About frogotter

Adoptive mother Home Educator Author of Living with Infertility - a Christian Perspective www.frogotter.net

Chocolate Castle Cakes and Other Misunderstandings

One of the hardest parts of being moved around so much is that nobody really knows you.

Before we met our children, we read paperwork, we talked to their social worker (who had met them once!), we chatted to the Medical Advisor and the current Foster Parents. We tried to build up a picture of these boys, and we thought that we knew quite a lot about them.

During Introductions we played with the boys, bathed them, took them to the park, made them lunch; basically tried to build up from strangers to parents. It’s a peculiar time.

Then the boys came home and I began to have questions.

Do they like broccoli?

What size are their feet?

Have they had chicken pox?

Have they ever been to a zoo?

Some of these questions were answerable, but others, I began to realise, nobody knew.

I remember once driving into town and telling the boys we wouldn’t park under a tree because I didn’t want birds pooping on the car. Middly piped up, “bird poop is lucky”. I was rather surprised, and asked him who’d told him that. He was very confused and couldn’t answer. Several days later, Middly called cabbage “lucky” and wee “lucky” and I finally understood. He was trying to say “yucky” all along, no wonder he couldn’t tell me why he thought bird poop was yucky! What an absurd question that must have seemed to him!

I know that all children mispronounce words, and all families must have stories like this. But, for us, I think that the misunderstandings were our first language! We were trying to function as a family, but I didn’t know any of the boys’ cute pronunciations of words. Our conversations were full of comments and questions that made no sense to one another.

I only know about the ones that I spotted. Goodness knows how many misunderstandings never got ironed out!

After the boys had been home for a while, we became their longest-lasting placement. I realised that I knew them better than anyone else. Yet, I barely knew them at all.

Eldest once asked for a toy for several days and I never worked out what he wanted. In the end, he just gave up asking. I was heart-broken. Though, I could see his point, clearly this crazy woman had no idea what he wanted and was just going to keep offering the wrong stuff or trying to get him to look at the Argos catalogue. I don’t think he was quite sure of the connection between the paper and actual toys. Though, I suppose we’ll never know. He doesn’t remember the incident now, so he can’t tell me what it was all about.

“You are the expert on your child,” our post-adoption social worker said. I am sure that’s a fine principle, but I was terrified. How can I be the person who knows them best? I still know so little about them.

Why did they scream when people sang in church?

Have they ever paddled in the sea?

When did they start to walk?

We’ve been a family for years now, and I can answer more and more questions about them. I’ve been there watching many of their favourite memories. But, there are still blurry bits. There are strange half-memories that they told us in the early days and I carefully recorded for them. Sometimes, a song or a food will seem to remind them of something, and I won’t be able to help them place that memory. Maybe it was something that happened before we met. Maybe it wasn’t.

This year, I asked Eldest what birthday cake he wanted and he said “A Chocolate Castle Cake”. Really? He’s had that most years. Does he definitely want it again?

But, this year was different. This year, he carefully explained to me what he wanted: a square cake, covered with icing, and a castle built out of flakes on top.

That’s what he wanted last time he asked for a Chocolate Castle Cake, and the time before. So many years of birthdays, he was asking for this cake and never quite getting it. I made lots of chocolate castle cakes, but none were quite what he wanted.

Of course, I’m pleased that Eldest got the birthday cake he wanted this year. But, a part of me is still mourning for all those missed moments and botched attempts at talking to one another. When the boys most needed understanding, I was least able to give it. I wish that they’d had the luxury of being fully known and I wish that I’d had the joy of fully knowing them.

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Preparing Adopted Children for a Baby

We adopted first, and then we had a birth child. It was terrifying, selfish, and worked out surprisingly well.

Eldest really loved having a tiny baby to patronise. Middly enjoyed helping the baby learn to lift its head. All three of our boys are wonderful children and, barring the odd complication, get on well.

Now, we’re doing it again. I’m pregnant for the second time and we’re hoping to have another birth child.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what happened last time and how it worked. Introducing a new sibling is always a bit worrying. I think adoption makes that extra complicated. So, I’ve been mulling a lot over what went well, and what I want to do differently this time around.

Preparing for the new baby.

