Friday 30 January 2015

What is normal?

On the whole, we understand Missy's ups and downs.

We know what she will find funny, what delights her, the games she likes to play and we're not bad at shifting her mood (Daddy is very good at this).  A typical day will include laughter, fun, rudeness, NOOOOO!!, slamming doors, games, kindness, anger, doing my hair, screaming, shouting, singing, hugging, frustration. Quite often hitting is included.  A normal week is made up of these typical days, the school routine, one or two chats with teacher, the weekend with maybe an outing or a walk, a request to eat out, a strop if we say not this week.  It's our normal. We can cope with it (mostly).  The definition of normal is 'the usual, typical or expected state'.  Yes, we have a 'normal' life.

In adoption-world, our normal is probably other people's normal.  Talking to SWs, paperwork, hitting heads against brick walls, therapeutic parenting.  But in a parallel universe this isn't normal, is it?  I mean, it's surely not normal for a 7 year old to scream that she'll "hit you, punch you and kill you". It's not really normal for a child to hit their mum several times a week, is it?  

Teacher was quite shocked to hear that Missy had said these things. Oh, it's quite normal in our house, I said. Teacher asked if I was getting support.  No, not at the moment (not professional anyway, of course I get great support from other adopters).  We can cope ok, I said. She looked concerned.  Of course it's not normal for a securely attached 7 year old to behave like this, is it?   I've heard from two friends lately that their 7 and 8 year olds (securely attached birth children) really do act like this.  Now this isn't just a case of "oh all children do that", they too have concerns and we have talked about what we all do to turn the situation around and what might be the triggers.  But for a moment I felt 'normal', I was having a normal conversation about our children.

With Missy, there is, however, the added anxiety of what has happened to birth mum.  Every now and then she'll get teary and worried that BM is by herself with no-one to look after her.  I try to calm her worries and anxieties as much as I can but in truth I can't answer many of her questions about the current state of BM.

This morning, Missy asked to go on the computer and look at something they've been doing in school.  Of course I know that the internet is a minefield and it's normal for any parent to have concerns but as I cleaned my teeth it suddenly occurred to me, with greater significance than before, that now Missy knows how to use Google we need to watch her like a hawk.  One Google of BM name and there will be fireworks!  I don't think it will occur to her just yet to do that but it will come.  We need to be prepared.   It's just that one step on from any parent's normal anxiety about the dangers of the internet.

We always need to be prepared. What is coming up that might worry Missy?  Is something happening at school?   Have we prepared her that someone she doesn't know is coming round to our house later in the week?  Have we talked to her about where we are staying and what we are eating when we go away in half term?   Have I mentioned I'm going out next Tuesday evening and that Daddy will most definitely be here to look after her?

It's all part of our 'normal' life.

Sunday 18 January 2015

Food Anxiety

About a month or so after Missy came to us, we realised she had big issues with food. This blog post explains one epic tantrum and I also talked about in Food (not so) Glorious Food.  We knew there had probably been times when she wasn't fed by birth mum, or was fed at the wrong time of day. We knew she had been fed a lot of sweet stuff.  She was a little overweight when she came to us. But neither the FC or SW said anything about food being a constant feature in her mind, an anxiety that could cause major tantrums.

For quite a while food was a huge issue. Out of 10, it was a 9 at least.. But I'm happy to say that for now her anxiety has greatly reduced, probably 2 or 3 out of 10, on a bad day maybe a 4. I've mentioned in a few posts recently that this food anxiety has reduced and a couple of adopters have mailed me to ask how it was reduced as they have similar issues with their children.

So I thought I'd post the things we've done.  Of course, not all these points may work with your children and I think it could largely depend on the background to their food anxiety. 

1.  Meal times and snack times are the same times every day. Missy's thinking gradually changed from wondering if she'll be fed to knowing she will be fed.  She will still ask when snack time is if we're running late but she no longer constantly asks when she'll next be getting food.

2.  When she came home to us, she would eat her meal very quickly (strange because the FC had said she was very slow).  Calmly, we pointed out she was taking too large bites or eating too quickly. In fact we virtually had to teach her how to use a knife and fork properly and show her the right size mouthfuls to put on her fork.  We did this a lot and praised her when she got it right.

3.  She just didn't understand portion sizes at first and would get angry if we had more on our plates. We calmly explained at what seemed like every meal that we gave her the right size portion for a child. We explained we wouldn't be looking after correctly if we gave her too much to eat.  She gets it now. Only occasionally she'll question the portion size and we will matter of factly say "you have the right size portion for a 7 yr old", leave it at that and change the subject. 

