We always thought it was supposed to get easier when they turned eighteen. There was never an assumption that was when the job was done. Raising children is something we all know we’re committed to for life, so we always knew it would be a long journey. This milestone was just supposed to see things become a little easier, in some ways it is, in many ways it’s not.
Nine years is along time by any stretch of the imagination. Many things can happen in that time. For him he’s gone from an energetic nine year old to a sullen teenager, lost in the void of technology and quite often seeming so lost from us. Disconnected from the rest of the world we stress and we wonder if he’ll be ok. Is he prepared for the real world? Is the real world prepared for him? Other days it’s like that nine year old never left and he bounces through the house full of unstoppable energy, blasting his music and singing, badly.
For a child in care it’s often a terrifying age, many children in care are simply asked to move on at 18 allowing for new children to take their place. It’s a sad reality, but one we’ve been shocked to see for the last two years. Regularly the foster agency and the department have gone to great lengths to engage him in “transition from care” programs that are designed to address that many of these young people will essentially be left to fend for themselves at this age. This includes information sessions on housing, Centrelink, basic living skills and access to post care government support, it’s great that these services are there, but terrible that these young people are left in that position so often. We’ve shielded him from these making sure he knew he will always be our family, ensuring he knew everything would be ok and we will support him and provide him with what he needs to know. But more than that there is the angst that bubbles beneath the surface, the fears of the future, what does real independence look like? Will he find the answers he seeks?
With the removal of departmental barriers access to family becomes his responsibility and with that comes a fear or rejection that seems to stifle him. In turn, coming of age means access to his departmental file, something he desperately hopes will give him more details of his history, to fill the gaps in his memory and help answer where he came from. While we try to prepare him for the disappointment, we know it will hit heavy when that document can’t provide what he needs. Collectively we hold our breath and wait.
Life is still a battle, but the battleground is changing.
However it is not without its successes, there have been many milestones to celebrate that many never expected him to see. Driving his own car is a freedom he loves, only taking 3 attempts, he passed his test and has access to his own car. Looking on filled with hope and terror the first time he drove out of the driveway on his own we could only think back to the fear that must have gripped our own parents years ago. That question again, will he be ok?
Life’s biggest achievements for him have come with education, reaching milestones that put him in the smallest of minorities. As we discussed with a recent community visitor shortly before he came of age, the rates of children in care who graduate high school are incredibly low. Such a rarity is it, that an event like a graduation for a child in care warrants its own celebration, to go on and study at university as well is almost unheard of. Again, he is breaking the mould.
Thanks to a remarkable high school he reached graduation in one piece. Graduating with a Diploma in Business and achieving an OP exit equivalent of 8 (That’s 5 higher than me). You couldn’t wipe the smile off his face that graduation day, nor ours. Clouds parted and everything looked more hopeful once again. It was early one morning a month or so later he walked into the living room and just looked at us blankly.
“I just got a text, I got in.”
First round offers for university had been distributed, he’d received an offer for his first preference. Shock, awe, fear and happiness washed over him in equal measure, the future suddenly looked different again, but brighter.
Will he ever be prepared for what the future brings? Probably not.
Are any of us ever prepared properly? Probably not.
Now it’s time for us to be proud, let him take the reigns and watch him shine.
Sometimes you can choose to take a hiatus from the hustle and bustle of life, but sometimes life can also choose to put you on a hiatus and you’re left looking at your life from a distance, evaluating everything you thought you knew.
It’s a struggle to get perspective, looking back on how far you’ve come and feeling like the end game is further away than it’s ever been whilst contemplating if there is ever to be an end game is the hardest thing.
Life changes and throws you curve balls again and again, but it is tenacity and love that gets you through and our little family has that in abundance.
He stands at 6 feet, 2 inches, eyes dark and brooding, his unruly curly hair poking out from underneath his backwards turned cap, he smiles shyly at compliments as his eyes light up with pride like clouds parting from across the sun. It’s been a few weeks, I remind him he needs to shave again, he scowls.
Although he’s only an inch taller than us both, it begins to feel like he towers over us now. He’s tall and goofy, still a bubbling bundle of energy that seems to have an endless power source as he powers ahead through life. Despite his energy he grunts and drags himself around the house at the best of times, sometimes forcing a “good morning” or a “hello” out of him is more of a struggle than it used to be to get him to take a shower of a morning. But underneath this sullen facade is a tenacious young man who’s proven his resilience against life is stronger than that of anyone three or four times his age. He is truly unstoppable.
Teenage years are hard, that’s generally a given but for him it seems as though they have been compounded, forced him to grow up quicker than his brain may have been ready for and made him learn life lessons about fearlessness, forgiveness and perseverance that take grown adults years to conquer.
