Two Dads and Me

This is the story of our family and how it came to be, we are two gay dads raising our very adorable (and opinionated) foster son in Australia.


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It makes the world go round and round and…

When we first met Flash on one of your many visits we were astounded to find out some of the processes that took over his life in that little house that he occupied.

With no real friends and no family life to speak of his house essentially existed on his little schedule of waking, eating, playing, sleeping, television, playstation and toy time that consumed all the bits in between. It was evident that there was a struggle within his existence to movtivate him to change, to challenge his behaviours and encourage him to be better. Granted many methods had likely been used before, when you have a child who’s behaviour at the best of times could be likened to a feral cat your options are limited. So the option that seemed most open to them at the time was money. A system had been developed, it was hard to understand, but appeared as though he was given a $14 fund for each week, rather than earning any money, the total amount was simply there, the catch being “poor behaviour” meant that the total amount would be reduced.

The fascinating thing we observed week to week as he still lived there and we began to learn more and more of his day to day activities was that it seemed to take a lot to actually reduce this money and that essentially, short of murder, there appeared little possibility that by the weeks end Flash would actually end up with nothing left in his kitty. Instead come each Saturday morning the weekly trip to the shops would occur, where; taking his treasured reward for a week of substandard behaviour and questionable outcomes, he was placed within the towering aisles of the Big W toy aisles to be given free reign to purchase to his hearts desire.

First and foremost we couldn’t figure out why on a bad week he simply wouldn’t earn any money for spending. Later upon asking we were told that the consequences for himself, the house and his carers was not entirely pleasant, lack of money meant “escalation time”.  Looking in from the outside these escalations were somewhat comical. When they started it was like watching a building crumble in slow motion before your eyes, his eyes would tremble, the tears, perfectly orchestrated would slowly fall from his face and as they hit the ground his whole body would collapse with a glass breaking shriek.

“Noooooooooooooooooo!!!! PLEASE NO!!!!!”

This would be the start and the very clear reasoning as to why his house was littered with so many holes in the walls, he would lash out, throw himself at walls, kick and punch them and in turn make moves against any carer in his way.

The comical part of it all was the instructions that the carers were given, these strong, 20 something year old men were told that when the small, thin, angry child began to get violent, they were not to try subdue him or restrain him, no, their instructions were relatively simple.
“Reason with him, if that fails go to your room and lock the door and call the police”.

Yes, if the child barely taller than your waist chucks a tantrum, call the police.

You can’t begin to imagine the life lessons that teaches a child, when it comes to relationships with adults, with conflict resolution and getting your own way, the solution was always to give the child the power and secure safety, what’s right and wrong in this situation will always be debatable, but consequently we soon learnt why every week it was simply easier to give him some money;
“At least $5”
The boys would always say;
“That way he’s still getting something even if he’s had a bad week”.

A kid in a candy store was almost a literal description for his Saturday mornings. Armed with his money he would ponder and plead his way through the aisles of the shops, trying to find that maximum value for his money;
“How can I spend every cent and ensure I get as many toys as possible?” you could see him thinking.

We accompanied him on many of these trips in the early days and even took him on some trips with just the 3 of us to help him select his weekly bounty.

His determination, tenacity and flexibility were truly remarkable, he would drop hints for more money, pull sad faces, ponder, ask, debate and cry to attempt to procure the necessary extra funds for what was the days latest fascination, but luckily we realized quite early on that holding firm to a “No” was going to be the most difficult but beneficial path to take.

His play room was huge, a single room in the house dedicated to his weekly collection of toys. Stacked with tubs and containers of various cars and lego pieces, haphazardly upended or in various states of creation, you couldn’t tell what was old or new, what was loved or forgotten, everything was just in a constant state of collection.
“More”

You could practically see the word emblazoned across his eyeballs whenever he laid eyes on a toy, whether in the supermarket or walking past another child playing with a toy;

“More”

And with that “more” was what we decided we needed less of.

The rest of this entry can be found in our book “Two Dads & Me: The Story So Far”
Available for purchase soon.


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Big Boys Don’t Fly

In the early days, not long after he had moved in, our greatest test began, his behaviour.
It’s hard to describe what it was like as it was so inconsistent, erratic, irrational and constant.
The slightest thing could set him off and we could have screaming, crying, swearing, throwing, running, you name it, he had it in his arsenal and every single moment of it was a test of our patience.

