Category Archives: Holidays

Nonviolent Resistance

OmerI never thought I would enjoy therapy, but Tony and I are finding our weekly art therapy sessions a useful space to think about where we are and how to deal with the children’s behaviour. Our adoption worker also recommended looking at Nonviolent Resistance. One of the books I ordered was Haim Omer’s book, Nonviolent Resistance: A New Approach to Violent and Self-destructive Children (CUP, 2004). I have only dipped in so far, but it makes a lot of sense. I turned first to the chapter on ‘Violence towards siblings’ as Billy’s attitude and behaviour towards Jo is the cause of most violence in the family. I was thankful to read (p.113-14) that the author stresses the need for parents to be supported rather than judged:

We have seen that the prevailing assumption that parental abuse is the real cause of violence towards siblings is little more than a widespread dogma. This blaming stance toward parents precludes any possibility of building a therapeutic alliance with them. Professionals thus jettison in advance their main potential collaborators in the fight against the child’s violence. In effect, we can hope to cope with the hidden endemic problem of violence toward siblings only by moving beyond the prevailing accusatory stance and evolving an attitude of trust toward parents who are willing to get help. We therapists should approach these parents with the assumption that they are motivated by true concern and an honest desire to help their children and themselves. Viewing the parents as defensive, as sabotaging the therapy, as trying to invade their children’s privacy, or as bent on preventing her independence are professional habits generated by the erroneous view of the parents as the main pathogenic factor. What the therapist views as a parent’s resistance to treatment is often nothing but a reflection of the parent’s feelings that the therapist’s suggestions are not helping.

The same could be said for social workers and educationalists. We are fortunate at the moment in having some professionals around us who do recognise our genuine care and concerns for our children and who are working with us in trying to find solutions. We were working towards many of the principles of non-violent resistance anyway, including setting clear boundaries, keeping ourselves safe and taking back control – so far by keeping the children apart, but now we have the Easter holidays, which we meet with some trepidation. I wrote a letter to Billy, a kind of contract, which included some of the non-violent resistance ideas, including making it clear that we would not hide his behaviour, and that we would be present when he is at home – he might consider intrusive – and make the decisions as to what is and is not acceptable without entering into negotiations. The bottom line is that we will call the police and have him removed from the house if we can’t cope with his behaviour towards us or towards Jo.

Tony picked Billy up from College and took him to MacDonalds, our neutral space for talking. He explained that there was a solicitor’s letter and a letter from us for him at home, and talked him through the situation he was in. From there he led onto how Billy can help himself and meet our expectations of him. Billy is keen to avoid a custodial sentence and unusually open to suggestions as to how he can do this. Last time I spoke to him he thought he was fine and didn’t need to change, so maybe something has shifted. The good influences in the form of Jane and friends, as well as family, probably help. It is impossible for us to really know what and who is a danger to him and should be avoided, and who can help. Naturally at 16, living away from home, most of his life is hidden to us, and even when at home so much of his life is online that it is still a mystery, as we found out recently to everyone’s cost. Billy has arranged to have friends staying for part of the holidays which suggests to us that he is aware friends can help act as a corrective to some extent on his behaviour. These things are a delicate balance between control and firmness on our part but without communicating rejection or anger.

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Second Letter to Billy

Dear Billy

Things we can and can’t do for you.

We can and will:

  • Continue to love you unconditionally.
  • Be proud of your achievements and celebrate your successes.
  • Welcome you and your friends – as long as you and they behave well, and treat the family and our home with respect.
  • Try to support you when things don’t go well.
  • Be upset and disappointed when you don’t take advantage of your opportunities, let people down, let yourself down, and make bad choices.
  • Decide if and when you can come home if your presence or actions have an overly disruptive effect on the family.
  • Call the police if we decide that your actions are more than we can cope with.
  • Continue to liaise with social services, adoption services, the police, solicitors and Department of Work and Pensions on your behalf.

We can’t:

  • Make choices for you.
  • Mitigate the consequences of your actions.
  • Undo your mistakes or minimise the seriousness of what you have done wrong.
  • Turn your life around.
  • Help you discover what you really want to do and be in life – that’s for you to do.
  • Find you an apprenticeship or job – but the College and other agencies can help if you take advantage of their services.