We’ve survived four years of high school so far, with two left to go. Four years and five schools is not an easy road to travel, it’s creates more baggage than someone his age should have to shoulder but perhaps it was a journey he needed to take to help him discover a sense of self, independence and identity. He’s discovered the cruelty of other children that struggle to understand the new kid who’s wired a little differently but also the struggle of an education system bursting at the seems with kids needing assistance and finding their time for a kid who just doesn’t quite get it isn’t as high as it should be. Ducking and weaving through schools and the nightmares of social stigma and academic struggle has been hard, but he’s continually overcome and through it all he’s discovered so much of the good in this world. The friendships that last beyond schools, the teachers who truly do care and inject a sense of self belief and the love of a family so large and unconditional it takes my breath away.
After four years, he may have finally settled, just a little.
School resumes soon, but with a different twist. This year, he’ll enter this senior years as a school leader, a mentor to the year seven students. It’s the tiniest journey that he’s pushed himself through so ferociously, fighting his own demons of self doubt, learning self control, empathy and understanding. To be recognised, trusted and given the opportunity to prove himself like this at school is a first and although he’s buried his pride about it as deeply as possible, for fear of letting out his real emotions, he’s proud, so damn proud of himself and he should be. Not only does he start the year afresh, he enters senior school having finally passed every single subject and having no suspensions for an entire term. An achievement we all quietly cheer for, he shares the pride of those around him, but would prefer to play minecraft than talk about it. He’s been tutored by some amazing, caring and talented people who he sadly left behind before moving schools, they set him up with not only the foundations of the skills he needed, but the confidence to try, to have achieved without them was even more rewarding.
Friendships have grown and in turn has his confidence. Spending his 16th birthday at dreamworld with four very different friends was an exceptional validation for his self esteem and an amazing testament to his growth as a young man. The experience of friendship as a permanency and not a fleeting idea or moment has shattered a wall of isolation he built around himself for so long and has seen him realise his worth as a person to other people is far more than he imagined.
Independence is his latest badge of honour for the new year, over the holidays securing not one, but two jobs at local restaurants waiting tables and washing dishes. Despite his protestations at the thought of working in a kitchen again the pay cheque at the end of the week turned his objections around. He has independence and money to finance his new addiction, his phone. A shiny 2nd hand IPhone 5c has become his latest toy, over taking his life as he discovers the relentless joy of having music plugged into his brain on a constant cycle. Whilst it’s a draining addiction it also gives him his own little ways of communicating since he seems incapable of words.
From the depths of the dungeon that is his bedroom there is silence, except for the faint screech of his headphones as they blare at full volume, from the verandah where I sit drinking my coffee in my own solitude my phone buzzes.
“I love you dad”
He may not be perfect, he may not be “there” (wherever “there” is) but for the first time, in maybe a long time, he is happy and safe again.
In 2013 I was granted a fantastic opportunity, our local community television station was creating an GLBTIQ talk show, QTV Brisbane, I was selected as one of the hosts. The program was a great experiment for our community and a really fantastic opportunity to do something fun and entertaining. I got the opportunity to work with an amazing team of people to put the program together and they were incredibly understanding when I asked if it would be ok for Flash to come along to some of the filming. Thinking this would be a great time for him to get to see something really cool and interesting they graciously allowed him to attend and watch, providing he was on his best behaviour.
Having just started high school he was becoming a typical teenage boy, into everything and with an ever growing opinion about how he was always right. Naturally however he thought the idea of coming to see the show being filmed was “really cool.” After we’d recorded a few episodes and were into the swing of things I bundled him into the car with me to head to the studio.
Perhaps I’d oversold the idea a little bit, he’d probably gone into the experience thinking there would be bright lights, bustling film crews and a whole lot of “Lights, Camera, Action!” When we arrived to the small studios with a cast and crew of less than ten tucked into a small community TV station you could read the bemused disappointment on his fact that said “This is it?” We weren’t exactly on a high end budget, but we had a tight schedule and lots of work to get to, tonights topic: Drag Queens.
We’d had a chat in the car on the way about what the show would be about tonight and what a drag queen was, he didn’t find it that hard to understand. “So it’s a boy?” “Yes” “And he’s dressed like a girl?” “Yup” “Can’t people tell?” “Well, not always, but it’s more about creating a character.” “Like an actor?” “That’s right.” “Cool”
Later we were sitting in the production meeting discussing notes for the show as he looked around earnestly, bored really, looking for something to do. After a knock on the door in walked Melody, with heels and hair she towered at about 7 foot tall as she strode in.
