Falling apart or falling into place?

When you are in the middle of a situation it is hard to know which of these two realities one is living. Are things falling apart or falling into place? I guess it always feels as if unplanned changes represent things falling apart, even if experience tells one that such times can be creative. They generate change. Jo is like a chrysalis tucked up in her duvet, waiting to emerge as a butterfly. I suspect that this could be a long and painful process, and unlike the caterpillchrysalis to butterflyar who can just wait until the sun comes out in the Spring, Jo will actually have to find the resources to be proactive at some point. The crux of it is that she won’t return to school. It has been an increasing struggle this year, not that it was ever easy getting her there. She has now missed so much of her GCSE work that she has little chance of catching up, which is another disincentive to return. The main problem is a developing social phobia, not wanting to be looked at. Unfortunately our lovely daughter will only continue to become more biologically male, unless and until she can get her head around attending the University College Hospital endocrine clinic and going on hormone blockers. The problem is therefore not going to disappear with the Spring sunshine.

We tried and failed three times to get a Statement of Educational Needs for Jo, so will now need to start again with the new Education, Health and Care needs assessment process. In theory it is more holistic and will look at social and emotional factors, as well has Jo’s base- line cognitive ability. The SEN Statement process was also supposed to take broader needs into account, but in practice these were summarily dismissed. Jo might find the courage to carry on with her education in a much smaller residential setting, with therapeutic support available and a better understanding from all those involved of her complex mix of needs, her strengths and weaknesses. If she was in a wheelchair or was on the autistic spectrum I suspect her needs would be better identified and catered for, although I know that it is increasingly hard for all children and young people with any disability or mental health issue to get support and to find a place in society. The transgender process is just another part of Jo’s complicated but no doubt wonderful jigsaw. I can’t wait to see the finished picture (in this life or from the next!). We were planning a meeting at the school, with social work support and the Virtual School involved, but there seems little point if Jo doesn’t return there. It is hard to know how to plan or move ahead. It is also painful scraping around trying to find school fees on a month-by-month basis, with repairs and other things jobs on permanent hold, when the child is actually at home in bed.

Lone hero parent

I attended a retreat/conference in Italy and was, most unusually, away for four nights, leaving Tony to cope with both children alone at the weekend. This is not something we aim to do if we can help it. Billy arrived back from college with a friend. The friend had been before when they camped in the woods next to the house. I gather that all three children had some fun playing with B B guns (not something I like as they shoot hard plastic pellets, which I’m always afraid the chickens or other animals could eat). Jo was included, and from the range of pellets around the house and garden they obviously had a wide-ranging battle as well as some target practice. They also seem to have consumed plenty of fish and chips as the food left in the fridge was largely untouched and the debris extensive. Unfortunately, as so often happens, things took a turn for the worse on Sunday. Tony suspects that Billy was smoking cannabis, or something else that he shouldn’t, which makes him extremely aggressive. Apparently he physically attacked Jo in her room, and threw food or drink all over the wall by her bed (the evidence of which will remain until we can redecorate the room at some time in the future). Billy was extremely rude and verbally aggressive to Tony, who managed not to react – much to his friend’s embarrassment. I suspect that Billy’s friends, who all seem a nice lot, are just not used to seeing or hearing someone be so aggressive and rude within an apparently civilised family setting.  Billy is not going to find it easy to keep friends, or be welcome in other people’s homes, if he can’t get on top of this behaviour. I had several requests for money while away, and as usual the money for his train fare seems to have been diverted, presumably for drugs. This is another situation in which it is hard to know how to react.

