Saturday, 30 September 2017

Lucky number seven.

My boy is seven today. The first grandchild and nephew in both our families. Seven years ago today I was taken in an ambulance to deliver this boy when it became clear that both he and I were in trouble.  Following a blissful and trouble free pregnancy with a much longed for baby at the last minute it started to go wrong. My husband was told he could lose us both. He never let on to me how bad it was. He stood next to me and held my hand as we joked and laughed - much easier to do when you've been given the drugs, me not him. When the boy finally arrived I told Hubbie to go with him to make sure he was ok and I would be fine. We had done the NCT practice run of this and knew how it would go when an emergency C section took place. The room full of people, the student doctor introducing themselves to us and our baby being taken away immediately for checks. We had agreed that Hubbie would stay with him while I was stitched up. Apparently the boy did a massive poo as soon as he was born. Well his sense of timing is impeccable. We spent the night in a recovery ward and Hubbie went home to sleep for the first time in almost three days. I held my son close and watched him all night. I still go into his room and watch him sleep every night.

Since that day I've experienced more anxiety than I've ever had in my life. I've felt more love than I knew was possible. I still find it amazing that I am someone's mum, never mind two boys. When we talked to Brown Bear about adoption and explained he was going to have a brother he took it in his stride. Until Blue Bear arrived and he had to share me with this little boy who Mummy held and cuddled and protected. They both fought for my attention and I expected this little boy to be the big brother before I taught him what that meant. He was feeling pushed out and I didn't realise. It was difficult. I felt like I was being torn in two and he felt like I didn't love him any more. In his head I only had space to love one boy and it wasn't him any more. 

I look at those boys now and the fierce fraternal bond they have. To anyone who doesn't know they were always brothers. Brown Bear is proud of his younger brother and Blue Bear looks up to his big brother and wants to be just like him. On his first day at school Brown Bear took Blue Bear's hand and walked him to the classroom. When Blue Bear came skipping out at the end of the day Brown Bear was there waiting to greet him with a smile and asked him how his day was. Ok so Brown is up with the lark and annoyingly chipper from the off (he always has been, it's exhausting !) and Blue was born a teenager and could sleep in until ten given the chance. By the end of a school day they are in entirely opposite moods and one wants to play while the other is happy to sit and relax. They are forming a great bond though. They other day as we were driving past a funfair they asked if we could go and Hubbie said no. Brown Bear turned to Blue Bear and said, "Don't worry when we live together we can go the fair whenever we like." I reminded him they live together now and Brown Bear said, "No when we're adults. When we're 45." 

The other night we went out together. Just me and Brown Bear. I am at a conference all day today - I left early and will be home late - and I wanted to do something special for his birthday. We went out for dinner and then to the theatre. He opened doors for me saying, "Ladies first" and held my hand as we walked from the car to the restaurant. He smiled at me in the theatre and asked if I was enjoying the show. When we came home he kissed me good night and said, "I love you more than you love me Mummy." I smiled and replied, "That's just not possible." 

Happy 7th Birthday Baby Boy xxxxxxx

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Roald Dahl's fantastical characters make my boys happy readers

We have always read to our boys and they have had books from an early age. Even before they could hold books we would show them the pictures and read aloud to them. There are bookshelves in every room in our house and both boys take great pride in having their favourite books in their bedrooms. I was delighted when Brown Bear started to read and enjoy Roald Dahl stories. I always loved them when I was a child and they really have stood the test of time. 

I was delighted when I heard that McDonald's had launched another exclusive series of books featuring Roald Dahl's 'fantastical characters' as part of it's Happy Readers campaign. Each book is a story in itself and features characters that will be familiar including Matilda, the BFG and Charlie Bucket. Since the Happy Readers scheme launched in 2012 McDonald's have distributed more than 50 million books as part of Happy Meals and encouraged children to own and read books. 

A new book is available each week (beginning on 13th Sept) for five weeks and the collection features 8 books in total. My boys don't need any excuse to go to McDonald's and they are voracious readers. They love collecting these books and comparing which ones they have with friends. We are huge fans of Happy Readers in our family. 

Peter Andre has made a video about the reading promotion. Have a look and see why he thinks reading is so important:

Disclosure: This post has been prepared in collaboration with McDonald's and the Happy Readers campaign team. 

