14 November 2008

The introductions were complete and had gone well, and finally a date was set for Mac to move in.  Just before this we went on a long planned holiday with my parents and sister and brother-in-law – a cruise to the Mediterranean that was to be our last adult holiday for some time.

Just before we left we went to see Mac to explain that we would be away and to assure him we would be back.   Most children instinctively trust the people around them until they are proved wrong.  However, for adopted children it is common that their trust has been abused so many times that they tend not to trust until that trust has been built up.  We were concerned that a fortnight would be a long time for Mac not to see us – as a young eight year old he still found the concept of time difficult.  So we wrote Mac a number of letters and gave them to Sue and Mark to give to Mac at certain points during that two weeks to ensure that Mac felt we were in touch and coming back.

Once were back, we quickly went to see Mac with presents of a cuddly dog from us, a Barcelona football shirt from my sister and plenty of sweets.  Then Sue and Mark came over with Mac for bonfire night.  The village always had a huge bonfire and firework display with hot dogs and baked potatoes.  We had a great evening and we sensed that Mac was less keen to leave – he seemed like he really was ready to move in.

The next time we were to meet was a week or so later on moving-in day.

As Swee had left work to look after Mac, I was entitled to take statutory adoption leave, which was enhanced to six weeks by my employer. At the time I was nervous about being away from work for so long.  It was still unusual then for men to take leave for childcare reasons and it seemed like so long to be away.  I was worried about how it might affect my career – would my department get used to me not being around, would I be overlooked for good opportunities because I wasn’t there, after all “out of sight, out of mind”.

I have to say, I am forever grateful to my director at the time, Paul.  I had a great working relationship with Paul and I said to him although I was on adoption leave I would be available to talk and could even pop in if necessary.  Now anyone who has worked with Paul, will know that he has many great qualities, but his sense of pastoral care was not always top of the list!  But he provided the best example of leadership that I can remember. He told me that I should forget work for the six weeks and concentrate on my new family.  In fact he went as far to say that he would be angry if I did get in touch.

“When I get to the Pearly Gates, I don’t want St. Peter to blame me for you not bonding properly with your son”, he said. 

It was the kindest thing he could have done.  He gave me the permission I needed to concentrate on my new life for six weeks without the daily distraction and stresses of work.

It was the morning of Friday, 14 November 2008 – the first of my adoption leave.  The timing of the adoption leave was going to work perfectly as it took me through to the week after Christmas.  Neither Swee nor I can remember much about that morning.  I think we were in a bit of a daze, making sure that everything was ready for Mac, but with everything seeming a little unreal.  From today, that was it – he would be moving in and we would begin the journey to becoming a perfect unit – a new family.

So mid-morning, Sue and Mark turned up with Mac, and Denise was also there.  They unpacked and brought in three small boxes and a small suitcase with all of his stuff which we took up to the bedroom.  They purposely didn’t stay long and waved goodbye leaving us to it.  (We would be seeing Denise soon, as the social worker involved visits a great deal to begin with to make sure everything is going well.)

We helped Mac to unpack his things.  There were already a few other things in his bedroom – some cuddly toys that we had accumulated and some games.  We also had a stained glass rocket that hung against the window and a few pictures on the wall.  We had not done much more to the bedroom, because we promised Mac that he could help decide how he wanted his bedroom decorated.  He had some posters that he wanted to put up – a particular favourite being his “Lord of the Rings” poster.  Mac loved “Lord of the Rings” and could watch it time and time again. One of his prized possessions was a cushion with his favourite character, Orlando Bloom as Legolas, which we placed on his bed.

Then we went downstairs to sit down and have some lunch together and decide what we were going to do for the rest of the day.

That first day was pretty daunting.  Swee and I had spent lots of time our siblings’ and friends’ children, but now it was down to us.  This stranger had come to live in our house, had come to be our son, and we wanted to make everything really special and perfect.  But how would we fill our time – what would we actually do to keep him entertained? 

To begin with the situation is even more difficult.  You are advised to keep other people away as much as possible.  There is a sense that you want to have everyone round to be introduced to the new addition to your family.  But, of course, that can be particularly daunting, so the first few days was just the three of us. We did say hello to a few people in passing – our next door neighbours had similar aged children and were keen to say hello.

Of course, we had thought about how we wanted things to be.  We wanted to make sure that we integrated Mac into our live as much as possible – if we needed to go shopping, we would take him with us and try to make the trip enjoyable, if we had things to do around the house, we would get him to help.  We wanted to involve him in our daily lives as much as possible.

We decided to pop to the local supermarket. Although we had already completely stocked up on food, we wanted to see if there were any particular things that Mac would like to make him feel more at home.  Also, it was a way to make the day as normal as possible.  It would have been easy to do lots of really fun things on the first day, but we were keen that Mac should fall into normal daily life with us.

So off we went and for the first time negotiated a supermarket with an eight year old in tow.  So many things were different – strapping him into his booster seat in the car (he was just a little to short not to have one at that point), parking in the parent and child spot, walking around a supermarket trying to look like we weren’t complete novices and this wasn’t some strange child that had just walked into our lives!

