Every time I think I might be able to go back and recall earlier stuff in our adoption story, something happens that propels me to write about what is happening now. There are so many big things going on all the time that I need to process. I sometimes wonder if all parenting is like this? Or is it just adopted kids or maybe it’s just some adopted kids?
Anyway, we are at our annual street camping weekend in Sussex. Lots of excitement and late nights but Angel seems in good form. I spent a lot of time with her and her friends in the woods behind the campsite just hanging and messing around. ‘Lean in Mum’ in full effect (-;
Later a group game of cricket is called for. Angel finds a very nice cricket ball nestled in grass. Rosie, another little girl on the trip, asks me if It’s Angel’s.’I don’t think so,’ I say. ‘She says she brought it from home’ Rosie says, narrowing her eyes, suspiciously.
Angel comes over.
Angel - I brought it from home.
Me - I’ve never seen that before
Angel - It's mine, I put it in at the last minute and you didn’t see. Why don’t you ever believe me?!’
I know it's not hers but don't know who it belongs to which makes it tricky. I also know better than to get into a conversation about it so revert to therapeutic parenting SOS courtesy of Sarah Naish.
Me - I don’t think it's yours so give it to me and I will sort it out and if I’m wrong I will apologise later.
She hands it to me and storms off behind a tent. I ask hubby to go after her and stay close while I try and return it to its rightful owner. I find owner, return ball and go back to hubby. Angel is still off in the distance behind the tent. ‘What happened?’ I ask. ‘She called me an idiot so I left.’ My heart sinks. I know it’s hard when she’s angry and pushing you away but this is when you really need to stay present. I brace myself as I walk over to where she is and stop about 15 feet away.
Angel - I don't want you here, go away. Just leave me alone, you're not even my Mum!’
Me - I know you don't want me near so I’ll just stay over here where I can still see you. I can’t leave you on your own as it’s my job to keep you safe.
She comes at me then, all six stone of her pushing against me. I feel her fury and how much she needs me and something to push against all at once. It's a bit scary because I know if she wanted to, she could push me over now. Yes, she is that strong.
Angel - Where’s a knife. I want to stab myself. I want to die.
She is glaring at me, defiant.
Angel - Go away, go away, go away.
She keeps coming at me but she isn't using her full strength.
Me - I can just stay over here at a distance to make sure you are ok.
I don't say anything else as I know anything I say now will be like a red rag to a bull but its hard and painful and fucking sad.
She is about 20 feet away now and crouches down in a squat. I mirror her. I can feel her fury ebbing and I know the break will come.
Eventually she stands up and says ‘sorry’ and I walk over and put my arms around her but she is still stiff in my arms and she whines as she cries, ‘Why won’t you believe me, it's my ball, I wanted that ball.’
She isn’t letting it go. It’s unfathomable to me how she can hold on to such a blatant untruth and yet I can feel that to her it feels almost like life or death. Like to admit the truth would jeopardize her very being.
Me - Let’s go back to our tent and have a glass of milk and a chocolate biscuit
We start walking
Angel - Can I still go for a sleepover in Anush’s tent tonight?
Me - I don’t know. Let's talk to Daddy about it and have a think
Angel - I need to apologise to Daddy because I called him an idiot. It’s because of Mandy. I keep thinking about Mandy (her former foster carer who died of cancer).
She cries quietly as we walk. Later it transpires that just before the game of cricket she had been upset because she had been left out of a game with some of the other children (or had felt left out!).
We said she could do the sleepover but then at the last minute she decided not to. I almost cried with relief as I had felt very conflicted about letting her stay after such a difficult meltdown.
After she goes to sleep I cry. Her pain is so visceral it goes right into me and her anger almost feels like an assault. I feel like I need to find ways to not let it permeate and yet I also feel like she needs me to feel it, for her to be able to recover. It’s somehow my empathy that allows her to come out the other side. I know talking to other adopters that their big fear is often that the ‘you’re not my real Mum’ will be thrown at them. I realise that this is the first time Angel has said that to me and it hardly registered in the overall scheme of the meltdown. It’s never been what she says to me that hurts but seeing her hurting that does me in especially if she’s also so angry with me that I can’t comfort her. That’s the kick for me. I feel very clear that I am her ‘real’ Mum but also equally clear that I’m not her birth Mum. I know she knows this too and I guess that's why she said it with so little gusto.
When hubby comes in from the fire, I have a cry with him too and we talk about the ‘claiming things that are not hers’ escalating. Weird that it was a ball again, like the green ball incident on the school fire jumping day.
When we get home I pull out ‘Charley Chatty and the Disappearing Pennies’ and read it to Angel at bedtime. This is a therapeutic parenting book for kids about a girl who takes some money and claims with absolute conviction that it's hers. Angel listens carefully as I read it.
Me - Do you ever feel like that?
Angel - Sort of
Me - Like with the green ball and the cricket ball
Angel - Yep!
She suddenly gets the connection.
Me - I think maybe when you're not feeling great, it can feel like something is missing and maybe finding something makes you feel like it can fill the hole. I don’t think that a thing is going to do that for you but maybe being near me or Dad might.
Angel - Fair enough
Me - Maybe we could have a safe word or sound so me and Dad know when you’re feeling wobbly
Angel - Like owww (she howls like a wolf)
Me - Or caw-caw caw-caw (I imitate a crow)
We giggle. I know it won’t work though as when she gets into that place, it's like she’s taken over by a force completely outside of her control but I’m really chuffed we managed to have a conversation about it without her getting into a state, and that she could acknowledge the truth without feeling she is a bad kid. I hope bringing some awareness to what she is doing and why will, over time, help her to connect the dots herself.
I recognise I shy away from reading these therapeutic books when Angel is in a good space as I don't want to rock the boat but I think that actually we need to read them when times are good too as this may help her to remember, when times are bad again.
Resources: Charley Chatty and the Disappearing Pennies by Sarah Naish and Rosie Jefferies