A wonderful holiday… and a horrible return to the UK

Our holiday in Canada was brilliant. Glen had to work and while he was in the office Robbie and I visited the sights in Ottawa, a kids’ museum, and did some shopping. Glen would join us in the evening for more fun activities. We all went to Montreal for the day and then to Niagara Falls for Glen’s birthday. It was amazing. We had a room on the 25th floor of the hotel nearer the falls with fantastic views of both the American Falls and the Horseshoe Falls. We also went behind the falls, as close as you can get, where the sound of the water was all you could hear.

On the last day we went to the airport. Glen was continuing his journey to the USA for another week of work there, and Robbie and I were due to catch our flight back to the UK. We got to the airport three and a half hours before departure and went to check in. At the desk they told us that the flight was oversold, and Robbie was on standby. I pointed out that it made no sense to give me a seat but leave an 8-year-old boy on standby. They reassured me that it would not be a problem and to make our way to the gate. After several enquiries at the gate and as time went on and they started to board the flight, it became clear that we would not be getting on. They said they might be able to squeeze Robbie in, but we wouldn’t sit together. Robbie panicked at the thought of not sitting with me, and in the end I had to give up my seat on the plane. I had to call a number to rebook to another flight for the following morning. They told me that they could reallocate Robbie, but not me as I was never on standby and I’d voluntarily given up my seat! After an hour of calls and getting customer services involved, they finally agreed to rebook us. The only problem then was that because of all the cancelled and re-routed flights because of Hurricane Sandy, there were no available seats on any of the direct flights, so we’d have to take two planes instead. We went to a hotel (by the time we’d sorted all of this out it was already midnight) and had a few hours’ sleep before making our way back to the airport for 7 am. They put us on a flight to Edmonton (a 4-hour flight in the wrong direction) and then we had to wait a further 6 hours before catching a flight that took a lot longer to get to the UK because we’d gone so much further west. In the end landed 25 hours after our original arrival time. The whole thing was ridiculous. In case you’re wondering, the company was Air Canada. Avoid at all costs!

Once home, it didn’t take long for Robbie to get very grumpy. He’d had very little sleep and soon enough there was a violent incident over nothing. The rest of the week has been difficult. I’ve been jetlagged and caught a cold, so my patience and attitude towards Robbie’s challenging behaviour haven’t been my best. But we’ve finally made it to the weekend and Glen will be back tomorrow. I’ve told him he’s in charge for the rest of the week so I can get some rest!


It’s officially a marriage, but children of gay parents still face difficulties in Spain

Soon after the law that allows gay marriage in Spain was passed in Spain under the socialist government of José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero in 2005, the conservative party, supported by the catholic bishops’ synod, challenged the law, calling it anti-constitutional. When the conservative party gained power last year there were fears among gay organisations that they’d manage to overturn the law as current conservative Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is still against gay marriage. Yesterday evening, after 7 years, the Constitutional Court upheld the validity of the law, and in particular the fact that the word “marriage” applies to all unions, be it of man and woman or two people of the same sex. This is very good news, especially for the 22,000 gay and lesbian couples who have married since the law was passed (us among them).

The vast majority of people in Spain are generally supportive of the law and the many gay and lesbian couples who have chosen to marry. Some institutions, however, have had trouble accepting this. Sadly, on the very same day the law was upheld, El País reports on a gay couple whose son was denied a place in a local school. The school claimed they didn’t have a place available for the child. However, when a few days later just one of the men in the couple applied for a place for the same boy (without mentioning his husband), he was offered one. They have now reported the school and a legal process has been started to challenge them. I certainly hope they win and it sets a precedent for other schools. The article (in Spanish) is here.


Expressing feelings with words

We’re in shock. No, it’s not the crappy weather here in Canada (Glen got out of New York two days before Sandy hit). It’s the fact that Robbie has on two occasions expressed his feelings using words rather than actions in the last few days.