A lot of it stemmed from his time in residential care, in a world where you grow up with no adults, just youth workers, in a house that is not your own, where rules cannot be enforced and there are no consequences, you begin to make your own rules. His time there had taught him very little, except that if he didn’t get his own way, he only had to scream and cry, which would usually result in negotiations to avoid an escalation, when negotiations failed, get physical, escalate.

When we had visited the house in our first visits there were holes in many of the walls, several walls missing large areas of plasterboard, his bed at the time was broken at the end and he slept on somewhat of a slant. This was the nature of his understanding of consequences, “natural consequences” they called it. In the absence of discipline in any way their only option was to allow him to live with the results of his behaviours, in this case, the damage around him. How effective that choice was is debatable, after having lived with the repercussions of this method we found ourselves questioning it’s validity.

The advice we had been given was to be consistent with rules and expectations, set clear boundaries around what was ok and what was not and to ensure we explained the nature of consequences.
And so we did.
And so it was good.
In theory.
What we could never account for was the sheer volume of the “escalations” as we came to call them when reporting them to the department, yes each escalation required a report, every time. Some of the early ones were the little ones, the running away at shower time, that was the easy stuff, the tough stuff came when we really had to follow through with what we said.

With limited options at our disposal, we had to go with the basic consequences, taking away small privileges for wrong doings, things like dessert, TV, play time, early to bed and taking away toys, unfortunately it was the consequences that quickly proved to be the trigger to our escalations.
Our rules were pretty simple, primarily focusing on basic expectations around following instructions and basic manners as well as good behaviour at school and at home, we didn’t want to set the expectations high, but we had to set them firmly.

The first time we sent him to bed early I was pretty sure our neighbours thought we were murdering him.

The reaction was something from another world, it was like watching the 7 stages of grieving fast forward in front of you. He would plead, beg, apologise, cry and then started the yelling, kicking and screaming. He threw himself on the lounge room floor and howled
“No dad no! Please! NO! DON’T! PLEASE! NO! I’LL DO ANYTHING!”
He knew how to work the system, but we were prepared and stuck our ground.
By the time he got to his room he had turned angry and started screaming, he had headed for the hallway and ran full pelt at the wall at the end, threw himself at the wall and dramatically slid himself to the ground.
He howled, jumped up, ran to his bedroom door and started screaming
“I HATE YOU! I DON’T WANT TO LIVE HERE!”
We tried to remain as calm as possible, reminding him of why he was going to bed early and that if he continued, there would be more consequences. None of this appeared to help, once in his room he screamed louder, we could hear him start to kick walls, throw toys, scream and yell, by this stage I believe the neighbours may have thought we were killing a village of small children judging by the amount of noise he was creating, but we persevered.

Eventually he would settle, often not until he had upturned the contents of his room, his bed or succeeded in rousing a reaction from us that would require us to re-enter the room to check on him. Sadly as we were warned, things would only get worse before they got better and as he continued to test the boundaries that we set his reactions intensified. Within a few small months we had 3 different holes in the walls in his room, we had heard every swear word imaginable and seen some distressing reactions that had shaken us.

Some of the most distressing behaviour was his disregard for his own safety, he would use threats against himself as a means to test us, trying desperately to see if we would really care at the same time as trying to act out against us. This disregard sometimes had to be taken seriously and sometimes we had to show him we weren’t going to react and continue as though nothing was happening.

One afternoon he took to throwing himself against the wall, rolling on the floor and screaming and we had to restrain and calm him, another evening he ran back into the kitchen and grabbed himself the nearest knife, quickly I managed to retrieve it and sent him back to his room. But as he continued to escalate the behaviour our resolve continued to grow, he stormed into the kitchen another evening as I was washing the dishes while he’d been sent to his room, he grabbed the nearest knife (a butter knife, bless) and pointed it at his arm.
“You don’t love me! I’m gonna cut myself cause you hate me!”
By this stage, these outbursts had become almost daily and whilst being aware of how far he could go and the likely hood of his actually following through I simply took a deep breath and turned to him calmly,
“I love you, but you’re going to need to take that outside if you’re going to do that”.
It was as though I’d slapped him.
He stopped, stunned and just stared at me, knife poised in his hand, caught off guard.
I smiled at him calmly and turned back to the dishes, moments later he walked up to the drawer, put the knife away and walked back to his room. It was this sort of attitude and approach that we had to adopt, we had to call his bluff, we had to know that what he wanted was a reaction, he wanted us to freak out and come running and although our natural instinct was to help him, to hug him, he had to know that this was not going to work.