imagesOne decision I did make was not to clean and tidy Billy’s room. I went up on Monday morning intending to do it, but partly through exhaustion, partly annoyance, but also I hope some wisdom, decided that apart from taking a plate and fork down to the kitchen I would leave it as it was. My hope is that if I stop doing things for Billy he will begin to do them for himself. He won’t always have me around to tidy up after him. If I don’t do things for Billy he generally gets very cross with me and sees it as a lack of love and care, which makes him feel very vulnerable. Maybe at some point he will allow me to help him do the clearing for himself. If he felt that he had more control over his environment without relying on others he might be happier. A friend told me that one of the effects of dyspraxia is difficulty not just sequencing, but also generating the action words needed to perform tasks. This makes sense to me as I am aware of telling myself to do jobs one at a time in order to get them done (‘ignore the food and cans and pick up the clothes’, now take aftershave, razors, deodorants etc. back to the bathroom’, ‘get a bag and collect all the tin cans’ and so on). If I need to do this to accomplish a task, I do understand how Billy finds it difficult to even get to the stage of seeing the individual tasks within the whole chaos of his room. What I don’t really understand is why he needs to trash the room so comprehensively within such a short time. One little obsession is removing all his many caps from his cupboard, and hooks on the back of doors, and scatter them over the room, so one of the tasks I usually perform is ‘now find, pick up and put away all the baseball caps’. I have asked him why he does it but he doesn’t have an explanation for this behaviour, other than it is a habit. It sometimes feels as if adoptive parents need to be professional psychologists, rather than just overworked, underpaid, and very tired housekeepers, cooks and drivers.

Down time

The ground has some good hard frost at last – needed to kill the unwelcome bugs in the chicken run. It has been a week with some much needed down time. I have been quite tired following surgery last week, and haven’t had theIMG_0463 energy to persuade Jo back to school. She seemed to need some thinking time, and after a week in bed has emerged a bit more relaxed, trying to get herself into a less nocturnal rhythm for a return to school on Sunday. She has been thinking about the need for injections if she goes ahead with hormone blockers to arrest the progression of male puberty (fully reversible). Whenever we probe as to whether she had doubts about being a girl she strenuously denies this. It seems to be the thought of injections every twenty eight days as well as the initial physical checkup and blood test that are causing so much anxiety. Maybe she needed this week just to let her subconscious as well as conscious mind come to terms with things. She does have processing problems due to the FASD, but also shows remarkable perspicacity when it comes to explaining what is going on, and her thought processes. Our youngest dog was treated to a frosty early morning walk as Jo seeks to get into a better routine. I think its the first time she has left the house all week. I’ve hardly seen her as we were like the weather men, one in and one out, never both around at the same time. Apart from occasional muttering that there isn’t much food in the house (plenty in fact, but I’m not cooking for her in the middle of the night), she has been very easy and uncomplaining.

Billy had a review meeting in college in Tuesday. I felt for the poor boy with seven well-meaning women giving him advice on what he needed to do to stay in college. Neither his attendance nor work are what they should be, but he just seems to lack the organisational skills to turn the situation around. He is happy enough and his social life seems much improved on boarding school, but it doesn’t add up to the standards the college normally set out. Billy was evidently stressed by the meeting and looked as if he would say anything to get out of the situation, without taking much of it in. As someone said afterwards, he looked a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights. He doesn’t have a plan B and wants to stay on next year, but there is quite a mountain to climb if he is going to make it. He is fortunate to have high levels of good will and support, but taking advantage of them is another matter. Attachment and trauma, or whatever diagnosis one puts on it, are hidden disabilities but with quite profound effects. There must be many thousands or hundreds of thousands of children and adults struggling with similar problems, meeting with a lack of comprehension and negative judgements from a society that is unaware of the nature of these disabilities. We were pleased that Billy came home today seemingly in quite a good mood. Hopefully in very small steps he is edging forwards into future that he has chosen and is actively trying to shape.

On trying not to over react

IMG_1082Jo was bored. Billy spent Friday night at a friend’s house, then phoned very early Saturday morning to ask how he should get home as there was snow on the ground. We checked the trains on-line, all running normally. He eventually made it home by early evening, but in the meantime he had invited another friend along as well, a refugee from building work on his house. That meant that Billy had company all weekend and didn’t need Jo. Jo was bored and stressed. I don’t know quite what happened but there was some incident on-line with one of her oldest local friends, who never wants to see her. Maybe with Billy occupied she had tried to find other company and was disappointed that it didn’t work out. It became apparent on Sunday that she had no intention of returning to school. By the time we took Billy to the station on Sunday evening to make his way back to college we found “my blood is on you all” smeared, in blood, all the way up the white wall of the staircase. On Billy’s bedroom door, along with more bloody finger marks, was the word “Die”. Very jolly! Tony and I were both tired and not in the mood for Jo’s drama-queen antics. We focused on getting Billy out of the house, and assured him that we were not ignoring Jo’s behaviour, we just weren’t sure how to deal with it. He suggested she needed an exorcist.

