Angel is still feeling low, so we call a family meeting in her den. Her den is actually the bottom bunk of her bed. We close the glow in the dark galaxy curtains so it is an enclosed cosy space (usually with a vast collection of soft toys).
Me – So, how are you feeling?
Angel – Sad
Me – Do you know what about or just in general?
Angel – Sad my parents didn’t keep me and that I can’t meet my mum until I’m 18. As soon as I’m 18, that’s the first thing I’m going to do.
I look at hubby to see if he is onboard to say what we have been talking through for some time but has been a bit of a contentious issue between us. I can’t tell what he is thinking, so forge ahead as this feels like the moment to me.
Me - What about if you could meet your birth mother before you were 18? We would have to ask for special permission and it would take time to organise but it might be possible. Of course, it wouldn’t change anything, you couldn't go and live with her and we will still be your mum and dad.
She looks at me slightly amazed and excited.
Angel - Yeah, maybe when I’m 13, or 12 or 11 or double digits.
Me- How does it make you feel. Excited, happy, sad and scared?
Hubby - Let her tell us! (of course, he’s right, lol)
Angel - Yes, happy, sad, scared and excited but mainly excited.
Me - OK, well it’s a lot to think about and process so have a think about everything and you can tell us when you want to talk some more.
We have a quiet weekend. Angel is self-contained; not demanding in the way she used to be when she was little and not feeling OK, but she has developed this weird and annoying humming habit. I’ve leant that generally if I’m finding Angel annoying, it’s because she is being annoying and that, in the main, is because she isn’t OK.
She wants to watch ‘How to Train Your Dragon 2’, ‘The one where Hiccup meets his birth mum,’ she keeps on saying. ‘Ah,’ I think.
We watch the movie and don’t talk much about it but she becomes tricky at bedtime. I don’t have a huge amount of patience with her faffing and when she storms out slamming her door, I just call to her, ‘I’m lying down here on your bed and ready to do stories when you’ve done your teeth and pyjamas.’ What she wants is me to help her do that but then will faff around some more. Of course, what she really wants is a fight to prove how unlovable she is because she’s feeling bad, but sometimes we only see the annoying, faffing child. She comes back, I read stories and she goes to sleep but when I say, ‘I love you, best girl in the whole wide world, very proud of you,’, (as I do every night), she doesn’t say, ‘I love you,’ back.
I wake up the next morning and immediately realise my mistake. We go downstairs to the kitchen to make pancakes.
Me - We didn’t have the best bedtime last night and I’m sorry. I should have just asked you how you were feeling. I think it was maybe something to do with the film and you not feeling great. Do you know what it might be?
Me - Maybe it was because Hiccup meets his mum for the first time and you’ve been thinking about meeting yours?
She literally runs into my arms welling up and smiling all at the same time, ‘Yes mummy, that is exactly what it is.’
Me - I’m really sorry.
We stand for a while just holding each other.
My Mum has sent us a children’s book called ‘Listening With My Heart’ because she knows Angel is having a difficult time, thought it looked good and it features a Latin American lead character which is always a plus (Angel is mixed race and it’s still hard to find children’s books with non-white characters!).
She is resistant to reading it as she knows it has a positive message (which is hard to hear when we are feeling crap) but I let her pick a book and say, ‘This is my pick’.
The story is about a little girl who messes up in the school play and whilst she can be a fantastic friend to others, is very mean to herself. She realises that she needs to learn to be a friend to herself. As I read it, Angel says, ‘Well I am SO not doing that!!’
Me - What are you saying to yourself then?
Angel - That I’m a stupid, f word, idiot kid.
I don't try to tell her she isn't 'a stupid, f word, idiot kid', I just say 'That must feel horrible, maybe the book can help you with that.' I think in these moments it's really important Angel just feels heard and sometimes we can feel dismissed if someone immediately tries to counteract something we've shared.
The book has a section at the end which reads:
‘Some days stink. (Angel - Yep!) Not everything will go the way you want. (Angel - Yep!) You’ll get upset. (Angle - YEP!) When this happens you can pause, take a few deep breaths and practice listening with your heart.
Name what you are feeling - whatever you feel is ok
Listen to your body - notice the sensations you are having
Pay attention to your self-talk - are the words supportive and understanding or mean and rude? Are you being a friend to yourself?
She absolutely loves this and listens very closely and even does the exercises which include putting her hand on her heart and saying ‘ - when I am angry / sad - may I be kind to myself, may I be compassionate to myself, may I be a friend to myself.’.
I say it to her every morning now as she leaves for school, ‘Remember to be a friend to yourself today.’. ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah mum.’ But it makes her smile.
We have changed the mattress on our bed and the old one is lying on our bedroom floor until we dispose of it. This is a revelation to Angel as she bounces, rolls, flips, somersaults and struts around the room to her latest favourite tune, ‘What’s My Name’ from the film, 'Descendants 2'. Her exuberance is infectious, and I laugh and sing along. She laughs back, flicking her hair dramatically and I think the storm clouds have passed (or paused). I am holding out hope it will stay that way but also aware, it probably won’t. She usually emerges slowly from these episodes rather than suddenly feeling completely OK again but it is a start (-:
NB. Full credit - 'Listening With My Heart’ by Gabi Garcia (do buy!)