We won’t:

  • Tolerate bad behaviour in the home. This includes (1) being rude, provocative or unkind; (2) smoking or taking anything legal or illegal, apart from tobacco, in the conservatory or outside; (3) damaging the house, furnishings or belongings; (4) any violence, verbal or physical, whatsoever; (5) stealing; (6) lying; (7) misuse of the Internet; (8) excessive drinking.
  • Seek to minimise or conceal your behaviour in the past, present or future.
  • Bargain with you over what is or is not permitted.

We expect you:

  • To be polite and considerate.
  • To keep your room and belongings tidy.
  • To actively plan for and work towards your future in a constructive and realistic manner.
  • Ask for and accept help when needed.
  • To keep yourself safe and behave in a responsible manner.

Mum and Dad

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Why Transgender Children Need and Deserve Support

IMG_0546I drove Jo back to school last night, after a last minute marathon to do at least some of the homework that could and should have been spread over the past four weeks, rather than the final an hour and a half of the holidays. I sat at the computer while Jo dictated to me, or left instructions as to what to say while attempting to dye a strand of plaited hair blond (it didn’t work). In the car she shared her anxieties about school, and I can see her point. Although the staff have been very supportive, and she gets sick of her housemaster, tutor and others saying that they are totally ‘there for her’, its still hard. She had wanted tutors to explain clearly and fully to their tutor groups what being transgender meant. Instead, the message seems to have been that Jo had changed her name and would be wearing girls’ uniform. That left the onus on her to do all the explaining. The girls in her age group mostly accept her as a girl, but there aren’t many of them, and one or two have been very unkind (‘spreading rumours about her’, she says).

One of the easiest ways to get at Jo is to say that she is gay – which means that boy friends or potential boy friends are also automatically labelled as gay. This started before she transitioned. She was still outwardly a boy but clearly felt female and her sexual orientation shifted from girls to boys. Jo and her boyfriend do not see their relationship as one between two gay kids. Having close relationships with either boys or girls is complicated for her. She is biologically male, and has not started on hormone blockers. Living on the girls’ landing in a boarding school is out of the question – she could theoretically get a girl pregnant, however unlikely in practice. She shares a room with another boy who boards part-time. This was her choice as she didn’t want to be isolated in a single room – isolation carries its dangers in a school setting. She doesn’t socialise with the boys on her landing. There have been incidents when they threw her padded bras out of the window, and sprayed her perfumes all over the place, drew on mirrors with her lipstick and so on. They have two fantastic common rooms on her landing but Jo feels awkward socialising with a group of teenage boys (most of whom have learning and behavioural difficulties) and prefers to stay in her room.

She did have a small, supportive group of boys and girls she hung around with, who accepted her as she was, before and after her transition. Unfortunately they have all left, either expelled or withdrawn from the school (in other words asked to leave) – mainly for drug offences, a ubiquitous problem it seems. With a couple of exceptions the boys don’t want much to do with her. Most are awkward in her company. They don’t know how to react or what to say. She overheard one kid say to another, “that girl’s got a dick”. Its understandable if they have not had any real education in gender issues but also deeply hurtful when you just want to go about your daily life. New children are a threat as they pick up gossip from peers and stare. It seems that things are not explained well to the other kids. It is a while since I have really had a chance to talk to her tutor, who I seldom see, or housemaster, who is usually busy looking after the children and sorting out various problems when we drop her off or pick her up. In some ways negotiating reactions at school and engaging in educating her peers in a relatively safe environment is good preparation for adult life, but I can see how tough it is. No wonder she has little energy and attention left for academic work. The best part of the week is apparently sport, which she used to hate, as this year instead of being forced to take part in team competitive sports she has opted for climbing, at which she is pretty good.