4.  We'd wonder out aloud if her tummy was getting full. Was her tummy sending the right messages to her brain? "I bet your tummy is loving that food and is feeling full now".  At first Missy would of course say she wasn't full. One day we went out for breakfast at a canal side cafe where we all had fried breaky. Missy insisted she wasn't full and kept eating until she was almost green. Daddy had to take her outside. Now I'm not advocating you feed your child until they are sick but in Missy's case she then got what it was like to feel over-full.  Even now I sometimes say "I'm so full, I wonder if you are" or if she is struggling well say that she doesn't have to eat everything on her plate.  I'd say it took nearly two years before Missy really recognised she was full and left food on her plate. I cheered inwardly when she did this.

5. One of the reasons she would clear her plate was because she wanted a pudding.  I think at the FCs she had a pudding every day (plus other junk food).  Daddy and I don't often have a pudding after our meal plus we wanted to move her away from this addiction to sweet stuff.  We don't have puddings during the week, maybe a yoghurt at the most but will have a pudding with our weekend meals and when we go out.  She knows this now and understands.

6. Others eating around her when she isn't.  This still can cause a few issues but so much better than it was.  I remember one instance when a family member gave her breakfast, not realising this wasn't the right thing to do.  I knew it would cause a major tantrum when the rest of us sat down to breaky and it did.  The first Christmas here Daddy came home from work on Christmas Eve, exhausted, hadn't had lunch, and so sat down with a sandwich about 5pm.  Missy sat next to him and stared, he felt like she was burning holes in him.   One thing we started to do was give the the choice - you can either have your breakfast now, or wait and have it with us, or you can have your snack now or wait and have it with Daddy and me. Thankfully we can now eat most of the time in Missy's presence if she has already eaten and I think has just been a matter of time.

7.  Buffets.  For many of our children these can cause difficulties so we always put the food on the plate for Missy, usually a small bit of everything, rather than let her do it and pile it on.

8.  We find the positives in food.  For example, we watch cookery programmes together (she loves Jamie and Mary Berry), we bake a fair bit, we let her try things she may not have eaten before - Daddy and Missy play a little game whereby she shuts her eyes and has to guess what she's just eaten a teaspoon of (obvs not for everyone, a degree of trust needed here), it may be something new like capers or a sauce.  We  took her to a big food market in London where they give out lots of trys and she (we) loved it.  I've started doing a weekly menu planner and I get Missy to help with this.

I think that's all I can think of for now.  If I or Daddy think or anything else I'll add it in the comments.

Probably the main reason for her lessening anxiety is the predictability of food.  We also noticed on holiday last summer that her food anxiety didn't appear at all and put this down to her being so relaxed and having a great time.  She spent hours in the pool and didn't badger us for snack times, recognised she was full and made good choices about food. It was blissful.

By no means has the food issue disappeared.  Life still revolves around food.  She will remember events by what she had to eat and if she knows we are going out to eat then she will continually talk about it.  I wouldn't be surprised if, when she is at secondary school, and has greater access to food by herself, she may well have an eating disorder.  I'm quite sure she'll put on weight and/or become anorexic.  Harsh to think this way already but we have to be realistic.  Of course, she may well have no issue with food whatsoever, although being female I doubt this!   She even said herself yesterday when we were out, "do you remember when I squished your cake, that was silly, it's stupid to worry about food".  But at least, for now, she is moving in a positive direction.


Saturday 10 January 2015

Patterns, pocket money and pilates

Back to school this week. I'm now seeing a distinct pattern with Missy when it comes to starting a new term.

The day before school starts she is erratic, acts like a baby, makes noises, wants lots of attention, tantrums and will say at bedtime she has a tummy ache.  It's not that she hates school because she actually quite likes it. She wanted to go back to school, she isn't a refuser. She was really looking forward to seeing her friends, particularly as we didn't have any play dates in the holidays.

In class for the first week or so I'm hearing that she is chatting a lot, not fully engaged and concentrating. After school she will be grumpy and cheeky and is my constant shadow. This appears to now be the pattern each term until she settles back into the routine.  I know some of it will be down to tiredness. She's well and truly ready for her bedtime by 7pm.  I'm well and truly ready for her bedtime by 7pm.  Some of it will be missing being at home and some will be simply the change of routine.  I've told her every morning as I leave her at school that I will be thinking about her and looking forward to when she comes home, so that we can play Lego/play hairdressers/ do some art/go to M&S Cafe.  I'm not sure if it works but I'll continue to say it anyway.  We also need to remember that at times she regresses.  We had a t-shirt incident earlier this week - we were both busy with something or other and she was screaming and shouting for us to take her t-shirt off so she could get ready for bed. Getting undressed is not a problem for Missy, but I guess for whatever reason that day it was and we didn't handle it well.  Since then if she needs help dressing or undressing then I've helped, which calms her down. Occasionally we really do have to think toddler.

