Friday, 18 April 2014

Thoughts on 15,000 Kids and Counting

I thought I'd wait until all the episodes of '15,000 Kids and Counting' had aired before writing about it on the blog.

For those of you who didn't see it, the programme was about the 15,000 kids in care in the UK awaiting adoption and looking at the process of adoption. I feared it may be sensationalist but actually I thought it gave a sensitive, fair and balanced view.  

We saw the work of child protection social workers, foster careers and family finding social workers. SWs often get a bad rap but I felt this programme showed what a tough job they have and, if the Twitter feed was anything to go by, they gained a lot of respect.  I know some people feel the SW and courts sweep in, make rash decisions and take children away.  But there's always so much more to it than can be portrayed in an hour's programme.

We saw several birth parents, one or two of whom I really felt for. We often forget that birth parents have feelings too. Not all birth parents are physical abusers; some genuinely love their children but just don't have the capacity to look after them.

We saw the children waiting to be adopted and I cried a lot during episode 2 when adopters were found for seven year old Lauren who just wanted a mum who didn't smoke, drink or take drugs. Little Lauren reminds me so much of my own daughter; the look of happiness and joy and the look of fear in Lauren's face I have seen so many times with Missy.  Lauren's case highlighted that so many adopters want to adopt babies yet there are so many older adoptees out there waiting for a loving home. Older generally equates to 4+.

We saw several sets of prospective adopters at approval panel and matching panel. I felt their stress, although I would have liked a few minutes more on film showing their process on the way to approval.  I thought it brave of one adopter to admit it wasn't love she felt straight away towards her new baby and that the love would grow.

Of course what the film didn't show was what happens after placement.  Whilst for some adopters, it's a happy life ahead, for so many it's not a happy ending and attachment issues rear their ugly head. If the cameras had been at our introductions, you would have watched a happy couple with their happy new daughter.  If the cameras had come back a month later, you would have been watching me on the downward spiral of post adoption depression, us really questioning if it was the right match and Missy's negative behaviour escalate. There is another episode at least that could be made.  The programme also didn't mention the financial side, the cuts to care services in local authorities, the lack of support for so many adopters, or indeed the great support that some adopters do get.

But, look, I don't want to be negative about what I thought overall was a good programme. A lot of people in my Twitter feed expressed an interest in adoption and if only a handful of them start the process and adopt then that has to be a good thing. 14999, 14998, 14997 and counting.



Link to the programme on 4OD



Thursday, 17 April 2014

Playtime

When we were being matched with Missy, her SW explained that whilst her BM had lots of toys at home, many were not age appropriate and Missy was not really shown how to play with them.  Its thought that BM didn't play with her much at all.  Whilst with the FC, she certainly learnt how to play more, and play with other children but her desire for control made it difficult sometimes to play with her.  When she came home to us, we, as new parents, spent ages playing with her although again her need to control the game sometimes caused major tantrums.  What we also noticed was the she didn't seem to like playing by herself, immersing herself in the world of make-believe and playing with her toys.  Play is vital for development; it helps create happy, contented, balanced, connected children.  The skills they they learn through play are vital as they grow into adulthood. The building blocks of play are the building blocks of life.


Over time, Missy has developed an ability to play by herself.  There have been times when we've been gardening and I've looked through the lounge window to check on her and seen her playing tea parties with her toys, all the cups and plates and pretend food set out beautifully. Or she'll be playing with her dolls house or her little ponies.  She has made the choice about which toy to play with and how she is going to play. It makes me smile to see her playing like this.

However, in the last six weeks her play by herself has almost stopped. I don't know why, perhaps it's anxiety based but her anxiety has reduced considerably since the Celebration Hearing. She still plays but it will be because we've started the play and virtually led the play too.  She will rarely chose a toy for herself and if I suggest a few toys or things to do, the answer I get is usually a resounding 'NO'.  They say boredom is good for a child because it means they have to use their imaginations to entertain themselves, but boredom and Missy don't mix.