Leelah Alcorn

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Images: Justice for Leelah Alcorn/Facebook

It is only one week ago, on Sunday 28th December 2014, that another transgender teenager,  took her life by walking under a truck. She was just 17 years old. There can’t be many parents, especially parents of trans children, who don’t feel distraught at the tragedy of the loss of this young life. Leelah Alcorn from Ohio in the USA left a suicide note on her Tumblr social media account to be posted automatically after her death. The account has since been removed, but her message needs to be heard if Leelah’s plight is not to be repeated, so I make no apologies by posting it here in full. I don’t blame her parents or community, although I do believe they were and are profoundly mistaken in their attitudes. They have lost a child, which is tragic. They are in defensive mode, it seems, trying to justify why what they did was right. They were apparently convinced that their Christian convictions did not allow them to recognise Leelah as transgender. There is nothing in the Bible on the issue and although I don’t want to defend the Bible (I was brought up on Phyllis Trible’s Texts of Terror), I can’t identify their attitudes as Christian.

There is a valid argument that Christianity is what Christianity does. In other words it doesn’t exist in any abstract form, but is the sum of what people who identify as Christian say, think, believe, teach and do. The same can be said of any religion. While to some extent I subscribe to this view there is also something to be said for rejecting extreme manifestations of a religion that are not in accordance with tradition and core teachings. Most Muslims do not regard the Islamic State jihadis as exemplars of their faith. There is nothing in Buddhism that exhorts its followers in Sri Lanka to persecute Muslims, or anything in Hinduism that compels Hindu nationalists in India to regard non-Hindus as second-class citizens. Certainly living in the UK I have never come across people calling themselves Christian who subscribe to the views of Leelah Alcorn’s parents. Maybe they exist, but strictly binary views of human nature are either not the norm, or if held are put alongside a willingness to learn from others’ experience. If God is Love and there is no male and female in heaven, gender is part of our adventure on earth as human beings, not something intrinsic to our spirit, which exists before and after this lifetime. If God is Spirit and not an anthropomorphic person, being in God’s likeness does not imply being either male or female. For people who are not religious the whole debate must seem ridiculous, and does a great disservice to religion in general.

So here is the text of Leelah Alcorn’s message to all of us:

If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue.

Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in … because I’m transgender. I could go into detail explaining why I feel that way, but this note is probably going to be lengthy enough as it is. To put it simply, I feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body, and I’ve felt that way ever since I was 4. I never knew there was a word for that feeling, nor was it possible for a boy to become a girl, so I never told anyone and I just continued to do traditionally “boyish” things to try to fit in.

When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to Christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more Christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.

When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.

I formed a sort of a “fuck you” attitude towards my parents and came out as gay at school, thinking that maybe if I eased into coming out as trans it would be less of a shock. Although the reaction from my friends was positive, my parents were pissed. They felt like I was attacking their image, and that I was an embarrassment to them. They wanted me to be their perfect little straight Christian boy, and that’s obviously not what I wanted.

So they took me out of public school, took away my laptop and phone, and forbid me of getting on any sort of social media, completely isolating me from my friends. This was probably the part of my life when I was the most depressed, and I’m surprised I didn’t kill myself. I was completely alone for 5 months. No friends, no support, no love. Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.

At the end of the school year, my parents finally came around and gave me my phone and let me back on social media. I was excited, I finally had my friends back. They were extremely excited to see me and talk to me, but only at first. Eventually they realized they didn’t actually give a shit about me, and I felt even lonelier than I did before. The only friends I thought I had only liked me because they saw me five times a week.

After a summer of having almost no friends plus the weight of having to think about college, save money for moving out, keep my grades up, go to church each week and feel like shit because everyone there is against everything I live for, I have decided I’ve had enough. I’m never going to transition successfully, even when I move out. I’m never going to be happy with the way I look or sound. I’m never going to have enough friends to satisfy me. I’m never going to have enough love to satisfy me. I’m never going to find a man who loves me. I’m never going to be happy. Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself. There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say “it gets better” but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.

That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself. Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.

