Stuck At Home Mum

I feel like the old lady at the start of Titanic…’it’s been 84 years…’

It’s actually only been four days, but it’s surprising how slowly time can go when you’re confined to the house. Our outings so far this week have been to the school bus stop and back, and to the playgroup and back. On Monday the poorly child vomited on the way to playgroup and on the way back, so we’ve avoided any other non-essential trips. Now this isn’t all a sob story, because I did actually get out of the house yesterday for a quick meeting and emergency food supply top up, and a cheeky meal out for Liam’s birthday (big shout out to the brave Aunty we left here to man the ship!). The meal was bracketed by the second poorly child being sick on our bed and all over me before we left, and us returning home to change aforementioned bed. By midnight we had two small people in our bed with us.

There are times when weeks like this have occurred, that it has felt devastating. I have sulked at cancelled plans, been jealous of Liam getting out of the house, and got increasingly annoyed at the universe and it’s injustice.

Over time I have become more accustomed to these episodes. The maths seems to say that the more children you have = the longer viruses live in the house for. I’ve worked out that if the pattern of first child getting ill on Sunday, followed by second child ill on Wednesday continues, then we’ll be at home for roughly a month. I wonder how many hours of Octonauts could be watched in a month? I guess we need to settle in and ride this wave.

I dart off in between clingy children, and do the essential jobs. I work out the budget. I send emails. I make phone calls. I’m itching to paint the landing, but the length of time between Calpol doses or the sad ‘mum I need a cuddle/drink/snack/telly’ calls isn’t very long and I fear that would be a foolish dream to try and achieve. But already my brain is starting to go a bit mushy. When I left the house yesterday, and we drove to the big city, with the big car park, and fancy restaurants, I was genuinely in awe of how many people were out! At night! Did they not know this isn’t normal?! It felt like a surreal experience of walking into a movie, I’m out in this world but don’t feel like I belong. I’m starting to forget how to hold a conversation or whether I brushed my hair.

I would be lying if I didn’t say the monotony or the challenge of juggling lots of small ill people doesn’t get to me at times, but I think there are definitely things that I can do to help my attitude. I’d seen last week that someone on Instagram was running a challenge about looking for joy in parenting. It seemed ironic timing, but actually it was helpful to be going into this week with that mindset, consciously looking for the good moments. Obviously the danger with too much time on social media is the tendency toward jealousy of all the people who I think are having more fun, but as long as I keep the perspective that we only show what we choose to show of our lives and no-one’s lives are glamorous all of the time, then I find some parts of it can be fun and even helpful. A reminder and challenge to look for the good, and to find things to be grateful for is always helpful to me.

I try not to have too many expectations – over how long the illness will go on for, how much sleep I’ll get, or what I might get done today. Roll with it, we’ll all get through somehow. If I’m stuck to the sofa under a feverish child with Paw Patrol on repeat I can probably manage to hold a book in the other hand and keep my brain alive. The key is to making sure I stop to make myself a cup of tea before committing to the cuddle.

There are times I might have to ask for help. This is my weakest area. I’ve spent a lot of time over the years trying to hide my vulnerabilities. I’d much prefer to think I can manage alone, but why? There are people out there, if they don’t know I might need something how can they help? We aren’t made to do it alone, we’re made for community. I put a quick shout out on Facebook this morning to see if someone local would mind picking up some Calpol for us – the thought of dragging three poorly little ones to the shop wasn’t appealing. Some kind mum friends quickly got in touch and offered, and it wasn’t long before someone dropped some off. But I’d also reminded myself that if no-one did, that isn’t personal either. People don’t always see the message. Other people are in the same – or harder – position, and can’t help this time. That’s okay, if I have to do it anyway it might not be easy, but we’ll be home again in half an hour.

And then there’s that quote, ‘the days are long but the years are short’. Perspective can be helpful. I definitely struggled more with times like this earlier on in my parenting journey. Suddenly the little girl who was driving me crazy with her tantrums and sleeplessness and naughtiness is the same height as me, with a hilarious sense of humour, stealing my make up, and likes to hide in her bedroom. And now I’ve got to the days where she isn’t clinging on to my side, I’d quite like her back here, where I can know who she’s talking to, what she’s listening to, and what choices she’s going to make.

So here we are, washing all the bedding, one small person cuddled to sleep in my bed because he had a strop about the cot. There have been fights, refusals to eat, and more biscuits than is probably nutritionally wise. But outside the sun is shining, inside the small people are safe and getting well again, and there will be a day when we get to go out. Only by then I might have forgotten how to speak to grown ups, and there’s a chance I’ll still be wearing pyjamas. If you see me, I’ll be the one in sunglasses getting used to all the fresh air.

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Birth days.

