five ways my toddlers are different from yours

IMG_20171107_134347[1]

As the ‘at home’ mum of twin 3-year-olds, I spend a lot of time in the company of other parents and toddlers. We share our trials and joys – but largely the trials. We discuss what time our children are waking up, what they refuse to eat, how many times they’ve sat on the naughty step today, and all the latest misdemeanours – from drawing on the wall to hitting their siblings.

I join in these conversations with tales of my own frustrations with our toddler boys – and am often met with reassuring responses like, “Don’t worry – all children do that”, or “They will get through that phase”, or “My kid was exactly the same”.

While these reassurances are comforting and well-meant, I also have a nagging feeling that things are not so straightforward with my kids. On a daily – no hourly – basis, I feel like adoption rears its ugly head in each emotional response my children give to whatever is going on that day. Yes, they are toddlers, and on a surface level there is nothing to distinguish them from non-adopted toddlers. But, beneath the surface, there is something more complex going on – something which, nearly two years after our boys came home to us, I’m only just starting to piece together. Here are a few snapshots:

Our boys have two mummies.

I am their Mummy, in most senses of that word. They call me “Mummy”, and the reasons are obvious. I feed them, clothe them, play with them, care for them. I cuddle them when they’re upset. I put plasters on their cuts. I read stories to them and answer their (many) questions. God help me, I potty train them. They know no other person who is more deserving of the title “Mummy”, and so it gets transferred to me.

But I didn’t carry them in my womb, I didn’t give birth to them, I wasn’t around for the early feeds and sleepless nights, and I didn’t wean them. And that is confusing, even for children too young to remember the alternative mummies of birth and foster. Maternal bonding is not a figment of some psychologist’s imagination; in the womb, a baby is physically attached to mum, hears her voice, and feels her heartbeat. Separating mum and baby leaves an emotional scar, however young the baby was when separated.

Once or twice, I have heard one of my boys say “Mummy” and I know – don’t ask me how – that he’s not referring to me. More often, one of them is irrationally upset, and is calmed by looking at photos of “tummy-mummy” or talking about her.

This dual-identity is a struggle for any adopted child, not least before they’re old enough to be able to articulate it.

IMG_20171030_130251[1]

Our boys regularly have periods of inconsolable sadness, anger or frustration.

My children aren’t comforted as easily or as quickly as my birth children were at the same age – or, indeed, as the other children I observe through the week. I think there are probably many reasons for this. One – obvious from the start – is that they simply weren’t used to us. Babies are tuned in to respond to their caregiver’s touch and voice – and if that caregiver changes, this becomes confusing. To start with, it wasn’t surprising that it took us a while to calm them down. But now, nearly two years on, things have not improved massively. Whilst there are times when we can calm them down in what might be thought of as a ‘normal’ toddler calming-down period, there are many times when their whining, shouting or screaming just will not stop. At these times, I suspect that the reason is that our boys have deep, deep hurt and anxiety which is brought to the surface by totally unrelated, ‘minor’ triggers, such as us saying ‘no’ to a cup of juice or a chocolate biscuit, or asking them to let us put their shoes on to go out, or any other request that toddlers usually rail against.

Our boys need to test us.

All children do this. They test the boundaries, they test what they can get away with to see at what point their parents will intervene. In addition to this, our boys test us. They love us as their parents – I’m certain of this – and yet they push us away. They repeat behaviours that they know are inappropriate for a lot longer than ‘normal’. For example, it took them a year or more to stop throwing their empty (or not so empty) bowls on the floor at the end of a meal. We don’t believe this is because it took them that long to understand that we didn’t want them to do it, and that it wasn’t an appropriate way to communicate that you’d finished, but because they had to test us, to see if we were going to abandon them should they not ‘perform’ as we were expecting.

This is one small example, but we see lots of this in daily life: negative behaviour patterns being repeated longer than is normal, physical pushing or hitting us, and (more recently) struggles with potty training, beyond what might be considered usual. Every day is a constant stream of such ‘tests’. Being steadfast, consistent and reassuring against this backdrop is one of our biggest challenges as adoptive parents – it is exhausting and stressful.

IMG_20171013_111431[1]

Our boys struggle with daily transitions, and changes in routine.

Again – our boys are not the only toddlers to struggle in this area. But, whereas many toddlers will learn to become more flexible and accommodating as they grow up, our boys may always struggle with change. In this respect, I think our boys have something in common with children on the autistic spectrum, for whom any sort of change can be overwhelming, daunting and even frightening.

If it isn’t obvious why adopted children struggle with change, consider this: you are born to one person who, at some point during your childhood stops being your primary carer, and you move to a foster carer, eventually moving to an adoptive family. This scenario presents two major changes of carer (and all that accompanies this: home, locality, family, friends) – and this is one of the better case scenarios. Imagine that you’ve been moved between several foster carers before finding your permanent adoptive home (or, possibly, long-term foster home). These changes bring with them extra anxiety and heightened stress levels, as you have no idea how the new home will compare to the last. You have no security, and are not even sure of your identity anymore, as tied up as it is with what you know to be your ‘family’.

I noticed this summer that, when we were telling our children about our forthcoming holidays, we had to be very careful to reassure them that we would be coming back at the end of it. Our boys were also very keen to be reassured that Mummy and Daddy would be coming, and that their older siblings would be joining them too.

I’m just at the tip of the iceberg in terms of learning to manage change for my children, while they’re too young to manage it for themselves, but simply having identified it as an issue feels just a little bit freeing.

Most toddlers’ defiant behaviour will pass one day – but our boys will always carry their past with them – and this may present in a variety of different unhealthy behaviours as they grow up.

Our boys will grow out of being toddlers. They will start to get better at articulating how they feel instead of pushing or throwing, they will start to be easier to reason with, and they will stop being so bothered by the coat-and-shoes routine required for leaving the house.

But they cannot shake off their past so easily. The anxiety, the insecurity, the sadness, the anger – I hope all of this reduces as they grow older, but it’s unlikely to disappear altogether. As an older, wiser adopter once told me about her own grown-up adopted children, “They will always be vulnerable”. And, hence, we are prepared that this past may manifest itself in negative behaviours as our boys grow up – not the pushing and shoving of toddlers, but the withdrawal, sullenness, aggression and unhealthy addictions of teenagers.

