I wasn't sure how I felt as I opened the letter within a letter. But what I found and my own reactions surprised me immensely.
Birth mum had written a very basic letter - but it wasn't emotional, very matter of fact and, amazingly, a simple thank you letter to Papa and I for taking care of 'her' boys. She talked about her favourite things, her family, her pets - it was as if I was reading a letter from a child. Then I had to remember that she wasn't much older than KC when she became pregnant.
Then I opened the other letters - they were thank you cards, one for me and one for Papa and a separate card wishing the boys all the best for their future, may they follow their dreams type thing...
TJ had said that he didn't want to read it and I told him he didn't have to. He has every right to be angry with her but, in the end he wanted to look at it. He said it 'intrigued' him. He was very matter of fact about the whole thing. Then he wanted to look back at his 'Life Story' book. I've always edited this before whenever I've looked at it with him. But this time he read it by himself, including the really 'difficult' bits about the abuse undergone by both boys and what 'neglect' actually meant.
After he went through it all - he gave it me back and asked me to put it away. He simply shrugged and said, "I don't remember any of that.' For that I am very grateful.
He then went to play on his Playstation - life continues as normal.
Then it came to KC. I left the letters out and told him he could read them by himself if he wanted or with me, it was up to him. He shrugged and went out.
I left the letters and his Life Story book on the dining table for a few days.
Then yesterday, as I took him to his cadet club, I asked him if he had had a look at the letters.
He simply stared ahead and quite calmly said, "I have no interest in that woman. TJ told me what she said and I really don't care.'
I started to take to him about it and he stopped me. It was his calmness that worried me most.
"Don't use the 'therapy' voice", he said, "I'm old enough to decide if I want to read a letter... and I don't. I don't want anything to do with her and I'm not interested in her card."
The idea of my 'therapy' voice made us both laugh.
As he went into his cadet group I told him I was proud of him and would support whatever decision he made.
He looked back and said, 'That's all I want, for you to be proud of me - not her."
I sat in the car for a while before returning home and putting the letters away.
I still don't know how I feel...
On the one hand I am sorry for her but on the other she was instrumental in the abuse and neglect of my children. It's a tough one... but it must be much tougher for our boys...
Sometimes adoption throws up the strangest of challenges designed to push all of those 'parenting' buttons.
We've had a busy couple of weeks. TJ's 'emergency' CAMHS (Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services) finally came through - it was originally referred by the GP last June when TJ's anxiety became so heightened that he threatened suicide and refused to go to school (see School Refusal post) and the GP signed him off school whilst we awaited his EHC plan to be completed, thus allowing him to attend a specialist school. During that wait TJ gained his plan and obtained a place at an ASD specialist school - I wont say he loves it there but he had a really good parent's evening where he was seen to be a popular child who is meeting all of his expected educational milestones - they even have him on a GCSE pathway - something his previous schools had all discounted.
Anyway, the CAMHS meeting finally happened, where we were told we were doing al the right things and that the change in school had obviously had a major impact on TJ's mental health and that he was settled now and could be discharged from CAMHS - although they would offer a recommendation of a referral to a sleep clinic as TJ told them he still has trouble sleeping.
Thank goodness we weren't relying on that appointment - for us to have waited 8 months, as an emergency, reflects that state of mental health care at the moment - its not the fault of the professionals - they simply don't have the resources. I dread to think how long we would have to have waited if if wasn't an 'emergency'. Sigh...
So we thought TJ had finally turned a corner and then.... I walked into his room... and the stench hit me. It smelt not unlike a gents toilet and not one of those fancy new toilets with lovely air fresheners and background music playing. Think more of a gents toilet in a railway station circa 1985 - horrendous.
I spent the next hour on my knees sniffing various parts of the room. He hadn't wet the bed, he hadn't been seeing into a box or the bin (these are usual occurrences). No, he had wee'd directly into the corner of his room - all over a pile of teddies and bags. It was everywhere. For a thirteen year old he can certainly hold a lot of urine.
