Terrible

I am being a terrible parent at the moment. I am not able to do any of the things that I need to do. And the really terrible thing is that I am only being a terrible parent to one of my children. My other child gets what is quite frankly, awesome parenting.

There is no PLACE in my parenting with my eldest. Or actually, that’s not fair. I do try. But every attempt is met with verbal or physical abuse, it is met with a complete refusal (inability) to look at me, to engage with me, to even exist with me in the same space.

Last week we went out for lunch. We have one place that we go to for lunch, and it is still very hit and miss as to whether it is successful or not. There is a small park outside this place. Little got to the slide first, so Big peed on the slide to stop Little being able to go down it again. But Little ‘I have a concentration ability of approximately 3.9 seconds’, was already on the swings by this point. I tried hard to be accepting, ‘It’s really hard when you can’t do everything first’ but inside my head was screaming, ‘You peed on the slide! You can’t pee on a slide because you didn’t get to go first. Other people use the slide. You’re now covered in pee.’ And the worst bit was that Big didn’t come to say, ‘I’m covered in pee.’ I had to chase her round to get her back and say to her ‘You seem to be wet.’ My head knows what I should do in these situations, but I’m not managing to do it. I’m just cross that she’s done it.

I’m finding it very difficult to be okay as instantly as I need to be. Last week I was pushed into the wall so hard I didn’t just see stars, I saw tweeting bluebirds too. But there was no acknowledgement that it even happened. I was wordlessly handed a book and was expected to read it. And if I’m not instantly ready again, everything escalates back to fever pitch. When I’m told I’m the worst mum ever, or that she hates me, or that she wishes she didn’t have to have me for a mum or all the other things that are thrown at me, I’m expected to be okay again. To get on with things as if they never happened. And I can’t. I cannot manage this at the moment. So things are never calm because she doesn’t feel safe when I need a second, and I never get chance to take a second so my adrenalin levels feel constantly raised.

The worst bit about my terrible parenting is that I know that Big cannot help this. She didn’t choose to feel this way. The way her brain makes decisions makes sense to her. (If you don’t want someone to go on the slide, peeing on it is an effective way to make that happen.) But sometimes I see how far other adoptive families have come in supporting their children to voice how they are feeling, to help their children feel safe, to be able to talk about things that are worrying them and I feel terrible about how I’m not able to do this for Big. I know that I got it really wrong for the first three months. But for three and a half years I’ve tried really hard to get it right for her, and she doesn’t seem to feel any safer here. I don’t know how to keep going with this. To find whatever it is I need to find to keep trying to help her. I don’t know how to keep being rejected and hurt. I don’t know how to keep being okay again. Because I’m not okay. And she’s not either.

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Feeling

There is a saying that love is a verb. That you have to ‘do’ love as well as just feel it. But I think for Little, love is definitely a noun. She can feel the love between us like a physical thing. Her invisible string isn’t really invisible, it’s something that she can see and touch.

Last weekend, we were sat at the table drawing and I kept grinning at her. Her response was to squeeze her shoulders up, grin at me then throw her arms around me and tell me she loved me.

She’s so safe in this love. She knows that she can make mistakes and that the love remains. She is beginning to realise that she can show us love, pictures she’s made at school, wee presents that she gives us (toys of hers ‘wrapped up’ in a piece of paper). She understands that mistakes can be put right.

This love that she can feel keeps her safe. It allows her to try new things, to go to new places, to express wishes and to express fears. It allows her to talk about her birth parents when she needs to talk about them and to ask the questions she needs to ask.

Big doesn’t have this feeling to keep her safe. She mainly exists in a bubble that she feels she needs to keep around her at all times. Only she can protect herself. Any love that she is given has to work really hard to get through this extra strong invisible bubble that she has.

For weeks, (unless other people have been here,) the only communication we’ve had is her telling me that she hates me, or that I’m horrible, or that I’m the worst mummy or that she’s going to hurt me every day until she goes back to her birth mum. Or she’s growled at me. My head knows this comes from fear. But my heart is starting to put its own layer of protection up. Loving someone who lives in fear of love is very hard.

