Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Positivity of Panel

Panel. A word that sends a shiver through many prospective adopters.  It's where you find out your adoption fate and it feels like the most important day of your life. That might be a bold sentence but it's how I remember feeling about it. These days I'm a panel member and have been for almost 4 years. Every time I think I'm ready to give up all the reading and stand down from my position as 'Adoptive Parent', I go to a panel that pulls me back in.

Today was that panel. It was a long day. We had 7 items and we consider each of them very carefully, which can take some time. Today we had a couple returning to adopt the full sibling of the child they adopted a few years ago. I was there for that panel and again for this one. Hearing about how happy they are to be parents to their little girl and how excited they are to expand their family with her baby brother was incredible. What an amazing thing to witness. We approved several other couples and some matches, all of which made me feel proud to play a very small part in these people's lives. I often sit there with tears in my eyes as the people in front of us tell us how much they want to be parents and why they feel the match is the right child or children for them. Panel can be very powerful.

I know that it can be a terrifying experience for prospective adopters, whether it's to become approved or matched. I know. I've done it. Scroll through my earlier blogs to see how my partner and I had an almighty blazing row just an hour before our approval panel. Because I've been there I always make sure I give adopters an encouraging smile when I say my name in introductions. You get the news of the panel's decision shortly after coming out of the meeting and the people sitting around that table want you to feel relaxed and to do well. Try and remember that.

If you ever get the chance to sit on an adoption panel, I say give it a try. Every month when the massive bundle of papers arrive I curse a bit under my breath. When I start reading and see how many papers I still have to go the curses sometimes get a bit louder. It can be tough and the reading can be very upsetting, but when you see a looked after child matched with their forever family and you just know they're going to have a wonderful life together you feel so darn good.

So, just as I was about to say to the Chair that I think I've done a good 4 years and I would like to bow out, now I might just do it for another few months. It's hard work and there is a LOT of reading but you just can't measure how brilliant it feels when a couple or single adopter walks out of the room knowing they are soon going to be a parent. That bit, I love. The reading? Not so much.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Shameless, 'It's not about adoption but I've got a new book out' related blog post

Hello again.

I hope you've enjoyed my blog up to now. I love writing them. I'm a writer by profession, actually, so I want to take this opportunity to tell you about my new children's book. Even though it's not based on my adoption experiences, it was inspired by my son who we've discovered is mildly dyslexic.

I wrote it because we discovered there is a leap in children’s books where they go from cute picture books straight into chunky reads like Mr Gum and Diary of a Wimpy Kid. These books are brilliant, but the fact they're a full pages of text makes that leap a bit too much for some children. Children like my son who used to throw books across the room in frustration because he couldn’t keep up with his peers. He needed something in between. I was trying to think about what I could do to help him and this is when I had a light bulb moment.

After having my bright idea, I took my laptop to a local cafĂ©, J.K. Rowling style, and started to write a story. By day, I’m a freelance advertising copywriter, so I’m used to working with words. I wrote the story as if it were a play, the idea being that you choose characters and only read their lines as they come up with the more confident reader taking the part of the narrator. This way, you share the reading with your children so it’s altogether less intimidating for them. You can put on funny voices if you like and have a bit of fun with it.
The stories are written so that they take around 15 minutes to read from start to finish and they can enjoy a satisfying conclusion before their head hits the pillow. This stops the need to turn the corner of the book down and the next night pick up again where you left off, if your son or daughter hasn’t hidden the book. I doubt we’ll ever know what happens at the end of The Machine Gunner in our house, it’s long gone.
Anyway, The Spaceship Saga and Other Stories is out soon. It sits perfectly next to Horrid Henry, Mr Gum, Mr Stink and Harry Potter on the shelf and it has five short stories suitable for boys and girls alike. Reading this way is much more fun and a lot less scary for struggling readers. All the stories are tried and tested on my own two children and they’ve assured me they love them, and I don’t think it’s just so they got their pocket money, at least that’s what they tell me. Buy the book and see for yourself. I hope you like it.
You can buy it from Amazon here or, if you prefer, from Waterstones here. If you want to find out more about it or contact me, go to my little website here, Read a Play
If you like it, please spread the word. Thanks for reading! 