IMG_20171031_112813[1]

I write these things not to scare you or upset you or make you feel incredibly sorry for me, but to give you a little insight into some of the challenges of adoption. In fact, I think I usually write about adoption in very positive terms (take a look at my adoption posts here), so this is written simply to balance things out. It is hard work – but it is Kingdom work, I’m sure of it, and it is this that spurs us on when things get tough:

God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.

Psalm 68:6

Advertisements

what i’m into – october 2017

I’d like to say that I began October in a darkened room, wearing an eye mask, feeling my way to reach wineglass to mouth, sipping something strong and recuperating from the whirlwind of children’s birthday parties in September.

Actually, I was too tired to move, so I stayed on the sofa and the wine stayed in the fridge. #glamorous

Books

Image result for fireworks

I finally finished Captain Corelli’s Mandolin! Trumpets and fanfares and party poppers and silly string please! It was SO good that I reckon I should read a novel which takes me three months every year. Whilst it’s nice to be able to tick a book or two off my reading list every month, there’s also something about not being able to skim the sentences of a novel, breathing in every nuance and turn of phrase, which is life-giving and soul-enriching. If you haven’t read CCM, I highly recommend it!

Food

You know by now that I’ll bake anything as long as it’s a Martha Collison recipe. So this month I tried her brownie ice cream sandwiches. They took a while, whisking up the ice cream and waiting for it to set, in addition to baking and cooling two layers of brownie, but the result was a hefty tray-load of goodness, which could be sliced up, eaten there and then, with the rest frozen to be a stand-by pudding or teatime treat on another day. It really did make a huge amount, and more than accounted for the time taken in making it in the first place.

For the benefit of any locals reading this, we tried Zill’s restaurant for the first time, and enjoyed the variety of tapas dishes to start with, the mixed grill main course and baklava for dessert. Hubby thought it was ‘fine’ (he’s hard to please), but I love pretty much anything that involves a pick-and-mix way of eating. I also returned to Ambiente and the good old York Tandoori, hang-out of students and locals alike, this month, with different groups of friends. (Oh my gosh, you read that right, THREE meals out this month. What can I say? Lots of birthdays. Not my kids’ though, thankfully.)

You’d have thought that October might see the back of birthday cakes but, no, Desert Dad has plonked his celebrations right in the middle of the month so, before I could recover from September’s onslaught of fondant, I was back in the kitchen crafting something which was better in my head than in reality.

IMG_20171013_233242[1]

img_20171013_2332311.jpg

IMG_20171013_233236[1]

Still, I think you can tell what it’s meant to be. I have to fess up here and tell you that I tried Martha’s chocolate cake recipe and, for the first time thus far working my way through Twist, I was disappointed. It was chewy and un-cake-like in its texture. I happen to have a pretty stonking chocolate cake recipe which uses hot chocolate powder to replace some of the flour, so reckon I’ll be sticking with that in future.

My one achievement of this cake, though, was that – like all good chocolate boxes – there was a second layer of chocs underneath the layer you can see 🙂 Happy days.

Music

Image result for belinda carlisle

The kiddoes have got hold of their Dad’s old mix CD and make me play Dolly Parton and Belinda Carlisle on loop for hours and hours – although I’ve now convinced them of the amazingness of Sinead O’Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U, so that brings a welcome change.

We still have cello most days from Missy.

And Mister has started rehearsing for Young Voices, which he’s now old enough to take part in. I’m delighted the selection includes a Stevie Wonder medley, as well as A Whiter Shade of Pale, surely one of the most bizarre songs to have ever been a mainstream hit, as well as a good deal of songs with uplifting and affirming lyrics like “I’m powerful! I can do anything I want! Watch out, world – here I come! WA-HEY!” or “Music brings us together! It will be the repairing of the nations! It will succeed where politics has failed! Let’s sing and have peace, people!”

Still, I’m in floods whenever he opens his mouth to sing.

Stage and screen

Quite a bit this month… The three younger kiddoes and I went to see The Ugly Duckling with some friends. It was beautiful and engaging, and Missy (6) loved it, although Monkey and Meerkat (3) got a little restless.

Image result for son of a preacher man musical

Then I headed out with a friend to see Son of a Preacher Man, an incredibly feel-good, toe-tapping musical, although various sections of acting, dancing and singing seemed a little stunted at times, probably due in part to the fact that pretty much all the characters are required to do all three equally well, which just isn’t the case in most musicals, where some characters do more singing, others do more dancing. However, the incredible versatility of the on-stage musicians, who also appeared to have amazing voices and act pretty well, more than made up for anything the main characters were lacking, and I spent the next few days screeching out Dusty songs at the top of my voice, with a piano if one was accessible.

Image result for hollie mcnish

Towards the end of the month I got to see the poet Hollie McNish with a friend. Quite brilliantly wonderful – my head was nodding in agreement throughout, at the same time spinning with how eloquently she phrases the things inside my head. Well recommended if she’s coming near you, especially if you’re a 30-something Mama 😉

And The Apprentice has started, and I’m hooked as always. Some friends ask, “How can you possibly watch that? They’re so mean to each other.”

BECAUSE IT’S TELEVISION.

It’s funny and it’s gripping and it’s shouting-at-the-screen brilliant- well worth the licence fee on its own. Also, it’s not real – not really real, anyway. Everyone’s playing up to the cameras, and the editing is very clever. Those who are genuinely mean tend to get found out, and the tables turn pretty quickly. My money is on Sarah Lynn – although she seems a little too obviously good, so perhaps I’ve missed something?

Articles

Quite a few this month. The most interesting and true of them all, perhaps because it articulates things which are hard to articulate, is this article, on how – despite growing equality in parenting – it is still mothers who are the ‘keepers’ of so much information. Along a similar vein is this fantastically thought-provoking cartoon, translated from its original French here. If you only read two things this month, please read these!

