When I am Bigger..

Permanence. It is a word we think about a lot as a Forever family.

Recently we watched “Annie” and the line where Miss Hannigan tells Annie:

“You only live here because I get $157 dollars a week” hit us hard.

Our youngest daughter lived in a foster home where the foster carer told me that she would be ringing the office the day after Star left for another child to be placed, because she needed two children in placement at all times to pay the bills.

It nearly broke my heart.

We have tried hard to hide from our older children our belief that Star’s needs were not always met in foster care. We always speak about her foster carer politely. But they have noticed that no birthday or Christmas cards arrive for Star. They do not know that she was shut it a room for 13 hours at night, unable to get out. That she was called a “little b*tch” by one of her respite foster carers. After she moved to our house and was taught to sign , her social worker visited and told us she was a like a different child.

Clearly our attempts to protect Hannah and Ben from this have failed. Hannah was watching a TV programme on CBBC and I asked her what it was about

“it is about children who are like Star used to be – and where they live.”

The program is called “The Dumping ground.”

I wanted to weep. Hannah knows many amazing Foster carers, she knows of their love and commitment to the children in their care however long or short their stay, however challenging their behaviour. She also senses that this was not the case for her sister Star.

For a child like Star, who has known several homes, several respite placements and a number of sudden moves – developing “permanence” – the belief that you belong is a scary process.

“What if I trust these people, love these people and then I move again?”

Typically you have to live in one family for more than the total time you lived elsewhere to believe that this family is forever. So if a child joins their Forever family at 5, they would need to live there until they are 10 before they are likely to believe it is Forever.

For Star we still have 18 months to go before this milestone.

In recent months Star has grown taller. Hannah and Ben are also growing up and able to be more independent. Like all younger siblings Star wants to join in with this and we have had a number of conversations which result in “when you are bigger, Star.”

Cue – sad face.

Star recently stayed with her Grandparents while I was at work. When I got back she sat on my lap in the kitchen and I tickled her and said:

“Have you got bigger while Mummy was at work?”

She giggled and said “yes.”

“Have you been eating, and playing and sleeping and growing?”

Now she was properly laughing:

“Yes, I Bigger and Bigger!” (With Makaton signs for growing taller.) She continued:

“Mum, when I big, I open cupboard (pointing at our treat cupboard – which is currently out of her reach), I get chocolate macaroon and eat it up!”

Star now dissolved in giggles at the thought of being able to reach the treat cupboard and eat the contents unaided!

It wasn’t until a few minutes later , it struck me what she was telling me

that when she is big

she will live in this house

with that treat cupboard

there will be chocolate macaroons inside

and (although she is not meant to)

she will open that door and eat them.

And my name is no longer “Mummy” it is

Mum.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Power and Glory

When we put our children to bed, we read and then we pray. Star likes to go first. She thanks God for the things she enjoys, her friends, her dinner, her cuddly toys and says a big “AMEN.”

This was until a couple of weeks ago.

Now her evening prayer goes like this.

Thank you God for good walking feet. Thank you God not afraid. Thank you God Mummy, Daddy, Hannah, Ben, Rusty (cuddly dog), Grace (school friend), ham sandwich, the power, and the glory all yours, now and forever AMEN.

 

Maybe like me you feel heavy hearted tonight at the election result. Maybe you feel uncertain for the future of our country. As you bring the events of your day and this week to our Heavenly Father, I pray that like our lovely Star, he would give you peace to say, here is my day Lord, thank you for it, I am not afraid, for the power and the glory are yours, now and FOREVER, Amen

Star starts Ballet

Last week did not begin well.

I was called into class after school, to say that Star had been more tricky than at any point so far this academic year.

The teacher and I chatted for a while and I am sure that Star is triggered. I believe she recognises the changing day length and as we are approaching a difficult anniversary for her, she is worried that she is going to be removed again.

The result is a child who oscillates between defiance and (usually in the evening) a child who is clearly very, very scared.

Someone described it to me as believing she is going to be removed so pushing us as hard as she can, so that we will reject her -to just get the pain over with.

Like taking a deep breath and holding it, before jumping into cold water.

It is very, very hard.

A month ago we decided Star could start ballet and Hannah volunteered and had been accepted as a helper in Star’s class.

The ballet teacher has been so welcoming, she knows that Star has Down syndrome and she invited her to start ballet almost as soon as Star joined our family through adoption. The girls have been so excited that it felt wrong to stop this plan despite the difficulties of the last few weeks.

Last week Star went in to her first ever ballet class and the teacher said she spent a lot of time looking at herself in the mirror !!! The teacher thought she was getting used to being in the room.

This week, after 10 minutes or so, I was called in, and my heart sank.

The kind ballet teacher was concerned that Star wasn’t joining in and invited me to sit in and watch. (Hannah told me later that Star had been asking for me.)

