Jack straws

We love Jack Straws.

Jack Straws

As we open the box and pile the pieces high, a circle of calm encloses us. Pushed right outside the arena of play is the constant constraint and shackle of our daily lives; the humdrum of strategies and parenting tools lay forgotten, unnecessary next to the joy of play. Here, on the inside we turn our attention to new, more colourful tools: the ladders, the hooks, the sledgehammers and the walking sticks so critical to the game.

For the fifteen minutes it takes to play, all the stresses, the labels, the meltdowns, and the challenges seem a distant memory; they hold no power here. We both fall into the pure and natural rhythm of concentration, and there is an easy, shared enjoyment in every move. To us, Jack Straws represents respite; a precious few moments of blissful, carefree freedom.

It wasn’t always this way, and it took a long time for us to get here. Games and fun trigger rage in CHT. Play – with its customs and difficulty levels and need for cooperation – all too often creates an emotional bottleneck that requires self-control and a self-confidence well beyond her reach. Games – with their regulative and constitutive rules – are little more than bear traps, baited to snare and trip her up.

So Jack Straws offers us a key to some much needed, child-like play, and also a perfect metaphor for the journey we have taken to get here. Just as we precariously push and nudge at the pieces in search of the perfect angle and pressure with which to ease out the spade or the pick, we have to patiently tweak and nudge at the tangled barriers and obstacles that block our route to fun and the lighter side to life. Each attempt, each foray into the pile can cause fresh emotional tremors, shifts and landslides that stop us dead in our tracks once again. But as soon as our turn comes again, we dive bravely in, eager for another try.

The game – like our lives – demands a light but firm touch. We bite our tongues and hold our breaths, wary of the risk that comes with every move. But we brace ourselves and keep chipping away at the pile, revealing little by little what lies beneath. Both games fascinate and challenge, and both require skill and perseverance.

And to both we give our whole, hopeful hearts.

Jack Straws

True grit

CHT may not know her way round their classroom, but she sure can run.

True Grit

She gets this calm, roaring fire in her belly when it comes to running; it is a thing of beauty to watch.

She runs on raw talent and True Grit, and after a long wait she finally took her place in the local athletics club four weeks ago.  With great coaches and proper skill training, she is now combining her talent with their training – and she is kicking it.

This Sunday, the girl who baulks and screams under pressure, the girl who tears holes in herself for ‘being rubbish’, the girl who explodes with uncontrollable anguish when uncertainty or fear take centre stage, the girl who gives up rather than risk disappointment; took her place on the start line.

She set her chin into the icy wind, focused her gaze, dropped all the labels, and ran like the bloody wind.

As the kids ran back into sight, she was right there in the front bunch; locked in battle.

I saw her square up to the challenge.  I saw her dig deep and take control.  I saw take a long hard look at herself, and believe in what she saw. I saw her tame and master her demons to surge forward for the last sprint across the line.

And when she took her medal, I saw her shine – elated and triumphant and whole.

My heart just poured from the front of my chest.

Love that kid.


Emergency service.

Crisis: measured by the Richter Scale

We spend a lot of time in crisis, CHT and me.

Whatever we do, and wherever we go, we find ourselves teetering on the edge of the San Andreas Fault and playing chicken with Mount Etna, tucked in our beds at night with grenades under the pillows. Adoptive families are either in crisis, or have it waiting cocked and loaded just a hair trigger away.

Crisis is simply part of the deal, because adoption is a state of crisis – be that overt and expressed in explosions of rage, or locked down and silenced inside Pandora’s Box. For us, sat silent in an empty white room with no additional stimulus, our baseline emotional state is still set at ‘fight or flight’; our ‘normal’ is other people’s ‘extraordinary’ on the Richter Scale. And the only way is up, because life isn’t a sterile white room; life is full of challenge and surprise and drama.

In the six years we have been together, the world outside our control has thrown everything at us. There have been suicides, letterbox letters filled with remorse, bullying, snubbed reunions, diagnosis of brain damage, major surgery, redundancy threats, and school changes.

And then there are events that to the unknowing eye may not earn the label ‘crisis’, but to us represent Armageddon: a lost hair band, a new type of food, a bike puncture, the appearance of a suitcase. Charging us, like the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Each and every event is reacted to with equal velocity; CHT is explosive. Fuelled with trauma, and FASD, and the regular frustrations of being a kid. Like a tornado she tears at walls, doors, toys, herself.  She screams and rages, leaving further whirlpools of crisis in her wake; remembering nothing once the fury is past.

And then there are the times when I slip the calm blue leash of my Therapeutic Parenting skills; times when my own boiling frustrations come spilling out of the seams. I take my place among the rubble; notching up the intensity, and tearing down the trust we work so hard to build.

