Terminating

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Terminator. Photo Getty Images.

Arnold Schwarzenegger as Terminator. Photo Getty Images.

It’s no good. I have tried, but I can’t justify telling the world all about my family’s highs and some very low lows at the same time as promoting my book, with links to the blog here there and everywhere. The possibility that our children will suffer more is not a chance worth taking. So this evening I’ve regretfully cut a swathe through lots of posts past (this one may soon follow) and hope to move on to newer, more honest yet less specific literary pastures very soon….

Thank you to anyone who has bothered to read, like or follow thus far. The old posts will still exist, just not publicly. And I will be back, in some form or other and possibly even right here on the beach, very very soon.

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Dog Blog

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I haven’t blogged of late. Not because things have been particularly difficult (although they have, from time to time), nor because I have nothing to say (I do! I do!), but because in the last month our home life has been turned upside down by a small dog named Dorothy.

It has been a bit of a shock. We are not, or were not, ‘doggy’ people. We got annoyed with the dogs who barked as we ran past and the owners who didn’t pick up their dogs’ poos. We often found the smell in doggy houses rather unpleasant and if I’m perfectly honest, we probably thought most doggy people were a bit soft in the head.

When the children started to badger us for a dog, we found every reason we could to dissuade them. Along with all the arguments listed above, there were: We won’t be able to go abroad on holiday; you will argue over it; it will wreck the house; it will upset the cats; there are too many dogs around here already; it will molt everywhere; we will end up having to look after it, not you; it will be very expensive. And each of these points has already proved itself to be true. But…

Our sad eyed bundle of fur has already given our family an almost indescribable boost. Indeed I feel quite overwhelmed (in a slightly teary and really rather soft-headed way) thinking about how our lives have changed for the better since she came to live with us. The parallels with adoption are there, although unlike our children, Dorothy was one pampered pup (we’re talking Farleys Rusks and warm goats milk at bedtime) before she came. Still, like our children Dorothy has had to leave all she knew before and make a new life for herself here with new owners and without her mum, dad, brothers and sisters. So we are in familiar’ish territory there at least.

And our daily lives have once again been transformed, for better and worse! For a start, she has given us a whole new routine: We get up early to feed her and take her out and plan our day around her (alongside the children’s school and activities, of course) so at the very least we are ready earlier, getting more fresh air and more exercise. She has given our family a new focus and dynamic – we no longer put all our attention onto the children’s behaviour and, although both have complained that they get less attention, they also love her and are slowly accepting that there might be more to our home life than their own needs and wants. It’s hard to be cross when she nips or wees on the carpet, after all, she’s just a baby! – our baby – and sweet as a nut, which helps.

Most importantly (and thank you Mizz for pointing this out before we got her because it really tipped the do-we / don’t-we balance in her favour) she gives us all endless, unconditional love. Being joyfully greeted every time you come down stairs or back from the shops with the waggiest tail, the sloppiest licks and softest cuddles, really is all it’s cracked up to be and makes us feel truly, specially blessed. Seeing daily behavioural changes based on our actions and their consequences is an added bonus! And coming as she has when our children are at their puberty-approaching grumpiest, the timing could not have been better. What is picking up poo with a bag when you are used to scraping it off the walls? Barking? Pah! Chewed furniture and wet doggy pong? Bring em on! Thank you Miss Dorothy. You have changed my life.

In the doghouse

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Today was supposed to be the day I went over the sea and far away to collect our Dorothy doglet.

Alas, due to what Lemony Snicket would describe as a series of unfortunate events, it was not to be. Not today anyway. The high winds, the seasick sister, the doting breeder who now has ‘concerns’ and the needs of the poor wee pup have all conspired against us.

Such a change of plan (helpfully described by my husband as ‘a monumental cock-up’) on the first day of a new half term has caused untold misery shaynoo this morning. Thankfully I was able to get Blue into the car before breaking to him gently halfway to school that there would be no welcome woofs on his return. I was called a few nasty names (worrevs) but in truth he was more worried about how his dodgy knee would bear up in football training.

Red was a different kettle of dogfish altogether. She cried, she screamed, she hollered, she swore, she banged plates on her head and emptied the contents of my bag all over the kitchen in a furious explosion of untethered ire. Not having slept a single wink in anticipation of this moment, I miserably accepted her wrath, foolishly thinking my doleful resignation would pacify her at least somewhat. Ha! In my dreams. Next, she stole my phone and sent rude texts to aforementioned (extremely forgiving) sister, refusing to walk to school or even leave the house. Somehow, I persuaded her out with a promise of a lift, but she was still seething and only calmed down enough to drag herself out of the car and into school about 20 minutes after ‘in time’, stomping past the office hatch and emitting one last grunt of an insult through clenched jaws as I was informing them of her absence.

