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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.