Stories

Nearly a year ago, a senior social worker sat in my living room and asked me if I thought I was ‘maybe talking about before the girls came to live with us too much?’ and that ‘maybe I just needed to stop talking about it and let them settle.’ A senior social worker.

In our house we seem to talk about the girls’ first family nearly every day in one way or another. I don’t know whether this is an indication of the fact that the girls really don’t feel settled here, that I’m not doing the right things to help the girls feel settled here (this is certainly the view of social work), whether it shows that we’re doing an okay job of creating an environment where the girls can talk and ask questions every day or whether it’s because actually, my children had another family before they came to me and they need to know about them.

One day in the holidays, L burst into tears in the swimming pool changing rooms and said she was sad because she doesn’t live with her birth mummy and she wants to. We talked about it (not that easy trying to have a conversation about things I’m not sure L would want sharing in a cubicle but we did.) Yesterday L asked me if her grannie and grandad were the grannie and grandad of her siblings. At teatime we talked about where L’s blonde hair comes from. These conversations are part of our everyday.

Last year, B did some ‘life story work’ with me and the psychologist. I’m going to be honest, the phrase ‘life story work’ does not sit well with me. ‘Work’ implies that it is something that MUST be done, not something that someone wants to do and, while I understand that the phrase ‘the story of your life’ is used in other contexts, ‘story’ implies that it is fictional. If I’m teaching about how to write a story, one of the key points is that it’s made up, it’s not real. So what I’m actually doing is  ‘life recount work’, I’m recounting the part of their life before they came to live with me. But again, if I’m teaching, a key criteria in writing a recount is that it contains feelings or emotions. I can’t talk about how the girls felt before they came to live with me. I can say ‘I wonder if that felt…’ but I don’t know. So what I’m actually doing is reporting. I’m giving the facts about the time before they lived with me. And sadly, the facts that I’m basing my report on are very minimal. The facts have been collected by someone who was not particularly invested in the girls’ future. So what I’m actually doing is giving the girls a very basic outline of their lives. I can’t fill it with tales of first words, first steps, favourite foods, ‘oh and you used to love it when…’ I know so little about their time with their first family that most of the questions they ask (L asks) have to be answered with ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know but we can write it down as something we would like to try to find out.’

So I don’t know if we do ‘too much’ talking about before the girls came to us. I always take the girls lead and I always do my best to answer their questions as best I can. I also always do my best to listen to them when they tell me that they want to live with their birth mum. I don’t know if I’m really doing anything right. But L’s quite good at telling me when I’m not, so I think, at the moment, I’ll listen to her rather than the social worker.

The best bits

We went away this weekend! We walked on a Roman wall, we dressed up, we had cake, we went swimming and we went out for tea. We had some fun.

 

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Teaching

I have a feeling that this blog post will have no conclusion and will just be a series of ramblings.

Being a teacher and an adoptive parent is tricky. Being a teacher and being on Twitter is sometimes tricky. I know how frustrating and heartbreaking it can be when our children’s needs are not met at school. I’ve vented my frustrations about this.

I know how much should be being done for every single child in every single class. But I also know how desperately hard that’s becoming.

Next year, I will have 33 children in my class. 9 of whom have significant additional needs. 1 of whom has support. I also have a child with diabetes and two with epilepsy. And this isn’t an out of the ordinary class. Meeting every child’s needs at every point in the day is not going to be easy. I’m going to miss things. I’m going to miss potential triggers that could alert me to how a child is doing. I’m not going to get it right every time. But I know that by missing things, I could accidentally escalate things and that child then finds themselves in a situation they can’t cope with. And I know that that child might go home and show everyone at home just how tricky their day has been.

In my first year of teaching, one of the children in my class threw a table at me. It broke my big toe and I have no toenail on that toe. Now, clearly, I missed some triggers. But should I be assaulted in my place of work? I’ve been hurt by children several times in my career. I’ve been punched, bitten and kicked. The boy who threw a table at me was excluded from school for two days. Was this the right measure? I don’t know. *

It sometimes feels like, particularly being a primary teacher, that we are expected to solve everything. Children are having increased dental problems, we now brush teeth in school, children aren’t getting enough exercise, we have to do more in school, children aren’t being exposed to other languages, we have to teach two of them in schools. I’m not saying that these things shouldn’t be happening, but the pressure to meet targets doesn’t lessen. We’re still expected to meet age related expectations as well as teaching children about growing vegetables.

