Category Archives: The Potato Group News

The Potato Group News

 

 

Bamboo Scaffolding: Part 2: What we did when we got there and the advantages and disadvantages of social media

We had arrived!. . .’Let’s freshen up and grab some food’. I rang D’s hotel room. I waited and waited and tried not to provoke a meltdown by ringing again . . .and said ‘Knock on my door when you are ready’ . . . .eventually he appeared. ‘Shall we find a restaurant nearby or eat in the hotel?’ . . .knowing D would choose the safety of the more familiar hotel. After eating ‘Do you want to crash or shall we have a walk and explore?’ – to my amazement he opted for a walk and we went two blocks to the beach.

Returning to the hotel we passed an Aussie bar with Sky Sports and I commented ‘You could go there for a drink sometime’. We arranged to download ‘Whats App’ so we could communicate while on hotel Wifi (D has me permanently blocked from his Facebook and Messenger) and so to bed. I arranged to message him in the morning. A social media positive. The next day I discovered D had been on an all-nighter. He met a Canadian in the lift and set off to the bars of Bangla Road with him . . . . .later going their separate ways, sitting on the beach for a while . . .and with no idea of the name or location of our hotel, he showed a moped taxi driver his room key, and was transported back safely in the early hours! – I was well impressed.

Our daily pattern became me arranging to message D at 8am or 11am depending on our jet lag and time confusion . . .usually getting a grunt, him missing breakfast, and me arranging to message him again at 1pm. He spent a lot of time in his room – time when I could explore. First mission – find the Muay Thai gym I had emailed, and book D some training. I found a derelict building! Trip Advisor showed a map of the derelict location but an address that Google Maps showed at the other end of town.

I soon discovered that in the steamy heat I should be less frugal, behave more like a traumatised teen, and spend money on taxis! Waking D at 1pm, I took him to a café for brunch and then by taxi to the gym to book a one-to-one for the following day. We explored a few shops before we wilted and taxied back to the hotel. D retreated to his room, I used the small pool and had a few hours me time.

My inclination would be to rush around and explore but the holiday had to meet my son’s needs first and foremost, his hotel room becoming a safe base. I became an armchair traveller, or in this case a hotel balcony traveller, trawling the local tourism on TripAdvisor knowing it was impossible for us to join any organized tours to offshore islands or wildlife sanctuaries as that would involve being ready at a set time and fitting in with the demands of a minibus full of strangers. Provocation and emotional regulation or lack of it.

Most evenings I messaged D at 7 or 8 to plan our evening meal and then had a long wait for him to knock on my door. As far as possible I avoided messaging again or knocking on his door as he finds that intensely provocative. I find it intensely provocative waiting patiently when I am starving . . .but the difference is that even after 20 years of adoptive parenting I can still emotionally regulate, helped by offloading a few ranting messages to my partner or my Potato peers, my social media lifeline. Now for the social media negatives. I soon realized my son was spending hours on Messenger group chat to his friends, much as he would at home.

He was angered to learn that a friend had had a confrontation with a bouncer, a passer-by had called the police, and his friend had been issued with an ASBO. He had had a burst water pipe in old outhouse plumbing as we set off. His friend who was ‘keeping an eye on’ his house and my partner were going to get this sorted. This friend was messaging him that my partner wanted to go into the house to turn off the stop tap – result RAGE, demands to fly home immediately and my worry that he would carry out his threat to trash his room. Would we see the inside of a Thai jail? I messaged my partner, was assured that he knew our son could not cope with him entering the house but the ‘friend’ would try and turn the stop tap off . . .crisis averted and we got to the pre-paid Muay Thai training session with my son in a calm enough state to manage training.

Muay Thai – my son has never let me watch him train at home. We shared a taxi to the gym and I said it was up to him, I could spend an hour at the beach or in the adjoining café . . . . .I think because he was anxious about the new environment he said I could come in, and could I video some of his training. By being crazy English people and booking a session in the midday heat, the gym was deserted apart from his one to one session. It was so positive to see D work hard and concentrate for an hour of hard physical training. I was able to take photos and videos. The trip was worth it for this first hour of training alone.