Then this article in The Guardian is an interesting insight into the culture of the ‘involuntarily childless’; this piece (also from The Guardian) highlights a very interesting case of a headteacher who bravely adopted MUSIC as his approach to rescue his school from Special Measures; and this blog post on why adults need bedtimes was really thought-provoking too. (Needless to say, I don’t have a bedtime, or not a very sensible one!)

What little girls need from their fathers is outlined in this pretty challenging article, and I’m always fascinated by stories of parents who quit high-powered jobs to spend more time with their children, so here’s one of those.

Blog

New for this month: an actual paragraph dedicated to this very blog…BECAUSE I WAS ACTUALLY QUITE PROLIFIC THIS MONTH (for me) AND I’D LIKE YOU ALL TO BE EXTREMELY PROUD AND AMAZED. I finally got to share why I think the Suzuki method has been so beneficial in these first couple of years of being an adoptive parent – and I had to respond to the #metoo campaign with some thoughts on how the heck we are supposed to raise our own daughters and sons in this culture.

In other news…

IMG_20171028_163333[1]

* As part of my commitment to not ignoring my son for the rest of his life, I accompanied him (and his little chums) to my first ever football match. I know nothing about football, but York City are like in the Eighth Division. We didn’t win – but we saw a few goals scored from both teams (the illustrious Tamworth on the opposing side), and it was a good first experience – made, at times, more comprehensible (and at other times more hilarious) by the commentary of the four little men sitting next to me. Gosh, they know a thing or two about red cards.

IMG_20170920_225305[1]

* I sold all our (cloth) nappies and paraphernalia on eBay. That was a good feeling.

* I did some major toy clear-outs, to make room for all the new birthday Stuff, and that felt good, especially where I could give to known individuals or community groups. I still have the older kids’ bedroom to tackle, though, and am dreading it…

* I helped at our school’s first ever Film Night and it was great fun, especially dishing out the movie snacks!

* We had a few days away seeing my brothers’ families and some distant friends. Felt good to catch up, although travelling with the twinnoes is stressful.

* We visited a new-ish farm near us, and found an animal even smaller than our teeniest-tinest boy, so couldn’t resist this photo of our Meerkat bottle-feeding a micro-pig:

IMG_20171013_110331[1]

* We’re trying to buy an ironing board cover that doesn’t look like it came out of a 1980s batchelor pad. If any of you have experience in this field, do share.

And that’s it. Linking up, as always, with Leigh Kramer’s blog. How was your October? And can you believe we’re already into November? Feels like the year’s just begun, right?

#shetoo – can i protect my daughter from being a victim?

Like many of you, I have watched the #metoo hashtag go viral on social media this week. I haven’t posted publicly about my feelings towards what I’ve read, but it has occupied my mind more often than not.

As one of the – alarmingly few, it would appear – women who hasn’t experienced sexual harassment or abuse in her lifetime, reading about such events in the lives of my friends – even when they’ve simply written “#metoo”, without wishing to go into the sordid details behind that simple phrase – has moved and discomforted me. I feel naive and stupid. Why was I not aware that this was so widespread?

Of course I’m not naive and stupid – I’m simply part of a generation of women who have covered up, made excuses, assumed that they must be partly responsible for the behaviour of the men around them. Friends sharing their experiences now on social media would not have done so to me when it happened because they would have assumed it wasn’t worth sharing, wasn’t as bad as it seemed, that it was somehow (at least in part) their faultThey didn’t want to make a fuss.

And this scares me.

It doesn’t so much scare me for me – but it scares me for my daughter. Can I protect her from being a victim?

The short, and sad, answer is no. Much as we would like to, none of us parents can protect our children from the effects of sin in our world. Our children will have many ills performed and spoken against them during their lives – some to do with gender, some not. They will suffer at the hands of those they study with, work with, live with, marry. They will be hurt by those they care about. And there is absolutely nothing we can do about that.

I cannot protect my daughter from being a victim, because the sin of abuse lies with the perpetrator, not the sufferer.

But are there ways I can educate her, raise her, so that – should she experience such behaviour in the future – she will know exactly what to do? And are there ways I can raise my sons to respect women, to fight for equality and kindness, to recognise and stand up to abuse?

As I was pondering these things, I read this tweet:

tweet

It resonated with me. Yes, let’s raise our sons to be allies. But you know what? Let’s raise our daughters to be allies too. Some thoughts have come my way in the last 24 hours about how to do this – not a definitive list, just some thoughts. (I’d be delighted for you to add your own in the comments below.)

Respect starts with the basics. I’m regularly amazed by how blase us parents can be with regards to teaching our kids respect. It’s as if we think there’s some magic age at which it starts. WRONG. Like everything we teach our kids, it has to start from birth. When a kid pushes another kid at a toddler group, and the parent says nothing, I’m worried for that kid. When a parent makes excuses for his/her child’s attitude in class, I’m worried for that kid. When a parent doesn’t model manners to his/her kid, I’m worried for that kid.

Now maybe you think there’s little to connect childhood bolshiness with adult harassment. Allow me to disagree. When we teach our kids to say please, thank you and sorry (even if it was an accident), when we encourage respect towards other children and adults, when we encourage them to think positively and to comment positively on their situation, we are pushing back the gender-focussed language we might otherwise, albeit unwittingly, encourage them into (boys are tough, girls are beautiful – that kind of rubbish). We are saying to both our boys and our girls, “Those around you are equal in value to you. You need to respect them. You need to expect respect from others. You can be grateful for the good friends in your life. You can revel in the beauty of your surroundings, rather than comment or act negatively. Life is precious.”

On the other hand, us humans are naturally sinful – we are naturally prone to bad thoughts, bad actions, bad motives. If we don’t take a handle on our children’s attitudes when they’re young, encouraging them to self-regulate their emotions and think of others, we are allowing them to be overwhelmed by any negative influence around them – a friend who treats women as objects; a boss who speaks disparagingly of a gay employee; a wife who gossips about other women. Basic respect is not everything – but it’s an excellent start.

Teach the importance of friendship

This is a tricky one, as we’re not usually around when our children are making and forging friendships. But we can sow the seeds by teaching the importance of friendship, and encouraging it to blossom before our kids start school, when we’re around a lot more for them and can help teach them how to make friends. And – for those of us who do this kind of thing – we can pray that our children will make good friends (both ‘good’ in terms of influence, and ‘good’ as in ‘close’).

