leave the shelf - you'll hurt yourself!"

Time out to tend to injuries and search for the missing shelf-support thingies.

Bath time - aka drown time!

Cuddles.

Bottles.

Bed!

Friday, January 17, 2014

Holding Them Lightly

This evening I have filled in a foster carer's report for Baby Girl because she is being fast-tracked for adoption. Paperwork must be in by early February and court date must be arranged by March at the latest. Such speed and efficiency!

Since I started fostering I have stopped counting the number of times somebody has said something like "I could never do that - I would never be able to give them up!" I do understand what people are saying, although, as Krish Kandiah says in his book, Home for Good, it would be possible to feel affronted at the implication that there's something about me that makes it easier to 'give them up' than it would be for other people! I choose not to hear that!

Is it easy to 'give them up'? No! Do I want to keep them all? On some level, yes I do. There's a part of me that wants to just gather in all those faces in the magazines and get bunk beds and be like the old woman that lived in a shoe. At least ten different people have suggested to me that perhaps I could adopt Baby Girl - after all she's the perfect age to be OB's sister!

And I'm not going to deny that there's a part of me that thinks it would be lovely for OB to have a little brother or sister (and by that I mean sister!) to grow up with. If they came to me and said that OB had a sibling coming up for adoption, would I consider it? Absolutely.

Watching Finding Mum and Dad the other night I was, like everyone else, heartbroken for the children who kept not being chosen time and time again. But my heart also went out to the foster carers who had loved these children for so long that they were torn between wanting to find that forever family for their charges, and wanting to say that they'd keep them just to make the process stop, to end the cycle of hopes raised and dashed; to call time on rejection.

So why don't we keep them then? Well, quite a lot of foster carers do just that - I am a case in point! But where this doesn't happen, there are so many reasons, and circumstances are different for each foster family. Maybe the foster carers are older, with grown up children, and wouldn't be able to adopt younger ones even if they wanted to because of their ages. Perhaps it is an issue of finances. However mercenary it sounds, caring for children is our job - it's how we put food on the table. If we adopted all our charges, how would we manage to support our families? Would we adopt these vulnerable little ones and then put them in daycare while we went out to work? Foster carers are self employed, so when we adopt, we don't get statutory adoption leave or pay. I didn't care about that when I fell in love with OB of course, I just went ahead assuming we'd manage somehow. And we did. But there might be a limit to that!

But I think mostly it's about where our hearts and heads are. Foster caring is not about the foster carers' needs and dreams. We long for the best outcomes for the children we love and care for and we recognise that staying permanently with us whether by adoption or through long-term fostering might not be the best possible outcome. Matching for adoption is a much more thorough process than matching for fostering! I suppress the urge to keep them all because, on one level, it is a selfish urge. Certainly in my mind, there is an image of a forever family hoping, waiting, praying for their quest to become parents to reach that longed-for conclusion. Or there is the birth family, jumping through all the hoops placed in their way, hoping desperately that if they can just do this or that then their children will come back to them.

These are the images that make it possible, necessary, for me to 'give them up'. Images of parents-to-be anxiously waiting for that phone call, for that panel date. Wonder-filled faces, arms outstretched to hold their new baby for the first time. Or nervous moments, crouching down to the toddler's level, wondering if he will come close, recognise them, let them in.

And at that moment, we know that our job is done. We have stood in the breach and provided a pivot point from one life to the next. We are foster carers. That's what we do.

So, as I did with OB (the first time!) and with NB and with LB, I will give up BG. We hold them close, but we hold them lightly.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Introducing Baby Girl


I have in my home a rare and precious thing - a tiny baby girl, complete with tiny toes and a button nose. She is perfect and beautiful and embodies so much hope and unexplored potential that you can almost see it in her eyes.

As I am writing this, she is sleeping peacefully next to me on the sofa, all vulnerable in her onesie. It is hard to imagine that, at just a few days old, she has already been through so much. Her life is already brimming with uncertainty and strife. Taken from her mother, unknown to her father, in a terrible limbo of paperwork, professional intervention and legal decision-making, she is already an untold number of unhappy statistics.

Her little chest flutters with her breath, delicate fingers curled around a soft blanket, tiny ears laid flat against a perfectly-shaped head. A little gurgle and she shifts position, perhaps getting ready to wake again, to explore the limited scope of her vision with those not-yet-brown eyes of hers.

She is likely to be one of the very few adopted before her first birthday - well before, bureaucracy permitting. Dreams come true while elsewhere, a nightmare plays out.

I have held out my arms and taken this sleeping little one from a grieving mother in a hospital room. In a few months I expect to hold out my arms again and hand her to her new family. Grief and joy. Broken and complete. Loss and gain.

Welcome to the world and to my home, Baby Girl.




