Consulting Detective

‘It’s very quiet in the car today.’ means ‘Please can we have the music on?’

‘It says spaghetti bolognese on the picture.’ means ‘Is it spaghetti or is it twirly pasta?’

‘I’m a bit hot.’ means ‘Please could I have a drink?’

‘It’s nice and warm in the garden today.’ means ‘Please can we have an ice lolly.’

‘This sandwich is still big.’ means ‘Please can you cut it up for me?’

‘It says we’re going swimming on the picture.’ means ‘Are we going to the big pool or the little pool?’

‘It’s Friday today.’ means ‘Are we having Friday sweets?’

‘I like the park.’ means ‘Can we go to the park?’

‘It’s Tuesday today.’ means ‘I am wearing trousers for school?’

‘We played in the paddling pool yesterday.’ means ‘Can we play in the paddling pool today?’

‘Little’s not in the bedroom.’ means ‘Where’s Little?’

‘This story looks nice.’ means ‘Please can we read this tonight/just now?’

‘It’s hot in the car.’ means ‘Can I put the window down?’

Big never asks a question. Everything that she needs is asked for by making statements. I understand it. It’s scary to ask a question because the answer might be no. It’s scary to ask a question because that sometimes leads to people asking you things back. It’s scary to ask a question because the answer could mean that you’re no longer in control. It’s scary to ask a question because it might reveal something about you and you’re not ready for that yet. It’s scary to ask a question because it involves trusting that the person will be able to do the things you’re asking for.

Most of the time I’m tuned into this and I can interpret what she needs. Most of the time I preempt things and try to have whatever she needs waiting to try to reassure that they will be here. Lots of times I can be found with my head in the cup cupboard muttering ‘just ask for a drink, how hard can it be to just ask for a drink’, and very occasionally I can be heard shouting, ‘Just ask! I have no idea what it is you need/want, you’re going to have to ask.’

Because I wish she could ask. I wish she could, like Little, just go and get what she needs (Little often checks after the event if she’s actually allowed to get what she’s got but that’s a different story.) I wish she could trust that I will do the things she needs me to do. I wish that I didn’t have to play detective quite so often. I wish she could ask.

The best bits

Both the girls did a sponsored bike ride at school today. This meant different clothes, taking their bikes to school, riding their bikes at school, seeing each other at school. They did really well. I did mention that the girls are more sprinters than peloton riders and it seemed they were put in positions that meant they didn’t have to ride with the group!

Little and I have been in the garden a lot this week. She is wonderful company. ‘I like helping you mummy. Is this one a weed?’ ‘I’ll go and get my wheelbarrow to move all this mess mummy. Wait there!’

You’ll get there

Whenever I try to talk to people about things that we find tricky, the standard response seems to be, ‘oh, you’ll get there.’

It seems to be the response when people find themselves so far away from their own experiences that they offer this as a sort of encouragement. Sometimes it is said by people who genuinely know how things are and they are wanting to reassure us that it will get better. And sometimes it is said because the fact that we’re not ‘there’ yet is really quite annoying and could we hurry up and get there because it is impacting on their plans.

The thing is, I’m not sure where ‘there’ is. Is it that we will be able to do what most families are able to do? Is it that we’ll be able to do a bit more than we can do now? Is it that one day I won’t moan so much when things are hard because they’re not that hard and we’ll be fine?

And if we don’t get ‘there’, have we failed? Have we failed as a family? Have we failed Big? Have we failed Little? If we’re never able to do the things that people want us to do, what then? Will they keep insisting that ‘we’ll get there?’ Oh will they be willing to accept what our ‘there’ is and accommodate us accordingly?

Because our ‘there’ might look very different to how people expect it to. Our ‘there’ might be going away for the day and nobody being hurt on the way home. It might be being able to spend the day at home without anything organised. It might be trying new food. It might be expressing our feelings through words rather than actions. It might be being able to empathise with someone else.

Our ‘there’ is just that, it’s ours. It’s not to be compared with anybody else’s. We’re not to feel that we have to constantly strive to do the things that people think we should be doing. We have to continue to hope. And we have to continue to add to our tools to help our children manage more but we have look at where we are. And, if and when we get ‘there’, it’ll be our ‘there’, not theirs.

