Pets

Day 8 of #adoptersblogtober18

We have a rabbit, which belongs to Eldest, and some rats, which belong to Middly.

Both boys got their pets for their tenth birthdays (we have a list of things that happen at various ages, getting a pet is the privilege that comes with turning ten, though there are some provisos about being responsible).

Blizzard, the rabbit, is still rather wary of children. Eldest likes to sit in the rabbit run, reading a book. If he sits for a while, Blizzard will hop onto his lap for a stroke. He is the softest rabbit I’ve ever touched. Eldest loves him, and the quiet wariness suits a pet belonging to Eldest.

Middly’s rats are completely different. The day we got them, I told the boys to sit quietly and let the rats explore in their own time. I said they shouldn’t stroke them, at first, they should give the rats time to get used to their new home. The rats instantly ran up to the boys and climbed all over them! They have never been afraid in the least.

Middly’s rats scamper out to greet us every time we go near them. They love new things and new people. They’re perfect pets for our sociable – and sometimes rather excitable – Middly.

The pets have reflected our boys’ feelings, given them a new way of talking about emotions. Eldest can see how too many visitors make Blizzard withdraw to his hutch, and he can tell us that sometimes he likes to withdraw to his room when we have visitors. Middly’s watched his rats get so excited over a banana that they fall off the table; he can see what over-excitement looks like from the outside and relate it to how he feels at times.

Talking about the pets’ emotions on moving house helped us to explore the boys’ feelings as well.

The pets can be an easy topic of conversation, when things are strained at home. It’s easy to get a laugh by reminding Middly of the time one of his rats climbed in my cold mug of tea. Even if Eldest can’t accept a nurturing gesture from me, he can take a stalk of broccoli for his rabbit, and know that I am thinking of him. At times, the pets can be distractions from our stresses, or play substitute for the care I want to lavish on the boys. They are a shared love for us, demanding less in the way of relationships than people do. Loving the pets is uncomplicated.

Unfortunately, though rabbits live eight to twelve years, pet rats only live two to three years. So, earlier this year, Middly was the first of our children to lose a pet.

One of his rats – the white one, named Nippur – got a chest infection. We took her to the vets, but they weren’t able to save her. In the end, it was decided that Nippur should be put down. We buried Nippur under an apple tree in the garden. I said a few words about what a good rat she had been.

The boys have all dealt with this little loss in their own way. Youngest has found it easiest to talk about what happened and how he feels. Middly’s accepted some hugs. Eldest was rather sombre.

Saying goodbye to Nippur has meant that she has passed from part of our family to part of our family story. She is a shared memory now, a part of that web of shared experiences that makes us who we are. Having pets has drawn us closer.

Advertisements

Comfort and Discomfort

Day 7 of #adoptersblogtober18

When we went to our Approval Panel, to persuade a group of experts that we would make good enough parents to adopt, I thought long and hard about what to wear. I wanted to dress like a mother. I wanted to dress like someone a child would want to snuggle up to. I wanted to look like a source of comfort. I chose a soft grey skirt and a cotton polo neck. Of course, the outfit almost certainly had no effect on the panel! But, I think it does say something about me, and what I expected to be as a mother.

I still wear soft clothes, actually. I don’t like to wear zips or buttons wear they might catch on a cuddly child. I don’t wear sequins or brooches. I like to dress in a way that invites hugs.

The truth is that the boys need all the encouragement that I can give them. When they were small, they weren’t particularly keen on physical affection. They weren’t even keen on me putting plasters on cuts, or washing dirty faces.

They quite liked wrestling, though. Grabbing, squeezing and poking were all easier for the boys to do than gentle hugs or kisses. When they did hug me, they would turn it into a little competition and ask me to try and hug tighter than them. Now, when both the big boys are taller than me, they like to throw themselves at me in a bear hug that knocks me over (usually we land safely on the sofa, they’re playful bears).

I suppose in a way it summarises out relationship. Comfort and discomfort are tightly linked. Soft hugs are counterpoised with rough pushes.

Getting close to me, trusting me, can be hard for the boys. It can feel scary at the very moment it feels safest. Scary, because it’s safe. Because trusting a grown-up to keep you safe is taking a risk.

I’m amazed and proud at their willingness to take such a risk with me, though I wish that it was easier for them to do.

I don’t know how much I can really do about this tension. Ultimately, the best I’ve come up with so far is to keep on being safe, keep on offering soft edges for them to bump against, and hope that the repeated proof will make a lasting impression.

Cooking

Day 6 of #adoptersblogtober18

We love to cook in my house. We’re not particularly skilled or adventurous cooks.

I am happy to admit that I often buy kit cakes for the boys to make. They’re very easy, reliable ways of baking, and give the boys practice in following instructions.

We love to make cornflake cakes, cheesecake, and even microwave cakes.

We make all our own bread, usually in the bread machine, but once a week or so, someone will make a batch of rolls by hand.