So he was duly called in for a 'chat'. After a long period of listening to a variety of stories involving each of the pets coming into his room and wee'ing on his toys, alongside his brother doing it to get him into trouble, or even a stranger breaking in during the night. Eventually he admitted he had done it, but he didn't know why. I reassured him that he wasn't in trouble -I just wanted to help him an to make sure it didn't happen again. Maybe he had been in a deep sleep and thought he was in the bathroom (which is next to his bedroom), or he was caught short - but no, he was quite happy to tell me he got up and wee'd on his stuff - it was bizarre. So he helped me clean it all up. I say clean - we can clean up the mess but the smell remains... its horrendous. But a quick google and trip to the supermarket has enabled me to find a new carpet cleaner and urine neutraliser. The mess is easier to clean up. the mental issues less so.
A chat with my online support group led me to the conclusion that he is anxious and is possible going through a period of regression. As a child in his birth family he was locked in a room for hours on end with no food, toileting - anything. When he first came to us he used to peel wallpaper off during the night so he had something to eat. Food is a huge issue for him. He has to know that fridge is always stocked. The smell of urine was probably a comfort to him - reminding him of being a baby. in the same way we only have to smell Johnson's baby powder and we feel warm and cuddly - for him urine has the same effect.
I don't know - the damage that was done early on in life is so difficult to both understand and impossible to correct - for both him and us. But I guess that's adoption - trying to teach the young people how to deal with their past trauma. how to recognise that this is a throwback and isn't going to happen again. And just when you think you've sorted it all out - it rears it's ugly head again.
Then, to cap it all, I had a call from social services. Birth mum has decided, after years of not showing the slightest interest, that she would like to get in contact with 'her boys' again. i'm not going to deny her that - maybe she's changed, maybe she's remorseful, regretful, whatever. I'm all about forgiveness. But it's easier for me to forgive, I didn't suffer because of her neglect. I don't have Foetal alcohol syndrome because she drank so heavily during her pregnancy. I didn't sit crying in my room unattended and having to eat wallpaper and sit in my wet nappies for hours on end.
I always said I'll support both boys if they want to meet her eventually. But I'll also understand their decision if they decide not to.
Not that it's my choice to make... But not until they are ready.
We've had a strange couple of months - filled with life's ups and downs.
KC's birthday came and went - he didn't want to invite any friends, no fuss, just a family dinner and a trip to the movies. At first I thought that was sweet but now I realise there is an ulterior motive. Essentially KC doesn't want any of his new mates at school to know he has two Dads and an autistic brother. I'm not quite sure how to deal with that yet - but I think the first step will be to sit him down and talk to him about it.
My fears were confirmed at his first parent's evening at school, which I attended a couple of days ago. Papa is currently away in India for work so I was the only one able to go - KC seemed happy about this and when I was chatting to his form teacher she told me that KC had told her that if we both attended that she was to refer to us by our names not as KC's parents. Whilst she was trying to encourage him to be more honest with his peers she also understood that he didn't want to be seen as being different.
When it was TJ's birthday straight after Christmas (naturally, let's make sure December is as expensive a month as we possibly can!!!!!) TJ decided he didn't want KC at his bowling party - I say party - he only had one friend, but that was all he wanted and he didn't want KC there. However, KC was happy to oblige. I was a little surprised that he didn't want to come but then I realised it was because he didn't want to be spotted at the bowling alley with us all.
It's a quandary.
At the moment I'm not making a fuss about it. I think I'll have a chat with him and let him know that I've noticed whats going on and that other people are noticing too - maybe remind him that in this world of social media that people will find out eventually and what will his response be then - he can't deny us forever.
Still, TJ had a lovely time bowling with his friend. Luckily his friend doesn't care if he wins or loses, he was just having a great time - TJ on the other hand has to win - so it was a match made in heaven and both boys left happy. We then met KC in a local pizza restaurant where we had a corner booth and KC could hide if he saw anyone he knew - luckily TJ didn't notice or care - he just likes pizza!