I am aware that there are some teachers that are not prepared to see things another way, teachers that think that all children should be able to learn in the same way and cope with the same things. But most don’t. Most are willing to learn and support children. But sometimes they will get it wrong. With all my knowledge that I’ve gained over the last four years, I still get it wrong. When a child has answered me back or they are refusing to do something, I don’t always manage it in the way I know best. And that’s me knowing what I know.

So yes, I think that absolutely, more should be being done for all children in schools. Much more should be being done to meet needs, to look at individuals and to see what can be done to support them. But if it’s not being done, it’s not necessarily the class teacher’s fault. It needs money, it needs training, it needs leadership, it needs resources and it needs time. Most of us are working incredibly hard to meet every child’s needs. But education needs investing in and, at the moment, the opposite is happening.

I don’t have the answers to how we get it right all the time. I’ve mostly found that I can have extremely ‘challenging’ children in my class and that by the end of the year, they are a lot less ‘challenging’. But that takes a lot from me. As I get older and my own pressures from home take more and more precedence in my life, I don’t know how much I’m going to be able to sustain this level of teaching. I want to, but I don’t know how feasible it actually is.

As I said, I have no conclusions. And I know that not everyone will agree with me. And that’s okay.

*Very sadly, the wee boy who threw a table at me was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was 18. He asked me to go and visit him in the hospital. I did and when I got there, he’d run away. I left him a note saying ‘I’m glad to see I’m still having to chase you round to get you to listen to me.’ He sent me a message apologising and thanking me for the presents I’d brought. There are people that say relationships don’t matter at schools. But they do. That wee boy has had a heck of a life, but he remembered me and I still remember him. For me, relationships will always be a fundamental part of my teaching.

 

 

Halfway through

Number of pots of tea made: 120

Number of pots of tea drunk: 14

Number of times I’ve been told to shut up: 120

Number of times I’ve been told ‘I HATE YOU!’: too many

Number of lie ins: 0

Number of days away: 1

Number of hours spent in a wetsuit: 7534

Number of chocolate bars consumed: incalculable

Number of run aways: 4

Number of real smiles: 2

Number of new neighbours who probably wish we hadn’t moved: 5

Number of trips to the park: 86

Number of times I’ve been told ‘I like being at school better than home: 48

Number of times lunch has been met with ‘ugh, I don’t like this’: 512 (feels like)

Number of ice lollies asked for: 600

Number of ice lollies given: 600

Number of dinosaurs trodden on: 6

Number of playdoh tubs eaten: 2.5

Number of stories read: 3421

Number of minutes sat in the swing seat: 17 (5 lovely ones with them both)

Number of minutes looking for headlice: 634

Number of minutes buying worming treatment for us all: 10

Number of minutes digging holes: 838

Number of minutes creating amazing sandcastles: 432

Number of times climbing and abseiling: 17

Number of days spent with lovely friends: 2

number of minutes finding crabs, seaweed, anemones, birds, bees, caterpillars, butterflies: 459

Number of times running in and out of the sea: 4328

We’re actually just over halfway through the holidays. There have been many terrifying, ‘I cannot do this’ days but there’s been a few lovely bits too. Big spotting a butterfly, Little going down the rapids in the canoe, spending time with people who understand, swimming in the loch, making lunch together. Holidays are always hard here. But there’s been some good bits.

How?

‘How do we keep doing this?’, is the question that keeps flying across my brain.

How do we keep doing this when we are so worn down?

How do I keep showing love to a child for whom, the very idea of love, is terrifying?

How we keep doing this when we have two children? And one of them is so full of trauma that it threatens to engulf the other?

How do we keep doing this when we’re all exhausted?

How do we keep doing this when the fear masking anger is so fierce, so intense, so filled with hatred?

How do I keep being a mummy to her when she doesn’t want me to be?

How do we keep doing, when our lives are already so small, and they need to be smaller?

How do we keep doing this when the physical hurts are so huge?

How do we keep on when we don’t feel safe?

How do we keep on asking for help when I just keep being told that it’s everything that I’m doing that’s causing this?

How do we keep doing this when I have no more ideas about how to help her?

How do I keep doing this when I’m scared?

How do we keep doing this when everyone’s hurting so much?

At the moment, we’re keeping on, keeping on. We deal with what we’re dealing with, we go to bed and we get up and deal with it again. But my child is hurting so much. And I don’t know how to help her. And I don’t know how to help my other child live with all of this either. So we keep doing this. But it’s hard.

 

Shield

Over the years, I’ve learnt to be a shield for my children.

