Monday, 21 April 2014

Creating Tradition - Easter

Hop, hop, hoping along. Basket in hand. And then I spot two eggs on the window sill. I run towards them. My siblings and cousins haven’t noticed them. They are older, so their baskets are already full to the brim with eggs. Mainly the liqueur-filled ones that look better than they taste. This time I get to them first. And I am happy. I gaze at them lying at the bottom of my basket. I must have been around 4.

That year my savvy cocktail drinking gran had devised two routes of Easter egg hunts through her rambling house. One for us kids, and one for her sons-in-law, that included my dad. 

According to the family tradition, she had hidden masses of eggs. Everyone got a basket with their name on it and would set off. In gran's house you could find eggs all year round. Chances were highest during hide-and-seek. But at Easter the eggs were fresh, new and tasty.

Years later, I made an Easter Egg hunt for my dad. I was in my early 20s, and he in his 50s. Just for fun... He found most of the eggs within minutes in a total frenzy. The memories of past hunts at my gran’s came flooding back. That sensation of being elbowed out of the way by grown men – dads! – for them to get to the eggs first. Hence the two routes. Clever gran.

These memories surfaced again yesterday, as I got up early to hide eggs for Digger and Dad, on Easter Sunday morning. The day before we had seriously hard-boiled a number of eggs, and then smothered them in expressionistic decoration. I placed them around the sitting room, together with a few chocolate eggs. And the eggs from Rosa and her mum: a huge one, and a cardboard one filled with tiny underpants (Eddie has slooowly begun his potty training). Football undies.

Digger is 2 ½ so hunting around for hidden objects is the kind of game that really appeals to him. As soon as he cottoned on to the chocolate inside some of them he munched away, and soon all the hard-boiled eggs were back in their hiding places.  We all had too much chocolate for one morning. But we all had fun, and it felt like Easter.

Last Easter Pierre’s mum, Nana, had made a lovely hunt, of plastic eggs with coins inside – her addition to our tradition. (When we next go we have to bring back some of those eggs. I haven’t seen them here…)

It struck me how happy I feel when we, our little family, create new traditions. 

Traditions that follow the seasons and punctuate the year. I love sharing all this with Digger and Pierre. It give me a very deep sense of satisfaction and peace. We incorporate the best of our childhood, and leave other things behind. That mixture of tradition and innovation that is any family’s perrogative.

Easter is such a lovely time of year too. Nature waking up again. So much to explore outside. 
Such a gift of life and light.

I look forward to next year already.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Toddler Tooth Brushing – La Cucaracha style

What has this got to do with adoption?

Simple, I try to minimise tears and force in everything I do.

We all know adopted children start for a position of grave and fundamental loss. They don’t need more punishment, rejection and hurt, if we can possibly avoid it.

So I try very hard to do everything a gentle and respectful way.

Tooth brushing is an area that could so easily have turned into daily arguments. And I can’t just go ‘oh well, it doesn’t matter.’ Here I do have to follow through (most nights anyway).

I know only of two ways of brush a toddler’s teeth: with tears and brute force or without. The latter being preferable, but achievable only if only a smithereen of pressure is applied and the toddler sets the tempo. It has taken us 18 months to get there, and the journey wasn't a straight line, but we now have a format that seems to work for us. And yes it involves singing.

La Cucara-cha, La Cucara-cha …

That’s the song we brush our teeth to. Every night.

The tooth brushing comes at a very specific point of the night-time routine. Certain things can be cut out from the routine, like the bath itself if we are running late, but the general arch of the routine has to stay in the same order for the night-time magic to work. Tooth brushing has its place in this order. It comes between the bath itself and creaming up. Just after being held as a baby for little while, all cocooned and wrapped up tightly in a warm towel. Then we slowly move to the sink, a toothbrush is chosen amongst several and a dollop of paste administered, by either of us.

All the while we sing La Cucaracha, and perhaps doing a little dance or wiggle to it too.

I don't like arguing over the issue, so I always let Digger know that I have all the time in the world, but that I will finish off. I tried letting him do it completely on his own, thinking in time he would get better, and that it didn’t matter too much – everything not to upset the little man! Especially in the beginning. But I soon noticed his milky white teeth were getting a little yellow. Yuk. So, now I insist at least that once a day, after the bath.