Perhaps the point at which the behaviour hit it’s peak was one of the scariest both for us and for him.
During his end of year break up party  at school he came home on a sugar high unlike anything else, heavens knows what he’d been fed, but he was bouncing off the walls, almost literally. As he arrived home he had reached his peak and was slowly coming down and as he did so the behaviour continued erratically until he was told he needed to go to his room to calm down and that, was when hell broke lose.
The screaming began.
He ran.
Outside he ran to the fence and back inside, he tore up the hallway and into his room, he screamed, he kicked and he threw.
With only one of us home he was testing the boundaries even more and the decision to sit and wait it out was the only option.
Minutes passed and suddenly silence.
Minutes passed again and suddenly a sound outside.
Walking outside and looking down the stairs, below his 2nd story bedroom was a little body lying perfectly still on the ground.
Thankfully “Daddy” was the parent home for the afternoon, quickly he rushed down the stairs to check him.
“Mate, are you ok?”
“Yes, I think so…” came the shaky reply.
He checked him over, somehow, he seemed fine, somewhat shaken, but fine.
“Good, you need to go back to your room now.”
Evidently, boys can’t fly, but they do know how to give you a good scare. He had expected a reaction, he wanted one, he wanted something, somehow he wanted to take back control on the situation, but we couldn’t give in to what he wanted.
After he’d gone back to his room he settled until we were both home together again to talk through the afternoons events.
Evidently he’d been very calculated, climbing down and hanging from his windowsill before dropping himself from the lowest point for dramatic effect, cleverly making it look as though he had leaped the full 2 stories.

This was life for so long, test, trials, screaming and yelling. But it wasn’t all bad, in between was the beautiful good natured boy who just wanted to be loved and make friends. Whilst his methods weren’t optimal they were expected and were the only thing he’s ever known, it made it tough for him and tough for us, but we all persevered.

These days when you meet him you would never believe that he had ever behaved like this, he has adapted and learnt, he knows boundaries and he respects them. His consequences have reduced themselves through consistent good behaviour and this school term marks the first term he has been without a suspension of any form from school.
Whilst we may have taught him about rules, boundaries, respect and consequences he has taught us about patience and unconditional love, he’s tested and tried us and ultimately we’ve all come out on top.


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Brave, Powerful & Talented

Of the many questions that Flash fires away at us every minute, of every day, the one that I find the most interesting lately is;
“Are you proud of me?”
It’s a question that sometime just stuns me, he could ask it for the simplest reason, a good day at school, a good score on a test or because he cleaned his room without being asked, but it still just makes me look at him and smile.
How he could think we could be anything less than proud of him has me floored, for one little person who’s been through so much, every day we’re proud of him.

Perhaps what he never realises is how much we want him to be proud of us.

Being a parent was always going to be a difficult job, being gay parents was always going to be a slightly more challenging task, it comes with this subconscious feeling that sometimes we do have just that little bit more to prove, whether it be to ourselves, our son or to those around us.

For me, I’ve always wanted him to be proud of us, to know exactly who we are, what we stand for and why. Because lets face it, one day someone is going to throw mud in his face about his dads and I want there to be no doubt in his mind about who his fathers are and what they are capable of. I want him to feel pride, not shame if he is confronted with anything unpleasant, because when we are truly proud of who we are and where we come from, nothing can knock us down.

In the last 2 years I’ve taken on a lot of tasks outside of parenting, I sit on a couple of volunteer committees, including helping run our local pride events, some local media gigs and most recently I’ve taken up Rugby Union. Whilst I enjoy these things immensely  there’s a part of me that does them because I feel like I’ve got something to prove to Flash, to prove that his dads can do anything, they can take on the world with one hand behind their back and still come out with a smile on their face.
I want him to be educated, to see his fathers as two men and not simply as “gay men”, capable of doing anything at all, whilst still being fabulous.

He’s been involved in a lot of things for a child his age, occasionally he’s attended meetings with me to help plan our events, he’s been to my media gigs and watched and listened with avid fascination and he’s been to Rugby training countless times, either watching or joining in as best he can. All the while he’s been surrounded by amazing people who role model the best behaviours and experiences for him, I see him laughing, enjoying himself, taking it all in and digesting it all. Later he asks me questions, he wants to know about this decision and that decision, this person and that person and the definition of that word and all the while in the back of my head, subconsciously I’m thinking;
“Are you proud of me?

