Hot smoked mackerel

Hot smoked mackerel.

Two mackerel, hot smoked in my bucket smoker. A boiled egg, laid by my girls just this morning. Three salads with a slice of tough sourdough smothered in homemade butter. Tonight, this meal is a reminder of who I am.

The swallows my ears tell me are swirling high above. The newts i watched with a contented smile, busy in my squatted shadow over a newly cleared pond. The single stem of cuckoo smock carefully left to stand  in the lawn freshly moved. Today, these are the moments that I let define me.

The kindness a neighbour sought from me. The help a friend asked for on a deep worry. The trust that was placed upon my loyalty. This morning, this was the reassurance of who mumdrah is.

Self care for me is no treat; no simple indulgence or tidbit. Self care is a reset; a reminder of who I am, away from the chaos of adoption. Some reminders I seek out and create for myself; some come unbidden through the eyes and mouths of others.

This is who mumdrah is.

Away from the shaking, sweaty palmed sense of failure during the crisis. Away from the self doubt and the questioning and the fear. Away from the worries, the dilemmas, the quandaries. Away from the insults and raised voices and the threats that come when she cannot cope. Away from the challenge which – however high you climb to meet it – has little or no feedback of success, or progress.

Reminders are needed. Of who I am. Of what I am worth.

And the hearty taste of those smoky mackerel on my tongue – the first of the season – are reminder enough.

Hemmed in

I feel hemmed in.

Hemmed in by the complexity of every contorted situation that presents itself. In some strange pincer move, every option for solution to each of the problems she experiences is cut off.

Food/Hunger: she angers at my every suggestion of meals. She angers when I ask her to suggest what she wants to eat. She angers that there is no food in the house that she likes, and yet angers if I ask for recommendations for the shopping lists. She angers and refuses to say when she will be back so dinner can be ready, and then angers again when dinner is not ready the moment she decides she wants it. She angers if I pre cook food that she or I can reheat, and she angers if there is no food prepared for her to eat.

Money/spending: she spends the money I give her for bus fare, and then calls me angry because she cannot get home. She decides to stay for a second session at the skate park, then calls me angered because she has spent the money I gave her to pay for it and demands more. She angers when I can’t give her the money I promised to buy new jeans because she has already stolen it and has it hidden in her pocket.

Help/support: she angers because she can’t do something, calls me to help, and then angers because I try and help as asked. She angers because she has missed the bus, calls me and demands angrily that I drive 25 miles to come get her, and then angers at me when I arrive. She angers because she can’t find her new crop top in her tip of a room, and then angers at me when I tidy up to try and find it for her. She angers if i speak, and angers if i stay quiet. She angers if i help, and yet angers if i hold back. She angers if i try to spend time with her, and angers when i give her the space she asks for.

In every situation a cul de sac is created with no exit, no solution, and no end. No end save for anger directed outwards in a stream of amygdala fueled consciousness towards me. A torrent of blame. To be repeated again and again.

Sometimes the therapeutic parenting is just something to hide behind. Something to do and occupy myself with while the hurt on the receiving end smarts and stings. I understand. I understand it all; her pain, the trauma, the workings of her brain. But it still hurts. And confuses. And fills me with sorrow.

Hemmed in; I have nowhere to go.

Mother love

Today I can’t help but think of my little girl’s mum; her wonderful, beautiful, fragile, misunderstood mum. I hope I do you proud; for the both of us, but mostly for our little girl. We miss you.

Today I can’t help but think of all those adoptive mother’s and foster carers who struggle with the traumas their children carry and relive day after day. Those who find and give love even while under fire.

Today I can’t help but think of my own mother, who listens when I’m failing, when I’m angry and tearful. When I am afraid. Who fills me up with love when i need it the most.

Today I can’t help but think of those mothers I meet at the foodbank who struggle to feed, clothe and warm their children. Who fight fiercely to put the food on the table, to get their kids to school. To sing them happily to sleep at the end of the day with full bellies, while their own growls with hunger.

