Monty's 2012 to 2013 posts

The Judge and the Horsey

Overheard role-play brings a lump to the parental throat

Daisy and Rosie are playing 'horses' in the dining room. I'm tidying up the shoes in the hallway... OK, life doesn't get this exciting very often, but bear with me.

Through the open door I can hear my eldest adopted daughter taking charge. "You bring the horsey along, and he needs to go to the court".

"Okay" says Rosie, moving her model horse along the table top.

"You know what a court is, don't you, Rosie?" proclaims Daisy with all the authority her nine years can carry. "It's a place where the man decides whether the horse can go home with you.".

Ah. One of those moments. I should probably say something profound and adoptive-parent-like at this moment, but I'm too overcome.

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Message to New Adoptive Dad - Turn It Off!

Looking at old camcorder footage taken just after Daisy's placement with us causes the current-day Monty to start shouting at the TV set

Ah... we love those family videos, don't we. Mum and dad look so young, and look at little Daisy... so sweet.

"How long after placement was this taken?", asks Mrs Monty.

"Er... let me see... December 2005", I reply, which would make it just under a month after Daisy joined us.

Yes, we're wallowing in nostalgia with ye olde shakye camcorder footage of our newly-adopted daughter in the kitchen. It's nearly Christmas on the video, and there are already some cards on the windowsill. In the background the Huddersfield Choral Society are blasting out "Star of Wonder, Star of Light...". The footage cuts to 15 minutes later, and it's lunchtime in the same kitchen. 16-month-old Daisy is in her high chair being fed by Mrs Monty, and it's not going well. Daisy is looking restless and unhappy. The Huddersfield Choral Society have got to the Midnight Clear, and Mrs Monty suggests that the video camera may be unsettling Daisy.

But the present-day me is shouting at the TV set (upon which we're watching the camcorder output) "Turn that b*****y music off!!".

Now we know, of course, that Daisy has ASD and that her hearing is hyper-sensitive to any noise that she hasn't caused herself. So her shouting doesn't count, but pretty much everything else does! At the time we didn't know that, but it must have been there at 16 months, and our friends from the north are singing with gusto at pre-children volume levels on the hi-fi.

On the camcorder footage goes, and we move through Royal David's City to the Herald Angels Singing without it ever occurring to the dim parents to try turning the music off. Like, what part of 'sensory integration disorder' do you not understand?! Ah, I see.... all of it.

It took us time - many months and years, working with a paediatrician, to discover how Daisy ticks. Because the normal rules don't apply with ASD. And as a new adoptive parent you're thrown in at the deep end without an instruction manual for the child.

Some friends of ours who have just had a birth child came to visit the other day. Little darling Freddie is 3 months old, but already his mum and dad are getting to know his foibles, likes and dislikes, things that make him smile and triggers for crying. Daisy never had that. Her foster carer couldn't work out why she was so unsettled a lot of the time, and it took us a long time to see that she was a lot happier when the house was quiet (apart from the noise she generates, of course, which would give the Huddersfield massive a run for their money!).

I sympathise with the new parents on that wobbly old video footage, and my heart goes out to the little girl, sitting in a strange kitchen with this unwanted noise going on all the time. Now then, I wonder what advice I'l be shouting at the current-day Monty in seven years' time...

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Take one grindstone. Apply nose firmly...

Inspiring insights are thin on the ground as the summer terms drags on... and on...

Well I'm going to deflate my own blog - if that mental picture isn't too distasteful - and admit that this week is turning out to be a succession of daily grinds.

No stunning parenting insights, or profound thoughts about adoption, just a relentless struggle to get two children fed, watered and off to school, then safely back home again, re-fed, re-watered, homework done, ready for bed and asleep. It sounds like pretty much every family up and down the length of this land, but I think the joker in our particular pack is Daisy's ASD.

Because Daisy can't express in words things that are troubling her, they come out in (what social workers call) 'behaviours'. So, on top of any underlying disturbance caused by her adoption, Daisy finds many aspects of school very tough. She struggles in lessons because of her learning difficulty. She struggles at playtime because she cannot form friendships, and so ends up with lots of time to kill. Teachers and other children don't understand what autistic world looks like, and sometimes react inappropriately. For Daisy it all comes out either as silly, over-excited behaviour that is sometimes dangerous (for example, when walking along a busy road), or as anger and aggression, usually directed towards Mrs Monty.

I've found that the wise words of the adoption preparation trainer, "Try to see beyond the behaviour" usually work best with 20/20 hindsight. In the heat of the moment it's hard not to feel rattled by a child displaying wacky behaviour, even when you do love them to bits.

So. Adoption is "parenting plus"... but with a disabled child it's more like parenting plus plus plus at times.