He eyed her up and down with a kind of wide eyed wonder as she did her introductions with everyone, striking up conversation as we prepared for the show. He looked at me sideways,
“Would you like to go and say hi?” “Sure!”
He trotted on over with me and exchanged introductions, he warmed up pretty quickly. “Would you like a photo with Melody?” “Yes please!” “Want me to pick you up?” She asked “Sure!”
With that she swung down and picked him up in both arms holding him like a baby as he grinned from ear to ear. Laughing he turned to her, “You know I know you’re just a boy in a dress right?”
I almost choked on my coffee but she laughed it off as she put the cheeky bugger down and he trotted off to find something else to do.
As we got ready for the nights show our producer Steve and I sat down with him to give him the run down on how to behave for the night. Covered in tattoos, piercings and facial hair Steve was a formidable straight main with an unshakeable passion for supporting our community. He took Flash under his wing but put him in his place pretty firmly as he showed him around the studio.
Once the camera’s finished rolling I looked around as Flash walked back into the room. “Everything ok sweetheart? Did you like the show?” “Yeah… it was ok, pretty cool…” Casually evasive, he was up to something, but I couldn’t put my finger on it.
We all worked to pack down the set, gather our things and head back to the production room for a debrief. As we became enthralled in the conversations around the episode and plans for next week, his little eyes began to flutter as he grew tired. Suddenly there was a knock on the door, a uniformed police officer stepped through revealing several officers behind him.
“Is everyone ok in here?” “Yes, we’re all fine mate, is there something we can help with” replied Steve “Well… we received a call for help from this building, we’ve been through the place and you’re the only ones here.” “A call for help?” “Someone dialled 000, said ‘help me’ and hung up”
Every set of eyes turned in unison towards a certain someone suddenly very awake in his chair looking around the room in wonder as to who this mystery caller might be.
Steve looked at him, then at me. “Maybe we should step out for a moment?”
I followed him out with the officers into the hall shaking my head in exasperation. “I’m so sorry, we all know who this was.”
The boys in blue weren’t impressed, Steve was not impressed, I was not impressed.
Flash, was packing it. “I didn’t do it!” Which was his code for “I definitely did it. Please don’t arrest me.”
Thankfully the police were gracious in their departure and saved him from a drilling, passing it on to me instead. However he wasn’t saved the wrath of Steve who was chilling and calm in expressing his disappointment but graciously allowing him to return again, providing he was kept under observation at all times.
One would think it was a lesson learnt, but who are you kidding? He’s a teenage boy, this was our snapshot of the future ahead of poor decision making, stupid pranks and an absence of logic and forethought that only teenage boys can truly possess.
Sometimes it’s really easy for people to forget that the child who walks and talks beside us hasn’t been there forever. Obviously strangers on the street wouldn’t know any better but plenty who know us know that he hasn’t been ours since birth. Yet, this doesn’t stop them from dropping some of the silliest one liners on us that make us shake our heads.
We weren’t responsible for teaching him to walk and talk, but you’d be forgiven sometimes for thinking that he might have had a had in it. You see our son, precious as he is, when he came to us had a specific fascination with a pop star that’s well, somewhat contentious to those with a more discerning musical taste.
Now when I say fascination, I may be laying it on lightly, obsession may be a little more of an accurate description.
The artist in question, is one Justin Bieber.
Yes that’s right, the hair flipping, high voiced “baby” crooning, panty dropping, teen super star of the world.
Our boy is a Belieber , he has the Bieber fever and we realised pretty quickly there was nothing we could do about it.
In his scarce collection of belongings that came with him from his old house to ours came a throng of belieber material. Two copies of his movie on DVD, his albums (yes there was MORE than one?), posters and even, wait for it, the doll. Yes, there was a JB Doll, pint sized and plastic just like the boy it was created from in all it’s glory.
The one and only Bieber
But this was a shameful obsession for Flash, one approached with great trepidation. You see he had seen and he had heard the word from his peers, the Biebs wasn’t the coolest person in the world around school, well not for the boys anyway. So his approach was always like his own little coming out, he had to test the waters, poke and prod and search for a reaction first.
It was one of those things he had to drop in the first time we met as we asked him about the things he enjoyed, disliked etc.
“Yeah, I like my bike and my cars and stuff and I like music…”
“What sort of music do you like” *Silence…*
“Well you know Justin Bieber, I don’t like him at all! He’s so lame but ALL the girls love him.”
His youth worker at the time casually raised his eyebrows at us with one of those looks, we smiled.
“Really? We’ve heard he’s really popular, lots of people like him” *Silence…*
He looked up.
