Friday, 30 May 2014


I know… very schmaltzy… but still … a subject very close to my heart.

In a recent blog on touch, I didn’t mention kisses (or holding hands for that matter). So I thought I would redress the balance with this post.

Two thousand kisses as day is the intriguing title of a book by L.R. Knost; the premise being that it is the number of kisses that an average infant receives a day, through being cuddled, breastfed etc. The number decreases over the years, as the child grows more and more independent.

Well, obviously many of our adopted children probably didn’t get that two thousand allowance when they should have. I tend to think that most of them are still in the red on that score.

I’ve seen photos of adopted children with their birth parents, and it is the ones where they kiss their children that have made the deepest impression on me. These can be photos of genuine, boundless love. I think they are particularly powerful for their children as well, since they may be able to see and believe the birth parents' love for them, thereby anchoring this very feeling inside them. Along side the love of and for their adoptive parents. The same goes for photos of foster parents and their foster children, I might add. Once again Digger has been lucky. He was a kissed tirelessly and lovingly by his foster mum Rosa. And by her family and friends. We have the photos to prove it.

But I didn’t get to give Digger his thousands of kisses a day. I still feel I am making up for lost time; that is those first ten months we weren’t there. I don't think I have ever quite managed two thousand in one day. But I have managed hundreds. Often placing a dozen in quick succession, somewhere on his body. His feet, his tummy, his forehead, his cheek. Anywhere soft and warm and Digger-licious.

The sling is an excellent place to sneak in a few more. Digger is at head height, ‘close enough to kiss’ as the instructions go on how to place an infant in a sling. But sadly and surely he is growing out of it. Now at 32 months we use it only when he is ill, very physically exhausted or on a rare occasion when he wants to be extra close.

These days, Digger is full to the brim with love, and we are on the propitious receiving end of hugs and kisses. He places kisses on our toes, on our heads and so on. Big MMMMaoOws. Big wet sloppy ones. And it feels gooood! I speak for both me and Pierre when I say we have never known love as unconditional as our love for Digger. Kissing and hugging is showing that love.

Kissing can be magic too. Ouwie’s are kissed better all the time in our house. His little legs carry the hallmarks of most 2 year-old boys: they are always covered in numerous bruises in various shades of blackness. So we kiss each of them every night. Yesterday Digger bashed his fingers with a sizable stone. So hard we both thought ‘OOutch… that had got to hurt’ and we prepared ourselves for the almighty wail to follow. But he looked at his finger, then held it up for Daddy to kiss better, received the kiss and returned to play. Digger kisses our ouwies too. And yes, oddly it does kinda work!

Then there are other types of kisses. He loves the delicate, but oh-so-tickly butterfly kisses, the fluttering on eyelashes on his eyelids. And he loves the rubbing noses. Or toe kissing. (To you and me that is just rubbing your toes together. Works with fingers too.)  He is creative and we take his lead. Or we butt in and make something up. Depending on the moment.

Some of these kisses are also good to break the ice if he has been angry. Perhaps he isn't ready for usually kissing, as in touching with lips. Often it is enough to kiss a finger tip, and then to transfer that kiss to anywhere on his body. The non-lip kisses can be good to show respectful distance while still being affectionate. Like blowing kisses. Great way to avoid a hug if you are not up for it...

So … who else benefits? you might ask. Well, many people. He kisses other children if he feels they have been nice to him. (And he pushes them etc, if they encroach on his space or his things – he is two after all).

We might suggest a kiss for someone, but we never force. I have to admit that I am relieved when he withholds kisses. Pouting to kiss is cute and sweet and everything. But he should always be in charge. ‘Cause where would it lead if I forced Digger to kiss when he really doesn’t want to? Whatever the reason this is his body.