The best bits

We went to the woods for a walk today. There is a fallen tree that the girls like to walk along. Today, Big climbed onto it like she would the beam at gymnastics, and, totally unaided walked along. This is the first time she’s done this. ‘I need to tell gymnastics!’ she said as she jumped off.

When we went swimming on Friday, Little jumped into the pool and tried to sit on the bottom. When she came up, she announced, ‘I KNEW I could do this!’

Yesterday I went to see my niece. We had a lovely day at the local show. We watched sheep dancing, ferrets racing and horses jumping. And my brother’s dog won ‘waggiest tail’. Fab day.

Enough

Tonight we had sausage sandwiches (Big’s favourite), a bit of pasta (made without mayonnaise because Big doesn’t like it), chopped up pepper and cucumber (Big likes them) and fresh pineapple for pudding (one of Big’s favourite.)

Tonight I have been punched in the breast, nipped, growled at, been told that she hates me (many times), been told to ‘shut my mouth’ and had swear words whispered under her breath at me. Not major things. But really not very nice things.

I realised afterwards that I didn’t really factor anyone else into tea. I didn’t make anything with Little in mind, or me, or my husband. It was all for Big.

We plan everything knowing what Big can manage. We see people Big can manage seeing, we go places we know she can manage going. If Little asks to do something we have to say that we can’t go, knowing that Big won’t be able to manage it.

For nearly 3 years we’ve done everything with her in mind. I’ve spent the whole time trying to fill her up, trying to help her feel happy, trying to help her feel less scared.

But trauma and early neglect and abuse make for a very leaky bucket. I cannot fill it up quick enough before it is empty again. 5 minutes of cuddles in the morning are gone the second they finish. A special snack with a heart post it lasts for about five seconds. Favourite colouring sheets, favourite foods, favourite DVDs, favourite places barely cover the bottom of the bucket before they are gone. Closeness, special activities, one to one, all leak out before I have time to pour anymore in.

One of the hardest things I find is that I find myself borrowing from Little’s bucket. I take time from Little and give it to Big. I reason that Little’s empathy is huge so she’ll be able to understand why she can’t sit on my knee because Big needs it. I reason that Little will understand why we can’t go to the park on the way home from school, because Big can’t manage it. And that’s not okay. Little needs me too.

Sometimes it feels that I will pour every bit of all of us into Big’s bucket and she will still need more. And what then? What happens when we all reach the very bottom? When we’ve all been hurt too many times? When we’ve given her every drop we have and it’s not enough?

I know that the way to fix some of the leaks is to keep pouring. To keep cuddling, to keep knowing what she likes, to keep being there. But just now, it’s very hard.

Fortunately, last week, at a meeting, somebody listened when I said I wasn’t enough. That I wasn’t able to do enough for Big. They started talking about respite but I mentioned that paying for my husband to be off one day a week would surely be better just now. It will allow both the girls to have some more one to one time and for Little to maybe go to some of the places that she can manage but Big can’t.

It’s a hard thing to do, state in front of five professionals that you’re not enough for your child, that you aren’t able to provide her with what she needs to feel safe and happy. But I’m glad I was able to do it. And I’m very glad somebody listened.

The best bits

On Sunday, Big swam a length in the pool. Over the Easter holidays, she swam a width for the first time and she was so determined that she would do a length. It was lovely to see her smile when she touched the side at the end.

Also yesterday, Little decided that she was going to do some jumps. I was with Big on the other side of the pool. She shouted over to me, ‘Mummy, daddy doesn’t need to catch me anymore because I am VERY brave now.’ All the adults in the pool had a wee smile to themselves. And she was right, she didn’t need him to catch her.

We went to see the bluebells today. In the wood there are lots of brilliant trees to climb. The girls ran to the trees, climbing up with no help and exploring new ways to get down. It was good to see them so confident.

 

Scared

This weekend my husband has been away for three bedtimes. On paper it sounds so simple, look after my two children for the weekend. The reality was that by 8pm on Friday, I was probably the most scared I have ever been.