Part of our routine at home is visitors. From the Department of Child Safety, to our foster agency, then the Children’s Commissioner or his psychologist, at least once a fortnight or so different people from various departments stop to check in and say hello, checking to see that all 3 of us are healthy and happy. It is lovely that they care, but sometimes, just a bit of a drain on the brain when you’re in between marking homework, cooking dinner, cleaning the house and juggling phone calls, otherwise just another day in our house.

However perhaps one of my more favourite visits are those from his child psychologist, every fortnight she stops by to work with Flash and the 3 of us as a family, she generates some beautiful insight from him on how he perceives his  life and those around him and it’s always beautiful to hear him really speak from the heart.

I arrived home last week, walking in the door I was jumped on, literally and told at a million miles an hour the details of the visit thus far, unable to actually take any of it in, I took a seat on the carpet to have a look at what he’d been working on. His psychologist was sitting with him with his “life book” open and written across the page were words written neatly in crayon.
“Kind”
“Caring”
“Enthusiastic”
“Loving”
It stretched across 2 large pages and comprised about 25 words, as I read through them a very excitable little monkey climbed all over my back, squeaking and chattering in my ear about the words to explain them to me.
“They’re words about you and Daddy, like describing words for both of you”
I smiled and continued to read across the page, his psychologist pointed out to smaller sections with words below them.
“All of these words are words that describe both of you, but I asked him to choose one word for each of you and to give me a reason”
Underlined heavily were the words “Brave & Powerful” with a neat little sentence below them
Daddy can make anyone do anything he wants, even me!”
I giggled to myself, an interesting admission really, acknowledging that he used to get his own way, now, not so much.
Across the top of the page was the word “Talented”
“Dad is really talented because he can do anything with technology”
He attempted to climb, somehow trying to get himself onto one my shoulders, excitedly giggling away, wanting to know if I liked it.
“Of course I do sweetheart”
Yay” He squealed, leaped from my shoulders and jumped across the book.

Whether it’s pride, happiness, confidence or a bit of everything, he’s growing, he’s understanding and he’s becoming a bigger and stronger person with every passing day and for both us, we simply couldn’t be more proud of him or more proud to be his parents.
*As a side note our book is now closer to being published, extended content from each of these blog posts will be included in both the printed and digital copy. Be sure to subscribe to our blog for more updates as we get closer to publication.
Thank you again for continuing to read our story. 

 


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Won’t somebody think of the children?

I think one of the most hilarious questions we get is “How does he deal with having two [gay] dads?”, which can usually spin in to general conversation about how he goes with other kids at school dealing with it, general public, personal acceptance and so on and so forth.

Quite often I think it’s really easy for us all to forget, children don’t care about these things.

Recently I was at Flash’s sports day to see him compete, two young boys walked up beside me.
“Excuse me, are you his dad?”
“Yes”
“Cool…. Where’s his mum?”
“She’s not here.”
“Oh, is she like, at work?”
“I’m not sure, she doesn’t live with us”
“Oh, so is it just you and him?”
“No, it’s him and I and his other Dad”
“Oh, so he had two dads?”
“Yup”
“Cool, so did you like, adopt him?”
“Ummm, kind of.”
“Oh, Cool! See ya!”

I mean seriously we have no concept of exactly how important it is that there is an appropriate amount of time allocated to the afternoon to play lego, bounce on the trampoline, pat the dog, beg for computer time, read a book and maybe watching some TV. Like that is some serious stuff in the world of a kid and we want to consider if they’re bothered by who is loving who?

It was always going to be interesting as we progressed forwards on this journey and became friends with more and more people who had children that the concept of “Two Dads” would become more fluid, but we were always a little trepidatious to begin with. There’s the fear that someone may think you’re attempting to “educate” their children when it’s not your place or simply finding yourself in an awkward encounter with unpleasant parents, but overall it’s been much smoother than we ever expected. The new parental friends we’ve all made have been nothing short of amazing, from “Mum & Dad” parents, to “Two Mums” and even our amazing friends who are “Mum and “(Trans)Mum” the support, guidance, love and acceptance that these people give to their children is what is helping us to raise a generation of amazing people who accept and love without prejudice and it’s these teachings, coupled with the beauty and innocence of young minds that makes life that much easier for us.

Acceptance for Flash was instantaneous, he sees no issue with it, he simply thinks it’s great that he gets two dads and his issues with other kids in the playground has only ever happened once.