It was an opportunity for Mac to identify some of his “go-to” treats.  Any type of milkshake was always very popular – whether it’s the thick ones that are already made up, or just a simple few spoons of Nesquick in some milk.  Mac has always loved making his own milkshakes – mixing different flavours to see how they turn out. Super noodles was another favourite – a packet of super noodles was always something that would satisfy his hunger, particularly when he was in the middle of a growth spurt.

Mac did like sweets, but his favourite flavour was definitely mint.  He also liked chocolate and marshmallows – a hot chocolate with lots of marshmallows in the top was his idea of heaven.  And this love of mint and chocolate came together in mint choc chip ice cream.

Mac had no great love of fruit at that point, but he was very happy to eat vegetables.  Actually what Mac really loved was a proper home-cooked meal.  Swee’s mince is legendary, and if Mac smelt Swee’s mince cooking away on the hob, he knew there was going to be “pesgetti” (his name for spaghetti) for tea.  When it was evening like that he couldn’t be happier.  I think he really realised the love and care that goes into cooking for your family, and that made him feel loved and wanted.

Once we came back from shopping, Mac and I went for a walk around the village, and over to the recreation ground and playground.  We are lucky here to have great facilities for our younger children and Mac loved to play on the swings and the slide and the bouncy horse.  Of course, what Mac really was missing and craving was company of other children.  He knew in his heart that he shouldn’t really be an only child, he shouldn’t really have to put up with just playing in the playground with me – he had a younger brother living in another home and he felt that loss a great deal.

So as we sat on the bench in the playground eating a mint choc chip cornetto (even though it was November!), he started to talk about wanting to make friends.  He was really looking forward to going to school so that he could meet other children of his age and make the sorts of friendships he had dreamed about.  As he had moved around so many times in his eight years, and missed a great deal of school, Mac had missed out on the opportunity of making real friends and understanding how friendships worked – all of that was to come.

Of course, in the same way that as adults dreaming of having a family we had built up in our minds what being a family would be like, adopted children do exactly the same things.  They can have an idolised view of how things are going to be, and it is your job as adults to help them to negotiate the reality.

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When we got home, there was a surprise waiting for Mac.  One of our friends makes wonderful cakes and she had kindly made a “Welcome home” chocolate cake and £20.  Mac was stunned – we still have a great picture of him looking lovingly at the cake and holding up the £20 smiling.

Finally the evening came.  As it was a special day for all of us, and a Friday night, we decided we would have a treat and have fish and chips.  Mac and I went off to the local chippy and went to get our tea – cod and chips for Swee and battered sausage and chips for me and Mac (Mac and I share a dislike of fish).  We sat at our table and ate up the chips and had a nice chat about what we would do over the next few days.

The 14 November 2008 was a special night for another reason – the annual telethon “Children in Need” was on the TV.  We all snuggled up together on the sofa, watching our favourite TV stars doing silly things with the great Terry Wogan holding everything together.  Mac was cuddled up next to me and I could feel him relaxing and getting tired and ready for bed after a very busy and eventful day.

There were lots of short films, showing some of the children that had been helped by the charity and how the money had made a difference.  As he was watching the TV, Mac said,

“That’s a bit like me.  I used to be a children (sic) in need, but I’m not any more now I have come to live here.”

They say from the mouths of babes!  To be honest Swee and I were pretty emotional anyway, but this really brought a tear to the eye.

“That’s right, Mac”, I said.

From that day, “Children in Need” has been our favourite charity.  Mac always loved the opportunity to get involved at school and to help raise as much money as possible.  He really identified with the plight of the children he would see on the TV – there was a real sense of emotional intelligence and empathy with them.

It was soon time for a bath and bed.  Mac was used to this as his routine and it was a routine we were glad to continue.  Mac had a lovely warm bath with lots of bubbles and then he got into his pyjamas and into bed. 

I sat next to his bed, and read him a story – we had decided to work through the Mr Men books (we had the complete set that had belonged to my nephews).  We looked at the pictures together and followed the words of Mr Happy.

Finally we added something to bedtime.  We had given him a picture with an Angel and a prayer on it.  The prayer was one that I had been given by my Godfather when I was young and we had passed it onto to several of our Godchildren over the years.  It’s a lovely prayer to say with a child at night time and we wanted to work it into Mac’s routine.

It goes like this:

God is above me, my safety to keep,

Angels are watching and guarding my sleep,

The sweet stars are shining to keep away fear,

My mummy and daddy, I know, are quite near,

I’m loved and I’m happy,

My small heart is light,

Thankyou for everything, dear God,

Goodnight.

We said this prayer every night and Mac would join in with the “goodnight”, but very soon learned the words himself.  It was always a lovely way to calm down and prepare him for sleep.  Swee then came up and we both kissed him good night and he went off to sleep.

We went downstairs, pleased that we had got through the day and excited about everything that was to come.  I stayed up to watch more of “Children in Need” to see how much was raised and then followed Swee to bed.  It was so nice to be able to check in on Mac on the way to bed and see that he was sleeping deeply, with a couple of cuddly toys clutched to his chest.

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