Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Are you kidding me ?

I am furious. Not just a little bit upset, but full on angry.

The BBC broke a story today about a Sikh couple who had been advised against seeking to adopt in their area as only white children were being placed for adoption. A few years ago Martin Narey (previously head of Barnardos who assessed us for adoption the first time) wrote about how white couples were being unfairly excluded from adopting non white children who were waiting for families. This is an old story with a new twist on it as this time it's an asian couple saying that they are not being treated fairly. Underlying this story though is one of the most basic injustices faced by children in care. The assumption that only a 'perfect match' will do and until that can be found they must wait.

Excluding families from consideration for adoption on the grounds of race is completely out of order. The Government guidelines are very clear that the needs of children must be prioritised and a long term plan for a child has to be better than the insecurity of remaining in care. Of course I don't know the details of the case that the Manders are bringing against Adopt Berkshire, but it sounds very similar to what me and Hubbie faced when we were first trying to adopt - way before Brown Bear was born. We were told that there were not children of our specific ethnic mix and it was unlikely that we would find an exact match. It was not an issue for us when they asked us to consider two girls who were different ethnicities, but half sisters. One was white and the other dual heritage. You see it's not as simple as it seems. Children can have half siblings or full siblings who are also being considered for adoption. They may not be the same ethnicity as the child you have adopted so what do you do ? Are you supposed to say, "no thanks this one doesn't look like us."

When we were first assessed and approved to adopt we waited for a long time and were being told over and over that we were not the right racial mix to adopt the children waiting to be adopted. I met other couples who had been told the same thing. If you are not the same ethnicity as the child you will not be able to provide an authentic family scenario for them (my words). This completely disregards the real life families where children are raised by step parents, single parents, grandparents or other family members who might not look like them at all. It is not just about how people look though. We were told that the children we were being considered for were from 'a muslim background.' Now I have two problems with this:

1. a child does not have a religious background - they are not old enough to make an informed choice about this

2. A birth parent can ask for their religion to be taken into consideration when placing a child, but it is not set in stone. Frankly if you are not raising your child then you do not get a say in how they will be raised.

Harsh ? Maybe. In some cases the child's parentage is not even known so how on earth can a local authority insist that they must be placed with a family that is an exact match ? We lost faith in the system at the point that a local authority changed it's rules to actively stop us from being considered as adopters for a child in their care. It seemed that they really didn't want to find a family for that little boy and I don't know if they ever did find a family with the specific mix of ethnicities that he had. We were told that the majority of asian children in care were likely to be from a muslim background so I asked how many muslim adopters they had and was told pretty much none. So the children were being kept in care waiting such time as their 'perfect parents' decided to come forward to become adopters. No other adopters would be considered for them in the meantime and these children would get older and eventually be too old to adopt. The chances of a child being adopted after the age of 5 drastically decrease so the longer they wait the less chance there is for them to be placed long term.

The foster carers who looked after Blue Bear before he joined our family are practising muslims. They have been caring for children of chinese origin for over a year. Often children do remain in foster care for extended periods of time and the ethnicity of the foster carers is not taken into consideration. Children can live with a foster family for years while waiting for the 'perfect match' of adoptive parents. This is an extreme reaction to the policy in the past of placing children of all ethnicities with white families - who were in the majority as adopters. I have met many adopters who have raised black and asian children as their own. The children do not see this as a poor substitute as in most cases they were raised with love and kindness.

I'm not going to say something trite like, 'all children just want to be loved' because for one thing it's blindingly obvious. For another when a child has experienced neglect, abuse, trauma and separation it can take a lot more than the power of love to help that child to accept that they are worthy of being loved and cared for. Even the youngest of babies can have issues around separation from birth mother and finding parents who are the same ethnicity / religion might be a short cut, but it certainly won't make it any easier for the child to accept this new family. One of the reasons that we were first on the list to adopt Blue Bear was because he looks like Hubbie and he also looks like Brown Bear. It makes it much easier for him to 'pass' because of that physical resemblance, but had it been the overriding reason for choosing us I think I would have had an issue with that.

For me the saddest thing that may result from this case is that the couple involved are considering overseas adoption as a solution. Slough has the largest population of Sikhs in the entire UK and has just elected the first turban wearing Sikh into parliament. The decision to not even give consideration to this couple suggests that the situation will not change. That only white children will require permanent placement for the forseeable future. It takes months to undergo the assessment process to be an adopter. Even with a fast track it takes at least 6 months. When we were assessed there were around 10 babies waiting to be placed with adopters and by the time we were approved there were not children under 5 waiting at all. This is a system that is forever changing and it is not predictable. I won't share the particular circumstances that led to Blue Bear being in care and the eventual decision to place him for adoption. They are specific to him and private. What I can tell you is that when we started the process he wasn't even in foster care. He was not, 'in the system.'

I feel so deeply for this couple and the unfairness of not even being considered. All the local authorities I contacted told us that they did not have children of the same ethnicity as us. I remember telephoning agencies in areas with high populations of asians to increase our chances of being considered as adopters and being told that it was unlikely. On top of the pain of infertility it was just too much. It felt like everything was against us. However, I am made of sterner stuff and did not take no for an answer and went to a different agency who were prepared to assess us as potential adopters. I thought that would be the most difficult part of the process, but oh how little I knew.

Fast forward to now and we have a wonderful family of two boys who came to us in very different ways. No one sees what we went through to get here - or what we are still going through. To anyone who doesn't know we just look like any other family. A brown British Sikh woman, a white British agnostic man, a football mad 6 year old and a cheeky 3 year old.

Just like any other loud, boisterous, hilarious, argumentative and loving family.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

At least we have Glastonbury on the telly.