On a positive note, KC's parent's evening went really well. The teacher's love him. No issues so far. Looking ahead at options, we agreed he wasn't academic in nature, but he excelled at PE, Art and Music - especially the drums, which his music teacher is encouraging. But, most importantly, he is happy. I'm hoping once he has settled he may be more open with his friends - maybe.
It's TJ's parents evening next - I asked him today what he told his friends at school about his family. He just shrugged and said, 'I don't care what people think - it not their business' - there's a lot to be said for seeing the world differently and more importantly, being surrounded by those who have a similar outlook...
On a professional note - my lovely editor has nearly finished working on my first book - so hopefully, it will go back to my agent soon and be back before the publishing houses again early next month. Wish me luck!!!!!!!
I remember when I first started writing this blog - back in 2012 - how time flies, that my initial idea was to write a positive blog about adoption - something that showed others that adoption can have as many ups as it does downs.
It was a response to, what I felt, was the plethora of negative adoption stories that were in the press at the time and with gay adopters still being viewed with suspicion I wanted to help alleviate those fears as well.
Looking back over the past couple of years, I've realised that my blog has, unintentionally, become as dark as some of the others I was originally critical of.
I'm not going to apologise for that, or to undermine everything I have written. Yes there have been difficulties but, at the same time, I hope that I have been open and honest. Adoption is difficult but it is also incredibly rewarding and every now and then we have to stop and remind ourselves of that - otherwise we simply get caught up in the negativity of it all.
Both our boys are now in separate schools and both seem to be happy. I wouldn't say flourishing just yet - but I'll take happy.
KC just had his first report from his new school yesterday and it was pretty much all good - which considering his previous reports is astounding. They like him and he likes them - that has to be a bonus. No reports of fighting, swearing, language issues - nothing. Just positive reports.
Although this week I did have to tell him that he had a careers advice session (as options are coming up) and his reply was, "What do I need advice for - I'm never going to go there..."
It took me a while to realise that he thought I had said Korea - which did make us laugh.
But he went for the meeting and came out feeling very positive about himself - apparently he is an 'Eagle' - like Barack Obama or that lady who presents 'Bake Off', he said - a strange mix and I'm not sure what that shows us about his personality, but he liked it - so all good.
TJ has settled in really well to his specialist school - I wouldn't say he is 'happy' but he isn't complaining and, more importantly, he goes every morning without any upset - which I think for a child with his view on the world is a positive. No school refusal anymore. I was never sure about labelling him as being on the spectrum - but just having the label, alongside the FAS, has opened so many doors for him - and hopefully, we can try to get some insight into how his mind works... eventually anyway.
I thought about things and what really struck home is how much easier parenting an adopted child is when you have the right educational support in place. Yes, its been a struggle and it has resulted in my leaving work and a huge upheaval in our lives - but - the boys are settled, happy and learning. All we can hope is that by highlighting the positives that support can bring, we can show those 'in the know' that there can be a successful outcome to their investments (after all, it's all about the money!)
I hope that in the next few months I'll be able to document the positive direction this adoption journey has taken and will continue to take.
So today I want to focus on KC and the positive turn his life has taken.
Again I don't want to jinx things and I apologise if it appears as though I'm gloating - I'm not. As you know it has been a struggle and I'm hoping that you will see that there can be light at the end of what appears to be a very long and endless tunnel.
When we decided that school really wasn't working for KC we made a huge decision to home school for a while - whilst we sorted out a suitable placement for him. KC has an Education and Health Care Plan (which used to the the Statement of Special Educational Needs) and, by law, is entitled to an education that meets his specialised needs. Unfortunately, therapeutic schools are few and far between and are costly - with local authorities struggling to balance their books etc, it does seem to be the SEN kids that are being ignored. It is easier to leave them struggling in mainstream schools - or being constantly excluded and then home schooled than it is to find and fund a suitable school placement.
KC was lucky in that I was able to give up my job and focus on battling the Local Authority to get him the help he needed. I could never have done it and held down a full time job. Not with tribunals and legal stuff and seemingly endless paperwork having to prove a need that is already recorded in the plan.