Liam says my mum gives presents if someone sneezes. Actually, that’s not true, because loud sneezes are one of the things that make her really cross. But still, gifts are her love language, and I’m the same. So it was already an interesting dynamic that the man I met and love and married shares his birthday with the day St Valentine met his untimely end. Who gets gifts? Do we just throw out the commercial holiday made to bring more money to greedy supermarkets, or do I get him two gifts and he still sneaks out for flowers/chocolates/wine on February 13th (or 14th…or 15th)? In previous years, we’ve gone with the second option.

Until two years ago, when on this day, we were gifted another Valentine. I’m not willing to take responsibility for poor planning on this one. Granted, our family planning historically has looked like more family and less planning, but on this one we can’t take any credit. I’ve already talked about his arrival to our family on here, so suffice it to say that we had very little idea we’d be sharing our meal for £15 with a tiny newborn that year. But that day changed our family dynamic once again, with a new little one to be grateful for. But what do birthdays look like when you weren’t the one who gave birth?

The very idea of a birthday is to celebrate someone’s birth, their arrival into the world. And, like my mum, I’m definitely up for that. I love giving gifts, I love making that person feel special. And I’m also very nostalgic. I love remembering dates and days and talking memories. But the truth is, that for a lot of people, birthdays often bring a measure of pain in the memories too.

As a student midwife, I quickly learned that the movie idealised birth story, where the perfectly made-up mother with gentle devoted partner pops out a beautiful completely round-headed forceps-mark free baby who is immediately bundled into a pure white crocheted blanket is just that – a story. Birth involves pain. For many people, the pain of labour is put behind them, and they embrace life with a newborn. But I think for possibly the majority of people, there is history that comes with them into the labour room, and that will go home with them too.

In those rooms, I saw mothers who had waited for this day for many many years. They brought fear and anxiety into the delivery suite, and a brave hope that their dreams might at last come true. I saw mothers whose tears of joy were mingled with tears of loss – they’d lost their own mother, or father, a previous baby, or the father of their child, and the birth of a newborn was an intense reminder of that person they desperately wished was still a part of their life. I saw mothers afraid of who their partner was, but they were birthing his baby and clinging to the ideal that he would be who said he could be. I saw mothers who were children themselves, with their own mothers nervously stroking their hair. I saw mothers who hadn’t anticipated this baby, and didn’t know how they felt, how they would bond, if they even wanted to take it home. I saw mothers whose baby was born, and it wasn’t the perfect baby they had dreamed of, it would have needs they didn’t know if they could manage, and their world came crashing down. I saw mothers who knew the baby they would birth would never breathe. Their baby had left earth before it arrived, and those heartbreaking deliveries were sombre with intense, raw grief. I saw mothers whose baby was born far too soon, and they were afraid for its life. And I saw mothers whose baby would be whisked away, because it was too unsafe to send them home to the chaos and abuse and trauma there.

What I learned in those rooms, through my own experiences, and through being privileged to witness so many others, is that often the words ‘happy birthday’ are an oxymoron. Often a birth day is not pure joy and elation. Even in the births of my first three children, I carry buried pain alongside beautiful memories, whole stories in themselves. For my youngest three children, their birthdays are mingled with huge loss. Their loss of safety, of childhood innocence, of the only world they’d known, and the loss of the mother who gave birth to them. I can’t even imagine what goes through her mind on those days. And for me there’s sadness too – all the first moments missed, and all the pain I wish I could have saved them from. But this is life in a broken world, a whirling mess of joy and heartache, a see-sawing of hurt and healing, and with every birth delivered in pain there is promise of hope. A new life, a new story to be written. A new person gifted to this world for a reason, capable of being loved and held and dreamed for, and of loving and holding and dreaming.

I think it’s important to acknowledge the whole story, even if only to myself. I know I’m not alone in these days of mixed emotions. When we celebrate birthdays, I’m not pretending that all birth days are happy days. And I’m not trying to patch over a hard story. But I am celebrating this person. This gift of life. This day that marks another year on earth for them, another year of their unique personality and character and skills changing the world and the people around them because of their individual design. Despite the minor challenges of the two cake-making, double gift-buying, ‘where do I hang all the cards?’ issues related to the double birthday, I feel so honoured that we get to celebrate this little boy. People sometimes tell us that the children are lucky to have us. I don’t think lucky is the right word for such a start to life, but I feel incredibly privileged to have him, to be the one to wrap his presents, light his candles, and listen to him walking around the house still singing ‘happy birthday’ to himself, four days later.

As for Valentine’s Day, I still sneaked it in, with heart confetti on the dinner table and a chocolate for each child. I’m okay with letting it go for myself these days- I’m just hoping for double presents on my birthday to make up for it…

Defined by an Emoji.