The important bit about this is that, should our children (daughters or sons) ever experience untoward behaviour from another, their instinct should be to talk to someone – and having a bunch of understanding friends around will be critical. We won’t always be their first port of call. They need their friends – and their friends need them. Let’s teach our children to listen to their friends and take their concerns seriously too.

Over-drinking leaves us vulnerable

This is a sensitive one, so please hear me out. Some – not all – cases of harassment/abuse stem from drinking. Alcohol lowers our inhibitions and weakens our defences. If a girl is harassed/abused when she is under the influence of alcohol, it is still abuse – no doubt. And it is not any more her fault than if it had happened when she were sober – no doubt. But it is harder to spot, harder to remember, harder to make a statement, harder to convict the offender – and, therefore, I want to teach my children the dangers of over-drinking. There is a reason why Paul commands us not to get drunk on wine but to be filled with the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) – and that is because the Holy Spirit heightens our sensitivity, whereas alcohol dulls it.

I’m not saying that if you’re tee-total you’re never going to be a victim of sexual harassment. I’m saying that if you’re not heavily under the influence of alcohol, you’re going to be able to think more clearly. In some cases, yes, this might mean the ability to pre-empt – and move away from – a situation where you’re feeling increasingly uncomfortable. In other cases, it might mean that having a clear head means that you’re in no doubt about what happened that night, whose fault it was, and you’re able to go straight to the police to make a statement.

And, in case it wasn’t clear, this will be what I teach my daughter and my sons. They all need to be responsible. Alcohol makes us act inappropriately on impulses which might be dodgy in the first place. Alcohol makes us less capable of supporting our friends on a night out.

Of course there will be the contingent who respond to this with, “You can’t tell people not to get drunk!” to which my response is I’d rather my kids were sober and clear-headed than drunk and victimised. And, if it really bothers you, get drunk in your own home. But when out with strangers? I hope I can teach my children how to know their limits when it comes to alcohol.

Communication lines need to stay open – especially when it comes to sex

Whatever we teach our children about sex, we need to make it very clear that we are open, and non-judgemental, and will not be shocked by anything our children tell us. I have little experience in this area, having not hit puberty with any of our kids yet, but I would like to think that, despite what my husband and I teach our children about sex (that it is designed for lifelong marital commitment), we will be able to communicate to them that we respect their decisions when it comes to sex and relationships, even if they differ to our own views. We will be teaching about consent, about what is OK and what is not OK. We will teach them that if something happens that is not OK, or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way, they need to tell someone immediately. Not jump to an allegation, of course, but tell someone who will be able to advise on whether further action is needed.

Going hand in hand with this is teaching both our sons and our daughter what constitutes showing interest in someone they like. I honestly believe that some teenage girls are harassed by boys who simply don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t know how to communicate verbally that they like a girl, and wrongly think that grabbing a boob will instantly make the girl feel valued and loved. Of course this is harassment – but some boys don’t know any better because they haven’t been taught. Which brings me to my next point…

Model what it is to give and receive love.

Are you physically affectionate with your kids? Can you show your love with words? Do you give them quality time? Can you demonstrate how much you love them by what you do for them? Or with small gifts?

The chances are that we don’t all match up in all those areas. I certainly don’t! But making sure our children not only feel loved, but are able to show love in appropriate ways is just so important. As they grow into adults, they need to feel comfortable with the concept of love – both platonic and romantic – and when/how it is appropriate to show love. If we never show our children physical affection, for example, they may crave it from inappropriate people in unhealthy ways.

It also feels important to me that my kids are able to love a variety of different important people in their lives, to understand how the love for a parent, for example, differs from the love for a grandparent. Or how love for a sibling differs from love for a friend. Do we allow and encourage our children to build strong, loving relationships with each other? I know this is hard work – siblings love to bicker! – but are we reminding our kids that actually, deep down, they are called to love and serve each other?

In addition – are we modelling healthy, loving partnerships to our children? Those of us who are partnered with the parent of our children – are we demonstrating the equality, respect and support that we hope they will look for in their choice of partner? Those of us who are parenting on our own, are we teaching our children that our value doesn’t come from being in a romantic relationship? Those of us starting to date again, are we teaching our children how to pick a partner who respects and values us?

*

My prayer is that my sons grow up to respect women for their inner beauty, showing love to those around them in healthy and appropriate ways. And that my daughter grows up with a secure sense of her own identity, and a rock-solid awareness of how she should and shouldn’t be treated.

But my prayer is more than that, actually. It is that my sons would also have a secure sense of their own identity – which means that they never need to walk over others in order to pursue their dreams, nor that they allow others to walk over them. My prayer is also that my daughter grows up to respect men, able to love them for who they are, and not just pursue them for romantic gain.

To all those who’ve bravely shared the #metoo hashtag, thank you. I pray that your bravery will ensure that things are different for the next generation.

adoption and the suzuki method

A small disclaimer – because I’m over-anxious about my blogs and no-one likes to be sued! These views are my own, and come from my 20-month experience as a Suzuki parent in a SECE class, as well as a couple of days’ observing SECE training this summer, and a few weeks under my belt as a Suzuki teaching partner. In short, this post represents my understanding of the Suzuki method, and the effect it’s having on our family – it doesn’t necessarily represent the views of any trained Suzuki teacher. Thank you for reading!

Shortly after our boys came home to us, I signed them up to a local Suzuki music class. As a former music teacher, I’d always shied away from paying for something I felt I could do myself – but the Suzuki approach had intrigued me, and felt like something very different to what I would naturally do at home.

The boys seemed to like music – both in their foster home and once they moved to us – so I was very excited when they were offered a place in a Suzuki Early Childhood Education (SECE) class, for which there is usually a sizeable waiting list.

What I didn’t realise was just how much the Suzuki method would support me as an adoptive mum – and my boys as adopted children.