Part of me wanted to ring her CAMHS counsellor first thing Monday morning to say that we simply couldn’t cope with this sort of thing. Part of me just wanted to tell her off and get her to clean it up the mess, as it seemed indulgent and uncalled for. Billy and his friend had ordered a Domino’s Pizza takeaway after supper on Saturday evening, refusing to share any of it with Jo. On Sunday Jo refused to eat saying that she only wanted a Domino’s pizza. I don’t usually buy them as they strike me as overpriced and not particularly healthy, but Sunday afternoon I had made a special journey to get Jo a Domino’s pizza. This she had turned down on the grounds that it was too small. She had evidently boxed herself into a place where she felt she had to act out her frustrations, as happened so often when she was younger.

Fortunately Tony and I were too exhausted to do anything and Jo was hiding under her duvet, refusing to make contact with anyone. We decided that we would ignore her histrionics, calculating that she was not a suicide risk. I could see some blood on her sheet and broken glass on the floor, but nothing to cause too much alarm. We hadn’t the energy to try to get Jo back to school, and phoned to say she wouldn’t be in that evening. Her housemaster was relaxed about it so we did not feel under any great pressure from that direction. A couple of hours later Jo appeared in the kitchen and presented me with a dirty pink flannel, with which she had evidently wiped the blood off the wall (we have tough wipe-clean paint for good reason). I asked her to move the flannel from the kitchen table to the washing machine, which she did. She then found the remains of her breakfast sausages and the Dominos pizza still in the oven and disappeared upstairs with them. She didn’t say much until this evening (Monday) having slept all day. She is clearly stressed, and has cuts all down one arm, having broken something made of glass her friend had given her, in order to make the incisions.

Part of the problem seems to be Jo’s indecision about going ahead transitioning from male to female. She feels female and just wants people to treat her as a girl, but is finding it hard to accept that she needs medical intervention if people are not going to see her, at least partly, as male. We find it easier and easier to think of Jo as a girl as in personality, and the way she talks, thinks and acts she has always been far more female than male. But one can’t escape the facts of puberty. However she dresses and does her hair, Jo is in a male body. Hopefully taking about it, rather than just acting out her frustration and sense of isolation, will help Jo move forward. I’m glad we didn’t react to her message in blood, even if it was because we simply didn’t know what to do and were too tired to engage with it at the time. You could say it was a call for help, certainly a bid for attention, but not one we would wish to encourage. Being fourteen is never easy, and for Jo there is a lot more to work out than just who your best friend is and why she doesn’t like you.IMG_1084

Sex education and the transgender child

images-6Jo sent me a text wishing me well for my operation yesterday. I was chuffed that she remembered and was thinking of me. I was sitting in the car waiting to go home last night when her housemaster phoned. My first reaction is always, ‘Oh dear, what have they done now?’ but apparently he had a tricky situation that he wanted to discuss. He kindly said that he had phoned me as the ‘voice of reason’. I can see that when staff are close up to a situation it can be difficult to step back and consider the options. This term in Citizenship classes Year 10 are covering sex education. We had received a letter informing us of our right to withdraw our child from this section of the curriculum. Jo had been asked whether she wanted to go with the boys or the girls, and had not surprisingly wanted to join the girls. Some of the girls in the class felt inhibited with what they saw as a boy present, and at least one parent had raised this as an issue with the school. The teacher in charge of Citizenship had gone to the housemaster for advice. Maybe they were hoping we would just exercise our right to withdraw Jo and solve their problems that way, but that would stigmatise Jo through no fault of her own. I reminded the housemaster that if they felt they could not teach Jo as one of the group they had an obligation to provide individual tuition for her to cover the same syllabus with a suitably qualified (female) teacher. He was open to that, but wondered aloud about the competence of any of the staff to take on that role. I also suggested that the school could use this as an opportunity for some wider gender education, and that the Gender Identity Development Service at the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust in London, and Gendered Intelligence, must have plenty of experience they could draw on in this area. I offered to speak to the headmaster to see if he would pay for someone to go and speak to the staff and/or students.

