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.


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…

Speeding up recovery time

An area where we seem to be making progress lately is the time it takes us to get back to “normal” after a bad episode. It used to be the case that when Robbie felt misunderstood / scared / ashamed he’d stay with the feeling for days on end, as did the behaviours that helped him to externalise those feelings. We had a couple of rough days with Robbie this week and, after the relative calm we’ve had lately, it was scary to see how quickly things seemed to be spiralling towards his old feelings and habits (screaming, hitting, swearing…).

After a huge eruption on Thursday evening, Robbie took himself upstairs and warned us not to go up to try to talk to him. We let him be for 20 minutes and after that he came downstairs ready to apologise. He still blamed me for everything that hadn’t gone his way (that would be a change too far, let’s not run before we can walk), but he had calmed down enough to have a conversation about what happened and be somewhat rational. Afterwards we had a nice bedtime and he’s been fine since.

Another area where I thought I detected a small amount of progress this week was in his understanding of consequences. He missed out on going to Cubs on Thursday because of the way he’d behaved and the things he’d said. Later, when we were discussing the events after he’d calmed down, Robbie went into his default understanding of event through the filter of shame: he didn’t deserve to go to Cubs because he’s bad. I explained for the umpteenth time that we don’t think he’s bad, but his behaviour had been such that it had warranted a consequence, on this occasion not being taken to Cubs. This explanation is usually met by the “well I did the bad behaviour so I must be bad” reply, but it didn’t come this time. Instead he allowed me to explain further and I thought I caught a glimpse of understanding in his eyes. Maybe it was there, maybe it was wishful thinking. After all, just like Robbie had quickly reverted to old habits during the week, so had I: thinking that I couldn’t cope, getting stressed, losing sleep, losing hope about his future… Still, we both seem to have overcome this bump, and it feels good.

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.