As a result of my Mum’s death last Autumn I have a bag of cards that she had saved. One of the birthday cards I found was from “Grandma & Grandad” Nothing unusual in that you ask? I have however very few memories of having a Grandad. No memories of a card ever being sent with the words “Grandad” One Grandad died before I was born. Both of my Grandmas had married late after the First World War. Both served in the war, one in a military hospital here & one in France. Part of a generation where so many young men had died. As a result many young women either didn’t marry or married later than was usual at the time. Both my Grandmas also had one child. My Dad’s Mum had him at 48. Quite an achievement in The 1920’s!
I have just one memory of a Grandad. It’s a warm summer day with vivid blue skies. I’m in the back garden of a small semi detached house. There’s a high red brick wall at the end of the garden. Behind it is the railway line. The garden was full of orange marigolds & bright flowers. Grandad lifts me, a toddler, up high to look over the wall for trains. He laughs. His cheek feels warm & soft against mine & his pipe is in his top shirt pocket. He smells of pears soap & brylcream. In that moment I feel like I’m flying & I feel safe & warm & loved. I don’t think I saw a train but that didn’t matter. My Grandad worked on the railways. I loved him.
Thats it. The following January he died. His obituary in the local paper reads Albert Chappell “A devoted grandfather to Julia & Penny”
Its a vivid memory possibly my first. This led me to think of my adopted children’s histories. Identity is important. We were the first generation of adopters to be given more information about their backgrounds. In Adoption it used to thought good practise to leave the past behind and start again with a new family. We were also the first generation of adopters to be given life story books for them.We have always been as open as we can with our kids about their pasts in an age appropriate way. We were also amongst the first to take place in “Letterbox” where adopters & birth families can exchange yearly news by an intermediary in our case a Local Authority. I reckon I’ve written 60+ letters over the years. This was to many at the time a strange thing to do. Even my Mum in later years said I couldn’t understand it at the time but it’s worked.This for us in later years has led to more doors opening & more history being revealed good & not so good. History forms identity.
This Birthday card to me was about a missing piece of my history. I know most of mine yet it was still important. How important it is that we know about our past. This can be happy or painful. However it’s our story. Sadly adopted children’s files are just a snapshot & in parts inaccurate, just one person’s take on an event in their lives. Often (as we found out a few years ago) they only get a redacted version if they choose to access files after 18.
When we visited our current new house it was a warm sunny day. There were bright orange marigolds in the garden. Not the modern sort but the ones you get in old gardens, like in my Grandad’s garden. I’d tried to grow them without success in our last garden. The soil there was heavy & hard to grow things in. I was instantly transported back to that sunny day in Grandad’s garden. Now it felt like Grandad Albert was looking down on me & smiling at me not now the chubby blonde toddler of the 1960’s but a middle aged woman probably with her own grandchildren in the not too distant future. It felt like a confirmation that this was to be our next garden, our next home. Life coming full circle. History matters it shapes our future identity.
I don’t really like the phrase “making memories” it all feels a bit forced to me. A bit “Pinterest pretty”. There’s also an emphasis on the good memories. People don’t tend to post their bad days/memories on social media! I prefer to think of memory making as happening in a more organic way. It’s just my thoughts so feel free to stop reading now!
Yesterday I visited my Mum & Dad’s grave for the first time since a headstone went up.We were very tired after a “memorable day” the day before! It was a freezing cold day in Nottingham & we climbed through the familiar gap in the church hedge clutching a bunch of daffodils (M & S only the best for Mum!) & a bottle of water. It was slightly sleeting & as we tried to poke the flowers into the vase we couldn’t & we realised it was frozen up. We laughed through the tears & smashed the ice. Then Mark was desperate for a pee. I could hear my Dad chuckling by now. There’s a blackberry bush by the grave where my Dad used to collect blackberries. I remember him saying with his usual dark humour “one day I will be under & fertilising those blackberries”! It came in useful for another purpose yesterday. It should be a good crop in the Autumn! As we stood there in the bitter cold a whole load of memories came back. We hadn’t gone about purposefully “making them”. A wedding in the church 29 years ago on a cold spring day. Two people in their early twenties promising “In sickness & in health. For richer for poorer…..until death do us part” We’ve had more than our fair share of challenges as well as lots of good times but we are still together & just as happy maybe even more so! My Mum & Dad did that too for 50 years.
