Things keep improving

We’ve had quite a good few days lately. Robbie’s being a lot less defiant with me and seems to have calmed down. This has allowed me to calm down too. One hiccup was our own “Valentine’s Day Massacre”. What a day that was! Robbie didn’t want to take any cards to school (fair enough) but came back with four cards from four different girls! He also came back rather upset because the rough boy in his class (the one who called him names a few weeks ago) punched him in the eye after Robbie made a comment about a girl the other boy fancies. Then one of the girls who’d given Robbie a card actually defended the other boy, whom she’s decided she likes better than Robbie. Big Drama! It’s like a soap opera in that school. And they’re 9. Robbie, as was to be expected, took all this out on me that evening. But I was quite prepared and managed to avoid the issue escalating into a full-blown incident at home. I haven’t taken the news of the punching lightly, by the way: the Head Teacher is looking into the incident after I emailed my concerns.

In the meantime we’re halfway through half term and we’ve been doing a few activities (one day out to visit a castle, playdates with friends…), but nothing too exciting.

We’ve also had contact with Robbie’s siblings. Robbie became very distressed the day before, worried that his siblings may not like him anymore, but as soon as he saw them he was absolutely fine. They played together for 4 hours before the time came to say goodbye. Usually there’s some sort of fallout the evening after contact or the following day, but this time Robbie’s been fine so far.

Tarzan: the ultimate successful adoptee?

We watched Disney’s 1997 adaptation of Tarzan the other day with Robbie. I hadn’t given the story any thought before we rented the DVD, but as we watched it dawned on me what a wonderful example of successful adoption the story is.

Tarzan is, as everyone knows, brought up by a gorilla after his parents die in the jungle. In the Disney film, the young Tarzan struggles with being “different” to all the other young gorillas. He also feels that the tribe leader is disappointed in him for not being like them and Tarzan feels the need to prove himself to him as he doesn’t think he’s good enough. As a grown-up he discovers other humans and how not all of them are good. Tarzan has to make a choice between going to “civilisation” with the other humans (where he thinks he should belong) and staying with those he has grown up with.

The film provides a great opportunity to discuss some adoption issues as part of the story rather than as a “let’s talk about adoption” conversation. I thoroughly recommend it. Oh, and the song “You’ll be in my heart” echoes the feelings of adopters very well.

Back to “normal”

Things have got better. Well, they couldn’t get much worse, could they? Last Friday I had a chat with Robbie and told him that I appreciated the effort he was making not to let his anger get to him. We all know it’s a matter of time until he hits me again and I didn’t want him to be living in fear of what might happen, so I also told him that even though I have faith in him, if he should ever hit me it won’t mean that I will automatically leave the family as a consequence.

At the weekend, homework brought with it a whole load of screaming and a complete refusal to do it. We tried distraction, doing in it short bits, putting it off, helping… but Robbie was not to be moved. In the end he exploded and insulted both Glen and me, and he also threw a toy at me. He lost his iPod and DS as a consequence only this time, instead of the usual strategy of returning them the following day, we told Robbie he’d have to earn them back by doing “good deeds”, such as helping around the house. Poor cinde-Robbie had to do such horrible things as tidying up his bedroom, folding washing and setting the table to earn some points. No wonder he hates us.

Leaving home

What a difference a few days make. I intended to write a post on Thursday afternoon, but never found the time. I was going to write about how last Monday we had a therapy session during which we talked about violence, how both Robbie and I felt about it, and how we’d tried to find something to dissipate it. Glen was away on a work trip for all of last week, so we knew this was a potentially difficult week. Robbie was a complete angel from Monday, really trying hard to be good while Glen was away. I was very proud of him. I also tried very hard to make sure I explained why I was asking him to do this or that, and to keep the tone of my voice soft.

If I had posted this last Thursday, it would have reflected well how we were doing. I was feeling much more positive about our relationship, and I thought we might have turned a corner after the past weeks. But then on Thursday evening Robbie hit me because I wouldn’t allow him to watch a second episode of a cartoon he likes to watch. It was 50 minutes after his usual bedtime, and we’d made a deal about being allowed to watch one episode while he had his milky drink and a biscuit. I was cross and disappointed after all the effort we’d made during the week.