Thursday, January 9, 2014

Six Parenting Resolutions I Couldn't Keep


Quite a while ago a (childless, naturally!) friend of mine posted on Facebook that there were two things she'd never do. I can't remember what the first was, but the second was "Put my child on a leash!" (She's American - I assumed she meant reins). And I thought, "Yeah, try saying that when you're trying to get two toddlers in the car in a busy car park on your own and one's a runner and the other one is unsteady on their feet. When you experience that, using reins will seem vastly preferable to a visit to A&E!"

I was reminded of this recently when talking to another friend who is about to adopt three siblings, the oldest of whom is just three! We had a long chat about the practicalities of managing three very young children, and the dearly-cherished principles that might just go out of the window when faced with the realities of life.

In nearly 40 years of childlessness, with a child-centred career and plenty of friends and family with children, I had plenty of time to watch different parents at work and form opinions about the things I would do, and the things I would NEVER do. Amazing how the reality has eroded some of those principles to the point of non-existence (not so amazing really, say all my parent friends knowingly!), and really sorted out the difference between what actually is very important and what can easily be let go with virtually no consequence.

Here are just a few pre-parenting resolutions that have got the better of me in the last three years of fostering and parenting:

1. We will not watch TV at mealtimes

I know, I know, turning the TV off at mealtimes is beneficial to the whole family for so many reasons. TV stifles conversation and makes you eat without thinking so that you don't notice how much you're having. I know all of that, and I still think that it's probably better not to have it on while eating, but we have the TV on every teatime. Yes, every day!

Honestly? I know that the dinner table can be an important venue for the family to get together and talk about the day or whatever. This is fine if some of you have been out at work or school all day and this is the first opportunity you've really had to see each other. But, apart from 9 hours a week at Playgroup, I spend every moment of every day with OB. Believe me, we have plenty of chance for 'together time'. By the time teatime comes, I admit, I'm ready for a little rest from the incessant chatter-machine that is OB, and in need of a little distraction from his mealtime awkwardness (which would drive me crazy if I had to focus on it every day!). So, as I serve the tea (at the table - we're not peasants!) the TV goes on and I enjoy Alexander and Richard doing their Pointless thing while OB messes with his food, pushes his plate away repeatedly and says "I don't like it" a hundred times before eventually eating it and peace and calmness reigns!

2. I won't chase a running child up and down the street while they laugh at me mockingly

Yes, when you chase after your child, he will think it's all a funny game and carry on running . But when you know from previous experiments that he's not going to stop, that he's going to run out of the building and down the path without stopping and be brought back by a disapproving stranger, and no amount of calling his name or shouting "Stop!" is going to make a difference, then, yes, you abandon your principles and chase him, even if it means falling flat on your backside in the middle of Tesco!

I had also wanted not to become one of those mums that yells their child's name clear across the street/shop/wherever but, yeah, that ship has sailed. Thankfully, as yet, I have managed to avoid the additional bellow of "Ged 'ere NOW!", sometimes flavoured with a sprinkling of expletives that is a favourite expression of many local mums on the primary school run.

3. I won't give my children dismissive answers to their questions

I do, I really do try my hardest to answer informatively and intelligently every single time OB says "Why?" which can amount to at least a billion times each day. I try. But sometimes there just isn't an answer to the question. Sometimes the "Why?" is just a reflex (like vomiting!) and has no logical place in the universe. Sometimes, backed into a corner, I feel I have no choice but to resort to, "Because it just is!" or, even worse, "Because I said so!" Bad Mummy!

4. I won't ever use the TV as a babysitter

This phrase, 'using the TV as a babysitter', was one I heard often during the childless years, usually uttered in the most disapproving tones by people who would have us believe that they only watch TV for 15 minutes each day and even then, purely for educational purposes. It's easy to buy into this idea that parents should spend every minute of every day doing lovely, crafty, educational, nurturing activities with their kids - especially if you've never actually lived with a kid (and you are a teacher!). Except that sometimes you can't do that because you need to make tea, and the toddlers are grumpy because they just got up from their nap and the only chance you have of getting a meal on the table is either if somebody miraculously turns up at the doorstep with one ready-prepared, or if you put the kids in front of Peppa Pig for half an hour. Works a treat!

5. I won't expect different rules for my children

It can be a frustration for teachers that virtually every parent will, at some point, want special treatment for their child. Often the reasons for this are completely valid, from a parent's perspective, but the teacher's perspective has to take in the needs of many children, not just one, and balance those needs against each other. It's simply not possible to fully cater for each individual child's individual need, especially if those needs conflict with the differing needs of another child.

As a parent, though, obviously, my son is special and must be catered for according to his individual needs, regardless! He shouldn't have to wear the armbands at swimming because he hates them so much. He shouldn't have to join in the noisy games at the summer club because loud noises bother him. He should be able to move into whatever Sunday School class I choose based on his age, height, ability with felt tips, which friends he sits next to, sock colour or whatever other criteria I'm choosing this week!

