Sunday, 23 October 2016

Not so much new romantic as old spice

Today I was thinking about that early bit of courtship where you do things your partner loves. You know the whole, "Oh we have so much in common, isn't that wonderful. We are so made for each other." That period of time when me and Hubbie were getting to know each other.

I watched non league football - I even travelled to watch games. Not many, but enough to show that I care about what he cares about. In return he went ice skating with me - he's not a fan. He went to a Green Day concert with me - again not his thing at all, but he made a good attempt at looking like he didn't completely hate it.

You see we don't do soppy. He calls me cloth ears when I don't hear him. I complain that he mumbles. He rolls his eyes at the ceiling, I mutter about the half done DIY. We joke that the only time we talk to each other is when we present a radio show together. We live with each other's quirks. He with my aversion to custard and I with his pathological hatred of cauliflower, eggs and picking up his own socks. A habit he has passed onto both our sons - much to my chagrin 

In reality though, we are a team. We have been since we met 12 years ago. Back then we kind of knew we wanted to be together. So got married ten years ago - in a simple ceremony with friends and a few family members present. Then we got on with our lives. 

We adopted a cat together - well Neo chose us actually. That's how it works with cats isn't it ? They decide who they will live with and he deigned to assign this role to us.

Neo undertaking a rigorous interview
Then we had a baby and it was amazing and tiring. After night feeds he would sit downstairs watching baseball with the baby on his knees rocking him to sleep. Every night that we have been parents - with very few exceptions - he's been home for their bedtime. He is every bit the wonderful father I knew he'd be.
When we became three 
When it became clear that having a baby wasn't going to be straightforward he went along with all of my crazy schemes from shamanic drumming (no we didn't do this, but he said he'd do it) to hypnosis. He went along with my plan to adopt despite having never considered it before we met so we had a year of being asked about everything and having absolutely no privacy. It was horrible.

Then we had the whole adoption process all over again to become parents to our second beautiful boy. * So, now Hubbie has a 'mini-me' and I'm outnumbered by male hormones and smelly socks !! He takes two boys to football with him and I decipher baskets of laundry filled with various sized jeans, t-shirts and pants. The older of our two boys raids Daddy's toiletries for hair gel and the younger copies what his older brother does. He doesn't have enough hair to style yet, but he does like to brush it. 

Is that how you brush your hair baby ? 
This weekend we're away together on a short break for the first time since December 2009. We are spending time without our boys and while I miss them - of course I do - it's reminded me that we have so much fun together and make each other laugh.

Happy Anniversary to us.
Oh and we went ice skating today - because I love it. I think the socks are a small price to pay.

*I've written posts about adoption all this week so you can read those for more about this.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Adoption Week: So, was it worth it ?

It's my final post about adoption this week and I've decided that having written about the trials and tribulations, the challenges and the worries today would be about the rewards. I have talked to many people who've said, "we thought about adoption..." and it kind of drifts off. I'm not judging how anyone had their family. How you had your kids is your business. It's not a competition and I'm not about to win any awards for parenting. I'm doing my best, just like you. We happen to have come to adoption as a result of intention and circumstances.

So, once we've got past all the other stuff the question is always something along the lines of, 'was it worth it ?' I think this is about the perceived effort, the assessment, the waiting, the settling in, the not knowing. It's a lot to answer.

The biggest part of adoption is being an advocate for my child, in a legal sense, but also on a day to day basis I'm the one standing up for him. As well as being his parent I'm his protector - that is what adoption gives a child. It's not about a home or toys, or nice clothes. It's having someone who will talk to the parent of another child when they aren't being nice. Knowing that you are not on your own if you're feeling sad, scared, excited. Someone who will care that you don't like the dark. Who will pop in after you've gone to sleep and turn down the dimmer, just enough to help you sleep, but not so much you are scared if you wake up in the night.

For my son it's knowing that someone cares about him and wants the best for him. I'll be at the end of the phone when he's an adult and he rings to ask how to set his heating system or where to get a new tyre - just like my Mum has been for me. I'll tell him how to cook his favourite meal, "are you cooking for someone special ?" I'll enquire, "no, nobody, nothing, never mind," he'll say. He knows he can ring Dad and ask for a loan (yeah good luck with that son) or tell my sister when he's done something he is too worried to tell us about.