Things got a lot worse on Friday. Glen came back from his trip and we were set for a nice dinner together after being apart for a week. Then Robbie got cross and Glen, tired after a long flight home, didn’t react very well. This only made Robbie angrier. I got caught in the crossfire. I went upstairs to see what was going on and Robbie directed his anger at me. He shoved me just as I’d got to the top of the stairs. I lost my balance and had to grip the banister to avoid falling down. Seeing this, Robbie shoved me again. The first time he shoved me had been a show of anger. The second one was meant to make me fall downstairs. I got very angry and I just couldn’t take any more of it. I told Robbie that every human being has a right to live in a safe environment where nobody hurts them. I said that when he was little he was removed from his birth parents’ home because of this. But now I was the one who wasn’t safe at home, and because of this I had to remove myself. With that I picked up my car keys and left.

I sat in the car for quite a while, shaking and unsure what to do next. I ended up going to the house of our friends who are also adopters. We had a good chat until late. I then went back home and talked to Glen. He told me Robbie had blamed himself for splitting the family up, certain that I would never come back. I told Glen to tell Robbie that I would only come back if Robbie apologised, asked me back because he wanted me home, and promised not to hit me ever again.

I couldn’t face seeing Robbie in the morning. I also thought he should realise that his actions have consequences, so I slept on the sofa and crept out of the house first thing in the morning, before Robbie got up. A few hours later Glen got in touch and said Robbie was ready to talk to me. We met on neutral ground (I didn’t want to go to the house until we’d talked) and Robbie gave me a letter in which he apologised, said he wanted me back, and said he’d “try” not to hit me. I told him how much I appreciated his letter and thanked him for it, but added that just “trying” not to hit me wasn’t enough. I wanted him to promise he wouldn’t do it again. Robbie doesn’t think that he’s able to stop hitting me, so he refused to promise. In his defence, he was very honest about it. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough for me, so I said we’d talk again when he was ready to promise. Glen told Robbie to say goodbye to me. Robbie interpreted this as a “final goodbye” and broke down in tears. He hugged me tight and promised he’d never hit me again. I thanked him, acknowledged how hard it must have been, and said I was very pleased that he had said that, as I really wanted to come home.

We had lunch out and did a few things to keep us distracted. In the evening we watched a film together and had a good bedtime routine. Sunday was a good day too: jobs around the house, out to play with a friend of Robbie’s, games at home and a nice dinner.

I know my reaction on Friday evening was hardly conducive to attachment, yet I really couldn’t take any more. I’m not sure what’ll happen when he hits me next. Because I’m not fooling myself, it’s not a question of “if” but “when”. Robbie knows this too (he said as much yesterday). Hopefully it’ll take a long time and things will have settled again. Then I may be able to communicate to him that hitting me is a blip after a long while without hitting and that I believe he can have another long period without doing it. Fingers crossed, as ever.

Gay bullying

Despite our fears and worries as we went through the approval process, and later on when we were matched, we’ve never really had a negative reaction to being gay parents. Neither had Robbie for having gay dads. However, this has changed. A new boy joined Robbie’s school this year. He’s a troubled boy who’s been kicked out of just about every other school in the area. Robbie told us the other day that this boy’s been saying that Robbie must be gay because he’s got gay parents. A couple of other boys have apparently started doing it too, following the example of this other boy.

We had a chat with the parents of one of the other boys. They’ve become friends of ours since Robbie joined school and I had to delicately approach the matter with them. They were great and didn’t take it the wrong way. They were mortified when they heard what their son had been saying and soon had a chat with him and made it very clear that he’s not to say that again.

Robbie has struggled with it though. He wasn’t able to tell us for some time, and it only came out in the middle of one of his outbursts, when he was making a point about how horrible his life is and how us being his parents only makes things worse. He said he never wanted gay dads and he hates that we adopted him. He hates being different, and just wants to be “normal”.