Plus, KC needed therapy - desperately. So we took the year out. We homeschooled with a tutor who came three times a week, we had therapy in place and we let KC just be himself for a year. I always think if you are going to miss a year of secondary school then Year 8 is the one to miss. Just entering the dreaded teens, not quite sure of your own identity, easily led astray and still not ready to make decisions about GCSE options etc.
In KC's case it was a good move.
With the help of the virtual head (the person responsible for the education of all children still in care and those who have been adopted from care) we were able to identify a therapy school. With an amazing post adoption worker we were then able to access the therapy KC needed and the reports he required to get a place at said school. School then offered him a place and the Local authority refused to fund it. So we took them to tribunal. The day before we agreed to meet to mediate - they backed down and agreed a placement for KC at the school. This was in May of this year - only they couldn't start till September. But it gave us something to aim for.
Shortly after, TJ started to refuse to go to his mainstream school. So I had both boys at home. I had just finished one battle to get KC sorted and now began another to get TJ a school that met his needs. Which meant that we had to go back to the drawing board and work out what those needs were and then, more importantly, provide proof of those needs.
But, we then decided that rather than stress everybody out - what we would do is simply start the boy's summer holidays a few weeks early. They could both chill and gain some breathing space, whilst I sorted out the next steps.
Come July, both boys had school placements for September and we really could let the holidays begin.
KC has now been at his school for nearly a full half term and, thankfully, he loves it!
He did comment that he was no longer the 'naughtiest' boy in school but that seems to have helped his self confidence. Neither child brings any home work home - so that has been a huge relief on the stress levels in the house.
KC only goes to lessons he wants to - but surprisingly, he attends a lot by choice - because... he enjoys them. He talks about comic books and graphic novels in English, he learns about finances and shopping in maths, he plays drums in his music lesson,he helps out with abused animals at a local shelter as part of Life Skills, he goes mountain biking and swimming for his PE and loves to learn how to cook on a Friday. It's been a huge eye opener - and although I understand its not an education that would work for everyone (TJ would hate it as he needs structure to his day), for the child who has suffered hideous trauma in his formative years to be able to make choices is incredibly empowering.
No, he may not get handfuls of GCSE's and he may not attend University - who knows? But then I don't think he would have achieved those in mainstream schools either. But what we do have a is a happy 13 year old, who leaves the house at 7.30 every morning with a smile on his face. And that is enough for me.
Yet again, I begin a post by apologising for taking so long to write anything.
It's so easy to blame everyone else - but the truth is that things have been going so well recently that my fear is that I may appear to be gloating and, even worse, I may jinx myself and upset the equilibrium.
But here goes!
I'm going to focus today's post on our youngest son.
TJ has had such a difficult few months. Firstly he had his diagnosis for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome, which hit him really hard and this was followed by a full post adoption assessment (something which is available to all adopted children, but is rarely offered as its expensive - so adoptive parents, if you haven't been offered one, just ask, the authority can use the Adoption Support Fund to pay for it, so it shouldn't cost them anything.) Anyway, TJ had a full assessment which revealed the depth of his ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) - obviously every child is unique and TJ's main area of concern was his ability to read social cues etc. We had always put it down to his unique way of looking at the world and potential Attachment Disorder - yes, he has that one as well. By the end of the assessment he had so many letters attributed to his many diagnosis that he started to look like a Countdown Conundrum. At first I was mortified. Yes, we had always expected these things, but to have someone sit down and explain everything to you is a very different matter. I then went away and read everything they recommended, another reason I haven't had a lot of time to write - I've been reading lots. And, the more I read, the more I kick myself, thinking how did we miss this?
Well, we missed it because we weren't looking for it or we didn't want to see it or maybe we knew but were in denial? So many possibilities. Maybe we were simply avoiding the dreaded labels.
But the one thing labelling TJ's foibles has done, has been to open so many doors to him. Particularly with education.
He was accepted into a specialist school and, whilst to begin with we were concerned as to how he would fit in - it hasn't bothered him a bit. He loves it. He has even talked about his learning difficulties and how the school are helping him.
