It’s the last weekend of half term and anxiety about going back to school is kicking in. Angel declares she’s not going in on Monday. I murmur, ‘I can hear you really don’t want to go in. I know it’s always hard going back after half term’.
Come Monday morning, she is up and dressed at 6.30am. All is well at breakfast and I have agreed to take her to school instead of Daddy as a treat. Just before we are about to leave she throws herself face down on her bed.
I know what this means. It’s going to be a long drawn out protracted affair, after which I may or may not get her into school. I don’t feel I have the patience or resources to do this today. I try a different approach.
Me - ‘Ok I can see you don’t want to go in and I’m not going to make you go in if you don’t want to but this is the only day that I have for me as the rest of the week I’m working or with you. So you can stay home but I am going for my run, I’m going to do some writing and sort out some things that I need to sort out. If you want to stay home that’s fine but there will be no telly and you’ll have to find ways to entertain yourself. I will be here though. Now I’m going upstairs to get ready for my run and you can have a think and let me know what you want to do.’
I leave the room. Five minutes later, hubby calls up to say Angel is in the car waiting for me. I come down, get in the car and start driving. The tension is palpable.
Me - Well done. I know it's really hard going back to school after the holidays but I do think it’s easier going back when everyone else is going back as there will be other kids feeling just like you.
Angel - No there isn’t, no one understands. I hate being the only adopted kid.
She starts crying. I realise this isn’t about the maths teacher she doesn't like or worry about late homework or any of the other reasons she has been talking about. This is about separating from me and hubby after a week of being at home. This is about transitions and what they trigger. This is about being adopted.
Me - I think maybe you just find it really hard to separate from me and daddy after the holidays and that’s because of the upset from all those moves when you were little.
She cries harder. We are navigating the one way system that could lead us to school or back home.
Me - Look sweetheart, there’s no point going in if you are this upset. Your brain wouldn’t be able to focus on school work anyway. Let’s go home, get a homoeopathic remedy that will help with the worry about separating and take a minute. If you then feel better and want to go in, I can take you after break.
I circle back and start driving home. The crying subsides.
Me - What do you have after break?
Angel - Eurythmy and I’d quite like to be there for that
Me - What have you got this morning?
Angel - Olympic training with Mr White
Me - You like Olympic training too don’t you?
Angel - Yes. I don’t really want to miss that either.
Me - So are you saying you want to go in now? (I say laughing)
Angel - I think so..
Me - Ok let's go home and get you the remedy anyway and then you can make a decision.
By the time we get home and take the remedy, she is much better and says she definitely wants to go in.
We only arrive 20 minutes late and someone else from her class arrives at the same time and she runs off without looking back.
Wow, I think. What a turnaround. Maybe she just needed a big cry? Maybe it’s the goodbyes that are hard as much as being away from us after the holidays? Either way we got there in the end.
It’s 6.30pm on Thursday and Jackie, the lady who lives in our studio and does Thursday bedtimes with Angel isn’t here. Angel looks worriedly at the dark windows of the studio. She doesn't seem to be in. I realise I have got the dates mixed up and she is away.
Me - I’m so sorry sweetheart, that is my mix up. Jackie did tell me she wanted to do next Tuesday instead and I thought we were swapping next Tuesday for next Thursday but I now see it's this week she is away and she is doing next Tuesday and Thursday so you get her twice next week. Remember me and daddy are also going out on Tuesday?
It’s not long before she starts doing the annoying humming thing and flicking her pen backwards and forwards across the table.
Me - Are you feeling stressed?
Angel - Yes
Me - Do You know why?
Angel - No
Me - Is it because me and daddy are going out next tuesday?
Angel - No
Me - Is it because you are worried about the homework we were talking about earlier?
Angel - No
Me - Is it because Jackie isn't coming?
Angel - Yes! (She says it rather triumphantly like, thank heavens I’ve identified what it is)
Me - I know how much you love your time with Jackie and it's disappointing she isn’t coming and it’s hard because mummy messed up and didn't let you know in advance but you do know she is coming back right?
Angel - No
Me - Oh darling, she wouldn’t just disappear without saying goodbye and never come back. I think maybe you feel like that because that’s how it felt when you were little. People were there and then they were gone because you had so many moves before you came to us. Can you understand you probably feel that way now because of how you felt then.
Angel - Yes
Me - Does that make you feel any better?
Angel - No!
Of course it doesn’t, I think. Knowing is just the first step in healing. It takes years to understand, grieve and undo those triggers but I am impressed that she can know it (with a little help from me) even if at this stage it doesn't help quell the anxiety. I was also impressed that she could identify it was because of Jackie not coming.