My Mum & Dad lived just behind the church so there was the house behind the hedge.The house we came back to & celebrated our engagement. The house where I had got married from in 1988. The house that in Spring 1997 & 1999 & the Winter of 2001 we brought our babies home to meet their grandparents! Then there was the park where we went with the children. Happy family meals & occasions & lots of laughter.
Fast forward to 2005 & a beautiful early summer day & saying goodbye to my Dad in this same spot. 3 small children letting go of helium balloons to say their farewells to Grandpa. Then last year where the same children now grown up & with their partners said goodbye to their Nannie. Golden roses being placed by each of us by the grave.
Then we drove home. Driving through the beautiful Yorkshire Wolds where we had so many happy holidays when our kids were younger. Past spots where we had had picnics & on to the seaside where we now live. The light is brighter here & the skies amazing which is probably why David Hockney painted it.
I didn’t set out to “make” any of these memories & as you notice they are both good & not so good! But isn’t that life? We never know what’s round the corner & what will become a memory & what won’t. All of us have good & bad.
I feel especially with social media that there’s a pressure to “make memories” good. We can feel everybody else is leading this perfect Instagram happy life. So I’m looking back a lot at the moment but in a realistic way. Maybe I’m just becoming like my Dad. He had his pet hates too. It’s not an “invite” he would say it’s an “invitation”!
I love my family to bits but it’s not all been sweetness & light. I haven’t met a family yet though with just good memories. But maybe that’s where our family’s strength lies. We are realistic. Because life after all is a messy patchwork spread not a neat tailored quilt & added to that we as a family are still stitching the pieces together. I prefer organic it’s a more natural way of memory making.
PS This was my Valentines card from Mark.We don’t do pink & fluffy! It sort of sums up our stage of life! Though it might well hit the headlines if we did this in Bridlington & the North Sea is cold!
For a whole lot of reasons I haven’t blogged this year. Many of you know why some don’t. So bear with me as I return I’m a little rusty!
The start of the year saw Mark off work suspended after some serious historic false allegations had been made. I still can’t believe what we went through in those 7 months & it had major repercussions on our family. 7 months later he was cleared & returned to work. So much went on that is not appropriate to share but I was left feeling that victims of false allegations are just just as much “victims” as victims of true allegations yet their stories can rarely be shared.
Before this we had both felt it was the right time for Mark to move jobs. We were both happy where we were & had great friends & church but it was time for a new adventure. Our plans were stalled obviously by the events above but to cut a very long story short the job we felt was right was re-advertised. Mark applied & we moved in October. In order to move on though you have to leave people behind which is in itself a loss although this time of our choice!
Both boys left home this last year in varying circumstances. So again a letting go, loss & new life stage. I’m still working that through! One of our boys has had to deal with some serious health issues this autumn & as I well know myself loss of health is really difficult.
Then 3 weeks before we moved my mum died unexpectedly in the night. We had the call you never want to have at 3 am. We made hasty childcare plans for G. Before we set off to see Mum I went into her room. Mark had told her & in the dark tears ran down her face & she hugged me. Both of the latter are rare! Then she said “Mum I think this will make us closer I know what it’s like to lose both parents” In that moment of raw grief there was a connection. I realised in 20 years of being an adoptive parent I’d never really “ got it “ until that moment. Who does until they share an experience? It took a child to show me that.
Yet there’s light appearing as that moment above shows. We had an amazing service of thanksgiving for my mum. We love where we have moved to & in many ways it feels like coming home. The church are doing an amazing job in reaching out to people in a very deprived area. I’m sure we will learn as well as hopefully give what we can. I feel that our many life experiences have prepared us for this time.
Then of course the sea is a stones throw away! I’ve always loved the sea but never really experienced it in winter. The light & dark contrasts are amazing.
I’m a Christian & I love the part in the Bible where it says “The light shines in the darkness & the darkness has never put it out”
Im not pretending I’m sorted. Our family hasn’t turned into the Waltons overnight! I’m still grieving as is to be expected but it’s getting lighter.
So whatever you are going through look for the chinks of light you will find them.
Thanks for your support this year it’s meant everything…….Hoping for some happier blogs in 2018! Happy Christmas however you choose to celebrate it……
Each month this year which corresponds to the month our kids came home I’ve written a blog. So here is the final instalment..
