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.

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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.

Making Decisions

Hand-stitched dad and I are notorious for our decision making skills. We like to sit with the question, weighing up an endless supply of ‘what ifs’ and second-guessing what we (and others) want. Social workers love that we took our precious time (three years in fact) between our first enquiry and our decision to proceed. They will love it less when waiting for our answers during home study, I’m sure.

The government was not thinking of me and hand-stitched dad when they decided to reduce the assessment period to eight, six and then four months. We genuinely need time to process and adapt to what we learn about adoption and about ourselves. We are thoughtful and considerate people. We are not good at making decisions.

Age? Not an exclusion factor.

Gender? Don’t care.

The social worker from Rural Adoption Agency pointed out to us that we needed limits, otherwise we would have thousands of children thrown at us once approved. We looked up BAAF’s matching criteria form and discovered we still couldn’t draw a line.

“You need to talk about it more.” The social worker suggested. I thought to myself: we’ve talked about it plenty; what we need is a way to make decisions.

The social worker’s face took on a dreamy look when sharing a story about the magic of telling an adopted child they had been chosen. “We chose you.”

I cringed.

Based on my own experience of trauma and neglect, the last thing I wanted to hear as a child was that I’d been chosen. I would much rather have had a choice. I would have wanted someone listening to me and giving me a say in the decisions. It’s not easy getting to know a traumatised child on that level. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be done.

Where on the BAAF form does it say: “I would like the child who would choose me” ?

Hand-stitched dad and I were both on a natural high after the social worker left. We bounced from the kitchen to the dining room, putting away snacks and hanging up laundry. We reassured each other. “It went fine.” “Did I talk too much?” “No. Was I okay?” “Was I okay?” Yes. Yes. Smiles. Hugs. This is it. “The first step!”

We babbled excitedly about Rural Adoption Agency. I was pleasantly surprised by some of what the social worker described. It fit my impression of the agency from my research and monitoring. It’s nice when evidence corroborates like that.

Hand-stitched dad had preferred Little City Adoption Agency. But he shrugged, with a smile, “I can’t think of a reason not to go with Rural adoption agency.”

I paused and smiled. “Neither can I.”

We looked into each other’s eyes and our smiles grew. We bounced up and down together, both exclaiming in unison: “We just made a decision. We just made a decision!!!” Then we collapsed in fits of giggles at our absurdity. We smiled at each other. We held hands.

The first step.

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.