Research into gay and lesbian parenting has shown that our kids are likely to be bullied because of having gay parents. They aren’t any more likely to be bullied, it’s just that that’s the things that bullies will pick on. So our job as gay parents is to prepare Robbie for it and make sure he knows how to deal with it. Boys his age just want to fit in, so we understand where he’s coming from. If it wasn’t because he had gay dads there’d be another reason for other boys to pick on him. In fact we know that he’s been teased before, and the nasty boy in his class accused him of making up his adoption story and that it was a lie that he didn’t have a mum and dad. We explained to Robbie that he isn’t like everyone else. Yes, having two dads is different, but being adopted is also different. And being left-handed. And many other things. We also explained that one of the reasons he was placed with two men was because his social workers thought he might find it difficult to form a relationship with a new mum because of the horrible things his own birth mother did to him. Of course, Robbie’s not mature enough to understand much of this. He just wants to be like like everyone else.

We did however come up with a strategy if he ever gets told that he must be gay because he has gay dads: if someone does, he will reply that that boy must be half boy / half girl, seeing as he has a mum and a dad. Same logic! Robbie liked this, and was glad to have something that he can fall back on.

The three year pattern

In the middle of one of his outburst the other day, Robbie screamed that he knows that he’ll have to leave our home soon. He turned 9 in December, and it will be three years in April since he came to live with us. He knows he stayed with his birth parents for three years, then spent three years in care before coming to us age 6. He’s spotted the pattern and is convinced that it’ll soon be time to go. Nothing we say seems to convince him otherwise. This may be a big part of the cause for his recent behaviour. We think he’s finding it so stressful to “know” that he’s leaving but not knowing when that he wants to make it happen. Because it’s “better” or maybe easier to know than to live with the tension of the unknown. It’s terribly sad to see him struggle so much with it, yet very difficult to cope with his attempts to do something so bad that he’ll finally be kicked out.

The human punchbag

Towards the end of December the violence started again in our house. It all began because I caught Robbie playing with his iPod way after his bedtime. He tried to lie his way out of it and only made things worse. I remained calm, which frustrated him, and he lost it. He became quite aggressive and, seeing that I was not rising to it, he kicked me very hard in the groin. It hurt. A lot. I was bent over double in pain for a few minutes, unable to move. Robbie has hit me many times before, but its rare that he actually hurts me. When he saw me on the floor he panicked. He ran out of the house, full of shame for what he’d done and as he did so, he tripped and hurt his hand. Glen managed to bring him in. Robbie was hysterical. He was saying that he is like his birth mother and he hurts people. It was very hard to convince him otherwise, since it was obvious how much he’d hurt me. I tired to reconnect with him, but he was so ashamed that he couldn’t bear to hear me say that I still loved him regardless, and kept telling me to leave him alone and how much he hated me.

Since then things have been very difficult. Robbie is completely stressed out in my presence. He takes everything I say or do as a criticism, and reacts angrily towards it. We had a break from this for four days when we travelled to Spain for epiphany. He stayed at my brother’s almost every night and played with his cousins every day. He also loved getting presents from the Three Wise Men, of course. But as soon as we returned home, the anger flared up again. The pattern keeps repeating: he’ll take something I say or do as a criticism, get angry and start becoming aggressive. Because I refuse to rise to it and manage to keep calm (and most importantly don’t hit him back, which is the response he wants from me – like it used to be with his birth parents) he keeps increasing the level of aggression until I have to restrain him to keep both me and him from getting hurt (on one occasion he was dangling from the upstairs bannister to get me to react). When I restrain him he accuses me of hurting him, therefore completing the vicious circle.

Glen does his best to contain Robbie, but most of the outbursts happen when he’s not around. Robbie’s also had a couple of angry moments with him, but nowhere near the level of the ones he has with me, and without violence. I’m finding it very hard to cope with this. I return to the house from work full of dread. Something inevitably happens most days. He takes everything out on me. Recently he became very angry and started having a go. I asked what was going on and he said someone had annoyed him at school. I said I was sorry to hear that and then added that what I didn’t understand was why he was taking it out on me. He didn’t have an answer.