Missy likes to hang around us a lot. I get followed everywhere.  I know this is generally a good sign - it's the toddler in her - but boy is it tiring and I really want her to play. We had Daddy's sister and her partner here for three days and all Missy wanted to do was be next to her Auntie, despite much encouragement from me to play.  It's not that I don't want her to create a relationship with other family members but I'm mindful of the importance of play and it's role in her development.  I've tried to start her off with play and gently move to another area to do something else, occasionally  returning to join in but all too quickly she'll stop and be by my side.  I don't want to continually be creating the play because I want her to use her imagination.  I know she's got one because I've seen it in her artwork.

As part of the course Daddy and I are doing, our homework for the holidays is play-based.  For 10-20 minutes a day, we encourage Missy to play and join in but do not lead play or teach her anything new.  Whilst playing we encourage, give praise and essentially provide a running commentary, along the lines of  "So you've chosen a red brick", "Now you're giving teddy some cake", "I see you're rolling out the Play-Doh into a sausage" etc etc.  We don't ask lots of questions about what she is doing, but show interest via the commentary.   At first it felt quite odd, describing what she is doing all the time but I soon got the hang of it.  When we've been out and about - a long walk, a day out in London, visiting a museum -  I've also used the commentary technique.

The point of this exercise is not about showing her how to play, but aiming to build the relationship between us all and building her self-esteem.  But a side effect is that she is gradually returning to play, choosing her toys and playing by herself.

It's slow-going though and yesterday I was thoroughly exhausted initiating things to do, when I really just wanted to sit quietly in the sun by myself, reading my books with a cup of coffee, although I was quite proud of the tent I made with an old sheet and bamboo canes!   Eventually though, I admitted defeat and for some quiet I put CBeebies on for half an hour.  She's back to CBeebies now after a brief flirtation with CBBC.

We'll see how today pans out.

In other news, my vegetable patch is coming on nicely.




"Image courtesy of Akarakingdoms / FreeDigitalPhotos.net". 



Friday, 11 April 2014

S-p-e-l-l-i-n-g

We were really pleased with Missy's school report at the end of the Spring term.  She got some great comments for her art (of course) and for her reading, which has come on in leaps and bounds.  Her maths is weaker but considering she barely attended nursery school, she is doing really well.  "She is beginning to shine" said her teacher.  I think, despite what she says sometimes, she really does enjoy school and is happy to tell me more about what she does there.  Friendships seem to be improving and she has one good friend, although I suspect the social and emotional side of things will still need some good support going forward.  I haven't yet had a conversation with the Head about how he's going to use her Pupil Premium Plus, I'll speak to him next term about it.

She has a go at reading everything and anything - road signs, posters in shops, leaflets that come through the door, back of the DVD case and, of course, her story books.  She devours her library books as soon as we bring them home.

The only problem with this is that now Daddy and I have to be mindful of what we are leaving around the place such as papers to do with the adopting course we are on (more of this in another blog).  We used to be able to spell things to each other that we didn't want Missy to understand eg. What shall we do for l-u-n-c-h?   Do you want some c-a-k-e?   We can't do this now because her spelling is getting too good!   We text each other instead!  Right, it's time for a cup of coffee and a b-i-s-c-u-i-t.


L-U-N-C-H



Tuesday, 1 April 2014

A weekend of celebration

Well, that went remarkably smoothly considering the anxiety-laden, verbal and physical abuse-laden build up.

Last week we finally had our Celebration Hearing. Finally, we are officially a family.  Its taken a while, mainly because it took us time to feel right about putting in the paperwork, but here we are.


The courtroom was smaller than I had imagined and I smiled slightly when I heard the words "All rise". I've heard it so so many times on TV and here we were standing in front of a judge, in his full robes and wig. He was great, very smiley and instantly put Missy at ease. He invited her up to the bench, invited her to sit in his big chair and put his wig on her. I could see her anxiety almost melting away. She loved being centre of attention in her new rainbow coloured summer dress.  She answered all his questions and both posed happily for photographs.  My Mum plus Daddy's Mum, sister and her partner came with us too.

