Thursday, 29 September 2016

I only just turned round and my baby is 6 years old

On Friday morning a very excited boy will wake up and remind us all that it is his birthday. We have agreed that he can blow out the candles on his birthday cake before he goes to school and he will have waffles with some chocolate spread on them as a special birthday treat. He will get a badge and card in assembly in the afternoon and all the children and teachers will sing to him. After school he will go to swim club and at Beavers this week they will go tree climbing - which he is terribly excited about. While he is at school all day me and Hubbie will build his new desk and set up his bedroom with all the new things we have for him.

I will spend a lot of the day baffled that my baby is now 6 years old. That since the day he was born there hasn't been a moment when I haven't looked at him in disbelief that he is real. This boy who still puts his fingers in his mouth when he's tired and who has those big brown eyes that give away the mischief that he has in mind.

His first year was just a blur, but I remember our house being filled floor to ceiling with presents for our 3 month old son that first Christmas. His birthday was about the same and as we'd not long moved into this house (9 days after his first birthday) it was a bit chaotic too.

When he was 2 he was apoplectic with us for cutting his racing car cake as he thought it was a toy car. We had a family party for him and he loved all the toy cars he received as well as plenty of gifts from all our lovely family and friends.

On his 3rd birthday we held a birthday party for his nursery friends which involved a dozen kids in our garden and my fantastic friend SJ made mini cupcakes that left all the kids with blue tongues - now that is what I call a party !! I swore blind I've not have a party at home again just on the basis that it seemed a great idea, until everyone was actually here !

At his 4th we decided to surprise him with a sports party and when he arrived and saw all his class there he looked like he would turn on his heel and run away. Thankfully he didn't take off and we enjoyed a fun party with all his new friends.

Last year we all went bowling on his birthday. Blue Bear wasn't so sure about what was going on, but Brown Bear was super competitive and got quite cross when he wasn't winning. His big celebration was a pool and pizza party which I'd wanted to do for ages. The kids seemed to enjoy it and who doesn't like pizza ? Not anyone I want to be friends with that's for sure.

This year despite promising we'd keep things simple we've planned a party with street dance and mini Olympics. As he's going to be at school on the actual day we are taking the boys to Legoland at the weekend for the first time and he is beyond excited about it.

I look at my son and can't believe that my baby boy can now do his own tie, he can read, he holds conversations with me. He is thoughful, resourceful and brave. All this week we have been receiving parcels and cards in the post and this afternoon and evening neighbours dropped off presents for him. He's continued to be thoroughly spoiled by everyone and loved beyond my wildest imaginings.

So now you are six son. I'm inordinately proud of you and baffled by how fast the time has flown. Oh and I still think you will be taller than me by the time you're ten !

Friday, 23 September 2016

Bring on the night, bring on sleep.

My boys sleep through the night.

It's not always easy - sometimes it's a rigmarole with endless drinks of water, tucking in of teddy bears and philosophical discussions. In the end though it's a night of peace. 

If you don't have kids you will have no opinion about this. You might be kind and nod and say, "Oh that's good." As a parent you will either grit your teeth at the temerity of my boast or shrug and think, "well that hardly merits a blog post does it ?"

When Blue Bear first came to live with us he didn't sleep well. The first night both boys went to sleep by 8pm and Hubbie and I were fist bumping each other and thinking the top prize for parenting was ours for the taking. We were just about to sit down to eat and we heard a cry from Blue Bear. He was awake and he was not happy about it. For the next two hours we tried everything we could to get him back to sleep. I lay down with him, Hubbie lay down with him, we put on soothing music, we offered milk and eventually I did what I never did with Brown Bear. I put him in the car and drove around to try and soothe him. It was exhausting.

After that first night his nocturnal stirrings became a regular thing for us. We had set up the cot next to our bed and he slept next to me. Often he woke up crying, screaming, hitting out or reaching out for a dummy or a touch on his head to settle him. We found out he was terrified of the dark, so we put a light on for him. Over time he would turn to check I was still there and I'd feel a small hand reach out for me so I'd sleep as close to his face as I could so he would see me. 

We moved Blue Bear into his own room and when settling him to sleep one of us would lie on the floor next to his bed to reassure him he wasn't alone. I would put him down to nap during the day and have to lie down too. In fact the afternoon rest came as a relief after months of sleepless nights. 

