Hope - just writing the word makes me cry. I am emerging, somewhat still shell shocked, back into the world I had known.
As a facilitator for an adoption support group, I hear people's stories a lot and so many are much worse than ours. For some, there is little or no respite from the difficult times. We are lucky. For us it has always been cyclical. Longest good spell was six months but generally it’s only three and, as like this year, sometimes the hard times are much longer.
So where are we? Angel has been sleeping with me, hubby in the spare room, for the last eight weeks and understandably, hubby was getting fed up. It felt a bit like Oedipus backwards and Angel had ousted dad rather than mum. Dad had been sleeping in the double bed in the spare room so we said Angel could sleep there and me and hubby would take it in turns to sleep with her for a bit before she returns to sleeping on her own. We have also gone back to alternating bedtime rather than me doing it 90% of the time.
Both feel revolutionary, like a great power redress has taken place. Angel grapples for power but actually when she gets too much, I often feel like it's a relief for her too when it’s redressed. Next step is to get her sleeping on her own!
It’s a rainy weekend and I suggest we sort out of Angel’s room. She loves doing this as we tip out all her toys and she finds things she hasn't seen in ages and we play along the way.
I’ve been noticing that she doesn’t want me to play with her so much anymore. She is content to whoosh her winged horses and dragons through the air alone. Infact, sometimes she actually tells me to go away! I imagine this is a transition many kids make much earlier and it's liberating to be free of the demand. I am very happy she still plays though. So many 11 year olds have stopped altogether. Long may it last, I think.
The plan is we are going to sort everything out and clear some space for her make up (dress up only) and jewellery. I pull things out of cupboards, ‘Stay or go?’. She says ‘Go’ so much that we have two bin liners of dolls and cuddly toys and a landing full of various baby toys.
I am floored. “Are you sure?’ I ask. “You know you don’t have to?’ “Yes,’ she says, ‘It’s hard but I know I need to let things go.’
Usually she wants to hang on to everything and I’ll be lucky to bin an elastic band so this feels significant on many levels, like a fundamental shift has taken place. I’ve always been careful about getting rid of stuff without checking with Angel as she sometimes sees toys in photos from her time in care and it’s important to her that she still has them.
Now I get very excited. She has been wanting to paint her room and replace her bunk beds with a double bed (mainly because when kids sleep over they always end up sleeping in the double in the spare room so they can bed share). I thought there’s no way we can get her a double until we clear out some of her stuff but didn’t want to dangle that as a carrot. Yet here we are! Strike while the iron's hot I think and tell her she can get a double bed when she is back to sleeping on her own. Carrot well and truly dangled this time but I trust she will make the decision when it feels OK. She’s good at knowing what she can and can’t manage.
We are having dinner.
Me - How was your day?
Angel - Good.
Me - How was Mrs White’s class?
Angel - Yeah OK.
Me - She doesn’t seem to be bothering you anymore. Do you think she’s changed or you’ve changed?
Angel - I think I’ve changed.
Me - Wow, that’s amazing! Well done you!
I high five her. I am almost bursting with pride that at 11 she can recognise that it’s her interpretation and reaction to the very robust, quite shouty Mrs White that has shifted. Not that Mrs White has actually changed. Hopefully she can take this understanding into other areas of her life. I think about all those conversations I’ve had with her this summer when she has been feeling left out. How maybe it’s not so much that people are leaving her out but how she feels inside as to whether she feels she belongs. Triumph! It’s gone in! I know it’s because she‘s moving back to the good place that she can accept it and that these things are not a linear line but it reminds me that all those conversations we have with our kids when we think nothing is going in, are worth having.
Been thinking a lot about shame. Beautifully portrayed in ‘Sorrow and Bliss’ when a character is furious with her family when she is the one who has behaved badly. Christopher Germer talks with amazing clarity (youtube link below) about how when we feel shame we often lash out as a way of deflecting our own intense feelings. I see this all the time with Angel and hubby. Yesterday was a simple example.
We are in the kitchen, hubby and Angel are messing around and she flicks a pencil at hubby which stabs him in the finger. Oww he shouts… she freezes and withdraws. ‘Sorry’, she says angrily. Then mouths to me, ‘ ‘he started it!’. ‘It’s OK, I say, ‘daddy’s fine, you’ve said sorry’. But she can’t move on and storms out of the room. I sigh heavily. I feel frustrated with hubby as a lot of their interactions end in this way but actually I know it’s not him, it’s Angel’s inability to be able to bear shame.
I know I’ve talked about toxic shame and how much it can rule adopted kids but I'm really noticing how it shows up for Angel even when she is in the good place and thinking about how we can help with that.
I guess recognising it is the start and then bringing it into the light, how we did with the lying and stealing.
I shall be reporting back!
Christopher Germer on Shame - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTFN8t9SXiQ&t=2305s
PS. This was actually mainly written in November but for various reasons I didn't get to finish it and publish. Status Update - Angel now has a double bed and is back to sleeping on her own! (-: