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.