I cry a lot - I mean all the time. It doesn't take much to set me off. Yesterday I was watching TV and an advert came on - you know those food stories ones with a person sharing a meal they make for a special reason. Well this time it was an amazing woman called Bridie and her Jerk Chicken recipe that she feeds to all the foster children who have lived in her home. Over 800 children and counting. She describes how children always arrive hungry and she feeds them with love. Sets me off every time. What a wonderful woman. Tear Jerk Chicken more like.

The other day I took the boys to Waitrose with me when I popped in to get a brew and my copy of Waitrose weekend. The foodbank volunteers were outside and we took a leaflet listing what items they need urgently. Blue Bear pushed the trolley and Brown Bear read out the items and we took it in turns to put them into the trolley. After we paid and put some green tokens into the charity boxes we pushed the trolley outside and emptied the contents into the volunteer's trolley. He watched in disbelief as my boys gleefully kept putting food and toiletries into the donation trolley. When we finished I gave both boys some change for the tins too. They were thanked for their generosity and they both beamed with pride. In the car on the way home Brown Bear asked why we had given all our shopping to the man and I said, "Our fridge at home is full of food. There are people who aren't so lucky. The people at the foodbank will help them by giving them what we bought." If you haven't seen I Am Daniel Blake the scene in the foodbank is heartwrenching and the very thought of it makes me cry. This is why I always donate sanitary items and as much food as I can.


A few weeks ago Brown Bear told me that a boy in his class told him that he's not 'a real Indian.' Apparently he isn't brown enough and his name isn't Patel. The boy who made the comment has asian parents and it did make me wonder what they say about people at home. I find it hard to believe a 6 year old would say something like that without context, but I could be wrong. To be frank I don't much like the kid or his family so their opinion means absolutely nothing to me. What does matter is how it makes my son feel and what it does to his sense of identity. I want to protect my children from negativity and unkindness, but I can't always be there. What I can do is ensure we raise our children not to be like that. In our family we don't remark on skin colour and certainly not in a pejorative way like that. All four of us look different and it's not something we make a big deal out of. When Blue Bear came to live with us a few people mentioned that he looked white. I smiled and told them both my boys have mixed parentage - well frankly all children do up to a point. Our boys are a beautiful mix of asian and white british. Now I consider it rude and intrusive for anyone to comment on the colour of my children's skin so I don't engage with it.

We talk about equal marriage in our home. We talk about adoption. We talk about fostering. We talk about poverty. We talk about politics. We talk about being kind and being fair. We don't necessarily use those terms, but we are role models for our children and if they see us being kind we hope they will do the same. I explained to Brown Bear on our walk to school the other morning that I hope he will be a kind and caring adult. I joke that being an indian mother I should want him to be an engineer, a doctor or a lawyer, but actually if he wants to play football (his latest thing) or to be Superman - for which he has to move to America naturally - then we will support his dreams. Of course he did also state in complete seriousness to Hubbie that he wanted a skateboard, because, "it's always been my dream."

I started off by saying that I cry a lot. Recently there has been plenty to cry about in the news. We're also going through our own stuff as a family and that is pretty difficult. This afternoon my lovely sister took the boys out for a treat and after spending over an hour tidying the garage and cleaning the car me and Hubbie sat down on the sofa and watched Glastonbury. We just sat together and enjoyed the music, like we used to before we had kids. Just for an hour.

Sometimes simplicity is everything. 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Feeling hot hot hot !!!

It's been a while since I shared a playlist and while I am taking a break from my radio show I miss playing seasonal tunes. Music has so many memories and whenever I hear True by Spandau Ballet it reminds me of sitting in my parents' garden in the summer of 1986 revising in the scorching heat. When me and Hubbie went on holiday to California we bought some albums for our road trip and I can't listen to Stereolab without thinking of the drive along Highway 101 watching the Ocean. When I was pregnant the song I used to sing to Brown Bear was Baby I Love You - well anything with baby in the lyrics really - so that's pretty evocative. Blue Bear loves Pharrell's song Happy and we recently found out it was number one when he was born - spooky ! 

So, while we have this heatwave I think we should all relax to some great tunes until it's a bit cooler and I stop getting bitten by bugs. Seriously dudes why not take a chunk out of someone else for a change. Anyway, pick up the long cold drink of your choice and enjoy. 

When you hear this you just know it's Summer 

The most beautiful version of this song in my opinion

I know he's the housewives' favourite, but you have to love Michael don't you ? 

This is a bit of history for me and a hilarious movie

This is by far the best summer song of all time and my favourite song by the Beatles

Don't forget to reapply the suncream. 

Sunday, 18 June 2017

One Daddy, two bears and a cat.

If you celebrate it Happy Father's Day. It's not as big a deal as Mother's Day I grant you. Florists don't rub their hands with glee at the prospect of bouquets flying out of the door and restaurants don't plan extra sittings for lunch and afternoon tea. We've had email offers of a free steak at Beefeater, a free meal for Dad at Giraffe and a special meal deal at a range of other places. The marketing for Father's Day concentrates on terrible CDs, DIY items and even 'a real shave'. Can you imagine if someone suggested you buy Mum a waxing session for a treat ? 

Anyway, I asked Hubbie a while back what he'd like for Father's Day so he's gone for a bike ride on this glorious morning and I'm home with the boys watching Paddington - which is a brilliant film by the way. We're going for a Father's Day barbecue later and as it's going to be scorcher we're probably going for a swim at some point too. 

To celebrate Father's Day here are some of Hubbie's best bits (nothing controversial honestly). 

Hubbie getting some early parenting practice with Neo:

The big day when our Brown Bear met Daddy: 

Hubbie teaching Brown Bear some basic IT skills:

I think this was the reason Hubbie wanted children - to share his love of buses: 

Now I'm outnumbered ! 

London Transport Museum is their happy place: 

Recreating childhood experiences: 

Grandpa and Hubbie 

Hubbie and Blue Bear 

And of course my favourite photo of father and son: 

Whatever you're doing today I wish you a great Sunday.

Friday, 16 June 2017

It's not all work, work, work you know. Oh hang on it is.

