Mac’s behaviour did improve and we all got better at reading what he was telling us. About six months after Mac moved in I had to go on a work trip to Japan. I had been on short trips before, away just for a couple of nights, but this time I was going to be away for a full week – the longest time I had been away from him.
I remember as I said good bye to him, I reassured him that I would talk to him and that I would be back. He just shrugged – he didn’t really believe me. After all everyone had left him before.
While I was away, one of Mac’s teachers beckoned Swee over when she came to pick him up – she wondered what might be wrong now.
“We just wanted to check that everything is OK with you husband away. Mac says that you have been crying every evening. Is there anything that anyone can do to help?”
Swee looked at her in a rather puzzled manner, and then realised what was happening. Mac had a habit of putting his own behaviours onto other people. Actually Swee had been fine without me (of course!) but Mac had been crying and missing me. His way of telling the teachers was to transfer the emotions to Swee.
When I did get home, I remember how excited Mac was – part of it was because he realised he was going to get nice exotic presents. But I think he did realise that I had kept my word and that I had come back as I said I would. The date was particularly significant – the evening I landed back from Japan was the day that Mac’s official adoption went through. We would go to court later in June for an official ceremony, but on 14 May 2009, Mac’s adoption order went through. When I left for Japan Mac was still in the care of the state, but when I landed I was now legally his father and he was legally Macaully Richard George Sutcliffe.
Mac was lucky to go on a couple of school trips with primary school. For some children this is quite a young age to be away from parents, but we knew that this was not going to be difficult for Mac as he was used to going to new places and settling in. He also relished the idea of spending all day and evenings with other children – I think it made him feel a bit like he did when he was living with his brothers.
However, there were still some parents who were uncomfortable about Mac. As I said earlier, we did not share his story with people – it was his private business and up to him when, and if, he decided to share information about his earlier life. One of the downsides with a village is it is very easy for a vacuum to be filled with misinformation and to some extent this is what happened. Also, Mac’s behaviour was improving a great deal, but he had been pretty difficult to start with and that is a label that can be hard to shift.
Again, the school were fantastic. They made it clear that there was no good reason that Mac should not be allowed to go, and that if they were uncomfortable then they didn’t have to send their own children.
Actually, the trip went extremely well for Mac. It was a real turning point for him at the school. He had a great time, but he was also a real comfort to the children who were away from home for the first time and really missing their parents. Mac had real empathy with those were in pain, and was able to play a “big brother” role. We noticed a change in him when he came back, and it had certainly helped with his place in the group.
Mac did love to go on all sorts of school trips – I think he enjoyed being out of the school environment, and thrived much more. He also tended to be good with younger children – this was something we saw again and again. Mac was always very caring, but he particularly loved to be in the older brother role with younger children – it seemed to be that he was always looking for an opportunity to fill that gap in his life when he was taken away from his little brother.
At the end of the first term, the school puts on a Christmas Carol Service in our local church. I can still remember Mac’s first carol service. He was so fidgety that he was stood next to one of the teaching assistants to make sure he would stand still. If you had been asked to look for the child that stood out (for the wrong reasons!) you would have immediately pointed Mac out. In fact in my experience it is common to see that in children that have been in care – they often do find it difficult to concentrate, or are looking around at their surroundings, less able to concentrate.
But as Mac moved on through the school, you could see this behaviour start to change, slowly but surely. As each performance moved on, he started to look more and more comfortable.
At the end of the Summer term, the older years would put on a school play. The younger children would be in the chorus, with the speaking parts taken by the year 6 children – their starring roles before they moved onto secondary school.
However, in year 5 Mac was asked by the year 6 teacher if he would like to have a named role in the end of year play Robin Hood. They needed an extra boy and as he was the oldest in year 5, they wanted him to have the chance of being Will Scarlet. He was so proud! He got to be the only year 5 with a named part and was able to have rehearsals with those who were correctly his peers. I can still remember sitting in that hot school hall watching him as he proudly took to the stage with all of the year 6 children. It was at that stage that I full understood the transformation that had taken place over those years. Mac no longer stood our for the wring reasons. He was able to stand side by side with his peers and others.
In his final year – 2012 – the school put on a special play marking Olympic year (London was hosting the Olympics that year). He was great and really himself. At last he seemed to be one of the gang.
On the last day of term, one of the other children had a party at his house for all of his class. Mac had an amazing time. I remember as I picked him up and drove him home, he burst into tears!
“I didn’t realise how much I loved that school and how much I’m going to miss it all!”
The transformation was complete. He still was behind his peers in reading and writing, but had come on socially in leaps and bounds – he was as ready as he was ever going to be for the transition to secondary school.
At his leaving assembly, all of the children were given a prize – for something that marked out their time at the school. Mac was given an award for “finding his writer’s voice”. Although his spelling was appalling, and never really improved, Mac always loved to write. It really helped him to express his feeling and to set out his imagination. From the first notes that he wrote to us and left on our pillow, to poems, songs and stories he used to write in the books that were littered around his very untidy bedroom. His teacher saw that in him even then.