It will help if I briefly outline what the Suzuki method actually is. What it isn’t is the method by which I – and probably most people – was taught to play an instrument. There are three main beliefs underlying the philosophy:

Every child can learn – the idea that there is no such thing as ‘genius’, that everyone possesses ‘ability’, and it is how this ability is nurtured which determines what we achieve.

Ability develops early – right from inside the womb, we are listening, growing, developing. You’re never too early to start learning from your environment!

Environment nurtures growth – and therefore the environment has to be a good one – stimulating and engaging. Children must see excellent modelling from others in order to develop their ability.

These beliefs are implemented in Suzuki classes through four principles:

  • Children learn from one another (the classes are mixed age, from newborns up to school age – younger ones learn new skills by watching older ones, and older ones learn empathy by watching/helping younger ones)
  • Success breeds success (once you’ve felt the joy of doing something well, you want to do it again and again – and try succeeding at new things too!)
  • Parental involvement is critical (unlike many preschool music classes, parents play a full role in SECE classes – singing, playing and modelling all the activities so that their child can learn from them)
  • Encouragement is essential (sometimes the goals we set children seem too big and impossible to them, so they get easily discouraged, but with Suzuki, every small step is praised, nothing is overlooked)

A helpful way to summarise it is to think of it as the ‘mother tongue’ method. How do you learn your mother tongue? By listening to those around you as they talk to you, by copying, by listening and copying some more. It develops from the womb. In the same way, Suzuki believed that if a child was surrounded by music, he would learn it naturally.

Learning the Suzuki way has had a massive impact on Monkey and Meerkat’s musicality. They’ve just turned three and can sing in tune, clap/beat in time, and read simple rhythmic notation. They can pause, wait and anticipate when a particular sound or action is required in a song. They can respond to music with an awareness of different timbres and textures that many of my Year 7s used to struggle with. Their musical achievements have surpassed those of Mister and Missy (who weren’t Suzuki-educated) at a similar age.

But I’m not here to tell you that. I’m here to tell you the incredible impact that the Suzuki method is having on my children’s wellbeing – and on me – as we navigate the tricky terrain of adoption.

Dr Shinichi Suzuki (1898-1998) developed his philosophy following the Second World War. Appalled by the awful acts he’d heard of, saddened that the human race could perform such despicable acts against one another, he believed that, through education, humans could become better people, and work to build a better world. And he felt that music, with its emphasis on encouraging empathy and mutual respect, could play a big role, saying “Music exists for the purpose of growing an admirable heart”. So it’s no surprise to discover that, for my boys, the Suzuki method is helping them to develop their whole character.

Firstly, nurture is of immense importance and can often override ‘nature’. This is not to ignore the genes that will obviously have an impact upon an adopted child’s life, but it is to say that the ‘nurture’ (good or bad) that has occurred since birth will significantly shape that child’s future. The genes do not need to be the end of the story. Suzuki believed that there is no such thing as ‘genius’, that we all possess immense ‘ability’, and it is the nurturing of this ability which determines our futures. This, of course, is an incredibly affirmative philosophy for any adoptive parent, as they’re aiming to give their children great opportunities throughout life and encouraging them to raise their aspirations. I don’t know how my boys’ lives will pan out, but I do know that they’re already surpassing my expectations of them musically, so why not socially/emotionally/academically?

Secondly, the environment around us needs to be a good one, in order to nurture growth. Adoptive parents know this only too well, having heard and seen many examples of a poor environment on a young and formative child. They never give up hope that the environment they are providing for their children will encourage them to grow and develop into all they were meant to be. The environment of the Suzuki classes themselves is calm, respectful, joyful and encouraging, and this challenges me to reproduce this through the week as I play or eat with my boys, get them dressed or clean their teeth. Before you start to imagine the calm, dream-like environment of the Desert household, let me tell you that I am, by nature, incredibly impatient, snappy and irritable when my children cross me. We are by no means a calm household! But, with the encouragement of the Suzuki philosophy, we are trying!

Thirdly, parents are critical to a child’s development. A parent is the most important model a child has. Think about it: when an old friend comes to the door – someone you know but your child doesn’t – and you greet them warmly, doesn’t your child warm to them too? When the friend is invited in, won’t your child be happy to play with them and get to know them, because they’ve seen you model that this person is ‘safe’ and ‘OK’? On the contrary, when a cold-caller comes to the door, and your manner is stiff and abrupt (well, mine is!), doesn’t that also breed anxiety in your child, who’s watching you all the time, looking for signals from you as to how they should respond?

Suzuki strongly believed that, for children to see the value of something and want to do it for themselves, they first had to see their parents valuing it and modelling it. If you take your child along to a music class but refuse to join in any of the songs, do you really have a right to feel frustrated when your child doesn’t either? They look at you, see that it’s not something you value enough to do yourself, and think to themselves, “This is not important – I won’t bother!” On the contrary, in a Suzuki class, parents are encouraged to play a full part in all the activities – singing, clapping, playing, dancing, moving – both to model how these things are done to a child who is not yet ready to do them for himself, and to communicate to their child, “This is of value – this is important – I rate this enough to be doing it myself”.

Of course all parents need to consider what they are modelling to their children – but for adoptive parents in particular, who are aware that some of the behaviours and thought-patterns presenting in their children are very deeply engrained, the need to be a strong, positive and consistent role model in their children’s lives is an urgent one. The Suzuki approach has definitely affirmed my role in the lives of my boys – otherwise I may have started to feel quite helpless when confronted by some of their more challenging behaviours.

Finally – for now, although I could go on much longer – every small step is encouraged. There is a 2-month-old boy who attends one of the Suzuki classes I have the privilege of assisting with. He can’t sit up, let alone sing or clap or dance; a non-Suzuki observer might think it ridiculous that he be there at all. But every week he is becoming more awake and alert. Every week he is starting to respond to the music – either by turning his head towards the sound, fixing his eyes on the instrument being played, or watching the older children play and dance. This might be overlooked by a non-Suzuki educator, but a Suzuki educator would know better. A Suzuki educator would know that, as we develop our language by being surrounded by it, so we develop musical ability by being immersed in it. I can’t wait to see what this little boy is doing in a year’s time!