November 2001 we got “the call” We got on well with our social worker & in his charming Irish lilt he said. “We think we have a match” followed by “we need experienced adopters for G” Now if you are an experienced adopter you will know exactly what that means….!!
We listened to the details & agreed to meet. We had already adopted twice & so this was to be our third adoption in 4 years. We had a 4 year old & 2 year old. Yes I know mad or what?!!
I’ve written about G’s extensive medical problems in her first year so won’t bore you with the details. Personally we’ve always made a decision on accepting a placement before seeing a photo,simply because we knew once we saw a photo that would be it!
So we decided “yes” We saw a photo of our new daughter. We realised later why her social worker had put a hat on her in it. Medical procedures had led to her having hair shaved! We still fell in love with her immediately we saw it….
So we met on a cold November day. Our social worker had warned us about the extensive scarring on her body & said she looks a bit like a drug addict she has so many needle marks! She was only 10 months!
She checked us out when she met us. She’d had so many carers in her first 10 months I’m guessing she thought here we go again. Her foster carers were amazing. They explained the medical procedures we had to do & said we needed to change a nappy. I thought it was a strange request given we had had 2 other “babies” but as soon as we did we realised why! She has short bowel syndrome as a result of early surgeries. Everything moves through at the speed of light. If you’ve ever had a baby with a tummy bug imagine that 24/7 every day every week for ever!
Yet despite all this she was a feisty, happy little baby. Introductions were short in those days & she came home quickly. We all loved her & so did our family & friends & I took full delight in having a little girl after two boys. We adjusted to her medical needs & although I look back & think how did we do it we did! There was no real support after adoption then either practical or financial so I guess we just got on. Thankfully shortly after her arrival our health visitor left & a very good new one arrived! She was on our case straight away & we are eternally indebted to the help she arranged for us!
So began a new chapter in our family life. G began to thrive physically & took no nonsense from her two elder brothers! The physical scars of that first year began to fade.She made rapid progress in her delayed development. The emotional scars though were buried until adolescence. We admire & love our daughter for her strength of character. She went through more in her first year than many will go through in a lifetime.
Yes she is going through a hard stage as she processes her early trauma but we are confident she will get through. She always has & so will we….
So its January 2001. Two babies are born baby A & baby B. Baby A is born into love & nurture. Familiar smells & voices. An adoring extended family. Photos taken to fill the album. Warmth safety & care. Baby B is born & cannot feed. Mum is distracted. It soon becomes apparent baby B is sick & is rushed in a blur to another bigger hospital. Mum doesn’t go with her. Baby B is sick & hungry & in pain. Baby A leaves hospital & goes home to a new nursery, flowers, presents & cards. Baby B goes into theatre & then ICU. That will be be her “home” for the next 6 months.
3 months later & baby A is smiling to the delight of her adoring family. Baby B is failing to thrive. Her ileostomy is reversed in an attempt to get her to put on weight. She isn’t feeling like smiling & anyway the familiar faces keep changing. Baby A loves someone coming up & cuddling her. Baby B cries as when people approach her they “do something” like an injection or feed tube.
The season changes & baby A has a whole new wardrobe. Cute little clothes. The nurses bring clothes for baby B because no-one else does….They think to take a photo it’s a bit blurred but they do their best with a Polaroid camera.
6 months & baby A is sitting up. She sleeps well & feeds well. Baby B leaves hospital at last but goes to a different place. At last she starts to thrive & the tube feeding stops. She’s never had the sensation of being “hungry” though as tube feeding has been continuous so she isn’t happy. Then she has an infection so is blue lighted to hospital & resuscitated yet again.
10 months & it’s nearly Christmas. Baby A is a delight. She’s starting to crawl. Baby B is not yet sitting up. She’s finding drinking from a cup hard.
Things begin to look up at last though for baby B she’s moved again & her health picks up. She has a new family. She has a lovely room & clothes.The people around her aren’t going anywhere & she likes that. She isn’t sure but she thinks these people are ok.
Then it’s Christmas & both babies have a lovely day. Photos, presents, cards & love. What different starts to life though. How different their first years are? Never mind they are only babies & so baby B won’t remember will she….? She’s described as a “fighter” on her hospital notes so she will be fine..?
