Tag Archives: Christmas

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.

The Perils of Presents

Gifts003Presents are another seasonal minefield, whether birthdays or Christmas. The anticipation invariably ends in anti-climax. We probably try to compensate for the children’s shaky start in life  by giving them too much. We used to tell Billy that the best present was a hug and a kiss, and that he was a much-loved boy. He was never very convinced about either of these propositions. We cope with the continuous demands  by suggesting that they keep a birthday or Christmas list. That way we can avoid saying “No!” which can so easily be mistaken as a rejection of the child, rather than an attempt to curb excessive material wants. Billy at 16 is much better at gauging what he can reasonably ask for and expect, and is generally pleased with it. He is a master at extracting one more thing out of us. He doesn’t like surprises. He wants to choose his presents and see them when they come into the house, so that he is reassured they are really there. Jo is more reflexive about the existential nature of her wants. She knows that material goods will never really fill the hole she feels inside. She is already anticipating ‘the worst Christmas ever’. Almost every birthday and Christmas are the ‘worst ever’. However carefully chosen the gifts  they will be a disappointment. If she is given money Billy will pressurise her into getting something he wants, and she falls for it every time, lured by the promise, seldom kept, that he will play with her. She used to break all her presents as soon as they were unwrapped, then be left distraught, surrounded by the debris. I would spend hours battling with almost impossible to open plastic and tiny screws in order to assemble, charge, and re-wrap toys. I would read and memorise instructions. If they couldn’t be played with immediately they would likely be trashed or discarded. It was more difficult with relatives, as Jo would usually break her gifts in front of them. It wasn’t generally intentional. She  would take things apart, yank and pull at them, and yes, sometimes smash or cut them up to deal with the pain inside. This displacement was probably another aspect of the self-harming that has dogged her since she was small. She would then complain that Billy had far more things than her, and we would patiently list or remind her of all the things that she had been given but subsequently broken. The first real success, about three years ago, was an iPod we gave her for her birthday. Maybe she was just growing older, or maybe it just hit the spot, who knows.

The kids have never yet shown any inclination to buy or make a present for anyone else and don’t do thank you letters (I do those still on their behalf). Jo does like giving gifts to friends. When younger this would generally be my stuff taken from home – jewelry, books, knickknacks. I would only get to know when occasionally a mother would ring up and ask whether Jo really had permission to gift an unusually valuable item. Other things just disappeared. An odd assortment of things also miraculously appear, ostensibly found abandoned somewhere. I’ve done my share of trying to trace the owner and return stuff. The school grounds must contain a wide selection of curiosities judging by the items discovered at the bottom of Jo’s school bag.

IMG_0562There is also the rivalry concerning cards or gifts from birth family members. Billy could not help pointedly asking Jo what she had been given on receiving a card with £20 in it from his birth dad. Luckily I could point out that Jo had received a lovely mouse mat with photos of two of her (half) siblings on it, from the family who adopted them. We used to have regular, if not frequent, face-to-face contact with this family, which meant a lot to Jo. Unfortunately they feel their kids need time to get used to Jo’s gender transition, and don’t want to meet up at present. It must be tough being true to yourself at times.

 

Christmas Decorations

Jo had complained that our house never looks Christmassy enough. The truth is it takes a lot of energy to source the decorations, put them up and then dismantle them. I did my best – we have the usual wreath on the front door and Tony and I selected a Christmas tree that now adorns the drawing room. Billy was happy to help decorate it and put on a couple of baubles. Jo put the angel on the top and then the family, including three large dogs, watched as I did the rest. What passed as happy family banter would probably have this blog blacklisted. The kids have spent their lives honing their insults and aren’t about to stop anytime soon. We then went to Jo’s room as she was getting into the spirit of it. With the help of picture nails and a hammer she wound coloured lights around the top of her room and put up a small artificial tree, producing a pleasingly festive effect. Billy hung around, practising his insults, deftly lobbied back, fiddling with her stuff, but too nervous to either go back downstairs or up to his room on his own. The three of us then went up to Billy’s room on the top floor with some more lights, the hammer and tacks. He preferred to quickly drape the lights over the curtain rails, battery pack hanging off the end. He did allow me to rearrange things a bit, but the two children could not be more different. One careful with a definite aesthetic, the other not quite in control and doing everything hastily as if it had to be got out of the way; or maybe just planning a sequence and following it through is too demanding. I had managed to get into his room earlier in the day when the boiler engineer needed to gain access to the pump in the loft space. While Billy decamped to the spare room I had extracted dirty plates and cutlery, a large bag of rubbish and pile dirty clothes. I also dusted, vacuumed and spent about half an hour just untangling the nest of wires from a TV and XBox, controllers, headphones, computer, mouse, speakers and several cables I couldn’t identify, that formed a huge electronic ball by the bed. He’s only been home three days. Heaven help anyone he might want to live with in the future! If there are any obsessive cleaners out there looking for a challenge, Billy might be your man. image

Birth Family Contact at Christmas

christmas-tree-man-singChristmas is a time when families should be together, and we treasured those early Christmases when the children were small and we could share their excitement. We did learn pretty quickly that too much excitement is overwhelming, and that anticipation, having to wait for things, and surprises can be distressing rather than fun, but we do still look forward to celebrating the festival together.

Christmas is also one of the times that our adoption agreement stated we should have letterbox contact with certain birth family members. This was not particularly satisfactory for a number of reasons, a key one being the slowness and censorship exercised by the local authorities administering the contact, or often lack of it. We have thankfully moved beyond that point. I have booked train tickets for Billy and an overseas friend from his last school, who is coming back to stay with us after Christmas, to visit his birth mother and the half-siblings who live with her. It will be the first time he’s been on his own. He didn’t want to stay at her house, which would be quite a squash, so I have also booked him into the guesthouse we usually use on our annual summer visits. I thought he’d probably like to see his birth dad as well, who lives in the same area with his partner and her two boys. We have just exchanged texts to see if he is free to meet up before Billy and his friend return home. It’s risky, I wouldn’t want Billy to be stood up by him. When we saw them in the summer they invited Billy to a baby cousin’s Christening in October. His dad had been asked to be godfather, and he said he would meet Billy at the station and put him up. October came and went, and I didn’t hear anything. I emailed and texted, no response. Billy didn’t say anything but it was easy to sense his disappointment and feelings of rejection, which I’m sure hadn’t been intended. I was pleased to get a text just now from his dad saying that the Christening had been postponed until after Christmas, so Billy wasn’t excluded or forgotten after all. I know many families are wary of face-to-face contact, and some have very good reasons to avoid it. That hasn’t been our experience, thankfully. All the family members we have met, and its quite a few by now, are kind to Billy, care about him and are proud of him. They are also thankful to us, and it feels more like one big extended family than a painful rupture in relationships between his family of origin and adoptive family. There was a hiatus, certainly, and damage was done, but at least Billy won’t have to wait until he is 18 to do some surreptitious searching. I don’t think any of us would have handled a closed, secretive adoption very well.