The first week together

Lapland UK

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It had been decided that Mac should spend a few days at home with us before he started at the local primary school.  This was a chance for us all to bond and to start to settle into the rhythm of life as a new family.

As we knew this time was coming we had done some planning to decide what we might do with the time.  We wanted to do something memorable, starting to make those memories with Mac.  As it was running up to Christmas we looked to see if there were Christmassy things that we could so together.  We found that there was a new experience that was being laid on called “Lapland UK” where you could get the chance for that Lapland and Father Christmas experience without having to travel abroad.  (Travel abroad was not something we could contemplate as we do not have parental control at this point and Mac did not have a passport.)

So we booked tickets.  With the tickets came a special invitation to Mac from Father Christmas to come and visit him in Lapland.  We wanted to make it special, so on the Sunday morning after he arrived we made sure that Mac found the invitation on top of the wood burner in our sitting room.  Mac was so excited!  He had visited Father Christmas once before, but certainly hadn’t travelled to Lapland.

So the next day, we drove to the venue in Kent.  This was quite a long drive, so added to the excitement that we were really travelling a long way.  Mac always fell asleep in the car, so as he woke up we were just approaching the site.

We went up to the entrance. We were given a special time slot to enter.  A number of parents and their children were taken by elves the entrance to “Lapland”.  We entered into a special closed area decorated as an enchanted wood.  As we walked further the scenery became more snowy, and it certainly made you feel as if it was getting colder.  The elves explained that we were walking along a magic path that would take us all the way to Lapland.  As we came out of the wood we came across a huge pair of gates and entered a Winter Wonderland, full of snow and looking every bit as if we had come across Lapland.

There was loads to do.  We visited real reindeers.  Mac decorated gingerbread biscuits with Mother Christmas.  We ate lunch in a dining room full of elves.  We were able to buy lots of Christmas decorations and Christmas sweets.  The highlight of the day was to visit Father Christmas.

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Before we went to see him, I went along to a special office where you were able to fill in a form with key details about Mac, so that Father Christmas would be able to recount them and keep the illusion real.  Of course this was really difficult, as many of the questions were unanswerable – who was his best friend, what was his favourite thing to do – Mac was in a new home and I wasn’t sure I could provide the right answers.  So I went up to the desk and explained Mac’s situations.  The organisers were fantastic and said they would explain everything.

So we went into a waiting room and were collected by an elf who led us through a snowy wood to reach a wood cabin.  We entered and there was Father Christmas sitting on reindeer skins ready to weave his magic.

Mac was open-mouthed.  Father Christmas related a few facts – knowing Mac’s name, knowing the names of our dogs – and then he said the most special thing. 

“I know that you have just moved to live with these special people.  I am sure you will be very happy.  I know where you live and will make sure I deliver some special presents.”

He handed over some presents to Mac – a copy of “The Night before Christmas” and a beautiful cuddly toy in the shape of a husky puppy.  We left the visit with Father Christmas very happy.

There was one more thing that Mac wanted to do.  There was a wonderful ice skating rink and Mac was keen to try it out.  Now neither Swee nor I are any good at ice skating.  I had once tried it and was never able to let go of the side – Swee had had an experience just as bad!  So we knew that we would be of no help, but we didn’t want to disappoint him.  With luck, the venue had thought about everything and there were special “ice-skating elves” there to help the children who were not very proficient. Mac put on his skates and took to the ice.

We were terrified he was going to hurt himself.  When  a child first moves in with you, you do not have parental control – it still sits with social services – and social service visit a lot to see how things are going.  We were so worried that he might fall over.

“We can’t break him on the first week that he lives with us!” Swee said.

Of course, we shouldn’t have worried.  Mac was well looked after by the elf and had a great time skating on the ice.  With that, we were all tired and decided it was time to start the journey home.

As soon as we started driving, Mac fell asleep and slept the whole two and half hour drive home.  We finished the day by picking up his favourite pizza on the way back to the village. 

That night we decided that it was time for Mac to write his Christmas list to Father Christmas.  He wrote a really modest list, and we put it on the wood burner where the invitation from Father Christmas had arrived.  We left a small drink and a cake for Father Christmas (we didn’t have any mince pies yet) and Mac went to bed in the hope that Father Christmas would pick it up (of course, he did and also enjoyed the cake and the drink!!)

We all slept well that night.

The Last Days Before School

The next morning Mac came downstairs in the morning and checked on the woodburner (we had closed the door to the sitting room so it looked like no-one had been in there) and announced to us that the letter had gone and that Father Christmas had also had the cake and drink.

We started to plan Mac’s bedroom with him, asking what colour walls he would like and arranging bits of furniture.  He had been given lots of books so we ordered some bookshelves.  We found a small hammock that we were able to put all of the soft toys that people had bought for him.  We made sure that there were plenty of pictures and that it started to feel like his room and that he felt comfortable in it.  We wanted to make sure that it was a place that he always felt safe in – a sanctuary that he could retreat to when things were difficult.

Mac and I spent a great deal of time together.  Swee was getting everthing ready for Christmas – writing cards to everyone and letting them know of our news and that Mac had moved in.  we had made the conscious decision that I would spend as much time with Mac as I could during my adoption leave as we knew that I would never get concentrated time like that again.

We made many trips to the recreation ground and the children’s playground – kicking balls around and me pushing Mac on the swing.  Again and again, Mac talked about how excited he was to be starting school and how excited he was to be able to make new friends.  Certainly it was not the academic that Mac was looking forward to, but the opportunity to mix with his own age group.

Just before Mac started school he had a session with his play therapist, Chris.  He had spent a great deal of time with Chris over the last couple of years – first to get him ready for his adoptive placement with his brother, and then to help him get over being taken away and split up from him.  Chris was extremely fond of Mac and had helped him an great deal.  She was so pleased that he had found a placement that looked like it should work for him.

I remember Chris coming and saying, “I love to get together with the children for some messy play so that we can help them come to terms with everything that is happening to them”.

(I will be honest that I wasn’t that keen on the idea of “messy” play!!)

Chris and Mac spent some time together painting and we left them to it.  It was important that Mac felt he could tell her anything he needed to without us overhearing.  The session went well and Chris arranged to come back in a week or so to see how he was coping with his new school. 

I have to be honest, I had been a little sceptical about the effectiveness of play therapy, and there were times when I was sure that Mac was “playing the game” and saying what he thought they wanted to hear.  In fact Chris left an orangutan glove puppet called Charlie with us so that Mac could talk to him if he needed to.  (The first thing Mac asked us to do was put Charlie in the wardrobe as he was terrified of it!)

But it is clear that Mac and Chris has a very special and close bond, and there is no doubt in my mind that it was partly her work with him that helped be ready, eager and able to settle into a new adoptive placement, so we will always be grateful to the work that she did with him.

So, the first few days had gone well.  We were starting to fall into a pattern and it was clear that Mac was more than ready to start school.  So on the Wednesday morning he started in year 3 of St Mary Bourne Primary School.

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