Been a while since I wrote… too much going on but I feel the need to get some of it down.
Angel - You're not going, I won’t let you!
Me - It’s only a night. Remember I said last week that I might have to go for a night and you seemed fine
Angel - Nope, you’re not going
Me - What’s the worry?
Angel - That you’ll die and won’t come back
Me - Well it’s no more likely there, than anyway
Angel - But it's outside London and you don’t know it like you know London and someone might stab you.
I am taken aback. I want to say, ‘actually I’m much more likely to get stabbed in London than in Windsor’ but realise that wouldn’t be helpful and that this isn’t a rational response.
Me - That must feel really horrible that you think I might die and not come back
Angel - Yes!
Me - I think maybe you feel that way because you lost people when you were little and so that feeling is buried very deep inside of you but I am coming back and this isn’t the same as it was then, even if sometimes it feels that way. I will be OK and so will you.
It was a work thing, I went. Angel was angry. I was angry at her for being angry and making it such a nightmare for me to go away for one bloody night! She’s 11! I fumed internally. When I come back she is still angry. I say, (calmly), ‘I know you are still angry with me for going but I want you to know that it's also hard for me, you being this angry when I am only going away for one night.’
She doesn't say a lot but the next time I am out of London for the day and she wails, ‘no, you can’t go’. I say, ‘uh uh, I’m not having it this time. It’s a day! I’ll be back before you go to sleep’, and she quietly drops it. Progress! I know her feelings are real but on another level, I also think she wants to control me as much as she can. I get that it makes her feel safe but I also have to honour my needs and wants. The wise words of the child therapist echo from when Angel was two and not sleeping, ‘Don’t let your kids tyranise you or they will feel the tyranny too!’.
Angel has been difficult for a week or so now. Wants this, then that, then when you give it to her, it's not enough.
It's the ‘never enough blues’. I can feel the desperate need in her to fill the void she is feeling and I want to help, so lean in.
Work, come home, undivided attention. You want to play bat and ball in the garden? Sure. Want to play Simon Says? Sure. Want to do endless cartwheels sure? Angel fizzes with energy and dissatisfaction. Just lean in a little more, I think. Ok let’s try reading in the hammock. Perhaps that will calm the fizzing. I read way past bedtime and say I’ll do one more page. I do the page. ‘It’s time’ I say. She begs for longer in that petulant way she has when she is feeling bad. I’m exhausted and angry now because bloody hell, I have tried and it's not fair that it’s never enough! I feel like I might lose it, so walk away. She bursts into tears. Hubby steps in (thank heavens there are two of us). She runs upstairs to her bedroom.
I give myself some time to regain my own equilibrium before going in.
Me - I’m sorry you’re feeling that life isn't giving you what you want at the moment. I think you're feeling a bit of a hole inside and I think that hole is from all the stuff that happened before you came to live with us. But I need you to know that it’s really hard for me and daddy too as we try really hard to help when we sense you feel like this and yet whatever we do, it doesn’t feel like it makes a difference and that's tough for us too.
Angel - It does make a difference what you and daddy do.
Wow, I think. I want to cry. She is beginning to get it and see things from our perspective as well! And we do make a difference! I mean I know we make a difference but for Angel to acknowledge it feels like gold. I also think that maybe instead of bending over backwards to try and make her feel better at these times, perhaps it's better to meet it head on. It's a fine line as sometimes I can bring her back by leaning in but other times, she will push until a rupture occurs so she can prove to herself how unlovable she is and get to the bit inside that is hurting. I don’t feel I know the answers but I’m thinking maybe I need to learn not to overextend myself and maybe that means the rupture will come sooner. I think most parents want to avoid the ruptures as it's bloody tiring but maybe, at least I’m hoping, that a little more processing occurs each time.
We are at the paddling pool. Angel runs over to tell me that a little boy of about 4 is hitting some bigger kids and the mum has said to the bigger kids, ‘if he does it again, hit him back’. Angel is genuinely stunned, ‘Mum, you've got to talk to the Mum and tell her that he needs help. We all know that if a kid is lashing out, it’s because he’s not OK. It’s crazy to say, hit him back!’ It was quite tricky to explain that different mums have different parenting approaches but I am properly impressed by how her emotional intelligence is playing out.
We are arguing about something.
Angel - My birth mum would let me, she’s the best mum!