And yes she was right, there were times Star was not joining in – I quickly realised that it was often when she knew she could not do what the rest of the class were doing.

However, once I was in the room, there were lots of times she did.

And I find myself amazed at how children develop. At how one instruction might require 5 or 6 skills in order to complete it and how most children just manage this.

And I can see just how many hurdles Star has to overcome.

For example the instruction: “Girls, walk in Demi- point.”

This assumes that:
the girls can hear this instruction
that they understand the need to continue walking in a circle,
that they continue to hold our their skirts,
that they understand that “Demi-point” means “tip toes”
and that they are able to do this without falling over.

Before this morning did I know what Demi-point was? – Nope.
Did Star know? – No.

Did she do it?
Yes.
Brilliantly.

She copied the rest of the class and walked around the studio beaming!

Did she manage every instruction in the class? – no.
Did she attempt most? yes.

As I watched her sat with the class trying to listen and clap out a rhythm or join in with a series of steps, (which at the moment is too hard for her), I could feel sad.

But I don’t.

She was there, included and happy.

At one point the girls were practicing jumping from first position, pointing their toes and landing in first position again. The older girls were helping the younger ones.

Around the room there were twenty little girls springing in the air, trying to land nicely, sometimes succeeding, sometimes wobbling, faces concentrating hard on what they were attempting.

In the centre were two sisters, completely focused on each other. One, aged nearly 9 demonstrating the move with skill and patience, the younger watching and attempting to copy.

I can honestly tell you that in that moment I was so proud of my two girls.

As I watch I realise that Hannah is translating the instructions perfectly to Star’s ability to understand, she is praising Star’s every attempt to try. She gives her one simple instruction to try to improve next time.

And Star, looking intently up at Hannah with a rapturous admiration for her big sister. Trying so hard to copy her movements.

First position, jump, point toes, land.
And again.
First position, jump, point toes, land.

Then they joined hands, facing each other, feet in first position and jumped together, smiling.

I realised, that my girls had just snatched victory from the jaws of defeat.

Star and the London Bus

Star was very excited to be visiting my brother and his wife in London.

Despite growing up in suburbia I have never driven through central London, we always use the train and tube instead.
So we set off one chilly December morning, with our warm coats, hat, gloves and a backpack full of Christmas presents. For the hour and a half long journey to “Uncle Robin’s.”

“Oh that will be so exciting for the children,” said lots of our friends.

And it was exciting.

Public transport is also fairly challenging if a you a child who struggles with transitions.

We spend a lot of our lives thinking about, planning for and dealing with transitions.

On some days, literally

every

single

one.

Going to the toilet, washing hands, clothes off, clothes on, slippers on, slippers off, shoes on. Eating breakfast, drinking juice, finishing breakfast.

On the days when I do the morning school run and then go straight into work I feel like I have done a full day by 9.15am!

We try to use lots of strategies: “now, next” boards, signing, encouragement, giving Star a choice where possible, but there are some days when nothing seems to work.
At school, they have similar issues. And it was strangely therapeutic for us to hear experienced teachers tell us how they had used all the strategies from the professionals (the Ed psych, the SALT, the SENCO) to no avail.

We were sat at parents evening to be told of a morning when Star would not stop playing with the mud kitchen.

For forty-five minutes she had been happily scooping mud from one ladle to other and she didn’t want to stop.

Her Teaching assistant tried everything.

The sand timer.

The now and next board.

Signing “finished.”

Then the teacher was called

And then, Headteacher was called out of a meeting.

She came in her high heels down to the reception playground, to tell our daughter it was time to stop playing with the mud.

And what do you think Star did ?

Completely ignored her.

Another day at school, another transition. She was asked to do something she didn’t want to. So she ran into the toilets, locked the door went under the cubicle to the next stall, locked it too, sat in the far corner and LAUGHED at the teacher.  [It is a mark of how much Star has changed me that instead of being completely mortified by this defiance, I thought – that is actually really clever. She had managed to get the only place in the reception classrooms where they could not reach her.]

So I think you can imagine why, with some trepidation, we set off on our journey of one overground train, two underground trains and half a mile walk.

On the whole Star did pretty well.

On our way home, we decided to board a double-decker bus for three stops to save the children’s legs from more walking. They were so excited to climb to the top and watch the hustle and bustle of Islington High Street below them.

We tried to prepare Star that we needed to get off soon.

But predictably, it was far too short a trip on the top deck for her.

Some of us had made it to the pavement, when the bus driver was about to pull off with an unhappy Star and Eddie still on the top deck. My sister-in-law alerted the driver to wait and Star was told us with some urgency

“We need to get off now, Star.”

At which point she turned around and addressed all the passengers of the top deck of the bus

Off NOW”