“Yeah, well I do like some of his stuff, he’s kinda cool…”
An admission, that was like releasing an avalanche.
“Well that’s pretty cool isn’t it?”
You could see the relief of the burden of judgement wash over him.
The thing about this little obsession was different to the ones we had over pop stars as kids. It wasn’t like that time I had scrimped and save to buy the Hanson video, so I could replay it over and over and over to decide which one I wanted to by my boyfriend.
Like the N’Sync and Backstreet boy posters that adorned my walls as a teenager and the slight obsession I had over Nick Carter for the better part of a decade.
This was an idol fascination. He truly looked up to the Bieb’s as someone that he wanted to “be” or at least be like. In all of the simplicity of his childhood and his search for attention and acceptance he was thinking “If I can just be like this guy, then more people will like me” which was essentially some smart thinking. He’d done the math, millions of girls like this guy, so wouldn’t it make sense to be like him? If he could master the magic of the Beibs then surely more people would love him, right?
However this only spelled itself out in the most painful and entertaining of ways.
We had a small BBQ with one half of our family shortly after he’d moved in and once he had them gathered in the houseand was feeling sufficiently comfortable he figured it was time to pull out his signature move.
“Ummm Excuse me, can everyone stay here for a minute, I need to show you my dance.”
His captive audience awaited.
The music started. “Opps! No! Wrong song! Just wait!”
Stop. Start. Run out.
What followed was impressive.
He entered down the hallway, baseball cap pulled down over his face, plastic guitar across his back. *Stop. Head down. Dramatic pause*
The head slowly rose upwards as he stared at his adoring crowd, the performance was upon us.
He knocked it out of the ball park, A plus for effort. He memorised some of the top Bieber moves, the air grab, the pointing at the adoring fan in the audience, even some of the actual dance moves. BAM.
The hat flew off across the room, he ran, jumped and slid across the room on his knees, the guitar came round as he smashed out his best solo effort, his adoring crowd cheered appropriately.
The song ended, the whole family applauded. “Wait, I have to show you my next dance!”
He proceeded to play a different song and entered the room dramatically again.
This time, performing the same exact dance, move for move, to a different song. His repertoire was strong, but not diverse.
Turns out this was a habit formed at school of all places.
On Fridays in a somewhat “Show and Tell” style segment they were allowed to chose things to show and do for the class. Apparently it had become a ritual that on Fridays he would perform his dance to the class, the exact same dance, each week.
To their credit his classmates never mocked him or teased him and in amongst all his anxiety and swirling mass of thoughts and ideas in his head he had the confidence to get up and do it week after week.
Therein lies the conundrum.
How to teach this exuberant child that has the confidence and the resilience to get up and perform like this to his peers and to relative strangers about how to reign it in and harness it without shaming him. At the end of the day there’s nothing wrong with his choices, he could be singing the Spice Girls and wearing a TuTu for all we could care. But this was about drawing the line of obsession and reading peoples interest and engagement to appropriate the best time and place and the best performance, plus work on that choreo just a touch.
Those were the questions we started to have over the weeks, the subtle poking and prodding.
“That’s a really great set of dance moves, but I noticed they were really similar to the last set, have you thought how you could change them up between songs?”
Finding different ways to shift his thinking and gauge his understanding of how people digest and perceive him was and still is an ongoing process but an important one. Later down the track he would end up in speech and drama classes that saw him thrive, like one of his fathers his seems born to perform.
But ultimately what was most frustrating at times was those little things that sometimes people would say, those little “WTF” moments. After they’d see his dance (he’d do it for strangers if we let him), we’d hear the odd laugh or smirk; “Clearly you can see he’s learning from you” “Apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”
This would be all well and good if perhaps we’d raised him from a baby, but these comments sometimes could be deriding our confidence in raising him to be his own person. Not to mention our general disdain for Justin Bieber and combined talent at being terrible dancers, this part to him was all him and those comments serve to almost strip him of his identity by playing it back onto us.
He’d had nine years to formulate his own personality which was thriving and to have anything “flamboyant” about it thrown back to the fact he now had two gay dads could be frustrating. The comments would never come with malice, always in jest, usually from those we loved and treasured most. Still they added more weight to the growing complexities of raising a very energetic young man in a world where all eyes were on us and who we were raising him to be.
That’s not to say we don’t see our behaviours moulded on him on a daily basis. As the years go by we see him growing and developing, picking up pieces from the world around him. We hear his language start to shift, his vocabulary and his enunciation start to change to become reflective of ours. Sitting down cross legged one day I looked across to him beside me and it was almost comical, subconsciously he was sitting identically, book in hand with his legs crossed engrossed in the pages as my very own mini me.