Then it’s January 2002 & baby B has a hospital check up on her birthday. She’s made it to 1 despite the odds against her! The paediatric gastric doctor (not known for his bedside manner) seeing her new carer doesn’t say Happy Birthday. He says to the carer “So are you it now?” Through gritted teeth her Mum says “Yes we are “it” no matter what, forever.” Baby B smiles at that point at her Mum. Seems like she knows things will be ok……
Today just for a change (note the sarcasm) M & I had an appointment in Leeds. Because of traffic & also because anywhere I go I have to allow at least twice the time it should take to get there, we arrived early….The latter is now a family joke!
We found a nice coffee shop & settled down. There were two entrances & we sat down by one. We noticed someone walk up to the automatic door & it didn’t open! We observed this pattern for about an hour! Some people walked up to it looked rather embarrassed as it didn’t open,gave up & headed off! Others maybe more used to the cafe walked round & found the other entrance. Some were more inventive & prised the door open manually (but then didn’t shut it so M kept having to jump up close it! It was very draughty!!)
This given the nature of our appointment made me reflect on our adoption “support” over the last 20 years. When we started our journey it was very different. Post adoption support or advice on how to claim appropriate benefits etc didn’t exist!
I guess in the early days we “coped” Then a few challenges crept in. We rather naively expected “doors” we approached for support to open automatically. We soon found that’s rarely the case.
So over the years we’ve approached many so called automatic doors. They may have an automatic label but they remained firmly closed! These included/include the NHS, Post adoption support, Education support & health related benefits. So through bitter experience we’ve learnt what to do. To those who know me I’m not one to walk away from a stuck door! I’ve learned to find other entrances. Prise open doors & a whole lot of other methods! On our return home today we found a “lovely” brown envelope waiting for us (or rather for our son) On opening it (as we knew the contents & had asked permission) we found our latest “door” shut. So it’s time yet again to find another way in.
Sadly some people will walk away from the very stuck doors they need to open. Some need a hand to help to open it & haven’t got anyone. Some lose the strength to prise open doors.
We were assured by the cafe staff the fault had been notified & engineers would be repairing it soon. Mmmm I’ve heard that one before…
Meanwhile for our “stuck door” we are looking & have found another entrance. I’m determined to get that “coffee” somehow….
Yesterday we had a follow up to our years therapy provided by the Adoption Support Fund. We are very grateful for all the input we had & although realised long ago it’s not a magic wand it’s made a big difference to us.
That’s not what this blog is about though. As we waited in the car for our appointment yesterday my phone rang. Grace goes to theatre class one evening a week. She changed groups to the older class recently & instead of being met in town by the theatre staff they ring the bell & go up to the group. It’s a new group of young people & if you are an adoptive parent you can probably see where this is going! So the night before she’d bottled out at the last minute. We waited in the car & her anxiety levels rose. I have to say my therapeutic skills were stretched! Mark was away & I’d slept badly the night before. I managed (I think!) to not show this! “Let’s get chips” I said & we did. Standing in the chip shop she said “Sorry Mum its the buzzer I can’t do the buzzer I need to get over this & it’s new people I don’t know them” I reassured her & said it was fine & I was sure we could sort this..
Well that’s a huge step in itself in understanding her own feelings. She spent her first 6 months in ICU & neonatal wards which I guess were full of buzzer beeps & noise. She needs to trust people & new people are a threat. Buzzers represent physical pain & procedures and abandonment & a whole lot more
However her drama teacher was amazing on the phone. She said “Next week I’m going to be at the door to greet the young people. I’ve quietly asked some of the group who I trust to be sensitive & to look out for her. I’m also wondering if she would help me out for an hour with the younger kids on a Saturday. She’s a natural at drama & doing well at her work experience in nursery & shes an asset to the group & I don’t want to lose her”
At this point I could have hugged her except I was on the phone & just about to see our therapist! There’s lots more I could say but wouldn’t be wise on an open forum. That’s “grace” & a whole lot more. It’s a person who sees beyond the behaviour to the potential & wants to be inclusive.
I also realised despite our many teenage ups & downs how much I admire my daughter for engaging in therapy at a distant for a whole year & how much I love her. We’ve a way to go I know that but that was one massive encouragement from a very unexpected source!! Amazing Grace….