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”.

Adoption: Loss and change

What has she lost in the short course of her life?

- Her people:

Severed not simply from family and close ones, but from the connections she had to the web of her whole community.  Vaporized in a heartbeat, leaving a bottomless and profound grief that sits alongside the acid sting of whole-scale rejection.   Forsaken and discarded by the people she loved:  ”I’m rubbish.” she says.

- Her things:

Torn from all that was familiar and reassuring.  Her favourite armchair, the mints in the dish, the hiding place in the garden, the hum of the boiler, the crack on the ceiling, her most precious teddy.  Every aspect of the personal landscape that etches into a child’s mind, wrenched away like a thief in the night: “I don’t care anyway.” she says.

- Her culture, her sense of belonging.

Cut off from everything that reflected a sense of place back to her. Her accent, her habits, her mores, her customs her traditions, the taste of a shepherd’s pie, all came suddenly to an end, leaving her an outsider to her own life: “I don’t know what you mean.” she says.

- Her means to share experiences.

Cut off from all her stories and every event that ever happened, she found herself pushed into isolation.  With no common ground, no memory lane, she became a mystery to herself, with no one to answer questions about: how she got her name, her first word, what happened the day she was born, her close encounter with a hedgehog: “You just don’t get it.” she says.

- Her willingness to trust.

As we dare to pick apart the loss, we uncover a shame that infiltrates her very sense of self.  In doubting her own self worth, she also questions the legitimacy of anyone to care for her. Fear thwarts the intimacy that trust demands, and mistakes it for control and blame: “I am just a bad baby.” she says.

- Her openness to love and be loved

Every meaningful intimate relationship and connection she ever made resulted in neglect, abuse, and – eventually – abandonment.  Her willingness to trust, to be cared for and helped, was decimated; replaced with a pain that keeps her pushing hard at arms length from the very love and security that would help her move forward. “I don’t need you.” she says.

And then – as if this isn’t enough – comes the final blow; a total lack of understanding from a society that celebrates adoption with a blindness that negates and opens old wounds time and time again: “You are lucky Mumdrah chose you”, society says.

At the moment she joined me, she lost Everything.

CHT’s adoption song of loss and trust