I’m feeling meh today. It turns out that ‘meh’ is actually in the dictionary (thanks to the Simpsons, I believe), and given that it even has an emoji, it is clearly a recognised state of mind. Apparently it is defined as ‘expressing a lack of interest or enthusiasm, unenthusiastic, apathetic’ (Oxford Living Dictionaries).

On a normal day once I’ve pulled myself out of bed and woken up properly, I don’t stop. Until around 9pm when the older kids go to bed, I keep going, busying, organising, moving. But today I got up, got people dressed, made breakfasts and lunches, and that was it. I went up to get dressed but flopped on the bed and decided I don’t want to be an adult any more.

I’m not sure where it’s come from but the fog has been there for a few days now. I think the speeding ticket that arrived last week may have begun it. Then a small person smashed my favourite lamp and violently hammered the wall I’d just painted. Over the weekend I lost my Weight Watchers motivation and drank all the Prosecco and ate all the chocolate. The hall had been my project for last week, and downstairs is looking good, but the half painted stairway that I can’t reach anymore is nagging at me every time I walk up and down it.

Then Monday began badly. This week already felt stressful – Liam away overnight, a day of two birthdays sandwiched between hospital appointments, and a meeting I’m not looking forward to. I was trying to leave to meet friends and had a series of unfortunate incidents including a last minute nappy to change and a child’s fingers shut in the door, cue much screaming and reassuring.

So there was of course an irony in the smoke that started emerging from the bonnet as I drove down the dual carriageway. Accompanied by a rapidly rising temperature gauge in the car, an urgent diversion and parking up at a builders merchants, and all plans for the day being abandoned. So I cried, rang Liam, told the security guard my sob story, and the boys and I were rescued by a kind friend.

But the funny thing about my mood is that the car, which would normally be the biggest of my worries practically and financially, was actually a free and quick repair due to an error at the garage. So in theory, I should feel better today.

But I don’t.

So I started wondering about this as I attempted laundry, mindlessly and demotivated, this afternoon. The speeding ticket seemed to have kick started an emotional reaction in me, which followed along these lines:

I’ve never had one before, so I felt guilty, annoyed, and disappointed in myself. I should know better, be more attentive, be more careful, leave earlier, rush less, and not be distracted. Basically, I let myself down. And broke the law.

And now I can’t even finish off the hall painting job that I started.

Or stick to a diet which I avoided starting for fear of failing.

Or breeze into the week without worrying.

Or confidently manage two birthdays on Valentine’s day, complete with well thought-out gifts and homemade cakes of excellence.

Or be as good a friend as I’d like to be.

Or keep the house as orderly and tidy as Marie Kondo.

Or get myself out of a broken down car situation without feeling helpless and pathetic.

Or know in all certainty what the best way to handle a difficult meeting will be and how to make a wise decision in a seemingly Catch 22 situation.

The long and short of it seems to be this –

I’d like to think I’m superwoman. I place ridiculously high expectations on myself to be everything, do everything, and not make mistakes. And when I do, I wallow in guilt, self-pity, and disappointment at my humanity, and decide I’d like to give up.

The interesting thing is that when I see this in my children, I spend a lot of time reminding them – you’re human, you will make mistakes, it’s okay. We’re not God, we’re fallible creatures who will get it wrong. And we can rest in the arms of a kind God, who gave everything including His own Son for a relationship with us, who chooses not to look on our mistakes but at who He made us to be, and He declares that we are His design, and it is good. And when I remind myself of that, the mood starts to lift, and I can hand over the burden of worry and the pressure of perfection, and know that all I need to be today is me.

So it turns out I don’t need to define my week by an emoji. There is grace – for the mistakes of last week, the disorder of today, and the anxieties of tomorrow. And there is hope, in a new sunrise, a fresh start, and love that never fails.

And Weight Watchers can wait, because it would be downright rude not to eat cake on the birthdays anyway.

Slow January

In 2003 I finished University, qualified as a midwife, moved to Wales and started working.

In 2004 we got engaged.

In 2005 we got married.

In 2006 Megan was born.

In 2007 Maisie was born, and on December 20th she had a cleft palate repair operation.

In 2008 I went back to work.

In 2009 we moved house, and Toby was born on December 18th.

In 2010 we moved house, and I went back to work.

In 2011 we began a foster carer assessment.

In March 2012 we were approved as foster carers, placed with a child, and I finished work. In September we transitioned that child to his forever home, and in October received our second placement of a tiny baby.

In May 2013 we moved house. In November we transitioned baby to her forever home.

In January 2014 we received our third foster placement, another tiny baby. In September we transitioned her to her forever home. In October we received our fourth foster placement, another tiny newborn.

In August 2015 we moved house. In October we transitioned baby to her forever home.

In 2016 we received M and T as foster placements. In September we began our adoption assessment. In October and November I spent two weeks in hospital with a very poorly T. At the end of November I had the terrible phone call to say my brother Dan had suddenly died.