I wish that I could help her feel that she is safe here. I wish I could help her feel that she can accept our love a little bit and not worry about it leaving. I wish that she didn’t feel that she has to hide the fear inside anger and violence. I know that this is a long journey but I wish that I could somehow make it a little bit easier.

A ‘playday’

Today, after school, Little had a playday. I spent the day feeling quite sick about it as the last time we tried this, Little had the biggest meltdown I’ve ever seen her have and her friend went home in tears.

Last time, Big simply couldn’t manage Little being able to manage and found a way to control the situation and leave Little feeling excluded.

This time, I asked my mum and dad if they could look after Big for an hour so that Little could have some time with her friend.

For an hour, I got to listen to Little playing, laughing, giggling and just having fun. They didn’t say, ‘pretend the dinosaur said…, pretend the dinosaur walked away.’ They were the characters and they went with the flow. Nobody tried to control anything, nobody spent the entire time lining things up (or trying to construct ‘games’ that involve lining everything up), nobody hid something of the other person’s, nobody got cross. They just played. (With Little’s sensory issues about people being too close or too loud, I did hover the whole time but she did so well, even saying at one point, ‘I’m just going to move into this space here.’)

It breaks my heart that Big cannot manage this. That she cannot manage to have a friend round to play. But it breaks my heart that Little’s life is so taken up with Big’s trauma. I’m so used to the way they play that it’s another thing I’ve (sort of) accepted. I’ve accepted that their world of play is going to be ‘Pretend the mermaid said I’m going over here.’ ‘Pretend the dinosaur said I’m going to school now.’ But when you see that actually, Little doesn’t need it to be this way, that she’s adapted her play to make it easier for Big, it makes me so sad. Her whole life is about making adjustments for her sister. She’s desperate to go to the wildlife park again but Big’s behaviour in the car is just so terrifying that we just can’t risk it at the moment.

People have lots of ideas about how I can help Big and some of their ideas are very good. But I always want to say ‘And what do I do with Little?’ We didn’t do anything for Mother’s Day but halfway through the day Little said, ‘I know Big can’t manage it but I want to celebrate it. I love you lots and lots.’ (I think a big part of it was a reason to put a party dress on, she is a fan of a party dress, but I did appreciate the sentiment.) But we didn’t do anything because we know we need to make it easier for Big. And then you start realising that everything we do is to make things easier for our eldest.

Little keeps asking for ‘The boy who built a wall’ to be read to her. She says that she needs to keep reading it so that she can help Big take her wall down just like she’s taken her wall down. That she needs to know what she has to do to help Big. And we have lots of conversations about the fact that she doesn’t need to have that ‘job’ and that mummy and daddy will keep trying to do that but she is adamant that she wants to help her sister ‘feel safe like me.’

Trauma is still such a huge part of her life, some of it is hers and a lot of it is Big’s. I wish that it wasn’t this way, that she didn’t have to constantly live her life in a way that makes it easier for someone else. The way she does this is incredible and makes me realise sometimes that I am not dealing with it in an even remotely incredible way. She has the capacity for more empathy than a lot of adults I meet.

So I’m very grateful that my mum and dad have moved up here and that Little was able to have some time. Listening to her laughing with her friend was wonderful.

The best bits

At gymnastics this week, Big managed to get onto the beam using a front support and walk along it by herself.

Last night she read me a cvc phonic book from start to finish. She never reads to me so it was lovely to hear her.

Little chose to go through the ‘outside’ way with her class on Wednesday. She’s been going the inside way but told my mum that she wanted to try being with her friends and she did it! It was the first thing she told me when I picked her up, she was so proud of herself.

 

 

‘Her mum’

When I talk to the girls about their birth mum, I often refer to her as mum, especially when talking to Big. I tend to follow their lead and call her by whatever they choose to call her in the conversation we’re having at the time.

But when the psychologist referred to her as ‘her mum’ throughout a whole meeting we had on Friday, it really bothered me and I’m cross that it did.

It felt like there was a person missing at the meeting but also it felt like my place at the meeting was being minimised. I was merely the person doing an interim job.