Goodbye,

(Leelah) Josh Alcorn

Printed in: http://www.slate.com/blogs/outward/2014/12/31/leelah_alcorn_transgender_teen_from_ohio_should_be_honored_in_death.html

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To Tell or Not to Tell

godstimingParents used to agonise over telling their children they were adopted. Thank goodness we have moved on from there in the UK at least. The US tradition of closed adoption records creates a slightly different context, as does the Irish situation as films like Philomena show so movingly. What I’m pondering is how and when to tell the children that I have to go into hospital next Friday. It is mainly a logistical question – Billy will need to make his way home from college on the train, which he can do but prefers not to. Tony will need to fetch Jo then return to the hospital to fetch me, as I won’t be able to drive home or get the train after a general anaesthetic. I was told a few weeks ago that I probably had breast cancer, then that I probably didn’t. I didn’t tell the kids. At the moment I’m well and they don’t need any additional insecurity. We don’t need the fall-out from additional insecurity. The worst-case scenario, from my point of view, is that with or without further treatment I turn out to be terminally ill and die. Not a bad outcome, we are all going to die and I have few regrets about my life. It has been filled with blessings; good things, good people and good places. The problems would be for the rest of the family – Tony is clear that he couldn’t cope on his own; the family would unravel. The children are not old enough to be independent. Tony’s sister and family would try to cover some of the bases but it would be hard to replace my input at this stage in their lives. Thankfully it doesn’t look as if we will have to face that scenario at the moment. There is nothing like a reminder of mortality to make you appreciate life, and the speed at which it passes. Each day is a chance to do something good, to make it count, to build a little piece of heaven on earth for a fleeting moment. I will need to say something to Billy and Jo before they go back to school tomorrow so that they know the score when they come home on Friday.

Dealing with hurt

Billy had a bit of a melt-down last night. He could have been disappointed about the visit non-event with his friends the other day, or maybe was under the influence of something (cannabis?), which made him aggressive. He usually takes it out on Jo, which was the case this time. She was sitting on the stairs that lead up to his attic bedroom trying to engage him with something on YouTube on her iPad. Billy was being obnoxious, starting with off-handed put-downs that evidently turned into really hateful and hurtful language. I tried to get Jo to leave him alone, but she will persist in those situations, giving him the power to hurt her. She came downstairs in tears about the things he’d said to her, afraid, afraid of him, hurt and angry. It is a huge advance that nothing got broken and no one was physically hurt. It is possible that Jo went and cut herself. I can’t tell as after a chat she went off to bed, and 6.30pm the following evening is still there. In the past they would at some stage have attacked one another, anIMG_0572d/or belongings, furniture, doors, windows and so on. That Jo can contain her feelings, talk about them to me and express her hurt with words and tears shows considerable maturity and self-control. We haven’t found a way to stop Billy being so unkind. At some level he doesn’t care. He wants to hurt. Maybe it covers up his own hurt. Attacking Jo for being transgendered is just another tool to hurt her. It isn’t personal, it isn’t about who or what she is or is not, it is about Billy and his inability to feel good about himself without putting down others.

When things don’t work and back to school blues

We had another near melt-down this afternoon. Billy had spent hours trying to sort out his Microsoft account to access money on it given by his birth mother. It wasn’t clear what the problem was but his frustration was clear. He wanted to smash the XBox, sell it, pinch Jo’s… (Tony intercepted that move). Any suggestions or attempts to understand the problem were met with abuse. I recognise the sense of frustration when something doesn’t work. I’ve felt like that and have shared the feeling of just wanting someone to fix it. Who hasn’t? We had conversations about the help-line, but Billy evidently wasn’t in a state to talk civilly to anyone at the other end of a phone. We suggested that he could leave it for now and focus on some holiday work that needs to be handed in next week, but both children have made it abundantly clear that they have no intention of doing any school work what-so-ever over the holidays. I just wish schools would stop giving it. Some kids, ours at least, have never done any work at home and it leads to tears, aggro, threats not to go back to school, fear of getting into trouble, emails from teachers about our responsibilities as parents… So the books and files will go back unopened. Both kids will probably try the ‘I’m not going back to school/college and you can’t make me’ routine. We will try to ignore it but can feel the adrenaline and sense of desperation rising. Everyone becomes increasingly tense. It would be nice to have some family time together but they are all firmly ensconced in their rooms. I feel bad for Edgar who must be pretty bored, and I know he is embarrassed when Billy is rude to me and behaves like an idiot. So as the holidays draw to a close, we go ahead looking for the small moments when we can make a difference and enjoy life and one another. And I guess Edgar is right, we are all pretty mad as a family. While writing this I’m trying to stop the cat hunt the lizard, who is enjoying a play-time in my study. He has found the boxes and wrapping paper left over from Christmas and will no doubt find a good hiding place if I don’t keep an eye on him. He at least is having a good time, and I’m enjoying watching him.

