Quiet but busy

Apologies for having a quiet summer on our blog. We haven’t even been reading other people’s blogs, since Google Reader shut down. Does anyone have recommendations for another browser-based RSS reader?

It is October, which means our adoption journey picks up pace. We attend preparation group this month, at Suburban Agency. Soon after, we will put in our official application to Rural Adoption Agency. We will be appointed a social worker and then complete home study. A few panels, a lot of reading, and one match later — and we will be parents.

We have been entertaining the idea of Hand-stitched Dad taking the adoption leave, so all three of us can be home for the most amount of time with our new family member. I have heard that some social workers are particular about releasing a child into the care of a man. That is a diplomatic way of saying that some social workers make matching decisions based on our gender (or maybe gonad assignation?) rather than exploring what “gender” and “familiarity” really means to their traumatised child. There are of course very good reasons why some children are placed with Male or Female parents, but I hope there are even better reasons why they are matched with those parents, that have nothing to do with Male or Female parts at all.

I cannot speak for individual social workers or individual children awaiting adoptive placements, but I can speak for my lovely husband. Hand-stitched Dad is a gentle man with a boyish face, who rarely has anything but kind things to say. He is tall and slender, with a charming multi-coloured beard. Whenever I see him, I relax. Whenever he looks at me, I smile. If I feel childlike and stroppy, he returns my childlike banter in equal force. If I feel serious and philosophical, he listens quietly.

When things became very stressful — the peak of our grieving — we separated for a brief two weeks. It was horrible. But at the end of the two weeks, I knew exactly why I married this man.

We are not perfect. We make mistakes every day. We have had life experiences that have disabled us and left us lonely and afraid. We do not have everything we want, such as a spacious, clean home. But we do have a few quite remarkable things, such as deep respect for each other and a willingness to grow together no matter what the outcome. I now have a name for the values that keep us together: Acceptance and Resilience.

Hand-stitched Dad is steadfast. He embodies all the best qualities of a parent, and, yes, most of those qualities are also considered archetypical female: gentleness, sensitivity, compassion, tolerance, deference.

I look forward to seeing our prospective adopters report. How will it capture the ambiguity of gender roles in our relationship? Will I be described as masculine because of the absence of typical female traits? Will people ignore Hand-stitched Dad’s strengths because he is male? How will the biases of our social worker play out in our assessment?

It may not ultimately work out financially, but I would love to see Hand-stitched Dad grow into the role previously known as Mother. I know that I would be proud to be a Father. I’m not sure it matters what we hide in our underpants.

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Nesting in our minds

There has been a lot of growing in the last month.

Hand-stitched Dad has been volunteering with me, and it has been lovely to share that with him. He really is a natural with the girls, way more than I was when I started. I may have a keen eye for observing and knowing people, but I need to practice relaxing and being in the moment. This is where hand-stitched dad puts me to shame.  I’m learning a lot from him and I wish he would post more often, as he is an inspiration.

We regularly chat about adoption. It’s starting to feel more real to both of us, along with the feeling that we really do have a say in all of this! It’s okay to voice what we want, what we hope for… I know it sounds baffling and obvious, but, after years of having our choices and our confidence taken away by infertility, it’s taken a bit of an adjustment.

I would say that the biggest achievement in the last month has been my sense of self-acceptance. Self-knowledge is great, but what worth is knowledge if you can’t accept it? I have to battle through a lot of bad experiences to get to a place where I feel genuinely accepted (where I genuinely accept myself). I’m starting to feel that way, and it is really paying off in my social life.

I like to think of this as “nesting in my mind” … preparing an emotional home for my future child. It is naturally selfish, as I am the first one to benefit from having emotional well-being. But other people benefit, too. I make no apologies for the time I invest in improving myself. Reading adoption forums makes you feel like social workers will reject you for any sign of weakness. And yet, I can think of nothing worse for traumatised children than a pathologically narcissistic parent!

Successful adoptive parents really do have a beautiful balance of humility and courage. The demands are so high. No wonder so many feel so inadequate so frequently. I’ve been a prospective adopter for years now, and I have deep empathy for adoptive parents. I have learned so much about myself from their journeys and struggles.  I hope this translates to resilience.

Peace happens

I have become a television stereotype.

You know that geeky girl, hunched over and hiding behind books and glasses? That one that smiles but you don’t notice because you aren’t looking.  I’m pretty sure I’ve become her. Either that, or the little girls I volunteer with watch too much telly. They asked me if I could see without my glasses and I shook my head.

“No, sorry — I can’t see very well at all.” The girls, who sometimes act more like the young women they are growing into, looked at me sympathetically and curiously. I took my glasses off and smiled at their fuzzy faces. I was close enough to see their expressions change. Two girls retreated into their own minds, wondering what it meant to be partially sighted. The third girl gasped and exclaimed, staring at me adoringly:

“You look so pretty!”