On the first occasion we’d gone into a shoe shop and found a pair of shoes that he really liked. Unfortunately, they didn’t have them in his size. He looked at others, but wasn’t keen. Then he came to find me (I was a little further away trying on a pair of shoes myself) and said “I’m frustrated because they don’t have my size”. You could have knocked me sideways with a feather. I empathised with the frustration and followed that with a big “we’ll done” for describing his feeling to me rather than externalising it in some other way. Robbie seemed pleased to get this feedback.

On the second occasion we’d told Robbie we’d take him for a swim in the hotel pool. He’d been looking forward to it all afternoon, but we spent the evening sightseeing at the other end of the city and it got too late. When we got back to the hotel he had a face like thunder. I was expecting a big scene, but instead he turned to me and said he was angry about not being able to go to the pool. I empathised and told him how sorry I was that we’d not been able to make it. I then suggested that maybe rather than angry he might be very frustrated. He stopped to think about it and agreed that the feeling he felt was frustration rather than anger. After a promise to go to the pool first thing the next morning, he calmed down and got on with it (we kept our promise and took him to the pool twice the following day).

I’m not suggesting that Robbie will be able to express his feelings with words rater than actions every time from now on, but it’s a very promising development and something we will keep encouraging him to do.


Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?

Our first ever Halloween this side of the Atlantic! We could hardly go around knocking on the doors down our hotel corridor, but luckily there was a street event and We went trick or treating there Robbie got a fair amount of “candy” and even a few small toys!

After he’d changed out of his costume we encountered a Stormtrooper, and just had to have a picture taken with him. He even let Robbie wear his helmet! Once the guy had removed his helmet and I saw how cute he was, I was rather jealous that it wasn’t me he had his arm around. : )

A very exciting Halloween for all of us.


Reunited

After much anticipation, the day we’d been waiting for all week finally arrived. We took the coach to the airport, checked in, had something to eat and boarded the plane to Canada. We encountered a couple of hiccups: at first we were given separate seats, but they sorted that out at the gate without problems. The second hiccup was that if travelling to Canada alone with a child you’re supposed to have a letter from the child’s other parent giving permission to travel. I didn’t. I had all of Robbie’s adoption papers and explained that we were actually travelling to join Robbie’s other dad, though, and thankfully we were allowed on the plane.

The 8-hour flight was fine. Robbie enjoyed having a whole entertainment system to himself and we watched a few films that we’d missed at the cinema (Brave, Madagascar 3…).

When we landed I had to show the adoption papers to the customs officer again. He asked Robbie a few questions: who I was, why he was travelling to Canada, if he lived with a mum and dad… Robbie answered truthfully and we made it through.

Glen was waiting in arrivals. As soon as Robbie spotted him, he ran towards him, jumped up into his arms and locked his arms around Glen’s neck. It was lovely.

Something was very different about this reunion, however. Instead of ignoring or rejecting me as soon as we were reunited with Glen, as has happened in the past, Robbie included me. He held both our hands as we walked through the airport and I got hugs and kisses too. It was very touching to see him make an effort to be part of a family of three, rather than him and whichever parent he feels closer to at any point.


Desperately missing Daddy

For the past week, Robbie has been missing his Daddy like never before. Last Saturday, when we got home after dropping Glen off at the airport, Robbie started crying, saying he was missing Daddy a lot. He was inconsolable for quite a while, and my reassurances that we’d be seeing him in seven days’ time didn’t do much to calm him down.

It was much the same on Sunday night. Robbie was overwhelmed by emotion and seemed unable to entertain logical thoughts. At one point he sobbed “I just wish I could see him one more time”, as if Glen was gone for good. I was wise enough not to try being logical, I just accepted his feelings of loss and empathised with how awful it must feel. When he was calmer he was able to process that we’d be seeing Glen in only a few days. We managed to speak to Glen on the phone and he suggested Robbie cuddle his (Glen’s) teddy bear whenever he’s missing him. Robbie grabbed hold of Glen’s old teddy bear (the one Glen’s had since he was a little boy) and pretty much hasn’t let go of it all week.

For the rest of the week Robbie has been functioning ok during the day, but desperate to see Glen both first thing in the morning and last thing at night. Some mornings he’s been looking for Glen under the bed or inside wardrobes, and every night he’s got up well after he was put to bed with some excuse to get extra cuddles.