I got the call to collect him from after school care one afternoon, he was having a meltdown.
When I arrived I queried what had happened
“He got up and told everyone to ‘get fucked’ and ran out of the room and down to the oval”
“Interesting… have you asked him why yet?”
“Well… no, he’s just waiting in my office”
Brushing aside my annoyance at him failing to actually investigate the issue, noting he was now calm and collected we headed off home, he was silent in the car ride home, we got home, showered and sat down for dinner.
Across the dinner table I asked him what had actually happened.
His eyes were downcast and he didn’t want to tell me.
“It’s ok” I said,
“You’re not in trouble, I just need to know”.
“Well” he said, “I was sitting with this kid and he was talking about his mum and dad and I said ‘You’re really lucky you get to live with your mum AND dad, I don’t, I just have my two dads’ and he said to me ‘Well, they’re really gay then aren’t they.’ and I got really mad and upset because he was being nasty about you and daddy and I didn’t like it, so I yelled at him and I ran away”.
Well, that certainly was an interesting story to take in.
“Why did you get upset? He wasn’t saying anything mean about us?”
“But… I thought he was?”
“No honey, he’s right” I said “Do you remember when we first talked about Daddy and I, ‘Gay’ IS a word to describe two men or two ladies in love, it’s not a bad thing at all. I know sometimes you might hear kids use it as a word to describe things they don’t like, but when they’re talking about Daddy and I, it’s right and it’s nothing to be upset about”.
You could see the relief wash over him and a smile lit up his little face.
The issue hadn’t been about our sexuality, the issue had been about someone being nasty about his dads. It had been that long since we’d talked about the word “Gay” that it was still registering as a negative word in his head. He’d simply heard someone speaking ill of us and was upset, he didn’t know how to control it, so he lashed out and ran off.
We told him if anyone ever said it in the future again to say “Yes, they are!” and to be proud of it because there’s nothing to be ashamed of and he has been ever since, he has proudly acknowledged us as “gay” many times and today that it occurred again, in the most interesting of places.

For paid work at the moment I do a variety of things, freelancing and community work if you will, one of those things is supply teaching, I end up in different schools doing different things. I’m never one to be coy about my sexuality, in any school I’m very open with my co-workers, even when I work in Catholic schools, I’ve even worked in a Catholic high school where all the students found out, it’s never been a huge drama. Lately I’ve been doing more work than usual in primary schools, a recent contract has had me working in learning support for a primary school with some very lovely young people each day.

The thing about primary school children is that they want to know EVERYTHING about you, where you live, what car you drive, do you have pets, where you went to school and what colour socks you’re wearing? As a teacher in any school we’re always taught to draw those lines in the sand regarding allowing students in to our “personal lives” as such, that and if we answered every question they ever asked we’d simply go mad. The lines are pretty easy to draw around what is appropriate for me but one of the things that I chose not to deal with is the issue of sexuality. It’s certainly not about shame, but moreso, life is so much easier if we put that to the wayside, the logistics of having to tell a classroom full of 8 year olds that you’re married to a man and you have a child together is enough to do anyone’s head in, so it’s best just to keep that to the side. However, along came Flash.

I have a particular student who loves to pry, he’s from my learning support unit and he’s adorable but he wants to know everything, in the nicest way possible.
Now unfortunately Flash was home from school for the day and owing to conflicting schedules Daddy had to work in the afternoon and leave while Dad was still teaching, I had clearance to leave for the afternoon so Flash was getting dropped off at school and I was taking him back home for the rest of the day.

The car pulled up near my building, I walked down and we had a chat as Flash leapt from the car to say hello.
Sure enough my little inquisitor rocked up to say hello as well, full of questions again.
As we went to walk upstairs he was walking behind us chatting
“So where’s you’re girlfriend?”
“Sorry mate I don’t have one”
“But don’t you have a fiance? You’ve got an engagement ring”
I’ll chat to you about it later mate” I said
Flash rolled his eyes
“You just met his fiance”
“What?”
At this point Flash must have thought the boy was an idiot, clearly he had the impression that surely this boy should have known, so he simply turned around and politely said
“Don’t you know, he’s GAY”

What followed from there was nothing short of beautiful, to me anyway.
The kid just let out a long “ooooooooooh” as we continued to walk, we reached the stairs and I turned to speak to him
Mate, there’s nothing wrong with what he just said, but I’d just like you to understand that that’s personal information and it’s a conversation that’s happened just between the 3 of us.”
“Oh no, it’s ok sir, my mum’s got a couple of lesbian friends, I’ve been around it heaps before, you’re cool sir.”
He smiled at me and reached out to shake my hand
“Besides sir, you’re my mate, It’s cool”
It was just so genuine and real, it was very adorable.
We got upstairs and he followed us in, as we packed our things down and went to leave he went to shake my hand again and looked me in the eyes,
“You’re ok mate, I love you mate.”