Adoption gives a child a family, security, someone to shout at and to be angry with. He has a safe space to have all the feelings with people whose love is all consuming and who won't walk away when it's too difficult or painful. When he has his heart broken he knows we are here to dispense hugs, cups of tea and his favourite biscuits. When the hurt is so much that it feels unbearable I will hold him (emotionally and physically) for as long as it takes.

Now that he is in this family my son has grandparents who spoil him and have pictures of him everywhere because they love him. He has a cousin and aunties and uncles who adore him. He also has a cat. Neo quite likes him too.

My boy and my cat.

We are here to celebrate his successes, to champion his ambitions, to laugh at his jokes (even the really lame ones) and to tease him when he's being daft. To notice when he is doing something new and bragging about it. Only yesterday I asked a rhetorical question and he said, clear as a bell, "I don't know." You could have thrown tennis balls into my mouth it was so wide in shock. He spoke in a full sentence.

We're the ones with mobile phone memories creaking with photos of him from every single day since he's been with us. The ones who notice the milestones, we see and record and remember. When he does something amazing I'm the one beaming, "that's my son there."

So, was it worth it ?

A million times yes. I can't believe you even have to ask.

It's Adoption Week so I've been writing about adoption every day.

To find out more about adoption week take a look here:

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Adoption Week: What is a 'real' family anyway ?

I've written about the different types of families before . It's not like as a society we're unfamiliar with the concept of single parents, step-parenting, family carers (eg. grandparents raising children), multiracial families and same sex parents. I realise that not everyone has an enlightened view on any or all of these types of families. It's a shame that for some there is an idea of the 'real' family that exists in their mind - and pretty much nowhere else. Oh and in the christian allegory / family soap from my childhood, Little House on the Prairie. I mean even Michael Landon was pushing custard uphill trying to convince the audience that this was typical family life wasn't he ?

Even thought adoption is no longer kept secret there are still so many misunderstandings about it. I often get asked where my son has come from as there is an expectation that he must be from another country. It's also common to be asked why he was adopted as if there must be some fluffy reason like they had run out of room in the mansion he was born in. There is also the misconception that babies sit around in children's homes waiting until their adopters come to find them. Like Annie, but without the singing and dancing. Or the dog.

When talking about adoption even the most understanding of people struggle with what is appropriate to say or ask. So here's my handy guide to help you stay on safe ground - and some tips on what to avoid:

  • He is my youngest son thank you, not my adopted son. I don't refer to your youngest as 'the accident' or your oldest as 'the result of too much prosecco in Kos' do I ? 
  • Yes he does call me Mummy. That's because I am his Mummy. He also calls Hubbie "Daddy" and his brother "Baba." I'm pretty sure he's going to call him a lot of other names before too long. 
  • We are his family, yes his 'real' family. He also has a birth family and a birth mother - sometimes referred to as a 'tummy mummy' when explaining to very young children. 
  • He has grandparents, aunties and uncles just like anyone else. They are his just as much as they are Brown Bear's. I am pretty sure they do not make any distinction between the boys based on how they came to the family.
  • Our child was not 'taken away' from his family and 'given' to us. He's not a parcel or an unwanted toy. The decisions that have been taken about his life and the choices that have been made are complicated. They are also private. 
  • It is ok to talk about adoption to us, but please show some consideration when talking about him. He has ears and so does his brother. They hear the things you say about them. If it is something you feel the need to say under your breath maybe don't say it at all. 
Blue Bear has been a wonderful addition to our family. He is fun, hilarious and cheeky. He's also stubborn as an ox and gives as good as he gets from his big brother. Anyone who meets them would have no idea that they don't have the same parents. I have been greeted with shock at this news. He looks like Hubbie, he plays tricks like Brown Bear, he dances in the car like me. 

Blue Bear is with his real family. We are his and he is ours. 

Tomorrow: Was it worth it ? 

It's Adoption Week so I'm writing about adoption every day this week.

I'll be answering questions about adoption that you may have. Feel free to comment on here or ask me on Twitter with the hashtag #askaboutadoption.

So go ahead and ask those burning questions. If I can't answer I know enough professionals who I can direct your questions to.

To find out more about adoption week take a look here:

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

Adoption Week: Talking to your child about adoption

When we knew that we were going to adopt a sibling for Brown Bear we had to find a way to talk to him about it. All his friends were having siblings, so he saw mummies with growing tummies then babies. We had to find a way to tell him that his sibling wasn't going to arrive like that. Telling him enough so that he was prepared, but not actually having anything to tell. We had no idea if it was going to be a boy or a girl, how old they would be, what s/he would look like or even what they would like to play with.