Big was so dysregulated and hurting me and Little so much that I ended up putting Little into my bed and sitting by the door to stop Big coming in. Fortunately, (somehow) Little went to sleep quite quickly. I then sat in the hall for an hour listening to Big scream that she hates me, that I stink, to her listing all the things she was going to do to hurt me next time.

It was totally the wrong thing to do, I left Big isolated and alone but I didn’t know what to do.

This weekend I realised that I am scared of my nearly six year old. I am scared of how violent she is. I am scared that I cannot predict when this will happen. I am scared because I am not always hurt in the middle of a meltdown, I can be hurt sitting next to her on the sofa watching telly, I can be hurt as I pass her a book.

I am scared that one day I will not be able to manage this anymore. This Friday is the closest I’ve come to saying ‘I cannot do this.’ (I am very grateful to a Twitter friend who supported me through that moment.) As I said to someone today, I am giving her as much as I have, but she needs so much more. I am scared that I will never have or be enough for her.

I am scared that I cannot keep Little safe. I am with them constantly. But they have to share a room, Little has no safe space of her own and she wants one. She keeps asking me for one. We’ve separated bedtime. We try to give them as much one to one time as possible. But she is still being hurt.

I am scared that I am nowhere near to getting this right for Big. That she has lived with me for nearly 3 years and she is still terrified. She does not feel safe here. She does not feel loved. She doesn’t trust me, she cannot talk to me, she cannot come to me for comfort.

It’s a hard feeling to admit to. I don’t like it. But I feel I need to say it. I hope that this will change. That we can find a way to help Big to manage these huge feelings that she is trying to manage all by herself. That we can move towards everyone feeling safe.

The best bits

I didn’t know whether to put the best bits in today but it’s probably good to mention those too.

We swam on both days this weekend. The amount of confidence the girls have gained recently still astonishes me. It is one of my favourite things to watch them doing. On Sunday Little swam. Not just a tiny bit but nearly 5m. Then she flipped onto her back and casually started swimming on her back! Happy tears.

Big is choosing to wear her ear defenders a lot more. At school she is actively seeking them out when she needs them, which is a very positive thing to hear.

 

Endings

Endings are a big part of life. You go to nursery for a year, nursery ends and you go to P1. Then to P2 then to P3 until school ends. You go on holiday, you have fun then it’s the end of the holiday and you come home. You watch a film and it ends. You go for a walk and there is an end point to the walk. You go to visit somewhere then you come home at the end of the day.

For one of my children, endings are very hard. For her, endings not only mean the end of that activity, visit, year but they potentially mean never seeing that person, place, thing again.

When your main awareness of endings is losing people that you love, moving to new places, never seeing some familiar places again, it is no wonder that endings are difficult.

Big’s way of dealing with endings is flight. She will run away from the thing that is scary. Run away from the thought of leaving somewhere else, somebody else. Run away from the fact that she has to deal with another loss. Run far away from the people that are making this ending happen.

But some endings do not afford the opportunity for flight. Some endings have an audience until she is in the car. In this case, Big will fight. Fight the big scary ending. Scream and shout so that she can drown out the sadness. Which I understand. But driving down the motorway with somebody trying to grab you from behind or throwing things at you or screaming that she hates you and that you don’t love her and listing all the things that she’s going to do to you when you get home is not easy.

But how do we avoid endings? Do we stay at home forever? Even that doesn’t avoid it. Tomorrow we will be managing the end of the holidays and the beginning of school. There is the end of P1 coming up. People come to visit us and we have to say goodbye to them.

Last week, after a session about how hard Big finds endings (and after I’d sent an email saying that we were finding the violence increasingly difficult to manage), the psychologist told us that she would not be seeing her again for a while. This was not an ending we had prepared for (any of us) and it came as a shock.

Another ending that closes an avenue of support. Another person to not see. Another (as Big sees it) break in trust.

Because, for Big, all of this is to try to hide her fear about the huge ending that she is so worried about. The fear of me being yet another female caregiver who will ‘leave’ and never come back.

We cannot live a life without endings. Every day we have to deal with them. But they’re tricky and I wish my wee girl hadn’t had to have so many of them.

The best bits

As I went to put petrol in the car yesterday, Little stuck her head out of the window and shouted, ‘Don’t forget mummy, not diesel, petrol! Diesel is for the van!’