In February 2017 baby Micah joined us less than 24 hours old. In March we moved house, then went to adoption panel and were approved. In April we began our adoption assessment for Micah. In July we were approved as his adopters.

In 2018 we survived…the impact of grief, six children, a baby with (now diagnosed) milk protein and soya allergies, one child starting high school, one starting reception, one learning to walk, one being potty trained. In July Liam started a new job. In September four went to school and I juggled:

3 ballet classes a week

1 guides group

1 guitar lesson

2 piano lessons

2 swimming lessons

1 youth club

2 gymnastics classes.

What’s my point in this lengthy list? By December I was struggling. I was exhausted physically and emotionally. Liam’s job is brilliant but much longer hours. I was increasingly aware the children were not getting the best of me. At the same time, I was conscious that this was the first year no major changes had happened or looked like they were going to happen, and I wasn’t sure what to do with that. I was used to gearing up for the next thing, and although I dread change, I had adapted to living a fast-paced, adrenaline charged life. And now I was wondering what I would do next – in only a couple of years all the children would be in school. I started looking at what jobs I might do.

In December I was anxious about feeling very un-festive, stressed about all the things to do and the lack of time to do it. But then I decided to start embracing advent, the counting of each day, the repetitive opening of a calendar (or in my case, an email with crochet instructions!). The looking towards something, but making the most of the build up too.

I think somewhere in that month, I began to enjoy slowing down, and that changed my thinking about January. Megan had made the difficult decision to finish ballet, which had been a huge part of her life from the age of three. Maisie chose to leave guides, as she was new into comprehensive school, and felt she would be better home in the evening. Little M, new to reception, was (is) absolutely exhausted, often falling asleep on the way home, and one by one, her after school activities had to stop too. My initial response was to wonder what they could or should do instead? Surely it would help them socially and physically to attend these classes? What if they grow up and resent the lack of opportunities they had? What if they blame me for having nothing to put on their CV because they hadn’t moved from one thing to another?

Somewhere in those weeks at the end of an old year and start of a new one, it dawned on me that this year Megan will be 13. In five short years, she could be packing her bags and moving out. Micah turns 2 in February – by the end of the year, he could be going to playgroup, the stepping stone to nursery, then school. And I realised what I wanted to do most in January was to slow right down. To not replace the clubs and activities with more running around, but to be with the children. The times I get most overwhelmed, stressed, and unpleasant with them, are often the times that I’m running around trying to get everyone out of the house, or get dinner ready in between taxiing people places, doing ballet buns, and washing swimming kits. And then someone wets their pants or has a tantrum, and it’s one thing too much. And I don’t want to have spent the majority of our time together being stressed about the next thing, and missing the opportunities we have today.

I want to build relationships with them, to have time to talk about their days, what excites them, and the things that make them unsettled in the night. To watch and observe as they grow and to be able to speak into their forming characters. To give cuddles and play games and read stories and google maths problems that I have no clue about, and to help them as they think through what their actions meant. To not be so frazzled that by the time I see Liam in the evening I have lost all ability to hold a conversation, and he also gets the worst of me.

I know this won’t last forever. Life keeps changing, things will happen that I can’t anticipate or predict. The children will probably want or need different activities that will fill up the calendar. But maybe if I have slowed down for a time, when we had the opportunity, we’ll all be more ready for that.

So that’s where I am right now. Trying to take time to be. Not filling my days and evenings, but allowing time to be together. And time for me to be filled up so I can pour out to those I love the most. To read, to write, to pray, to listen to music, to crochet more animals, to take more photos, to even have a bath. With candles. And I’m actually learning to enjoy it.

Rainy Days and Mondays will not get me down.

14/1/19

Dear Diary,

6:15 Alarm goes off. Drag myself downstairs. It can’t only be Monday. Put kettle on. It can’t only be the second week of term. Make cup of tea. Empty dishwasher. Hear footsteps on stairs. Internally pray the person breaking my solitude doesn’t speak to me. Or even worse, ask me a question. Please let them have the respect to wait until I’ve drunk caffeine. Amen.

6:40 Child 5 opens door on his own toes. Comforting Mum mode switched on.

7:00 Husband speed walks to the shop to get change for the bus. Two lots of £1:10 needed four times per day. On no account will the bus driver let Child 1 pay with a £2 and 20p for herself and Child 2. We have used all the coppers and money from the kids money boxes, so times are desperate.

7:20 Remind Child 1 who has lost her dinner card but isn’t intending to make lunch for school that ‘food is more important than foundation’. When you are 12, anyway. At 37 with eye bags this impressive those priorities are reversed.

7:30 First two children leave. Husband leaves. I wrestle two smallest offspring into their clothes. I am sweaty and worn out when finished. Child 3 plays basketball in the hall and Child 4 makes strong objections about going to school.