There is something about the boundaries of the giving and receiving of kisses that seem significant for an adopted soul like Digger. Kids are so cute when they do kiss us or each other. But I feel we must be extra careful not to cajole adopted children into kissing or cuddling. So many of them had their boundaries physically and psychologically invaded, and their sense of self has been so fundamentally uprooted and transplanted. Taking the long view kissing is about sex and sexuality, and about having healthy respectful relationship with that. We should be able to handle the disappointment, or hurt, when they don't want to kiss us. And be extra happy when they do. 
A spontaneous hug or kiss is all sweeter when it is given just for the sake of it.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Yes! A master class.

I learn a lot from Digger. Every day. All day long. If I am open to it.

Digger is learning to speak at the moment.  
His parents think it is coming on apace.

A friend turned to face me the other day, when we were playing with our kids:
‘I understand what Digger is saying!! I did! Wow. To me he always just sounded like that Swedish Cook from the Muppet Show.’ I know exactly what this friend means…

Certain Digger sounds can have a multitude of meanings. Or rather certain groups of words sound completely alike to my ear, but not to his. Thus ‘DdSsshhhyyyttzz’ can be ‘pacifier’, ‘sleep’, ‘milk’, ‘juice’ or ‘sshhyyyy’ or a lot of other things.  
I am getting better at guessing.

Currently, conversations between Digger and me often go something like this:


“Juice?! Are you thirsty?’

‘No. DdSsshhhyyyttzz.’

‘Sleep? Are you tired? Sleepy?

‘No. DdSsshhhyyyttzz.’


‘No. DdSsshhhyyyttzz.’

‘Help me, darling... I really don’t understand. Show me.’

Digger sighs audibly. And drags me to the fridge where he pulls out a yogurt.

Once or twice he has broken down in tears because his mother is so dim.
Real heartbroken sobs. Nobody-understands-me-kind-of-sobs.

But when I do get it right he raises his little arms above his head, palms raised to the sky and shouts ‘YAAESSHH!’ and beams. Then we move on.

It is the same thing if he gets upset and I am not sure why. As we have learned and as I have learned the hard way is the quickest, nicest, more direct way of dealing with upsets, I pull him close – if he will let me – and start digging….

‘Are you sad because I left the room?’ He shakes his head. ‘Are you sad because you wanted to stay here in your room?’ Shakes his head. ‘Sad because you don't want to go to the park?’ 

Often I’m wrecking my brain to find other plausible explanations. At 32 months he does seem do want me to put words to his thoughts and feelings, and he likes it when I try to guess. So I look around… trying to find visual clues. Wooden blocks are strewn all over the floor. Evidence of Digger and Daddy’s morning routine.

‘Are you sad because you want to play with your blocks …’ ‘Are you sad because you miss daddy?’ Nods vigorously and sobs loudly. ‘And sad because playing with the blocks made you think of him?’ ‘YEEEAASH!’ Then he sobs some more, wipes his nose, cuddles, snuggles. Then gets up and goes to put on his shoes so we can go to the park. Right as rain again.

It is such a wonderful capacity. To be so happy when I (or Daddy) get it right. Then he can let it go. And move on.

‘So you are angry, because I didn’t buy you any flowers on Mother’s Day?’ I might wish my husband would ask me. ‘YES!’ Wouldn’t it be great if it were that easy to acknowledge feelings of hurt and then to move on? Really move on. No hang ups. No coming back later on the same subject. No need to. 
The flowers are not really a hang up of my – but you get the idea… other things may be...

I’m taking note of Digger’s straight up emotions and how he deals with them, and I’m trying new things in my interaction with my husband too. Trouble is … we spend more time guessing at what Digger is feeling than what we are. Same old same old… There is simply less time for each other when you get a kid.

We Digger parents agree that recently, it has been a major lesson for both of us to realise just how much he appreciates it when we take our time to keep guessing with him. And how getting it right means moving on. We can learn from that.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

A family gathering - using the A-word

My nephew was confirmed yesterday. It was a lovely, beautiful and very moving affair. Coming of age.