Robbie’s also begun to carry his anger through to the following day. We’ve always been very good at starting each day afresh, and although I greet him every morning with a nice smile to show him I bear no grudge, he often refuses to cuddle me or give me a kiss. According to his teacher he’s also become quite defiant at school, which he’s never done before.

I’m struggling, and finding it harder and harder to be around him. I feel like a victim of domestic violence, and it’s not nice.

Christmas

We had a good Christmas Day. Robbie woke up at 5, opened one of his stocking fillers and went back to sleep until 9 am. His godparents were staying with us and we spent the day together, opening presents in stages as we went through breakfast, bath, etc. Robbie loved his presents and we played with some of them throughout the day. He had a couple of sad moments when his godparents weren’t in the room, saying he was missing his mummy. But even as the evening went on and he got tired he managed to stay calm. When we put him to bed he told us it had been a horrible day, though. He’d probably felt quite sad at times and managed to keep it together for the sake of his godparents, but it was quite sad to hear him say it.

Things changed on Boxing Day. Robbie couldn’t hold it for the whole day and became very defiant as the day wore on. I left the house to drop a present off at a friends’s and when I got back I found Glen and Robbie looking at Robbie’s life story book, which Robbie had brought out. He was telling Glen that he’s very confused about the way he feels about his birth mother: he hates her for what she did, but also loves her and misses her. He also said something that he’d never mentioned before. His birth mother had told him not to talk about what had been going on in their household or he’d be taken away. I’m sure she said that at the time when the police and social services were looking into the case that eventually led to his removal from his birth parents, but Robbie thought that it was still the case, and if he talked about the things that went on he’d be taken away from us. It also made him feel guilty, because he was indeed taken away, so he assumed it was his fault. Who knows? Maybe now that we’ve cleared that one up, he may be more open to talking about his past with the therapists. Maybe not.

Wizards Vs Aliens – not safe for the traumatised child

Being back in the UK and on holiday from school and work meant that we had time for the family to spend time together. One of the things we did was to watch a few episodes of Wizards Vs Aliens we’d yet to catch up with. The series was broadcast on CBBC, so it’s aimed at kids, and written by Russell T. Davies of Doctor Who (among other many shows) fame. We’d watched the first few episodes of the series, about a young wizard and his geek mate who fight against aliens trying to “eat” magic, together and enjoyed them.

A couple of days before Christmas, Robbie kept getting out of bed, complaining of a (clearly non-existent) tummy ache. After putting him back to bed twice, I mentioned that sometimes tummies ache because of an emotion that’s inside us rather than something we’ve eaten. I wondered out loud if that might be the reason why his tummy ached. Robbie nodded. He said there was something bothering him, but he didn’t want to tell me as it would hurt my feelings. After I explained that whatever it was it was more important to share his feelings than to hide them, he opened up and told me that he was worried that he may kill us one day. I empathised with what a horrible worry that must be. Then I made the connection with a Wizards Vs Aliens storyline in which it’s revealed that Jackson, a teenage “rebel wizard”, killed his parents in a moment of anger (it’s later revealed that he didn’t actually kill them, though). I asked Robbie if his fear was connected to the TV programme; he said yes and broke down in tears. Robbie feels so bad about the times when he’s violent and can’t control his anger and worries (as I also do when I’m feeling low) that he will continue to hurt me when he’s older and stronger. I told him that he’s a good boy and he’s been controlling his anger better lately. I also reminded him that the TV show is fictional. Finally, I reminded him that that’s the reason why we go to therapy, so we can all learn to understand each other and to control his violence. I felt so bad for the poor little thing. He was truly worried.

A week later the TV series was responsible for another crisis. The final two episodes, which we watched over Christmas, deal with the reappearance of the main character’s mother. Everyone thought she’d been dead for years, but it turned out she’d been kidnapped by the aliens. Tom, the main character, suddenly sees her on the street and his life is turned upside down by her reappearance. That evening, Robbie told us he was worried that his birth mother would find him and she’d suddenly appear in the street like Tom’s had. We explained to him, like we have many times before, that she doesn’t know where we live and that she’s not looking for him; and that even if she turned up we are his parents now and have all the legal rights. He was somewhat reassured, but clearly shaken by the fear that he may be found by his birth parents.