8:25 At the school bus stop. Child 5 declares he’s done a wee, as the trickle seeps out of his trouser leg and down the hill towards the unsuspecting waiting parents.

9:15 Back home, child in clean set of clothes. Attempt computer type jobs. Child 6 asks for lunch.

9:30 I am feeling motivated despite the ‘wee’ (no pun intended) incident. Months ago I decided to paint a blue wall in the lounge. I tried a tester which the kids all thought was black, so I concluded maybe that was too dark. So those two test patches have been on the walls ever since, all through Christmas, as a little pointer to my unfinished moment of creativity. Today is the day. I paint over the patches with the second tester pot. I hate it.

10:15 In B&Q (not the fire station, despite Child 5’s hopes and dreams) to buy paint. Child 5 announces he needs a wee. Make the long walk with the pushchair from the paint aisle to the secret unlabelled door on the back wall that hides a customer toilet.

10:25 Waiting for assistant to mix a whole tin of paint that I may or may not like when it’s on the wall. Child 5 announces he’s done a poo. It’s true. Wait for paint, head back to the hidden toilet. Didn’t bring bag with change of clothes and wet wipes, so he’s cleaned with wet toilet paper and is going commando. Pay for paint.

10:30 Arrive back at car. Lifting Child 6 into car seat when he announces ‘shoe gone’ in his best speech. It’s true. He has one lonely Converse on his left foot. Given that we’ve already lost his other pair of shoes, I load him back in the pushchair, get Child 5 back out, and we make the long walk back into the shop, down all the aisles we’ve been in, all the way to the very back, through two doors into that same toilet, and there is the offending shoe. We retrieve it, and go back to the car.

10:45 Undeterred by the morning so far, I decide we’ll go and get the boys haircut on the way home. Foolishly tell them the plan. Child 5 likes to say ‘what?’ on repeat, no matter how many times you rephrase what you said, or how loud you say it, he just carries on. ‘What?’ ‘Haircut.’ ‘What?’ ‘We’re going to get your hair cut.’ ‘What?’ ‘We’re going to the hairdressers to see if they will cut your hair.’ ‘What?’ Along with that, Child 6 is in parrot mode, learning new words every 5 minutes. ‘Haircut’, haircut, what, what, what.’
Is it too early for wine? 

11:00 Hairdresser is closed on Monday. Drive to second hairdresser.

11:05 Both boys have fallen asleep. I don’t want them asleep now, or else there’ll be no moment of peace to paint the wall when Child 5 is in playgroup. Wake them up and go into second hairdresser. They can’t do it today. Book appointment for tomorrow. Get back in car to go home.

11:20 Child 5 decides he has a spider on his head. ‘There’s a spider on my head! I need the hairdresser to take it off! We need to go back! The hairdresser needs to take the spider off my hair!’ Me:‘You don’t have a spider in your hair, and the hairdresser can’t cut your hair until tomorrow.’ ‘What?’ Meanwhile from the back seat comes the echo, ‘spider, spider, spider’.

11:30 We go home for lunch, playgroup, painting, and bed. I’m not sure who is doing what or in which order, but it’s good to have goals on a Monday afternoon.

Celebrating

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As you may have guessed by my 3 month absence, it’s been a challenging term in many ways. But those thoughts and musings aren’t for now, as this last weekend has been so very special. To be a part of my little brother Joel’s wedding to his very lovely Charlotte was amazing, to be with my family, and to watch my girls having the best time as flower girls, it was beautiful and definitely a weekend worth celebrating and remembering.

So no apologies for the wedding spam, this post is purely for sharing some of my favourite memories of the day, especially the ones I can’t share on Facebook!

Before the ceremony began…

Waiting with some nervous flower girls for the bride to arrive – M had a proper wobble outside the church, and I was getting genuinely concerned she wasn’t going to perform, but once Aunty Esther arrived I ran off into the church and left them to it!

The ceremony itself was sincere, reflective, and emotional. Much to my surprise not one of the children had a meltdown, and the girls did us proud with their flower girl debut! I find weddings always make me reflect on our marriage, hearing the truths about what love really is, and being reminded of the vows we made nearly 12 years ago fills me with huge gratitude for what Liam and I have.

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The whole wedding was such a lovely family event. From Nathan on ushering duties, Emma giving a blessing, to Esther, Megan, Maisie and M being bridesmaids. Mum and Miriam sewed vast amounts of bunting, and Mum produced 5 amazing different flavoured cakes. Liam was on woodwork, and the fruit stand, arbour, and log cake stands were all his handiwork. The loft in the barn was the perfect place for the kids to chill out during the reception, when they weren’t running around the field or dancing the night away.