We fitted in two more sessions later in the week. Absorbing rubbish rants – It is a long time since D has chosen to spend social time with me. I see him daily to ferry him to and from supported work, to get shopping, or to appointments. It is even longer since he has sat down with me to eat a meal, so our shared evening meals were something special and mostly went well as long as I could absorb his ranted conversations without comment or challenge.

Rants described a seedier side of my home town, police, fights, how easy it is to get hold of a gun and a sort of parallel universe to the one I live in. Attempted burglary – some of the extra challenges of travelling with a traumatised young person are the direct effects of trauma, poor emotional regulation and extreme and unpredictable stress responses. Some, like the timing of the burst water pipe, are the extra bad-luck we seem to attract, and some like an attempted burglary because you have dodgy mates who know you are on holiday . . . .are because a traumatised young person is a magnet for ‘dodgy mates’.

About halfway into the holiday my son knocked on my door at 4 am (10 pm UK time) in tears. Through social media he learned there had been an attempted break-in at his house, luckily foiled by a neighbour who had called the police. The door was damaged but the burglars had not gained entry. Again his immediate response was to demand his air-ticket to fly back NOW on a ticket that was non- transferable and THREATS to trash the hotel room or leap from his fifth floor balcony . . . .I have years of practice at absorbing these intensified emotions . . .but it felt a long and lonely night . . .preparing for the worst while hoping for the best. Would I end up in a Thai jail? . . .or how do you arrange to fly a body back? . . . . .my partner and a few Potato peers hung on in there with me as my online support.

The low points, two near meltdowns survived by the skin of our teeth. The high points, three fantastic one to one Muay Thai training sessions, one morning of sight-seeing in a private taxi to the Big Buddha and to a shooting range! More about D’s fascinating with weapons in Part 3.

Look out for Part 3 – How we avoided a Thai jail and . . .did we get home safely?

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk

The Potato Group News

 

 

BAMBOO SCAFFOLDING 

In order to access many everyday activities, my son needs ‘bamboo scaffolding’, flexible and adaptable low key support – when I get this right it is largely invisible to others . . . .unless they have ever witnessed my son without this support.

Several years ago, I had to declare my teenage adopted son homeless due to repeated violence, threats and damage to our home and car over a long period. In the years that have passed since then, I remain his daily support for food, transport, emotional regulation and sorting benefits etc. as services do not appear to recognize he has any support needs at all. Now in his twenties, he lurches chaotically from near crisis to near crisis. Over several months he has been in a particularly low mental state. Over several months I have also been feeling depleted and was struggling to function on a day to day basis (after many years of providing high level support). How to try to nudge this situation in a better direction? Idea – a high risk holiday! Our son was excluded from education for more than half of his school life but each year I clutched at straws to find one activity in which he could participate and gain self esteem.

Currently he is doing Muay Thai (Thai boxing) regularly and together we planned a short trip to Thailand during which time he could do some training. My partner was unable to travel as he is awaiting an operation, so the first high risk was travelling alone with my son. A home-based education service working with him in his early teens insisted on 2:1 workers due to risk – but adoptive parents frequently carry risk 1:1 or 1:3 or more with siblings.

Bamboo Scaffolding: part one – getting there

I researched flights, resort, hotel etc. online, planning flight to be as short as possible, hotel as familiar as possible, and as close as possible to a Muay Thai gym. My partner paid for the holiday and from that point we accepted that we had ‘written off’ this money . . .even if we did not make it to the airport to set off. Previous holidays have had to be cut short e.g. a week booked in a caravan was abandoned after slightly more than 24 hours after credible threats to trash the caravan. Scaffolding means planning and anticipating situations my son will struggle with and adapting them to give him a better chance of managing. Schools in our experience never understood scaffolding, nor embraced inclusion.

Treating all pupils equally meets neither the needs of the child nor the sprit nor the letter of current equalities legislation – giving differentiated support and making ‘reasonable adjustments’ does. My deeply traumatised son still confuses the feelings of excitement and fear and is highly anxious in situations which he finds stressful – regularly dissociating into fear expressed as extreme anger.