It was also a chance to discuss with the housemaster what Jo had said earlier about feeling it had been left up to her to explain to fellow students about being transgender, and what it meant. She rightly felt that this was not fair. I passed on to him that tutors had not adequately explained to their tutees what it meant to be transgender, and that just saying that Jo had changed her name and would return to school in girl’s uniform wasn’t enough. He conceded that most tutors probably hadn’t explained it as they didn’t understand themselves. We left it that he would talk to the head, but I can see that this is one I will need to follow up. I do hope that this becomes a positive opportunity for some further education rather than just a negative experience of stigmatisation and exclusion for Jo.

Meanwhile Billy continues to avoid classes at college, and the people who could help him, while sending regular texts for more money. He wanted another £20 because he ‘took the wrong bus’ which I think probably translates as ‘had to ask x or y who is over 18 to buy tobacco for me and pay them to do so’. I continue to urge him to speak to his tutor or leaning support teacher about issues he has with attendance. He did say he was feeling overwhelmed, but seems paralysed when it comes to doing anything about it. People can only help, however willing they might be, if he turns up. I can’t seem to get that through to him. I have seen the same situation with university students, some of whom are probably exhibiting signs of depression, but they are not my responsibility in the same way and are older, better able in theory at least to take control of their lives. It is hard to know when to stop pleading with and for someone, and just let them get on with making a mess of things.

UnknownWe put the dog pack in kennels for a few days so that I have some post-operative time without them jumping up and pulling on the lead like a husky team. It is blissfully peaceful in the house without them. Much as we love our dogs we never planned to have three large ones. It makes a change to be able to leave doors open or unlocked (the pointer can open every unlocked door), without dogs rushing through the house, muddy feet and enthusiasm everywhere.

Going With The Flow

imagesI thought of calling this post ‘Last Chance Saloon’ or ‘Trouble with Teens’. While walking the dogs I stood by the river and watched the water flow towards the sea and tried to let my anxieties flow away with it. A bit of green plastic was travelling down the middle of the river preceded by a log. It was easy to imagine a mini-submarine on its journey downstream. A heron took off from the opposite bank and buzzards wheeled and called overhead. I had had a sleepless night worrying about Billy and his poor attendance at college. His learning support tutor emailed me yesterday to say that one of her team had seen Billy in college in the morning, but that he hadn’t turned up to the class immediately after this. Particularly frustrating for the learning support worker who had made the effort to be there to help him. I suspect Billy was off to the cinema with some friends. He knows that he has a review meeting coming up next week and that attendance is crucial. Despite this he is only turning up to around half his sessions in a not very crowded or demanding timetable. I lay in bed wondering whether I should send him a text reminding him to go to his learning support class at 9am today, and other lessons, or he would probably be kicked out. I decided against possibly waking him at four or five in the morning with the ping of a text and left it. I then had a phone call from his tutor, telling me what my mind had already worked out, but Billy’s evidently hadn’t. That there was little chance that his teachers would take him for Level Three work next year on present performance, and that if they didn’t think he would pass the year they would ask him to leave straight away. We are back at the same place in an ever-decreasing spiral, with few other alternatives if he miscalculates here, as well he might. Billy is still only sixteen with two and half GCSE passes, no work experience, few life skills, not much self-discipline and expensive habits. Not an employer’s dream, nor an anxious parent’s. There is not a lot more I can do for Billy right now, hence the need to unknot my stomach and let the tension flow out of me and downstream with the flotsam on the river.

Tony did get Jo to school Monday morning after our failure to do so Sunday night. His patience was just beginning to crack after about two hours of cajoling her to get up and dressed, but eventually they left the house at about 9am, so quite a triumph really. I gather they had a useful talk in the car, so maybe it was worth the delay to have that opportunity. Reading this blog had alerted Tony to how socially isolated Jo is at school. The boys don’t really know how to react to her transitioning to a girl, and she can’t socialise with the girls after 9pm when they have to be on their single-sex landings. Tony talked about how this might be an option if she moves ahead with hormone blockers, and wondered aloud whether her reluctance to do this means that at some level she is ambivalent about it. He mentioned an online trans friend Jo follows on social media who still uses his male name and seems to enjoy moving in and out of a female identity. Jo reacted strongly and said that Tony talking about it stressed her, and that when he said things like that it gave her doubts. Tony was able to talk about facing any doubts and fears rather than repressing them, as they would always bounce back to hurt her. If she allowed the doubts and associated feelings to the surface she could have a look at them and come to a decision. Without doing that she was locked in a panic state. Whether she was able to process this advice and act on it is another matter. Tony is hopeful that it could be something of a breakthrough. It is certainly a message we can both reinforce and try to support her in moving ahead in whatever direction she wants to go. Another case of going with the flow, over rapids and around obstacles if necessary. I will try to practice making that the theme of the day.