Suzuki families are taught to be observant, noticing every small step, reminding their child of the small ‘successes’ they had that day, and encouraging them to keep watching, listening, learning. In fact, parents complete a journal at the end of each session, outlining a couple of ‘positive’ steps their children made during the class. This encourages us to stay focussed on our children throughout the session, and not plan meals or write shopping lists in our heads!

This process of observation has helped me to observe my boys outside Suzuki lessons too. It’s not one of my skills as a parent – it usually takes me months, if not years, to work out what my children are doing and why – so developing a practice of careful observation in Suzuki classes has really helped me to spot trends and patterns in my boys through the week. I watch more, I listen more, I notice their play and interactions more – and this helps me to focus on what they might need from me and their Dad as they grow and develop.

Has anything about the Suzuki method jarred with my adoption training, or parental instincts? Well, aside from the back ache resulting from carrying two non-walking twins around in a circle for numerous songs in the early days when I couldn’t allow others to pick them up, not much. There is, however, an interesting idea within the Suzuki philosophy that we are not to ‘over-praise’ our children, the basis for this being that children ultimately need to be motivated by their own sense of pride/success, rather than doing things purely for others to pat them on the back. Over-praising a child, according to the Suzuki philosophy, can lead them to become demotivated.

While I agree with this from an educational perspective, when our boys arrived with us – and even now – I hugged and kissed them a lot, and used verbal encouragement/motivation as much as I could, partly to make up for lost time (the 14 months before they came home to us), and partly to build attachment, to reassure the boys that they were home and they were ours. To start with, holding back on this during Suzuki classes felt unnatural. But of course this has to be balanced with ‘encouraging the small steps’ so, 20 months in, I feel we’ve now found a good balance, and I praise my boys when they need that encouragement, and hold back when they need to feel that surge of pride coming from within themselves. And the whole Suzuki approach is teaching me to know the difference.

The gentle Suzuki patterns of modelling, repetition and encouragement are transferable to so many parenting situations – but adoptive parents in particular will find the approach therapeutic for them and their children, giving them a philosophy to underpin their parenting, week-in, week-out.

***

For more info, please see:

http://www.musicatheart.co.uk/ – the very accessible website of our SECE teacher here in York

https://www.musicmindgames.com/ – Music Mind Games, some of which are used in Suzuki classes

http://www.musicinpractice.com/ – Sue Hunt, experienced Suzuki teacher, shares invaluable practice tips and games for children and parents, and you don’t even need to be learning the Suzuki way to use them!

http://www.britishsuzuki.org.uk/ – the British Suzuki Institute

http://internationalsuzuki.org/ – the International Suzuki Association

 

 

what i’m into (the birthday edit) – september 2017

With my four hooligans all deciding to have a birthday in September – three of them thoughtfully choosing to do this on consecutive days – I confess that this month’s edition of ‘what i’m into’ has been hijacked by cake, balloons and working out which party game suits which age group. Please don’t be surprised if I haven’t got up to much else this month!

Books

I’m still on Captain Corelli – enjoying it very much – but probably won’t finish till October!

Food

At the start of the month, with a busy few weeks looming, I didn’t have the energy to be creative with meals, so I did what any sensible person would have done, and bought enough chicken nuggets, frozen pizza, and ready-made pies to last us through September.

Actually – nope. This is what I should have done. But cooking relaxes me, gives me a chance to breathe and to think, so I didn’t want to give it up altogether. I did the foodie version of stocking the freezer with frozen meals, which was to scour the Good Food website for easy family midweek meals, enjoying the fruits of the GF team’s labours rather than having to be creative myself. Some of the recipes were real winners, like this Three Veg Macaroni Cheese. Who doesn’t love Mac ‘n’ Cheese, eh? This one packs in some hidden veg that kids won’t notice (or at least ours didn’t).

And actually, I took a leaf out of my busy cousin’s book. She’s a few years down the line with her brood, so I rate her wisdom, and she’s married to a church leader, like me, so she understands the crazy pace of vicarage life. They unashamedly eat from the freezer once a week – so we’ve adopted this habit too, and it is so freeing, particularly on evenings where our extra-curricular schedule looks like it needs outsourcing to a logistics team.

And of course I can’t leave this section without mentioning the cakes, of which there were quite a few this month. A cartwheel one for my gymnastics-mad daughter:

lois

Two Stick Men cakes for my boys who adore the story (particularly the BBC’s magical dramatisation):

monkey

meerkat

And a football pinata cake for my footballing son:

IMG_3323[1]Friends, we have reached the stage of football parties, and I’m not quite sure when it will end. I can see us quite happily celebrating Mister’s birthdays in this fashion for a good few years yet.

Music

Image result for jojo siwaOh gosh, it was all stuff like Taylor Swift and JoJo Siwa, ‘DJed’ via YouTube by my eldest for his younger siblings’ parties. But I did get Coldplay’s Parachutes out for the first time in years, and spent a happy evening remembering how good they used to be, and what a perfect album this is – as well as not a small amount of time realising how old it is, and therefore how old that makes me.

Image result for coldplay parachutes

Stage and screen

Twin Peaks finished and actually reached some kind of conclusion! Not perhaps exactly as I’d have liked, but as good as you’re going to get from David Lynch – and that made it perfect, really. We then watched a fair amount of Curb Your Enthusiasm. So, so funny – perhaps not for the faint-hearted – but clever and original.

I also got to enjoy all of Missy’s birthday DVDs – Sing (for the second time), Trolls (very surprised by how much I liked this one!) and Moana (in bits). I say I got to enjoy these films – I enjoyed them in the way one enjoys films with small kids, where you see excerpts in between toilet trips, making dinner, answering the phone, fetching snacks, applying plasters, and the like. Eventually, after about 35 viewings, you’ve filled in all the gaps and seen the whole film, piecing the order together in your head to make some kind of logical plot progression. It’s one of those parent hacks no one ever tells you you’ll need – but you master it, and feel quite damn proud of yourself when you do.

Articles

This was an interesting one on a couple learning to date again after having kids. And I appreciated this guy’s perspective on why him doing housework is not to ‘help his wife out’.

Stand-out for me this month, though, was Why Tired Mothers stay up so Late – one I can very easily resonate with!