We went to a wildlife park last week to meet my brother and the girls’ cousin. The girls enjoyed pushing her pram around and my sister in law took a beautiful photo of Big looking into the pram at her cousin. Big looks really calm and has a tiny smile on her face.

Keeping going

Things are really hard here just now. Panic attack kind of hard. Crying at the drop of a hat kind of hard. Wondering how on earth I’m going to get up tomorrow and do it all again kind of hard.

I’ve tried to write about it but I can’t. I cannot find the words.

So here’s some best bits from the holidays. Some bits to remind me why I get up and do it all again.

Big swam a width in the swimming pool. We’ve gone pretty much every week for nearly 3 years and it’s been worth it. She smiled a real smile.

Little swam for the first time.

We went to the beach, dug a big hole and found a dinosaur!

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The girls have been totally awesome on their bikes. They’ve ridden on the local biking mountain track a lot this holiday and it’s amazing to see how quickly they progress.

We went to ‘fun time’ at the pool today. They were both so much more confident. Falling off the floats, giggling, trying different things out. It was lovely to watch them.

We’ve climbed a ‘mountain’ and for the first time, Little walked all the way.

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My dad taught Big how to play Battleships. They worked on a 9 square grid and one ship but she was able to work it out and played it for a good wee while with him.

Little sat for ages with my mum colouring. Then they played ‘Elsa and Anna’. Then they played ‘making cakes in the garden’ for ages.

We made a mermaid at the beach.

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Little went to a birthday party and for the first time, she went to play with all the other children. She kept waving at me and coming back for a hug occasionally but was mainly in the party.

We discovered an amazing rope swing on an adventure at the beach.

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So there’s our best bits. The bits that have given us all a smile. The bits that keep me going.

Conversations

So far this week I have had a conversation with Little about why her birth mummy might like to wear dangly earrings. I have had a conversation about what she might be wearing just now while we drew a picture of her.

This week I have had a conversation with Big about us not knowing anything about her birth father. About the fact that we don’t know his name. About how sorry I am about that.

This week I have had (many) conversations about the fact that it is okay to feel angry/scared/sad/worried/frustrated but it is not okay to hurt.

This week I have had a conversation with my husband about how isolated we feel. About the fact that at the moment we cannot go to see anyone because Big just can’t manage.

This week I have had a conversation with my husband about contact with birth parents.

This week I have had a conversation with Big about the fact that for most children, they don’t have lots of people taking care of them. They don’t have lots of moves. And about how that could be making her feel.

This week I have had a conversation with Little about how she misses birth mummy.

This week I have had (many) conversations with Little about dying. Trying to be honest but not causing more worry.

This week I have had a conversation with my husband about how many times this week I’ve had to gently smile, try to focus on helping the girls with what they’re feeling and to wonder how I’m feeling at a later point.

This week I’ve had a conversation with my husband and with Big about why she might find it so hard to come home when we go anywhere.

This week I’ve had a conversation with my husband about how we can give Little fun and happy experiences but make sure that Big still feels safe.

Some of these conversations have taken place very quietly before bed, some of them have taken place after I’ve been hurt and been screamed at. Some of them have taken place because they’ve been asked for, some of them have taken place because they’ve been needed. Some of them haven’t really been conversations, I’ve been talking but I haven’t had a reply.

Sometimes I wish that we could have a conversation about what exciting things we’re going to do in the holidays, where we’re going to go and who we’re going to see. I wish we could have a conversation about the little things that we have tried to plan for the holidays without it creating huge anxiety. I wish sometimes that we could just talk about the weather.

This week I’ve had a conversation with my husband about how huge our conversations seem to be. About the feelings they unleash or the new feelings that they can create. About the fact that so many of these conversations are shorter than they should be because we don’t have the answers.

So far this week I’ve had lots of conversations. And I’m sure there are still lots more to be had.

The best bits

We took the girls on the mountain bike track yesterday. They were both totally awesome. They tried so hard to pedal up the hills and were desperate to try more. Little could be heard shouting ‘wheeeee!’ as she went.

Today we played, ‘duck, duck, goose’ on the trampoline. Just me and the girls. It was interesting trying to run round in a circle on the trampoline and there was lots of giggling. It was fun.