As we crawl on our hands a knees to the end of the school year the boys are getting demob happy. They are both exhausted and overexcited every day and as a result the house is permanently noisy with crashes, bangs and wails of, "He hit me !" and "Mummy I want to...  eat / watch my programmes / go to the park." My coping mechanism is pretty much to keep them apart as much as possible until Hubbie gets home. That way I don't have to undertake surveillance the whole time and I can actually get them something to eat or just leave the room momentarily.

Today didn't start well with a 20 minute tantrum about a bowl of multigrain hoops cereal. I'm not sure now whether it was me or Brown Bear who was having the tantrum, but it was not pleasant. Honestly how did I go from being a woman with a career who would chair meetings, address conferences, facilitate training and host events to this screeching harpie. I am pretty sure my son isn't interested in feeding the poor and hungry despite my guilt inducing reminders that there are children with no food at all.

The other day he headbutted the wheelie bin before school. Not deliberately. It wasn't like an ambition or a dare. He was ignoring me when I asked him to wait for me to lock the front door and managed to bang his head which resulted in a meltdown and claims that I clearly don't care becuase I didn't check he was ok. He would not accept my assertion that he was fine because a) there was no blood, b) he was still screaming so his voice was fine and c) he was walking alongside me while chastising me for my substandard parenting.

Bleu Bear on the other hand has different issues. This afternoon I picked him up a few minutes early from pre-school for his swimming lesson. I handed him the lunchbox with a sandwich I'd made for his lunch and he looked inside. While I tried to sort out a matter on the phone he was shouting at me and eventually I realised he was saying, "No mummy not a cheese sandwich, I want a ham sandwich." I did admit I'd got it wrong and that I would make the correct sandwich when we got home, but for now could he eat what I had made for him.

Honestly being with these guys is such demanding work. If it's not mind reading what they want to eat it's micromanaging them Madonna style. I would wear a pointed bra, but it might just send out the wrong message.

At least at the weekends I can share the load with Hubbie and we have a better odds when we even out into two groups of two. Neo does take the kids' side, but he's pretty much bought by a packet of cat biscuits so his loyalty is questionable.

The countdown is on until the Summer holidays. I'm going to get myself a Wonder Woman outfit and be done with it.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

It's good to talk

I've had many interesting conversations with Brown Bear over the years. Some have been plain hilarious and others heartbreaking. Sometimes it's difficult to remember he's only 6 years old when his vision of the world is so inspiring. Take for example this snippet from a recent conversation we had. The boys have been putting toys up their shirts in imitation of the pregnant mums at school and nursery. I don't have a problem with it at all, but my mum did comment that she didn't understand why they were doing it. Then I had an interesting exchange with Brown Bear when we were talking about how he's grown taller, but his waist is still slim.

Brown Bear: I will get fat when I'm older though.

Me: You might not get fat sweetheart. What makes you think that ?

BB: After I have a baby I will get fat.

Me: Well boys don't have babies. That might change, but at the moment it's girls or women who have babies.

BB: So what happens when a man marries a man and they want to have a baby ?

Me: Well they can ask a woman they know to have a baby for them.

BB: Or if it's two ladies who are married they can have a baby.

Me: Yes they can. The other way they could have a baby is to adopt. Like we did with Blue Bear.

BB: Oh yes. He didn't grow in your tummy like I did.

Me: That's right. He is in our family now though.

BB: And you and Daddy are his parents.

Me: And it doesn't matter that he didn't start off with us does it ?

BB: It doesn't Mummy.

I think he's a pretty wise boy.

In case you missed our chat about adoption on the Listening Project have a listen here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08ns2ly

Sunday, 11 June 2017

It's a cat's life. Lucky thing !

Neo has lived with us for 9 years. He has welcomed a baby into the family, moved house, seen off random other felines and managed to deal with yet another child joining the family. His life has not been without incident, but as I watched him today lying in the sun relaxed and purring I appreciated that he has a happy life with us. 

He gets to sunbathe (indoors or outdoors) relatively free of interruption. 

Relaxed - and long - cat 

He is free to check his email and social media as he wishes and while his typing speed is still pretty slow at least he now dribbles far less on keys.

This does not look like a mouse to me ! 

Neo has trained the boys to come and say hello and goodnight to him and to feed him on demand. He's a smart cookie ! 

Playing with the track before school
Yesterday we decided to take Brown Bear's high loft bed down and put him back in an average height bed. This way Neo can lie with him and they both love to sleep together. It is funny to try and work out where the cat is among all the soft toys !

Sleeping beauties

This morning Neo was staunchly sticking by Brown Bear's side. He followed his boy around the house and decided to sit close by on the table. I think he makes a cute - if a bit fluffy - paperweight.

Still life 

I love seeing my oldest boys getting along. Neo and Brown Bear are a great team and they do love each other very much indeed. It's a wonderful thing to witness.

Cat and boy in perfect harmony.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Date night: just leave the paper at home please.

We went for dinner in Brighton one evening - in they days when we could have 'mini-breaks' and spend time together without having to organise with military precision who would feed the cat or watch the kids. Back then we averaged about 4 'holidays' a year with a city break somewhere like Marrakech or Rome in addition to the main holiday and a couple of weekend getaways. Anyway, we were sitting together waiting for our food and I noticed an older couple at another table. He was reading the paper sitting opposite - a woman who I guess was - his wife. I remarked to Hubbie how sad it was that they weren't talking to each other. Oh the arrogance of youth as we made plans and laughed at how very romantic we were and so much better at being married than they were.

Fast forward to our lives now with two young children. We haven't been abroad since Blue Bear joined the family and only once since Brown Bear was born. Our main holiday is usually on a farm in Cornwall so the kids get to feed animals and drive a tractor and our weekend breaks are with grandparents so we can get a lie in while the kids watch TV and eat jelly babies with Grandpa. If we do go out for dinner the topic of conversation will rarely veer from our children and I can't remember the last time we sat and made plans other than who would take the boys to school.