It’s been sad to see him suffer like that, but in a way it is lovely to see just how attached he is to Glen and how much he misses him when they’re apart.


A night out

Everyone tells us how important it is to go out every now and then, switch off, do something that doesn’t involve kids, just the two of us. We had a few days in Sweden in the summer, but it’s infrequent for us to have a night out. So a few months ago we booked tickets to see a comedy show, which was on last Friday. We called the childminder for the first time since April and arranged everything necessary.

Just after 6 we left. The drive should take under 90 minutes and the show started at 8, so we should have been fine. Alas, the main road was blocked after an accident. No problem; we heard about it on the radio before we’d got there and took an alternative route. The only problem was that everyone else seemed to have taken that road too, and the traffic was very heavy. It looked like we might be a little bit late, but we’d make it. Then a car broke down near us, and the traffic got a lot worse. We were now seriously late, but we might make the second half and at the end of the day it was a comedy show, not a play – where it’s much more important to have seen the first half. That’s when we found that the road that we needed to take had been shut too. We’d never make it. Sigh. We stopped for 45 minutes to have a pizza. That was nice.

All in all, we spent nearly 6 hours driving to get precisely nowhere and back, paid for tickets to a show we never saw, paid for the childminder and petrol… A great night out, don’t you think? Next time we’re getting a DVD. It’s cheaper. And more comfortable.


What a change

Glen goes off on a big work trip this evening. He has to to work in the US and Canada for the next three weeks. When he first told me about it a few months ago I immediately dreaded the idea of three weeks of being a single parent to Robbie. I worried that he’d panic about being on my own with me and express this through extreme behaviour, as he has done in the past. I knew that if that happened I’d end up being the mean baddy that he expects me to be as a consequence.

Robbie struggles when one of us (Glen in particular) has to be absent for a period of time. Last time Glen went on a work trip (5 days away), Robbie asked him IF he was coming back, rather than WHEN he would be back. To break up the long absence, we decided that Robbie and I would join Glen in Canada during half term the week after next. Not cheap, I assure you, but probably for the best.

So I’ll have a week on my own with Robbie followed by a week in Canada when I’ll be with Robbie all day until Glen can join us in the evening after work, followed by another week on my own with Robbie back home. And you know what? I’m not dreading it. The last few times that Robbie and I have been on our own have been fine. More than fine, in fact. They’ve been an opportunity to enjoy each other’s company and we’ve made a lot of progress during that time. So I’m actually looking forward to us having an opportunity to spend time together. What a difference, huh? I’m giving myself a rare pat on the back just for putting my fears aside and believing that I can do this. And of course the one who deserves the most credit is Robbie, who little by little is learning to lower his defences and allowing himself to trust me. What a change indeed.


We’re not what he wanted

Like I said in my previous post, despite not being overall impressed with the SAI, we are happy with the DDP. This week, Robbie and I went on our own as Glen wasn’t feeling well. I don’t think Glen’s absence was a factor, but it was a very good session and Robbie opened up like never before.

We spent a good part of the session throwing a ball back and forth between the therapists, Robbie and I. This seemed to work very well as a distraction, and Robbie was happy to talk while this game was going on. We started by discussing an incident that happened last week: Glen had asked Robbie to take something in to school for one of the teaching assistants, whom we know outside school. Robbie completely panicked, thinking that he might be told off for going into her classroom. I tried empathising and to make him understand that he wouldn’t be, but by then Robbie had become quite irrational. Glen was very angry about Robbie’s refusal to do what he’d been asked. It wasn’t so much about not wanting to do it, but about the fact that despite having lived with us for two and a half years now, Robbie still assumed that Glen would ask him to do something that might get him into trouble. The discussion of this incident at the therapy session brought up many issues around trust, self-dependency, and Robbie’s understanding of what being parented means.

