Tag Archives: adopted teens

Tough Love

15th March 2016e600657aee65448904e94b3e9c19d93f

Dear Billy

We are really proud of you the way you have started to make some changes in your life, and we have had glimpses of the happier Billy we used to know. This weekend was, however, very difficult and exhausting. It was good to have a more normal night’s sleep on Friday, but then you spent most of Saturday, Sunday and Monday nights awake. For most of the time during the day you were in bed or asleep, even missing Jo’s birthday tea on Sunday. There was no opportunity to have a proper conversation with you, and you became increasingly angry and abusive. Refusing to return to your digs on Monday as planned made the situation worse, and meant that you could not attend your course. You left your room in a terrible state, with no attempt to clear up any of the mess.

If you want to come back here again there need to be some real changes.

  1. You must be engaged in education, work or training for at least 15 hours a week, or at least have evidence in the form of a letter or email confirming a start date to do one of these things.
  1. You need to get more help to deal with underlying anger issues. It is up to you how you go about this – whether you go back to your GP and ask for help again, follow up the idea of seeing a counsellor, do some work around the origins of your anger with the practitioner we saw on Friday, follow up Teens in Crisis, or try something else. Again we need to see actual evidence that you have definite arrangements in place. We will pay for therapy if necessary, but it is also possible to ask for funding from the post-adoption fund to cover any costs.
  1. When at home you need to sleep during the night and be up during the day, eat downstairs and be generally more engaged with the rest of the family. You are not to stay in your room all day, just coming down to grab some food. If all you want to do is play on your X-Box, you can do that in the hostel, or elsewhere. We do not want the X-Box coming back here again for that reason. If you are working or studying you too will need a good night’s sleep, as do the rest of the family.
  1. We expect you to keep your bedroom and bathroom in a decent state, with rubbish in the bin, dirty clothes in the laundry basket – or bring them down to wash, and the room left in a state in which I can get in to clean.
  1. We expect you to be polite, and will not accept abusive and threatening language, whether addressed to us or to anyone else.

In terms of the first point, actually committing yourself to some form of activity, you have a week or so before colleges and offices close for the Easter break. If you are thinking of coming back over the Easter holidays at all you have a small window of time to organise yourself.

With love,

Mum and Dad

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I decided not to say anything about the hours of tearful girlfriend Billy said he loved, made feel special – who desperately loved him, who he unceremoniously dumped, or the unkind Facebook posts and trashing of his room – one step at a time. There is a long way to go, starting with dealing with his anger and the causes of his anger. Whether one can do anything about a lack of empathy I really don’t know. By the time Billy and girlfriend went on Tuesday (they should have gone Sunday or Monday at the latest) I was exhausted and traumatised by the sheer volume of negative energy and vitriol that had been unleashed. Feeling desperately sorry for the girlfriend, who is almost certainly better off without him, but who is so vulnerable herself.

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Life Goes On

IMG_0825It’s half term, both children at home. Given their dysfunctional love/hate relationship that’s always stressful, but good news for the dog – one of them at least. Our piggy labrador gets plenty of opportunities to sneak upstairs and eat the cat food. She is masterful, waiting until attention is elsewhere and the doors left open, which sooner or later they always are. Not so good for the cat, who then has to parade up and down in front of me meowing until I notice that her bowl has been licked clean, again.

The kids feel unsafe together, even at fourteen and sixteen, without an adult present. We separate them when possible, or take it in turns to leave the house, but today Tony was working and I was at home. I needed to go to the post office then walk the dogs, and had only been gone about ten minutes when Billy phoned to say that I needed to come home. That they, not the dogs should be my top priority, and he wanted me to take him to get a haircut. He is a long way off being able to walk into town to go to the barbers on his own, and this level of dependence makes him a bit edgy and aggressive towards me. I was in the woods about ten minutes later when Jo phoned. I had to come home straight away because… I forget what exactly but they were squabbling and Billy wouldn’t leave Jo’s room or stop fiddling with her things. Apparently Billy was wearing his only pair of clean jeans, which had a tear in them. He didn’t want to wear them in town, and tried to get Jo to sew them up, while still wearing them. I suggested he change into tracksuit bottoms and I could then mend them quickly  when I got back. This wasn’t acceptable apparently, but I haven’t heard any more about torn jeans so far. Not exactly a relaxing walk. We still approach the house with some trepidation if the children have been home alone – looking out for broken windows, obvious signs of a fight, loud shouts and bangs, or smoke escaping from a door or windows. We had an outbreak of good behaviour when they tried to get me to pay for an Xbox game that they could download onto both their machines. As Jo has very few games that she likes or can play I wasn’t against the idea, but didn’t want it to be a  free gift. I said they needed to do some chores, and they did at least go and tidy their rooms. It’s not exactly doing something for me, but still better than nothing. They continued to phone from Billy’s room to my study on the floor below. Billy was trying to strangle Jo or something. I think they just need the reassurance that I’m still around and within reach as they both have trouble regulating their behaviour.

