Christmas was never going to be easy, but this year has been the hardest yet.
Tickle has been in therapy for a couple of months now. He’s doing really well; by which I mean he hasn’t run out of the room or hit the therapist. Yet. He seems to have understood what therapy is all about – sometimes when he’s having a manic moment at home he will say he wants to go and see our therapist to talk about his ‘wobbly feelings’, but he hasn’t yet got to the stage where he can actually do this during the sessions.
We knew it would get worse before it gets better – but we knew that in the same way that we ‘knew’ it would be hard work adopting a child. It’s obvious, but you don’t really fully ‘get’ it until you’re in the thick of it.
Tickle at the moment is probably as bad as he’s been in at least a year, if not more. Although, when I read that back, it’s not entirely fair, as in a lot of ways the progress he’s made is still apparent. He can play independently for most of the day now, whereas a year ago he couldn’t manage more than a few minutes. (He still likes us to be around, checks in every few minutes, and asks for food incessantly, but doesn’t require us to be physically on the floor pushing cars around quite as much.) Sometimes he will take himself off to his bedroom if he wants some time to himself; to bounce on his bed, and throw his toys around usually, but mostly we let him get on with it, as long as he’s safe. This morning he was cross with me and took himself off to his room – the product of about six months of me saying “Do you need to go to your room for some calm down time?” every time he shouts at me. (For the record, I usually offer it as an option rather than insisting on it, and if I ever do insist then I will go with him.)
However, in a funny sort of way alongside all this progress Tickle is still really struggling. With increased awareness of himself and his story comes ever-wobblier feelings, and his ability to regulate – though improved – is yet to catch up with his current emotional state.
The last couple of Christmas’s Tickle hasn’t completely understood what was going on, so mostly just went with it. Lots of food – yay! People are happy – yay! I’ve got some new toys – yay! This year there was a lot of anger.
Tickle has always been terrified of Father Christmas, and in the run up to the holidays was getting progressively more frightened. Husband and I took the decision to tell him that Father Christmas isn’t real, in the hope that – while we can’t erase what has happened to him – we might be able to take away some of the worry around Christmas. It worked to an extent. We told him that Father Christmas is a story, is just on the TV and in books, like Peppa Pig and Bing. He understood. He was relieved. But unwittingly what we had also done was unravel a bit of the story he’d made in his head regarding what had gone on at his birth parents’ house. I could see him struggling with the question “Well if it wasn’t Father Christmas…?”
Things continued to be difficult as the end of term got nearer. We had mornings where – like in the old days – Husband and I both had to carry a screaming Tickle out to the taxi and physically put him in it. The trouble is, he’s a year older, heavier, and stronger. If he’s really kicking off I can’t actually completely contain him by myself any more.
School finished. Tickle was delighted. But the manic episodes continued. It’s especially difficult around getting dressed and undressed, and bed time (he tells me he’s scared of going to sleep, scared of bed, scared of the dark…). Thankfully, he is less likely to be physical towards Fairy, though possibly because she is less likely to be within arms reach of him at the moment. She’s still scared of his screaming, and she resents all the attention he is getting at the moment. She particularly resents ‘Baby Tickle’.
Regression has become a big thing for Tickle, since we saw some friends of mine who have a tiny baby. I think that in the moment of seeing me hold and feed the baby, he truly began to understand what had been missing from his life. Encouraged by our therapist, we have been embracing the regression; offering to hold and rock Tickle, wrapping him in a blanket, singing baby songs to him. We have been offering to show him how we would have cared for him, if we had known him when he was a baby – the therapist’s idea, to show him that is wasn’t a lack in himself, but was something that ought to have been done for him but wasn’t.
Tickle really throws himself in to the baby role. He screams and shrieks at the top of his voice, he wants to be picked up but then throws himself around, like a petulant toddler who doesn’t want to be put in a car seat. An eight year old boy (even if quite a small one) is very difficult to keep safe when he is jerking his body to ramrod straight and attempting to throw himself out of your arms.
Christmas came. Tickle couldn’t cope. I gave him a couple of presents on Christmas Eve, to distract him for about five minutes. (He has a real struggle with ‘but what about me!’ at the moment – whether it’s a present we are wrapping for someone else (BUT WHERE’S MINE??) or whether it’s just me eating my breakfast after he has finished his, he just cannot cope with someone having something that he doesn’t have.) He was angry with Christmas morning, couldn’t get through Christmas lunch, couldn’t cope with Boxing Day, and he couldn’t cope with my Grandpa leaving to go home. Seeing my child hit my 91 year old Grandpa is really a new low for me.
So all in all we’ve had a pretty shitty Christmas. Husband is sleeping on the floor in Tickle’s room, I have bruises on my arms from being bitten, and Fairy is escaping in to her kindle. Thankfully she’s been able to go to her dad’s for a few days so is at least getting a break from everything.
There have definitely been nice moments over Christmas, and it’s important to acknowledge them; however I think it’s also important to acknowledge that a lot of it wasn’t nice, and it’s OK to feel a bit miserable about it.
Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…
Tickle, at the dinner table, surrounded by adults having a conversation: “ANYBODY ISN’T PAYING A-TEN-SHUN TO ME!!”
Tickle saying goodnight to Grandpa on Christmas Day and asking whether he would prefer a hug or a kiss. Then solemnly saying “I hope you have a nice Christmas”.
Playing Articulate with Fairy, Husband, and Gran. Husband gets ‘sunshine’. Says “You are my…” Gran says “Mother in law?” Biggest laugh I’ve had in ages.
Going to see War Horse at the theatre with a friend. Remembering how important it is to do something that takes my head to a completely different place, and how refreshing that feels.