The other major thing we discussed was Robbie’s attitude towards having two dads. I’ve long suspected something about it, and I verbalised it during the session (not in the words I’m using here). Could it be that Robbie feels that – due to his low self-esteem and feelings of unworthiness – he didn’t deserve a mum and dad and that’s why he got two dads? Yes. Was he disappointed that he didn’t have a mum and dad “like everyone else”? Yes. “It’s not what I wanted. I wanted a mum and dad”. Whilst this wasn’t easy to hear, at least now that it’s out in the open it’s something we can discuss and be aware of. For the record, I don’t think Robbie thinks we’re not doing a good job. I think he’s very aware that (although he knows several kids with two dads) he’s not like most kids, who have a mum and a dad. I also think that this comes down to foster carers and social workers going on about “finding a mum and dad” when they talk to kids who are waiting to be adopted. The law allows single parents and gay and lesbian couples to adopt, but in most cases children aren’t made aware that this is an option until they are due to be matched with such a parent. The work needs to happen beforehand, so social workers and foster carers talk to children about finding “a family” for them, and maybe discussing what a “family” may mean.

Robbie was quite emotional that evening after the therapy session, and last night he got out of bed at night to tell us that he was “missing his mummy”. Glen was out, so I offered lots of empathy and sympathy, and consoled him as best as I could. I guess he was thinking about what he’d said at the therapy session and was aware that I might have not liked what he’d said (even though I’d done my best not to show any sort of emotion other than empathy when he talked about it) because when he was ready to go back to bed he gave me a final hug, a big kiss, and whispered in my ear that he was very glad he has us as his parents. I told him how glad I was to hear that and what a lovely thing to say it was, and took him back to bed.


“Have you got a womb space for your son?”

I haven’t got a list of “questions that I thought I’d never be asked” but surely if I had, that one would have been near the top somewhere. I’ll put it in context: as I’ve said before, we’re doing two types of therapy: Developmental Dyadic Psychotherapy (DDP) and Sensory Attachment Intervention (SAI). The DDP is great. Some days Robbie is more open to talking and other days not so much, but we can see the use of it and we think we’re making good progress. The SAI has mostly involved Robbie swinging from a giant rubber tyre and all of us jumping on cushions so far. This gets recorded on video and then the SAI specialist gives us feedback on how Robbie interacts with us. Last week we had a feedback session and the therapist, given our obvious lack of understanding of what’s going on, went through the aims of the sessions one more time. Nope, still no clearer. I mean, we understand what it’s supposed to do, but we really don’t get how it’s supposed to happen by jumping on cushions and swinging. It really doesn’t help that we don’t seem to connect with the therapist either. She’s a bit earth mother-y for us. We keep thinking any time soon she’s going to give us a talking stick…

So anyhow, at this latest feedback session she said two things that first puzzled me, and then the more I think about them actually made me quite cross. The first was the question above. The answer? No, we don’t have a “womb space” for Robbie. By “womb space” she actually means a safe place that he can withdraw to when he wants, somewhere near us. The term is as inappropriate as it gets. Whoever came up with it obviously didn’t think that many adopters are infertile women who probably don’t like the idea of having to provide a “womb space” for a child that was born out of someone else. And let’s not get started on how two men might feel about the suggestion that their son needs “womb space”. Infuriating. The therapist suggested a pop-up tent in the living room would make a good womb space. We’ve looked at a couple and Robbie isn’t keen, but he quite liked a huge cushion that some friends have at home. We could buy a similar one and put in the living room. I’ll ask the therapist what she thinks…

The second thing she mentioned was our physical contact with Robbie. Robbie can be very baby-ish sometimes. He wants a lot of cuddles and kisses, sits on our laps and also climbs into our bed speaking “goo-goo ga-ga”. The therapist thinks we have to be careful that Robbie doesn’t get confused as to what appropriate contact with adults is, as that may make him more prone to sexual abuse. Like I say, I was puzzled by this at first: we’ve always been told that because of his trauma, regression was a typical stage, so we’ve gone with it. Also, after a quick survey of close friends (some of whom have children two or three years older than Robbie) I find that their kids also get into bed with them for a cuddle. The more I think about the comment from the therapist, the angrier I get about it. A small part of me also wonders if a heterosexual couple would have received the same advice…