Good Enough Parenting

It is always good to get a pat on the back. Neither Billy nor Jo are programmed to say “Thank You!” or show outward gratitude. They are still operating at a much younger level than their chronological years in many respects. Most of life is self-referential. ‘How does this affect me?’ ‘Am I safe?’ ‘Can I get away with it?’ Luckily we don’t parent in order to get these rewards, although learning to say “Thank You” is a useful skill they will hopefully acquire along the way.

aeroplane-in-sunsetI was therefore very touched by Edgar’s Christmas card message, which I read this morning (having got back from Heathrow at 1am). The plane had been delayed and the baggage took an age, then Billy insisted that he and Edgar go to the smoking area before we left, overshooting our two hours of parking. Pricey, but it was very good to see Edgar again after about six months absence. The message read:

 You can’t believe how happy I am to be with you now!…

It’s been AMAZING those 2 years with you all!!

My grades have luckily gone up a bit. I hope Billy is on his right path too….

I remember the first time I came over… we had Domino’s, MacDonald’s and KFC in one weekend, haha! ­Jolly good (splendid!).

Maybe Billy could come over to [X] again sometime again?

I just want to thank you all again for everything you have done for me… you can’t believe what it means to me (honestly, those 2 years have been the best in my life yet).

So enough talking, let’s celebrate 2015!

Lots of love, kind regards, yours sincerely etc.

Edgar

 The envelope was endearingly addressed: To the most splendid family on this planet!

It is good to know we have made some difference to this young man’s life. He hasn’t had it easy either, and lacks the stable family background Billy and Jo have enjoyed. I guess we are all damaged in one way or another. Sometimes its very visible – a broken leg, a congenital disability. In others it’s hidden; a neurological and emotional handicap from a difficult start in life, even before birth. Others are damaged by dysfunctional relationships, a lack of love, or extreme poverty. Edgar was part of our family  when Jo began her public gender transition. Her first attempts to go out as a girl were a little extreme. She hadn’t had much practice and didn’t have a big choice of clothes. She had not decided on the look she wanted to achieve. The first time Edgar was sitting at breakfast and Jo came into the kitchen as a girl his spontaneous remark was “That’s disgusting!” We probably hadn’t forewarned him, which I did subsequently with all Billy’s friends. Jo was understandably upset and retreated to her room. I had a word with Edgar about gender transition and how important it was to support Jo, especially as Billy was being as unkind to her and as difficult as possible. Edgar took it on board and from then on was kind and, at least in our company, was careful not to say anything inappropriate. He made an effort to adapt his language to the change of name and gender.

I was amused to have my lack of domestic skills set out in a series of fast-food outlets. If I read that about someone else I would probably be making judgements about the sort of family who just stuff the kids with junk food rather than sit round the table eating nutritious home-cooked meals. I do try to do that too, but especially when they have friends over we are often trying to keep so many balls in the air, treading on eggshells, trying to keep the kids apart and prevent a meltdown. Giving-in to requests for over-priced Domino’s pizza, or getting a MacDonald’s after a trip to the cinema or on the way back to school, can be a small price to pay for some happily occupied and relatively compliant children.

Not So Holy Innocents

images-1I could hear the church bells coming up the hill from the neighbouring town while letting the chickens out. That answered the question as to whether there was a service there today. In our parish the vicar has a day off after the Christmas festivities. The Sunday after Christmas celebrates the Holy Innocents – the infants under the age of two killed by King Herod, on hearing the news from the Magi that a king had been born in Bethlehem some two thousand years ago. I contemplated the many innocents still being killed today through war, hunger, persecution, neglect, accidents and natural disasters. Ten years ago thousands were killed by a Tsunami in South East Asia, and today another airliner disappeared with all its passengers. This evening Billy and I are going to Heathrow Airport in London to meet a former school friend who is coming to stay for the rest of the holidays. I pondered too how Billy and children like him can so easily be both victims and aggressors.