The first time we went out after Brown Bear was born my sister came to watch him for us and we went to a bar nearby and I knocked back my drink and sent a text to my sister to say we'd be coming home. She told us not to worry and to stay out longer if we wanted to. I guess it was that evening I lost the art of being good company on a night out. My mind is always half on what is going on at home. Did Blue Bear wake up and call for Daddy - I'm really proud of this one, I never have to get up for him - and how many times did Brown Bear come downstairs for a drink, due to a bad dream or to ask what the babysitter is eating. I vacillate on whether to have a drink or not in case something happens to the boys. I don't want to risk a drive to A&E smelling of booze. Of course if I do indulge I'm over the guilt pretty quickly - I am British after all. 

The babysitting thing means that often we end up going out separately with Hubbie going to noisy gigs and me going to the theatre. Occasionally we even manage to achieve the holy grail of an available babysitter and tickets to something we both want to see. If I ever see Hubbie reading the paper though I will have to have a word. 

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Maybe it's because I'm a Londoner

I've lived in London all of my life - with the exception of the 4 years I lived in the Midlands whilst at University. In that time we've experienced the tyranny of the National Front marching past our home in South London, the murders of people for being gay or black or asian and for many decades the mindless violence of bombings in the name of the IRA. I was in Camden on a Saturday when they called in a bomb threat to the police and the crowd I was in was directed the wrong way into the path of the potential explosion. Thankfully it was not detonated.

A young woman I met while at Warwick University - who was from Leicester - told me that her parents had warned her against visiting London in case of bombs and I recall talking to a friend from Nothern Ireland who recalled seeing news stories about how violent and unsafe London when I had seen the same about his home town. I don't remember ever feeling unsafe though.

In recent years we have experienced mass violence with attacks on cities and public transport. I was travelling to Ireland on Sept 12th 2001 and it took over 2 hours to check in at Stansted Airport. Security had been stepped up overnight and the world of air travel changed forever. On the day of the London attacks in 2005 Hubbie was travelling to work and he was so delayed that he called me and we spoke as he stood at Vauxhall bus station unclear why nothing was running. I watched the news and relayed the story that is was due to electrical outages until it became clear that this was a serious act of terrorism and not a widespread electrical fault.

When the Westminster attacks took place my friend was locked down at work and unable to leave. We communicated by text messages - thankfully phones were still working. We joked about me sending her a delivery pizza in case she was kept overnight. It kept at bay my fear that she had been forgotten in the building and when she told me she was going home I was so relieved and went to bed knowing she was safe.

I'm a parent now and I do think about what this means to my children. I used to listen to the radio in the car, but the other day my older son said, "Mummy we don't want to hear about killing." It's become such a regular feature on the radio that I had forgotten to change over before the news bulletin started. Of course I don't want to censor the truth, but my children are very young and I will decide how to talk to them about violence, terrorism and the harm that evil people do.

At one point I did talk to Hubbie about moving away and keeping our boys away from harm, but I am not entirely sure that is possible. This is the world we live in right now. I talked to my boys the other day about how it's my job to keep them safe. That instead of going to work in an office I see that as my job and I take it very seriously. We have had a tough half term with a lot of bickering and fighting and at times I've really struggled to keep myself together and haven't always been as kind as I would like.

We took the boys to London on Monday for a special half term day out. We took the train to London Bridge station and walked along the South Bank after lunch. In our early courting days we used to go out regularly to the Market Porter pub and used to take part in a pub quiz at the Southwark Arms with friends on a weekly basis. We even won a few times. Watching the news stories and grainy phone footage about the attacks on Saturday evening me and Hubbie talked about how unsettling it is when somewhere you know so well is the scene of such devastation.

Everyone told me that parenting would be tiring and there would be tantrums and laughter and it would be a bit disgusting at times. No one told me how terrifying it would be. That fear you have that something could happen to your babies that is entirely out of your control. That cold feeling that makes you want to wrap them up in cotton wool and never let them leave your side ever again. What I have to remember is that I have lived with this all my life. I just wish my boys didn't have to.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

Yoga music: review

I remember the first yoga class I attended where the teacher played music. I found it odd and enthralling at the same time, but it was years before I really embraced the idea of music and practice working together. When I trained to be a yoga teacher I was mentored by a teacher whose classes were infused with incense, music and chanting. It was full on and immersive and some parts I've kept in my teaching and others not so much. I can't stand incense so I don't use it, but scented candles ? Yes please.

Music to teach to has to fulfil some simple rules for me. Instrumental only, evocative and if there are nature sounds too then all the better. I'm lucky that I teach in a space with a lot of natural light and birdsong just outside the windows. The music I play when teaching has to complement that so I often use ambient music.

I was sent an album of yoga music produced by Group Fitness Music to review and played it when teaching my regular class. It was beautiful and just the right combination of soft and lilting while also providing a yogic atmosphere. The tracks are fairly short so if you wanted to use just a few it would work for a mini meditation and it was long enough for the whole hour lesson. When I teach a longer class I play it on a loop without an obvious break.

The music is PRS license free so you can use it at no cost. If you are a fitness instructor you could use this for stretching or relaxation. I asked my students what they thought of it and they really enjoyed the music and found it complemented the yoga really well.

The album can be downloaded from iTunes, Amazon and Google. If you are old school like me you can also get a CD.

Disclosure: I was sent a copy of the CD in return for an honest review.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Happy birthday to me - and Siouxie Sioux

I've had a birthday - not a big one so nothing too fancy, but a birthday nonetheless. I went from having no plans a week before the day to being fully booked which was a nice surprise. I met friends for dim sum in London and then went for dinner with Hubbie in the evening. Thanks to our lovely neighbour offering to babysit we were able to go out for a drink and a really nice meal together - not something we get to do that often so it was a bit of a treat.

