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The Case of the Orange Sweatshirt

 Angel is in a bit of a state. I’m in a bit of a state. I realise it’s been going on a while, now I think about it, but somehow it's different now, harder to get hold of. Angel doesn’t cower in a corner crying anymore (at least not very often!) but instead offers up strange and disconcerting behaviour. Is this progress? 

Example one: A few weeks ago Angel came home from school very upset…

Angel - The whole class ganged up on me and everyone was against me apart from Yoni.

Me - Why, what happened?

Angel - Well I said my sweatshirt was red and everyone else said it was orange.

I would like to point out that this is indeed very much an orange sweatshirt and it has always been accepted as such. However, I could see that saying this was not going to be very helpful. Tentatively, I tried, ‘Maybe you could just accept that everyone has a different point of view?’

Angel - But everyone was against me!

Me - Well I can imagine that must have been really tough.

What else could I say that wouldn’t have alienated her further? She was feeling alienated and found a way to prove it. 

Example two: It’s the morning of the school fair and we are helping to set up. Angel and I are together when two friends from her class come running in, breathless and excited. They look at some of the stalls still being set up and one of the girls spots a necklace she says she wants to buy when the stall opens. They leave. I go to fetch something and when I come back Angel has bought the necklace the girl wanted. The girl has run off crying, distraught. Angel looks defiant. 

Angel - Everyone’s against me, even Granny. 

Me - Well, Lucy did say she wanted that necklace, maybe you should just give it to her?

Uh oh. Try again. Not the right approach )-: 

Angel runs into the toilet and slams the door. I stand outside…. despondent. I know the mountain I’m going to need to climb to bring her back. Lucy’s mum happens to walk past. ‘You OK’? I explain what happened. She knows Angel very well, no judgement. She gets it. She goes off to find Lucy.

I say through the door, ‘I am just standing out here and can talk if you want to’, (although I have no idea what to say!). Kick myself, as had I given her the space, she might have worked out ‘the right thing to do’ on her own,  but once backed into a corner she is like a cornered wild animal who will fight to the death. Lucy’s mum comes back. I am still outside the toilet. It’s all sorted, Lucy found another necklace she likes and is OK. She isn’t cross with Angel. This makes me want to cry. I can’t be sure but think this kid is giving my kid a pass because she knows Angel is struggling. 

Me (through the door) - Can I come in now?

Angel - Yes.

Angel is crouched in the corner under the basin. There is a footstool opposite, which I sit on to get on to her level.

Me - Lucy has another necklace now, she isn't cross with you, so everything is OK. 

Angel - But everyone is against me, even you and Granny. I want to go home.

Me - We aren’t against you but if you felt that way, it must have been hard. Were you feeling left out?

Angel - Yes, everyone has a friend to play with and I’m on my own. 

Me - Is that why you bought the necklace?

Angel - Yes.

It’s an admission of sorts and I feel that is the best I can do for now. She comes and sits on my knee, a precarious balancing act for a ten year old on a small stool. I give her a cuddle.

Angel - But I didn’t know she wanted it and I was going to buy it and give it to her but then everything went wrong.

It’s like the little girl with chocolate all over her face who says, ‘No, I didn’t eat the chocolate.’

But we both know we know.

That night Angel asks me to read,  ‘The Girl Who Cried Wolf‘. 

‘Why do you think she lied?’ I ask her.

Angel - Because she was bored.

Me - Why else might someone lie?

Angel - I don’t know.

I don’t look at her and ask very casually, ‘What makes you want to lie?’ 

Angel - When I’m scared and worried?

Me - Why do you think that is?

Angel - I don’t know. Mummy, just read the book!

I know Angel’s thinking about lying because she asked me to read this book but an admission as well, is definitely progress. Softly softly. She also asked me to read all the Sara Niash therapeutic parenting books and order more. She is utterly absorbed by these books as it’s a comfort to know there are other adopted children like her, having difficulties and wobbles. 

Example three: This is big and complicated. 

Angel is in a bit of a triangle with her best friend, Tara in school. This friend also likes to play with another girl, Maria, who Angel doesn’t get along with as well and she perceives Maria as taking Tara away. She decides to tell Tara some secrets.

1. She has lived with other families when she was little

2. She has ridden nearly all the horses in the local riding school

Tara decides to tell Maria the secrets. They challenge her on riding all the horses, rightly working out this is unlikely. Then, apparently, Maria tells Tara to tell Angel that we are not her ‘real’ parents. 