Friday, 14 December 2012

Christmas. It’s what (naturally formed over time) memories are made of.

This will be our 4th Christmas with our two children and already it feels like it will be the loveliest yet. You might have read on my previous Christmas blog about how I force fed people Christmas music from 4am and we all argued and cried and refused to eat and injured each other with toy guns. Well, we’ve come a long way since then.

The problem all those years ago was that I was so keen for us to ‘make memories’. Hearing all the lovely stories from other mums in the playground about their traditions, new pyjamas on Christmas Eve, all opening stockings in the parent’s bedroom, the family walk etc. It made me really envious. I know how daft that sounds now but our children were 4 and 5 when they joined our family and I felt like I had lost time to make up for. We didn’t have any traditions. I put a satsuma in their stocking, like I used to get, and they looked at me like I was crazy. Fruit. For Christmas? Who is this mad woman we are calling mum?

The first Christmas was really hard. The second was better but still quite an intense day as I had insisted it should be just the four of us. We have grandparents and uncles and aunties over now and it makes the day so much more pleasant. Easier, even, because they can entertain the children while I cook and test the wine. After the big lunch the children have started entertaining us by putting on sketch shows and singing. It’s like a scene from the Scrooge’s nephew’s house. This is the type of Christmas I always wanted and it came to us naturally. Once I calmed down a bit.

Putting up the tree this year was also the loveliest time yet. I got the decorations out of the loft and there are now 4 years worth of memories in that box. Baubles they made in Reception, the cardboard fairy that’s past it’s best but so cute we use it every year, the ridiculous reindeer head doorbell that makes me think someone is at the door every time I look at it. We’ve finally done it. We got there. We have our own family Christmas traditions without me copying other peoples or forcing new ones upon us all. I can’t explain this any other way. It just feels like Christmas has clicked.

My obsession with memory creation doesn’t just apply to Christmas. I’ve always been keen for us to have stories to tell about things we’ve done together. We’ve got plenty of them stacked up now. The time the dog dragged mummy S down the side of a hill as his lead was tucked under her chair and he saw a squirrel. The time the three of them nearly fell into a fishpond because I asked them to step back so I could take a photo. The time we did an open top bus tour during a thunderstorm. All of these memories take time to create and I know that now.

So, if you’re a newly adoptive parent or if you’re thinking about adoption as an option, think on. It’s not unusual, I hope, to want these special times to mean something to you and your family just don’t worry about making magical memories. They come to you as you live your lives together and they are worth waiting for. 

Sunday, 26 August 2012

A Daily Mail story I do approve of

Take a look at this. I was asked to do an interview with The Mail on Sunday, and though slightly suspicious of their angle at first I was really pleased with the outcome. I believe it's important to speak out about positive and successful stories, not just of adoption, but of gay parents.

I'd love to know what you think.

Monday, 21 May 2012

They're moving in!

On one of our frequent visits to our local park recently I saw a friend with her newly adopted two-year-old little boy. He had been living with her for just 9 days when I saw them and I recognised the look on her face all too well. That, ‘oh my goodness, what have I done and how do I handle this?’ kind of look. One that I pulled off everyday for about 4 months when our children moved in.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s absolutely brilliant, but it just such a shock. Friends that have had birth babies go into a similar shock where they can’t leave the house or see anyone for the first few weeks because they can’t believe what they’ve got in their hands and how dependent it is upon them. It’s the same when you adopt, only for many of us they are walking, talking little things that you’re just not used to having around.

