Angel is back at school - Yay!
And she’s actually been pretty OK - even more yay (-: Sure, she was scared about seeing everyone again, scared about being able to do the work, scared about seeing a stern teacher who she has for a lesson once a week, but there were no meltdowns and she wasn't even on a major go slow on the first day back.
It really helps that our school has an ‘all families work day’ when parents, who can, help get the school ready for everyone returning. This meant Angel had half a day in the school to reconnect with the school community with myself and hubby around.
Anyway, it feels like we are making real progress. It's the first time it felt like regular kid anxiety about returning to school rather than some underlying fear getting triggered because of the transition. For adopted kids transitions mean losing something and even if you're leaving something bad behind, there is still loss involved. It’s been a journey of discovery to realise how even small transitions can trigger massive anxiety and I wish I had understood that more at the outset of our journey.
When we were looking for a nursery for Angel, my main criteria was that it would let her do the government allocated 15 hours per week spread over 5 days. I felt she was too little and too new to be away from us for more than 3 hours a day. She had been with us for 15 months when she started. Looking back it feels it was too soon but hubby was working full time and I needed to be able to work more too. In hindsight, I wish we had sent her to nursery a year later and then she would have been in the year below. She is an end of July baby so has always been one of the youngest in the class. This is hard enough without having the additional baggage of being adopted.
Anyway, our other criteria was that it was a nursery attached to a school so that she wouldn't have to move. However, when they go from reception to class one, they move playground and unbeknown to me, towards the end of reception the school started letting the kids play in the big playground to prepare them. Angel started wetting herself and it took me ages to figure out the reason was that she was scared of being in the big playground. When I asked her what she was scared about she said, ‘I don’t want to lose you and daddy’. I was absolutely floored.
Then I thought about it and of course, big change always meant losing a family. I was immensely impressed at how clearly she was able to articulate this and I was then able to reassure her. Needless to say the wetting stopped but she was super clear that she wanted to stay in Reception another year (even though it meant her friends moving on). I tried but there were no places left in Reception by this stage and the school also said that if she was held back a year now she would have to skip a year later as would have to go to secondary school at the right age. Looking back this doesn’t seem right but it was at the beginning of the wider discussions and debate around being able to hold summer babies back a year.
Angel was right though. Academically she wasn't ready for the kind of work that was expected and had she been able to hang back a year, she may not have had to endure the trauma of feeling stupid (infuriating when she’s one of the brightest kids I’ve ever met) and then eventually changing school.
I say all this in the hope that anyone reading with preschool kids considers all the options early, as once you are in the school funnel, it's really hard to deviate. There’s so much research now pointing towards adopted kids being behind in school. I don’t think this is because they are less intelligent, they just have a lot going on emotionally and this takes up bandwidth. We wouldn’t be operating on our optimum level if we were dealing with moving home and having lost someone we love, or two or three!
Sometimes people say to me ‘but this happened a long time ago, Angel’s been with you for eight years and these years have been positive.’ Wow I think, my Dad disappeared 45 years ago and I’m still processing the fallout! Eight years to lose a whole family never mind that it's usually two families, (adopted kids will nearly always lose their birth family and a foster family) and in Angel’s case two foster families. Needless to say, it’s a lot to work through and the reverberations will be with them forever.
The lack of understanding around all this is hard to deal with and is another reason I wanted to write this blog.
I remember in Year Two in her first school, her teacher saying to us at Parents’ Evening that Angel found it hard to focus. I had to point out that she had just received a letter from her birth mum and met her adopted twin brother and sister for the first time. Of course it's going to be hard to focus on maths!
I know some people will ask, ‘Well, why read the letter from her birth Mum? Why introduce birth siblings?’ Let sleeping dogs lie!’ I even have this argument with hubby at times who says, ‘It’s all too much!’ But not looking at something doesn't make it go away. Depending on the day, it is too much for all of us sometimes but it is also what we signed up for in adopting a child and I believe the more we can process our emotions, the less they pop up as meltdowns or difficulties in everyday life.
I’m thinking about all this now as we attended an Adopted Families Picnic on Sunday and so much of the talk was about schools and the lack of understanding around adoption.
We decided to attend as it feels important that Angel is able to connect with other adopted children especially with the only other adopted kids in her school recently moving away.
I also feel a pull to meet other adopted parents now. It's funny, because when Angel was young, my friends with kids were enough or actually almost felt a better barometer. Is this just kids or is this adopted kids stuff? But as she grows and changes there is a sense of coming home when you meet other adopted parents. A shared understanding of the additional asks and worries. It feels to me there is an added burden of responsibility that you can’t afford to mess it up because things have already been messed up. Sometimes that weight feels really heavy and it's hard to pick the pathway between laying down everything to meet their needs but also honouring yours.
Having said that, I can also feel a shift as Angel can manage more. Last night I had to go out for work. This is a rare occurrence since Corona and Angel had a big cry and asked me not to go. I said I had to go and that she would be fine (hubby and a good friend were here to manage bedtime).
Angel - You don’t care about me anymore, not like you did when I was little
Me - You feel I don’t care about you?
Angel - Yes, you didn't even give me a cuddle when I started crying
I know what she means. I did feel, ‘I am not going to get into this and be late’. When she was younger I would have spent more time consoling her although ultimately, I would still have gone. I think it’s because she is at an age where she has the capacity to understand that I am coming back and I find it a little crazy that she still gets upset that I am going out to dinner, half of which she will be asleep for anyway!
How do I articulate that? Is it fair? I know she can still get tipped into big feelings by small things but I think I’m astute enough to know when that is and this time it didn’t feel like it.
Me - Well, come and have a cuddle now. It’s not that I care about you less, but I know you can manage this and will be OK with Daddy. Will it be easier if you drop me at the station or shall I get the bus?
They drop me at the station and she is still upset. I give her a cuddle and tell her she can play a game on Daddy’s phone (a rare treat!). She is still crying but I get a sense that actually she’s crying about not being little anymore, about having to let go of that. She has talked a lot recently about not wanting to get older. I get it. She missed out on two years of being little with us and so needs more time, but her body is changing and the march of time is undeniable, if hard to bear.
Later, I miss the call before she goes to sleep and Hubby says she was upset all over again. Even so, the next morning she is fine. See? She can manage it. Still, it's hard for all of us to hold those contradictions.