Angel is distraught. We are distraught. We did not expect this at her school but thinking about it, why not? Kids can be cruel, ignorant and also just use the wrong language. In fact I hear adults use the wrong language all the time too…. ‘What happened to her real parents?’, ‘Where did her real parents come from?’ Yes, Angel has birth parents but that doesn’t make us ‘pretend’ parents. If you ask what a parent is or does, I don’t think anyone immediately thinks of procreation and giving birth, they think of the daily joys and pains of raising a child. So who are the ‘real’ parents of adopted children? I understand if you're not an adopted parent, you’ve probably not thought this through though, so I don’t judge. 

We speak to the school and the class teacher gets all the kids involved together. The news has spread to the rest of the class. It was never a secret but I guess some kids didn’t know. Tara apologises and says it will never happen again and they make up. All seems well. Then Tara confesses to her mum that it wasn’t Maria who told her to say we weren’t Angel’s real parents, she came up with that all by herself! Angel and Tara didn't want her to get into trouble so cooked up that part of the story. So now Mara is also upset!

Try extrapolating all the rights and wrongs from that. What I see is Angel imparting sensitive and true information alongside exaggerated and unimportant information which greatly muddies the waters to the receiver. Angel lied because she didn't want Tara to get in trouble and yet Angel is the one who ended up getting hurt the most. So how then do we confront her about lying when she is already in a state? 

We are playing cards when I see a ‘window’. She says something about the incident and I say very gently, ‘Well actually, Tara confessed to her mum that she said it, not Maria. You know Mummy always knows everything, right?’

She looks at me, shocked, ‘Yeah well, let's talk about it later,’ she says hurriedly, ‘Just play Mummy.’ 

Well at least she knows I know. It’s a start.

I wonder if parents of birth children will think I’m crazy? That Angel needs pulling up? And the thing is, we do too. Basically, she is lying, cheating (card games, I’ll save for another day!) and stealing (the case of the missing marble will also have to wait) but not in any meaningful way. Hubby murmurs about the 10 Commandments and I guess they helped keep people in check for 100s of years, but not sure it's going to help get to the root cause. We need to know the ‘why’ to crack the compulsion. Apparently this is all common stuff with looked-after kids but I’d love to know how other parents manage it. All I know is that it only happens when she is feeling bad or threatened in some way.

I feel overwhelmed and tired. We have used homeopathy to great effect ever since Angel was little and she loves hearing me tell the homeopath about what’s going on for her. We call the remedies ‘magic pills’, which if you say out loud at the school gates can sound dodgy, lol. I ask Angel what she wants me to tell the homeopath. We do this at bathtime, where a lot of good chats take place.

Me - So what do you want me to tell Linda when I speak to her tomorrow? 

Angel - I feel good and bad inside.

Me - Wow that's amazing as often you’ve only felt bad. It's great that you know there is good in there too now. What else?

Angel - I feel like people don’t like me although I know that’s not true.

Me - Wow! That’s amazing too! You can feel that way but also hold it’s not true and just a feeling you have. What else?

Angel - I feel worried at school, at friends’ houses, at home, everywhere.

Me - Even at home? You must be really really worried then.

Angel - Yeah I feel angry, sad, miserable and frustrated. 

Me - What are you frustrated about? 

Angel - I don’t like doing the school work and ever since Eddy left (the other adopted kid in her class), no one understands me.

Me - So only adopted kids understand you?

Angel - Yes, everyone else is against me.

Me - What about Mr Wood? (her teacher)

Angel - Oh yes, he understands.

Me - Umm and Maddie (her designated person in school)

Angel - Oh yes, she understands too and Hettie and Ms Julie.

Me - Ah so there are some people that understand.

We both laugh and that night at bedtime she feels a little lighter. I realise now in writing this that the common theme is Angel feeling alienated. I think she is at an age when she understands what being adopted means and that makes her feel different. At Steiner they call the middle years the Rubicon crossing and lots of kids can feel lonely at this time anyway, but for an adopted kid, it's a double whammy. 

We happen to watch Frozen 2 and when Ana is at her absolute worst, thinking she has lost everything and everyone she’s ever loved, she sings a song about doing, ‘the next right thing.’  Aha! Now as she leaves for school, I say, ‘If you are feeling wobbly, stop; breathe in, breathe out and say to yourself, what's the next right thing to do. Life lessons, as ever, for us all (-:


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