My boys (including Neo) gave me some lovely cards and gifts:

As it was a special dinner I had some champagne and Hubbie had a virgin mojito:

I'm not a food blogger, but I was inspired to share what we ate as it was so beautifully presented:

Here's to my birthday twin and style icon Siouxie Sioux - can you see the resemblance ?

Normal service will resume shortly, but for this weekend I'm being a bit self-indulgent. Please bear with me.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

For the love of music

I can't recall the exact date of my first gig, but I know that it was at Wembley Arena at some point in 1987. My friend Nicki took us in a TR7 that her stepdad had built and given to her - he was an engineer for British Airways and it was his pet project. She drove us to the arena and parked in the massive car park and we went in to watch the Eurythmics I think. I hadn't been to a live music gig before and it was so exciting for me. The opening solo cello and the immaculate vocals of Annie Lennox were just magical and I was walking on air when we left in the cold night air to walk to the car. We sat in the car park for well over an hour queuing to get out and listened to the radio and sang along while we waited to leave. Neither of us had a mobile phone to call home and tell our parents we would be late and we must have been quite late as the curfew in those days was pretty close to 11pm.

My parents were not relaxed about me going out at all so even being able to go to a gig was a big deal to me. It was only because my friend was going - and driving us - that my mum even agreed. I doubt she even told my dad I had gone - he would have flipped if he'd known ! There was no security check other than to check you didn't have any canned drinks with you - good old Wembley always looking to sell you an overpriced drink and snack. This was in the days before everyone carried bottled water and no one had camera phones so actual cameras would be confiscated at the door to prevent piracy. Ironic when you consider the number of fake t-shirt sellers right outside the doors.

Every holiday at uni I worked as a steward at Wembley. I was on the turnstiles for a Michael Jackson show that never happened, showed people to their seats for Bruce Springsteen, stood on the pitch at the end of the match for the Charity Shield. I ran away from stampeding people when the crowd at a Bollywood spectacular went rogue and stormed the pitch at the stadium. This was far more worrying than the elephant that had earlier taken a tour of the stadium carrying a Bollywood film star on its back.

My regular job was showing people to their seats at Wembley Arena. Cliff Richard fans are far more bolshie than any other audience in my experience. I have no idea why. I fell in love with Prince when I watched him perform on stage at the Arena and I bought a knock off t-shirt after a Simple Minds gig  because - frankly - I wasn't going to pay the price they charged inside the venue. My mum used to pick me up from Wembley because she didn't want me to take the bus on my own late at night. She would park on a side road we had agreed before I left for work and I would always get there in time. We still didn't have mobile phones remember. If anything happened or I was delayed I had no way of letting my family know - unless I went to a phone box and had change to make the call.

On Monday night there were young people going to their first ever gig in a massive venue. Before they went inside the venue they will have had their bags searched for items such as drinks bottles, anything that could be used to record the event (other than mobile phones of course - we all have those now) and sharp objects. The tickets will have had anti-fraud markings on and there will have been professional security firms hired to work at the venue.

As many Ariana Grande fans are so young they will have gone to the show with their parents. They went to see a singer they love and they had a fantastic time. Then a terrible, horrific thing happened. People were killed. Children were killed. Families were separated. Local taxi drivers took children and their families home or to safe places to stay until they could find each other. Local hotels took them in and no one took a penny in return. Mobile phone footage of the terrifying scenes were online almost immediately and the next morning people went to donate blood to help the victims who had survived the bomb blast.

This is the memory that some children and young people will have of their first gig. This generation of kids who go to festivals with their parents. Who listen to music and download online rather than tuning in to the chart show on a Sunday evening while holding the pause button between tracks on a cassette player. These kids who went to watch a young woman who is a feminist and a campaigner for LGBT equality. Who was said to be 'broken' by what happened to her fans on Monday night.

It's not a memory I would wish on anyone.

A fund has been set up to support families who have been affected - you can doante here: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/westandtogethermanchester

Monday, 22 May 2017

My family is not the same as yours - and that's just fine.

I've been taking a post adoption course to support my boys with anger issues that have surfaced over time. It's a preventative measure for me as the boys are still young and I want to be able to circumvent any potential issues as Blue Bear grows and as Brown Bear introduces more rough play and dares into their games. During the course I've heard other adopters and trainers use the phrase, 'our children.' It's not a term I have ever used, but now I have spent time talking to others and sharing our experiences I do feel part of a wider 'family.' I realise all our children are different, but what we feel and witness and live with is alarmingly similar. Separation anxiety, trauma, unknown fears and unexplained emotional responses.

For example: when Blue Bear came to us we had no idea that he was afraid of the dark until we took him to watch the Sooty show at the theatre and as soon as the lights went down he went into meltdown. The first night when he kept crying we put it down to missing his foster carers and being in an unfamiliar bed / home / place. More than two years later we have worked out that when he cries out he has to know someone is there and that he is not alone. His early neglect still surfaces as a fear that he is going to be left and no one will come if he calls out. We have moved on, but he still shouts out and while we can soothe him with a reassuring touch or word we don't know if he will ever truly believe that we will always be here for him.

When the boys fuss and fight with each other other parents (non adopters) try to rationalise it and say, "well all children do that." I spoke to someone the other day about how difficult it was in the beginning before they were used to living together. She said, "well it would have been like that if you'd had another baby anyway." No it wouldn't. For a start Blue Bear wasn't a baby when he came to live with us. He was a walking, moving, shouting, not sleeping, taking toys and fighting for attention toddler. Secondly having a baby is nothing like adopting a child because I would hope that your baby hasn't come to you following abuse, neglect or trauma. Your child has probably had a secure attachment to parents from birth onwards and not had to undergo a separation - or even more than one before they came into your family.