Stressed Out!

Unknown-1One sometimes hears that bereavement is the most stressful event in many people’s lives, followed by moving house. The thing that sends my stress levels through the roof is children refusing to go to school. Both kids have done this for prolonged periods, making full-time paid work impossible for me. This evening we should have been taking both children back to school but the signals from Jo were not promising. It started early afternoon with complaints about feeling sick and generally unwell. Spending the weekend in the dark playing on her computer or lying in bed with an iPad while snacking can’t help the digestion or headaches. She insisted that this was not the problem. Not taking a very long shower (an hour plus) was another bad sign, as was the fact that at 5pm she was still in her nighty, which she’s been wearing all day. Bringing her English prep to me about the time we were due to leave was a good sign, but was quickly followed by a return to bed and refusal to speak to anyone. My body was pumping adrenaline and I was feeling homicidal by this point, trying hard to maintain a calm exterior. I took Billy back to college (two and a half hours round trip) as he was already sitting in the car having a cigarette. I can’t see his tobacco supply lasting the week. I didn’t want to be in the house with Jo as years of school refusal have taken their toll on my nerves. Although feeling exhausted, at least taking Billy offered me the prospect of some time to myself in the car on the return journey. Walking into the kitchen on arriving home to find a new load of dishes and pans sitting by the sink didn’t improve my mood. Nor did discovering that Tony had not informed Jo’s housemaster that she wouldn’t be returning tonight. He had apparently had a rather odd conversation with a duty member of staff in Billy’s old school, who had eventually asked him which school he thought he was talking to. I have given Tony the phone number of Jo’s housemaster numerous times, and he could also have googled it. It is not the events in themselves that get to me, so much as contUnknown-4inually having to take responsibility for others – I feel the need of some downtime. If I were an animal right now it would be a prickly hedgehog.

The problem is that for years, pretty much all her school career, we have struggled to get Jo to go to school. If we thought home education could work we would have tried it, but she is a non-co-operator and would have simply spent her entire life in bed. As an infant we could use physical force to get her dressed and into school. Once there if not happy, she did not generally appear unhappy, and she is a very sociable child, loyal to her friends, funny and good company. The middle primary school years were particularly hard as she was big enough to resist getting dressed or getting into the car, and out of it again at the other end. We might resort to force – extracting her from the foot-well of the car where she had jammed herself, then locking the car doors, for instance. Until the end of Year 5 I would then have to give her a piggyback across the playground to the school entrance. This process, which started with waking her up about 7am, often took till lunchtime, making a normal working life impossible. I would just have time to go home, have something to eat and walk the dogs, before it was time to pick the kids up again. To say that she has problems with transitions is an understatement. I loved my job, parts of it anyway, and it was good to be in adult company, but finding the time and energy for challenging children and a career was a nightmare.

There have been periods of weeks or months more recently when we began to think that Jo’s difficulty in getting into school was behind us, but sadly not. This is the second time in the last three school nights that we have been unable to get her there. When this happens it is rare that she makes it in on Monday, wiping out Monday for doing anything else, but she generally surfaces by Tuesday – taking out most of Tuesday as well. On the last difficult Sunday, the last week of the Autumn Term, she did eventually get dressed, and her bags were all packed and in the car. It got too late for Tony to come along and share the driving as he had to be up early Monday morning for work. Jo eventually came outside and to stop her going in again I locked the house. She stalked off round the side, in a well-entrenched pattern of behaviour – when little she would run into the garden and hide just as we were about to leave. I sat and waited in a cold dark car. Nothing. Eventually she returned and tried the front door, realised it was locked and went back into the garden. After about an hour in the car I had a phone call from her on my mobile (cell phone) to say that she was in the house. I had to admire her determination, which has never been in short supply. In pitch darkness she had manoeuvred a very large ladder from the far side of the house onto the decking, and up to my study window, then climbed in, leaving the windows wide open on a bitterly cold night. She was back in her bedroom and had no intention of moving. It was about 11pm by this time, and although the school had been alerted and said they would let us in when we arrived, I wasn’t up to a long drive there and back again by that point. One-nil to Jo! I revel in the fact that the children can now put themselves to bed, as bedtimes were awful, but it will be so good when we no longer have to persuade reluctant children to go to school, for them as well as for us.images