It’s not like we walk him up and down the house and teach him how he should walk. “No! Faster! Head up!” “No! Move the hips from side to side!” “But some SASS into it boy!” “And 1 and 2 and 3 and STRUT!” “Be fierce!” “Where’s that pout? And point! Hair toss! And laugh!”
He’s a little person cultivating his own identity, piecing bits together form all the world and around him. Bits will come from us and from others. Whether those bits and pieces come together to make a straight man or a gay man are irrelevant. The only thing we’ll hope for is that they create a confident man capable of being whoever and doing whatever he puts his mind to. Maybe he’ll be the next Bieber one day? Who knows? Anything is possible.
During our time spent in training as preparation for becoming carers we were exposed to a whole world of different situations, they were confronting, emotional and sometimes down right mind boggling. In an effort to try and cover all bases they listed some of the most horrendous, outrageous and depressing things that kids who’ve been in care can do.
Some things were pretty basic, like hoarding food, apparently this was one of the most standard habits. Many children in care, they would tell us, would find comfort and safety in hoarding food in their rooms or other places. They wanted to prepare us for that inevitable moment when we would walk into the room and want to discover what that festering smell was and find a stash of food piled up under the bed. For many it’s a matter of safety, preparation in case something went wrong, for some they never had enough to eat at home and always lived in fear of going hungry again.
Other things involved behaviours, like swearing and running away or detailing how obscure things can trigger traumatic memories and create outbursts or breakdowns. Some things were even more detailed and depressing, but if we were to do down that road you’d need a moment and a few stiff drinks to process it all, that was the confrontational stuff.
But the thing about all this preparation was that it was all “what if’s” and “maybe’s” and “possibilities” because you never ever can know what is going to be around the corner, so the need to try and brief us on everything was high.
Coming out of this training, processing it all and moving forward preparing to look after this little human was daunting. There is always this constant narrative in your head when you see and hear things they do, you’re always thinking “Why? What’s caused this? What’s happening inside that head and how can we fix it?” Then just when you think you might be on top of it they love to throw you a curve ball.
It was a day at the beach.
Dad had to go to work so Daddy had decided a nice day trip to the beach with the dog would be lovely. So bags packed, off they went and enjoyed a lovely afternoon swimming in the surf and mucking around with the four legged child.
Afterwards in the car home a smell started to seep through the car. “Mate… did you fart?” “No! That’s disgusting”
The dog looked up immediately as if to protest her innocence.
It worsened as they got home, something was definitely not right.
So off he was sent to have a shower. “Pass your clothes out when your done and I’ll take them down to get washed” he called out to him.
The door opened and a hand thrust out the dirty beach clothes, the smell was overpowering. “Right, he’s not made it to the bathroom in time or something.”
Habitually he took the clothes down for washing, he checked the underwear and nothing, clean. Then he started to empty the pockets before putting the pants in the wash and as he reached in he felt something unexpected, the penny dropped, he flung the pants on the ground and stepped back.
He’d brought home a turd in his pocket.
That’s right, you read correctly, a turd, in his pocket.
One set of gloves, half a bottle of disinfectant and 3 washes of the offending clothing later we reconvened.
We were stumped, when confronted with the evidence he turned the most innocent eyes upon us and shrugged. “I dunno” “So you were in the water and you needed to go?” “Yeah” “Fair enough, it happens, but why did you bring it back and then home?” “I dunno” “Right… well next time you know you can leave it in the water? Or at least take it back to a bathroom, ok?” “…. so, I’m not in trouble…?” “No mate… lets just try to use a toilet in the future?” “Ok dad”
We went back over the notes, surely we must have missed the section about defecating in his pocket? Nope, nothing.
A few days later we caught up with his psychologist and he laughed, a lot. In all his years, he said, that was a first.
Was there some deep reason at play?
There could have been endless possibilities or reasons but nothing concrete, no textbook to answer the questions, just the never ending mind of this child. Perhaps it was a test?
Whatever it was it certainly taught us that you can never ever be prepared for what’s to come next and always be cautious when doing the washing.
A week ago he walked out of his room, his wide brimmed school hat perched on his head with his curly untameable fringe sticking out over his eyes. His socks were pulled up to his knees awkwardly and his shirt was roughly tucked into his pants, his belt on too tight and his pants pulled too high, I gazed at him and smiled. “What?” He laughed as he looked down. “I just can’t believe it” I said “What? Dad?”