Talking about adoption before it happens is a like a glitter covered unicorn fantasy compared with talking about it afterwards. The anticipation of a baby brother or sister and the fun it will be is much simpler than the reality of a child who won't let his family love him. A boy who isn't a baby arriving in the house and taking your toys and shouting and competing for Mummy is no fun at all. I made a lot of mistakes. I didn't know how to make it ok for them both. I stopped being Mummy to Brown Bear while I protected Blue Bear. So Brown Bear acted out to get the attention he so desperately craved. Instead of thinking about his feelings I would ask him to be more considerate. What I should have been doing was talking to him about how he felt. Reassured him that he was still and would always be my baby. That this new boy who was angry and upset and pushy was just frightened and needed a lot of love and care to feel ok. As well as nurturing Blue Bear I should have been lovebombing Brown Bear, but it took a long time to realise this.

The conversations we've had can be random at times, but I don't ever shut down any line of questioning from Brown Bear. He has to have a safe space to talk about how he feels and I want that to be within the family. This is when the chat goes from shiny unicorns to making about as much sense as the Cheshire cat from Alice in Wonderland :

'Froster carers'

When we first met Blue Bear it was at the foster carers' home so Brown Bear met the foster family. They were so kind and lovely to him. It was important that he saw where Blue Bear came to us from. That he knew who they were and that they are a part of Blue Bear's history. He also was able to talk to them about Blue Bear and ask what he liked to eat and play with. Brown Bear asked me a lot about why Blue Bear was in 'froster care.' He wasn't clear if they were his parents or not and it took a lot of chats in the car to make sense of this.

We keep in touch with the foster carers and they are very much part of Blue Bear's history. Brown Bear loves to tell them about his brother and what's been going on too. I have explained that they are not his mummy and daddy, but they cared for him and that they are very special and they helped prepare him to be in our family.

"Why didn't his mummy love him ?"

This is a very hard conversation to have. So far I have said," Blue Bear's family loved him very much. It wasn't easy for his mummy to take care of him though." We will never bad-mouth Blue Bear's birth family. Whatever they did or said he does not deserve a bad impression of them. I am not about to sugar-coat it either though. When Brown Bear asks about Blue Bear's family life before he came to us I tell him we don't know much about it and I keep it age appropriate. I say that he never had a brother before and that we love him so much that I'm sure his birth family would be glad to know that.

"When he was in your tummy."

This one is the most difficult. "He was in a different mummy's tummy. Like you were in mine. She loved him very much, as much as I love you I'm sure." We haven't talked about how hard it was for her to say goodbye to him. Not yet. When we look at baby photos of Brown Bear we do talk about how sad it is that we don't have baby photos of Blue Bear. Our family memories begin from when he came to live with us.

You might be wondering why all the conversations have been with Brown Bear. Well, so far Blue Bear has not had much in the way of conversational skills. It's also important that Brown Bear has an honest picture of how our family came into being. He will be the one who talks to Blue Bear first about where he came from. It's up to us to make sure that Brown Bear is equipped with the truth so that Blue Bear isn't hearing half truths from somewhere else. It is also really useful practice for me so that when Blue Bear is older and asking me questions I have a way of talking to him about adoption that makes sense for him.

It isn't all serious though. There are times that raise a smile too. On the day we went to pick up Blue Bear to come and live with us - at last - Brown Bear was in the car and said,
"Mummy, Daddy, can I have a sister please ?
"erm... well it's a bit late now, we're going to get your brother just now,"
"No, I mean after this one."

We both looked at each other and laughed.

Tomorrow: What is a 'real' family anyway. 

It's Adoption Week so I'm writing about adoption every day this week.

I'll be answering questions about adoption that you may have. Feel free to comment on here or ask me on Twitter with the hashtag #askaboutadoption.

So go ahead and ask those burning questions. If I can't answer I know enough professionals who I can direct your questions to.

To find out more about adoption week take a look here:

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Adoption Week: Is it difficult to adopt ?

So there are many questions that I get asked about adoption. Some are intensely personal and therefore unwelcome, others are general. Pretty much all are introduced with, "I hope you don't mind me asking..." then it begins:

  • Where did you adopt from ?
  • Why did you adopt ?
  • Did you meet his family ?
  • Why was he adopted ?
  • How long did it take ?
  • Did you see him before you adopted him ?
  • Is there anything wrong with him ?
  • Will he see his family ?