Family Time

imageIt is not often that we do something together as a family, but this evening we actually sat on the drawing room carpet and spent a couple of hours playing World of Warcraft Monopoly. The children were bored, and could find nothing better to do than annoy each other. I suggested we play the new Monopoly and they jumped at the idea. It’s good to know that we can still just about manage to do something as a family. It needed two parents present, and the language and what passed as conversation between Jo and Billy resembled a toxic ping-pong. Nevertheless it was an enjoyable evening. No one cheated too outrageously or sabotaged the game. Losers retreated in good grace. Once it was finished and packed away the children returned to annoying one another and had to be separated. Billy wanted me to watch him play Grand Theft Auto in his room. Watching Billy on the X-Box isn’t exactly my idea of entertainment but it is a while since he asked me and I’m glad that he still wants the company. I could at least admire the graphics and imagine myself in sunny California instead of chilly, dank England.

I remembered one of the last occasions we sat and played together on the same floor. The children were about four and six, and I had had a series of phone calls asking whether we would be prepared to record something for National Adoption Week to go out on regional TV news that evening. Their production schedules were obviously very tight, and I was unhappy about doing anything without the children’s consent. They were at school and the TV crew wanted to be there when they got home and take a few minutes of film with a voice-over commentary in order to promote adoption. Not only was there the issue of consent, but the children would generally arrive home tired and grumpy and be quite hard to handle. However, I finally agreed and had a word with the children as I collected them from school. I tried to explain what would happen and what it could mean if people they knew saw the broadcast. They were delighted with the idea, and for the first and last time we sat down to play a board game as soon as they arrived home. I think they just managed to hold it together for the two or three minutes of filming before the scene disintegrated into the usual chaos. The next morning several staff, parents and children who had seen the piece on TV greeted them both as celebrities, and Bily and Jo revelled in the attention. Most of those who saw it wouldn’t have known that they were adopted, so it was quite a nice way of introducing and normalising the fact.

I have over the years responded to requests to speak to adoption preparation groups but the offer has never been taken up. I rather assume that when discrete enquiries are made the organisers of these groups decide that our family experience is too complicated or not sufficiently positive to pass muster. It’s a tricky balance. One doesn’t want to put off prospective parents, and I remember myself being frustrated at what seemed to be a generally negative view of adopted children. On the other hand, I’m not sure that new adopters are well served if their expectations are unrealistic, or the stresses and strains of what usually turns out to be therapeutic parenting underplayed. The support available for adopters is still pitiful in most areas, so there is a natural tendency on the part of social workers to talk about attachment issues, or the need to set boundaries, in the abstract or hypothetically, but not reveal the full extent of particular children’s trauma and needs and what this can mean in terms of parenting for many many years to come. Perhaps writing this blog is my response to this conundrum.

Reflections

images-3What children say or show doesn’t necessarily reflect what they are thinking and feeling. We get used to the kids acting out whatever is going on, but like all teenagers and indeed all people, they have at internal life that is less visible. Tony’s conversation with Jo on the way home from school today revealed that she had indeed been aware of my intended operation and was concerned at the delay. She had seen a letter from the hospital on the kitchen table a few weeks ago, and volunteered that even with a benign tumour postponing an operation is not a good idea in case it becomes malignant. She also remembered that both my sisters had operations last year for cancer, and wanted to know whether the hysterectomy I had many years ago was because of cancer (it wasn’t). I know from similar conversations with Jo that she worries about her birth mother’s health as well. I usually only hear after the event if her birth mother texts or phones me to say that she has been ill, generally as a result of the toll her addictions have taken on her body. I might say something to Jo, but not enough I hope to cause too much concern. I keep in mind that if Jo’s mother were very seriously ill I would at least like to give Jo the chance to meet her. It wouldn’t be a great time to see your birth mother after many years, but she might also regret missing the opportunity, even though at the moment she doesn’t feel the need to meet her. They have not had direct contact since before Jo came to us as a baby at 11 ½ months old. Tony and Jo also talked about the effects of her FASD, and Tony explained  how much she had improved and learned to compensate for its effects, and would continue to do so. He reminded her of an occasion many years ago at a children’s party. They were playing ‘Simon says’, an imitation game. Jo’s reactions were about two seconds behind the other kids, as it took her longer to process the instructions and react. A couple of years later he saw her playing the same game and the gap had all but closed.