A slideshow of his life was running on a loop in the background. I was moved to tears. In the blink of an eye my nephew has become a young man. That intoxicating mix of handsome and groofy, confident and insecure, bullitproof and vulnerable that is the teenage years. All at the same time.

The family met. Eating, drinking and merriment ensued to the soundtrack of cacophonic laughter and happy banter. Digger was zooming in and out of the everyone’s legs. Happy as anything. He s a social being. He was much admired. As always at such gatherings the older kids took the younger ones under their wings. The boys played football, and were gentle with the little ones. And the girls held hands and chatted. But they all carried and kisses the young ones.

Some people we haven’t met since Digger moved in. And so they didn't know he is adopted.

Some couldn’t work out how Digger got his AMAZING eyelashes (certainly not from us!). And some thought it was amazing how Digger looked so much like Pierre. Well, well. People see what they want to see.

Once Digger was out for the night there was a lot of opportunity for grown up conversation. Admittedly, the conversations I was involved in mainly concerned kids and parenting and our own childhoods. And I ended up talking a lot about adoption.

Actually I woke up this morning (hence this blog) and was tired of talking about adoption. I had been open and honest. And did my best to explain why certain mainstream parenting styles, like crying it out, is not a good idea for adopted children. Bla blab la. It was very interesting. But also tiring.

Next party I think I will really try not to mention that word again. I think with practice I will get better. At changing the subject, at fending off too prying questions.

‘Is his dad very dark? Does the dark hair and the brown eyes come from his dad? The olive skin is obviously not from you. It is from his dad?’

To all of which the answer is:


It’s great to leave it at that. It makes people think. Even for a second. And gives me peace. Enough time to move away.

But all these questions are only one side of the coin. The other side is me wanting to tell people what it is like, trying out new thoughts and ideas, and an urge to let them know there are other ways of parenting that what we learned.

Things like yelling ‘Stoppit. STOPPIT NOW!!’ ‘Oh for Christ’s Sake. STOP CRYING.’ isn’t really going to get you there. I have yet to see a child stopping to cry at emotional gunpoint. Especially in front of other people. Shaming, in my book, is bad. And for many it is lazy parenting, of re-lived childhoods. You see?  I really must come off that high horse. It’s doing my own head in.

‘But’s that how we were parented! If it was good enough for us, it sure is good enough for them.’ And then we move towards that awkward conversation where I try to voice how perhaps that wasn't the best thing. Or that perhaps didn’t work that well. Sigh.

Anyway, yesterday’s family gathering was a lovely and loving environment to try these prying adoption conversations out and reining in my own need to speak about it. And parenting.

Once Digger speaks and understands more I think and hope I will be better at these conversations. 

For his sake.

Friday, 9 May 2014

No, mummy No!

 So many variations that little two-letter word.

And I am not talking about the word so favoured by toddlers, Digger included. It clearly empowers him, and the repeat use of it can be tiresome, but I’m happy to report that he uses a lot of yes’s too.

Actually, this post is about me – again. And my use of the word. 
Aimed by the 97cm high being that is my 30-month-old son.

‘Nonononononono’ is completely channelling my own mother. Or my Dad pops up with with a series of pensive and non-committal ‘No…. no…no.’ Or sometimes with a serious ‘NO!’. I tend to inhabit my own more. The ‘Nope’, ‘Naaaahhh…’ or ‘Noooouuuuu..!’ or ‘Nooo way’. I come from a culture where ‘no’ is rife. It can actually be used politely.

Then there’s ‘Interesting…’ (That wonderfully not-so-genuine expression of actual interest). ‘Are you sure?’ or ‘Really?’ to which Digger will reply ‘Yes, sure.’ and ‘Yes, really.’ He definitely has my number.

‘Are you kidding me?!’ get’s the response ‘No. Kidd.’ And Digger usually means it. Like asking for chocolate roses before dinner, as he did tonight.