“I can’t believe you’re actually in year 8, already!” I began to tear up a little. “Daaaad” he sighed, do you HAVE to keep saying it? “Do you HAVE to keep getting so big?” “Daddy! Can you make him stop, please. He’s embarrassing!”
It’s a good thing I didn’t get to take him to school, although it was the same school as last year and the same uniform I would have made him stop for several hundred photographs before he got to the classroom. It was just under 4 years ago when we first got to drop him to a year 4 classroom, but watching him prepare for his first full year as a high school student was over whelming.
Only a year ago he began at his new school, a huge change that we had instigated in an effort to get him ready for the challenges of high school. His new school was offering a middle school transition year to help students moving from primary into high school, we had bravely taken the plunge and were terrified. Where we felt terror he felt anxious, a lifetime at the one school whilst fraught with good and many bad experiences had created a sense of comfort, short of moving in with us this was to be the biggest change of his life. In a way it was a severance of the final ties that bound him to his old life, a chance to really start fresh and create a new beginning, which was a thought that played on his mind.
A few days before his first day we were making dinner in the kitchen as he entertained himself in the living room. He was rattling off a million questions about what to expect and we were answering what we could until something we said threw him. “We can’t wait to take you in for your first day tomorrow, we’re so excited and proud of you!”
He went silent.
A moment later his face appeared around the doorway into the kitchen, he looked at us quizzically. “Are you BOTH taking me to school tomorrow?” he queried cautiously. “Well, yes. Of course we are, why wouldn’t we be?” “Oh… well, I thought it would just be one of you…” he cast his eyes downwards. “Is that going to be a problem” I queried?
His eyes remained on the floor. “Well… no…. I guess…” He walked away slowly into the living room again and was quiet.
We turned and looked at each other. It was one of those moments where we didn’t really need words, we’d both reached the same conclusion.
He didn’t want to be the kid who turned up to school with two dads.
Somewhere in our minds we’d prepared for this day.
We knew that at some point there would come a day he may become embarrassed by us or be worried about what people may think of us but we were not prepared for it now. He had never been shameful about us before, we’d watched him meet new kids before and do the explanation; “That’s my dad and that’s my other dad” never with an air of shame, always with pride or simple nonchalance.
Perhaps that was the sting, the turn around in attitude from what was to what is in a heartbeat, it made my head spin and my heart ache.
We sat down over dinner a while later, he picked at his food with his eyes downcast, not saying much. “Mate, do you want to tell us why you don’t want us both there tomorrow?”
He sighed without looking up “No….” “Mate, you need to be honest, you won’t be in trouble but we need to talk about it”
He sighed, again, but his fork down and looked up with tears in his eyes and gave the most unexpected answer. “It’s just… if I turn up to school and everyone sees me with two dads… well… they’re going to know I’m adopted… and they’ll think I’m weird.”
A wave of relief washed over me and I almost had to stop from smiling.
He had definitely been worried about being seen to be different but not for fear of the judgement about having two dads, but for fear of being identified as a child of the foster care system.
His innocence was astounding, where we thought him to be so quick to fear judgement about our lives he had not seen it as a point of difference for judgement but merely an indicator that would give away his own past.
We hugged him tight that night to reassure him that everything would be alright, we could sense the relief that he had got his worries off his chest. A big new chapter lay ahead, with no idea how to navigate it and us as his only guides, it was definitely going to be bumpy ride.
Life is hurtling forwards for us, as per usual, we’re reaching the end of another year and we’re just racing to keep up.
It’s been eventful, dramatic, moving, exhausting and fabulous, I’ve simply lost the time to write about it at all of late.
I have however been offered the opportunity with the Brisbane Powerhouse and the MELT festival in 2015 to present our story, live on stage. It’s an interesting opportunity, I’m not a comedian, but when I saw the opportunity I simply thought that there is so much to our story to tell, only so much can be brought to life using words on a page, what better medium than to speak them?
So on February 12th at 6pm I will take to the stage on my own, Flash isn’t allowed to join us and my darling husband is more terrified of microphones than he is of snakes and spiders. So it will be just me presenting our story, warts and all, in a room full (hopefully) of people to give just that bit more of an insight into what it’s like in the world of Two Dads & Me.
To make it all happen of course we need the love and support of our Brisbane audience, tickets are available for purchase online and are now starting to sell, I would really love to see a full house and really kick this show off with a bang!
You can also spread the word, spread the love and register your attendance via the Facebook event here.
Even better you can use the event to invite your friends and spread the word.
We are just a little show, with a little budget, tickets are going to sell on word of mouth more than anything (They’re only $25 too!) https://www.facebook.com/events/1575423732691546/
Copies of our book will also be available on the night too (finally!).