The reception was at a beautiful barn in Hampshire. The speeches were particularly poignant, and it was good to be real about how much we missed Dan being there. He adored Joel and Charlotte, and would have been the most excited to celebrate this day. But the wedding was a great reminder that life carries on, joy can still be shared, and despite the pain, the laughter and love can keep us moving forward with hope. The kids partied non stop, the 3 little ones slept at various points, but M somehow kept dancing until 10:30pm, by which time Megan and Maisie were looking absolutely exhausted, so we dragged them all reluctantly away to bed in the hotel.

Sometimes you need a little break from bridesmaid duties, but the photographer finds you and it’s back to business!

And because it’s very rare to get a photo of the 8 of us…IMG_1394

And now it’s the first day of the holidays, the kids are still recovering from the weekend, and I’m wading through the washing. Flicking back through these pictures has been a great distraction!

On the Move

Being late, being disorganised, and living in a mess. The top three things that really raise my anxiety levels. Hence why moving house 3 times in 4 years has been so very fun! 

 But here we are, we made it. Truly praising the Lord for the two men who came and packed and moved the entire contents of our house and garage. Although I know they were being paid, I felt genuinely sorry for them. We have a lot of stuff. 

It dawned on me at some point during an incredibly long day-we’ve never moved house with a crawling/cruising 15 month old. He’s delicious, but he was very. hard. work. I toyed with the idea of packing him in a box, but resisted the temptation. 

The trouble is, everything in me is desperate to get in there, organise those boxes, hang curtains, fill the cupboards, paint the rooms, and display ornaments. The wannabe interior designer in me wants to be settled by the end of the second day, ideally. Three children under 3 don’t really allow for a lot of unpacking and sorting! And there’s the everyday things that still need doing too-I can’t argue ‘but we’ve just moved house’, and forget the uniform, the dinners, the baby’s feeds. 

As hard and exhausting as these last two weeks have been, once again I’m so incredibly grateful for God’s timing. We were frustrated when panel was delayed twice from December to January then to March, but the fact it was delayed meant Liam’s adoption leave timed perfectly with a house move and the Easter holidays. And although he may not consider this a ‘break’ exactly (!), I genuinely don’t know how we could have done it if he hadn’t been off work.

And although moving house again was not on my agenda for this year, it was more of a requirement than a choice, the fact this house showed up in my inbox on the very day we were asked to move doesn’t seem very ‘happy accident’ like. It is a lovely home, in beautiful surroundings, and I feel like I can breathe here. 

The social worker who visited this evening commented on the fact we’ve done most of the major life transitions in the space of months. Yes, that has not escaped our notice, the bags under the eyes and slightly dazed expressions might give that away! 

So we are in, and every day we do make progress in the box emptying process. I have to be patient, apparently Rome wasn’t built in a day. And now it’s the holidays and the children are off, we are trying to meet that balance of doing nice things with them, but also helping them understand that at times, life is boring and jobs must be done. I want to help them understand they can make their own fun without screens or constant intake of food. 

I find there’s always a wobbly few days at the beginning of the holidays, where the siblings re-establish their dynamics and pecking order, and gradually settle into mutual toleration. Sometimes even appreciation, but I try not to have expectations that are too high! I have to admit I wasn’t really looking forward to the holidays. The lazier mornings yes, the arguments and complaining-especially when we are all pretty tired already-not so much. So I decided to just take each day at a time, and enjoy the change in routine instead of chomping at the bit to get the house sorted. It’s been so lovely to have the sun shining, space for them to play, and time to observe who they are.  There is a real joy in seeing how the older ones interact with the younger ones, and that is what I’m enjoying the most about them being off so far. 

Today

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March 7th 2017. A little over a year since M and T came into our lives, we finally heard the Panel Chair tell us ‘we are in unanimous agreement that this is the right match.’ Precious words, a special day. We got to hear their social worker tell the panel that, as time went by, it seemed that these two little ones just naturally became part of our family. For all the times people reminded me that it was pretty much a done deal, panel is just a formality at this stage, it would take something huge to take them away, and every other reassurance, at the end of the day, panel was still a big deal, and the relief of knowing they are ours was indescribable.

And panel came in the middle of a month of big deals. It’s definitely a hectic time! Baby is one month old tomorrow, and how that has flown. In between panel, house move preparations, Liam having an interview and getting a new job, hospital appointments, music exams, opening the house for viewings, we really haven’t stopped. And yet I’m aware of trying to hold onto each precious moment. I don’t want to find that I missed his first month because I was so preoccupied with everything else going on around, and the rollercoaster of emotions that I ride each day. That I didn’t take notice of T’s growing strength and mobility and hilarious personality (hard to miss, actually, as he has rapidly become a one boy moving destroyer over the last two weeks). That I didn’t notice how M stood next to a little friend, within touching distance, and didn’t have a panic attack. That she willingly strokes her baby brother and is excited when he’s awake. That I didn’t admire Toby’s cartoon book he made, or encourage Megan with the way she cares for the little ones, or spend time listening to Maisie’s chatter.