The English are World Champions of gracious, sly and evasive no’s. I speak as a non-native speaker, after decades as an outsider within. And I am still learning. It’s like tuning an old fashioned radio: sometimes it is all noise, but other times it is clear as day, and that can be a bit frightening. Suddenly understanding something fully. Or just in a new way. Though admittedly, not taking no for an answer, can now be disguised as ‘Sorry, I am a foreigner -  didn’t realise…’. Often I should, and I do, know better. Cheeky. But effective.

I don’t think that many of these nuances are lost on Digger. In fact, I wonder whether this picture isn’t quite familiar to him…

At the moment, I am a little obsessed with parenting books, but that’s a subject for a another time. Suffice to say that I’ve given up finding that all-encompassing toddler owner’s manual with a handy trouble shooting diagram at the back. Now I read for inspiration. I read quicker and more critically. Somehow in my own insecurity and guilt-ridden stab at parenting, I am getting a strong sense of what I believe in, or rather, the mother that I am. And want to be. Wish me luck.

Many parenting experts have voiced opinions on the word ‘No’. It comes under disciplining. In itself a toxic area. Divisive at best. Some parenting styles recommends avoiding ‘No’ all together, or in so far as that is possible. I find the concept really interesting. For an avid user of the ‘nononononono’ this would obviously be a challenge. But then again... I am up for looking critically at any aspect of my parenting.

I experimented with a ‘no’-free world for a few days. But found ‘no’ just appeared in other ways. With the same force and meaning.

It clearly makes sense to cut down on the negative in any relation and form of communication. People bigger, stronger and more able than themselves govern the lives of tots in all aspects. Handing back some autonomy is as powerful as it is necessary for happy and smooth interaction within the family as a whole. 

Are there any parents out there who haven’t experienced the amazing power of the positive zone? Living in a positive groove is self-fulfilling and self-reinforcing. It is very powerful upward spiral.

By the same token negative grooves can be very destructive, and everything can unravel very quickly. We know that too. Even if we have only glimpsed over the edge into the abyss … None of us do need to go down there to know the sway of the negative.

But abandoning ‘no’ seem extreme to me.

‘Is it red?’
‘No, it’s blue’

‘Mummy, can I have an ice cream?’ (or in Diggerish: ‘Izsshhseeehhh?’)
‘No, dinner will be ready in 5 mins.’ (This goes down a lot easier if delivered with a kiss and a smile.)

Those exchanges seem to me to be parenting in full stops. Reasonable ‘no’s. Not much to argue about. Facts. Different kinds of facts for sure. In the latter not so much about physics, as it is about different ideas of what constitutes good eating habits at 5.48pm. At dinner time mum decides when, what and where. But not how much.

‘No’ is the opposite of ‘yes’. It is simply a very useful word.

It is the delivery, the tone of voice that conveys most of the message of ‘No’ in any context. Much more so than the word itself. As per example, ‘I love you’ can be delivered through clenched teeth. Thereby negating any feeling of love or trust for that matter.

‘No’ can be delivered with too much force and can be very scary for a tiny tot. Or it can be understanding, respectful and soft. Those latter no’s are the ones I am practising. Though I am the user of many.

Using ‘STOP!’ instead of ‘No!’ obviously makes a lot of sense. As does ‘Danger!!’. These words can be used very effectively for extreme situations, like toddler heading out into traffic. In fact if they only get used in those situations they remain words of impact. Digger instantly complies when I say ‘STOP’. Delivered with panache, of course, and conviction. I think Digger can hear the fear in my voice. This is discipline on another level.

But no. I will never abandon ‘no’. In life, or in disciplining my son. I’m committed to  cut down, as much as possible. There is always room for that with a ‘no’-ridden background like mine and a toddler in the house.

I’m guessing that no-one out there would like to use the word more. Would they?

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Digger tantrums – Part 1

 I write Part 1, because I have a sneaky suspicion this will not be the last blog post on the subject.