It took me by surprise, but certainly made my smile, I could write a lot to describe why this boy felt it the need to say it, but funnily I think it partly tied in with his religious upbringing, the great relationships he has with his regular teachers and obviously the great exposure he has previously had in life around “gay” people that was able to speak like that, it floored me, but couldn’t stop me smiling all day.

But I think today I’m really very sure, we ARE thinking of the children and in the words of the movie, The kids are alright.


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Thank you for your support!

We’ve been so lucky to have all of your support over the last year or so and we’ve decided to take the first step towards publishing this story. 
We are going to produce a small version of our story, comprised of extended versions of these blog posts, but some more that we write over the coming months and some extra content as well and we’ll be producing this into a small book! 
We hope to distribute it at pride fair day in September this year and through some other local suppliers, we hope the sales from this will help us fund further printing and production and ultimately, a completed book.
In the meantime, “The Story So Far” is what we’re working towards and we would really love your help, we are running a crowd funding campaign through pozible to get the funds for the first round of printing and publication, anything you can donate will be greatly appreciated, already in under 2 hours we raised 25% of our target, simply amazing!
To contribute follow the link below and we’ll be back in the next few days with another update for you ;-)

http://pozible.com/twodadsandme

 


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Do you love me?

People often ask “How old is he?”.
Simple question? No, not it’s not a simple question at all.

In any of the given hours in the day we live with a 5yr old, 10yr old & a 17yr old. Who we’re dealing with varies according to any number of factors, medication, sugar, weather, emotional state, recent events, anxiety or quite simply attitude. It is, by no stretch of the imagination, exhausting. It manifests itself in any number of ways, from cute to annoying, clingy to cuddly, to obstinate and defiant, it’s the russian roulette of child behaviours. 

The 17yr old likes to question everything, answer back and challenge every command, he’s the master in semantics and is quickly learning some of our more dryer humour and cynicism, he’ll be a gem with his peers when he’s older, now, in this house, not so much.

The 10 yr old is probably by far the best and most complacent to live with, he’s the one content with his reading and writing, rattling off facts from school and asking a million questions about the world. We like the 10 yr old, he’s probably our favourite. 

The 5 yr old, well, he’s something else. He will babble, squeal & yell. He’s impulsive and loud, craving attention and wanting everything, your typical 5 yr old really.
The simple task of sitting and watching a movie is sometimes nothing short of a marathon. During a 5yr old day he will start on the couch, end up squatting on the floor, 5 minutes later he’s standing inches away from the television screen. I enter the room again 5 minutes later and his head is on the floor beside the couch, his bum sticking up in the air, knees tucked under himself and his head poking out through his armpit peering at the screen, all the while the noises echo through the house;
“Weehhee!”
“Boom, tck tck tick tick haha!!”
“Hehehehe”
“Wssshh! Zap! Bang! haha!”
*Insert hysterical indecipherable laughter here*

This becomes a challenging task, what do you do?
So many people have had their opinion,
“He’s just a kid, let him be”
But the reality is we’re tasked with helping him adjust to the normality of a social environment he’s never been able to function in before and with high school fast approaching it’s a necessity. Previous efforts from youth workers, departmental hacks and various others have always been to take the path of least resistance, allowing the behaviours and really focussing on not triggering behaviour meltdowns, without ever really introducing reasoning and consequences. Where the ball has been dropped, we have to pick it up and continue and the only strategy seems to be repetition, and so commences our daily reminders;

“Mate, are you acting like a 5yr old or a 10yr old?”
“What do you need to stop doing?”
“Why is that important?”
We have to have the discussions about age appropriate behaviour, because it’s vitally important for his social development. Reactive Attachment Disorder, a complicated condition he has developed as a young child, impedes social development skills and it’s our battle to help him overcome it and be capable of co-existing with his peers to avoid being ostracised and excluded, which can only serve to worsen his self esteem.

At school, quite simply, he has no friends.