But together we are learning to spot the signs and fight back. More often now we recognize the onrush of our dysfunction and heightened crisis responses. Noticing the signs means we can use the right tools to avert the earthquakes and the eruptions. But then there are those times when noticing the signs is like a red rag to Godzilla “I am NOT getting angry” – and we are lost to the fire and the red mist once again.

But little by little we inch forwards, our combined emergency response team fighting the flames and taming them; winning. Sure, we get pushed back again as more lava flows and buildings fall.

But we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off and inch forward; step by step.

The day the earth stood still

Most people’s children arrive amid the chaos of blood and contractions and bleeping

The day the earth stood still

monitors. Mine came to me quiet and still on the school bus; wrapped in the blue and white gingham of a summer dress.

I remember the sound of the garden gate. Footsteps crunching gravel, the slamming open of a heavy door followed by a long swoosh as it swung shut.  Some hurried whispers, a long hesitation, and the pounding of blood in my ears.

Suddenly there she was.  A real live girl stood right in front of me: tiny and disheveled and solemn.  Staring intently up at my face; stripping me down piece by piece, layer by layer.  No words were spoken; time stood still, and the world stopped turning as we were drawn deeper and deeper into each other’s eyes.

And then she disappeared.

Bit by bit all the colours, the texture, and the hubbub of the room returned.

Minutes later, our silent pledge was sealed as I felt a small, sticky hand slide into mine and hold fast for the very first time.


I’ve linked this post up with “Magic Moments” over at The Oliver’s Madhouse.

Close encounters of the contact kind

My post today forms part of the Weekly Adoption Shout Out theme – contact.

Direct contact – close encounters of the third kind.

I make no bones of using this opportunity to plant a few thoughts.

However your family is made, imagine for a moment being together.  There will be love and laughter, conflicts and hopes, truth and denial, loss and increase; celebration and heartache – all in one room.  If we had to give that melting pot of experience a name, it would be something deeply evocative emotive; overflowing with depth and timbre.

In our adoptive families, they would have us believe the name of that gathering is ‘contact’.

Contact: a junction of surfaces, mutual tangency of the limbs of two celestial bodies, the junction of two electrical conductors, an association or relationship [Mirriam Webster].

Contact: an authority centric, institution focused, top down term that sanitises basic human bonds and strips them of all their wonder and emotion [Mumdrah]

Contact: a euphemism that tastes bitter on the tongue; tinny, awkward, hollow, municipal.

Contact: an instruction that communicates duty; an obligation to be endured.

Contact: a scene coloured with the grey of secrets, suspicion and partition.

Contact: a concept that turns a family encounter into nothing more than a meeting.

Contact: a word that transforms a family into alien nations struggling to overcome translation.

Words are powerful; metaphors for our cognitive framework. They inform our thoughts, our feelings and our actions.  This policy wonk terminology of adoption sculpts the lives of everyone and anyone who enters. Unaware, we inherit this pervasive language and it shapes our families to its own design.  Our use of it builds a restrictive cage around us, and perpetuates the trauma and isolation of adoption. It divides us and separates us, and upholds a system that is way off course.

These sterile words keep us all from a different way of thinking and understanding; one that could feed and nourish the road to healing and wholeness.  By using them, we collude and ally ourselves with their negative values. The mindset these words creates seems to undermine and fracture the families they describe.

Indirect contact.  Direct contact: all I can think of are those five iconic musical notes.

Think now how differently it would feel if instead of ‘contact’ we:

Gather. Visit. Party. Flock. Swarm. Throng. Huddle. Rally.  Assemble. Powwow. Get together.

I work hard not to be infected by this terminology of adoption, and I reject their words #bethechange


Fish fingers

We rally round our kitchen table as a centre point of family life.

Magic moments adoption: you never know when they will strike.

It is always covered in crumbs, glitter, coins, bottle tops, and all those things that make the world go round. It is a big old wooden affair.  Scuffed, scratched, and full of a history that unfolds stronger with every day; a good metaphor for our lives.

This table provides the rooftop to CHT’s most traumatised overspills, and the work space for our most adventurous creations.  It is the centre-point of celebrations, the boardroom to our most vital family decisions, and the
 bastion of calm to my white knuckles during those moments when the challenges of parenting a traumatised child prove too great. But best of all, it is the place she and I first laughed together; really laughed.

It was about the sixth or seventh day we had met.  We were making dinner – fish fingers. Adoptee children all too often find food and eating complicated.  They can have complex compulsions to hoard or steal and do strange things with it.  They often arrive with limited experience of food, and the foods they do know don’t ‘match’ the foods you produce (think – the difference between your shepherd’s pie and mine; unrecognisable). And fourthly (though I bet there is a fifth and sixth), food can be one of the areas where the control issues associated with attachment will flare.