I hope that I've kept enough of my teacher's hat on me to be able to keep myself under control, and reasonable in what I expect others to do for my son . . . but I can't really be sure. The urge to protect, promote, and fight for my child is sometimes a bit of a red mist! Who knows what I might do!

6. I won't be glad when the school (Playgroup!) holidays are over

Yeah, I was naive - what can I say?!

What are the long-cherished parenting principles that have done a freefall into the ditch at the side of your parenting road? I'd love to hear!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Let's Get Physical

Today we had a couple of social workers at the house for a care planning meeting for Baby Girl. My SW from the fostering team remarked to BG's SW that it was amazing how much OB loves Peppa Pig. "Every time I come here, he's watching Peppa Pig!"

I tried not to hear a criticism implicit in her comment, but I failed. It's very true that every single time she comes, he's watching Peppa Pig. In fact I plan it that way. What she doesn't know is that it would be completely impossible for us to have our meeting if I didn't resort to Peppa Pig.

OB is a very physical child, and he likes to have all my attention, all of the time. Mostly he's happy if I just sit near him, responding to his chatter and passing the occasional comment about what he's doing. Sometimes he needs more than that and insists on physical contact of some sort. Whatever, as soon as he sees that I'm giving my attention to something or someone else, his behaviour escalates and goes into overdrive.

It could be that he tries to literally climb inside my clothes while I'm in the kitchen trying to make tea. If we're skyping my family, he will be inserting himself between me and the computer screen, or climbing all over me so that my face is covered and I can't see, or making so much mindless noise that nobody can hear each other speak. Bundle of energy that he is, he will run around the house literally bouncing off the walls, bashing me with his hands every time he whirls within reach.

He is not particularly interested in television or quiet games unless I am right there with him. The only thing that I've found that can hold his attention and keep him quiet without my input for any period of time is Peppa Pig. So, yes, much as I said I'd never do it, I regularly put Peppa Pig on when I have something to do that absolutely requires OB to behave less like a tornado ripping through the house. This includes meetings with the many social workers that pass through the doors. I'm sure there's a note on my file somewhere about my son being addicted to the TV - how far from the truth!

So I expect that you can imagine how the arrival of Baby Girl has upset the equilibrium for OB. He is fascinated by her and quite tender with her. When she cries he runs over with blankets and looks around for her bottle. Today he sat for quite a while with her across his lap and stroked her tummy so gently that my eyes filled up. She was so safe with him that I only took her away when he declared, "That's enough now. My knees are tired!"

But the rest of the time he is completely exhausting. Tonight he took to whizzing round and round in the lounge until he fell down dizzy. Once recovered, he'd start again. He is flailing his arms and kicking his legs, often catching me with a hand or foot. When he comes to sit on my knee, he is drumming me all over with his hands, wriggling, bouncing and jerking.

Always a messer, he is now compulsively touching everything, moving everything, picking up absolutely everything. Yesterday's trip to the supermarket for emergency supplies was a nightmare of running, touching, spilling and knocking. He is rather too big for the trolley seat but next time I will be squeezing him in there! At home, nothing is safe. Anything left lying within reach is picked up, messed with, moved or dismantled. I seem to spend my entire day nagging, cajoling, reasoning and counting to three. It's rather hard to respond calmly and therapeutically after the kind of night's sleep that a newborn gives you!

I am very aware that I process by talking (or writing!). I often don't know how I feel or what I think about something until I am saying it out loud. I guess OB processes by moving! And what a lot he has to process right now. I always knew that continuing to foster was going to present challenges for us, but at the same time I think that it can bring enormous benefits for OB as he is growing up - seeing the many different situations that looked-after and adopted children have come from, gaining empathy for the birth families we meet, and consciously being a family to those who desperately need one - these things will serve to place OB's own story firmly into a context that is hidden for many.

At the same time I am aware that the passage of children through our home could create a level of uncertainty for OB that needs to be managed very carefully. When we picked Baby Girl up at the hospital, the SW explained to OB that we needed to look after her because her mummy is poorly. While I see where she is coming from with that explanation, it's not one I favour. OB needs to know that if his mummy is ever poorly, he won't suddenly be sent away to live somewhere else. I tend to tell him that our foster children's mummies couldn't keep their children safe for lots of different reasons. He knows how important it is to be safe, and I often explain that I am taking particular decisions to keep him safe. We work together to keep our foster children safe until they are ready to move on.

Is that the right way to explain it? I don't know - time will tell.  In the meantime, I put on my patient, calm, therapeutic hat over the top of my tired, irritable head once again, and hang onto it with both hands until bedtime comes each day to give us all some relief. And if the weather is fine tomorrow, we'll take on the great outdoors and see how far we can run!