Packing My son lives independently. I got his passport from him before we booked, as all forms of ID are often lost in his chaos. His washing machine is broken but he has not allowed us into his home over many months to arrange repair or replacement. I bought a few new clothes and partly packed a suitcase for him. I picked him up from his house to finish packing at ours, he promptly tipped everything out of the small case, announced he was only taking hand luggage as clothes were cheaper there, and took little more than one pair of pants and a toothbrush – I did manage to sneak one set of clothes into my case for emergencies. He was already ranting that there was no way he was going to wait at the airport for hours and we really didn’t need to check in until 30 minutes before the long haul flight.

I was deliberately vague about the flight time and hoped for the best. We had to set off the moment he was ready; my partner drove us; we drove slowly to try to reduce an excessive airport wait. The short stay departures car park was a nightmare finding a space and then walking a long way to the connecting bridge to departures. We joined the check-in queue and as we passed through passport control I breathed a sigh of relief – there was a chance we would actually set off. The next challenges were the slow and crowded zigzag queues for hand luggage and body scan and I could see him starting to fidget, clench his fists etc – at this point I have to stop myself ‘wittering’ empty reassuring phrases. I have learnt it is best to remain silent or nod empathetically that …it is a piss-take and FFS – absorb the emotion and ‘let them rant’.

We entered the departure lounge with still at least an hour before going to our gate. At last we were called to the gate and onto the plane, the very back seats, cosy for me, 5’ nothing, but decidedly cramped for my 6’ son, and as the hours went by increasingly hot and uncomfortable. Due to my son’s anxiety levels and neediness he can appear very self-centered. He took every bit of discomfort as if deliberately targeted at him and showed no empathy that we were all in the same boat (or the same crowded plane in this case). From time to time I offered distractions or sweets – scaffolding to aid his emotional regulation and I remained hypervigilant to absorb restlessness and ranting hoping we would not be responsible for a mid-air incident.

Seven hours, a two-hour transit, and a further seven hours was a huge challenge for a young man who finds the third hour of a three hour train journey difficult. Arriving bleary eyed I tried to spot the signs towards pre-booked transfers. Any hesitation led to rants from my son that I was dithering, and the likelihood of him storming off in the wrong direction. Luckily we found the tour operator quickly and once on the minibus taxi he fell deeply asleep, we were dropped at our hotel, checked in and given two rooms a few doors away from each other on the 5th floor. We had arrived in Patong, ‘party central’, not the typical destination for an exhausted 60 something!

To be continued: Look out for part 2 – What we did when we got there and the advantages and disadvantages of social media And Part 3 – How we avoided a Thai jail and . . .did we get home safely?

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk

The Potato Group News

At the beginning of my adoption journey, I was a happily married early thirties successful professional. I had all the things that I’d always aspired to. The rewarding career, the executive home, the nice car, three foreign holidays a year, weekends at the coast, a gorgeous little dog, an amazing group of friends and a great social life. In spite of all of these things, there was a gap. As time went on, the gap was becoming more of an issue. Although my husband and I were happy, we both yearned for a child to complete our picture of domestic bliss. The sadness that it didn’t happen was corrosive. We had delayed starting a family whilst I went to University, established my career etc. It seemed terribly unfair that when the time was right, we struggled so hard to have a baby.

Never one to admit defeat, I was constantly seeking a solution to our problem. At lunchtime one day at work, a possible solution presented itself. Reading the local paper whilst eating a sandwich, I stumbled across an advert for a local Adoption Society. With support from a friend and colleague, I made the initial call that day. Life swiftly changed. There were weekend courses to attend, pamphlets to read and before you could say boo we were being presented to panel. What we didn’t know, when we had the call to say we had been approved, was that we were being matched during our approval. Panel was on the Thursday. Friday morning we had the call to go into the offices on Monday.

We then saw the pictures of our children, who we met for the first time the next week. A further five days and they came home!
No amount of reading prepares you for the reality of parenting two damaged children, 24/7. Like many couples, we struggled as we discovered that we had completely different parenting styles, alongside very different expectations. Together with work, the complexities of parenting traumatised children and the complete change of lifestyle were too big a shock. The marriage broke. My husband decide that he didn’t want to adopt the weekend before we were due in court for the adoption order.

