As Mac’s parents, we wanted to make sure that he had as many opportunities to learn new skills and take part in new activities as he could, and to make up for some of the things he had missed out on in his earlier life. Academia was never going to be the highlight of Mac’s life, so we wanted to find other areas that he could enjoy and excel in. Joining clubs outside of school we hoped he would also get the chance to meet new people and find a wider circle of friends.
We knew Mac loved the water, and as I mentioned earlier had learned basic swimming in a week on holiday. He was very keen to have swimming lessons so we signed him up for lessons at the local pool on Saturday mornings. In a previous placement Mac had also tried Judo. Like many boys he loved the idea of martial arts. We knew there was a fantastic taekwondo club at the same leisure centre as the pool on a Saturday morning, so it looked like we would be able to fit both in.
So, Saturday mornings became my time with Mac. I would take him to swimming lessons. He would then be able to change for Taekwondo and join the session after that. It worked extremely well. We normally rounded off the morning with having a quick lunch together – sometimes just a sandwich, or if we felt like a real treat, we might pop into the McDonalds drive-thru.
Mac loved both of these activities. He was a strong swimmer from the beginning. Once Mac joined us, he began to grow really quickly (as can be seen clearly by the markings on his bedroom wall where we recorded his height). Mac seemed to have a constant growth spurt – in some way his body knew that he was happy and settled and responded accordingly. It was impossible to keep him in trousers. He quickly moved up the classes as he learned the strokes and became stronger and stronger.
Soon enough, he was moving into learning life-saving. As he was still young and under sixteen, he could not qualify as a lifeguard. However, the swimming club ran a ‘rookie lifeguard’ qualification and Mac steamed through this. He did so well in his swimming that the teachers asked him to stay on to the next lessons so that he could help the younger, weaker swimmers.
We had been keen to look into Taekwondo as we had heard such good things about the club and the black belt who ran it. He devoted an enormous amount of his time to the club and to nurturing and teaching those who came. The emphasis was on balance, coordination and discipline – all things that Mac needed to work on. Just over a year before Mac came to us, he had broken his leg quite badly when his little brother jumped on top of him on a trampoline. He had to spend a long time in hospital, and although his leg had healed well, it had affected his balance.
Mac loved Taekwondo. He liked the challenge of the moves (or patterns) that he had to learn to gain the next belt up. He would proudly stand in the living room showing us what he had learned and needed to practice. He did gradually work through his belts, and made it to blue belt. It was hard work, but he did enjoy the time at the club, especially when they spent some time working on sparring.
When it became too tough, Mac would often take a break for a while. We never forced him to go – we would encourage, but if Mac had decided there was no point pushing it. In time he would go back after a while and pick up where he left off. Sometimes I think he just needed a change from the routine.
The best things for me about Saturday mornings was the time that we were able to spend together. After the class Mac would often say,
“Can we take the long route back home?”
This involved driving further out into the country and then driving back to our village through the valley. We would normally spend our time together in the car singing to the music we had on our phones which we could play through the car stereo. We loved to sing together – often singing as loud as we could to the chosen track. A particular favourite that reminds of those Saturday mornings was a song called JCB by Nizpoli – just playing that now takes me straight back to those Saturday mornings.
We also used to talk in the car. There is something about sitting side by side, without the direct eye contact that allows you to have a conversation that you might otherwise find too difficult. These were often the opportunities to find out if anything was particular bothering Mac. We would also often talk about his birth family and how he was feeling about them.
As Mac grew up, we found that we needed to discuss issues that we thought had been dealt with when he was younger – of course, they had been dealt with appropriately, but as he grew and matured, he needed to deal with them again on a different level. For example, when he first came to us, when talking about his birth parents, we would say that they hadn’t been able to look after him. We might say that they had found it difficult to get their priorities right, but that of course they still loved him.
As Mac grew older, he wanted to explore that further. He wanted more – why couldn’t they put him first, why had they neglected him, how were they now, had they changed? It was often in the car that these difficult questions would arise. It caught me off guard at first, but I started to be more prepared to have the conversation. Of course, sometimes there was no answer, but we were able to discuss in a mature way and help him to process. Sometimes the questions were triggered by something that had been discussed at school – when drugs were discussed in his PSE classes that inevitably sparked a number of thoughts and questions. What Swee and I were always keen to do was to make sure that he knew he could come to us with any question and we would not be shocked or phased. I think we normally managed.