Tag Archives: friendships

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!

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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.

Things that keep me awake at night

In the small hours of the morning my mind seems to work with unaccustomed clarity. The house was quiet when I went to bed around midnight and it looked as if the children were all asleep. I was woken about 3am by the sounds of Billy moving around in his room directly above ours. He must have been turning in from an X Box session in Edgar’s room next door. Eventually he settled down, but by then my thoughts were running away with me. Yesterday Billy had arranged for a couple of friends from college to come over with a car. One of them, Mark, at 17, is the proud possessor of his own set of wheels. The plan was for Billy, Edgar and two col2004_Proton-GEN-2_2004-06lege friends, Mark and James, to go off together to a nearby town to hang out, or shop, or do whatever teenagers do. Billy was keen to show off his new friends to Edgar and having someone with a car obviously carries prestige. They should have been at our house about 2pm, but then it was delayed till 3.00, and then delayed again, and again. Eventually a car arrived about 6.30pm, by which time it was pitch dark and too late to have an outing. Billy’s friend James, who had stayed with us before, came into the house but Mark, the driver, who we have never met, stayed in the car. Then they all disappeared to visit Ewan, Billy’s one remaining  friend from primary school who lives locally. They were back about 10 minutes later as apparently Ewan was about to have supper. The car and its passengers left. Billy seemed a bit deflated. I asked whether his friends had got lost, but apparently James and Mark had detoured to pick up another lad, Ellis, who we hadn’t met or heard of before. They had to leave to drop him home, wherever that was. Billy had been anxious about how much money he had in his account, and said he had to pay for the petrol. He had £30 as I had transferred it as contingency money for his trip to his birth mother’s last week. The only reason the money was unspent was that Billy had lost his bank card, which I found in the pocket of a pair of jeans as I was about to stuff them into the washing machine.

imagesLast night Tony and I just felt bad for Billy that his social plans hadn’t worked out. The lads were disorganised, as teenage boys can be, and Billy’s chance to display his new life to Edgar had fallen rather flat. But in the clarity of the night my mind was racing, putting two and two together, and perhaps making five. The anxiety about money made me uneasy as I’m usually picking up Billy’s nervousness about it. I remember in primary school when he kept saying he needed £1, but wouldn’t say what for. It eventually emerged that he had kicked or thrown a ball belonging to another child into a hedge, and the boy was demanding that he pay for it. We told the school staff who had a word with the child about extorting money from other children. In Year 9 I remember a parents’ evening when Billy kept nagging me for £20. It turned out he owed money to some Russian kid who had probably been supplying him with alcohol or drugs. We never go to the bottom of it, but the anxiety about needing money and the sense that he could be in trouble was familiar.

So as I lay there in bed it seemed possible that the unknown third person in the car, Ellis, had been supplying drugs, which Billy needed the money for. The visit was less about going out together than gaining access to a supply of ‘weed’. I asked Billy this morning whether he had paid for petrol, and he told me he had given James £20, or they couldn’t have got home. This seemed totally unreasonable for a 5-minute car ride, and an afternoon kept waiting. I said as much, and checked with Edgar whether the third lad in the car was also at college with Billy, but I didn’t want to put Edgar in a spot by asking him to split on his friend, the worse crime a child that age can commit apparently.

Billy admits to smoking weed, but we have never found it on him or learnt where he gets it. I’ve no doubt it is easy enough to get a supply. It was in our day, growing up in the 70s, and things don’t seem to have changed in that respect.

I had wanted to go out and see the boys (I didn’t know at that point that two of them had remained in the car). Tony persuaded me not to, that the last thing a teenage boy wants is to introduce his friends to his mother. I wish I’d listed to my instincts. I feel much safer if I know who comes and goes, and can make my own judgment as to the kind of people Billy is mixing with. I was still going round in what seemed like increasingly probable circles in my mind when the remaining little Barbu d’Anver bantam cockerel decided to start crowing at 5.18. Fortunately he only made about half a dozen strangled cries, otherwise he would have been despatched like his even noisier brother. I eventually got to sleep after 6am, shortly before Tony got up and the dogs started barking, but dozed till about 10.00.

On a happier note, I had a good evening with Jo last night. She had wanted me to watch a film with her on the iPad the day before, and I’d suggested we watch it together yesterday. We settled down in front of the TV, and with numerous stoppages to cook meals for people, we did laugh our way through Tammy. I though it was being streamed for free, but Jo did admit she’d just gone to Box Office, so we will be billed for it. At least we enjoyed the film, as there are generally long lists of Box Office downloads that they haven’t even bothered to watch, many of which we have anyway on DVD. It will be good when both children are earning their own money and are a little less profligate when it comes to spending ours. I just hope tonight is more restful. At the end of the day Billy is growing up and there are limits to what we can do other than be here, and try to put some sort of rules and values in place. He is a mixture of secrecy, deception, dependence and naïve vulnerability, which I find makes it hard for me to detach from him. There’s not much relevance to this last photo – other than that its pretty high on the cute scale and I love animals.

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Not So Holy Innocents

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

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

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

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