Often all of these will be asked within a very short space of time. It feels like I've been fired at with a machine gun much like the protagonists in Some Like it Hot during the Valentine's Day massacre. I'm still smiling, but I can feel the pool of blood forming around my feet.

You see each of the questions is a minefield of issues including privacy, safeguarding and other fun stuff. Once you unpack them a decision has to be made about how far to take the questioner into the reality vs the polite response to a polite question.

I made this mistake early on. During a night out with mums from school we sat in the garden drinking between karaoke sessions. Blue Bear had been with us for only a short time a this point and I was being asked about him. I started out politely batting off the personal stuf. "It's his private business, I'm not comfortable sharing that." to losing it and suggesting if they really wanted to know the gory details maybe they should strap in for the ride. It wasn't going to be pretty. I was so fortunate that night as one of the mums had my back. She stood right by me, looked me in the eyes as she said, "you don't have to do this." I took a breath and decided that she was right.

I don't share anything about Blue Bear's family life. Part of that is because we don't know a lot about it. We are supposed to get his 'life story' to help talk to him about his adoption. We are still waiting.

So this is where it gets difficult. It's not the practicalities of the process - you expect that. It is the agencies being in and out of your life, having to report anything to a lot of professionals. I was in a car accident with Blue Bear in the car and my first panic stricken thought was "I hope he's ok, I must take him to the doctor for a check-up. I don't want them to think I'm not taking care of him."

It wasn't simple - even though we'd been assessed before - and this time the process included our birth son so we had another person to consider at every turn. Our social worker spent a lot of time with us and our son got to know him pretty well too. Once we had been approved not one professional came to see Brown Bear at all. He went from being an integral part of the process to being completely invisible. I was not impressed. My only concern was he should not be affected negatively by our decision to adopt. He was the son we already had and we were unwilling to compromise his quality of life for a possibility that might never happen. He was excited about being a brother and then he was just left alone.

Waiting. That was difficult. Not knowing. No one can tell you how long it will take. You just have to take each day as it comes and when we had no children this was almost impossible. No it isn't possible to get on with life and not think about it. It's all you can think about. At least this time we had Brown Bear and his welfare was the most important thing.

Then everything happening really fast. Going from nothing to, 'hey here's a child for you to consider' to him coming to live with us in less than 4 months. That was difficult. Wonderful, hard work, unexpected, terrifying and difficult.

The first year of having two boys was so difficult I still can't believe how much it took to keep it together every day. I still find myself reacting as I did when they were constantly fighting for my attention. Now they tease me by chanting,"my Mummy, no my Mummy" at each other. I look at how far they've come and how much they adore each other and breathe with relief.

Yes it was and is difficult. For so many reasons. Everyone's journey is different and I can't talk on behalf of anyone else. What I can do is tell you about our journey.

Tomorrow: How do you talk to your child about adoption ?

It's Adoption Week so I'm writing about adoption every day this week.

I'll be answering questions about adoption that you may have. Feel free to comment on here or ask me on Twitter with the hashtag #askaboutadoption.

So go ahead and ask those burning questions. If I can't answer I know enough professionals who I can direct your questions to.

To find out more about adoption week take a look here:

Monday, 17 October 2016

Adoption week: Why adoption ?

If you've been reading this blog for a while you'll have been on our journey from parents to one son to a family with two boys. I started the blog when Brown Bear was a baby and it's been about the journey we've taken with him and now with his brother.

Last week Hubbie was at an event where he saw a past work colleague who mentioned that he'd noticed a 'new child' in the family. He's seen photos on Facebook and mention of 'the boys' rather than the one and had not wanted to ask too much in case it was all a bit hush hush. Well, our plans to adopt were never a secret, but I didn't want to answer a bajillion questions about him at the start. I still don't really - but now I feel better equipped to offer some answers about adoption rather than Blue Bear specifically.

We have been assessed to adopt twice. Once before we had Brown Bear we were approved to adopt two children. Having been told we could not get pregnant we had decided that we would make an active decision about how to become parents instead of waiting for a miracle. Then that miracle happened and we had Brown Bear.

It was always part of our family plans that we would adopt. I worked with many children's charities where I saw the powerful effect of love within a family and how profoundly it can change the life of a child. Having a child of our own making was wonderful - of course - but I knew that I didn't have to carry and birth a child in order to love and care for him. I also hoped that he would love us regardless of how he came to be in the family.

