Last weekend, we had one of those classic adopter moments. Just getting on with life when, suddenly, pitch invasion by Grief.
We were putting up an enormous trampoline in our not enormous garden and I was sulking about losing my leafy sanctuary. Goodbye view of trees and flowers, hello net. Look on the bright side, I thought, I’m gaining an excellent means of keeping fit (this is where adoptive mums can claim one pathetic point over birth mums – we don’t wee ourselves when we bounce). Plus, Other People say that trampolines have transformed their lives – kids are exercised, have fun, are occupied for hours and all in an 8ft enclosure. Plus plus, the kids looked incredibly happy about this major new toy.
All great. We were aglow with good family feeling. But when I popped in to make tea, I found our little boy sobbing. Sobbing on the time out spot. And when I asked him what was up, he said he was missing his birth family.
When we started out, I thought this kind of thing would floor me. Doing your best, then bam! But it doesn’t really work that way after all. What happens is much more practical. I dropped everything and got the life story book out. My partner walked past, amused, half an hour later (getting his own tea) and just said, ‘Good time for some life story work?’ We are used to it – it always, always happens at inopportune moments.
So why is that? Why does it happen at these times?
Well, I can only theorise, but it felt like his reminder that giving them a trampoline wasn’t going to make everything alright. ‘Yes, I am really, really pleased about this, mum, but remember, I am very hurt. I’m not healed up. Do NOT relax. And by the way, you’re messing with my home and changing things. I hate change. Obviously. And another thing, you’re concentrating on that thing, not me. Stop.’
I stopped; we went through his book and looked at all the pictures of his birth family, his foster family and his old life. For the first time, he was old enough to listen to me read each page of the book. Hard to listen to. The information flowed in, but it didn’t break him. I think it would break me, if I heard someone had mistreated me as a baby. So what does that mean? He’s OK, or he values himself so little that he can accept that treatment as OK?
And speaking of value, what is that about sitting yourself on the time out spot? Is that broken self-esteem? Is that something about feeling that you have done wrong? Imagine that, sitting in a place that makes you feel bad to have a cry. Seeking the opposite of comfort. And if it is a place that makes him feel bad, then why is it in our house? Suddenly the logic of it is all skewed for me.
I had already all but stopped using the time out spot because I suspect that it is not very good for him (it may well work for other kids). I think I might phase it out completely, because if it’s making him feel like that, that might be why he is constantly winding others up, and so competitive – if you feel rubbish, you might want to bring others down.
As is usually the case with these Grief invasions, the kids return to ‘normal’ amazingly quickly and the adults wearily – gladly, but wearily – shoulder an extra piece of baggage.
Now we need to decide whether, as the new trampoline enters our home, the time out spot leaves. If it goes, great – but what do we do when the kids are trying to kill each other/us? It seems that, when you’re parenting grieving children, every day brings a new dilemma.