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Protective Shells

 We have a new therapeutic children's book; ‘Rosie Rudey and the Very Annoying Parent’. It’s by Sarah Naish and her grown up adopted daughter and is  based on real things that happened in their family. Angel loves it and wants us to read it every night. 

Rosie Rudey is about a girl who walks around with a very hard tortoise shell on her back to protect herself. I think about when Angel arrived and her hard shell and it makes me cry. She was so vulnerable and yet so emotionally self-sufficient, even at 22months. Sure, she was attached to my hip for the first six month but when she went to sleep, you could literally put her in bed, give her a muslin, which she would use the corner of to tickle her face, and leave the room. This is the routine the foster carer had put in place and if she had been ours from the start, I would have given myself a pat on the back. 

However, my gut felt we needed her to allow us to soothe her rather than her doing it for herself. It felt like a wall we had to dismantle to enable us to really reach her. 

We didn’t do it immediately but started tickling her face at other times with our fingers, then with the muslin. Then we moved on to asking if she wanted us to do it at bedtime. Sometimes she would and sometimes she wouldn't but gradually she wanted us to do it more and also graduated to proffering a foot for us to tickle too. Eventually she only wanted us to do it and to stay until she fell asleep, which was a whole extra layer we had created for ourselves at the end of a long day but we do feel we created a very secure attachment!

It’s interesting as a year or so later she did go through a stage where she was waking up multiple times during the evening which was a nightmare as you’d just get her off to sleep and then you’d have to go back and sit with her again and stroke her face. I’d often just end up taking her to bed with me and going to sleep. I then realised that me and hubby were having no quality time together and I was getting peed off about it. I spoke to a child psychotherapist friend of my Mum’s and she said, ‘Don’t let her terrorise you. If you are feeling angry about it she will internalise it.’ It made me feel like, adopted kid or not, it was important we got to grips with it. So I bought a book called ‘Teach Your Child to Sleep’. I knew we wouldn't do controlled crying. I don’t believe in it with birth kids, let alone adopted kids and this book assured me we could teach our child to go to sleep and stay asleep without leaving her to cry. 

We basically did exactly what the book said and over a two week period graduated from lying down with her to sitting next to her, to sitting by the door, to sitting outside the door, to sitting on the stairs to eventually just leaving her to go to sleep. It wasn't easy but we never left her crying and it worked. It gave me lots of time to ponder the irony of having undone her earlier sleep training but concluded that sometimes you need to knock down a wall to make more room and we had expanded her space to include us (-:

However, hubby, being the soft touch that he is, stayed in the room one night and ever since we were back to staying. I was furious with him at the time but Angel generally goes to sleep quickly and sleeps through the night and we somehow seem to have found ourselves a happy middle ground. 

Now she’s nearly ten, when I’m in her bed and she’s curled into me twitching, which always means she’s heading into a deep sleep, I’m thankful. I read somewhere that for each year of a child's life physical contact between parents and children decreases by 10%. This ensures a proper daily cuddle at the very least. It will be but a moment til she doesn't need this anymore. This time is precious so thank you, sweet hubby.

Back to the book, Rosie Rudey decides she hates her very annoying parents and decides to run away. This has been a recurring theme for Angel. I think the first time she went out the front door was when she was about three. Hubby found her walking up the street and we were very stern in telling her she could never go out of the front door without us. I don't remember what she was upset about and at the time didn’t get it’s significance but as she got older and was more able to verbalise her desire ‘to get out of this house’, to ‘live with someone else’, to leave and never come back’, I began to realise this was her way of trying to protect herself from the hurt she had experienced in all those moves before she came to us, moves she didn't even remember now but were deeply buried in her subconscious. 

It was simply, she wanted to leave before we could leave her. It was always expressed when she was in meltdown and meltdown always means she is feeling really bad about herself. She believes that everyone left her because she is bad, so it made total sense that she would feel we might leave her at these times too. 

When Angel was five we got a book called ‘I’ll Take You to Mrs Cole’, where a boy runs away and I realised in reading it over and over that it was this bit that appealed to her. We talked about her wanting to run away sometimes but it was only recently when we brought ‘Rosie Rudie’ that I realised it was a thing with adopted kids. 

It makes me cry for Angel and all those other adopted kids feeling so scared of being left that they want to leave first. I also think about how so many of us shore ourselves up from hurt in various guises and wear a protective shell of sorts, just like Rosie Rudie.


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