Digger usually starts off himself, and now even brushes rhythmically to La Cucaracha. He is definitely getting better at brushing. In the morning, we let him do it himself, when we all do it together. It can take 10 mins for him to be ready for me to finish it, or 1min. Overtime this window has gotten shorter. He knows I mean business.

We check and say ‘hallo tooth’ to each and every one of them. Or the shorter version ‘Hallo, teeth’. ‘Say aaaa’ or some other open sound to check the back teeth is necessary. I hold the brush like a I would a pencil, so as not to ram it in his little mouth. The ‘tiger’ grin, that is clenched and bared teeth, is also becoming a true ritual. Roaring goes well with it too. It gets all the front teeth in one go, and loads of foam going too. Digger does appreciated that I can produce quite a lot more foam than he can. You see, he loves tooth paste. I remember loving the stuff myself…I think he could eat a whole tube of it if we let him. But I know a child, who’s teeth rotted, as he eat his way through vast quantities of it. We keep the tooth paste as a treat, twice a day. Only ever served on a brush, and accompanied by brushing.

Tooth brushing toddler tempo is another area where slowing down and turning up the rhythm and multisensory approach is definitely the quicker way. Especially if performed over time.
Then it really gets quicker.

La Cucara-cha, La Cucara-cha ….

I’d love to hear other people ideas on this subject.

Here’s a link to the Gispy King version for the extra keen, or those, like me, who do not necessarily remember titles of songs, but more the melody:
The Things We Do

Friday, 11 April 2014

7 Slippery Slopes

 A few not-so-motherly thoughts that has recently played on my mind. As painful and uncomfortable as it might be, I have decided to share these moments with you, my silent reader.

1.     Perhaps I could let down all guards when it come to child pee, along the lines of ‘Its only wee, it will wash off.’ I still feel different about snot and pooh, you might be relieved to know, though I am no longer as screamish as I might have been – I am proudly efficient. This may be the only thought on my list that is borne of true motherly love. It’s down hill from here.

2.     Should I let my kid play with toys at table while we eat? Diggers scooping out mashed potato and small pieces of veg? The same digger that may have been to the playground sand pit this morning? Yeah, why not. I don't know many 10 year olds who still play with toy cars while they eat. Come to think of it, …

3.     … I am letting let a lot of things slip because ‘I don’t know many 8/10/16 year olds who …’
This is fast becoming my mantra. This comes under ‘Choose your battles’. Which leads to me to …

4.      Maybe I should abandon discipline. Certainly in the traditional, punitive, sense of the word. For what is discipline but behaviour out of place. Much like weeds: in another context, the behaviour might fine. Mostly. (Clearly this does not include harm or abuse!)

5.     Now, how about instating a daily cocktail hour – at 5pm?! It is stylish, relaxing and welcome. It's only the daily part of it that is dodgy. As an old Pavlovian dog…

6.     … OK, I admit it: The odd fag is bliss, because once you are a mum they are as deliciously naughty as those behind the school shed. Those your parents didn’t know about. Only now it is all about a break, a quiet moment in the garden, listening to the birds or aeroplanes.  Wait a minute… did they know about them? And do they? 

7.     Now to the more embarrassing admission, not least in the context of adoption: Is there any way that it would be OK for me to take up smoking dope? (This comes from a woman whose husband think I’d better off with a Valium before going to a party.) I am thinking from the perspective of that young Olympic snowboarder who successfully argued against it being a performance enhancing drug (although of course it must be, in a relaxing mindful kind of way).

Needless to say, I have given in to some of this anarchy. And am weighing up the pros and cons the rest. The latter ones. The drugs. Give me pause and food for more thought.

I toy with the idea of roll ups, spiced and perfumed with funny tobacco, grown in a pot on the windowsill in a summerhouse near the ocean where I grew up. There is a soundtrack to it. Laughter and skinny dipping. Similarly I think of the alcohol sensation of the sweet liquid hitting my lips, spelling relaxation, a chill pill, which always makes me a better parent.  A state that can be reached more easily and quickly with these light weight drugs, right? Perhaps mixed with escapism.

