Since becoming a mum I have had a few weird conversations with friends who praise me for adopting Split Pea, for being so altruistic and kind. I am? How lucky she is to have been saved by me and given a new and better start in life. OK thanks. That I am a wonderful human being, for adopting a stranger’s child, somebody else’s child, a child in care. FFS…Really?! Apparently I am so lovely and kind for taking Split Pea into my life that I have taken to checking if indeed there is a halo hovering above my head which in theory should be so large, getting myself through doorways would need careful planning. These are good people and the praise is meant well so I accept graciously and wonder if they realise Split Pea was not ‘obtained’ from the local rescue home for strays. (I was even asked if I had changed my mind or keeping her) Then these conversations usually end with: But I could never adopt myself! To which my silent reply is always: I agree. You should not adopt child, a puppy maybe but a hurting child I think not. Then I get the unsolicited excuses including: It wouldn’t be same as having my own child, how they would want a child who looks like them and has the family nose. To which my silent rely is: No definitely don’t adopt! Then I get the awkward apology for not wanting to adopt. My silent reply is: Err… I didn’t ask you too! About half of my friends, male and female, are single, working, independent and many are unhappy about it. Some are resigned to not meeting the special one to spend the rest of their lives with, others are on the verge of a breakdown at the prospect. Not all want children but I feel most have the qualities to be great adoptive parents yet I have never told them that or suggested to any of them to consider adoption as I don’t feel it’s something you can decide to do lightly. I believe the idea has to start from them and grow into a want so great that fears of what others think, the prospect of uncertain finances and never dating again fade away and being a parent to a vulnerable child is your only goal. From friends comments I have realised there are many people who do not have the ability to love or even like a child who is not genetically related to them, I am eternally thankful that I do. I have child less friends who long for a child but are convinced they could not love an adopted child because that child didn’t grow within them, I am grateful that I can. I am so lucky to be able to look at Split Pea and know I love her and would give everything I have to keep her safe, despite us not sharing DNA, most people wait a life time to feel that way about somebody. Ok, turns out my somebody is no Brad Pitt look alike but I’m not fourteen years old, with teenage dreams anymore. While some of my friends enter midlife holding on to that teenage dream/angst I feel lucky that I have moved on enough, to allow this little girl to come and enrich my life. I have found I have had to clarify that I didn’t adopt because I was single, lonely, desperate for a child, desperate for a partner to have a child with, afraid of being alone in the future or wanted to be like Madonna, Angelina or Sandra B. I adopted because I was the happiest I had been in a long time, and willing to share that, I wanted to give unconditionally love as a mother and adopting a child who needed that, made clear sense to me. Whether that child returned love was not a major concern at the time, I just felt ready after years of thinking about and finding reasons not to, to finally go to the presentation evening and I have never looked back. I didn’t look around me either to see or worry or ask what others thought, my mind was made up, I knew it was why I had reached that point in my life and gone through the previous years of personal strife to know it was what I wanted to do. That Split Pea came to ME! is the greatest luck I have had in life and nothing can surpass that, her presence has made me un-expectantly content despite the ups and downs we’ve had so far. Somehow we have found each other and as far as I’m concerned I’ve stuck gold, won the Euro and Strictly Come Dancing all at once! Two years on, among the ‘old’ friends one still sees my adoption as me giving up on a previous life somehow (career, wine bars and dating are on the back burner but I’m fine with that) while another friend has been ‘inspired’ to adopt but like me it was something she had long thought about as well as experienced adoption within her own family. Reasons for choosing adoption as a single person are varied and many, and among adopters I’ve met, rightly private. There are no desperate or last chance choices here, I doubt we’d have made it through the home study if that was the case. Whatever the reason we adopt I feel it’s not to be overly lauded or ever pitied, in many ways it’s a gift of new life to all family and friends involved. They say it takes a village to raise a child so just help us celebrate and enjoy before the teen years hit!