I should say that we had already rearranged to pick up the wee doggie next weekend when we can all travel together and take turns cuddling her all the way home. The doting breeder thinks that is a much better idea, as does Elmo, as do I. And I did tr-r-r-yyyy to tell my children this. Never mind that today’s seas are too rough, the timings are all wrong and our car is so filthy it is likely to give the unvaccinated puppy any number of life-threatening diseases. I am a fatbitchnotmyrealmumfromhell with a horridstupidfatseasicksister and, for the next five dog-free days at least, I will just have to PAY.

REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL, parts 1-20

IanDuryTo be honest, this has not been a good week. So I hope you will excuse this self-indulgent and frankly, surprisingly long list on the basis that it has allowed me to name and count my not-inconsiderable blessings in a climate of dense gloom.

  1. It looks like the children’s book I have been writing with a friend may well be published. Still in shock, nothing signed, but feeling tentatively cheerful about that.
  2. We are probably-almost definitely-maybe getting a doglet. Going to see one next week. On my own. On a hovercraft – weeeeee – another tick off the bucket list. Small pleasures!
  3. Our sanctuary of a bedroom in the loft. My place of peace with four big windows from which I can see for miles in all directions. Heaven.
  4. An amazing app called Night Sky. I can point up at the stars from my bed and find out what I’m looking at. Apps are pretty amazing things full stop really, aren’t they?
  5. Our boy Blue. Our girl Red. We have our moments, some of them hideous, but there are good reasons for most. We are getting there and they make me happy too.
  6. Elmo and I are going out tonight! Wooohooo! Paaaaarddddayyyy.
  7. Maps: a pleasure inherited from my daddy.
  8. Our family, on both sides. We love them and, whatever the crap, they love us back, unconditionally. They are happy, smiley, positive people too, which helps.
  9. Yoga. I just GET it. These days I even like the breathing and the funny long names. It makes me feel alive and content and temporarily in love with whomsoever is leading the session, even if she is on YouTube.
  10. Our incredible local friends, most of whom we met through the children, an unexpected benefit if you like. I really don’t know what we would do without them. They are a godsend. (Note to self: They are probably getting fed up with the unrequited rescue requests. Throw that thank you party SOON.)
  11. Talking and texting to my sisters in pseudo-European-gobbledegook.
  12. The online adoption community, Gawd bless us. They (you / me) truly understand and are only ever a tweet away. Instant therapy, sunshine or guidance as required.
  13. Planning holidays and trips away. One of life’s most indulgent pleasures (I browse haaaard). In another life, I think I could be a bespoke travel agent.
  14. Walking in the countryside. The joy of nature, as my teachers used to call it. Thank you. I get it now.
  15. All the music iTunes and Spotify can give me instant access to on demand. Singing together, wherever. Dancing, when possible. Old tunes, new tunes, Radio 1-6, I can even enjoy Kiss FM in short bursts. Lately though my preference, while sitting alone in the car or very occasional bath, is Radio 3! Ahhh, the orderly, complicated, measured, harmonic beauty of it all. I really must be getting old. Talking of which…
  16. Old friends who make me feel that I am somehow still whoever I once was. We happily accept the wrinkles and other changes we see as the years pass because we can also see and remember that younger more vibrant us inside each other. Wonderful.
  17. Multicultural Britain, particularly the great mix of children and families I work with and the Turkish shop at the bottom of our road. I can buy almost anything there, fresh and cheap and it smells just like our friend Kemal’s shop in Istanbul. Yay!
  18. The sacred and the profane. I am not religious and I’m not even very spiritual but I do relish the few moments I’ve experienced of that peace which passeth understanding, at least I think that’s what it was. I love holy places of all persuasions (I include no.14 among those) and admire the wisdom, kindness and courage of many who embrace faith, even if I can’t quite do it myself. I’m also strangely drawn to religious symbols and icons, including the cheesy variety. In fact, the cheesier the better as far as they are concerned. Aaaaaamen.
  19. My beautiful, kind, clever, hard-working, young(ish) husband Elmo Stickle. Although the height of passion these days has become snuggling up in our den watching whatever series we are into at the time – I would say Wolf Hall but he keeps falling asleep – he still makes me very happy indeed.
  20. Being old and proud: I got a letter the other day saying my not-very-sizeable pension comes into fruition this year. That made me laugh out loud! I really don’t care anymore what other people think. I already wear quite a lot of purple.

The joy and the pain

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I spent part of my weekend at the Severance exhibition at Family Futures in Islington. If I write this quickly enough and you happen to live in London and are interested in adoption, I would thoroughly recommend you pop along.

Severance is the brainchild of Amanda Boorman, director of The Open Nest, a charity that represents the experiences of adopters, adoptees and birth families and encourages an ongoing and creative dialogue between them and the professionals who control and guide us through the adoption process.

It is this creativity and openness that separates The Open Nest from most of the other adoption support charities, all of which have their place but none other of whom have moved much beyond the blog to actively encourage artistic expression around the topic of adoption by and for the people it most affects.