We look forward to seeing you all there and thank you again for your continued support
Generally I’m a calm, rational and patient parent, after all we’ve been through as a family not much can really shake my patience.
But there’s always that one time, that time were your patience is tested by such inconceivable child logic that you can literally feel your brain on the verge of imploding inside your skull.
Breakfast was finished and the morning off to a lovely start. As I sent him off for a shower I reminded him,
“Don’t forget to back your bag for school when you’re done sweetheart”.
I continued about my morning preparations, listening to his shower medley for the day, consisting of Grease, Adele and Justin Beiber, belted at the top of his lungs of course. The usual morning noises continued, doors and drawers opening, closing, rustling, shaking and squawking. Twenty minutes later he emerged, dressed and ready, school bag in one hand and book in the other.
“I’m ready” he stated as he plonked himself down on the couch and buried his nose into his book, a practice he has taken to of late.
As I returned from the kitchen with his lunch box in hand I asked,
“Have you packed your bag?”
Opening his bag I was baffled to find it was empty, completely empty, barren, not even a single book thrown in for good measure.
“Mate, there’s nothing in here, why did you lie about that?” I queried calmly.
He turned to me with a look of utter bewilderment, a look he conjures up often, for dramatic effect.
“There’s nothing in here” I repeated in exasperation.
“But, I packed it!”
He looked at me with such earnest conviction, the bag was empty, we were the only people in the house, what did he expect me to believe had happened to his bag?
“Mate, if you had packed your bag wouldn’t there be something in it?”
He got up, looked at the bag and gazed at me dumbfounded.
“But, I did pack it!”
“Then where are your books?”
At this point he chose the response that every parent loathes, the one that makes the muscles in your face start to involuntarily twitch and body convulse, he shrugged.
Attempting to maintain some form of composure and not completely lose my mind I asked him,
“If you’d packed your bag, wouldn’t there be something in it it?
Again, as though attempting to tear away shreds of my sanity moment by moment he stared blankly and responded
Blood pressure rising and grey hairs slowly starting to form across my skull, I tried again, surely I could highlight the logic of this situation to him?
“There is nothing in this bag, it is completely empty, no-one else is here to have unpacked it. You have not packed your bag, have you?”
His eyes widened, as they started to glisten with tears his bottom lip started to tremble,
“But… I did!” He sobbed quietly.
Was I missing something? A magical pocket contained within the bag that made all these books seemingly invisible? I walked into his room as calmly as I could, he followed me close behind. There sitting atop his desk were his pile of school books, precariously stacked and completely unmoved from the day before. He stared at them, appearing shocked. The evidence lay before us like a crime scene, untouched and painting the clearest of pictures. Now of course I was going to get a human response!
“There you go, they’re right here. You haven’t packed them mate, it’s plain as day.”
I’m sure he must have been possessed, clearly something other worldly was taking place in his brain, there was no other explanation.
“I did, I packed them!” He exclaimed.
“If you had packed them then they would have been in your bag, they’re not! You’re bag is empty and your books are right here!” I screeched at a volume so high pitched every dog in the neighbourhood started to howl. Any higher and glass would have started to break.
There wasn’t much more of this logic my brain could take, slowly but surely I was starting to doubt my own sanity, was this a Jedi mind game or a war of willpower?
I stared at him for a moment as I took a few deep breaths.
“Mate, I don’t know why you’re continuing to lie about this but right now you need to pack your bag so we can get you to school”.
He went to speak, I had to cut him off.
“No, no more, please just pack your bag, now.”
There was just no logic to this situation, this wasn’t something that he could possibly lie himself out of, the evidence was being presented to him plain as day. Somewhere in his head the lies and the truth were rolling together, somewhere in there perhaps he thought he was telling the truth?
This time there were books in his bag, no magical powers had removed them. We headed to the car and started for school, calmer and ready to settle this before we arrived I figured he was ready to accept the situation.
“Darling, do you understand why dad was getting upset don’t you?”
Eyes downcast and not looking at me, he mumbled a response.
“Great, so mate obviously you could see then that there was nothing in your bag, you clearly hadn’t packed anything in there.”
He must have wanted to push me over the edge, surely, there was no other explanation, he turned and looked at me again.
“I did pack it though” he said quietly.
Slowly and carefully I pulled the car over to a gentle stop on the side of the road. I stared at him intently, trying to read his expression, attempting to find something to give away what was going on in there.
“Mate, ok, do you think that maybe, perhaps, you thought about packing your bag? Maybe you thought about it so much that you just think that you must have packed it, even though you can see that it wasn’t packed? Do you think maybe that is what happened?”