I feel like every day I have a choice. To wake up after a fairly sleepless night, to stress about getting the kids ready on time, about the list of things I need to do, and to panic about how it’s never going to happen. Or to wake up and remember I only get today once. And there will be strength for today, and joy in today.

Yes, I’ve shouted at the kids to get ready. I’ve nearly lost the plot with being messed around by social services. I’ve cried because I can’t tell Dan that M and T are officially his niece and nephew. Liam and I have sat staring at the telly in sleep deprived blurry eyed co-existence. I’ve online impulse shopped during the 2am feed. I’ve wondered how dinner will get made with a combination of fighting siblings, whiney toddlers, and a grizzly baby. I’ve freaked out at the state of the house and the irritations of estate agents booking several viewings at teatime, and visited McDonald’s too many times trying to get everyone out of the house before the unsuspecting potential buyers enter our madhouse.

And I’ve opened the door to friends bringing dinners, returning my ironing, to the postman delivering flowers. To my mum, sisters, mother in law, sisters in law, niece, friends, who’ve come to help look after the children whilst I’ve gone to meetings, hospital appointments and weddings. I’ve read text messages with offers of help, words of encouragement, and promises of prayer. I’ve seen the children hug and laugh and cuddle and play. I’ve been overwhelmingly grateful for Liam who I get to do this mad life with.  I have so much to be thankful for, and I only get to enjoy those precious moments in each day this once.

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Family photo shoot credit to LJM Photography.

Never a Dull Moment

Exactly a year ago, two little people came into our lives. They were dropped off by social workers, one carrying her beaker, the other with clothes donated by caring strangers. We knew very little about them, except that, right now, they needed a home, safety, and love.

6 months after they joined our family, we were told they had been given a Placement Order-they would be placed for adoption. And, very tentatively, we asked if the authorities would consider assessing us to be their forever family. Emotionally it felt like a huge risk. We love these little people like our own, but we know that there are lengthy processes that must be gone through before they are matched to their new family. Were we prepared to put ourselves through the assessment process, knowing that someone could say a big fat no, and then we would be asked to move children we’d considered our own on to someone else?  Would it be easier to not take the risk, and just accept they would be found a family, we would move them on, and there would be more foster children? Maybe.

Except that they had become part of our family. With their big eyes and curly hair, and calling us Mummy and Daddy, and learning very very slowly that they could trust us, whether they stayed or left, they already had pieces of our hearts. So we prayed big prayers, hoped for an obvious sign (like the fact that their names also begin with M and T, just like Megan, Maisie and Toby!), and put it out there.

Fast forward another 6 months, and here we are, we’ve been assessed to the eyeballs, talked through every piece of our lives, had medical checks, criminal records checked, finances assessed. We’ve had 3 people write long references for us, and 2 of them have been interviewed about us. A large document has been written all about us, recommending we are approved to adopt (hooray!). A bunch of social workers and their managers have sat in a matching meeting and agreed unanimously that these two should be matched to us as their forever family (whoop whoop!).

It’s not a done deal yet-we have to go through two panels, one to be approved as adopters, then one to be matched to the children. There will be about 16 people asking questions, going through the document all about us with a fine tooth comb, and making a yes or no decision. Then, after we are officially matched as their adoptive family, we will wait another 3 months before we can apply to the court for a legal adoption order. At that point their birth parents can still contest the decision. And finally, a judge can decide a yes or a no, and, hopefully, their names can change and they will legally be part of our family forever.

Exciting? Yes. Daunting? Yes. Simple? No. A happily ever after? Probably not. Because these little ones have been through horror and trauma, and no amount of love and security and reassurances can undo the hurt and the damage. Some scars will inevitably remain. We believe in a God who can do anything, and we pray that He will heal their scars, but we go into this aware that it may well be a challenging journey.

And then there was the matter of ‘unborn’. All through this process, we knew there was another little one expected. And the question was put to us-would we consider having their sibling too?

In the end, there’s no easy way to make a decision like that. Is 6 children too many? I don’t know-when I had Megan at times I felt like I couldn’t cope and was overwhelmed. And when I had two. And three. Then four. You get the idea. But then at other times-many other times, I’ve felt complete joy over the privilege of caring for all these little people. But what about ‘our three’? Is it fair on them? I don’t know. Maybe they’ll resent us bringing these little ones into our home. But maybe they’ll see that all we wanted to do was to reach out and do something for the vulnerable and hurting and broken. And maybe they’ll grow up with a mindset that we can share what we have, and sometimes that is hard, but other people have value too.