Today I can’t help but think of those mother’s forced to flee war and persecution, only to find themselves shielding their little ones from razor wire, tear gas, the baton and yet more hatred.

Mother’s day marks our recognition of the nurturing compassion, kindness, open hearts and open arms of that special kind of Mother Love.

Yet so many of the Mothers I meet are left alone in their times of need.

Three legged stool

I realize mumdrah is a three legged stool; with each leg distinct in it’s character.

The first is ‘therapeutic mumdrah’.

She understands. She needs little, and she’s happy to give. She moves naturally and empathically – from the heart and mind – with ease. She soothes even in the maelstrom of a scathing attack. She is patient, and calm. She sees things through the eyes of a yogi. She plays the long game. She makes hot chocolate while objects fly, covers post it notes with heart shapes. She sees the trauma for what it is. She is the amygdala tamer to a little girl who hurts.

The second is ‘stepford mumdrah’.

She labours. She uses huge amounts of energy. She goes through the motions; does what is expected and hopes it is enough. She wears thick protective armour. Her lips are tight in attempt not to let anything slip out. She is not natural, or flowing, or easy. She is tightly in control, forced and robotic. She is born out of sympathy, but also of exhaustion and self-protectiveness. She clings to knowing what is right, but she doesn’t get it right. She is sometimes a little withdrawn. She survives. She is the amygdala tamer to herself.

The third has no name.

She hurts. She is the traumatized wounded sister to cht. She is deeply hidden. She rises to the surface rarely and explosively. She craves the signs that everything is – or will be – okay. She buckles under the pressure of getting everything right while being pilloried for getting it all wrong. She comes when she can no longer ignore the hurt, or the blame, or the selflessness. She is needy, and can no longer put other people before her self. She cries out for acknowledgement, for help, for understanding. She is the amygdala tamer to no one. She is her own amygdala gone bad.

The stool doesn’t stand right without accepting all three parts of mumdrah. They each rely on and inform each other in some way, and they each help me understand my role as an adoptive parent that little bit more.

Each and every aspect needs acknowledgement, and love, and nurturing. Perhaps some forgiveness too.

Bin bags

I opened the door to chaos.

Two foster carers, two social workers and two foster children. They piled in, bringing nappy bags, baby carriers, lunch coldkeeper bags, handbags, backpacks and briefcases. Bags everywhere. Bags fit for purpose. Bags for everyone.

They all talked over each other, babbling and organizing and whirling about. The baby needed changing, the boy had been sick in the car on the long journey. The social workers hadn’t met the foster carers.

I stood to one side, trying to ignore the requests for drinks, the hellos, the opening gambits for conversation. Because just inside the door was someone else. A frightened, rigid, silent little girl, all alone. She was the centre of it all – the reason we were all there – yet forgotten by the immediate demands and priorities of everyone but her.

Next to her was dumped a pile of three oddly shaped, split and squashed black bin bags.

Her bags.

I pushed through all the people, and offered her my hand. I kept my back to everyone; wishing i could make my shoulders wide enough to block out everything else that was happening in the room. I knelt down. We looked straight into each other; her eyes wide and seeking, mine as soft and as safe as I could make them. I led her to the stairs, and sat on the second step. I gently pushed an unruly curl behind her ear, and she made the move to sit beside me.

“It’s very noisy” I mouthed, smiling gently. She nodded.

“Is that your stuff?” I asked, tilting my head towards the crumpled pile. She shrugged.

“Shall we take your things upstairs to your room?”.

“They’ve lost my teddy” she whispered. And burst into tears.

 

Madlug believe that no child in care should carry their life in a bin bag. For every bag bought, they donate a travel bag to a child in care.

