Angel - Rose’s Mum’s said if she had been a boy, they were going to call her Rex?
Me - (laughing), I know quite a few dogs called Rex so lucky she was a girl!
Angel - What was I going to be called if I was a boy?
Me - I don’t know but we could ask your birth mum when we next write to her?
We are sitting on a rock in the paddling pool swirling our feet in the water.
Angel - When am I going to meet my birth mum? I want to meet her. I want to know what she looks like?
Me - Can’t you remember what she looks like? We have lots of pictures but I know sometimes you can’t get a sense of someone from a picture. It’s not the same is it?
Angel - No. You said I could meet her when I was 13.
Me - Is that what you want?
Angel - Yes.
Me - Well that’s what we will work towards then. That’s why we are getting some support; to prepare you for meeting her.
I quietly kick myself. Maybe I just should have said, ‘Well if I had had you and had a boy, I would have called you George.’ Maybe that’s all it needed with the state we are both in. Maybe honesty is not always the best policy?
She drags me into the water and splashes me. I don’t really want to get splashed but go along with it, then suggest ‘Simon Says’, as a distraction. Usually Angel makes friends so easily but I can see today isn’t going to be one of those days. I run out of steam. It’s hard to be ‘fun mum’ when really it took all I had to come out. I don’t want to play anymore. She’s annoyed. Runs off in a mood. I leave her for a minute, galvanising myself. I find her by the water pump.
Me - You know I love you right?
Angel - Well why doesn’t it feel like that anymore?
She starts to cry. I gather her up in my arms.
Me - Sometimes mums go through difficult times too you know and I am having a bit of a difficult time right now, which hasn't got anything to do with you. Some days I’m brilliant at making up a game and sometimes I’m not, just like you, right? Like when you are feeling good, it's easy but when you aren't feeling so good, it's not so easy?
I notice the paddling pool area is quietning down.
Me - Hey look, the pool’s less busy now, why don’t we play the traffic light game?
This is a game I made up years ago that she loves. If I shout green she has three seconds to get to another rock (we always play where there are lots of rocks). Amber means you have to pretend to be an animal and I have to guess what it is and red means freeze. If you don’t make it to the rock / come up with an animal in 3 seconds or move on red, you lose a life and you have 10 lives (see, I am fun mum lol).
I get daddy to be traffic light caller so I can play too and we have a great game. After twenty minutes the sun is going down and we have had enough. Angel is stroppy, says she's not leaving.
Me - OK, well there will be no cinema this week then.
I hate having to threaten her with taking something away but sometimes it feels like it's the only way, especially when you haven't got it in you to get into a big negotiation. I wonder if this is when ‘None Violent Resistance’ would be useful. I must look into that. Another thing to do!
Angel - You don’t ever play with me like you used to. I want to go and live with my birth mum!
To be honest, I just feel annoyed now. I was hoping to come to the paddling pool and read the paper while she played but instead I’ve played splashing, simon says, the traffic light game and it’s still not enough.
Me - You know what, I’m trying here. I really am. I’m doing the best I can so either you can do the best you can too and we can try to have a nice evening or we can have a rubbish one.
Funny, as that morning I had been trying to persuade hubby to take her to our beach hut for the day while I stayed home. ‘You just want to get rid of us! Imagine if I said that to you?,’ he looks at me incredulously. I don’t have the capacity to explain then but when we get in, I tell him what has happened and say, ‘This is why I needed you to take her out for the day. I need a break from all this!’
Because, of course she doesn't say this stuff to him. She wants to play fight and annoy him but she saves all the big emotional stuff for me. Just like it was only me that dealt with the first week of her anxiety attacks.
Yes we are there and it’s very disturbing to see your kid in that kind of state, especially when I know exactly what it feels like, having experienced it myself.
It started with a stomach bug. Angel woke up at midnight and projectile vomited which was pretty dramatic anyway but for Angel who had never vomited before (at least not since she has been with us), it was terrifying. The next day she was wiped out but no more vomiting. However, when it came to bedtime she was scared it might happen again in the night. Every night for two weeks she was scared to sleep in her room and asked me if it would happen again (I had been banished from actually saying the word vomit or sick).