I think for Big, this is possibly how she feels a lot of the time. There is a person missing from her life and I am the person currently doing the job of filling that role. She is still (and possibly will always be) waiting for me to leave. Everyone else has, so I will too. No amount of meetings where I fight for support for her, or every day of me being where I say I’m going to be, or putting her to bed each night, can take away the feeling of, ‘everyone else left, you will too.’ At the moment, Big is adamant that she doesn’t want to be here, she wants to be with birth mum.

The girls’ birth mum is currently living in our small town. The chances of one day having an unplanned meeting are quite high. I keep being told that birth mum would not be able to manage this and that the likelihood is that she would ‘run a mile if she saw the girls.’ The flippancy with which this statement is uttered makes me blood boil. Can you imagine if the main thing that you think about is seeing a person, and then if you happened to see that person she ‘ran a mile’? How do my children deal with that? How do I possibly explain it to them? How do I stop them feeling rejection all over again?

These assessments about birth mum are being made on assumptions. Nobody has spoken to her for four years. No one really has any understanding of how she would manage this. Everyone is looking at patterns of the past and assuming that that is the path that will be taken again. But they don’t know.

The uncertainties in this are obviously the biggest thing. We live with lots of ‘what ifs’ that might never come to anything but that we have to have a plan for just in case. I don’t know if we’ll ever need the plans but what I do know is that I don’t want my daughter’s first time of seeing her mum again to be on the street watching her ‘run a mile’. I don’t want it to be unplanned in front of people on the street. I want both the people involved in it to feel they have some control over it.

I’ll be honest, I have lots of ‘sometimes I wish’ moments. Sometimes I wish that this was something that wasn’t happening. Sometimes I wish that ‘mum’ didn’t mean two people. Mostly I wish that I could somehow stop my children from having to feel the way they do. But then they wouldn’t be my children.

The best bits

We had a snow day this week. We sledged, we threw snowballs and we made a snow house. There were some moments of fun and it was good.

We went for a walk yesterday in some huge snow drifts. It was good fun seeing them jump into them and try to work out when they might fall through them or when they might stay on the top.

The girls have just started to sing along to songs (that are not Disney related) in the car. Listening to Little singing Kiss ‘I was made for lovin’ you’ is quite possibly one of my most favourite things ever.

 

Three minutes

Today I watched some video clips that the OT had picked out from our last session with Big. They totalled three minutes long. Three minutes out of an hour.

In those three minutes, Big allowed me to help her, she allowed me to explain something to her and she let me touch her. All amazing things.

But it just brings to the fore of how much time she’s not able to do that. For fifty seven minutes out of the hour, she spent the whole time actively not being in my space and actively not allowing me to help her. So in a twelve hour day, she has thirty six minutes where she feels safe enough to let me help. That’s a lot of time that she feels unsafe.

I realise that being at the OT is a different space and that things might be slightly different at home but essentially my big girl spends an awful lot of time actively trying to avoid help. As the OT described it, ‘She’s independent to the point of it hurting her.’

The OT was very quick to point out that for the whole session I was doing everything that I need to do and that when Big is ready to accept it, the help is there. But it was so hard to watch.

Trying to reframe this as, ‘for three minutes she let me help’ rather than ‘for fifty seven minutes she didn’t let me help’ is hard. It’s hard watching someone you love struggle rather than ask. It’s hard watching someone that you love walk in as big a circle as she can to avoid being anywhere near you. It’s hard watching someone that you love battle on rather than listen to a suggestion.

As I said to the OT, once again, it reinforces how hard daily life is for Big. How she has to overcome so much to do anything and yet she does. Everyday she gets up and she gets on. And yes, I wish more than anything that I could help her, to make things even slightly easier. But ‘for three minutes she let me help’ and as ever, the hope is, that slowly, those three minutes turn into something longer.

The best bits

The girls made a ‘rainbow world’ this weekend. They stuck lots of pieces of coloured paper together, drew a road on it, lots of houses and cars and some people. They spent ages working on it and it looks fab.

Little had a birthday! She got a skateboard and is so keen to go on it. ‘Mummy, you take Big round the big loop on her bike, me and daddy are going to stay here and work on my jumps.’

 

You might see…

If you were to come into our house you might see us playing on the floor. You might see Little sitting very close to me or on me and Big sitting quite far away.