 

The BuddyBag Foundation supply bags to children who find themselves in emergency care after a traumatic incident

 

 

Fake news

Fake news: Her story and my story are never alike

The differences in our stories are not just those of opinion; they are rooted in the chemical hardwiring of our brains.

My memory: that time when she stepped off the curb as a six year old right in front of a bus, and I snatched her back safe from harm.

Her memory: that time when I grabbed her and hurt her shoulder.

My memory: the time she kept running into the wall head-butting it while trying to throw herself down the stairs, me stood trembling in the way to block and protect her, when she pushed me and I fell all the way down.

Her memory: the day I slammed her against the wall and made a big bump on her head.

My memory: The time she turned her room upside down in a rage, lunged at me with scissors, tripped over the upturned broken chair on the floor and scraped her head on the edge of the table.

Her memory: the time I threw her against the table and cut her head open.

My memory: the time her sister’s FCs failed to make arrangements for our visit in the summer despite attempt after attempt to make it happen.

Her memory: the day I stopped her from seeing her sister.

My memory: the time she chose to miss the last train (again), and was angry at me for coming out to collect her; grabbing at the wheel so we swerved off the road on the long way home.

Her memory: the time I tried to kill her.

Her story and my story are never alike, and yet each of our stories is true.

Her experiences are framed always by her constant perception of being in danger. Her sense of truth is shaped by a worldview that sees everything and everyone as perilous; to be fought against tooth and nail.

No part of her rational brain can pierce the memories forged in those moments. No period of quiet, calm reflection can balance these truths for her in any way that helps her see or embrace the safety she now resides in. She lives forever in the maelstrom of hazard. Her ‘stories’ aren’t designed to mislead, to misinform, or to manipulate an outcome. They are pure survival born out of fear. She is obliviously locked in to the perilous world her amygdala presents to her, and every day this fake news filter sabotages everything for her; reinforcing the story of a dangerous world just that little bit more.

The truth of her fake news is what scares me the most.

 

Ducks in a row

Single adopters can’t get their ducks in a row.

I’m not even sure we have any ducks. We have no one to positively reinforce our choices, our actions. Or even that we are good people; or good parents. Our day to day parenting stands alone, with no comment or reflection from anyone but our children. Their trauma responses and feelings of being under attack are not balanced within our homes by another person reacting differently to us, lovingly, appreciatively, understandingly, supportively; nor showing anything different to their negative feelings. The view our kids develop of us is left unchallenged or mitigated through the eyes of another, and they spiral down into an unshakeable negative stereotype.

One single conversation with an adoption support consultant brought this deficit home to me. Lack of positive reinforcement has now been pointed out as our biggest logistical problem, and her view of me has become a substantial block to moving forward. This  bombshell clearly needs to be shared, because it seems there are lots of layers to consciously reframing the picture our children may hold in their minds.

Positively reinforce the existence of everyday acts of safety and family:

“Hasn’t mum cooked a great dinner for us tonight”.

“Awww, look, Dad made sure all the washing we needed for tomorrow was done.”

“Aren’t we lucky – mum did the shopping and brought home all the things we needed

Positively reinforce good, simple interactions and empathy:

“Hahahahaha – dad’s joke was funny”.

“I’m going to help mum clear up the kitchen because I can see she is tired and a bit grumpy today”.

“I think it’ll be fun if we play a game with Dad”.

Positively reinforce the constant offer of loving acts:

“Well done Mum for coming to collect us when she felt poorly”.

“Dad is so kind – he’s going to let you borrow his bike because yours is broken”.

“Wow! Mum’s been at work all day, and she still came back and tidied up the mess we left”.

Positively reinforce what is happening in a challenging situation:

“Dad is doing everything he can because he wants to help you work this out”.

“I can see how much mum loves you even though you are mad at her”.

“I hear you saying that Dad is making it worse; and yet i can see he is being very calm and listening to you to try to help.”