Of course I reassured her and she was managing OK. Then she woke up in the middle of the night, said she was feeling scared, her breathing was hard and she had to go to the toilet. I went with her and held her hand and we did our 4,7,8 breathing together (lucky we do this every night anyway as it calms the nervous system!). It took me about 45 minutes to recognise she was having an anxiety attack at which point I had the perfect homoeopathic remedy, Arsenicum, as it had been prescribed to me in the past. She calmed down quite quickly after that and was able to get off the toilet. We then went back to bed and found a kids meditation and sleep story on the calm app and eventually she got back to sleep.
Over the next seven days it was the same pattern, scared at bedtime, wake in the night, toilet trip, crying, scared, breathing together, homoeopathic remedy, Kung Ku Panda sleep story, her lying trembling in bed, me next to her holding her hand, breathing with her to try and quell her panic and eventually she would get back to sleep. Sometimes it was 45 minutes, sometimes two hours.
A week in I was exhausted, she was exhausted and my own nervous system was shot to bits.
Now when I look back, I realise she was already slightly phobic about vomiting (she used to run and hide if the dog vomited) so it was always there ready to ignite. I'm now seeing all the ways in which the match got lit but for that we need to back track to the beginning of the summer.
It’s fathers day. Angel and I head to TK Maxx to see if we can pick something up for hubby. Why isn’t there a ‘kids day’ she grumbles. ‘Because every day is kids day!’ I exclaim exasperated but trying not to launch into a tirade about what we do for her all the time. The parents lament, me thinks.
In the shop she is only interested in looking at things that she wants. ‘Can I have this bag?’ ‘No’. ‘Can I have that purse?’ ‘No’. ‘Can I have this cuddly toy?’ ‘No’.
On the way home, having secured something for hubby, she asks, ‘But why couldn't I have that cuddly toy mum?’
Me - Because you have 80! (yes, we counted them).
Angel - Oh yeah. I’ve actually probably got more now too.
Me - The thing is when you have so much of something you stop appreciating each individual thing. Maybe we should bag up half of them and put them in the attic, then when we get them out in six months, it will be like you have 40 new cuddly toys all over again.
She takes to this idea with gusto so a few days later we are in her room piling cuddly toys onto the floor. There are 129! (albeit a lot of very small ones included). We bag up two bin liners. She throws the toys in with gusto, like she is trying to shake loose the ties of childhood. I make a game of saying, ‘Oh no, not Marmite, not Honey’, and she laughs but when she goes to put in Big Dog, I am flabbergasted.
Me - Really, Big Dog? You don’t have to, you know.
Angel - I know.
She uses Big Dog as a pillow every night and Big Dog goes everywhere with us but she insists.
We are in the car on our way to our annual street camping trip. I have been thinking about the cricket ball incident at last year's camp and how to navigate change.
Me - You know sometimes when we go camping it can get a bit stressful with late nights and lots of different personalities. Well, I notice that sometimes when you are stressed you might feel like you want to take something or say something that isn’t true. If you feel like that it’s your brains way of telling you, you are not ok. It’s saying Angel, You are not OK, You are not OK!. We want to help you with that so if you get that urge, come find me or daddy and just say wobble and we will all wobble together.
She thinks this is really funny. The weekend goes without a hitch. Plenty of melt- downy kids but Angel isn't one of them.
I had already planted a few seeds to this conversation in a very casual way so she could get used to the idea that we were aware she is sometimes taking small things (or more often, claiming something is hers when it isn't) and not telling the truth. I had explained that we wanted to help her with it but this was the first time I’d said it explicitly and she had taken it without being defensive or withdrawing.
Me and hubby are in the kitchen and Angel hasn’t come down for breakfast. ‘She must have a phone in bed’ hubby says (which she isn’t allowed). I go and check
Me - Morning lovely… What have you got in there?
I pull back the curtain to her enclosed bottom bunk
Angel - Nothing
It is completely transparent that she is lying. She is like a four year old with chocolate all around her mouth saying, ‘No, I didn’t eat the chocolate’. OK, I think, this is my moment to use ‘The Great Behaviour Breakdown’ training.
Me - It really hurts me when you lie to me because it makes me feel you can’t trust me and whatever the truth is, I will always love you and we will always work it out because we are smart people. You’re nearly 11 now and we really have to start working on this and I want to help you with that.