Split Pea had a spectacular crash on her scooter earlier in the year. As she disappeared down the other side of what I suddenly realised was a steep hill, I started to run after her. I knew there was little I could do to stop her as I watched her pick up speed, wobble slightly then cry out as she lost control and let go of the handles. The scooter sped off and she was not far behind it tumbling a couple of times before she was laid still, flat on her stomach. I reached her expecting to see half her face scrapped off on the tarmac or a broken bone, while trying to figure out where the nearest A&E was, so I was relieved and grateful to see that aside from a small gash on the side of her head she was physically fine! She was also bruised, frightened and confused and immediately I wanted to cuddle her better and make her feel safe again, that’s what children want their mums to do…right? But as she howled in my arms she didn’t turn to me, she turned and reached out to a stranger. A passing man had kindly stopped after witnessing her fall to see if she was ok and Split Pea held out her arms to him for comfort. Crying uncontrollably she wanted this man to cuddle her and make her feel safe again because for her that’s what grown ups do right? Not just your mum, anyone with a kind face will do. I was shocked at the time as I thought we’d crossed that bridge of the indiscriminating hugging and kissing she did when first placed over a year before but here was a reminder that my child was different. I still recall how I held tightly onto her as she leaned towards him and he almost reciprocated her pleas for him to cuddle her, what must he of thought? Eight months later, her head on the outside has healed but I accept that what goes on inside her head will take longer. We now have a couple of official names for her behaviour including an attachment disorder which I’m still trying to understand in terms seeking help and support for us both. Attachment is rightly a big issue within adoption, as a parent it brings fears of a future of rejection and never achieving that much talked about parent/child bond. I admit I have spent time thinking about worst scenarios, wondering what would become of us if we don’t have this all important attachment? However a few weeks ago I came to a sudden realisation while watching her playing with a family friend and seemingly ignoring me, that having an attachment issue does not mean Split Pea does not love me. In fact I realised that she does actually love me in her own muddled way; that she wants, not just needs, me to be her mummy and that she wants to be loved by me and give love to me, attachment disorder or not. I knew I loved my little girl from our first day of intros, maybe at first like an aunty and a favorutie niece but it was a love. Today I love her unconditionally as my pride and joy, although I have never given birth no one can tell me different. It’s not like the Gilmore Girls in our home but we share daily hugs and kisses, I now make a point of telling Split Pea I love her or love something about her everyday, sometimes she tells me she loves or likes me but frequently responses with a comfortable indifference. I imagine I would still love and hopefully still like her if she told me the opposite. I, at least, am attached for the long haul, maybe that’s enough for now.
Just remembered it’s time for the writing of the contact letter. This is our third and we have only had a reply to one which from I’ve read and heard is pretty good going. Again it will end up sounding like a school report as I struggle to be informal without giving away too much personal information. I struggle with what is too much information. I want to be honest and use more emotive language about my life with Split Pea, but worry how it will be received. Will it somehow sound condescending, smug and just painful to Birth Mum. I don’t feel Birth Mum is a terrible person, a case of not being able to put a child’s needs before her own and no support to change her ways or life style. I do catch myself wondering what if. What if she had the family and services in place to turn her life around long enough to keep this child safe, how different would Split Pea be? A truer version of her self? The same girl? Perhaps more traumatised if it all came crumbling down around them both as it had before for Birth Mum? Stupid questions to be asking myself but real ones I may be expected to answer to my daughter.
Maybe when Split Pea is older writing the contact letter will be easier. I’m assuming she will want to add something, maybe a question or a thought but maybe that will be harder for me. The contact letter is meant to benefit Split Pea and is a reminder that she has a birth mum who is out there and contactable. And in this age of social networking she may only be an online search away. For now the contact letter is the link that I will maintain on my side in order to leave a door open if Split Pea chooses to seek her Birth Mum, I believe I owe that to both of them. Birth Mum asked for a picture in the only letter we have and there were parts blacked out. I wish I could have sent her something and maybe that will happen with drawings and paintings in the future.
This is not about some sort of adopter’s guilt, I was not part of the process that made the final decision to separate them, it was made before I was in the picture and I do trust that it was the right decision. The contact letter reminds me that I too may somehow ‘lose’ my daughter, but I have her now and will always try to look at the bigger picture, summed up below:
Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Kahlil Gibran was a Lebanese American artist, poet and a writer.