Saturday, 23 September 2017

My little boy blue

Blue Bear has started at Brown Bear's school. He is in the nursery and his brother is in year 2. He already knows some of his classmates who also have siblings in the school and the teachers are also familiar. On the first day the boys rode their scooters to school and parked them next to each other in the stand outside the school office. Brown Bear took his brother's hand and walked him to the nursery gate. Blue Bear walked off without even saying bye. It was about the best first day I could have imagined.

I can't believe that he's old enough for school already. That he walks in and hangs up his book bag on a peg with his name and photo on it. He can get a cup of water and knows where to put the dirty cups after having a drink. That he eats lunch at school - even if he never remembers what he ate - and is big enough to choose what he wants and to feed himself. At hometime he comes out and asks for his scooter and a snack and races his friend round the quad while we wait for his brother to come out of class.

My helpful little boy 

This little boy who was nervous, emotional, almost wordless and struggled to sleep has transformed before our eyes. Blue Bear is a teenager in tiny form. He is not an early riser so while Brown Bear is awake at dawn and wide awake and 'on' from the minute his eyes open Blue Bear is a "don't talk to me before I've had a black coffee" kind of guy. I often go in to wake him up and he rolls over and says he wants to stay in bed. After school Brown Bear is tired and winding down from his day and Blue Bear is just warming up and at maximum cheekiness. One of them wants to sit quietly and relax after school and the other is prodding his brother to elicit and reaction.

On the one day he doesn't go into school I take Blue Bear out to do fun things with me and the other day we invited his little friend to join us. Her mum said they couldn't do it that day, so I asked if she would like a face to face video chat instead. I can honestly say watching two 3 year olds video chatting is the cutest thing ever. They were just adorable and I found myself marvelling at his social and conversational skills. Later in the week the two of them were eating popcorn and watching a DVD together at our house and making small talk. He was so kind and thoughtful and when she left to go home he gave her a cuddle and thanked her mum for bringing her over. He did sit on her brother first though.

I watch my little boy these days and I see his personality emerging. Now he's coming out of the shadow of his big brother I see a funny, caring, clever boy. Ok I would say that - I am his mum after all. It warms my heart and makes me feel that we're getting something right.

I hope he feels the same way.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

A few of my favourite things...

What you don't see in these photos of a beautiful sunny day on Brighton beach is all the children running around after our school class trip to the Sealife Centre.

On Open House weekend I was volunteering at Shirley Windwill. It's not a working mill any longer, but it's stunning and as you can see makes an impression against the Croydon skyline.

Eating breakfast is a rarity for me so I took a photo of it the other morning. It was delicious - what's rare is beautiful.

We have a weekend family ritual of having a special breakfast. Lately Blue Bear has been preparing tasty treats for us all.

Although he also enjoyed the pancakes I made at the weekend too.

Yoga before school is a wonderful thing - especially when the boys actually ask if they can do it.

The other day I spotted this lost Elmo on a wall in Lewes - I hope he found his way home to his loved ones.

Finally I am back in my happy place - a radio studio. So pleased to have joined the team at Radio Lewes

Monday, 11 September 2017

Tenderly: The Rosemary Clooney Musical

I've heard of Rosemary Clooney - who hasn't, she's George's auntie - but didn't know anything about her life until last week. The show Tenderly has finally come to the UK thanks to producer Joe Hodges working tirelessly for 2 years to bring it over. The show is intimate and features live musicians and cabaret style seating which adds to the atmosphere of the venue. There are only two actors - Katie Ray plays Rosemary and her voice is stunning. She plays the role with fragility and sassiness tinged with a deep seated need to be loved. Fed Zanni is breathtaking as the other 19 characters in the story and his ability to switch from playing Rosemary's mother to her psychiatrist is seemingly effortless. His singing is also extraordinary and the physicality required to make all the character changes would challenge anyone, but he takes it all in his stride.

The story travels from the inside of the treatment room in a facility where she has been committed to the stages on which she performed as a teen with her sister and later the big venues she shared with the likes of Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. We witness her trauma at being an eye witness to the assassination of Bobby Kennedy and the highs and lows of her life on the road performing. I had no idea how much heartache she suffered in her life and this show captures the sadness, the drug taking, the attempts by Sinatra to make her stop pill popping and the failed marriages and relationship dramas she experienced. I had always wondered how George Clooney and Miguel Ferrer could be cousins and this musical explained it to me. Tenderly features hit songs you will know and some original numbers that fit in beautifully with the production. 