So many kids in our adoptive care come from background overshadowed by drugs and alcohol. And it was the prerogative of the parents to choose drugs over their children, whether or not it was a conscientious choice. I have a father who prefers to drink than to see his children. With all this in mind these slippery thoughts are no longer as playful as they started out. It is not funny. It’s just unbearably sad.

The Weekly Adoption Shout Out

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

A day with Rosa

In my last blog, I wrote about a very special person in our lives: Digger’s fostermum, Rosa. The post described only a fraction of what she means to us. In this blog I will continue my tribute, and include her family. A pivotal point is the trust my husband and I place in her, that strong piece of a puzzle that is Digger’s life.

While Digger lived with Rosa, he spent a lot of time with her close-knit family. Especially her mother and father, where he would often spend the night. But he also stayed with her sister and her family. They were all her back-up carers, and Digger loved spending time with them.

We have kept in regular contact with Rosa and her family. And so it was a natural progression to ask Rosa and her mum to do an evening’s worth of babysitting last month. Very thoughtfully she pinged through a selfie of a cuddle on our sofa which Pierre and I got while we were out for dinner. They looked so in tune and so happy. They share something. And our hearts burst at the sight of it. It felt very good and right to leave them to themselves too. To have their own thing…

‘You have no idea how much it means for us to still be able to see Digger.’
Well, that feeling is mutual.

Just last week, 18 months after Digger left Rosa to come live with us, we upped the game, and let him he spent a whole day with her and her family.

Digger had a wail of a day. Jam packed with people he had know when he was an infant. Blasts from the past.

Rosa returned after supper with a very happy and super stimulated boy. Loaded with a heap of small and big presents, and arms full of hand-me down toys. It was clear that they had had a very special time. There had been dozens of hugs for Digger, and playmates. Bags of attention, smiles, giggles, tickles, tossing up the air, rugby, football and much much more. Rosa told stories of how happy everyone had been to see Digger. She kept it a surprise to her nieces and nephews, and it paid off. They were moved to tears. Happy tears. Each one of them recognised him. At first sighting. From the back.

By the sounds of it, Digger had been his most charming, fun-loving, cuddly, caring self that day.

Rosa said the only time Digger wobbled was when she strapped him in the car seat of her car, got in the driver seat and turned the key. She looked in the rear mirror and saw a frightened little face. She quickly addressed it, turned around and talked to him about the day ahead, and how they were going to come back tonight. She put on some music and soon they were singing along. Later on, when she told him it was time to go home, he smiled brightly and was ready.

That night he went to sleep in his cot with a big smile on his face.

The boy who got out of his cot the next morning, however, was very whining and clingy. The sling came in very handy over the next few days. He spent the greater part of the day clued to my body. You could not have put a piece of paper between me and Digger. And the day after, a Saturday, he did the same to my husband, when he wasn't stuck to me. It was exhausting for us grown ups. So I wonder how it must have felt to him.

I was nervous that I had overstretched him. But now a few days later, all is back to normal. And he has learnt a new word: Home. We use it all the time. He signs it, when he says it. Making a pointed arch with both hands, by letting the finger tips of one hand touch the other. He beams when he says it: ‘Home!’

When we return from our daily business we now play ‘Where does Digger live? Where does mummy, daddy and Digger live?’ And he shouts ‘There! There!’ Points. And then scoots straight up to the front door. He knows where he lives. And that this is where we come back to, whenever we have been out.

Nevertheless we needed to anchor him back into our family after his day with Rosa. He was only ten months when he left her, but those memories of being up rooted are evidently strong.

Typically, I am still a little worried I did the wrong thing, but have decided to use the opportunity to strengthen our bond, and his sense of family and home. I prefer to use the episode constructively. And to let him head off with Rosa again at some future date. 

The future will hold similar situations, I am sure, where he will be upset and confused, and we need to reassure him of the stability of our family. Some will involve Rosa, some his birth family, and some may be prompted in other, unpredictable ways, I suspect.

I feel so strongly that we as his parent must make a concerted effort to integrate his past into his present and his future. There is no doubt I pushed it. More than I knew I did. We got away with it. In fact, the result of Digger’s day out with Rosa and her family has been that our family ties are stronger.