The first couple of weeks when our two moved in my partner and I used to argue over who would go to the shop to get milk just so we could have 15 minutes to ourselves and not have any responsibility for that short, sweet walk to the Co-op. I even remember sitting in a Frankie and Benny’s (somewhere we would never have gone B.C. – Before Children) and looking over at a couple of teenagers on a date envying their freedom to please themselves. We literally walked around in the hazy smog of shock for weeks. It lifted slightly when they started school but came back around 3.15 every day.

Nothing can prepare you for the day your children move in. Nothing. It’s exciting, it’s frightening, it’s exhausting and it’s forever. The first night ours spent here in their new home after we put them to bed we went to watch the new series of The Apprentice. It was a Wednesday night. We laughed at the bunch of buffoons on the show and tried to guess who would win and it felt like any other normal night until we stared at each other and burst out laughing because we remembered we had two little children asleep upstairs. We crept up to take a look at them while they were sleeping and it was just like a John Lewis advert, if the bedrooms in John Lewis ads had toys all over the floor.

The next morning there was a tap on the bedroom door just before 6am. Our son was up and he wanted to chat and play. And so it began. And so it goes on to this day. The shock has gone. The arguments about who gets out of the house are long gone and the envy of the carefree teenagers has never reared its spotty head again. We’re okay now, well, more than okay actually but it does take time to adjust. I often tell new adoptive parents at matching panel about how it might feel when they move in, but I know they’re not really listening. Their eyes are glistening and they just want their family to hurry up and come together. I was the same. See, it’s impossible to prepare because you just want your children to be under your roof, and quite right too. It’s all part of the wonderfully bumpy ride that is modern adoption and there’s no use telling them. They’ll soon find out for themselves. 

Monday, 7 May 2012

Don’t listen to the Daily Fail

This blog is being typed with hot and angry hands. Not because my kids have poured my favourite perfume down the sink or cleaned our new car with rocks, it’s because I have just read an article on adoption in the Daily Mail. I am furious. Have you read this tripe?

You see, what if you were/are a prospective adopter, someone who has struggled with fertility perhaps or is simply thinking about it as a way to create your family, this article could stop you in your tracks. I’m furious because it’s so bloody inaccurate! Local authorities and agencies do sometimes have their own ways of working and can be mildly different from each other but they all have to adhere to the same guidelines and I think I understand enough about it to be able to rant in this blog.

I am an adoption panel member for a local authority and have been for two years. I read those very heavy yellow pages sets of papers and help the panel come to a decision every month. If a child with an unusual or highly recognisable name comes up then sometimes we actively recommend they consider a change to protect the child’s identity. If you’re talking about a baby, you can introduce a new name gently and they will become used to it. Obviously get a 4 year old with a tricky name then it needs more consideration but you are adopting a person, a child, not a name that will embarrass you when you enrol them at baby yoga. The article was so unashamedly aimed at the middle classes it was thoroughly insulting to many who have considered adoption or have adopted. Your children’s friends don’t have to be called William and Henry!

This was badly researched, highly sensationalist, wholly inaccurate and actually damaging. The girl called Chardonnay they talked about in the article is, in my opinion, very likely to be fine and will find a loving family who will give her a tremendous life. They are playing us, the readers. Pulling our heartstrings and trying to get us to think the whole process is in ruins and best avoided. Well I can tell you it is not.

If you want to do you have to go for it. The process is nothing like as bad as they say it is. Read my previous blogs to find out what I think about that. As for letterbox contact, well, I don’t like it and don’t agree it’s beneficial for any party but still, their view is wrong. Children never get to write directly to their parents. Ever. It’s like prison mail and gets checked before being passed on. The Daily Mail is putting frighteners on people.

There. I said it. I said it quickly and with a hot head. This might not be my finest blog but it is one of the most passionate. Now I’m going to watch a DVD with my beautiful children and try and forget all about the Daily Mail. You should too.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Trappings of Success

I just this minute got home after going to a book signing by Lisa Faulkner, a regular re-tweeter of my blog and an adoptive mum. We chatted (very briefly) about how we need more positive stories out there about adoption. My blogs are always overwhelmingly positive, but that's because they reflect my experience from the approval process down to the children we now have. I want my blog to be honest, too, because it's not all plain sailing. Going from being a carefree couple with no responsibilities to being mums of two in a matter of days knocked us for six. So this blog is about how a trapped finger helped our little girl, who didn't like me very much, see me as her mummy.