After the show I spoke to Janet Yates Vogt who is one of the writers of the show and she explained that the Clooney estate approved the story and have been very supportive of the production. I really hope this show gets picked up for a tour or a west end run as it deserves to be seen. The songs are beautiful and the acting is flawless. By the time we see Rosemary's eventual reinvention as a jazz performer it is a relief after she has been through so much. No, George wasn't there on the night we went, but I guess being a father to new twins and being a Hollywood movie star keeps him pretty busy. You might get lucky if you go on another night. 

Tenderly: the Rosemary Clooney Musical is on until 23rd September at the New Wimbledon Theatre Studio. Do go and see it if you can. You won't regret it. 

You can buy tickets here

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

From boys to... not quite men, but working on it.

When I think about my parenting I'm not proud of myself - I think only of the times I have shouted at my kids, the arguments we've had, the seemingly never ending stream of, "don't do that," "no !" "stop it !" and "leave your brother alone." Then I catch sight of one of my boys. I saw Blue Bear putting on his shoes and thought, "when did he learn to do that ?" I forgot all the times I sat with him and put his shoes on or showed him how to put them on. This evening I went to see how Brown Bear was getting on with his homework and he asked me how to do the maths puzzles so I told him to look for the pattern and he said, "Ok, I've got it now." I came back a few minutes later and he was racing through them. He did indeed have it.

I've been cooking with the boys recently - Blue Bear and I made pastries and I said "let's brush them with milk," and he said, "I'll do it Mummy." I watched as he carefully and precisely brushed milk over them and could not believe this was my baby boy. Brown Bear is really keen to apply for junior bake off so I agreed to help him practise. He has spent a lot of time designing a showstopper cake, so I thought I'd get him started with a family favourite. We baked some banana bread and he followed the recipe from my notebook, measured the ingredients with me using digital scales, mixed the batter using an electric hand whisk and timed the cooking. He was very happy with the cake, but insisted that next time he bakes will do it all himself. I think he will too !

In the last few days the Guardian ran a piece by a man explaining how he feels that his work as a stay at home parent is undervalued compared with paid work outside the home. This was greeted with a national chorus of "well duh !" from women (and men). Way to go there Guardian, some epic mansplaining and complete disregard for what women have been saying for, oh I dunno, decades ? I feel devalued as a person because my worth in financial terms is non-existent. I can show you my children, my home, my writing, but I can't show you any pay for those 'jobs' and I don't have any references. The joint decision we made that I would take care of our children and Hubbie would work did not include an agreement to become invisible and irrelevant. So, yes, women's work is devalued and let's be honest parenting is still seen as 'women's work.'

On the toughest days I tell Hubbie that he should stay at home and I can go to work again. He can be the one who acts as referee, cook, butler, party planner, tutor, playmate and occasional furniture. I can be the one who gets to talk to adults, read my ipad on the train, make small talk with people in shops, take a phone call without being interrupted by a small child needing something urgently (a wooden train, a drink of water, the answer to why is the cat white ?). My friend Yasmin told me today she has the same conversation with her husband and then she said something that I've heard so many times before, but today I really felt it. "What we're doing is so important. This matters."

This morning we all went on the school run. The boys on their scooters, Hubbie on his bike and me on foot. It was Blue Bear's first day and Brown Bear was so proud to take his little brother to school. We took the obligatory photo before we left - not in front of the door though, I don't do that cliche - then made our way up the hill. As the boys scootered off into the woods Hubbie said to me, "Well done. You did it, you got them here." The boys parked their scooters next to each other outside the school office and Brown Bear held his brother's hand to walk him to the nursery gate. I swelled with pride - then took a deep sigh of relief.

Tonight as I put Brown Bear to bed he asked me to sit on his bed so he could read me a story called "I love my mummy because..." and looked at me after each page, "...she gives me hugs... she is beautiful... she holds my hand, etc." We hugged each other and I said, "I loved that story baby, thank you."

