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…

Where have I been?

I’m sorry I’ve not been more prolific lately. I have not one but two excuses: first of all, I’ve had a cold for most of the past two weeks. It just won’t go away and it’s a pain. Second: I’ve lost my iPad. Yes, stupid me left it on a plane. It was seriously delayed and I had to literally run to get a coach home, so I bolted it from the plane and left it behind. Of course I rang lost property etc… but no success. I’m still kicking myself for it. Anyhow, I used to do all my writing on the iPad and without it I just don’t seem to get around to it.

The return to school was quite a non-event. Robbie adapted well to his new teacher and everything’s well. He’s been invited to a couple of birthday parties already. Even homework seems OK (well – until last Friday, more later), especially compared to how awful it used to be.

Therapy has continued too. More DDP (Robbie wasn’t particularly engaged for this latest session) and SAI (more jumping on cushions whilst being videoed – still not terribly clear what we’re getting out of this). The evening after therapy last week Robbie found an excuse to hit me. I think there’s so much that comes to the surface that he has to let it out somehow. Would rather it was with words, though, but it wasn’t a major eruption and we managed it quite well.

Last Friday was worse. Robbie got angry over homework and punched Glen very hard. Then he pinched him hard too. Glen was fuming (and hurting both physically and emotionally) and refused to acknowledge Robbie’s presence until I convinced him that his ignoring Robbie was only making Robbie feel even less worthy. As the grown-up, Glen gave in and there was a bit of re-connecting. There weren’t any further eruptions over the weekend.

And today… I’m taking the opportunity to catch up with this blog. What? No work today? Nope. That’s because I’ve reduced my hours to four days a week and shan’t be working Mondays for the next year. Everyone keeps telling me that I need to spend time doing things I want and relaxing, so that’s the plan. So far today I’ve been to the office once to pick up some paperwork I need to read before tomorrow morning and I’ve also done some housework. Me time? Hmmm. I’ve not given up 20% of my salary for this! Must try harder.

A fabulous day

I don’t often post about our good days, of which there are many. I guess this is because it’s the hard ones I need to get my head around and writing helps me do that. But last Sunday was such a great day I just have to write about it.

We went up to London, where Robbie was taking part in the sponsored Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research London bikeathon. He did amazingly well, riding his bike for over six miles in under 90 minutes. He got a medal as was very pleased with it. We cheered him on every time he completed yet another lap of the circuit (he went round 34 times in total) as when he finished we told him how proud of him we were. I also told him that he should be very proud of himself. For the first time ever, on hearing those words, Robbie didn’t shake his head. He didn’t nod either, but it’s a step in the right direction.

After the sponsored bike ride (Robbie raised £150), we took the Emirates cable car to the Greenwich peninsula. From the cable car we could see this huge ride by the side of the O2: the BT Infinity ride. Spinning chairs 40 metres high. Robbie wanted to go on it, so we agreed. The four-minute ride felt like an hour. Glen and I got off feeling rather queasy, but Robbie had loved every minute. After a walk around the O2 (thankfully you have to be 10 to climb on the roof) we took the cable car back, made our way home and went for a meal out at Robbie’s favourite restaurant.

Like I say, it was a great day out. We all enjoyed ourselves thoroughly and there wasn’t a single bad moment.

Elton John, homophobic parent?

I was on holiday when this piece of news came out and I’ve been meaning to write about it. Elton John recently said in an interview that it will be heartbreaking for his son to grow up without a mum, and he worries about homophobic bullying.

You can read the story here.

I was quite angry that Elton appears to take the view that growing up with two dads is somehow a hindrance, especially coming from such a public out gay figure and one that is a gay dad (by surrogacy, not adoption) himself.

I was going to write a long text about it when I found the responses from a gay and a lesbian parent. Of all places, it was published in the Daily Mail. They say everything I wanted to say and more, so I leave you with the link here. As usual with all Daily Mail articles, whatever you do, don’t read the comments or have a look at the voting on how they are received.

Contact with siblings, therapy, meltdown and home therapy

On Monday we had contact with Robbie’s older sister and brother. As always it took place on “neutral ground”, a park in a city that’s more or less within equal distance of the three families involved. Robbie was very anxious about it the night before, worried that they wouldn’t get on or that he’d be challenged about past behaviours when the three of them lived together with their birth parents. He feels so much shame about it. He was also sad about not being able to see his siblings more often and once again queried the reasons why he can’t live with them. As it was, the kids got on very well. They played together without needing much supervision and enjoyed each other’s company. Because of this, we extended the contact time beyond the agreed two hours, which wasn’t a very wise thing to do as the kids started to annoy each other and returned to previous negative interactions.

We expected Robbie to externalise some of the things that might be going through his head afterwards, but he didn’t. When we got home we had a lovely afternoon and he went to bed just fine.

Yesterday we had two appointments with the post-adoption support agency. The first one was just Glen and I, and we got some feedback on our Sensory Attachment Intervention assessment. Some of it we expected and some of it was surprising. They offered some good advice and we found out more about the sessions to come. The second appointment was another DDP session with the three of us. We talked mostly about the summer and contact, since it was such a recent event. Robbie was quite engaged during the session, which we were pleased about.

Once again we expected some sort of outburst straight after, but Robbie appeared to be fine. It was only at bedtime that things went very wrong very quickly. There was a lot of violence. We were punched and I was beaten with cushions. I remained calm and supportive, asking Robbie what was going on and trying to empathise, until he threatened me with a pair of scissors. I then had to remove myself as I was really shaken.

When he eventually calmed down, Glen had a long chat with him. Robbie burst into tears and then blurted out a lot of revelations about how he feels, including feeling that we hide his past from him, his fear that he’ll have to go after 3 years with us (the same way he had to leave his birth parents and his foster carers after 3 years), thinking that he’s just like his birth parents because he hits, and saying that everything (the violence the kids had to endure, not being able to live with birth parents) was all his fault. He also uttered the line we’d hoped we’d never hear, or at least not until he was a teenager: “You’re not my parents”.

Glen listened and tried to address his concerns, but Robbie was too disregulated to listen. Eventually, Robbie fell asleep. The three of us had a long chat this morning and addressed all of the issues Robbie had mentioned. Amazingly, he allowed us to talk for a long time without any avoidance techniques, and he engaged with what we were saying: replying and asking questions. I think some of what we said went in. We also told him we’d probably have to discuss them with the adoption support agency too, which he didn’t like.

School starts tomorrow and I’m a bit sad about it. With the exception of the bad moments, I’ve enjoyed the last few days with Robbie and having a chance to do fun things as opposed to having to do routine school and homework stuff. I hope the return to school doesn’t lead to any more anxiety and negative behaviour.

His heart belongs to Daddy

As I mentioned on my last post, I was somewhat concerned about how Robbie and I would get on while Glen was away for three days this week. I needn’t have worried: it was fine. Actually, it was better than fine. We got on really well, did lots of stuff together and really enjoyed each other’s company. He was kind, considerate and very affectionate towards me, as was I towards him. It was just lovely to spend time having fun together.

As we drove to the station to pick Glen up, I told Robbie how pleased I was that we’d got on so well while Daddy was away. He agreed. Then, as soon as Glen came into view, he ran out of the car and into his arms. As they hugged, Robbie turned to me and gave me an apologetic look. It seemed to say “I know how well we’ve got on, but it’s Daddy I love most”. I smiled and winked, trying to convey that it’s ok. We both know his relationship with Glen is safer and a lot more stable, and bound to be interpreted in that way.