This is the story of my parental epiphany with regard to handling Digger’s tantrums.
The other night Digger had a massive meltdown. ‘Daddee, daddee, daddeeeeee, daddee, daddee, daddeeee, daadddddEEEE!!’ Mummy just wasn't going to cut it. He wanted Daddy and only Daddy. All the way through bath time, brushing his teeth, rubbing in his cream and putting on his PJs he was screaming for Daddy and I was wondering what the neighbours must be thinking. By the time I handed over to Daddy for milk and stories, I was exhausted and annoyed. ‘Here you go! You deal with it! I’ve had enough!! £%$@&&!’. Yes, I lost my temper. I’d been calm and patient up to the point and there had been no reward. Grrrrr.
Soon Digger calmed down in the arms of Daddy and even sooner after that he was asleep. Happy as Larry with a smile on his face. But I was still fuming. I was only able to calm down once I realised that it was jealousy – good old-fashioned jealousy – that I was feeling. That acknowledgement released the tension and annoyance inside me. That and a strong feeling that I had failed both him and me.
I hadn't been able to contain either of us.
A couple of nights later the same thing happened, but this time Dad wasn't home for the hand over, and so I had to deal with it.  All of it. So I did. I held him close. We were sitting on the floor of our bathroom throughout. Digger squirming on my lap throughout. Sometimes he faced me, sometimes he was turned away from me, sometimes he was laying across my legs, but he remained on my lap. I was holding him, but not firmly.
This time I had more resolve and more patience. I kept repeating in properly calm tone of voice (managed not to fall into the patronising calm): ‘I’m here. You are safe’. I acknowledged how (I thought) he must have been feeling: ‘Oh dear, you are sad, very sad. Do you miss Daddy?’ The question released floods of tears, and a hoard of yes’ses. ‘I’m here. Let it all out, sweet mouse. I’m here. I will stay here.’ Digger cried, and cried, and whiggled, and cried.
I didn’t say ‘I won’t leave you’. Because that sentence has the words ‘...leave you’ in it.
I didn’t say ‘Don’t worry it’s is all ok’. Because it wasn’t.
And then … suddenly … it was over. Digger smiled, hiccupped, was meek and happy again. He turned around and wrapped his small hot arms around my neck, and nestled into my neck. And so it all ended in a big cuddle. Milk and stories were administered as usual and he fell asleep peacefully.
I can only describe his outburst as a torrential rainstorm followed by the sun breaking through.
The contrast was stark. And I wonder whether it felt the same to Digger.
It is the first time I have experienced what seemed to be the natural end of a tantrum. Void of hang ups, blame, guilt, anger. Void of the use of distractions or a belittling his feelings. And most importantly, for me anyway, I wasn't scared of his outburst and wondering about how I was to handle the situation.
I stepped right in. And stayed there.
Seeing through Digger’s outburst of these big, uncontainable emotions has given me great resolve. I have since found tantrums much easier to deal with. We both know that the frightening toddler storms will end. We both know that I, mummy, can sit through them, without being dragged into them.
We have seen I can remain calm.
Whatever the trigger for Digger’s tantrums, I need to be present to show him that he is safe and that I can handle and contain his emotions. I remain in charge throughout. The emotional space I occupy in these moments is difficult to describe, but it is one of (for me) amazing, calm presence and total focus on my son, almost like meditation or you might call it mindfulness. I have a mental image of me being a capital 'C' containing his tiny 'c'. Odd, I know, but it works.
Once again, he has been my supreme teacher. I have learned that I do have the necessary reserve of patience (most days anyway), as long as I trust him and myself.
Since I wrote this a month ago, Digger tantrums have become much less frequent. I assume this is partly due to his age, but I also think we have found a way of working through them. I think he feels more contained when his feelings boil over. But toddler emotions are a moving goal post. Tantrums are bound to be back… and bound to challenge me again. I hope I will remember what I have learnt.