We discussed pocket money with her for the first time today.  She has a few chores to do, including feeding the cats which is something she likes doing anyway and at the end of the week this can earn her £1 (I'm quite sure we'll give it to her anyway).  When we explained that after one month of pocket money she could buy her own hair ties (she'd buy up the whole of Claire's if she could), or after six months she could probably buy a new Build A Bear Workshop toy plus clothes, or several One Direction/Vamps CDs, her eyes lit up! Consequently she's very keen to help around the house this morning.  I'm not sure what the going rate is for pocket money these days but we're sticking at £1.  What do you give, if any?

In other news, I started Pilates this week and Daddy has started badminton again. Not sure if you're meant to ache this much two days afterwards but we do.  I'm hoping the Pilates will help my back and hip so I can then start running again.

Tuesday 6 January 2015


I was lucky enough to attend a private screening of the new Reese Witherspoon film 'Wild' last night.  It's the true story of a young lady called Cheryl Strayed who, following her divorce and the death of her mother, was at rock bottom and  so decided to solo trek 1,100 miles along the the Pacific Crest Trail in the USA.  I really shouldn't have worn mascara as I cried for much of the movie because so much resonated with me.

Similar to Cheryl's life, sixteen years ago my marriage broke up and my Dad died and these events in my life led me to go backpacking around the world.  At the beginning of the film Cheryl says "What the f**ck have I done".  I said exactly the same words to myself as I left my mum behind in Heathrow and walked through passport control.  

There's another scene in the movie where Cheryl is being helped to lighten her heavy backpack and leave things behind that she really doesn't need.  I too left a trail of things behind in my first few weeks in Australia when I realised I really didnt need a wire mesh inside my backpack to stop people pinching things, or an extra flask, or several pairs of shoes (just my walking boots and sandals was all I needed).   Another scene shows her thinking about her mother and the soundtrack is "The Air That I Breathe" by The Hollies - one of my Dad's favourite songs.  I cried again.

I absolutely loved backpacking and it was just the tonic for me at the time.  It was my therapy.  Each time I met other backpackers we swapped stories as to where we had come from and why we were there.  No one judged me, I could absolutely be myself.  My confidence grew again and some of the dark clouds above my head disappeared.  I'm a fairly shy person but I as I figured I wouldn't get another chance to backpack around the world, I said 'yes' to every opportunity. I jumped out of a plane (twice), I did my PADI Rescue Diver certification in the waters under Sydney Harbour Bridge (don't rely on me to rescue you though), and I camped in the Bush. Like Cheryl in the film, I accepted a lift from a complete stranger in Fiji, and was duly offered lunch at their family restaurant. In Bali I stepped away from the tourist trail and found myself in the middle of a cremation ceremony on the beach where I was warmly invited to join in and partake in chicken noodle soup.  

If only I could go backpacking again, but I can't.  So instead what I will take from the movie is the quote "What if yes was the right answer instead of no".  Don't worry, I'm still #takingcare, but yes might mean accepting an offer of support or yes to a girly night out now and stop being a hermit. I've already said yes to coffee with a school mum today and came home with a smile.  In fact I nearly said no to the film tickets because I was offered them at such short notice and the screening was on a school night.  I'm so glad I said yes.  And I'm so glad that another adopter @iris7summer came with me because it's given us a lot of food for thought.

Straight after the film we heard from the CEO of The Wildnerness Foundation who take people on treks into the wilderness, ranging from one day to two weeks, from teenagers to CEOs, people wanting to experience the tranquility the wilderness offers and calm their minds to vulnerable people needing support and self development.  Jo, the CEO, talked in particuar about working with vulnerable children and how being in nature gave them a huge boost.  I've seen first hand with Missy how much she loves walks and being outside, even if she does protest before we go, and @iris7summer had also, last weekend, enjoyed a wonderful walk with her children which had a massively positive effect on her daughter.  I briefly explained to Jo that something along the lines of what she does might hugely benefit us and several adoptive families that we know and was there anything she offered and knew about.  Turns out there is and we are going to see what we can arrange. I'll keep you posted.

And if you ask me if I'd see the film again, then it's a yes.

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