We are playing with dolls in her room. We are both mums and Angel is changing baby Annabel. She tells me she adopted baby Annabel because she was ‘too much for her birth parents’. ‘Really?’, I say, ‘I’m sure it wasn’t that she was ‘too much’. She was just a baby and babies really only sleep, eat and poo.’ She giggles at the poo word (still!). ‘I’m sure it was more about where they were at in their lives rather than anything baby Annabel did.’ ‘Ummm’ she says. We carry on playing.
Hubby goes with Angel on a school trip to a farm. He is alarmed to see her breakdown sobbing when a much smaller kid shouts at her for jumping on a wood pile where he is trying to dig a hole. It’s a very big woodpile, no malicious intent was meant and the kid is basically being a bit out of order but still Angel feels she has done something wrong. They talk about something called ‘toxic shame’ in the therapeutic parenting book I have been reading and how kids who have been looked after experience this because they feel they were adopted because they are bad. Now I know the term, I recognise its prevalence in Angel.
Lots of kids in the class crowd round to console her but only one kid stays when the others drift off, the other adopted kid. Later she says, ‘Yeah Ewan always knows how I feel every day.’ I think again of the social worker saying ‘for adopted kids their life story is with them every day’ and am grateful there's someone in her class who knows what that feels like.
This happens again a few days later in the park when a lady asks Angel and her friend to stop putting sand on the bottom of the slide because her kid wants to slide down. The slide is in the sandpit, they were playing there before the other child came along. When we leave the playground, Angel gets really upset telling me what happened. I can see her friend is not really getting why she is so upset. Angel can’t shrug it off so easily.
I’m glad she’s sensitive but feel we need to help her become more robust. Of course, when she is feeling good in herself, these things slide off like with any regular happy kid but how can we help her maintain that when she is feeling wobbly? (and she feels wobbly a lot, to greater and lesser degrees of course).
Then I notice something else. I’ve always seen how in general she is attracted to kids with a more complicated story. Like her best friend in reception was a kid who’s dad had died but now I’m seeing her attracted to the angry troubled children in the local playground.
She gets into an altercation twice with a couple of boys who she says were swearing at her. First time she is with hubby and goes crying to him and they run off when he approaches them. Second time she is with me and comes crying saying they were teasing and swearing at her friend. Her friend isn't crying but Angel is in pieces. I find them and have a conversation. They aren’t bad kids (like I always say, no bad kids, just kids feeling bad) but clearly they are angry.
One of the older boys with them whispers to me, ‘They’ve got anger issues and are always getting into trouble,’, so I say to them… ‘Clearly you’ve got issues regulating your feelings but you can’t be swearing at younger kids in the playground and you need to stay away from these girls.’ I tell the group of girls Angel is with to keep away from them too and send the groups to separate ends of the playground. Five minutes later I notice Angel is not with the group of girls anymore but playing on a swing with another girl. Another five minutes later I go to see what she’s up to and she is playing with the very same boys. I tell her it’s time to go and she peels away reluctantly and then tells me on the way home that the older boy had said one of the younger ones wanted to be her boyfriend. Uh oh, I think, we need to work this stuff out before she gets into her teens or there is going to be big trouble. I figure a part of that will be helping her to access her own anger as I often think we are attracted to people who express hidden aspects of ourselves. I can also sense there is some kind of link between this hidden anger and her collapsing in on herself in the way she did with the kid and the lady in the playground.
We are in the car on the way home from her friend's house where she has been playing out on the green in front of the estate. Angel is crying. She was pinned down by an older girl who Angel thought was fighting with her friend. It turned out they were actually ‘play fighting’, but Angel intervened. The girl was bigger but Angel is very strong and I was surprised she didn’t fight back.
Me - ‘You know if someone pins you down, you have permission to shout at them really loudly and to fight back. You are really strong and you probably could have stopped that girl.’ Thinking about our week, I had a sudden thought, ‘Are you scared of your strength and your anger?
Angel – 'Yes!' she exclaimed starting to cry
Me - Ah, I get it, our anger can feel really scary and overwhelming
Angel - I want to go back to Jujutsu or doing a martial art.
I’m astounded by her wisdom as that was my first thought. That she needs to find something that helps her learn to control her strength and channel her anger so it doesn't feel so scary. Of course, her anger is so big it feels it could engulf her if she lets it out, which is why she finds it hard to stick up for herself sometimes. So, this could also be the key to her becoming more robust when dealing with confrontation. She’s a wise cookie, my kid (-;