  • Making the announcement – this is generally a very positive time. Most family and friends are excited and pleased to hear about a pregnancy. So, we let the boys be the ones to share the news. It helped them feel a sense of ownership of the process. We’ll definitely be doing that again. We told the boys before we told any else (except for doctors), because it’s really important for us not to keep things from them. This time around, I’ve been sick quite a lot, and we ended up telling the boys very early on, as they were beginning to worry. That’s meant we have been keeping it between the five of us for a while. On the whole, I think that’s been rather nice. It wouldn’t have been a big deal if one of the boys let it slip earlier than planned, though.
  • Name choosing – we really wanted the boys to feel involved in this. So we discussed possible names and the boys enjoyed checking for unfortunate nicknames or initials! To be honest, they’re enjoying making terrible suggestions of inappropriate names even more, but it’s been a fun thing to share.
  • Toys for the baby – babies don’t really need toys (in my opinion). We didn’t buy any for Youngest, but we did encourage the big boys to buy him one each. So, we bought all the boring stuff, and they got to provide the fun.
  • Gifts for the big boys – the new baby brought his big brothers a present each, that went down well. They’re already making suggestions for what the new baby should bring them.
  • The photo – I took a photo of the big boys with me when I went to give birth, so that the baby could see them as soon as possible. When they came to see him, the photo was in his cot with him. I think that they appreciated the proof that they were on my mind the whole time.
  • Eldest’s experiment – we read some books together while waiting for Youngest to be born. Eldest discovered that newborn babies can imitate facial expressions from birth. He wanted to see if the baby could stick its tongue out in response to him. So, the last line of my birth plan stated that nobody was to stick their tongues out at the baby until Eldest had done so.

After the baby came home

  • Getting back into routine – our routines are really important to us. Naturally, we tried to get back into our usual routine as soon as possible. I think we were a little too rushed last time, though. I got very tired. I wish I’d got my husband to do the school run solo for the first few days after giving birth.
  • Telling the baby to wait – I made a point of saying aloud ‘hang on, Baby, I’ll just finish doing this for your brothers first’. It was important that I explicitly put them first sometimes. I think that they needed to hear me doing that.
  • Comparing childhoods – watching the baby grow brought up a lot of questions about the older boys’ own stories. It has been helpful at times to use the baby like a visual aid. When you’re actually looking at a tiny helpless baby, it’s easier to see how whatever happens to a baby can’t possibly be its fault. As Youngest reached key ages when things had happened in the older boys’ lives, it opened up opportunities to talk about their stories in a different way.

Youngest has been a wonderful addition to our family and I am very grateful for all my boys. I can only hope that the new baby will fit in equally well.

‘Your Competent Child’ – Review

I have just finished ‘Your Competent Child’ by Jesper Juul.

This book is very different from most of the parenting books that I read.

I was bemused at the opening salvos, with lines like, “When I say that children are competent, I mean that they are in a position to teach us what we need to learn.” I have never really bought into the idea of children as teachers. As the book went on, however, the ideas started to seem more enticing. In Chapter Two, Juul expanded upon this idea of competence, writing that, “though children can’t express what they need, they know perfectly well when their needs are not being met,” and explaining that children make this clear through their behaviour.

My edition has been rather poorly proof-read, with missing spaces, strange use of capitalisation, and various other minor mistakes throughout. This didn’t concern me particularly, but it was so noticeable, I think I ought to mention it.

I completely agree that, “When children are born, they are fully human – that is, they are social, responsive, and empathetic.” I don’t agree with ideas of ‘training’ or ‘taming’ children. Though children clearly lack a great deal of capabilities and experience, I am warming to the concept of them as fundamentally competent people doing their best to function in a world that is largely outside of their control. Often, my own children’s more surprising behaviour has turned out to be a reaction to something they could not bear. If we begin by assuming competence, then we will be more open to spotting the difficult circumstances our children’s seemingly difficult behaviour is flagging up.

Rather than starting from a scientific base, this book starts from an ethical one. Juul writes of parenting as an integral part of society. How we parent our children is a large part of what makes our world what it is. Parenting is not, to Juul, about creating adults out of children, it is about relating to children as they are. Put like that, it’s hard to ignore the ethical aspect.

Though this book is not written mainly for a readership of adoptive parents, there were some interesting ideas in Chapter Five about children being cared for by substitute parents. In particular, I was taken with Juul’s wording, “the task facing the child – to find his lost self beneath his strategy for survival – is a difficult one.”

In the end, I found the principles had some similarities with NVR. Parents are human, and it is honest to let our children know that we have boundaries and needs of our own. It is surprising how few parenting books acknowledge the importance of adult’s boundaries.