It was in Year 10, having returned to school after a long absence, that Billy got into trouble on a school trip. I dread the phone call from someone in authority – although it is not always bad news. My first thought is always, “ what have they done now?” A call late at night from Billy’s housemaster in Spain was not propitious. Billy had apparently threatened someone with a knife, bad enough, but had also spent all his pocket money on the ferry going out on vodka. Another kid had bought hundreds of cigarettes, but got away with it. The vodka was used to host a party for kids from their school and others at their hotel, plus some local layabouts. Not surprisingly the staff didn’t appreciate having to deal with it, or the inevitable calls to parents to let them know that their children were in ‘deep-shit’ (excuse the language). Billy was lucky not to be expelled on that occasion (but was subsequently). His period of suspension was accompanied by some on-line bullying from peers who wanted him to be chucked out and made their antipathy to Billy clear. This was a form of persecution that, following prolonged bullying previously, was deeply destructive for Billy. The friend coming to stay, who I will call Edgar, was the only one who stuck up for Billy on-line and stood by him in person. We did observe that Billy didn’t appear to be asked to the homes of any of the English kids, nor were they allowed to come to visit or stay with Billy, so he was dependent on overseas boarders for company. We can only assume that he was regarded as a bad influence on their kids, as he had been quite popular in Years 7 & 8. We could only speculate as none of the parents would say anything and we didn’t like to ask directly, but the assumption had to be he had been dealing drugs. We never had any direct proof, only hints from conversations.

So one houseguest despatched, the spare room cleaned and bed remade, we look forward to Edgar’s arrival. He spent most weekends and some holidays with us for about a year and a half, so it will be good to have him around again. He once said rather endearingly that staying with us was better than a 5* hotel, so the pressure was on to keep up the cooked breakfasts. We could at least provide a break from the routines of boarding school. We were thankful to Edgar for sticking with Billy when he was expelled. Billy had also been invited to stay with Edgar on a couple of occasions, although by all accounts didn’t behave particularly well. I’m not too thrilled that Edgar is apparently bringing Billy a sheesha (hookah), as the last oneBilly brought back with him from Edgar’s I threw in the bin, along with anything used for smoking. The quid pro quo was that we would buy 25 grams of tobaccoUnknown-1 a week. I don’t smoke, don’t want the children to smoke, and don’t approve of smoking. But given that Billy is going to do it anyway, we would rather know what he is taking and have some control over it. How we will deal with the sheesha I’m not sure as it hasn’t arrived as yet.

OK, time to inspect the bathroom before leaving for the airport. Just hope that Billy hasn’t been planning a drug-fuelled few days with his friend (it has happened before) while I try to get my head around his neglected coursework due in when he gets back to college next week.

We’ve Done It!

2094143354_f725a27b90Home again in one piece. We could say “best Christmas ever”. The children behaved well – some things really do get easier with time. There were a series of firsts:

1. First time they packed their own overnight bags. Jo’s ‘bag’ consisted of a duvet with ‘bunbun’ (very worn, grubby, once-white rabbit who has been a transitional objects since she was a baby),  a ‘dodo’ (dummy/pacifier – yes, at 14, sorry about that but we can’t wean her off it), a nighty and maybe some other clothes but definitely no toothbrush. Billy did have a change of clothes but didn’t actually change them. Never mind. It’s progress.

2. First time they both arrived at my sister-in-law’s fully dressed. Jo used to travel in a nightdress wrapped up in the duvet. It may have been that living as a boy she couldn’t stand wearing boy-clothes. She had begged for some of my old nighties when I stopped buying her nightdresses of her own. She is now back in girl’s clothes. To be fair she has never worn boy clothes if she had any choice. When the only dress she had was a nightdress she would wear that as soon as she removed her school uniform, day and night, and refuse to be seen in public.

