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.

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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.

 

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.

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.