Yes, I’ve become that geeky girl on telly, transformed by the removal of her sight aids.

I smiled at my little friend. This particular girl so rarely shares her feelings and thoughts, especially when they are positive. When she relaxed enough to be surprised and, moreover, share that surprise with me, so did I.

“Thank you,” I said to her, smiling warmly. “That’s a very nice thing to say.”

It’s been on my mind ever since. The remaining hour I spent with the girls was the best one I ever had with them. We connected, we laughed. The girls seemed relaxed and engaged. I caught more than one complimenting each other. And in my heart I thanked all the people in their lives who made that hour possible. That’s a lot of people having a lot of good days.

I know it is difficult to do, but it’s something I’ve been practicing for years. As a server at a special events catering company, I smiled as if my career depended on it because it really did. I was surrounded by  stressed people who were desperate to have a good time (who were often spending a lot of money to have a good time). Well, they could afford my smile. I enjoyed putting myself aside, putting on my tuxedo (yes tuxedo) and being the friendly, calm, constant one.

The world needs more people to be friendly, calm and constant.

I know it isn’t always possible and we should definitely not hide our emotions away, but isn’t it a wonderful thing when peace happens?

I’m developing that very important skill of enjoying it while it lasts.

The Mid-Wait Wobble

I can see why people are keen to rush into things. Sitting with anticipation and anxiety leads to thoughts (messy thoughts) unless you keep an active reign on yourself. I’ve had a lot of time to think about the decision to adopt, but still I catch myself in the odd moment wondering if it will really happen: if we could really cope with being adoptive parents.

Several years back I would have (allegorically) hung myself in this annihilating train of thought. Now my reflective mind is a bit more resolute. I note the thought: Am I worthy? I look to the feeling: fear. I also look to my habituated response: self-doubt and sometimes even self-attack.

I remember the little, lonely girl and her bullies. I remember I’m no longer that girl. I hold her close to me; I hold that fear. And instead of turning on myself, I breathe. I remember that fear is natural, human, normal, shared. I remember that I’m here today, despite my fear. I remember that I am more than fear. I am worthy.

Slowly, with time, my brain and my body learnt not to be afraid of fear. The little lonely girl was learning to trust herself.

I wobble. Drenched in fear, I wobble.

But somehow, every wobble moves me closer to being that parent. I will not be perfect. I will yell sometimes, blinded by fear and love. My emotions will sometimes overspill in tears. I will feel helpless. I will feel unworthy. I will be afraid.

I will be all of these things. I will wobble, wobble, wobble up mountains and through rivers.

If that is the only thing my child learns from me, I’ve done my job. We are, all of us, broken in seen and unseen ways. We stumble, fall, and break some more. We wobble.

Maybe life is about learning how to wobble.

Believing in yourself

For a number of reasons, Hand-stitched Dad and I were not gifted with a substantial dollop of self-confidence. This comes out in different ways.

Hand-stitched Dad is more reserved, considerate, and deferential. That’s him, through and through. He’s like that when you meet him. He’s like that when you get to know him. He’s like that, when you’ve known him for years. I love Hand-stitched Dad‘s calming consistency and carefulness. Most people agree: he’s very likable, albeit quiet.

I have an altogether different sort of consistency.

When we first meet, I will be charming. Many adopters will recognise this sort of charming. It’s the charm of someone who is too scared to fight, who just wants us all to get along, who wants you to smile and move on, who wants you to believe this girl is stronger than she is. It’s the charm of someone who has spent more time getting to know other people than getting to know herself.

It’s the charming face of trauma.

As we approach our first home visit, our confidence quakes. I remind myself: before we submit ourselves to their judgment, we opened ourselves up to our own. Our story doesn’t begin and end with trauma.  We are more than our charming faces and vulnerable hearts.

I think, ‘What if they reject us?’ but the train of thought only ever comes back to disappointment in them, because I believe in us. I think of our deepest, darkest days, and I remember: we made it through them with dignity. We lived and we are better people for it. Yes, we are made of grief, more grief than most people our age hold. But we are made of more than grief.

If I can learn how to grieve and still love, so can our child. I  may not be the most careful or considerate person. I have a hundred holes, and I will never fit in. I’m displaced. I’m forever learning my limits. But this: parenting a traumatised child. This I can do.

Play

The fact that I’m a grand-uncle to an 18-month old makes me feel quite old! I’m really not that old, am I?!

As mentioned in my previous post, until a few years ago I didn’t think we’d be adopting, so I never expected that anybody would care about my experiences with children. I’d always thought that I’d just learn ‘on the job,’ so to speak. Anyway, on Mother’s day our family met at my sister’s house for Sunday lunch, so while everybody was finishing their meal and chatting, I excused myself and sat with my grand-niece while she played nearby.