Positively reinforce the truth in the face of accusation or gaslighting:

“I know you don’t think anyone cares that your mobile doesn’t work, but I heard mum on the phone for over an hour trying to sort it out”.

“I saw the money was on the table too, and it’s definitely gone; dad hasn’t made a mistake.”

“I heard that conversation, and mum didn’t said it was okay to go to the skatepark today.”

Positively reinforce the process of therapeutic parenting:

“I think dad did a great job of keeping you safe when you felt angry at him last night”

“I see that feeling frustrated is making you cross; I’m going to go outside with mum. There is a hug waiting for you from both of us when you are ready.

“Dad is not going to argue or fight back; this is not okay, so we are going to walk away for a moment. We are here when you need us”.

How much do you do this; randomly reinforce your partner as a positive, loving person and parent? Not simply when a challenging situation arises, but knitted into the ordinary everyday comings and goings of life. However much you do, my consultant would no doubt say you should do it more!

Living without this reflective back up is hard, because the power of positive reinforcement is profound.

So, back to my fellow single adopters and ‘what can we do’? Not much really. People outside the home often inadvertently negatively reinforce our children’s belief through trying to be kind. Inside, trying to do it yourself – or through the dog – mostly seems to feel sarcastic, or obviously pointing something out. Briefing even one close friend or relative on how to do this for you would make a big difference.

In advance of more input on this from the consultant, ideas welcome!

Sensory reset

A week can get under your skin. Time for a sensory reset.

Walk along the river that fills my ears with the steady, rushing babble of the water. Choose the muddiest paths and let my feet sink right in, dark peaty soil sucking and slurping at each step until it seeps into my boots. Duck as the budding branches pull and scrape along my jacket and lock into my hair. Wait a while sat on the woodland floor and graze my palm over the soft comfort of the moss and the tiny ferns. Watch as the nuthatch scales the trunk, then sits ‘doinking’ at the crown.

Feel the muscle ache scaling the rocks and exploring the forgotten mines. The whisper of my dog’s warm happy breath on my cheek as we stop and crouch at the whirring flight of two goosander. Stoop low to take in the tiny sharp spears of the crocus as they push through the surface.

Sometimes I forget; mistake the impulse to ‘let all the difficulty out’ with the real need to ‘let all the wonder back in’.

I entered the woods with ants crawling beneath my skin from a week of self control.           I leave them with all my senses freed; blown open and filled up, to remember who I am.

And then home.

Single adopter truths

Sometimes days pass without anyone smiling at us.

We make our own cup of coffee, hands shaking, when the meltdown finally settles. We tell ourselves that we’ve done okay. We find the ways to hug ourselves better. We seek our own answers to the questions and doubts. We remind ourselves that we are enough. We whisper our own kind words.

We fix the broken things. We pick up the pieces. We pass the baton from one hand to the other when the yelling gets too much. We are the cavalry that comes when we fail. We switch from a punchbag to a comforter in the blink of a smarting eye. We bear the only witness for the depths of their pain. We speak the loving words while in the eye of their storm. We play the good cop, and the bad cop too. We check ourselves when we need to cool down. We have to guess where we’ve got it right, and when we’re wrong. We pack all the tools for the skillset needed to guide them.

We wipe the noses, we kiss the knees while we make the phone calls, and miss work for the meetings. We chase the forms and the promises. We write the letters and do the research. We are their fierce and only defender, advocate and envoy. We chase our worries round and round inside our heads with nowhere to share them. We sit alone to process in silence once the day is through.

If a single adopter falls in a forest and no one is there to hear, do they make a sound?

If we don’t tell twitter, then no body knows #singleadoptertruths 

Collateral damage

I remember it like it was yesterday.

Clear and distinct in my mind. My social worker during prep phase sat on my brand new sofa and said “And what happens – what will you do – when ‘Plus 1′ takes a knife to this lovely new sofa, and cuts a little slit in it”. She acted it out, coolly and calmly, with her fingernail.