Sometimes you get to a place when there are too many pros and cons and opinions, and you get overwhelmed. And then we sat down and had a long chat and pray and chatted with various social workers, and then waited.

By Monday we still didn’t know what the plan was. We viewed a bigger house because they don’t come available often around here. We liked it, but had to wait for the landlord to decide which tenants he wanted.

Tuesday morning we heard we’d got the house. Then we had a phone call at 3:30 – baby had been born at 1 pm. Could I go to hospital and collect him please.

And so Tuesday evening, Valentine’s Day, Liam’s birthday, we found ourselves sitting cuddling a few hours old baby, wondering what his future will be, wondering what the courts will decide for him-and for us. After running around finding the car seat and baby clothes and buying nappies and sterilising bottles, here was the reality. A tiny infant, still with his umbilical cord, taken from those who had given him life but are unable to care for him, unknowingly entering a world where there are visits and paperwork and assessments and judges making decisions.

We know it’s a risk. The judge might say he can go back to his birth parents. Are we prepared for that? No. But I’ve never been prepared to say goodbye to any of the little ones we’ve loved, but when it comes to it, we can do it. Because I trust in a greater Father and a greater Judge who makes the wisest decisions and who loved each child before they came into being. If our only part in this little ones life is to look after him and keep him with his birth siblings until he moves elsewhere, then I know we’ve done all we can for him.

So if you pray, please pray for us! Pray for all the children in our home, pray for us as we care for them with a newborn and also move house. Pray that adoption panel goes ahead when it is meant to and that it and the adoption order are a smooth process. Pray that the court hearings for the newbie go smoothly and I have patience through the ups and downs of contact and social services. And pray that God gives us a car big enough for us to all travel in!

Stories

On Tuesday I took little M to gymnastics. She normally loves it – until she has to do something hard. This week didn’t go so well. In the warm up songs there was a lot of jumping, and she can’t quite get her feet off the ground. When she was going around the equipment, and walking along the beam, the beam went from wide to narrow – and she would stop, panic, and no matter how much I reassured her I was next to her, she would flop her legs and I would be carrying her along it. Then came the exercises the instructors were practising. First, hanging from the high bar. Even with Kate’s arms firmly around her, there was a look of sheer panic across her little face, and she clung onto that bar for dear life until I helped her take her hands off, and she realised no-one was going to let her fall. And finally, the other children were practising handstands. There was no way this little lady was going to trust someone to hold her upside down! By the end of the 45 minutes, she was exhausted.

When you go to children’s groups like gymnastics, it’s easy to watch the other children and the other families, and to start comparing what your little one can do with the others you see there. I don’t do that with M. I know that the other children can jump, and aren’t petrified of the beam, they trust the people helping them. But I know M’s story and they don’t. I know this little lady was just as afraid of lying on her tummy at 2 years old, and we had to practise by me lying on the floor and her lying on me so it wasn’t so scary. I know she was scared of kneeling on the floor and I had to wedge her legs between my knees to keep her up. I know she had so many meltdowns at physiotherapy that the physio started coming to our house instead, because it was a safer place to M.  I know she had to have straight splints to hold her legs straight so she could practise standing, and then we spent hours by the sofa playing with toys to get her leg muscles strong enough to hold her up. And I know that in only 6 months, she went from not being able to roll over or sit herself up, to walking along the beach. I don’t expect her to be able to do what her peers can do, and I know that what she needs more than anything is the constant reminder that I am there with her, and, in time, she’ll try it, and she’ll smile that smile when she realises she’s done it ‘all by myself!’

Then I thought about myself, and the things I can’t do. The things I’m afraid to do because I think I’ll mess up, or the things I’m convinced everyone who sees me will look down on me for. The situations where I’m afraid to speak because I’m sure I’ll say something stupid. Often I am my worst critic-I play scenarios back over in my head and wish I’d been braver or wiser or hadn’t done that thing or said those words.

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The truth is that I have my own story, and, little by little, I’m learning to embrace where I’ve come from, instead of beat myself up for when I mess up. There is a lovely verse that says, ‘For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, O Jacob, you men of Israel! I am the one who helps you, declares the Lord; your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.’ When I read it I picture a parent helping their child learning to walk, holding their hand, helping them balance, catching them when they fall. Being there when they try the things they can’t quite do yet, but cheering them on and being the safe arms to catch them. God is writing my story. He knows where I’ve come from, the messes I’ve made, the places I’ve tripped up. And He also knows my successes, the things I’ve learned along the way, the times I’ve held onto Him and trusted Him to keep me safe. I don’t need to compare myself with the people around me, or to listen to the critic in my head-I don’t have to live in shame of the past of fear of the future, because I am being held by the Holy One. The Author of my story knows me, loves me, is proud of me, and saved me. And my story isn’t over yet.