The sound of footsteps in Jo’s bedroom was enough to send Tony upstairs. It sounded as if Billy was in her room, which can lead to a bust-up. In fact she had just spilt very hot gravy over her hand and bedding (lovingly washed and changed by me a couple of days ago), as she insisted on having supper in bed. Half an hour, clean duvet and sheets later, beloved ‘bunbun’ (off-white rabbit) in the washing machine, and burn lotion on the hand, I am just finishing these reflections. Billy too managed to spill his drink all over the kitchen table while eating, covering unread post and magazines. We need a cleaning fairy or elf to follow them around with a magic cloth. Instead all they get is me, bemoaning the mess, and a happy cat licking the remains of the chicken pie and gravy.

Endurance

Today is our wedding anniversary. Thirty-three years ago, in deep snow and ice, I crunched across the road to the church with plastic bags covering my wedding shoes. A family friend cleared a path to the church, just as a few weeks later another friend dug the hole where my father’s ashes were interred behind the same village church. Today is wet and very windy but not cold. Perhaps perseverance is a more appropriate noun than endurance. To live closely with someone for thirty-three years and still be on speaking terms, even enjoy one another’s company, is certainly something to celebrate, but also a testament to a good deal of perseverance on both sides. If we choose with whom we live with and what we want to achieve in life before we are born, then the lesson Tony and I set ourselves was to learn to work together as a team in order to bring up two great but demanding children. Neither of us could have done it on our own. Nothing romantic imagesplanned for tonight I’m afraid, but we might open a bottle of wine with our Tesco Finest meal deal supper.

Tony fetched Jo from school, and she seems in good form, but insists she had a ‘shitty week’. Perhaps she did. Chatting with her in my study there is the usual list of ailments and invisible injuries (all caused by some remembered long-past incident in which Billy did something to her) and renewed pleas for box braids. Some of her schoolmates who are African or of African descent have had their hair re-braided over the holidays, and Jo still hopes that her small portion of Jamaican genes will transform her silky brown hair into something resembling that of her ‘Jamaican sister’ or Nigerian friend. Unfortunately as we live in a largely white area there is no expertise in box-braids among the numerous local hairdressers. We could venture further afield but that requires Jo getting out of bed during working hours and then having the courage to present herself in a salon. Public appearances in new places, not knowing how people will react to her, are stressful and generally avoided. If possible I tip them off that my daughter is transgendered, and have never met with anything but kindness. The last visit to the opticians was not, however, a success. The optician referred to her as ‘he’ and she wouldn’t go back to collect her glasses. I had to get special permission to fetch them without her getting a fitting, having explained the circumstances. I am willing to find a suitable hairdresser for Jo, but not prepared to make endless appointments that are never kept.

Both children had evidently forgotten that I was supposed to be in hospital today for an operation. At least they hadn’t been worrying about me but I would like to think that they were at least a little concerned! Billy made numerous phone calls and sent texts worrying about how he was supposed to be getting home. We had discussed this last Sunday; he would get a taxi or lift to the station then get the train home. I would transfer the money in good time into his account, but not so early that he would have spent it all by Friday. Some of the texts and calls involved the fact that he had asked an older friend to buy some tobacco for him as he’d run out. That was the taxi fare gone. He managed to get a lift with his landlady/host, but bought a single train ticket, which costs almost as much as a return. He evidently hopes for a lift back on Sunday night. Its not that we mind giving him a lift but it is a four-hour round trip if we have to deliver both children back to school/college, and Jo has no options other than the car. Billy seemed in good humour when I picked him up at the station. Dressed only in a T-Shirt and jeans he was not surprisingly rather chilly, as well as hungry. The weekend supply of snacks has already been devoured. Whether either child will have room for supper remains to be seen. Both complain at the habit the other has of eating all the food. It’s great to have someone else to blame; we all like to do it. Taking responsibility for oneself can also take a lifetime to learn, and is not a lesson we learn just once. Like marriage it takes perseverance and practice.