The night waking became so regular that even Brown Bear - who has always been an early riser - started to sleep in. He would struggle to get up in the morning and was tired and tearful during the day. At times Blue Bear would scream because he's lost his dummy. Other times he'd be distressed and sitting up unable to express why he was so upset. Then if Brown Bear woke up we'd have two boys to try and get back to sleep. Some mornings both boys would be in our bed and Hubbie would be asleep somewhere else. He still had to go to work and do a full day on very little sleep.

I can't pinpoint when it changed. Maybe it was when we moved him out of a cot and into a toddler bed. He was able to get out by himself so maybe he didn't feel so confined. Brown Bear has a raised bed now and loves the fact that no one else can get up there, but him.

It was only in the last few days I realised that sometimes I have to go in and wake up Blue Bear. He sleeps soundly and wakes up smiling. I like to believe he knows where he is and is happy to be there. That he loves the teddy bears on his bed, the soft light in his room, the plaintive miaowing from Neo to be let out or fed. Brown Bear wakes up early, but plays with lego or goes downstairs to eat breakfast with Daddy before he leaves for work.

Yes there are still nights when Blue Bear wakes up, but he goes back to sleep pretty quickly and without me having to drive him around the neighbourhood.  

At one time it felt like it would never end - like we'd never get through it. But we did.

So when I say that my boys sleep through, please believe that it's not a boast. It's a relief.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Without tea I am nothing...

You know how at the end of Open All Hours Ronnie Barker would always stand in the street outside his shop and remark, "It's been a funny day." ? Well that's the voice in which I'd like you to imagine the following, "It's been a funny week."

A boy, a dog, a cat - the cutest morning scene

The cat was our first baby. I mean that most sincerely (Hughie Green voice). He was the one who we adopted from Battersea Dogs and Cats home aged 6.5 and we were told he might only have 6 months to live as he had a heart murmur. He's been with us for a lot longer than that and he's very much in charge of the house. So when Brown Bear was born Neo gave him a wide berth. He pretended he wasn't really that keen on him, but would often go into the bedroom to look to see if the baby was sleeping then he would settle down to sleep himself. As they grew used to each other Neo trained Brown Bear to bring him cat biscuits and we knew that their love for each other was genuine when Neo started to sleep on Brown Bear's bed. Having got one small human up to scratch can you imagine how annoyed Neo was when another one came to live with us 15 months ago ? This one wasn't even a baby, but a walking toddler who would squeal with delight when he saw, "Ee-oh." The cat took evasive action and stayed away from the smallest human as much as he could. He has only recently decided Blue Bear is trainable too and likes him a lot now that the boy has learned to run to the food cupboard whenever Neo miaows loudly. So, this week I was delighted to walk in and find Blue Bear and Neo hanging out on our bed. It's the clearest sign that we're all a family now.

Croydon Airport - no really 

I was back on air this week with my radio show on Saturday - which I would usually say listen to online, but I totally forgot to record a podcast so it's lost for all time. Just as well actually as that time off has clearly melted my brain and I'm not sure I was that coherent. Anyway, we have moved to a new studio and it's based at Croydon Airport. Yes you read that right. Croydon used to be the main airport for London, but is now a hotel and offices. It's really cool going into the studio now and I park under this plane - which is open to visitors once a month. I have to take the boys to see it on an open day, they will love it I'm sure. 

Lovely tea 
Not just yet... 

In case you didn't already know I'm doing the H2Only challenge to raise funds for the RNLI. I am only drinking water for ten days and am halfway through today. I have to admit that the first two days were not great with massive headaches and pretty rotten moods. My love of tea is well known so this is a proper sacrifice for an amazing cause. We visited the RNLI station in Calshot during the summer holidays and my boys now love lifeboats. I admit I am really looking forward to my first cup of tea after this and I've even stocked the fridge with some mini wine bottles for a celebratory tipple too. If you'd like to help me reach my fundraising target that would be lovely thank you.

My first arrangement 
Teacup arrangement 

Having been at home for so long over the summer I decided I wanted to do something for myself and learn a new skill. The lovely Julie Davies runs an online flower arranging course for busy mums and it was right up my street. I love flowers, have no idea how to make them look pretty and can find so many things to add to arrangements from the garden. I've enjoyed making the arrangements for 'homework' and Julie provides really helpful videos showing how to prepare flowers, style arrangements and even the basics like how to soak flower foam. I know it sounds rivetting, but I'm loving it. The house is full of flowers right now, like a mini Kew Gardens.

Anyway, that's enough about me. How have you been ?