No one means to be unhelpful or thoughtless. I honestly think that. However, when I try to explain why I am going on a course to help support my raising these boys I know they are wondering why I need to keep seeking help with what I can only imagine comes naturally to them. Well, again I can try and explain. In the training course I attended today the trainer referred to self care as being an essential in helping adopters to parent effectively. She talked about how much trauma we carry around. The trauma that our children have experienced, the trauma of being neglected, abused, taken from birth family, of being moved on from foster care, of joining a new family. None of this even begins to touch the trauma we carry of our own. The trauma from our own childhoods, our experience of childlessness, of loss (miscarriage, failed IVF, etc.)

So as well as managing the children in our care we have our own stuff to deal with. I've heard adopters refer to experiencing post traumatic stress disorder and I can sort of understand this. For the whole of the first year that Blue Bear and Brown Bear were living together I was permanently in fight or flight mode. It was a constant battle to keep myself together as they argued, fought, demanded attention from me and cried, shouted, screamed. I still feel so broken by it that even though they now get on so much better I find myself going straight to that level of high alert at the slightest provocation.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that what we feel as adopters is on a par with what our kids have gone through. What I am saying is that comparing my children with yours is neither accurate nor helpful. I have no idea what it's like to have your family and you don't know what it's like to have mine. I'm doing my best and I'm sure you are too.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Let's hear it for my boys.

Some days being a parent is just hilarious. Not every day I grant you. Some days are like climbing uphill in a full sumo suit while carrying freezer bags before the food inside them defrosts and having to carry a baby in a car seat at the same time. True Story - almost.

They do things that just take me by surprise. Blue Bear ran into the kitchen to check I was ok when he heard a mug smash yesterday. He also posted a letter in the letterbox by himself without being lifted up - when did he grow so tall ? Brown Bear helps style his brother's hair in the mornings now as he wants to make him look as cool as he does. He also has an amazing skill at knowing if it's going to be a cold day and insists he doesn't need a jacket on days that turn out to be not only sunny, but hot too. I've no idea where this psychic meterological skill comes from.

Then there are the amazing and frankly impressive things that they do. Recently I've been lucky enough to witness some nuggets of pure gold from my children:

Yesterday morning I was running the vacuum round before we left for school (don't look at me like that - the house was a total sty and it needed doing). Brown Bear went over to the beanbag where Neo was lying and covered his ears and talked to him in soothing tones to stop him getting upset with the noise. What a sweetie.

Blue bear was in relaxed mode this morning - he woke up late, took ages to get dressed and when I insisted that he put on his shoes for pre-school he took his time. When he eventually came to the kitchen to show me I had to stop myself from laughing. He had put on two entirely different shoes. One white trainer and a black school shoe. When I said, "please put on two matching shoes," he asked, "why ?" I'll be honest I'm not sure I could provide an acceptable answer. I later found out that apparently this is a trend with the cool kids at the moment - how does he know though ?

Brown Bear was sitting eating breakfast and I offered him a pastry - I was feeling generous, we don't do that every day. As I proffered croissants or pain au chocolat he asked for the latter, in a french accent. I looked at Hubbie and said, "I know I should feel bad about that, but I just don't." Pretentious, moi ?

This afternoon Blue Bear sat down next to me on the sofa and I put my arm round him. He was fiddling with a toy and he put it inside his T shirt. He showed me. "Mummy, it's in my tummy." "Your toy ?" "No, my baby." "Oh, it's inside your tummy ?" "Yes. A baby in my tummy." I smiled and he took it out of his t- shirt, held it gently to his face and then gave it a tender kiss. "My baby." Love that boy.

Brown Bear has his heart set on a Blue Peter badge so Hubbie looked up what he needs to do to get one. This morning I read his poem and letter to the programme to earn a badge. I told him what a great job he had done on it and that I was really proud of his work. Yeah, it's a brag - I'm not even going to lie.

It's just as well they are cute and lovable really otherwise Bue Bear throwing a wobbler and Brown Bear losing his brand new Rubik's cube might have been the headlines of today. Instead I can smile and laugh when I think about my boys. My wonderful, surprising, funny boys.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Look there's a squirrel !

Ready for play

When the weather gets warmer we spend a lot of time outdoors - sometimes that's in the garden, the park or even at the seaside. One of the reasons we love living where we do is that we are fortunate enough to have a big garden and plenty of green spaces around. I've been spending time cutting back the overgrown plants and Hubbie cut the grass this weekend to make plenty of room for the outdoor play toys that we've collected over the years. 

Brown Bear showing off his skills 

Brown Bear loves all kinds of sports so we have plenty of kits including tennis, baseball, football and even a set of  french boules. Blue Bear is all about ride on toys so he has the tiny tikes police car and a tractor and pedal trike to play on. When we go to the park it's all about scooters, bikes and even skateboards. in recent months we've started getting the boys involved in helping in the garden - Brown Bear likes to cut back plants and Blue Bear enjoyed cutting the grass with Daddy the other day. 

Helping Daddy in the garden

As you can imagine the potential for accidents is pretty high and there can be tumbles and falls even when we are being as safe as we can. Instead of making it a big deal and focusing on the injury I often distract Blue Bear with a song or a game to take his mind off whatever has happened. Brown Bear isn't so easily moved and will insist on a plaster for even the smallest of grazes. 

I remember when my sister was small she used to insist on a plaster to make imaginary injuries better and it was miraculous how she would perk up once it was applied. It is entirely possible that Brown Bear loves plasters because we buy special ones made for children. These Frozen and Star Wars themed plasters from Elastoplast will definitely be popular in our house ! One day Brown Bear took great pride in showing me he had three plasters (I'm not convinced he needed any of them !) 

We're not great at ring toss 

When I have a sad little bear to deal with I have a few tried and tested ways to bring a smile back to their faces. 

1. A big hug. Often not straight away if there is a bit of drama going on, but definitely a hug. 

2. I change the subject, "oh my goodness, did you see that squirrel ?"  

3. Exaggerate the injury, "Oh no it looks really bad, do you want to go back indoors ? (and miss out on playing ? you must be kidding !)