Afterwards, we all went for brunch at a nearby restaurant where Missy had the largest plate of American style pancakes, ice cream and raspberries she's ever seen!

The next day we had permission to take Missy out of school and so we went down to the south coast where we stayed for one night in a youth hostel.  This brought back great memories for me of when I went backpacking many years ago.  Oh the freedom!  Missy bagged the top bunk which was always my favourite too.  I always felt safe up there, looking down on who was coming into the room.

The next day we headed to the beach, spent time on the pier, looked round the shops and back to the beach for fish and chips and ice cream.  Well, what else would you eat on the beach!   One day I would love to live by the coast.

The next day (phew, I'm exhausted just writing about it), it was Mothers Day.   Missy had been so excited by it and had written me a beautiful poem plus made a gorgeous card and a wall hanging at school (actually I had these on Wednesday as she couldn't wait).  Daddy has also bought a card from the shops for her to give to me and she gave me a Paul Hollywood cook book, which she chose all by herself.  Plus lots of gorgeous flowers too.

We then headed out to a place I wanted to visit in the morning and in the afternoon went ice skating as Missy has seen it on the Winter Olympics and really wanted to give it a go.

Now, imagine a baby giraffe after it's just been born, wobbly with legs all over the place.  That was Missy, clinging to the side for dear life.  Smiling with it though.  Daddy was also a bit wobbly as he hadn't been ice skating for 30 years!  I'd had a few lessons five years ago but really all I can do is skate round and just about go backwards.  Missy spent more time on her bottom than on her feet but gradually she became more confident and took some advice from a steward who helped her along (of course, wouldn't listen to me or Daddy). By the end of the 90 minutes she was managing five metres or so by herself - more stepping than gliding but a good start nonetheless.

And then home. To rest.

What an exhausting weekend and maybe we did pack quite a lot in as Daddy and I were certainly exhausted. Missy really did enjoy herself and I'm really proud of her because it was a huge event, the enormity of which I'm not entirely sure she'll understand for a few years.

Apart from a few tantrums over food (as always) Missy had a thoroughly good weekend. Hurrah! A certain level of anxiety seems to have lifted from her.  The judge was a nice man after all - so nice that she now wants to be a judge (I think it was the purple robe that's swayed her). She's still an anxious little girl of course - food will long be an issue plus she's exhibiting separation anxiety this morning as she didn't want Daddy to go to work and I'm out all day on Thursday at a family member's funeral.

And so, onwards, to the next stage of our journey.

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

"I'm so proud of me"

"I'm so proud of me", said Missy on Sunday.

I'm so proud of her because for someone who clearly has self-esteem issues, these are massive words for her to say.  More than once in the last week she has questioned if anyone loves her, decided she wasn't pretty, hates her hair and is forever comparing herself to other girls in her class.

It's sad a 6 year old is thinking this way and not loving life with optimism.  Children with low self-esteem find many aspects of life challenging and great sources of anxiety.  Their first thoughts are "I can't do this" and even if they do manage something, often they still won't believe their ability.  Of course, it's not just adoptees that suffer from low self-esteem.  I have experienced low self-esteem for a great deal of my life. In some situations I can be confident and assertive but other situations can leave my floundering.  Having low-esteem is hard work, it  makes life hard work and so I really want to help Missy build her self-esteem.

So, the reason Missy was proud of herself was because we took part in the Sport Relief Mile and she ran like the wind.  She has run a few milers before, around where we live, but this was her first ever race.  A little overwhelmed at first by the huge crowds, she soon started to enjoy the occasion.  Unfortunately Mummy couldn't keep up (dodgy hip) and had to walk some of the way but I was never too far behind Missy and Daddy who let her take the lead.  She ran virtually every step of the way and raced through the finish line to clock 12 minutes 50 seconds, her best ever time for the mile.  Best thing for Missy was that she got a medal. Best thing for us was that she knew and accepted she had done well.





Friday, 21 March 2014

Recipes and why they are important to us

This post links up with #WASO on The Adoption Social where the theme is 'Recipes and why the are important to us'.