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Impromptu life story work

Unexpected life story work outside Sainsbury's (other supermarkets are available)

The weekend shop. Don't cha jus' love it. An unreasonably long time spent being bombarded by subliminal sales pressure, followed by the removal of an unreasonably large amount of money from my wallet. But we need to eat, and (on this occasion) it got Daisy, Rosie and myself out of the house so that Mrs Monty could do some stereotypical housewifely chores.

As we pulled into the delightful tourist hotspot that is our local Sainsbury's car park, Daisy started a conversation that rapidly went beyond what I was expecting. "Dad. Was I always called Daisy?" she said, out of the blue. Thankfully we had kept the Christian name given to her by her birth family, so I was truthfully able to say, "Yes". A moment's thought, then she said, "what about my other name - have I always been called that?". A quick return question confirmed that she wasn't referring to her middle name, but to our family surname. Ah. OK. I can handle this - and outside Sainsbury's, with her younger sister listening? No problem!

Well, I gave it my best shot. We were soon talking about birth mummy's tummy, why birth mum couldn't look after Daisy, and all the other good stuff that we learnt on the adoption preparation course. But it was probably not a textbook response, given that it had started on Daisy's terms - not mine - and that I had no time to get my "strategy" sorted out. Oh dear oh bothery dear me.

I don't think I committed any terrible blunders and Daisy's response at the end of the conversation was to sit looking out of the window for a few minutes, lost in thought, and then (brightly): "Dad! When are we going to get the shopping?!".

Perhaps the moral, for me, is a verse found in the Bible: "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you...". I'm not always prepared and I clearly need to be!

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The longest day

More contrasts, over half term week (aka infinity)... and beyond!

So, half term is over at last, the girls are back at school and we've made it through the return to school.  Rosie has been a bit unsettled at school and we introduced a special morning drop-off routine for her, after discussion with the head teacher and her class teacher.  It seems to be going well and we've had no tears for a couple of weeks now.

June 20th may be the longest day, but last Monday felt pretty close to the longest day ever for Mrs Monty at home with Daisy and Rosie on an "inset day".  Without the structure of school, and with me back at work, the hours dragged by and Daisy's noisy and chaotic behaviour became strangely magnified.  When I got home from work it felt like one of those "U.S. Cavalry" moments as we all tried to bring the energy level down.

Today, on the other hand, was a lot better.  The girls and I went for a very tame bike ride... but for them we may as well have been trekking across the Himalayas.  They were incredibly excited and full of that lovely sense of childish achievement when we got back, very proud of themselves and metaphorically high-fiving one another at getting back safely.  "And then a car came! - but I stopped safely in the edge..." etc.  Lunch, followed by ice cream with hundreds and thousands sprinkled on it, prompted Rosie to exclaim, out of the blue, "This is my best day EVER, today!".  We need these positive days to counteract the tough ones - and the challenge is to remember the good days alongside the mental scars of the tricky ones.

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From TV Advert to BBC2 documentary in 12 hours

Monty experiences some unwanted channel-hopping in the reality TV series called "life".

Ah... the golden evening sun streams through the branches of the apple tree onto Rosie's blonde curls as she stands on a chair in the garden, completely absorbed in something that I can't see from the kitchen window. Going outside, I ask her what she's doing, "Making a piano" she says, as she carefully arranges the clothes pegs in a neat row on the clothes line. Rosie asks, "What tune shall I play you?". I feel as if I'm living in a TV advert - perhaps one for washing powder, or garden furniture. Surely this is what adoption is all about?

05:40 the next morning, and I am jolted out of my sleep by the bedroom door being flung open and a wide-awake Daisy charging into the room. Suddenly I'm in a serious BBC2 documentary about the challenges of bringing up a challenging child. It's challenging stuff, probably broadcast at 9pm on a Wednesday. In my head the BBC voice-over man is saying, with forced gravity, "But early next morning, things are very different in the Monty household...".

Half of me is half-asleep angry at being woken up. But half of me sees a daughter who suffers from Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and wants some human contact in that strange period each morning before the rest of the house wakes up, and I feel a huge surge of compassion for Daisy. I had agreed to love and care for this child when we went through matching panel, even though her ASD was undiagnosed at the time...and think of all she's been through. Fortunately on this occasion the caring half wins and I explain, with great patience, that mummy and daddy need to sleep if we're going to be good mummies and daddies today. She ambles off downstairs obediently and I feel awful, but two minutes later I hear the familiar sound of her singing a song from "Horrible Histories" and I have the hope that we haven't added to her sense of rejection, experienced when she was taken into care.

Wonder what's on the fictitious TV set next - and when's the next lot of adverts?

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