And that was that. In the ten months between my first call to the agency, and approval panel, this was the one and only mention of the havoc about to rain down, and the closest anyone ever came to preparing me for CPV.

One hypothetical reference to collateral damage, that over the last 11 years has become a reality of:

- an eight foot stretch of 150 year old T&G wood paneling now split, splintered and bowed out; her all time favourite self harm kicking place.

- six doors that no longer hang right, or close properly, and one with kick holes all across the bottom at different levels that represent the passing years like a height chart.

- the ‘road map’ of our walls, criss crossed with skid marks from things hurled and whipped against them,

- the beautiful handmade bread crock, broken and cracked with a chunk of the lid missing from being slammed one to many times in attempt to pull me into her rages.

- my christening bracelet, a part of me for 40 years, gone forever, without a trace.

- the oak kitchen table that survived our family for three generations, scarred with dozens of deep, double pointed dents from a claw hammer attack.

- the bruises on my body that come, turn to rainbows, and then go.

- the toilet seat that like its predecessors, is cracked through repeated, angry slamming.

- the long series of phones, laptops, controllers, a hairdryer and a tv, all smashed to smithereens. With implements, and sometimes with her bare hands or feet; stamping or smacking them repeatedly until cuts bleed from the sharp edges.

- the bite scars on my arms, and the deep raised one on my thigh.

- the canine tooth missing from my beautiful dog’s mouth, broken by the rock hurled at her during an angry summer’s day walk.

- boxfuls of household necessities and equipment that go missing, thrown out in secret when she gets obsessed with me having ‘too much stuff’; tools, climbing gear, coats, tape cassettes, camping kit, cameras, kitchen utensils.

- the regular scratch marks to my face, arms, back, legs, belly from the times I misjudge how close I can get to calm her while she tries to smash her head against the wall.

- the dashboard of my land rover cracked and hanging off on the passenger side from full power kicks over the flavor of a packet of crisps.

- the burns from where she threw dinners or hot drinks over me.

- the two lonely bowls left intact from a full dinner set, and the cracks in the tiles where the missing ones landed.

- the stains on the oak floors that I’ve tried to sand off (because, you know, pee).

- the five sash window panes either cracked or studded with bullet style impact holes.

- the banisters that creak and wobble a third of the way down where I crashed into them when she pushed me down the stairs.

- the blinds from her room currently ‘hidden’ in a bin bag; stashed in the airing cupboard where she thinks I won’t notice, cut into pieces…

I’m not sure where to stop. These – and many more like them – are ‘peak events’. The visible and tangible expressions of trauma. They come as part of the wider package of less story worthy hours of this screaming, rejecting, unsoothable, unstoppable, fear based, self preservational trauma that rampages through our home on a daily, sometimes hourly basis.

Looking at this list I feel almost nothing except love for her, and empathy for this raging battle she wages with herself every day. Extraordinary as it may seem, this list has become just another part of my life; normal. This list is an ongoing, central part of who we are as a family. Though i may get ‘lost’ in the heat of it all, or give in to my own feelings of hurt, I know this is the part of her that needs me most. That needs me to be so much stronger than i ever thought i could be.

Should I post this? Probably not; i’m fearful of making her pain so visible. But I will, because hearing the real stories of others helps me, so I know other people need to hear mine.

First, the other adopters: so they know they are not alone.

Second, the prospectives: so they know to access realistic training long before it is needed.

Third, the lobbyists and change makers: so they can push harder for adequate and practical adoption support.

And fourth, the professionals: so they know this is a day in, day out 24/7 reality in adoptive homes. So they know the stories we tell them are just snapshots in the barrage of a bigger picture that requires us to figure out, contain and guide the most vulnerable of lives in our care, all by our untrained, under supported and often compassion fatigued selves. 

So they know we need more help.

 

NB: click here for the new report on Impact of Child on Parent Violence from Thorley and Coates (2017)