Triumph!

imagesDyno-Rod came to unblock the blocked attic loo, which took about 30 seconds. The man then had a go at our washbasin, which was only draining very slowly, but somehow managed to make it worse. The water sat in the basin for a few hours until I decided to have another go with a plunger myself. After several minutes of vigorous plunging, having put in all other plugs and blocked up overflows, triumph, a little whirlpool appeared. A bit sluggish but the water started to drain out. I can cancel tomorrow’s plumber. Further investigations would have involved removing bathroom tiles and other fittings in the only room in the house we have redecorated recently, so glad to be spared that.

That wasn’t the only triumph. I had a planned visit this morning from two women working for the local authority. One is with the post-adoption team and the other works with adopted children via the Virtual School. There is at last some money available for post-adoption support. This meeting was to finalise an application for therapeutic support for Billy and Jo, and discuss what might or might not help. We quickly dismissed another parenting course. Don’t get me wrong, they can be very useful. I do understand that parents are the main resource for bringing up kids and that training the parents is therefore a worthwhile thing to do. There was a general feeling, however,  that there was not much more to be gained by this route. We have attended numerous courses, read a lot, go to support groups, use helplines, tried various therapeutic techniques, some with some success. What is needed now is more direct intervention with the children, especially as they have reached an age at which being a ‘happy family’ together is no longer our goal. We want to keep them apart as much as possible and equip them to go out into the world with basic skills and values. We decided that some sort if mindfulness training would help both children. CAMHS (child and adolescent mental health services) had recommended this for Jo to help deal with the need to self-harm, and to help her focus on school work. Unfortunately it was up to her to download an App and have a go herself, which she would not do. She is very resistant to letting her parents teach her anything, so nothing happened. The proposal is for the Virtual School worker to visit Jo’s school with me to discuss her lack of academic progress, and alternatives to GCSEs. This could include work experience. We also hope that the school might agree do some group work on mindfulness and meditation. They should jump at it, as the Virtual School would provide a person to teach and the funding.

Billy has a review meeting coming up at his College in a couple of week’s time when we can discuss the best way to deliver something similar for him. Mindfulness and meditation could help him deal with migraines and stress. We have also talked about EMD (eye movement desensitisation) for Billy, as it is supposed to help with trauma. If anyone has had experience of these forms of therapy with adolescents I’d love to hear about it. EMD might be simple enough that Billy would cooperate. Anything too demanding of time or energy is a non-starter. The last thorough two-day assessment that we managed to get him to participate in at Bibic in Somerset was very good at identifying his strengths and weaknesses, and probably helped him get his PIP (personal independence payment) but the suggested therapy was rejected. Bibic are heavily into Johannson Music Therapy, which Billy has tried before when younger after an earlier Bibic assessment, but it requires a high level of commitment on his part and he wasn’t prepared to give it a go. We didn’t push it as it would also have cost several hundred pounds and after paying for the assessment we had run out of money anyway. It was really good to talk to two women who understood what it is like to parent traumatised, troubled teens. It makes a refreshing change as so often we have either had “I don’t know how you cope”, “it must be terrible”, “I couldn’t do it” (not very helpful when you are looking for professional support) or suggestions that our parenting style was the main cause of their problems. We have also come to realise that there are no magic solutions. The kids just have to grow up and make their own way in the world. We can help them with baby steps and try to get as much appropriate support as possible. The rest really will be up to them.

IMG_1066Despite the dark, dreary winter drizzle the chickens are aware of the lengthening days. They are upping the laying and two Silkies have gone broody. I had seven eggs yesterday, and five today. Last year’s chicks are still a bit young to lay, and the little black Pekin bantam is definitely too old. Others like the Cotswold Cream Legbars are very seasonal layers. My little Silkies do, however, keep going throughout the year and only really stop when broody, which they are frequently. I don’t think my Bluebell or Burford Brown hens stopped laying either, nor the two rescued hybrids. They all slowed down a bit but we have never run out of eggs, or not had enough to share with the neighbours.

One of my sisters has sent me a DVD of the Coen brothers version of Fargo, which lasts about 90 minutes. This should just be long enough to make inroads into the ironing. I finally managed to clear the clothes off Jo’s floor, put away her decorations and remake her bed, so all-in-all not a bad day.