Me - Ok, so what could we do to help you feel better?
She doesn’t answer but scuttles off and returns with Snakes and Ladders, a game she always plays with Jackie.
Me - That’s a brilliant idea. Let’s do the things you would normally do when Jackie comes. We could also do the ball games you play with her.
I can feel her stress subsiding as we play snakes and ladders and by the time we have tried to bounce and pass two balls in unison and collapsed in laughter on a number of occasions, the mini crisis has passed.
I think about how that could have played out a few years ago, and could still play out, if I am not tuned in to what is going on for her. It’s so easy to forget, in the moment, that all behaviour is communication.
Angel comes barreling in from school with hubby, ‘Mummy!’ she hollas upstairs to my home office where I am working today. It’s good timing. I can take a break and go greet her. To be honest, I plan it that way if I am working from home as it can change our whole evening if I can’t receive and reconnect with her properly. I’ve learnt this is important. Physical contact and complete attention even if it's only for a few minutes go a long way. I feel the whoosh of energy as I enter the kitchen. She has gone straight to bouncing a ball. She is stressed.
Me - How was your day?
Angel - Terrible. Mr White accused me of writing on the board and he won’t believe that I didn't do it because of what happened when Yasi made me write on the board.
I am right here now and she buries her head in my chest and cries, arms still hanging limp at her sides. I put my arms around her and stroke her back.
Me - Oh no, that is really tough
Angel - And I didn’t do it, I didn’t do it
Me - Would you like me to talk to Mr White?
Angel - No
I want to say, ‘That's why it’s so important to be a truth teller, because then people have faith in your word,’ but I think, perhaps, the timing isn’t right for that right now, lol.
She is sitting on her bed when I come in to say good morning (she is always awake before us these days.
Angel - Mum, I need to tell you something.
She takes a deep breath.
Me - OK
I sit down next to her on the bed
Angel - I did write on the board but I only added a question mark. Someone else had already rubbed out the word ‘calligraphy’ and witten’ writing’ instead and I knew if I said that, no one would believe me because I did write on the board before when I got into trouble so I just said I didn't do anything.
Me - Well first of all well done for being a truth teller. That is a really important step. And you can see that because you didn't tell the truth before, you think people won’t believe you now which is also really important. I’m sure if I explain that and that you are sorry, Mr White will not be angry. Would you like to say you are sorry.
Angel - Yes (she looks relieved and really happy to have it off her chest)
I ask her again if she is absolutely sure she didn't write anything else on the board and this is the complete truth and she reassures me it is.
I construct a text to Mr White. ‘Angel is stressed because she admitted to me that she wrote a question mark on the board. She swears she didn’t write anything else and is upset because no one believes her. We’ve talked a lot about how you need to be a truth teller for people to be able to trust your word. She has been doing really well with this and I believe her. She wanted to say she is very sorry she wrote the question mark and hopes you believe that she didn’t write anything else. I’ve told her well done for telling the truth.
I let her look at the text to check she is happy and she approves.
Fifteen minutes later at breakfast, a response comes through.
‘That is a great step forward, thank you. Please reassure Angel we will leave it at that. I cleaned up the board as well.’
I read the text to her and she beams.
Me - you see when you do something you don’t think is right or don’t tell the truth it can make you feel really bad inside and that can eat away at you and then you can end up doing something else like taking something or being mean to someone to try and distract yourself from the discomfort you are feeling. Then the feeling gets even worse. That’s why it’s so important to be a truth teller.
She nods seriously and looks really chuffed with herself.
I think of the mess she got into last year at school and of all those children who by doing one little ‘naughty’ thing, can spiral into really negative behaviour patterns and get knocked off course.I realise we see it all the time every day, everywhere. Kids feel bad, do something bad, feel worse, do something worse until you’ve got kids killing kids on the streets and don’t even start me on the complexities of systemic racism and the part that can play. That’s a blog for another day!
For us, for now, we are making such huge progress. I see it every day in a million little ways and I am very thankful.
P.S. I’ve just realised in writing this blog that Angel had been very stressed about the calligraphy expert coming in to teach the class for three days. In fact she had been crying the day before he was due to come in saying she wouldn't go to school the next day as she was terrified. I think any change is scary for adopted kids and she also thought that her regular teacher wouldn't be there. I had to text Mr White to check he would be there at all times and reassure Angel of this. We managed to get her to school but she said every day that she hated it. I was slightly depressed thinking if it's like this now, how on earth will she cope at secondary school with so many different teachers and supply teachers in play. Anyway, so interesting that it was his teaching she sabotaged on the board!