I decided he should leave and I’d continue on the journey alone. He was shocked and angry, I was bitterly disappointed.
After the legal bits were sorted, I was a single mum. As any single mum knows, it isn’t easy to find time for yourself. Life revolved around work, school, nursery and all the events that children are invited to. Every waking moment was full. As the children settled into routine and I settled back into my work role, I realised it was actually a little bit lonely!

I decided, after a while, that it was time to venture out and have a little bit of a life again as me, not just as a mum.
The next question was “How do I meet people?” I’d been in a relationship since I was 17! I hadn’t dated for 18 years! The thought was terrifying! It took me quite a while to pluck up the courage. My lovely friends took me out on the town. The girls took me dancing, but I was constantly clock watching, checking in with the babysitter. In the words of my bestie, it was like going out with Mrs Doubtfire! Lol.

Having a night out with the girls was fun, but we were a bit intimidating as a group. The only men I was meeting were really not my type. I was wondering what next? I decided that online dating could be the solution. I could screen all the candidates from the comfort of my sofa. Perfect! What I didn’t realise then, was there was a whole new language to learn! There was a complete etiquette! There was I thinking that the profile pictures were up to date and realistic.

My delusions were shattered on date one – the guy I was meeting
looked like the grandad of the fella in the profile as he struggled to make it into the upstairs coffee lounge where we met! I felt obliged to stay and have a drink after he’d driven all that way! I was rather worried the excitement of a trip out might be too much for him and he may not make it home! Lesson one learned!

The language issue was soon apparent! “Fun” meant “frolics”, for “interesting hobby” read “fetish” – you get the idea! There were some boring dates, like the accountant who took me out for a meal then told me he didn’t like to converse whilst eating! There were comic ones – the guy who lied about his height, as if I wouldn’t notice he was actually 5’4” not 5’10” and spent the evening talking to my chest and chasing me around like Benny Hill! There was the one who brought his sister along, in case I stood him up. There were the married ones, who all thought their wives didn’t understand them!

One thing I was very clear about, from the start, was that I didn’t want my children involved. I didn’t want them to have a series of “uncles”! Quite a few men I met, along the way, were horrified that I was only looking for dates and I didn’t want a relationship. A few were rather cross that they couldn’t move in and be part of a ready-made family! What I realised, quite early on, was that most people had no concept at all of how it is to live with a traumatised child. In many ways, staying single was the easier option.

A whole decade after I became single, I finally took the step of getting involved. This only became possible because my eldest child, the more challenging one, was attending a residential therapeutic school. With the support of family and friends as babysitters, I was finally able to relax, go out for an evening and not worry what I would come home to. There have been false starts along the way. I’ve had to make difficult choices. I chose to walk away from relationships that weren’t perfect. I did so for me, but most of all for my children. I need them to know that there’s no such thing as “good enough for now”! I don’t ever want them to settle for second best. I had to step up and say “We are worth more than that”.
It has been a bumpy road. There have been lots of laughs and also a few tears
along the way. I have learned that I am much stronger than I ever imagined, I know that I can absolutely manage on my own. That’s why I can now relax and enjoy my relationship. Life is still ridiculously busy. Work, being mum’s taxi, trying to make time for friends and relatives. Somehow, though, I manage to find time for me. I make it a priority to set aside time each week to spend with my partner. It’s great to be part of a team again. Not to always have to make all the decisions – I know! Stop laughing! I know I’m a little bit bossy, a bit of a control freak! Lol.

It’s fifteen years now since I began my Adoption Journey. There are still lots of challenges. Overall, we are in a good place. Life is nothing like I imagined it would be. I’m lucky to share it with my two beautiful children, my wonderful friends – who are almost exclusively fellow adopters these days – my family and a fabulous partner who is working really hard at understanding therapeutic parenting and developmental trauma. We enjoy little moments of “normal” life. We are looking forward to the future.

My advice, to other singlies, is simple. Get out there, have a laugh, meet some people. There are a lot of strange folk out there, but there are some lovely ones too. Set your standards high, but be prepared to make exceptions. There will be some disappointments, but dust yourself off and keep trying! Enjoy the journey!