Yes, its very like a primary school in its outlook, but he is so less stressed. I haven't had a single day of school refusal - yet (touch wood). He is up every morning, with his uniform on and ready to go. He loves maths, science and forestry... I didn't even know forestry was a thing! He has made friends and has even been invited to a party. I can honestly say that he is a different little boy.
He still swears at me on a regular basis (I blame the FAS) and he still has his stubborn moments - like refusing to leave the house for my birthday dinner as he had a TV programme to watch and was already in his pyjamas. But these are little things that pale into comparison with what we were dealing with before and to be honest, I can sit back and laugh at them.
I can breathe again.
The house is so less stressful, Papa is calmer, I'm calmer and this boys actually seem to get on (most of the time)...
Tomorrow, I'll tell you all about KC. Two positive posts in two days - how will you cope! :>
Well - it's certainly been another interesting week - it's never dull in the world of adoption. Sometimes, I'd just like there to be nothing to write about - just a boring, old, run of the mill, family week.
This week TJ refused to go back to school - ever.
I've never experienced school refusal before - that was for other people's children, that was for parents who had no discipline or control over their kids - where their children dictate the rules, where there is a lack of boundaries...
But, no. School refusal is very different. I watched as our youngest son, who has always loved going to school, became a crumpled heap on the floor, crying and begging me not to make him go. A child who clung to his bedclothes like a toddler, trying to hide within the sheets. I told him he could stay at home that day. And TJ did the unthinkable - he simply sighed and went to sleep. TJ never sleeps - never - especially not when the sun is up. As I've learned, sleep is a big issue for children with FAS, their brains simply find it very difficult to shut down and logically, why would you sleep when the sun is up. So in the winter months, TJ can be in his pyjamas and in bed for around 6.30 - in the summer though it's a different matter.
So I went into school to meet with the SENCo regarding TJ's draft EHC plan (the plan for children with special needs).
The plan is supposed to be a detailed document stating the issues that the child faces and the ways in which the local authority need them to be addressed - it's a legally binding document that has to be adhered to. In reality of course, it's a mess, written by people who have never met my child and rely on information given to them - everything has to be evidenced, even down to getting the geneticist to provided a detailed letter outlining her diagnosis - twice. But we have managed to get TJ a plan - except the plan is so vague - so the SENCo and I had agreed to meet in order to provide the LA with the language for the support needed - yes, we are writing it for them (to be honest, I think that is pretty much the norm).
To see TJ's needs written down and to hear just how much of a struggle school is for him was tough. To hear how he simply doesn't understand the social skills required to know the difference between a joke and a threat, to hear that he has never even ventured into the school playground because its just too loud and scary for him. To hear how other children get him to 'share' his lunch with them in order for them to be his 'friends' whilst he then goes hungry - how he was pushed against a wall and his glasses broken.. and so much more was hard. Yes, the school are investigating every incident - but we had to face the fact that TJ cannot cope in large school environment and he was going to struggle with later school life as he simply doesn't have the ability to think critically - to access the curriculum and because he can't access the curriculum he is called names and ridiculed... children can be cruel.
To hear all of this was tough - but then to imagine how he must feel living through it - that was harder. No wonder he didn't want to go to school. And we, as parents, had made the decision to follow the local authorities advice - to put him in mainstream school to see if he could cope. Essentially we had set him up to fail - but it was only by failing that he was going to get the help he so desperately needs. His failure was the evidence the local authority wanted.
This failure, coupled with the coming to terms with his diagnosis, led to a conversation where TJ was very open about his wish to die - why should he live - he couldn't be cured, everyone hates him, he hates himself - that was hard to hear but despite that - we have to be strong for him - to reassure him, to get him the help he needs. We've done it for KC (finally - his school placement has been agreed) now its TJ's turn.
So, the school refusal was no surprise to anyone at his school - they were surprised he had carried on for as long as he has. At one point the SENCo said that maybe the refusal was a good thing because now the authority had to listen - thank goodness the EHC was in place as now they have to find him a suitable school place - however, we now face the battle of there simply not being enough specialist places available. So, as one boy goes back into education, the other one comes out... My life is a revolving door of educational needs - but still we soldier on!