I shield them from sports days to avoid all the people, I shield them by going in the inside way to school so that it’s calmer, I shield them from parties, where I know they’ll find it too hard to manage. I shield them by keeping routines the same as much as possible.

When we attempt new things, I shield them by using strategies that I know help, with crunchy snacks, with soft clothes, with ear defenders, with chewy necklaces, with preparation, with keeping close.

I shield them by trying to be alert to all situations that could possibly be a trigger for them.

I shield them from each other. I’ve slept on the floor for nearly a year to give them both the space they need. I’ve sat in the hall too many times to count so they can both see me and talk to me, when they can’t be together. I’ve literally been a human shield to stop one being hurt by the other.

I shield them from people who don’t understand. Who ask questions and demand answers. Who tell them repeatedly that they’re smiling so they’re happy. Who touch them constantly.

But I’m discovering that my shield isn’t big enough. I can’t shield Little from Big’s trauma. She is going to sleep surrounded by it, she wakes up surrounded by it and she’s had enough. It doesn’t matter how tight I cuddle her, how many quiet songs I sing, I can’t protect her from it, it seeps through. I’m really struggling to keep her safe at the moment and it feels terrible.

I can’t shield Big from everything that could possibly be a trigger. I can’t shield her from the thousands of things that life throws at her everyday.

And of course, there was the time in my children’s life when I couldn’t shield them. I couldn’t shield them from the hurt, the neglect, the terrifying experiences they had. But then, if I had been able to, would they need shielding from so much now?

The best bits

‘Look mummy! Cat’s faces! Daddy says you have to drive over the faces to keep them clean!’

‘Look mummy, I found a P2! A P2! No wait, what is it? A 2p? Look mummy, I found a P2!’

Big did a backward roll to standing this week at gymnastics. (On the slope.) This is huge progress, she’s getting so much stronger.

This week

This week Big locked me in the bathroom.

This week Little told me she feels better when she can say that birth mummy took her to nice places.

This week at work, one of the children in one of the groups I take, screamed at me for twenty minutes that he hated me and wanted to kill me. Then he screamed for another hour that he hated writing and he hated school.

This week at work, another child in a different group, attempted to self harm for most of the lesson.

This week Big let me rock her in the hammock swing at the OT.

This week Big spat her toothpaste all over me.

This week we had quite a nice day out.

This week, both the girls did handstands on the trampoline.

This week, Big’s made me feel quite scared.

This week Little’s been desperate to finish Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. ‘No mummy, don’t stop, what happens?!’

This week we had something different for tea.

This week we toasted marshmallows in the garden.

This week, Big’s hurt me a lot.

This week has, as always, been a bit up and down.

The best bits

For about two years Little has wanted to ‘have an ice cream shop with mummy’ when she grows up. Today she announced that she wanted to be a pilot and that mummy would sell the ice creams on the plane. I love that she has dreams and that I’m part of them.

Big let me hold her for about three minutes at the OT. I sang her a song and rocked her to and fro.

Hope

After the 42 millionth time of Little asking, we went out of the bubble today. It was not to somewhere completely new, we’d been three times before. We mapped the day out and we did pretty much exactly the same as we’ve done on previous visits.

And I knew it wouldn’t be good. As we got ready to go, I kept telling myself that she was going to find it very difficult and that the day would not be as I hoped it would be. But there’s that word: hope. Even when I think I’ve lowered my expectations far enough, I still have some hope. I still hope that this is the day we manage it. That we’ve done everything she needs us to do to feel safe enough to come away and then come back. That she can feel safe enough with us to relax a bit while we’re out and enjoy it.

I don’t know whether hope is going to be the thing that keeps us trying these days away, or if hope is going to be the reason I’m sobbing in the back of the car on the M74 trying to restrain an extremely dysregulated child.

Hope keeps me going but also feels to be the thing that stops me from lowering my expectations enough. It’s the thing that at the end of the day when I say, ‘I’ve had a lovely day, thank you for sharing it with me,’ makes me think we might just make it home safely. It’s the thing that I have to keep for Little. Because how can we not hope to give her a life that allows her to see different places and people?

I don’t know whether Big wants me to keep hoping and trying or if she’s desperately hoping that I stop and we can stop attempting these things that leave her feeling so unsafe and dysregulated.

Today, hope left me sad. It left me feeling that it’s just so much easier not to. But then I tucked Little into bed and she said, ‘Thank you mummy,’ and the hope came back. Maybe one day I’ll get it right for both of them. I hope so.