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk

The Potato Group News

 

 

Work and purpose have always been important to me – meaning I travelled work into war zones aged 27 and beyond – seeing things happen to children and adults that should never ever happen to anyone I came back deciding to adopt a child who needed a home – initially from overseas but as a single adopter with limited funds – changed to offering a child from this country a home.

I had a job I loved and hoped to work part time and be a mum – it was hard but just about manageable at first but as years passed my very lovely but terribly traumatised daughter grew into her trauma- we had some very good understanding (private professionals) but as local childrens’ services became involved for “support” these were not respected and the traditional behavioural management enforced on us and the therapeutic approach discredited.

Life became more and more difficult for my daughter and she had spells of being unable to leave the house which ended up in complete retreat from a terrifying world aged 13, until she was moved into specialist supported living aged 16 1/2. Due to her self harm and many other behaviours resulting from her difficult start in life, I was unable to leave her alone – so was unable to work. In the end I lost my job, my professional registration as I could not work to meet the yearly requirements, some friends and much of my life.

During these years we were both under immense pressure for her to attend her school (a small school for educationally fragile youngsters), professionals came – bringing sticker charts, points systems, consequences – and went leaving blame and stress for us both. The more pressure was put on her the more distressed she became and the more visits from the police were required as she was big and I couldn’t contain her and keep us both safe. Or the dog and cats – the dog had to evacuate to my parents and the cats lived outside.

A spell in the local young persons psychiatric unit did nothing as they didn’t take her out so discharged her saying she was fine and my parenting was inadequate – if she was not in school the next day they would push for her to go into care under order. Of course that was a successful tactic – NOT not as it scared her even more and things got worse. My days started with an awful anxiety – I would wake up in my locked bedroom (for my safety) and tiptoe into hers to check she was still OK, pick up the bloodstained results of the cutting, try to remove as much of the rotting food, dirty plates and smelly clothes as possible before she woke up – she would physically refuse to let me leave the room with anything. I would hear neighbours children going to school and feel an awful grief for us both at all we had lost, fear for the future and utterly imprisoned in my home.

My main social life and support was online – the POTATO group and other adoption support sites – my father teen sat once a week so I could go to a choir and I got the occasional in house respite and my parents slept here overnight so I could go away either to POTATO meetings or hill walking with friends and the wee dog. I was threatened with prosecution for allowing truancy and a hearing was held about this and whether a care order would be granted – luckily we escaped both but things dragged on as before – more professionals, more behaviour charts…….luckily we still had some good support but they were also powerless in the system.

Finally a room became available in a nearby unit for supported living for young people with mental health problems – getting her there was difficult, and the first few months there were many ups and downs -particularly downs.
But it meant I could get my life back – I started working in a homeless hostel – but my confidence had taken a HUGE knock – I found it difficult to speak to colleagues – I was physically unfit and very overweight and had no faith in my ability.

Gradually over the last 3 years I have worked to get my registration back, and now have a permanent job which I love – not the field I had specialised in – in fact the last place on earth I would have imagined ending up in. I have new friends , sing in 2 choirs and am feeling more confident than I ever have in my life – I still have counselling and can collapse at any hint of criticism or aggression – real or perceived. Best of all is my relationship with my daughter – she is not functioning as other people her age do – she never got back into education and she is on full disability benefits – she lives in a local flat with her flatmate but they both need a lot of support- any letters they do not understand get “lost” – benefits get suspended because they are too scared to attend appointments and are suspicious of professionals ( she has had well over 100 over the years and some have been good, some dreadful – and often services pull out without much warning). I spend more time that I would like chasing professionals, helping phone benefits offices etc. than I would like – I fear she will always need a lot of support and worry what will happen when I am no longer around to help sort out “muddles” – she is my daughter and it’s not her fault her early life has handicapped her to this degree. We now have a very good loving relationship – something I never thought would happen when a wee girl moved in terrified, raging, hating and if I touched her or her belongings – she would get a cloth and wipe where I had “contaminated”! She is kind and caring – in her own way – and a lovely person – all this never seemed possible during those dark years.

www.thepotatogroup.org.uk