One of the things that you do when you are going through the adoption approval process is to sit down and map out your support network – it is vitally important that you have people around you who can help you through the transition, especially as first-time parents. Adopting a child, rather than a baby, means that you go from 0 to 100 immediately!
When we did our mapping, we first of all noted down all of our family – we knew they would be the primary support. We also had friends with similar aged children who would also be there for advice and help. As we considered the wider context, we began to realise just how much the village itself was an enormous source of support. As the proverb goes, ‘It takes a village to raise a child.’ This worked on so many levels. Not only did we have a wonderful local GP practice that practiced the best family care, but there were all sort of other communities, such as the church and clubs, that were there to support us. I had moved to village when I was twelve and my parents ran the local pub. Many of the villagers had seen me grow up. They knew me and Swee really well, they had lived through our struggle to have a family. They were now looking forward to supporting us in the next stage.
Having said that, it was a double-edged sword. As I have mentioned before, some people seemed to think that we would be more open with Mac’s past. There was nothing to hide, but it was his past to share. When we didn’t share, all sorts of false assumptions were made. With a village comes a lack of privacy – it is almost impossible to do anything without someone knowing. An example of this was when we first moved into our new house and replaced the kitchen (the kitchen window looked out over the main road). We were at a dinner party when someone told us how much they loved our new kitchen, especially our Smeg fridge – they had not been invited in (we didn’t know them that well), but had clearly had a good look through the window, and were keen to voice their opinion!
All of this meant there was plenty of support for us and for Mac, even if it was next to impossible to work through any issues in private. On balance I’d rather have it that way.
Mac was generally popular with the adults in the village. We let Mac have freedom to go to the local shop and the local recreation ground just a five-minute walk away. The joy of the village was that our children were much safer than they would be in a town. Mac used to love to get around on his scooter – he was still perfecting the skills he tried to show us when we first met. He got through many scooters, at least one every birthday and Christmas for a couple of years. He really was “Scooter Boy”.
Mac also had a number of bikes – BMX and mountain bikes, assuring us that they were needed for different things. To be fair Mac did use them a lot and didn’t ask for much else, so we were happy to get them for birthday or Christmas presents.
Our village has an annual Flower Show and Fete. This is a traditional affair, where there is a large marquee put up each year and villagers proudly exhibit their various flowers and vegetables, culinary delicacies and artwork in the hope of winning prizes. The glory is in the honour, not the prize money which was at most £1. Swee and I had done our bit over the years. I had some success with my bread – especially my flavoured Mediterranean loaf, and Swee had won prizes with her photos. She had less luck with her flower arranging – although they were always beautiful, they were sometimes a little avant-garde for the visiting judges, who knew exactly what they liked. A comment one year on Swee’s choice of flowers for her posy in a jam jar was,
“Lovely choice of colours, but flowers a little large for a petite.”!
There were also plenty of special children’s classes, so for Mac’s first Flower Show we helped to get involved and enter lots of them. The best class was for a miniature garden which had its own special cup. Mac won on his first attempt (only with a little input from Swee). He actually enjoyed it and did have a good eye. He also won some prizes with his biscuits and photos.
One class was called an edible animal. The intention was for the kids to make funny animals from misshapen vegetables – but this was not made clear. So Swee and Mac made a fantastic elephant cake – Mac always baked beautiful tasting cakes. The judges awarded Mac a begrudging third prize, but did point out it wasn’t really what they had intended.
There was also a fancy-dress competition. At the last minute, Mac and Emily (my nephew’s step daughter) decided they wanted to enter. We scrabbled about for bits and pieces and much to our shock they both won. Mac loved that flower show as well as the money he won, he also had to go up and receive the cup for his miniature garden. He was very proud.
As Mac grew older, he got involved in a number of village activities. First of all he started going along to the cricket club. He enjoyed this as he and Andrew used to go along together. They would go and practice in nets during the week. The club was always keen to encourage the younger villagers and were always looking for players for the Sunday team, so the boys would often get a game. Of course, with the practice and the encouragement, they got better and better.
The village also had an annual duck race down the small river to raise money for the village shop. Hundreds of numbered yellow plastic ducks would be thrown into the river. Previously, the ducks would have been sold, and the duck that won the race would win a prize. Of course, these ducks were used again and again every year, so it was important to be able to retrieve them all. A couple of people would walk down behind the ducks, encouraging them along and releasing the ones that were caught in the undergrowth. Mac would then be at the end of the race with a couple of other guys in waders with a large net across the stream to ensure that all of the ducks were caught and accounted for. We have great pictures of Mac in his waders working away. It was hard work, but Mac was particularly well suited to it as he was growing so tall.