I love cooking.  I always have done since I was little.  Whilst friends were reading Secret Seven, I'd be poring through cookery books, making up menus for when I was older and had dinner parties.  The Readers Digest Cookery Year was my bible.  Those cookery books are part of me and I've recently found a few on ebay.  I've still got my recipe book from when I did Cookery O'level.  Reading all the old books brings back great memories.

I find cooking very relaxing, whether it's doing it or watching it. I'm in the moment, concentrating on something I love to do, I find it quite mindful.  I'd love to go on Bake Off!  Meanwhile, I reckon Daddy should apply for Masterchef.  He's great at savoury, particularly Indian or South-East Asian, whilst I major in cakes! Although, I have to say his Vanilla Baked Cheesecake is to die for.

So, it's no surprise that cooking features quite a lot in our household.  Missy loves joining in.  In fact, during introductions, when Missy spent a day at ours, we made Apple Muffins that went down a treat.  She joins in with Daddy when he's making bread or cheesecake and loves helping me to bake.  I let her do as much as she can, helping occasionally where the mixture needs a better mixing or putting things in the oven. Now her reading has improved significantly, she can start to read the recipe too. If she's in a negative mood then cooking will cheer up.  I also see cooking as a positive way to help her with her food anxiety and she now has a better sense of what is healthy and what's not so healthy.


I asked her on the way to school what are her favourite things to cook.  She said Brownies and Pizza!.  We do homemade pizzas using pitta bread for the base, a mix of tomato puree and red pesto to spread over and then a choice of chopped red onion, peppers, tomatoes, bacon, goats cheese and cheddar to sprinkle over the top.  Five or so minutes in the oven and they're ready to eat.  I introduced this activity quite early on as it's a good family activity to do together.

The Brownies are a Polly Noble recipe that are dairy free and use raw cacao powder which you can find in health food shops or buy online.  Warning, they are VERY chocolatey!

Every now and then I like to cook by myself so will make something whilst Missy is at school, although I do usually leave the decoration for when Missy comes home.  Yesterday I made Parsnip & Pumpkin Seed Cake as I had a glut of parsnips to use up.  I've used beetroot and carrots before so figured parsnips would have a similar result.  The recipe actually uses walnuts but I didn't have any so used pumpkin seeds instead and I think they make a lovely addition.  Of course, without Missy around, it means I get to indulge in licking the bowl (and I have to admit to leaving a little extra mixture in the bowl!).

Here's the recipe:-
2 eggs
2 large parsnips, peeled and grated (once grated you need to end up with about 250g of grated parsnip)
125ml vegetable oil
200g caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
Zest of one unwaxed lemon
375g self-raising flour
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt (pref sea salt)
50g pumpkin seeds
50-75ml milk (any kind, cows, rice, almond etc)

1. Preheat oven to Gas Mark 4, 180C
2. Grease and line an 8"/20cm cake tin.
3. Whisk eggs in a large bowl.
4. Add in oil, sugar, grated parsnips, vanilla extract and lemon zest and stir well together.
5. Sieve together flour, cinnamon and salt and stir into the parsnip mixture along with the pumpkin seeds.
The mixture should be a soft dropping consistency but if its too thick, add 50-75ml of milk.
6. Pour into prepared tin and cook for 60-75 minutes until well risen, golden and a knife inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Leave to cool slightly in tin before turning out onto a wire rack.

For the topping, I used 200g of mascarpone cheese mixed with a tablespoon of icing sugar but you could also use cream cheese mixed with some lemon zest, or icing sugar mixed with water or milk to a smooth consistency, or just dust it with icing sugar.  I think it might also be nice made in two sandwich tins and then sandwiched together using the mascarpone or perhaps lemon curd.


I could waffle on for ages about cooking, in fact maybe I should have written a cooking blog!

Cooking will definitely feature during the forthcoming Easter Holidays, perhaps some Easter Biscuits or a Simnel Cake.  I've also read about some local cookery classes for young children which I'm quite sure Missy would love to do.

Right, I'm off to buy the ingredients for tonight's pizzas.