Once a year, the boys take over the cooking for a week. They put together a meal plan (we keep a weekly meal plan on the fridge as part of our daily routines); they do an online grocery shop (keeping to a budget); then they cook all the meals for a week. It’s a lot of fun, and I think it’s helped develop their confidence.

Cooking is an important life skill and one of the great joys of home educating is being able to devote time to teaching life skills as well as academics.

I’m not a keen cook. I don’t like to spend more than half an hour preparing any meal (half an hour being one episode of a TV show, and the length of time I can usually leave the boys in the living room by themselves). I like short cuts (frozen, chopped garlic and onions, for example). But, despite all that, I do love putting a tasty meal in front of my family and watching them tuck in.

Feeding others brings me a deep pleasure and pride. When I teach the boys to cook, I am teaching them the joy of caring for others, the strength of being a provider. More than culinary expertise, it is the delight in sharing and in strengthening those around you that I really want to pass on.

Trees

Day five of #adoptersblogtober18

The boys love to climb trees. Middly in particular loves to climb as high as possible then jump into an adjoining tree! This trick terrifies me!

When they first came home, the boys used to get stuck up trees quite frequently. I’m still not sure if they were genuinely scared / unable to get down or if they just wanted to enjoy being ‘rescued’. Either way, we always climbed up after them and brought them down. It was reassuring for them, I think.

In the end we instituted a family rule. If you got stuck up a tree and had to be carried down, you weren’t allowed up the same tree again that day. It reduced my tree climbing to manageable levels.

A few years ago now, I rescued Eldest from a tree for what proved to be the very last time. He was quite big and it wasn’t easy to climb down the tree again, guiding him and supporting him. But, I wanted him to trust me to be there, so I climbed up and – slowly – I brought him back down.

When we got back to solid ground I tried to calm him, saying, “you never need to be scared of getting stuck. I’ll always come up and help you.”

He replied, “I know that. I was scared that you’re so fat the tree would break!”

Still, whatever he needed from the countless tree rescues, I guess he’s got it now.

These days, all the boys clamber up and down trees with very little trouble and only need me to stand at the bottom, holding coats.

Technology

Day 4 of #adoptersblogtober18

My husband and I love tech. We have a robotic lawn mower. When my giant stomach made it hard for me to empty the water out of the tumble dryer, my husband fitted an automatic pump. We are often happy to use tech to solve our problems.

When it comes to the children using technology, however, we’re quite cautious.

I guess my main concern is that not all technology is of equal value.

I am keen on the boys learning to program and to type. I am not at all keen on them whiling away hours with mindless games. The boys feel somewhat differently.

They love games like Agar.io, which involves moving a dot around a screen trying to eat other dots. It’s similar to Snake, the first game I had on a mobile phone.

Unfortunately, playing these sorts of games doesn’t seem to put the boys in a very good mood. I think that the gradual build up of speed in these games makes players tense. So, we end up limiting the amount of time our boys spend on electronic toys.

They’re still young, however, perhaps in time they’ll start to see more of the possibility of technology and enjoy it more.

The Beach

Day three of #adoptersblogtober18

My husband grew up in Cornwall and loves the sea. I’m not quite so keen. It’s always windy by the sea.

So, though we live in Norfolk, I rarely take the boys to the beach.

The beach is where my husband takes them on Saturdays, when I’m having a bit of a break. The four of them go on long walks together, usually on pebbly beaches.

I tend to take the boys for walks through woods or by lakes. It’s not really very different, though. I think that we all enjoy getting outside where there’s lots of space.

Inside, the boys can seem a bit much, sometimes. They get loud and boisterous and I can feel rather hemmed in by them. A wide open space dilutes the noise and drama. I sometimes think that I like the boys better when we’re outdoors. Getting outside is certainly helpful when we start to wind one another up.

As a matter of fact, I think that I will plan a nice walk for tomorrow afternoon, probably not to the beach, though.

Safety

Before our boys came home, we had a safety assessment of our house. Our Local Authority gave us a list of safety products we needed. The list included cupboard locks, an oven guard (one of these – yes, we bought one, no, it didn’t survive very long at all), and plug covers. The plug covers were slightly controversial. My husband refused to have them in the house at all, on the grounds that they make sockets – which in the UK are already very safe – more dangerous. He’s not alone in this opinion. In the event, our social worker was bemused by his passion, I think, and just signed the assessment off without socket covers.

The image I had was off swaddling our children in softness, covering up the house’s corners and edges, protecting them from anything that could catch, scratch or burn them.

Once the boys actually arrived, all the safety features got a good test. In our house, the stair-gate became a launch platform, so it was swiftly removed. The cupboard locks and oven guard were shown for the flimsy plastic they are. All those plastic catches and screens stood no chance against our robust children.

My idea of safety features changed. I now consider the safest environment to be the simplest, barest one. The fewer bits and pieces lying around, the fewer things there are to break or throw.

When we have needed to make things safer, I have found that simplicity is key. Cutting out distractions is calming. Reducing the number of places we go, and the number of different people we see, can cut the number of potential issues down and keep us all safer.

When it comes to safety, I don’t really rate any devices very highly. Less is more.