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.

New York

Last December we were booked on a trip to New York just before Christmas, but Robbie broke his arm and we had to cancel the trip. As soon as we could, we re-booked for this December. Robbie was convinced that something would go wrong again this year, but thankfully that wasn’t the case and we managed to get to our departure date without breaking any bones (and that’s despite an ice-skating trip a few days earlier!).

The flight was fine and, after an 80-minute queue at customs when we landed, Robbie wasn’t questioned by the officials the way he was when we went to Canada. We spent five lovely days with hardly any upsets. We were in a great hotel near Times Square which was very handy. On the first night Robbie woke up at 2 am ready to start his day. I heard him and had to point out the time, and thankfully he was able to go to sleep until the morning. I didn’t, and spent the whole trip completely jetlagged.

Robbie was curious about seeing the city and all the sights, and it was a pleasure to take him everywhere that we could fit in: Central Park, The Statue of Liberty, Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center, The Empire State Building… We went to a show and of course did some shopping; his favourite shop was FAO Schwarz, the toy store (and yes, we did play on the giant piano). Robbie wrote his letter to Santa and we posted it at Macy’s. He made sure that he wrote “England” under his name so that Santa wouldn’t think that he had to deliver his presents in New York.

Robbie even had his picture taken with some real New York cops, one of whom let him wear his cop hat. We also ate rather well and tried lots of different restaurants (New York Deli, Pizza, Barbeque ribs, Oriental…). We were all sad to have to leave as we’d had a lovely time, but Christmas was just around the corner, which provided something else to look forward to.

Birthday

Despite Robbie fearing that his birthday party would be a disaster and nobody would turn up (ever the optimist), it actually was very good. We’d booked 9 guests plus Robbie for two Laser Quest games. Everyone came and they had a blast (literally). Afterwards they had something to eat, Robbie blew the candles as everyone sang Happy Birthday to him, and his guests went home happy after nearly two hours of activity, crap food and plenty of sugar. When we got home Robbie opened his presents and we made a note of which present came from whom so we could do thank you cards at a later date. His actual birthday was a couple of days later. Glen’s mum came to stay with us for three days and he enjoyed having her around. He loved his presents and enjoyed the day.

I was very pleased that we’d managed a good birthday weekend. The following day, however, when I asked him to write thank-you cards for everyone who had given him a present, he refused. Soon enough he lost it altogether and became very aggressive towards me, which surprised me as Glen’s mum was still staying with us and he normally tries to control himself in front of her. She had a quiet word with him later, and told him he mustn’t speak to me or act violently towards me. This seemed to do the trick and thankfully his aggressiveness didn’t spill over to the following days.

Catching up

Despite my best intentions I haven’t managed to catch up with myself, let alone this blog. I’m going to try to do so in the next few days. There’s a lot to write about! I honestly have no idea how I used to do this on a daily basis – where did I find the time?

Must do better

I know! No updates for ages. Apologies. Have a lot to write about and I promise to get on with it soon. In the meantime I hope everyone had a nice Christmas.

Therapy review

We had a review of our therapy progress a few days ago. You may have noticed I’ve not been reporting on therapy lately. This is because the post-adoption support agency we’re working with read my comments on this blog (I had to disclose I was writing it as part of the confidentiality agreement) and didn’t feel able to continue with our work unless I stopped reporting on what Robbie says during the sessions. They think it’s a breach of confidentiality, so I agreed not to. This is why I can report on the review, because Robbie wasn’t present. Anyway, the therapists thought we were making progress in some areas, particularly attachment, but there were others that will need further work, such as Robbie’s low self-esteem and his need to be self-reliant, sometimes unable to trust.

It’s now been agreed that we won’t continue with the SAI, which is a relief. The therapists have made arrangements so that we can use some of the funding that had been originally allocated for it to fund further DDP work, which is great. We find it much more useful.

The other thing that the therapists mentioned was the run up to Robbie’s birthday in a few days, and of course Christmas. They stressed how difficult this time is for adopted children, and that the best strategy we can use is to lower our expectations to avoid disappointment. Certainly I’d rather not have a similar experience to last year’s, when Robbie was so focused on what he couldn’t have (his birth family) that he was unable to enjoy what he did have. This is our third Christmas together and for the first time we’re having guests, Robbie’s godparents, stay with us. We’re hoping they’ll be a distraction and Robbie won’t sink into a low mood. There, I’ve done it again, haven’t I? Hoping for a good and peaceful day when we’ve been told to lower our expectations. Well, they do say hope is the last thing that dies…