In other news…

Did I mention we had four birthdays and three parties?? Did I????

img_32721.jpg

  • 8 year old Mister had his football party, and his guests ranged from those who eat/breathe/sleep football like he does, to those who don’t play at all. To make it accessible to everyone, we had some football-themed crafts and a few standard party games as well, and kept the football-playing sections quick-moving, with skills as well as matches. Big thanks to our wonderful friends Sam and Tom for running the football side of things!IMG_3343[1]
  • 6 year old Missy wanted to make lip balm. I took this simple recipe and got the kids working in pairs to mix and melt the ingredients, adding essential oils and cosmetic colourings near the end to see it magically transform into lip balm that was beautiful to smell and look at!
    IMG_3030[1]
    Stick Man play dough!
  • Monkey and Meerkat, who turned 3, had a Stick Man party. Fairly low key, given their age, but it was fun to find ‘stick food’, attempt a couple of simple party games, and play around with stick man themed play dough.
  • I also began a little job, one morning a week, as a teaching partner to our fab Suzuki Early Years teacher. I assist with her two Tuesday morning classes, where the kids range in age from 2 months to nearly 3 years. I can’t tell you what an absolute joy it is to witness such young kids responding to music with such sensitivity and awareness – and I really will blog about it soon, I promise!

As always, I’m linking up (just! within hours of the deadline!) with Leigh Kramer’s What I’m Into series. Why not check them out? And let me know what you’ve been up to this September!

what i’m into – august 2017

Whilst August has been fairly whirlwind, it’s been a different kind of whirlwind to usual, and I’ve really noticed and appreciated the change in pace. Fewer meetings, deadlines and things to do outside keeping family and home happy and organised (ish). The busyness we have had has been almost entirely down to fun and relaxing things.

Besides, it’s now September, schools are back this week, and I feel the metaphorical parenting pat-on-the-back at yet another family summer survived, with relationships still intact and limbs all present and correct. High five anyone?

Books

Image result for captain corelli's mandolin

Only 23 years late, I’ve finally boarded the ship of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. It’s fascinating, incredibly detailed about just about everything, and I’m loving the way each character and situation is meticulously described. I can’t say I’m finding it easy though – 70 odd chapters, and I’m only half way through, so I’ve decided to take my time over it and read other books on the side.

Image result for 180 seconds

And what better book to choose than 180 Seconds, which I was pretty sure would turn its own pages. I was right. Allison was adopted at 16. She carries with her the trauma of her past, finding it difficult to interact with others, let alone trust them. But inadvertently becoming part of a social psychology experiment in which eye contact is made with a stranger for three minutes starts to challenge her – can she break down the walls and begin to trust? I’ll say no more – never let me be accused of giving spoilers on this blog. But it’s one to read! (Side note: with all this increased reading, I’ve started to use my local library. It is BRILLIANT. I’ve ordered several books which they don’t have, and this one and another turned up within a fortnight. Hurrah for free books!)

Image result for glorious unionI mentioned here that I’d bought a few marriage books for the hubster and I to read together. We read the first this month – Glorious Union, a short book specifically for couples in ministry. As the introduction says, it’s not a book about marriage, nor about ministry, but a book looking at the specific relationship between the two. There are some practical exercises in the book, and doing these has opened up conversation beyond what the book itself says. We’re more grateful now for the privileges, and are starting to think about how to deal with the pressures, of him being a church leader. We’re not quite finished, but from what we’ve read so far, I’d really recommend this book for any couples where one or both are in full-time Christian ministry.

A Guide to AttachmentAnd I realised that, as an adoptive parent, I should probably know more about attachment than I do, so although I have some meatier books to attack when time allows, this month I read this handy little booklet, written by Mr Timpson – of Timpson Shoes! And yes, you buy it from his shops 🙂 It’s short, and therefore only skims the surface, but it’s a good introduction for anyone thinking about adoption/fostering, or supporting someone who is.

Food

IMG_20170822_172156[1]Is there a more glorious sight than this in August?! I’ve made blackberry gin and blackberry crumble, and have eaten a fair few when the kiddoes haven’t got there first.

IMG_20170822_202335[1]
Blackberry gin!
Missy spontaneously decided to make blackberry milkshake too…

IMG_20170823_150553[1]

The kids also decided to set up a blackberry shop…although very reasonably priced 😉

IMG_20170813_162949[1]A holiday to Jersey gave me my first experience of Jersey black butter – amazing stuff. Like jam and chutney all rolled into one. I’ve had it on toast for breakfast, and with pate for a snack – I know it would be great with cheese too. Mmmmm. We also took advantage of the fresh local seafood – oysters and lobster for me at Bistro Rosa. YUM! And enjoyed plenty of Jersey dairy products 🙂

 

Music

If you’ve ever wondered what Katy Perry’s ‘Roar‘ would sound like when being warbled at a high decibel by a 5 year old and two 2 year olds – and I know you must have done at some point – feel free to drop by our house. I have had this experience daily throughout August.

Stage and screen

The Tiger

I promise you I don’t always go to the theatre as much as I have done this year, but when we saw that The Tiger who came to tea was coming to town, we had to book some tickets! It was lovely, looked just like the book, and where the story had been extended, it fitted just perfectly. The boys loved it (aged 7, 2, 2) – interestingly the 5 year old was not as enamoured.

We took advantage of having Netflix in our holiday home to watch Philomena, every bit as brilliant as I’d hoped. You’ll need your tissues at the ready as it’s poignant and hopeful – but with humour throughout. And Judi Dench is fantastic, as always. There’s something about her that totally makes me forget Dame Judi whenever she’s in role – she’s utterly convincing, and I love her!

We’re still going with Twin Peaks – me hoping beyond hope for some kind of ‘conclusion’, but starting to realise it probably won’t come (we’re three episodes away from the end, still meeting new characters and new situations), and made a virgin voyage into The IT Crowd, which felt like all the best bits from Father Ted and Black Books rolled into one.