And with that I left the room. Don’t back the child into a corner as if you try to make them admit the lie, it can feel to them like they have a gun to their head. As I am walking down the stairs I add causally, ‘Come down for breakfast when you’re ready and bring the phone with you’.
She follows me quickly, handing me the phone
Angel - But mum it didn't have any battery….
I press the on button…….hey presto
Me - Funny that, it just came on (I say lightly)
She starts to say something.
Me - What did we just talk about? (I say with a raised eyebrow and as much humour as I can muster)
She falls silent! This is a miracle. She doesnt run into a corner sobbing, doesn’t tell me I never believe her, that she is telling the truth, she just takes it.
We say no more on the matter and then a few hours later she says, ‘Mum I’m sorry about earlier?’
Me - About what?
Angel - About the phone?
Me - Thank you for apologising, that means so much to me.
I give her a cuddle.
Me - This is something we really need to get hold of now as it will start affecting so many areas of your life and I promise whatever the truth is, it will always be OK. Nothing could ever stop me from loving you and I’m really proud of you for being able to admit it and apologise.
This feels like another minor revolution and opens up a plethora of revelations.
I am in the kitchen when Angel comes in holding her diary.
Angel - Mum I wrote something in this diary ages ago and I wish I hadn’t.
Me - Do you want to show it to me?
She hands me the diary and in it are written three words, ‘I hate Lily’.
Angel - I wrote it when I was feeling really bad but I wish I hadn’t.
I know she is trying to tell me she was mean to Lily and wishes she hadn't been. That she is sorry.
Me - Thank you for sharing that with me. The thing is when we really don’t like someone, it’s often really a reflection of how we feel about ourselves. So if you ever feel like that again, come talk to me and daddy and we can help you with it. I think it's about us finding ways to make you feel better about yourself and less worried and we can work on that together.
She nods and hugs me.
We are on the way to Sarah’s birthday party. Birthday parties can often be tricky and to make it worse we are dropping Angel off as it's hubby’s birthday too. I have been having the ‘if you get the urge’ talk again and saying she can call me if she’s feeling wobbly and I’ll come and get her straight away when she says to me, ‘Mum I told Natalie something that Lorna told me not to.’
Me - Do you want to tell me?
Angel - I told her that Lorna had said she was clumsy and sometimes annoying.
Me - Oh dear. Why do you think you told her?
Angel - I don’t know
Me - How do you think it made Natalie feel?
Angel - Angry and upset
She looks on the verge of tears. Natalie had been staying at Lorna’s as she had been having a difficult time at home, so Angel knew she was already vulnerable.
Me - Hey, the first thing is you have told me and that is brilliant as it's really hard to admit when you have done something you don’t feel good about. The second thing is to forgive yourself. We are all a work in motion and you're a kid and there is still a lot to learn. The third thing is to try and understand why you did it and the fourth thing is to think, is there a way I could make the situation better?
Angel - I don’t know why I did it.
Me - Maybe you felt left out because suddenly they seemed really close and usually it’s you and Lorna who are really close?
Angel - Maybe. Let's talk about something else.
I let it drop. Angel confessing unprompted is still new. This is progress enough.
It’s Angel’s birthday and we have a ‘surprise party’. Her old foster family come all the way from up north, her adopted brother and sister come. Mary, the senco who left the school, comes. Angel has been asking for a surprise party for a long time and so she knew we were doing one but didn’t know the details. I think that made me feel like I had to push the boat out to make some real surprises. It was the first time the foster family have been to ours since just before Matilda (the foster Mum) died, five years ago.
It was a lot. A lot of people (well over 40), a lot of emotions and a lot to manage for us all at a time when I was already feeling overloaded with everything that had happened at the end of the school year.
Two nights later is when Angel wakes in the night with her first anxiety attack.
I see it now…….
Me pulling back on babying her (see previous blog about refusing to wipe her bottom and feed her anymore). Angel trying to be a bit more grown up (toys in attic), being challenged about being a bully at school (when Lily announced to the whole class that this is why she was leaving), opening up about this and lying and stealing. The anxiety that was being masked behind these activities is laid bare now. Plus, Angel is growing up and doesn't want to, a close friend is moving away and her two best friends are leaving the school. It is an unprecedented amount of change, inside and out, for a child who is terrified of change.
I get it……. but it’s a lot to hold without help. And that was before all the stress with social services……..