So there we were, skating on the thin ice of her participation while going through each stage of cooking.  We had pinnies and music, filled three little bowls with egg, flour and breadcrumbs, and cut some gorgeous plump pieces of haddock.  She was so serious and reluctant, but followed along once she was sure there was no pressure, experimenting with feeling and dipping into the ingredients.  Experiencing perhaps for the first time the great commensal art that is food. Absorbed, she coated the fish, her fingers, and our grand old table.

On finishing the last piece, she looked up triumphant and announced: “now we make a box and put them in the freezer”.

I don’t know why but the laughter just started; infectious and magical and real and honest.  It grew, and it hit our bellies; and we both stood there laughing the tears right out of our eyes.  Making wiggly clawing motions with our breadcrumbed fingers till our sides ached and our lungs were gasping for air.

Looking back, I see how that laughter shattered the heavy tension that hangs over the first days of an adoption.  It offered a brief respite from the intensity, and flooded us both with a dawning hope that there may be some interlude to the hurt and loss and fear that had come crashing its way into our lives.  It brought us stumbling to our first sunlit patch of common ground, the crazy overlap between our two worlds: here – the place where fish fingers are made, and there – where fish fingers come out of a box from the freezer.

But eclipsing all the analysis and hindsight was that pure and extraordinary magic moment, when the simple transformative power of our shared laughter 
opened the door to something deep between us; and our hearts beat as one for the very first time.

In that very instant, stood around our table, we were no longer strangers.


This post is written as part of The Oliver’s Madhouse “Magic Moment Mondays”.

SAN: our single adopters network

How many parts of our single adopters experience make us ‘out of the ordinary’?  

Single parent? check.  Adopter? check.  Therapeutic Parent to traumatised child/ren? check. Crazy busy? check. Working parent and juggler, probably.  Fighter?  Definitely.

Some of us went into the adoption process single from the start, some became single along the way, and some of us are ‘prospective adopters’.  Either way, I can’t find a single active Real World group out there to meet and greet and share, and even if I could I wouldn’t be able to attend because of all the above.  So, being  a woman of action I thought I’d remedy our isolated situation to create a portal for us all to share and connect, lament and celebrate, vent and soothe.

Spread the word.  Build the community!

Here are the current Single Adopter Bogs we can find, putting their stories out there:

1. My Adoption Journey

2. New Pyjamas

3. Suddenly Mummy

4. Rainbow Portion

5. Adopt and Keep Calm

6. My Single Adoption

7. Another Mountain

8.  3 Girls Together

9. Pedalling Solo

10. MeandMiniMees

11. Befuddled Mum

12. Starfish and Me

13. Imperfectly Perfect Mother

14. Sarah Fisher

15. Mumdrah

16. Adoptive Black Mom

17. YOU!  Send me an email or tweet me to add yours…

Bricks in the wall

The building blocks of every school are made of more than bricks and mortar.  Their high walls are made strong by the stark white building block institutions of policy, protocol, tradition, the three R’s, discipline, order, and consistency; cemented by staff experience.

I feel small writing this, staring up at that ivory tower that overlooks our invisible domain of adoption and FASD.

So I lay siege to their walls, chip chip chipping away with new research and guidance and diagnosis for insight; scratching at the deep foundations and pushing hard against their mighty pillars for some sign of recognition or give; beseeching them for the help and understanding we so desperately need.  Painstakingly trying to tear down their simplistic but impenetrable algorithms that sort all behaviour into either ‘good’ or ‘bad’.

Slowly, slowly I breakthrough.  In every meeting, it starts with a distant rumble until sure enough – one by one – the bricks start to shake and fall until those walls of stone come falling down toppled by an undeniable truth.  With a flash of understanding I can see my words penetrate their solid beliefs and replace them with compassion.

But somewhere between each meeting room and the classroom, my spell is broken. With every step along those hallowed corridors, every fallen brick moves effortlessly back to its place in the wall and piece by piece the insight and the empathy is blocked out once again.   As the teacher reaches the blackboard, the establishment is restored once again.

I appreciate their time and their ears, I really do.  But it is not listening we need; its doing. It is not me that needs their attention, it is CHT.  And it is not a meeting or a report that changes things, but action.

Because every day this continues, barriers of a different kind are going up.  Cold, misshapen walls loom, and silently trap CHT ever more tightly behind each negative experience. Their punishments, their rebuffs, their knock backs, their league tables, their prejudice undermine her strength and her astonishing will to do well; replacing her goals and her braveheart determination to achieve brick by brick with a reluctance to participate, a fear of trying, and a strong resentment for the education system that is letting her down.

It chills me to my very core as I watch seemingly powerless while they crush her and let her slip through their net.

FASD and adoption are the statistical shanty towns of the school room; loco parentis does not apply here and every child does not matter.

Further reading:

Adoption UK Publication – Education Now

Other adoption/education blogs from The Weekly Adoption Shout Out