Sometimes I read parenting books that seem to suggest I need to be fulfilling the children’s needs all the time. The reality is that no amount of self-care will make up for a life of subsuming my own needs for the sake of my children. My boundaries matter and I have to protect them if I want to live comfortably with my children.

Juul spends more of the book advising parents on how to discover what they want and need than he does on giving parenting tips. Though this makes it a little hard for me to reproduce his advice, I found it a very comfortable focus. Many parenting techniques feel false and fake. I can’t repeat scripts or assume an emotion that I don’t feel. I find those experiences excruciating, and my children tend to react badly. Expressing my own thoughts and feelings honestly makes a great deal more sense to me. I think that my children appreciate the respect shown by being treated with honesty.

Overall, this is a fascinating book, and I have found it very thought-provoking. I appreciate the gentleness of Juul’s approach. He doesn’t expect parents to be perfect, though he is generally optimistic about human nature. Rather than the traditional everyone makes mistakes, Juul writes, “The majority of us develop so slowly as human beings that we do not cease to become angry or irritated until long after our children have become adults.” His emphasis, then, is on living alongside our children, establishing and maintaining our own boundaries and supporting them to do the same. This is the first parenting book I’ve read that seems to plot a course leading into being a parent to adult children. On the role of parents to adults, Juul notes, “All of us need to have loving and caring witnesses to our lives.”

I am very glad that I have read this book and can imagine the ideas will continue to reverberate in my mind for a long time.

Review of Autism – How to Raise a Happy Autistic Child by Jessie Hewitson

This book is easy to read. The tone is friendly and cheerful.

The author has an autistic child, but he was only seven at the time of writing. Inevitably, her focus is very much on young autistic children. There is a chapter on education (and I was pleased to see a nod to home education in there), but it is – understandably, I suppose – only really about nursery and the very first year of primary school.

There is little thought given to the autonomy of autistic children. To an extent, that fits with the focus on younger children. Encouraging independence is not the primary focus of parenting pre-school children. Even young children, however, do have preferences. I think that the book would have benefited from a chapter on recognising children’s interests and preferences. Personally, I’ve found that it can be harder to recognise preferences in children with communication differences. Some tips on that would probably be very helpful.

I was very pleased to see that the author has made the effort to contact several adults with autism, and she quotes them liberally. This adds a very useful aspect to her book, giving depth to her descriptions of autism.

Personally, I found some of her stories and feelings familiar. It can be bewildering to be an alistic parent trying to support an autistic child. I found the quotes from autistic adults particularly helpful (these are sprinkled throughout the book). I suspect that many autistic adults have had a lot of practice explaining things to alistic people and so become quite skilled at it.

I think if you have a toddler or a primary school child who has recently been diagnosed, you will probably find this book very helpful. It is certainly reassuring.

This book would make a good antidote to anyone who is afraid of what autism means for their child. For anyone who uses Twitter, there are a few good suggestions of people to follow amongst the autistic commenters.

My Favourite Books for Home Ed

Recently, I blogged about my Favourite Home Ed Resources, I deliberately didn’t include any books, because I thought that they deserved a post of their own. 

We read a lot in our house and we buy a lot of books. Some purchases have been more worthwhile than others, however. This is a list of my favourite Home Ed books. It has been very difficult to make! There are lots of books that I love, lots of books that the boys love, and a surprisingly large number of books that we all love.

Where it’s been very tricky to narrow choices  I down, I’ve tried to choose books that might be new to some people, since I think they’re the most useful to mention.

I strongly recommend all of these books. Please let me know your favourites too. We always need more books!

Oxford School Dictionary
This is a fantastic dictionary for children. It’s easy to understand. Plus, it has short entomological entries for most words, which the boys find really interesting. We’ve tried a few dictionaries, but this is our favourite. It’s a good length, not too long for the boys to look through, but long enough to contain most words they want to use. The definitions are in clear language, so the children can understand them.

Yum, yum! by Mick Manning and Brita Granström

This entire series of books is absolutely brilliant. It’s pitched just right for small children, and effortlessly introduces scientific ideas. This one is about food chains.

Dinosaurs Life Size by Darren Naish

Beautifully inviting from the very start, this book is packed with memorable pictures that help establish an idea of perspective and comparison, as well as lots of facts about dinosaurs.