No, I don't get paid. There's no Christmas party, or secret Santa. My reward is seeing my boys grow up. To watch them become the amazing young men I know they will be. I can live with that.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Fostering resentment makes this adopter furious

Fostering was under the media spotlight this last week following a salacious news item in the Times newspaper. The 'story' (for fiction is the kindest way to describe it) was factually incorrect, designed to create discord and more than anything it was inflammatory and racist. The row centres on a 'Christian child' being placed with 'Muslim foster carers.' The biggest cause of consternation being that the female carer wore a head covering and apparently the family spoke Arabic at home. I listened to a radio interview with the Mayor of the Tower Hamlets - the council involved in the story - and then with the journalist who reported the story. Neither gave a particularly good account of themselves or inspired confidence in the system of fostering and adoption or of news gathering.

I know both Tower Hamlets Council and the fostering and adoption system in this country pretty well. Hubbie worked at Tower Hamlets during our first adoption process and when we asked to be considered as potential adopters for a child in foster care with them. Initially they told us we weren't the correct racial match with him (even though they didn't know Baby R's exact ethnicity) then overnight they changed their matching policy to prevent us from adopting him because Hubbie worked for the local authority with which he was placed. It was really cynical and when I spoke to other couples of mixed race they reported similar treatment by local authorities seeking a 'perfect match' for the children waiting for permanent families.

Now, first up the concept of a perfect match is ridiculous, but more than anything the maths just doesn't work. The number of children waiting who have unspecified ethnicity or possibly muslim parentage is disproportionate to the number of muslim families waiting to adopt them. There are, however, muslim foster carers who take any and all children who need temporary placement for whatever reason. You see fostering and adoption are entirely different things and this was not discussed in the news item about this case. A child can be placed with any available and suitable carer and their ethnicity or religion is a lesser consideration than the safety and security of the child.

Blue Bear was removed from his birth family late at night and taken to his foster carers' home. He was their first foster child and they loved him like their own. They are a Muslim family and the women wear the hijab. The children they are currently fostering are of south east asian descent and have been with them for over a year. The family make food that the children like, they speak to them in English and the girls are very attached to their foster family. When we meet up it is clear to us that they are in the best place until a permanent solution can be found for them.

The Times news story does no one any favours. It will not encourage Muslim families to apply to adopt so as they will feel they are under additional scrutiny and their motives will be questioned. The children who have been placed in local authority care will wait even longer as approved foster carers who are capable of providing a home for them will have to prove they are not 'indoctrinating' the children in their care. I've talked - often and at length - about why placing children based on religion or ethnicity is flawed at best. This is just a new and ridiculous spin on an age old problem of society finding ways to demonise people who care for children in care. The children who are already below the radar and have often experienced loss, trauma and separation before they are placed with people trained and trusted to help them.

The question of payment came up on the radio interview. Yes foster carers do get paid. I know quite a few of them now and believe me they are not paid nearly enough for the work they do and the care the provide. These are the people who have to try and explain when birth parents don't show up for long planned meetings with their children. They are the ones who might have their homes trashed, their belongings stolen and even be physically harmed by the children in their care. They are there to pick up the pieces - sometimes literally - when things don't work out for the children and they are there to advocate for them. All the while they continue to keep the children safe and produce detailed reports for the local authority. They undergo training, aseessment and ongoing checks all the while they are looking after vulnerable children. When it is time to move the children on the foster carers are not consulted or involved in decision making. I know from personal experience that they know the children far better than a social worker who visits once a fortnight (if that).

If you detect that I sound angry then you're damn right. I am furious. This kind of irresponsible reporting and doctoring of photos to prove a non existent point does nothing to help children in foster care. It does even less to address the chronic shortage of foster carers in this country. The Muslim carers who looked after my boy before he came to us are the most precious link we have to his past. They took him in at the most traumatic time of his life and they stayed up and held him close when he screamed at night. They taught him how to play with toys and to make eye contact and to trust people. They helped this little boy to become the happy and loving child we met and adopted. The appearance of the mother and the food they ate or the language they spoke are completely irrelevant. It is because they fostered him that we are able to call Blue Bear our son.

Shame on anyone who believes that the religion of a foster carer has any bearing on their capacity to care for a vulnerable child.