At first I just watched her playing with a toy school bus and a stuffed dog. It was cute to see the attention she put in to carefully opening and closing the door of the bus each time she moved the stuffed dog on or off. The fact that the bus had no roof and the dog would have been way too big to fit though the door seemed to be of no consequence to her whatsoever.

Next she climbed inside her Little Tikes car. Rather than dashing about, she glanced around for a while, looking a little confused. I remembered seeing her in her car earlier; she had made a big play of turning the key before setting off. I wondered if she was looking for the key, so I helped her search. I found the key on a little chair at my feet. I called to her and showed her that I’d found it.  She lent though the ‘windshield’ of her car, with her hand reaching out expectantly. I too lent over with my arm stretched and handed her the key. She sat back in the seat and pretended to turn the key in the ignition before setting off around the room.

By now the family was returning from the meal and sitting in the lounge. My grand-niece parked her car and toddled over to me with an In the Night Garden book. I asked her if she could point out the Tombliboos to me (which she did). When hand-stitched mum asked her if she would would like me to read to her, she shook her head and plonked the book down on the sofa.

I looked around and found one of those shape sorter plastic ball things – you know the ones – where you have you find the right shape to fit each hole.  At first I was at a loss as to how to extract the shapes from the center of the ball; however, my nephew came to my aid and showed me how. Then my grand-niece picked up a shape and seemingly randomly tried to stuff it in to every hole.

To try and make it easier for her, I slowly rotated the ball, presented one side to her, and asked if she thought the shape would fit. After a short struggle, I’d announce that I didn’t think the block would fit and rotated the ball to show the next opening. When the shape finally popped though the correct hole, I gave a big cheer and a broad smile formed across her face. This cheering seemed to give her no end of encouragement and we hunted for the next match together.

By this time pretty much everybody in the room was watching. Much to her excitement, the next matches resulted in louder and louder cheers. Sadly however after a while, conversation had taken over in the room. As such when another block fell in to place, my grand-niece paused for the cheers, but none came. “Uh-oh,” I announced loudly, “didn’t anybody see what you did?!”  A cheer arose from the room, a smile returned, a little body relaxed and the play continued.

Just a Prospective Adopter

“As you are still a prospective adopter, you can have little real idea of what it is like actually to parent one of the most difficult children in the system, though your understanding will have been augmented greatly by being able to read these boards. ” [Bold mine]

Really, it’s never nice to be told what you are.

But that’s not what I want to comment on. I want to challenge the idea that the biggest difference between the quoted person and me is that they are parents and I am not.

If you search the scientific literature, you don’t read that traumatised children thrive best with people who have experience raising a ‘difficult child.’ You read that traumatised children thrive best with people who have experienced and resolved their own trauma successfully — presumably because these sorts of parents have genuine empathy and resilience. Experience raising a child doesn’t really factor into that equation, because people don’t need to be experienced parents to have the resources, understanding and motivation to take care of a traumatised child.

In my masters training, I was told by a child psychotherapist that “children choose” who to trust. They “choose” based on their complex experiences, or rather — how their experience of you fits into their previous experiences. It is a mostly automatic process, as people do not always have the capacity  to step back from and challenge the connections between emotions, thoughts and behaviours. As I observed child-adult interactions for my course, I saw this in practice: we are all captive to our life experiences. It is difficult to challenge our semi-automatic judgments of people, including ourselves.

I am a prospective adopter. But my ideas of what it is like to “actually parent one of the most difficult children in the system” come from my own life experiences not my adoptive status nor the amount of time I’ve spent reading adoption boards. I trust that my home study will fully explore these experiences in order to answer that very question.  I may even share a bit of my history with you here. Please don’t mistake this future disclosure of information as seeking your approval, as I don’t want or need it. The only people that matter regarding my parenting skills are the people in my care and the people who sometimes act on their behalf (aka the social workers).

What I can offer you, dear reader, is the same respect, consideration and acceptance of your disclosures that I demand for mine.  I understand that we may have had different experiences; we may make different choices. But we are united by how we take responsibility for those experiences and choices: our actions, our beliefs. We strive to understand, to know more, to do better. We share our vulnerabilities and strengths, by our own choice, and in time we realise that respect has less to do with shared experiences and everything to do with acknowledging ourselves.

I empathise with the original source of the quote. They were motivated by a desire to protect the vulnerable members of their group. I am reminded again that I’m an outsider  a prospective adopter. As an outsider a prospective adopter, I have no leverage to challenge the way things are done. Strange how this experience of rejection and frustration feels a little like… a real idea relevant life experience.

Don’t worry, I have a support network in place to cope. 😉