Split Pea loves this cbeebies programme, I feel she’s learning more about social interaction watching Bing (repeatedly) than a year at nursery! I probably need to get out more but can’t help wondering, what is the relationship between Flop and Bing? Obviously Flop doesn’t appear to be biologically related to Bing who clearly is a rabbit. Bing doesn’t refer to Flop as Dad, but he is clearly Bing’s main carer. The way Flop talks and helps Bing reminds me of someone who has been on a few parenting type courses. Could Bing even have ASD as well as be in a long term foster care placement? Finally I’ve concluded the reason I like Bing is that he reminds me of my daughter.
The animations are based on books by Ted Dewan
At a recent assessment for Split Pea, I was asked if she makes eye contact with me. It’s a question I’ve been asked many times before by social workers, GP, CAMHS in terms of determining her attachment to me I guess. But this last time it got me thinking: Do I make enough eye contact with my daughter? I mean enough to make up for the early critical weeks/months of life when eye contact and touch is all a baby has in order to know she is loved. I don’t feel I do.
As a child I don’t think it was expected of me or asked for and besides there were so many more interesting things to be looking at, than into someone’s eyes. As a very shy teenager it was not possible to maintain eye contact with anybody for more than a few seconds, I just looked over their shoulders. Then one day I remember a cheeky neighbour shouting across the road to me, ‘lift your head up!’ as I strolled along looking at the pavement. Maybe then that was when the penny dropped that I should be looking up at the world head on and that included looking it straight in the eye.
As I became a more confident young adult, I realised you can tell so much about a person when you’re making some sort of eye contact. That people expected eye contact in the work place, like some sign of aptitude, ability and honesty. So I became quite good at it, by my mid thirties I could make eye contact to engage with others, to reassure or stare down the best of them when riled. Thank you teaching profession!
Meeting my then two year old daughter in a stranger’s home, by myself was pretty daunting. Making eye contact with this tiny person who I planned to spend the rest of my life caring for, was enough to show my perceived confidence the door and I could not show her the panic I felt, by staring into her curious eyes. After a few weeks I noticed she started to chew her lip sometimes biting it till it bled. How or why was this happening? Is she unhappy or pining away for her foster carer? It took a long time for me to realise that while I was too busy concentrating on changing the nappy, getting her to eat and doing all the ‘right’ things, that she was looking long and hard at me and mimicked how I frowned over a task and chewed my lip. I wasn’t looking at her. That all important eye contact was elsewhere, trying to figure out how a two year could produce adult size poo!
Perhaps it was a missed opportunity to bond in those early days as she searched my face for something familiar and comforting and got a mixture of frowns, lip chewing, tongue biting and finally looks of defeat or relief. My poor Split Pea. Of course there were lots of smiles and laughter but in hindsight those passing missed moments are a small regret I have. Yet I still have to catch myself becoming preoccupied and rushing about as we go about daily life, when maybe a little pause to look her in the eye or return her gaze could be the difference between a fit of giggles or a meltdown.
In no particular order here are some of Split Pea’s recent book choices before bed or at random times of the day really.
Found this one during our food shop at a supermarket and liked the illustrations. As a single parent I was a bit wary of the images of the traditional family throughout but loved how it showed all the things we do as a loving parent or parents. There’s a lovely ending too.
Bought this after months of potty training and trying to nail the pooping into a potty. This definitely got Split Pea’s attention and still does months after conquering using the toilet. It’s a funny and clever way of explaining the ‘bigger picture’ of pooping. All living things eat and poo, simples!
Have a few of Donaldson’s books as the illustrations of Axel Scheffler are a favourite with us both. This Is such a sweet tale of being lost and being found then doing the finding that I feel Split Pea connected to it. A firm favourite with us.
Got this as a freebie thankfully, as I’m not sure I would of picked it myself. A simple story of a going to birthday party, kindness and friendship. Split Pea asked lots of questions as she tried to figure out why the little girl Min was crying which got us exploring feelings. Have now got a box set, so glad I stumbled across this classic.
I vaguely recall not really liking this book as a child as I wanted to know what happened next! Found it in our local library and ended up buying a copy as it quickly became a popular read. Sophie’s colourful tights are a hit and we have acted it out a few times!