4. Make up a song about what happened, this isn't always received well, but it does make me laugh

5. Offer a big plaster, "do you want a big square one or a big rectangular one ?" 

6. Tackle the offending object that caused the tears. If it's a tree I tell it off, if it's a toy we talk about whether it deserves another chance. 

7. Hubbie picks up the bears and carries them around until they laugh.  

8. We invoke superhero powers - "what would Superman do ?"

9. I tell a terrible joke. I mean really bad to make them groan so much they have to laugh. 

10. Ice cream. Always ice cream. 

Beach baby

We love playing outdoors and tumbles and falls happen, but we don't let them spoil the fun for too long. A hug, a plaster and some ice cream can make such a big difference. If you need more ideas here is a magical movie about how to turn Tears into smiles

This post is an entry for the BritMums #TearsintoSmiles Challenge, sponsored by Elastoplasthttp://campaigns.elastoplast.net/plastermoments/uk

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Would you like fries with that ?

When Brown Bear was first born I did that whole thing where you say, 'only wooden toys,' 'organic cotton clothes for my baby,' 'homemade healthy food for my precious one,' etc. Then reality intervened as the house became filled with plastic toys, a bajillion clothes and polyester spiderman outfits and now countless happy meal toys. Homemade food is all very well, but in all honesty if I make a meal and put it in front of the boys often one of them will loudly declare, "I'm not eating that." They've not even tried it ! I can guarantee though, that if they are offered a meal at McDonalds they won't say no. In fact it's become a pretty good way to reward them for a good week at school or to get all the boys out of the house so I can do some cleaning, tidying, or just potter around.

party time !! 

The other evening I was replying to party invitations on behalf of the kids - let's face it we rarely get invited to anything any more - and a fair few of them included food from McDonalds. When I was a kid it was a big deal to have a birthday party at McDonalds, but because we didn't eat beef we never went to one. Now, of course the menu is extensive and there are plenty of choices for non beef eaters as well as improved recipes over the years to reduce salt and fat content in the meals. My boys love chicken nuggets and fries and while I don't let them have fizzy drinks they are allowed a milkshake sometimes.

There are a lot of misconceptions about McDonalds from the provenance of the ingredients to their social responsibility and working practices. Their current TV ad campaign shows how competitive their hot drinks offer is and I was amazed to find out that they outsell all the coffee shop chains now. It's hardly suprising really as the prices are competitive and with a branch right next to the station it's really easy to pop in and pick up a hot drink before or after work. I am very particular about my tea, but I do like a brew from McDonalds - they put the hot water on the teabag and not next to the cup like a deconstructed cuppa without instructions. If I wanted a DIY brew I'd go home and make it thanks.

Caffeine time 

My first ever job was in McDonalds in West Ealing and I wore a terrible brown uniform in polyster with unflattering trousers. The uniform is much better these days (see the photo for proof) so I was delighted to be invited to visit the new age of McDonalds store in Woolwich to try out my skills in the kitchen over 30 years after I first tried my hand at being a crew member. Ok, so the hairnet was an unwelcome memory, but I have to say my sons are delighted with the apron and hat I brought home. They did ask if I was working there now and it was with some sadness that I had to I wasn't.

snazzy updated uniforms 

I met a franchisee Taimoor Sheikh, area manager Martin Scott and store manager Pramesh Giri. What  really surprised me was that they are all old hands and have been with McDonalds for many years. Like a lot of people I wrongly assumed that people work there for a few years then move on, but actually the staff training at McDonalds is well regarded in the hospitality industry and offers a good grounding to anyone seeking a career in the sector. As the senior staff have worked the kitchens they know what to expect and have done the basics themselves. It's a much more sleek process now than when I was there all those years ago and the prediction software is designed to reduce food waste. Packaging is an area of ongoing improvement with a commitment to use less of it and to recycle whatever is used.

hi tech ordering systems 

The biggest overhaul of stores in decades sees a big investment in improving the customer experience including customisable meals and table service. The first time I tried the shiny new ordering screens was at a motorway service station last year during the summer holidays. We had stopped to get the boys some lunch and I had no idea how the screens worked so I bailed and went to the till point and ordered instead. Then our local store was updated and now we have the latest incarnation of McDonalds store complete with ordering screens, tablet computers for customer use and phone charging points. When the boys go for lunch with Hubbie they plant themselves in front of the tablets to play a game while Daddy orders food. With the table service it's much simpler to order and keep and eye on children which has always been an issue for me with boisterous boys who love to inspect every inch of the store. Now they have a spot where they can play on a screen and also a play area that is secure and safe. You don't have to leave them unattended and there is no extra charge for bringing food to you in your zone.

sophisticated stock management 

Another innovation is the 'made to order' burger. You specify what you do and don't want and the kitchen make it just for you. Having tried to assemble a Big Mac I now know what goes in a standard one. There are a fair few components so I'm sure there are any number of potential combinations of ingredients to suit every taste. If you are fussy or just know how you like your food you will love this capacity to make it 'just for you.'

I made this !!

While we were at the store I asked about the rumour that there will be delivery available soon and I can reveal that it is definitely on it's way, but it's not going to be everywhere overnight. For now you will have to pick it up from the stores, which is pretty cool with so many new and high tech things going on.

I got a personalised badge :) 

Disclosure: This post is written in collaboration with McDonalds and I have been paid a fee.

Friday, 12 May 2017

In at the deep end

When we decided to adopt I knew the process would be long and intrusive. I knew we'd be asked questions by social workers, foster carers, adopters and other parents. I realised I'd have difficult talks with my older son and at some point with my younger son. However, I had no idea that I'd have so many fascinating conversations, that people would open up to me and share their stories with me. 