I say he, not because I only wanted to adopt a boy, but because it was the most likely outcome. Boys spend longer in care, are often considered 'harder to place' and in the case of children of non-white backgrounds are often part of a sibling group, which again means they are likely to wait longer to be adopted, if at all. So the likelihood was always that we would adopt a boy.

So that is how we came to adoption. We discussed it, we agreed and then when it came down to it we made the decision.

Ok I've made it sound easy and it's been far from that. What I want you to know, though, is that all the reasons you can think of for not adopting are far outweighed by the reasons in favour.

It's Adoption Week so I'm writing about adoption every day this week.

I'll be answering questions about adoption that you may have. Feel free to comment on here or ask me on Twitter with the hashtag #askaboutadoption.

So go ahead and ask those burning questions. If I can't answer I know enough professionals who I can direct your questions to.

To find out more about adoption week take a look here:

Sunday, 16 October 2016

The future's bright... if my boys have anything to do with it.

Today we went to a family event organised by my Mum at a Sikh temple. The boys wore their special indian clothes, covered their heads and took off their shoes. They've been before so they know how to show respect and what to do, but today Brown Bear did something extra special. He saw other family members serving food in the langar hall (where Sikhs offer free food to anyone who visits the temple) and asked if he could help. He went to wash his hands and came back to help serve food. I cannot tell you how proud me and Hubbie are of our boy. 
My boy serving food at the Gurdwara

I've been thinking about the things we do that fit in with the Unilever Brighter Futures initiative and then today he did this wonderful selfless thing. Like a lot of parents we want our chidren to have a positive impact on the world they live in so we try to lead by example. 
I take the boys with me when I make donations to the food bank - they help choose the food items and I talk to them honestly about how important it is to help others. This is also why they understand the concept of langar is such a fundamental in our society as it's about caring for others. 
We went through Brown Bear's clothes the other week as he had so many new ones for his birthday and chose which ones to hand down to Blue Bear and which ones could be given to other children who could use them. I was surprised at how once he understood what was going to happen to this clothes Brown Bear was so willing to part with things he has loved so much. Knowing another child might like to wear a nice t-shirt made him all the more keen to give it away. 
I enourage the boys to be kind and helpful to others and we have a great relationship with our neighbours. Jill has been living on her own since her husband died a few years ago and the boys have adopted her as a 'spare grannie' (her chosen epithet, I promise you !) As well as being a fantastic helper to me she's also a great influence on the children and they often go to see her to keep her company. It is important to me that this intergenerational friendship is part of our family life. There is something magical about how much it means to Jill to have small children in her life again. Equally seeing how considerate my boys are to her and that they think about asking her over for a tea and a play is just lovely. 
In the reasearch that Unilever did for their brighter futures initiative they found out that six out of ten parents say they have started to live in a ‘greener’ way at home at the suggestion of their children. Actually we have always been pretty green, but now that my boys realise that there is an environmental benefit to the things we do they are more inclined to do them too. Most of the things we do are instinctive:
  • We save water - I won't let it go to waste at all - if there is water left undrunk it gets reused for plants around the house. 
  • I have trained the entire family to turn off the taps when brushing teeth to save water - it's a small, but effective action. 
  • We have a special waterproof timer for the shower so that there is no lingering and the boys love to try and beat the timer. 
  • We collect rainwater in a waterbutt and it gets used for plants in the garden in the drier months. 
We don't let anything go to waste.

Any and all packaging is reused. From boxes that go to pre-school to the parcel contents such as bubble wrap, shredded paper and even packing peanuts (those polystyrene things that cannot be recycled) get used for art and play projects at school.

Finally I like my boys to be part of the community and to understand that this means doing for others. That is why today was so special. Being from two different cultural backgrounds can be a lot for children to take on so for my boy to embrace the Sikh values in our family is really special to me.

We're raising our boys to make a postive contribution to society - again this is best demonstrated by what they see us doing. I am a trustee of an inclusive dance charity and the boys support the work we do by joining in fundraisers such as the annual Ceilidh. Disabled and non-disabled dancers who take part in our projects come along and we get to do something inclusive, fun and raise funds at the same time.

I honestly believe that we are contributing to a brighter future. Not least as when Blue Bear came to join our family it was a big learning curve for us all. I'll be posting all this week about adoption and it's special place in our hearts so I hope that you will join me to find out more.  

This post is an entry for BritMums #brightFuture Challenge, sponsored by Unilever