This is a harsh reality that we’ve had to sit and discuss with him, through years of bad behaviour and his limited capacity to socialize with kids his own age appropriately the other children in his school have kept their distance. In almost 2 years we haven’t had invitations to birthday parties or social occasions from classmates, the other parents know his story and look on with sympathy but keep their distance and it’s tough, really tough. He knows it, we see it it in every bit of behaviour, because when he does something, there’s a reason to it and it all generally ties in with those common themes, rejection, failure and wanting people to like him.

For us when we get the call from school or meet with the principal in the afternoon it’s always a discussion and investigation in to why exactly he did something.
For example, on a day where he runs out of the classroom, yells and kicks a bin over.
What happened?
The teacher was firm with him for not completing a task.
This may seem rather straight forward, but with Flash, it never is. You see the teacher was firm, but there were other kids around and when he knew they could hear her and they turned to look at him he feared they would think he was dumb and would hate him.
So he gives up and runs away because he doesn’t feel like they can like him anyway, he kicks the bin in anger at himself, because he feels that he is worthless and can’t do anything right.
On the scale of bad days, thats a relatively simple one. 

But the one question that hounds us throughout the day and night, from 5yr old to 17yr old, is quite simple 
“Do you love me?”
Back in the early days before he moved in, as we commenced our transition process and began more and more time together, we were having visits which eventually led to overnight stays. We progressed from one night to two as the weeks wore on until it was time for the big jump. But as the days wore on between visits he was as anxious to see us again as we were to see him, soon we were “allowed” phone calls. I’ll never forget the first time that little voice was on the other end of the phone when I answered, taking no time to breathlessly relay every moment of time that had passed since we last saw each other. 
But more so I’ll never forget as we were nearing the end of one of those first phone calls that he plucked up the courage to tell me something;
“Ummm I just wanted to say that I ah, really miss you guys”
“And we miss you too mate”
“Ummm and there’s one more thing….
“Yes mate?”
“Umm I think I love you, both of you… umm is that ok?”
I giggled inside as I smiled from ear to ear
“Yes mate that is definitely ok, we love you too”
Whether or not he’s emotionally developed the capacity to actually love yet we can’t quite know, it is still something that plays in his mind day in and day out. He tells us every day, morning and night, we are hounded for hugs and affection so that he can convey the message again, seeking our response and affirmation to help him feel safe.

This idea that he can be loved, the idea that he deserves to be loved and the idea that no matter what, we do and always will love him. Its still not locked down in his head tight, there’s a battle that goes on in there that lets itself out quite often.
In any given day, mainly on the 5 yr old days, we will be asked 20? 30 times? 
“Dad, Daddy!”
“Yes mate?”
“Do you love me?”
Mostly it’s just this inquisitive little chirp, in the same manner you’d ask someone to pass you the salt, as though it was some after thought that just drifted through his mind as he played with his toys. Other times it’s a desperate affirmation, after a consequence of being sent to his room or if he’s been in trouble, the question changes to “Do you still love me?”.
The least entertaining is the opposite “You hate me!”, generally reserved for those 17yr old days where the world hates him and there is no justice and we of course are the devil incarnate.
But it’s the constant war that rages in his head. How can I be loved? Why should I be loved? Why do I deserve to be loved? If my own parents couldn’t love me enough to keep me why would anyone else?  
Our response is always the same, whether he’s been suspended from school or playing with his trucks in the yard. 

“Yes, no matter what you do, we will always love you.”

 

 


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Please Like Me

Sometimes I feel like a prison warden.

It’s not that we keep him locked up, as much as it’s a tempting thought on the more trying days, but quite often the simple act of “child management” can be very draining, we have to be consistent, regimented, firm and disciplined. It’s a matter of showing love through consistency, rules and expectations whilst at the same time managing subversive, unknown and downright challenging and inexplicable behaviours, while still sprinkling this with love and affection.

We discovered quite early on that this adorable boy had a desperate need and want to be liked, I mean really, do you blame him? Unfortunately as is often the case with children in care one of the most common tools they use is lying. It is a behaviour that is so deeply ingrained you wouldn’t even call it compulsive lying, it’s impulsive, no matter the situation the natural impulse he has is to lie. 

We first noticed this in the more simple of situations;
“Would you like to watch Casper? Have you seen that before?”
“Oh yeah! I saw it when it first came out at the movies with my mum.”
After pulling some quick stats in your head, compiling that with what you’re aware of the little one’s biological timeline it’s pretty easy to know he certainly didn’t, owing primarily to the film being released the better part of a decade before his birth. 