Today I took Blue Bear for his swimming lesson at lunchtime and got in the big pool for my swim. He is so well behaved and listens to his teacher (unlike Brown Bear) so I can get on with a leisurely swim without having to check up on him every few minutes. It was pretty quiet in the pool and I spotted a lady I see all the time and who I always speak to. I mentioned that we have an adoption day in the summer and she asked if I was adopted and I said no, Blue Bear is. She stopped putting on her goggles and told me she was adopted at a few months old. We spoke for around 15 minutes about her family, how she found out she was adopted and her feelings about adoption in general. She told me she has always felt out of step in her life, out of place. I've not heard this sentiment expressed before and I found it fascinating. She thought her parents were great and had no desire to find her birth parents - her brother did seek his birth family with mixed results. This was in the days before adopters were encouraged to talk openly to children about adoption. She found out aged seven when a teacher asked the class to find out where and when they were born and her mother had the conversation with her. 

I'm not sure how many people she's told all this to, but for me it was the most intense and personal conversation I've had with someone I don't really know. As we stood in the pool (me with one eye on the clock as my precious swimming time ticked away) I listened and offered small interjections from my experience on the other side. As the conversation came to a natural end she said, 
"Bless you. You're a better person than me."
I told her,
"I'm really not." 
"No, you really are."
"Well you're a much better swimmer than me." 
We both laughed. And with that we put on our goggles and kicked off the side to swim. 

Monday, 8 May 2017

Why do kids do that ?

At the weekend my sister came over to see the boys and took them out for lunch. Hubbie went too and I got on with some sorting and shifting at home with the radio on. It made a nice change to have the space and time to do something and not worry about what the quiet was masking. If you have children you know the chill that runs through you when you realise the children haven't made a noise in a while and that can only mean bad news.

When they got back from Giraffe - full of chocolate, sweets and ice cream - I went outside to sort out the shed and to move the boys' den which I'll be painting in the next few weeks. While I was outside my sister got to experience the mayhem that is my boys at home together. When I came inside to check on everyone she asked if this is what they're usually like and I gave a pained smile. "Yes. That's why I'm always tired - and grumpy."

Breaking the law (sort of) 
I don't understand a lot of what my kids do. I'm not alone in this by any means. There are entire websites devoted to trying to make sense of children and recently a friend posted a meme on facebook about what Saturdays are like with and without kids. Oh how I laughed (while wiping away the tears) at the thought of being able to stay in bed past 6am on a weekend. As if.

There is so much I just don't get about my kids. It's not just because I was one of three girls and they are boys (although that is a whole other topic for another day). It's really a general bafflement. I'm sure some of these are familiar to other parents.

Brown Bear wore three pairs of underpants to school the other day. When I asked him he said it was to keep his bottom warm. I believe him, but it does seem a little extreme.

He also spends an inordinate amount of time doing his hair in front of the mirror - in order to attract girls I guess. Now he's lost most of his front teeth he's going to have to work on his charm to keep them interested.

Stripping off at the footie (it's ok it's only non-league)
Blue Bear has to get of the car from his brother's door. I have no idea why this is, but woe betide anyone who challenges this.

He also likes to pretend he's a random animal if he's in a situation that makes him nervous. This can involve crawling around on all fours or growling at people.

On the other hand this morning I heard Brown Bear talking quietly to this brother and saying, "listen to mummy." All is not lost. I just need to find someone to tell Brown Bear the same thing and hope that he listens to them.

They both hid inside a box - erm, I can still see you boys
I'm not sure I understand the mystery that is my children. Maybe it's good to have some unexplained chaos some of the time. Just not all of the time eh lads ?

Friday, 5 May 2017

Brown Bear, Blue Bear and Neo - the three musketeers.

In my radio life I have had many conversations with varied and interesting people. Some are well known and others are not, but they all have something to say and I love to listen. It's this wish to hear other people's stories that makes the Listening Project so fascinating. I often catch it when I'm doing something else and I've heard some moving and often amusing conversations. The ones I enjoy the most are often between family members. I heard two young sisters talking about the security the felt in their foster placement, an adopted teenager talking to her father about the real meaning of family. Then there are friends or colleagues sharing stories from their past. It's a wonderful archive of everyday folk.

I have long wanted to share a record of how our family came to be. I've thought about doing this in the form of a radio play, a book, a picture book for children and podcasts. I still want to do this as I think there is a lot we can share and others can benefit from in our journey. Our mistakes, the difficulties, the successes, the challenges, the recognition that we've come a long way already.

Brother bears

In the early days it was all firefighting. I was exhausted all the time, frightened of getting it wrong and often doing just that. I spent so much time worrying about taking care of our new boy that I wasn't giving my first boy the love and attention he was used to and had received his whole life. I only realised how badly I had misjudged this when I asked my sister to talk to Brown Bear. They have a very close relationship and I knew he'd be honest with her. "I think Mummy doesn't love me any more." My heart broke. In making space for Blue Bear I was making Brown Bear feel pushed out and unloved.

Since then I have become accomplished in reading my sons' emotions and trust my instincts about how to respond to their needs. There isn't a guide book for this - I am going to be the one who produces it and shares it with those who come after us. The first step is a conversation I had with Brown Bear that was broadcast this afternoon as part of the Listening Project. I wanted to talk to him honestly and openly about how he felt about his brother coming into our family and to acknowledge how much he has done to make this successful. It's a lot to ask of a four year old child, but he has made a space in his life for this little boy who he now loves and protects with a ferocity that a tiger would envy.

The three musketeers 

The other week me and Hubbie went to a friend's leaving do in London. I saw an ex-colleague I used to work with before Brown Bear was born and she reminded me how desperately I wanted to be a mum back then. Now I have Brown Bear, Blue Bear, Neo and Hubbie and most days I forget how very lucky I am. Today I was reminded. I have listened to the conversation about half a dozen times already and I will listen to it many more times I'm sure. If you get a chance to listen do tell me what you think: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08ns2ly