How Your Body Works by Judy Hindley and Colin King

I adore this book! We had a copy when I was growing up, and I knew that I needed one for the boys. By drawing the body as a machine, it simplifies processes so that they can be clearly seen and understood. The pictures are lively and funny.

The Usbourne Guide to Better English by R. Gee

Clear explanations and carefully chosen examples make this book really easy to use. We refer back to it over and over again. The Contents and Index are exemplary, making it simple for the children to check any aspect of grammar quickly. I’ve bought plenty of books on language, but this is the one we really use.

Microcosmos by Brandon Broll.

It can be tricky to use microscopes with children. A lot of the time, the bulk of the session is devoted to trying to focus the microscope rather than talking about what we can see. So, this book is glorious. It has big pictures, already focused, and still, and allows us to talk about what tiny things actually look like, rather than just how difficult it is to see them.

A Piece of String is a Wonderful Thing by Judy Hindley

When talking about history, it can be really hard to grasp the chronology of things: how all those Romans, Vikings and Normans slot together and follow on from one another. This book gives a broad sweep of human history and can be read in one sitting. It’s funny and it rhymes, so is fun to read, and to listen to, for all ages, over and over again. The focus is small enough for even tiny children to understand, and ubiquitous enough to never lose relevance. I particularly like the extra facts in the corners, which encourage the boys to pick it up and read it again on their own.

The Works: Poems chosen by Paul Cookson

There are many editions of this book. We have the red one. It’s got loads of different types of poetry, some old and some modern. There are lots of funny poems in here. There’s also a huge variety of poets, which gives a fair chance for readers to discover a new favourite. It’s a fantastic book to have on hand. It’s the book that I used to teach Poetry to a home ed group.

Play Time by Julia Donaldson

Plays  are a great way to help children practice reading aloud and performing. This book has lots of fairy tales in script form. There’s a variety of cast sizes but all the plays are short enough for even young children to perform.

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander 

I am a big believer in early exposure to ideas and language. I think that children who hear technical terms from a young age are less likely to be afraid of them later. So, though I don’t believe this book has taught my little ones about pi, I do think it has paved the way. It’s very funny, with lots of mathematical puns, so everyone enjoys reading it. There’s a series of Sir Cumference books, and I think they’re a fun way of making sure that maths is never scary.

What are your favourite books?

My Favourite Home Ed Resources

One of the reasons that I read home ed blogs is to find ideas of resources for my family. So, I thought it might be of interest to someone, if I made a list of all the resources that I recommend.

I’ve bought a lot of stuff over the years. Some has been brilliant and gets used over and over again. Some has been a bit of a disappointment and gets very little use. It can be hard to tell in advance which will be which, however!

If I had to start all over again, with no equipment, these are the first ten things I would get. These are the things that have lasted well and that I am regularly grateful to have in the house.

In no particular order, these are my current favourite resources:

Scales 

I am convinced that proper scales help children understand weight and measures in a way that digital scales simply cannot. So, I encourage the boys to use these when they cook. We’ve also used them for play and for various experiments.

When children move on to equations, that image of the balanced scale is really handy.

Big Maps

Obviously, you can see the layout of the world in an atlas or on a globe. But, big maps that can be laid on the floor, climbed over and had all sorts of toys laid out on them are brilliant for hands-on learning. We’ve marked tectonic plates with masking tape, laid toy animals in their native countries, plotted routes of famous journies and our own holidays. When it comes to map work, bigger is always better!

Chronology

My favourite history-themed game! The aim is to arrange events in chronological order. A brilliant way of getting a sense of how history fits together.

The boys’ history books can be a bit disconnected. This game really helps to get a sense of where everything happens in relation to everything else.

It’s an old game, so there are lots of versions around. We bought ours from a charity shop.

Pot of coins

For playing shops, laying out times tables, demonstrating square numbers, practising basic arithmetic . . . We keep a pot of coins in the kitchen, always on-hand to explain maths.

Coins are small enough that quite large numbers can be easily moved around by little hands. Piles of pennies stack easily, so you can demonstrate tens and units. And children like handling money. Coins are fun to hold and clink in a very satisfying manner.

Ray-Box, lenses and prisms

Not a massively expensive piece of kit, but invaluable for explaining reflection and refraction. Even little ones love experimenting with light.