Sunday, 11 September 2016

How my boy learned to love his brother

In recent weeks I've seen some adorable photos on facebook of older siblings lovingly holding their new baby sister or brother. These 'meet the newborn' poses are often heartmelting. It was while I had my head tilted to the side admiring one such photo that I had a revelatory thought. My boys never had that.

The loving, unconditional love of a new baby in the family, the big brother holding his baby brother gently and kissing his head. Those magical moments when the older child gets to meet and love his sibling and still know he's just as loved as he always was. It just didn't happen that way for us.

We had a run up to the boys meeting, but it was nothing like as long as 9 months and it wasn't as cosy as showing a scan pic and choosing baby things. We showed Brown Bear a photo of a 9 month old a while back and then after we'd met him we showed him up to date photos before they met. We had no idea what he would bring with him so we didn't know if we should buy toys, clothes or bedding.

It wasn't a case of bringing home a baby and starting from day one. By the time Blue Bear came to us he was walking, he was eating solid food and he had formed family relationships with his foster carers. My boys met at the foster carers' home. They were lovely and kind, but it was strange to meet our son then go home without him. Brown Bear couldn't make sense of it either, but we tried to explain that he would come and live with us soon.

Most siblings don't meet this way. With the exception of step children most siblings share a home from an early age and their introductions are more organic than this was. We had spent so much time preparing Brown Bear for his baby brother, but what he met wasn't a baby at all. Blue Bear was a walking, grabbing, opinionated toddler and he had no reason to want to live with us.

Of course he had seen photos of us and the foster carers had tried to prepare him for our introductions by talking about us to him. When we met he went over and pointed at photos of us in the photobook to show he recognised and knew us from there. We had tried to do the same with Brown Bear showing him photos of his new brother and he was excited and nervous to meet him.

Brown bear was ready to love his brother, but Blue Bear didn't want to be loved by him.

He didn't want to be loved by any of us. He was happy where he was and when we dropped him home after his first all day visit it felt like leaving a part of myself behind as we handed him over the doorstep to his foster family. He was always pleased to see us, but he was also delighted to be 'home' again.

It has taken a long time for all of us to become a family. Longer than I think I realised it would take. 

For the boys it's been a struggle for place in the family - they were both only children and suddenly they had to share everything including parental love. There have been arguments and fights and tears as they have both asserted their authority and tried to show each other who is in charge. It has only been in the last few months that Blue Bear has conceded that he loves and admires Brown Bear. In the same way Brown Bear is fiercely loyal to his baby brother and has found that having a small noisy shadow can have its advantages.

Brown Bear is an early riser, up before the sun - always has been. Blue Bear is going to be a 3 coffees before you talk to me kind of man. For a while in the summer holidays Brown Bear would go in to wake up his brother to play with him at 6am. Blue Bear would go along with it as he wanted to be with his brother so badly and then he'd collapse in a tearful, exhausted heap by 10am. Neo trained Brown Bear to bring him biscuits and has now trained Blue Bear to open the front door to let him out for a wee in the mornings. He's like the Gallagher brother that no one sees. 

For the first year of their life as brothers we didn't have any of those unconditional love photos. What we are starting to have now are genuine brotherly love photos instead. Ones with a smile or a shared joke and arms round each other for a few seconds before one of them annoys the other one and they are bickering again.

I don't have those endearing photos of their first meeting. What I do have is the knowledge that these boys have grown to love each other not just 'because.'  The love they have is borne of honesty and bravery - from both of them.

I couldn't be more proud.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The one where we pretend we are in F-R-I-E-N-D-S

I'm not sure if I've ever mentioned that I was an obsessive fan of Friends. There are clues in the titles of blog posts that begin, 'the one where...' and the fact that a fair few of my conversations are peppered with phrases from the show. Hubbie still says, "there's no need to laugh and point,' referring to a line said by Jack Geller way back when. Anyway, at the weekend I went with my sister to Friends Fest which has been going for a while, but it's the first time I've heard of it. You can visit sets from the show, take part in quizzes to win stuff and even get a drink from Central Perk. I enjoyed it more than I expected to actually (I know, damned with faint praise) and took a silly number of photos. 

Opening credits 

Central Perk here I come ! 
Pretending to be Phoebe 

Yep I'm working at Central Perk 

I'm on a break ! 
Joey and Chandler inspired cocktails 
No comment Neo 

Monica's Kitchen 

We watched 'Monica' sing YMCA
I suspect I was one of few people there who watched the show when it first aired in the UK - there were kids there for goodness sake ! It was fun to sit in Joey and Chandler's armchairs, to look through Monica's fridge and to sit in Phoebe's singing spot. The only thing missing was the Rachel haircut I rocked 22 years ago.