3. First time they both sat at table for Christmas dinner for an hour or more. It didn’t matter that they didn’t make it to the pudding stage without leaving the room. Jo did play with the candles and insist on pulling crackers while we were eating, but as she does not like eating with people watching her and finds it hard to sit still, she rose admirably to the challenge.

4. First time the children put themselves to bed without help. There was no fighting about who went where, no calls for a referee, no hours trying to get Jo settled, no pleas to go home, no tears or tantrums. Just as well as Tony had hurt his hip and was on painkillers and plentiful quantities of alcohol, which seemed to do the trick, but it would have been up to me to sort out the kids. As it was, I was hardly needed. Having been up so early they were both asleep by 8pm.

5. First time they were up, dressed, packed (sort of) and patiently waiting to go home without anyone arguing or fighting. They were ready to leave by 9am but waited more or less patiently until after 1pm. Billy managed to hold a conversation, and Jo didn’t feel the need to interrupt whenever my attention wasn’t on her. They waited with some anxiety while the five adults had a good family political argument, as Jo would have it, or discussion as we would say, for a couple of hours – all in good nature. The world is a scary place for Billy and Jo, and we need to spend time reassuring them that most people are good and that the world is basically a safe place. They don’t seem to have much grasp of when people are exchanging opinions and when it’s a personal attack and aggressive. Hopefully we can model that its OK to have different opinions without disliking people or falling out. Unfortunately the world isn’t really safe for everyone, but thankfully that is our reality, at the moment at least.

6. First time that, even though tired, they made it to bedtime without having a bust-up. Jo left Billy’s room when Tony asked her to – at Billy’s request. The emphasis on not fighting may seem overdone, but inter-sibling violence has  been a major source of stress in our lives for many years, and its absence something to celebrate. Billy will generally wind Jo up, verbally at first, and she will react. The whole point, as Billy would tell us frequently, was to make her behave so badly that we would send her away and he would have us to himself. He could never believe that we had enough love for Jo as well as for him. As Jo learns not to react to his taunts, the incentive for Billy to provoke her declines. As adults they can choose to have nothing to do with one other, but while they live under the same roof it is great not to have to constantly intervene. We spend much of our time and energy anticipating trouble, and picking up the pieces afterwards.

Its 8pm on Boxing Day and we have had 48 hours of exemplary behaviour. Long may it last.

So Far So Good!

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All mothers have to be project managers, but never more so than with adopted children. There are so many potential minefields. We have made it to Christmas morning. The ex-battery hens, rescued from the churchyard where they had survived in the wild for some weeks, came in to inspect  the Christmas tree. Ok, one did poo on the carpet, but who cares! Billy thought he would try to stay awake all day on Christmas Eve, having been awake all the previous night as well. He requested an energy drink when I went to do some last minute shopping. By 4pm he was fast asleep and Jo, who had made a bed on the floor next to him, had consumed the energy drink, so was high as a kite. Billy woke briefly about 8pm and they both requested a  melatonin capsule to help them sleep. No bust-ups, all reasonably quiet. They were dozing rather than asleep when I did my Mummy Christmas bit with stockings on the end of their beds at 1am after the Midnight Mass Christmas service. I knew to expect rustling sounds while I lay in the bath. They made it through till about 6am when loud footsteps signalled a trip downstairs to see what was under the tree. They knew exactly what they would find as the gifts had been requested and Jo had helped me wrap them and put them under the tree (XBox Ones, identical to avoid squabbles if at all possible). Billy had wanted to have his left in his room but I objected that I didn’t want him gaming all night, then be too tired to go to my Sister-in-Law and family Christmas Day. He accepted this, and they made it to 6am before setting them up. Peace is still the order of the day at 9.30am. Tony thought that Billy might refuse to leave the house today, and that Jo wouldn’t want to go without him, but there are no signs of that so far. They do have a history of refusal and have spent many family occasions, as well as Jo’s last school carol service, and  a family walk in the summer, sitting in the car. Where possible we make minimum fuss and just leave them to it as they are too big to compel to do anything and bribes and threats generally fail. But so far so good. We anticipate a family outing shortly. So I wish all you adoptive families out there (and the rest of my readers) a very peaceful Christmas.