Articles

Lots of interesting things this month. I loved this minister’s beautiful tribute to his wife. The Rt Rev Philip North’s words about how many clergy are glued to middle-class areas was both challenging and relevant for us as we navigate a mixed parish with an awful lot of poverty. On a related topic, this older article by Grayson Perry on why taste is so intrinsically woven into what ‘class’ we are or perceive ourselves to be was fascinating and absolutely spot-on.

This article, highlighting some recent research on screen time for children, is lengthy but informative. (Of course I still use the TV as a babysitter pretty much every day, but it’s nice to know what the ideal is, should I ever wish to turn into Hyper-Organic-Super-Mum.)

And my friend Jo, as always, challenged me on letting go of anger, rather than letting it define our futures.

In other news…

We went to Jersey! I think I said that. And then we went to Shropshire! Equally wonderful.

We’ve had lovely friends to stay this month, and some wonderful catch-ups with local friends too. I love the space that the summer holidays give for more extended playdates and catch-ups.

We saw a hedgehog.

IMG_20170815_162524[1]

And we started potty training! I can hardly believe this. I thought I’d be buying the boys their school shoes before their pants – but, no, it seems that choosing their own potties was the catalyst for showing me how ready they are to have a go. I’ll spare you too many of the gory details, but must share this photo – which, to me, sums it up: my new dress having been spray-weed. Only boys can get that angle right.

IMG-20170823-WA0000

Now there’s a shot you won’t see in a Boden catalogue.

Linking up, as always, with Leigh Kramer’s ‘What I’m Into‘ series. Do check out the other posts, and let me know what you’ve been up to in August!

the silent anniversary: celebrating marriage in a culture of relationship breakdown

Image may contain: 2 people, people smilingLast month, us Desert People celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary. Most of the time I feel our life just plods on, so the slightly startling fact that we’d been plodding on longer than Facebook, Netflix and (most people’s access to) digital photography seemed worth celebrating.

We had a lovely couple of days of dates, nice food and presents – but few others knew of our celebrations. I nearly posted our happy day on Facebook – but something held me back. This year one of my friends is finalising her divorce whilst another has become a single mum. Other friends have divorced years ago, but any mention of marriage still stings. Then there are those who always dreamed of marriage – but are still waiting. How could I post a shiny picture of the two of us against that backdrop?

The problem is that a happy, long-lasting marriage can so easily end up being miscommunicated as an ‘achievement’, a ‘notch on the scale’, something to wear as a badge of honour. Entirely by accident, the Happily-Marrieds can end up suggesting that they possess a greater level of emotional intelligence, a more kind and forgiving character, or simply ‘work harder’ at their marriages. But I can tell you that many of my now-divorced friends worked harder at their marriages than I’ve ever done. So there was no way I was going to risk getting the tone wrong on Facebook.

In a month’s worth of reflection over whether I was right to hold back, or whether I was being stupidly over-cautious, a few things have come to mind.

One is that, regardless of our own marital status, all of us can celebrate marriage in some way, shape or form. Almost all of us have benefited from a strong, healthy marriage – if not our own, then our parents’, grandparents’, close friends or other family members. We may have received security from our own parents’ marriage – or support and hospitality from the marriage of friends. Marriage can be celebrated as a wonderful institution, even if we ourselves are not married.

Secondly – contrary to the polarised ‘marriage=lifelong joy’ and ‘singleness=lifelong discontent’ philosophy of our culture, the reality is tinged with much more grey. Marriages can be hard, tiring, frustrating – and singleness can be enriching, freeing, empowering. Celebrating marriage should not be about pretending that life is brilliant all the time. When we celebrate our marriages publicly, we need to acknowledge the grey – sensitively, but not silently. Similarly, even the worst separations, divorces and bereavements can bring about many new positives. Recently, my friend wrote about how the painful time around her divorce gave her an insight into suffering and mental health that she would never have had otherwise.

Thirdly – and this is especially true if our marriage has been easy so far – a great way to celebrate our marriages, in addition to shouting about them, is to invest in them. I suspect that most divorces are not based on one event, an affair, a life change, or whatever, but on a gradual drifting apart over a few years. If we assume that a strong marriage will be built without any input from us, we assume wrong. When we celebrated our anniversary last month, I realised we hadn’t read any marriage books for a while, so did some research and grabbed a handful of titles which looked interesting and challenging for where we’re at right now. (And yes, you’ll be seeing mentions of these books on the blog over the next few months as we devour them!) But investing in your marriage could also mean attending some marriage counselling – and remember that you don’t need to be having marital problems in order to book an appointment. You can see it much more like an MOT, as explained in this amazing article by Marina Fogle. In short, put some deposits in your marriage bank – you never know when there’ll be a hefty outgoing.

Finally, whilst investment in our marriages is vital, we also need to recognise that a healthy marriage is not solely a result of our own hard work, stamina or ability to meet 100% of our partner’s needs 100% of the time. We must acknowledge that a greater ‘force’ is present in them. Christians might call this force ‘grace’, which forgives us and picks us up and gives us what we don’t deserve. If you’re not a Christian, you may call it ‘luck’ or ‘good fortune’, that you’ve found a spouse who loves you despite your faults. The point is that the success of our marriage is not all down to us, and therefore any proclamation on social media or other public forums needs to recognise this.

I don’t regret, on this occasion, holding back from social media. I’m not sure I would have had the sensitivity, wisdom, or turn of phrase to announce our anniversary as carefully and respectfully as I’d have wanted. But I’ve enjoyed seeing the many other anniversary announcements that this season brings, my favourite being this:

“Our anniversary is a good opportunity to say thanks to everyone who celebrated with us this time 9 years ago, and to those who continue to support and journey with us. Marriage is a mini expression of community, which both serves and is fed by the wider community. Thanks to all those who are part of this”.

Marriage is something for us all to get involved with (and – dare I say – excited about?). We can all play a part in supporting those we love as they seek to keep their marriage vows.

And, more than this, it fills us with hope that one day we will enjoy the closest, most intimate relationship with God Himself. Celebrating the highs and lows of marital union – whether ours or our friends’ – reminds us that earthly marriage is not the end result, but a very faint picture of the 100% loving, 100% forgiving, 100% perfect Bridegroom – Jesus Christ, who one day will fulfil the strongest marriage vow ever made.