One of the scariest aspects of adoption is worrying if your children will like you, never mind love you. If you've read any of my other blog posts you'll know that our love for each other as a family is now overwhelmingly strong. But it wasn't always so. We have a boy and a girl and whilst in foster care our son was the one social workers had concerns over. He was in therapy and displayed some fairly bad behaviour. Our girl was happy, attached to her carers and a seemingly easy child. All the work pre-placement was around how our son would cope with adoption and how we would cope with him. Well, from day one that boy fitted right in. It's like the tension and anxiety he was carrying around with him just lifted from his shoulders. He was warm, funny, loving and happy to be loved by us. We felt very attached to each other fairly quickly and surprised everyone, especially the professionals. Our happy little girl, however, was having a more difficult time. 

She loved her foster home and had been there for 3 years, more or less. She was too young to understand why she was leaving this happy home. Her tears in the car on the day she came to live with us still tug at my heart when I think about it. She developed a nasty case of shingles from the stress of it all and we spent many hours at the doctors and the hospital. All the while our son was getting stuck in at school, making friends and happily forming a secure attachment to us both. Our girl was really struggling with me. I’m the main carer and took a year off on adoption leave so it was me that had to say no to things. She found this very hard. One day she looked me in the eye as she threw a finger puppet we were making on the floor. I asked her to pick it up. 'No', she said. I asked her if she would pick it up if her foster mum asked her and she said yes, I would. I had to go to the sink and look out the window because I was so close to tears. She would push me away at bedtime and wipe off any kiss I gave her. She was a tough nut to crack but I had to persevere.

Then one day, something terrible happened and it changed everything. It was Halloween. Our boy was a reluctant vampire and our girl was the cutest witch with the greenest face you’ll ever see. We were on our way to a party when I closed the front door behind me. Our girl just stood still with her hand on the doorframe, not making a sound. I told her to come along and get in the car but her face looked so pained. That’s when I saw that the entire tip of her finger was shut in the front door, which was now locked. I panicked as I tried to get the keys and dropped them on the floor. Eventually, with shaky hands I opened the door and her finger was bright white and flat as a pancake. After the initial silence of shock she now began to scream with all her might. I was terrified. What had I done? This might sound dramatic for a trapped finger but as we were struggling to get on I thought this was going to make things worse.

I called another mum who was also going to the party and she offered to take our son while I took our girl to the walk in centre to see if it needed treatment. Thankfully, they said it would just be sore but nothing was broken and she would be fine with a spoonful or two of the pink stuff. We went home, the two of us, and she cried and cried on my knee. I held her so tightly for an hour or more until she felt calmer and it had stopped hurting and just as I asked her if she would still like to go the party, it was as if something somewhere just clicked. Between us, it just clicked. Even though I was the meanie who trapped her finger I was also the one who took her to see a nurse, hugged her and stayed with her until she felt better. I can remember the exact moment when she looked at me as if to say, ‘Okay. You’re all right. You can be my mum.’ We shared a smile and went to the party. She stuck close by me until the party games started and even then she kept checking I was still there. It felt brilliant.

So, is this a positive story? I think so. It certainly had a happy ending. I wouldn’t recommend causing your children any sort of harm to get them to love you but that trapped finger changed everything for us. I’m also a lot more careful when I go out the door these days. 

As for Lisa Faulkner, she does wonders for the image of adoption by speaking about it in her new book as well as in interviews. She’s right. Positive stories about people’s experiences are so important for people thinking about going through adoption. I think it’s fantastic that someone in the public eye is so open about their own experiences. Her book’s pretty marvellous, too.