You might not see the little smiles I give Big and the little squeezes on the knee or the foot.

If you came to school to pick the girls up, you might see Big not move when she sees me. You might see me having to go to her and help her out of her seat to come with me. You might see that she doesn’t smile when she sees me. You might see Little come running, shouting, ‘MUMMY!’

You might not see the wee kiss I drop on top of Big’s head or the wee squeezes and rubs I give her hand as we walk up the road.

If you were to watch bedtime you might see Little give me a huge hug and say ‘I love you, I love you, I love my mama.’ You might see Big drop her head when I go in. You might see Big not being able to say anything at bedtime.

You might not see the kiss I drop on the back of her head. You might not see me whisper ‘I love you, I will see you in the morning, I love you.’

If you came on a day out with us, you might see Big try to run away rather than come home with us. You might see Big hit and kick and shout at me.

You might not see me whispering, ‘I know it’s hard. I know it’s scary. It’s okay to be scared.’

If you came into our house you might see a girl who looks perfectly happy and content. You might see a girl who smiles. You might see a girl who looks happy where she is.

You might not see a girl who holds herself away from people ever so slightly. You might not see that her smile is slightly too wide. You might not see how scared she is.

If you came into our house you might think, ‘That mum is with one child much more than the other.’

You might not see how many books the mum has read to try to understand her eldest child better. You might not see how she seeks advice from other parents to help her with different strategies. You might not see how much she fights to get help for her eldest child. You might not see how hard she keeps trying to find ways to be closer to her eldest child.

You might come into the house and sometimes see a parent holding back tears after she has tried to help her child. You might see a child struggling with a coat and see the parent taking a second to take a deep breath rather than helping her.

You might not see the years of trying to help. The years of not being spoken to or touched unless someone is watching. You might not see how many ways the parent tries to help the child and the different ways that that help is rejected. You might not see how scared she is that she will never be able to help her.

I understand that people need to comment on my relationship with Big. I understand that they need to point out the things that they see. I understand that the first thing that people would suggest is that my parenting might be at fault. I’m sure there will always be things that I need to do differently. But I wish people would listen to the things that they don’t see. I wish that people could see that Big needs help. Big and I need help. But that, even though you don’t always see it, I am trying.

The best bits

We went away for the weekend a few weeks ago. I wish I could show you a photo of Little’s face at the bottom of the waterslide. It was just wonderful.

Big had her first session with the OT last week. She persevered with climbing up a hanging ladder and did really well.

I went on the water slides too. At one point I screamed out loud and then giggled. I can recommend it.

‘Real’

Little: I’m your Baba. I came out of your tummy and you called me Little.

Me: Oh Babs. Remember, you came out of birth mummy’s tummy. She called you Little.

Little: Grr. What about my big brother and sister, are they adocted too?

Me: No sweetheart, they stay with their birth daddy.

Little: Grr. Do they have a real daddy though?

Me: They stay with him, with their birth daddy.

Little: NO! I don’t mean that. I mean a real daddy , like the daddy I have just now. My daddy.*

She was so very cross that I’d misunderstood her.

My two have very differing opinions on what ‘real’ is. Big is very clear that I’m not her ‘real’ mum. That she doesn’t want to live here and that she doesn’t have to do anything I ask because I’m not her ‘real’ mum.

The dictionary defines real as: Actually existing as a thing or occurring in fact.

We’re all real in this story, we all occur and exist. I’m sure that the word will be used in many ways over the years. Little’s understanding or thinking of it may change, it may not. Big’s understanding of it or thinking of it may change, it may not. But we’re all real.

The best bits

We went up our local ‘mountain’ (340m) on New Years Day. The girls were amazing. They kept going and were really pleased to get to the top. Big finds descending really hard but she didn’t stop and did so well.

We watched Ballerina this holiday (not the most well chosen film.) Little has shown everybody the ‘sixteen’ positions and has not stopped dancing since.

*I should point out that I have not been able to have one of these conversations with Little without being in tears. Her ability to voice everything astounds me.

** Some of you may have read a blog by Al Coates (MBE) a few weeks ago and might be thinking that this post sounds familiar. This is simply a matter of coincidental timing and not an attempt at plagiarism.