Friday, 2 September 2016

On the road - with my boys

As it was the last week of the holidays I decided to take the boys to visit Grandma and Grandpa (mother and father in law) for a few days. The idea was to give Hubbie a bit of child free time to get to work and catch up on his sleep and to enjoy some days out in and around the New Forest where they live. To be honest I was a bit worried about it as I've never been away with them on my own overnight and wasn't sure how it would go. It's also a bit of an unknown quantity how they will behave together and Hubbie's Dad isn't the most tolerant when the boys are in a funny mood and decide to mess around - more of which later.

So I planned ahead and packed the car ready to go including a fully charged tablet for Brown Bear to play Sonic on and a portable DVD player for Blue Bear to watch Paw Patrol on the whole way there. It's been years since I drove to the in-laws on my own (or at all, Hubbie usually does it) so to be sure I put the address into the sat nav and followed Niamh's dulcet tones. The boys were so well behaved on the way and I listened to the radio and they kept themselves amused. We arrived in good time and let ourselves in and unpacked the car. Just as we sat down Grandma and Grandpa arrived home and the boys were delighted to see them. On the first afternoon I left Brown Bear with Grandpa to 'play golf' in the garden while me and Blue Bear went to get some shopping with Grandma. I promised he could see the boats and he loved watching them and spotting seagulls. A trick that has really helped me manage the boys has been to do things with them separately and this worked well while we were away.

On our first full day we took the boys to the New Forest Wildlife Park - where Hubbie used to work as a teenager - and the separate activities idea was a lifesaver. There are two adventure parks there, one for younger children and the other for older children and adults. Blue Bear had a lovely time meeting all the animals and was excited to see the "ow-els," while Brown Bear insisted they weren't real as he didn't see them moving. Then one of them did (it had clearly heard him and taken umbrage). It's been a revelation this Summer holiday hearing Blue Bear using new words almost every day. Brown Bear has been teaching him to say things and he is so proud when his brother copies him. Often he calls out, "Mum, Mum, he just said biscuit / rabbit / owl / otter," in excitement.

I wanted to make sure that both boys had some one to one time with me every day as I've found that is the best way to stop them from fighting with each other. In fact they have actually started to play together and Brown Bear involves Blue Bear in his imaginative play. We went to a park one afternoon and it was small, but there was enough there for the boys to create a game where they were fire officers with Brown Bear directing where they needed to be and Blue Bear following orders and keeping up with his brother. He was delighted to be part of the role play and kept up with him until I noticed he was turning pink from the heat and encouraged them to get back for a snack and a rest.

One of the things I find difficult is the judgement that I feel is heaped upon my parenting when we are around Grandpa. He adores the children, but isn't a fan of the noise or chaos they tend to bring into his home. When they are tired or just in one of those funny moods where they want to run around the house, or chase each other, or wrestle, or whinge, he is not especially magnanimous about it. I then feel bad and I take it out on the kids. It's a work in progress.

As we prepare for the boys to go back to school and nursery next week I can look back on a summer break that has been exponentially better than the last one. Ok, that's not difficult. Last year was like wading through shark infested custard while being screeched at constantly and loudly. This year hasn't been all Haribo and kitchen discos, but it's shown me that time and a loving attitude towards my boys is paying off.

Last week I was talking to Brown Bear about the things he enjoys doing. He said he didn't really like much (he's going through a miserable phase), but then he surprised me when he said,
"The best day was Blue Bear's adoption day. And the fun day*."
It made my heart sing that his best days involved his brother.

While we were away Blue Bear took a shine to Brown Bear's fire engine trunki. He kept callling it "Mine Nee Naw." Everything and everyone is 'mine' at the moment from grandparents to toys. Brown Bear told me he had said that Blue Bear could have his trunki, "because he loves it." Of course it's possible he would prefer the newer bus trunki that his brother has, but I like to believe that it's a loving gesture from one brother to another.

On the way home from my first 'road trip' with my boys I decided to stop and pay a call on a friend. I watched them run up and throw their arms around her and tell her excitedly about the adventures we had while we were away. Ok, so we didn't really see a zebra or a giraffe (a bit of storytelling from Brown Bear there), but we did have fun. The boys travelled well, they had ice cream every day, they played new games and sat up at the table and practised drawing lifeboats with Grandma.

Now we've done it once I don't feel so worried about travelling with the boys on my own. I  might even consider doing this again in future and making our road trip a regular thing.

*Annual Family fun day for adoptive families.