A moment of realisation flickered across his eyes. Either I’d struck the nail on the head or he’d found a way out. Regardless I finally got something.
“Yes…” He murmured.
There’s no telling what happened that morning, what was going on in his head or why he just couldn’t acknowledge what was going on. Regardless it was another lesson in trying to understand his mind.
I called my darling partner to debrief later that day, his response was simple.
“You know, sometimes you need to just pick your battles”.
2014 has been creeping along at a slow and steady pace with so much happening I can barely keep up. I’ve slowly been working on the draft for the book so we can get it out, which has delayed new content for the blog, oh no!
But in the meantime I have been doing some writing in other places.
Most recently I’ve been invited to become a blogger with http://www.gayswithkids.com a great parenting site that I discovered that is filled with blogs by Two dad families as well, there are some truly beautiful stories there, so please head on over to check them out.
Recently I also submitted a piece with the Star Observer, as it was a first time piece for the Star it recaps some of our story that we’ve already covered so far, but also contains some little extras, I’ve included it below.
Don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for the release of our book, which will be able to be purchased online around the world!
Three years ago at 25, life was racing along at a pace I could barely keep up with. I was working 70-hour weeks and powering through a seemingly unstoppable social life. It was busy, it was hectic, it was great — but there was always that lingering knowledge something more was about to come.
As I write this, it’s a Friday afternoon at around 3.30pm. After a day of working through a pile of work strewn around my office at home, I hear the car door close and the slow and steady footsteps of my husband ascending the stairs, followed very closely by a very quick and excited set of footsteps behind him.
The front door creaks open. “We’re home” he calls out.
The excited footsteps continue through the house, and the cheeky smile of my 12-year-old son emerges around the doorway of my office: “Dad, I’ve got a surprise for you!”
He drops his school bag on the floor and starts rummaging through it. “Don’t look!” he says.
He searches some more and comes up with his treasured possession: a wooden shield, with the crest in the centre comprising of a small copper press image of a pokeball. He hands it to me, glowing with pride.
“I made it for you! Do you like it?” he asks.
There’s no questioning it. I love it.
He then trotts about the house to set himself up for his afternoon routine, preparing to get to work on his tutoring before we have Friday night take out and a movie night at home. It’s part of his routine. A routine that gives him stability, love and support — and gives us a sense of family.
How this all came to be is not a story you would usually expect. Most stories about gay families usually revolve around IVF treatments, surrogates, overseas trips and adoptions. Foster care is not an option many people consider when they think of same-sex parent families. The system is littered with horror stories, inaccuracies and assumptions. However, for us it has lead to a life of love and hope that we could never have expected.
In Queensland, our laws are slightly different to other states and for the most part couples I’ve spoken to have always told me that because they know it’s illegal for same-sex couples to adopt here, they had assumed fostering held the same restrictions.
While legally there are no restrictions, the differences in processes and intentions are what separate fostering from anything else. You don’t come into fostering with the intention of settling down and creating your own family so to speak, but it’s a system you enter because you’re prepared to do something for someone else. It’s a system that can be arduous and bogged down in paperwork and departmental mechanics, but it’s an experience you will never regret.
Our situation is rather unique. We didn’t know that we would end up with a child who would be with us for the rest of his childhood.
About 30 per cent of children in foster care never return home, with the other 70 per cent part of a reunification process.
Our son’s history is long and unpleasant, but his resilience and tenacity is astounding and his mind is sharp, remembering and questioning everything as only a child can and testing the boundaries around him to the best of his ability.
He took every opportunity to test these limits when he first moved in. Mornings turned into dramatic scenes like something from a movie. Asking him to brush his teeth meant that he would run away down the street, half undressed and screaming. Introducing consequences and boundaries within the house saw kicking and screaming, holes appearing in walls. There was also a day he decided to try and jump from his two-storey high bedroom window.
But we persevered.
When he came to us, he had lived in a residential care house, a small three-bedroom house where he lived alone, with no other children and only a handful of youth workers who would work shifts that started and finished at 2pm before the next would take over to care of him.
When we visited the house in the early days, it was one of the saddest places I’d ever visited.
Now, we have bought a house that we all call our own, complete with a sandpit and a large drooling canine. It’s not only our home, but the first home he has ever known.
He has his “dad” and “daddy” and for the first time in his life has come to know what it is to be loved. Through all the ups and the downs we’ve continued to love and support him and the terrible behaviour began to desist.
His life has changed and so has ours. The three of us have come together to create a family, in what was perhaps the least-expected manner. It’s been a long hard road, but worth every step.
So next time you consider your options for your future, have a think, is fostering something you could consider?
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;
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.