[Note: This blog is an edited version of a blog first published in May. It has also appeared on]

Friday, 2 May 2014


What is it about Dummies? Why are they so divisive? 
I am genuinely puzzled.

In many playgroup and gatherings Digger is the only kid with a dummy. I get these sideway glances from other mums... Especially if Digger drops the dummy, and then quickly – before I can get to it – picks it up and sticks it in his mouth again.

It’s like smoking. Yuk.

I know parent that are hell bent on breaking the dummy habit, or those who only in whispering tones can admit that their kids also use them – sometimes.

Yes, they are made of plastic. And Dad hate that Digger is wearing a piece of plastic in many, if not most, of the thousands of images we have taken of him.

Yes, there are germs involved. There are with all children. A lot.

And yes, admittedly, over time I have become a little less obsessed with sterile pacifiers, although they all get the regular spin in the dishwasher with the bottles on a hygienic setting.

And yes, it schhluurss Digger’s speech – if he speaks with it in his mouth.

And yes, he definitely drools more with it.

But I think dummies are good news. On the whole. It is a short stint in life. I don’t know any 5 year olds who use them. Except occasionally at night? To help them fall asleep and wards off monsters. I do know one person in his twenties who still suck his thumb. Charismatic, charming, high achiever. But that is very unusual, right?

Realms and realms have been written on pacifiers and dummies. Pros and cons. I can’t find much scientific evidence for them being as bad as their reputation, and if so only in extremis. I get the sense it is something else, people have against them. Some personal.

Personally, I was very happy that Digger came with this particular habit. He settles easily. He can be calmed down quite easily and very quickly from most episodes with tears with a dummy and his bunny.

Digger used it A LOT in the beginning of the placement – it would bob in and out of his little mouth, like Maggie and her oversized pacifier in the Simpsons. Characteristic, funny and cute.

First time I acknowledged I had finally arrived at parenthood, was when I tried to start the car with a dummy. Now they are everywhere. In my bag, my pockets, on tables, chairs, bed, car, bath…

Many adoptive children were never breastfeed. My son wasn’t. He went from hospital straight to his fostermum, Rosa. He never lived with his birth mother. So his was bottlefed. He quickly grew to a chubby baby in the arms of Rosa and remains a healthy child.

Babies are born with an ability to suck – it is, and was, how they are going to survive. Breastfeeding does bring about the ultimate physical closeness, and many studies have shown that breast fed babies spend longer feeding than bottle fed children. Well, I can never breastfed Digger. I wish I could have. Is Digger's dummy an allowance from me because I haven’t? Do I think that breastfeeding and dummy sucking goes on the same account of ‘sucking in childhood'? No, of course not. But I don’t mind it one bit, when we snuggle and cuddle too.

Sucking is calming. Clearly. Period. Digger sometimes seems to disappear into this dummy world of calm. This is his place of safety.

For these uprooted children dummies should be a good thing, no?

Dan Hughes endorses them, I was very relieved to learn.

Where I come from, there is a dummy tree in the park. There, children come with their parents when they are ready to give up. It’s a big day. Many children remember it well. The family celebrate this coming of age and there is often a significant present – chosen by the child.

I approve of Digger’s use. I don’t really encourage it, beyond grabbling for one, if he cries that cry that can be comforted by double whammy of dummy and bunny. And making sure there is an extra by his cot at night. He doesn’t really wake up a night asking for it. Now he often finds it himself again, and is learning how to fall back to sleep again. I know, because I can hear him when he rootles for it and when he finds it.

So when the time comes, I will help him stop this habit. In fact now that Digger’s language is coming on apace, he often likes to take it out to make himself heard. He too can hear how much better everything he says sounds without it. He is already using it less than he did when he first came to us. But it will be a while yet before he is ready to give it up, I think.

But I am confident he will give up his dummies. When the time comes. For now there are FAR worse things he could be doing.

Ahaparenting has posted this handy link on dropping the dummy. And Handinhandparenting has this nice little article.

I'd love to hear your view on the matter.