Billy had taken my letter about having to take responsibility for keeping his bedroom tidy pretty well, and at least made an effort to put dirty clothes in a laundry basket. He had asked for a bigger bin, so I bought a huge orange one meant for horse feed, which he has filled with empty cans and bottles, crisp packets and goodness knows what else. We did have a conversation when he came home on Friday, in which he said that he didn’t want to leave home at eighteen, so I assured him that we weren’t about to throw him out, he just needs to do some growing up. Billy returned to the subject today. The fact that he is nearly seventeen and that before long eighteen will be on the horizon has shaken him a bit. He did say that he didn’t feel mature enough for seventeen, let alone eighteen and the adult world. Billy didn’t come home last weekend. He texted to say he wanted to go to a friend’s house. I tried to get an address and phone number to check up, which was like squeezing blood from a stone. Eventually he said the friend’s dad (the parents are separated) would be away, but that they were both going to the boy’s elder brother. I persisted in asking for a name, number and address, which I was eventually given. I spoke to the brother, who confirmed that he knew Billy, and that there would be no drugs in the house. I looked up the address on google maps, and it was where I had been told it was. I offered to pick Billy up and take him back to college on Sunday – with his weekly supply of tobacco, but he put me off saying he was getting a lift. He did phone from his digs on Sunday afternoon to say that he didn’t have his key and was locked out, and needed tobacco supplies. He was also cold as he only had a T-shirt on. Quite what I was supposed to do about it I wasn’t sure, but I contacted his landlady who was on her way home, and kindly bought the tobacco en route.

It is very unusual for Billy to go two weeks without seeing me, but during last week I had another text telling me that he hadn’t  been at his friend’s house after all, but at Jane’s. This was the first we had heard of her, but either his conscience had pricked him for not telling the truth, or more likely knew he’d be found out sooner or later, and thought it had better come clean. We wouldn’t have objected, with the usual caveats of wanting to know where he was, so not sure why the secrecy. Billy had apparently had a good time, and had been invited to go back over half term, then Jane will come here for a couple of nights. Having extracted a name I did some googling and was pleasantly surprised that they seemed a nice, regular family (which is more than I can say of the last girl we knew about, where we had two very needy kids together). Billy had said Jane’s family fostered, and I take my metaphorical hat off to anyone who does that. Jane’s mum phoned during the week and we had a good chat. I didn’t let on that Billy hadn’t told us that he was with them last weekend, nor that we hadn’t heard of her daughter until a couple of days before. Apparently he was a charming guest, kind and thoughtful. I was torn between thinking they must have got the wrong child and pride, or maybe it was relief, that he could make a good impression when he tried. Perhaps eight years of private education were not totally wasted if there is at least a veneer of social confidence and politeness. I’d like to think that our values have not been totally lost on Billy. He had even told them that his sibling was transgender, although Jane’s mother was confused about which way, unsurprisingly as Billy would have referred to her as ‘he’ and used her former male name. Apparently Jane has an elder brother with a life-limiting condition, and Billy had made a point of talking to him and introducing himself.

Jo in fact is very bored. She hasn’t been to school since 30th January, and can’t decide whether she is going back to her boarding school at all. She did say something about doing chores if she was allowed to stay at home. We are in a limbo, not knowing whether we should be looking for another educational setting or just giving her a chance to regroup. Jo coming out of school coincided with totally running out of money so we haven’t actually paid school fees either. So far the school have been patient on both fronts.  It seems that being told she couldn’t take sex education classes with the girls was a final straw for Jo. Even the thought of school makes her shake, and she had reduced her life to her bed or duvet on the sofa, thus minimising all chance of anxiety-producing situations. She wanted to go to school on Friday to pick up her belongings and say goodbye to a couple of her girl friends. One faithful friend came back with us for a couple of nights. He is quite clingy and misses Jo, finding it difficult to make new friends. She finds this quite difficult as she likes her personal space, but he has been patient and loyal to her, and they play together much of the time on-line. I think Jo realises that if she ignores him altogether she will find herself almost totally isolated. Another reason for going to the school on Friday was a visit from a solicitor specialising in SEN legislation and tribunals. He explained how the new Education Health Care plans that replace the old Statements of Special Educational Need work. It was useful, and if we are going to get Jo back into her current school or perhaps a unit for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties (an EBD school), we will need to go through the application process for an EHC plan. My heart sinks at the thought as it is distressing, depressing, exhausting and very very time consuming and expensive. It shouldn’t be, but it is. I also met the head, who was concerned and obviously wanted to know what was happening. Talking to Tony later, we decided to see if the school will keep her on the books but suspend fees so that we can divert them into paying for a solicitor (notional fees as we haven’t raised the money as yet). We tried three times for a Statement for Jo in the past – or her primary school did on two occasions and we did the last time, and became increasingly cynical about a system which does not work for children by any stretch of the imagination. In retrospect we should never have gone to a tribunal hearing without legal representation, so we won’t make that mistake again.

IMG_1174When I wasn’t trying to walk dogs or manage the children’s anxieties, I was on the phone to the Department of Work and Pensions and filling in forms the length of short novels for Billy’s benefits. There is an enormous amount of duplication in the process as well as people just messing up. They are nice enough when you speak to them but the systems are not adequate to the task, which creates a huge amount of work for claimants. How Billy is seriously expected at sixteen to manage claiming on his own behalf I can’t imagine. Here I am with a PhD and it takes all my time and energy, telephone skills and perseverance. Given that the benefits are because he has learning difficulties, as do many who apply I imagine, the set-up is impossibly complicated. To relax I have signed up for Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s 30 day forgiveness challenge. I could watch the opening video, which only lasts a few seconds, with Desmond and Mpho laughing together on its own. It is a great de-stressant, with Desmond’s lovely infectious laugh. I can feel my stomach unknotting just thinking about it!

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.

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

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.

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.

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.