I thought, I’m definitely not having that!
Me - Actually she’s not and I know that because a judge decided she wasn't fit to look after you and that I was. She may be a great mum now but then, she definitely wasn’t.
She took it with good grace.
A few days later me and Angel are lying on her bed. Is my mum black or white, she asks.
Me - Black. Don’t you remember? You have the picture of her that you used to have next to your bed and lots of other ones in your memory box.
Angel - Oh yeah.
Me - Have you been thinking about her?
Angel - Yeah. I really want to see her.
Me - Like soon or when you are a bit older.
Angel - Soon.
Me - What do you think you want to know or understand from seeing her?
Angel - I don’t know, I just want to hear how she sounds, I want to see how she is.
I see it now. It isn't ‘facts’ Angel wants. She wants to know how her birth mother moves, how she carries herself, who she is on a visceral level.
Me - Ah, you just need to know whose tummy you came out of huh?
Angel - Yeah
Me - I get it.
I give her a hug. I recognise this conversation is different to the others when Angel would declare she wants to meet her birth mother now, then quickly back track…. ‘Actually maybe when I’m 10…….11……. 16’. This time it is unequivocal. It hurts, but I really do get it.
Later a friend asks, ‘Does it hurt because you feel it means you are not enough? ‘No’, I say, ‘It’s because I really understand her need and I’m sad that I can’t fill that void for her’. Afterwards I think, actually isn’t that the same thing?
I know it’s about Angel embarking on adulthood and needing to know where she's come from to know who she is. The central question between 12 and 14 (according to all the psychology books) is ‘Who Am I’. Angel is making a play for being more separate (closing bedroom door, wanting some time on her own, expressing how annoying me and hubby are etc) but I can see how tricky it is for her as her greatest fear has always been losing her parents again, so how can she safely push us away?
I’ve been reading a book about bringing up teenage girls called ‘Untangled’ and it says,
‘Consider the metaphor in which your teenage daughter is a swimmer, you are the pool in which she swims, and the water is the broader world. Like any good swimmer, your daughter wants to be out playing, diving or splashing around in the water. And, like any swimmer, she holds on to the edge of the pool to catch her breath after a rough lap or getting dunked too many times……. Then your daughter wants to return to the water, and she gets there by pushing off from the side of the pool.’
She has to push away from you, and often hard, to get out into the world, where all the fun is at. I think how hard this is for any child, let alone an adopted one. Some days, Angel is literally pulling and pushing me at the same time.
I talk to hubby about the birth mum convo. He is alarmed, ‘Is this the right time? Surely starting secondary school is enough right now? Shouldn't she be concentrating on her school work?’ I think yes, all those things but how can you concentrate on school work if you are longing to meet the person who grew you in their belly? I hear him though and I wish we had done it before. The stakes seem somehow higher now. Like, at the very time Angel is trying to be more separate, we introduce birth mum! No matter, if this is what she wants, we both feel we need to be the ones facilitating it.
I suggest to Angel that if she wants to see her birth mum she should come and talk to the therapist too, to make sure she is fully supported. ‘Sure.’ she says. ‘You know it’s probably going to bring up a lot of feelings and make you angry and sad too right?’ She looks at me, her head cocked, waiting for me to get it. ‘Ah, you’re angry and sad anyway?’ ‘Yeah’ she says.
I am talking to Angel’s adopted friend, Ernest, about his summer holidays. He tells me he met with his older sister who had pretty much raised him, before he was taken into care. He hadn't seen her since he was four years old ( he’s 11 now). I am honoured he wants to share this information with me.
Me - How was it?
Ernest - Yeah, good.
Me - Did you remember her?
Ernest - No
Me - Did you get any sense of recognition?
Ernest - No
Me - That must have been hard?
Ernest - Yes
Imagine how hard and sad it must be to meet your birth family and there not be any feeling of recognition. This is something I hadn't thought about. And yet he was still glad he met her. Thank you Ernest, for the insight.
The therapist suggests we take baby steps. First he meets Angel to talk about her meeting mum, then he has a phone conversation with mum, then we can have a conversation with mum, then Angel can have a conversation with her, then maybe a video call and then finally we meet and all along the way we all have time to process and digest all the stuff that comes up and assess whether it is the right time for everyone. This sounds like a plan but as they say…… the best laid plans……. I shall be reporting back!