Amanda and a team of dedicated friends and colleagues have collated – and continue to collate and show around the UK – a remarkable selection of paintings, graphic images, photographs, films, installations, tapestry and sculpture – which offer a poignant, no-holds-barred view of adoption as it is experienced by artists who are also part of an adoptive family.

You are welcomed into the space by huge storks with ceramic heads attempting to carry ceramic babies wrapped in muslin out of a bureaucratic landscape tied up with red tape; further in, a series of framed hand-scrawled spider diagrams call on a mum to ring the crisis team. There’s a half-finished tapestry version of another child’s note embroidered with the words ‘I’m stupid, I hate me’ and a life-size child made entirely from bags.

As well as showing the warts-and-all side, these and many of the other exhibits are also poignant and beautiful. A vintage dressing table covered in tiny storks delivering babies recalls many adopters’ long-lost fantasy of birth children; A recreated kitchen piled high with half a century’s different washing powders reflects the overwhelming barrage of new smells and other ‘familiar’ experiences which adopted and fostered children are subjected to each time they move on. A looped film relives the very real moment when an adoptee meets her birth parents again in a dark corridor…

For my family, this trip was also an opportunity to re-visit Family Futures, the place where we started learning to heal and which has already helped our family immeasurably. Ironically or not, a lot of our therapy there was arts-based and it was there we last made our own family installations, sculptures, films, drama, paintings and music. Apart from anything else it was just wonderful to sip Earl Grey tea, drink juice and chomp on biscuits in that special place with our lovely therapist and chat with her and other adopters and adoptees about everything from art and politics to the challenge of curly hair for the straight haired parent.

Being there this weekend has made me want to envision, create and share more of our experience. Try to see this extraordinary show as it makes it way around the country. Better still, book it into your local gallery, school, library, anywhere that will display it. As it gathers pieces and its own momentum, it can only inspire more understanding and support for those whose life is in some way affected by adoption – and one way or another, that’s most of us.

‘Severance’ is at Family Futures, Floral Place, London N1, 11am-6pm, 15/16 November 2014.

Touch Wood

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Before I was a parent, in fact well before I’d even met my husband, I only had one proper, if somewhat amorphous, goal: I wanted to be a happy mum, eeking out a living from teaching, writing bits and bobs and selling homemade fudge from an old ice cream van at festivals. In between all that and having fun with my family I would be walking the dog, tinkering on a piano and pottering around an easel with a paintbrush in a white house with big windows, surrounded by green grass and trees, wearing only a kaftan and dangly earrings.

So far, life hasn’t quite worked out like that (perhaps fortunately, in the case of the kaftan) but lately – and I shudder to write this, tempting as it does the hand of fate – things have been feeling pretty darn good. You never know, one day soon I could even be ticking some of those wishes off my bucket list.

Since Django changed schools a few weeks back, yes, there have been a few wobbles – it hasn’t and never will be completely plain sailing and there are SATS to contend with for heaven’s sake – but there has definitely been a palpable shift in his mood and (dare I say it?) his resilience. Could it be he is growing up?!

Last night he cooked tea. Not cake, nor bread, nor anything remotely involving flour or sugar. No, he made a salad. And this miraculous salad, which he made following a RECIPE (shock horror gasp), even contained ingredients that he doesn’t usually enjoy eating, like avocado and cold cooked chicken. Still more wondrous, my little Roux-boy consciously made a dish that complemented the meal I had already planned (lamb kofte and new potatoes, as it happens). He worked WITH me, in the Stickleberry kitchen, for nearly an hour with NO anger, NO controlling, NO attention deficits, NO handstands, NO keepy-uppies, NO terrible mess, NO zooming off halfway through to watch the telly, NO refusing to clear up and absolutely NO forgetting to go to the toilet. And the resulting meal was delicious too! I was soooo happy I nearly burst the seams of my ill-fitting, imaginary kaftan.

I don’t want to burst any bubbles at the same time, but the flip side is the effect Django’s change of mood/demeanour/approach has had on Red. In her mind’s eye (and often ours) SHE is the calm, wise, resilient one who knows how to behave, focus, problem-solve and COOK, dontcha know? Django taking on her sensible role leaves her some space to be angry, a space which she is taking up with gusto. Even this has its uses because she does tend to bottle things up but she is also left questioning her usual identity, and so feels doubly lost and fearful. All this on top of and because her older brother, the only one who has always been there, is no longer around at school to protect (or be protected by) her.

But we’re aware of that, and giving her extra love and time too, to counter the meltdowns. The truth is we are all in a far, far better place than we have ever been. I’m even considering inviting some friends round! Our smiles are wider and we’re breathing more deeply – and for however long it lasts I want us all to remember this feeling because like this is just how we want our lives to be.

Posted in The Adoption Social / Memory Box  / 19 May 2014

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