Air-drying Clay

Easy to use, but capable of producing impressive pieces with a bit of effort, clay is a fantastic resource. It’s handy for art, history and science projects. We even use it to make presents for people. I always like to have clay on hand, ready for any excuse to use it.

Balloons

These are great for all sorts of experiments. A few of which I have described here. And they’re also great for art projects, either to be coated with paper mache, or decorated as they are. The make great targets if your children are desperate to destroy something. They can be turned into water balloons on a hot day, or filled with paint and burst to make exciting pictures.

Fabric pens

Another craft item that gets used over and over. You can draw organs on a t-shirt, or a face on a sock puppet. A set of fabric pens is an easy way to create a costume at short notice. And, when you just need to keep the kids busy, decorating clothing is much more fun than just drawing on paper!

Anatomy model

We had these at school when I was growing up and I really liked it. All the boys enjoy taking ours apart and putting it back together. It’s a great way of helping them see how our bodies work. 

Two-colour Abacus

I read a brilliant book about Teaching Maths Visually and Actively and this was one of the products it recommended. The two colours allow children to develop their concept of number by making it easy to ‘see’ numbers of beads without having to count them. It also encourages counting in gives and tens, which are fundamental skills in our decimal system.


What are your favourite resources? I’m sure that I’ve missed out some brilliant stuff!



Should you adopt?

Adoption is a remarkable thing. It’s a frequent plot device in novels and films. Stories of adoption and reunions make popular reality TV shows. So, it’s not surprising that people have a lot of questions about adopting.

I quite enjoy talking about it, I suppose. Adoption is a huge part of my life and in my constant attempts to do better by my boys, I read, write and talk about adoption a lot.

I like talking about the process – from all sides – and how that’s changed over the years. I like talking – in the abstract, I try to keep some privacy for my family – about trauma and contact with birth family.

The question that often stumps me, however, is the title of this post: Should you adopt?

It’s not like asking me if I recommend a make of car. For what it’s worth, my husband and I both drive Kias, and we think they’re great.

The thing is most people want the same thing from a car: reliability, ease of use, comfort for passengers. Most people drive cars in pretty much the same way. We’re all using the same roads and car parks.

I don’t think that’s the same for adoption. Not everyone does family the same way. 

All parents are different, and all children are different. There are many ways of making a family, and it’s impossible to really recommend any one over another.

When it comes to it, adoption doesn’t have many things to recommend it. 

It’s hugely unreliable. When you enter the process (whether you’re coming in as an adopter or an adoptee) there are no guarantees about what you’re going to get.

Adoption is phenomenally hard to use. It’s complicated, time-consuming, stressful for all parties. And, though people are working on it, the support package is very hit and miss at the moment.

Adoption is uncomfortable. It’s an imperfect solution to a tragedy. Adoption only happens when a family has fallen apart. It’s rooted in pain. It raises questions about identity and family. It’s awkward to live with and to talk about.

There are many, many downsides to adoption.

And the upside is unique to each family, and each person in that family. For me, the upside is having Middly and Eldest in my life. Those incredible boys call me mum, give me hugs, let me share in the remarkable journey of their growing up. It’s absolutely worth it. It’s worth every single struggle, every cost and every tear. There is absolutely no doubt about that for me.

But, the boys’ ‘upside’ is completely different. I get them, and I think I did well. They get me. Only they can say if that’s worth it. And, I don’t think that they can make such a pronouncement until they’re much older (and no longer dependant on me, because that’s got to colour such a question)!

By adopting the boys, I have joined myself to a new family, who have been through a lot. I have made a lot of wonderful friends (there’s a lovely network of adopters on twitter, who are incredible people, strong, determined and overflowing with love).

I am a kinder person because of my experience of adoption. It has taught me patience, gentleness, and forced me to exercise ever greater self-control. I have seen another aspect of the world, and that has made me wiser, even as it has made me cry. I have learned to see small victories and to celebrate small gains.

So, should you adopt?

Adoption is a tricky thing, with more pain than joy. Nobody should go into it expecting a happy ending. At it’s best, adoption solves a problem and adds more love to the world. But, I don’t know if you are going to manage that. I don’t even know if I’m going to manage that, and I know myself pretty well.

I cannot recommend adoption to anyone, I think it has to be a personal decision and I think you need a high level of commitment that wouldn’t be affected by my recommendation anyway. But, I do think it’s important to say that adopting is a huge privilege. Being part of this world of remarkable children has changed my life, and it has changed me, all for the better.