Each time you hear these little lies, and the bigger ones, you have to process quietly in your head, “Why? What has triggered this one?”
Quite often it boils down to, at it’s core, the desire to be liked or the fear that he won’t be liked or loved. The complexities only get deeper and the behaviour only manifests itself further. The lies roll themselves into truths in his head, they become so real he often cannot separate his lies from his truths, which was why we had to make an early decision to call him out on them.

It’s like a vicious circle that continues to drive itself round and around, when we started calling him out on the lies, as gently as we could, it started to trigger the fear of rejection and failure, which could set off the behaviour, the tears, the tantrums. While it’s certainly no walk in the park it’s been a great learning and developing step for him, because it was something no-one had ever done before. His youth workers and everyone around him had always been on egg shells with the behaviour, careful to manage his environment so that his melt downs wouldn’t be triggered, but ultimately the behaviour had to be challenged in order for it to change. 

When we first called him out on it he got the shock of his life, literally he seemed like he’d been electrocuted.
“Mate, I’m not 100% sure that would have really happened, are you sure?”
“WHAT? Yeah, no it did! It did! I promise!”
“Mate, look it’s ok, but I know that couldn’t have happened”
“No! I’m not lying!! I’m NOT!”
*Cue the tears*

After a few months it became all too familiar, the lies, the fear, they were all rolled in so deeply together, the performance that came with them was so genuine you almost had to stop and question yourself, “Is he telling the truth this time?”.  But the persistence is slowly and surely paying off now, coupled with amazing teachers and principals at the school who also call him out he’s found himself with less and less avenues to lie and more of an understanding about telling the truth.

Unfortunately the lying doesn’t stop and the behaviours can continue to manifest in other ways. Two years on now he still lies, but we can call him out on them more honestly, he can accept it, digest it and fess up more quickly. The lies have died down to general wrong doings and misdemeanours and these days it can take a simple “Mate, you’re lying, tell the truth” and within minutes we have the truth or a slightly more truthful version of it nonetheless. 

Alas the behaviour manifests and brings us to the prison state, we have moved onwards from impulsive lying and upwards to impulsive theft. It’s inexplicable and one of the most challenging tasks at present, a behaviour we expected to see years before that is rearing it’s head now. 
From other children’s lunches to toys, erasers, money, phones and trinkets. Lately anything that’s not nailed down within the school has been open slather for captain Klepto. We can’t figure out what’s triggering it or why and it’s something he can’t seem to articulate either, but at present, it’s constant.

I must give him credit, the moves are bold and the lies are top notch. From the toys that other children apparently just gave him “because they didn’t want them”, to the phone which he stole and successfully hid inside his classroom for 3 days and the money he stole from the principals desk and craftily hid in his shoes, the boy is smart. But we keep catching him and we keep having to call him out, we have to dish out the consequences over and over again doing everything we can to stop the stealing and the lying, hopefully soon it will stop. 

Picking him up from school isn’t a simple task lately, he has to wait in the classroom or be escorted to the office to wait for us, he’s not allowed to walk from class to the office unattended as he only needs about 30 seconds to locate something and take it. Once we arrive we have to check pockets, shoes & socks, we have to check every pocket in his bag and his lunch box, then go back in to the classroom and check his desk, his pencil case and the surrounding areas. Once the checks are done we have to gather the days takings and hand them over to the principal for collection and distribution back from whence they came. 
It’s exhausting. 
But at the end of the day it’s progress, for him we’re passing his test.
We’re proving that no matter what he does, we will still love him, no matter how much he lies, we will still love him and that he will never be made to leave us. We can only continue with the dedication, love and consistency that he needs to feel safe and loved. 

There’s another post to come on school work and his academic progress, but yesterday we hit the highest of highs in our progress with him at school. Since he started school he has never passed a report card. Every single report card has come back with flat D’s across the board, the focus had been on attendance and participation and not yet on achievement.

Nearly two years on and his report card was back, this time with 3 B’s!! Many C’s!! and only 2 D’s!! He’s achieved something that he’s never been able to do in his life and we couldn’t be prouder. 
These past 2 years have been the hardest thing we’ve ever done and to see a result like this is incredible, it just makes it all worthwhile and makes us realize that this little man has so much ahead of him. We just cant wait to see what his future holds. 

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