It’s early days of actually discussing adoption with Split Pea, we have a few related children’s books and this is the most read. There’s a happy ending as Choco finds a mother, if only all forever familys had it that easy. A lovely book for younger children, also transracial adoptions.
Another freebie for World Book Day and one I probably would not of noticed. However the clear simple illustrations are great and easy for Split Pea to follow and it has proved to be a winner. I wonder if the lost and found aspect is also part of the appeal.
Wasn’t sure how this would go down with Split Pea as she was just figuring out what monsters were and confused about if they are real or not, she still is. But I went with it and have had to get it out the library repeatedly since. Funny twist which has us both giggling and quoting the title. Poor Bernard and poor monster.
Another unexpected find, this time in TK Maxx. I love it, probably a lot more than Split Pea. Possible single parent chicken. Little chick full of doubts. Parent reassures. Chick gets ‘hyper’. Parent shouts. Chick thinks ‘I’m bad’. Parent tells him he is loved. Chick feels safe happy again. That pretty much sums up more that a few days in our household!
I just loved this story when a friend’s daughter had a copy and couldn’t wait to start reading it to Split Pea. Fortunately it’s one she also enjoys and often quietly studies the pages of beautiful illustrations and characters till we have finished reading. One of the few books I’ve found which features a single parent as well as an African/Caribbean family.
All recommendations gladly received, we starting a long summer holiday at home!
When split pea first arrived into my life and home she didn’t show much emotion for a child who’d just be removed from all she’d known for the first two years of her life. Brave is one way to see it and indeed she was…is. But the reality was that she didn’t know how to react and had an almost automated response emotionally. The main skill she had was to survive and smiling, hugging and kissing indiscriminately where her tools.
So months later as the tears started to flow readily, sometimes loud and angry or in silent heart breaking mourning, I felt relief. I didn’t always respond in the way I would have liked, tears and tantrums which appear out of what seems the smallest thing takes some getting used to as a new mum to a two year old. But once I remembered the prep talks, the books I managed to speed read and the fantastic advice read and heard from experienced adopters I saw her tears for what they were. Sorrow for all she had lost and fear she could lose again.
So I would hug her and sing some Bob Marley: Honey don’t worry! About a thing Cause every little thing is gonna be alright! Woke up this morning, smiled at the rising sun, three little birds were on my doorstep. Singing sweet song, with a melody pure and true, singing this is my message to yo..ou..oooou! Split Pea don’t worry about a thing. I would repeat the words; don’t worry about a thing, over and over and after a time Split Pea would join in and babble along. It’s been awhile since I’ve held her and sang this song, as her speech has developed I talk to her about feelings instead but we still have the hugs.
This last year I’ve had battles to secure funding for therapy and an allowance as I watched Split Pea display complex needs and struggle with social interaction, especially with her peers. I found it tough to cope with, on top of dealing with a nursery who didn’t get it and a reduced network of family and friends who found some of Split Pea’s behaviours didn’t fit with their basically compliant children. I’ve been exhausted, angry, depressed and impatient. Not all at the time but enough to feel like the worst mum in the world. Raising my voice and sulking in silence with a daughter who has done nothing wrong except be the person two years in care created. ‘If she could behave, she would do it’, is a quote I’ve read which sums her up pretty accurately.
However recently when I start to rant over something often trivia and occasionally major, Bob’s words come back to remind me that we two are doing alright. Split Pea has patted my back and told me; ‘Don’t worry about a thing mummy’. Straight away it took me back to the nights when I held her and sang those words to her. Calm and common sense returned and I am again thankful for this little girl, again ready to make the world better for her no matter what.
I love (am learning to) the way Split Pea:
1) Doesn’t get it most of the time. Now the things I’ve taken for granted for almost all my life have a new perspective, like reading a book upside down while walking backwards.
2) Looks so sorry and confused at the same time. She reminds me that social rules of society don’t always override the laws of nature or make sense.
3) Wants to play hide and seek over and over again. When you’re feeling lost how lovely to be found over and over again.
4) How the tiny bump or scratch can release pent up tears and demands a big plaster. Emotional hurt has no measure, no logic and no off switch.
5) Sometimes hits me as she walks pass. Literately touching base, checking I’m still there to tell her not to do it.
To be continued…
If you find it in our heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.