Mac was probably one of the best customers of our village shop – saving was not a concept that Mac understood and would love to go and spend his pennies on various treats. Also if we needed anything, he would love to go for us. However, if I gave him a ten pound note he had an incredible knack of spending the whole thing. He didn’t like to bring back any change.
So, it was probably inevitable that he started volunteering and working in the shop as he got older, first helping them with the shelves and then working on the till. He loved working there. Mac was always positive and friendly, so it gave him the perfect opportunity to meet and chat to people. Of course, it also kept him nice and close to the sweets and crisps that he could spend his hard-earned pennies on!
I mentioned the pirate costume above, but Mac loved to dress up more generally. He liked nothing better than to put together a costume and play to his heart’s content.
There were a few fancy-dress parties that we went to. Mac looked particularly good as a Bugsy Malone gangster for one of those (he had enjoyed a summer holiday club putting on Bugsy Malone in a week the year before).
He also dressed up a few times for World Book Day at school. He did make a great Harry Potter – he had just the right look. And one year Swee dressed him up in a toga for Greek Day when they were learning about Ancient Greece. He also dressed up one year as a Roman Centurion.
He also loved to dress up in suits and ties – he liked nothing better than to be smart (something that was hard to imagine when he came in from school having played muddy football during the breaks). I can also remember one Christmas as he paraded round in his Union Jack onesie we had just bought him, pretending to show off his muscles like a body builder.
But one costume stands out for me above every other and it was one he put together for himself on a bored afternoon. We were suspicious because we could hear various noises from his bedroom as he rummaged around looking for the things he wanted (for some reason, Mac never realised that we could hear him making noise from his bedroom which is just above the kitchen – he seemed to think he was in some sound-proofed box!)
When he came down he looked amazing. He had decided he wanted to look like Harry Potter playing Quidditch. He had dressed up in a football jersey. He had put football pads on his arms and legs. He had a long piece of cardboard as a broom and a ball to throw. Of course, this was all topped off with his Harry Potter glasses. He looked great! He had a great time posing for pictures and pretending to play Quidditch. He loved to use his imagination so much, and dressing up was always a great outlet.
The village was, and is, the perfect place to bring up children. It had the best combination of friendship and companionship and plenty of people to look out for you. The village really did help to bring Mac up and grow into a wonderful, mature young man.
TV and films
I can’t talk about Mac’s growing up and his interests without mentioning TV and films.
Like most children, Mac liked to watch TV – when he was younger he would really enjoy the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. He watched all of the series, particularly ‘Hannah Montana’, ‘Zack and Cody’, ‘Phineas and Ferb’. His favourite was ‘The Wizards of Waverley Place’, and we often used to sit down and watch it together. Mac would happily watch the same episode again and again.
We used to watch TV together in the evening. Swee and Mac used to always watch ‘Eastenders’ together. Actually we would often find it would bring up useful subjects that we could then discuss with him. We also loved to watch the typical Saturday evening programmes together, like ‘Merlin’ or ‘Atlantis’ and particularly ‘Doctor Who’ – great family entertainment.
As Mac got older, he watched TV with us less, as he could stream series on his tablet, or watch TV in the kitchen. But he still loved a series, really enjoying ‘Casualty’ and ‘Holby City’.
But more than TV, I think Mac loved films. Mac and I would often go to the cinema at the weekend or during the holidays – going to see the latest releases, and enjoying a frozen slush drink and jelly sweets. We also have loads of DVDs at home. Of course, we would watch the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings films time and time again. Swee and Mac would often sit down and watch a DVD together if he had done his homework and wasn’t going outside to play.
I remember fondly a story Swee recounted to me one day when I got home from work. One of his favourites was the remake of St Trinians – the humour really appealed to him. After watching it one time, he asked Swee,
“Mum, what’s a Brazilian?”
She knew he wasn’t referring to the nationality! So, she valiantly explained the finer details of that particular form of hair removal. He seemed satisfied with the explanation and carried on watching the film.
Without doubt, Mac’s favourite film was Forrest Gump. He watched it for the first time on a cruise on a day when the weather wasn’t as nice. We were snuggled up in the cabin and it was on the film channel. I have to admit, I had never seen the film either. Mac was hooked. Something about the character of Forrest really chimed with Mac. He watched the film again and again and nearly wore out the CD at home. He knew it back to front, and did a wonderful impression of Forrest.
Mac knew he wasn’t academic and for that reason particularly liked to use this quote,
“I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is.”
It’s hard to argue with that sentiment.