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.
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”.
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.
Two of the all to familiar triggers for behavioural issues experienced by children in care are rejection and the fear of failure, for some it can be all consuming, overshadowing their lives in the same manner which someone with OCD may experience. They yearn for a level of acceptance and love that they have yet to experience in their lives and with each step forward for them comes with it a very real fear that they may fail, fail to impress, fail to achieve, fail to succeed. From getting dressed in the morning to reading a book or writing a simple sentence, each of these things present themselves as a challenge to a child that they may fear they are incapable of fulfilling, creating a cross section in their decision making, do I attempt this? or do I give up and cry because failure comes about so often, how can I possibly succeed?
Rejection comes hand in hand here, all too often their lives are established on the foundations of rejection, they feel that people will not like, cannot like them or love them. When they take steps forward and attempt to make these things happen and they feel a sense of rejection or failure the consequences for them can vary from the quietest and most gentle of reactions, to behavioural explosions that leave you reeling and wondering what just happened?
In the first few weeks as we got to know him we would visit his place for short visits and he would visits ours in turn, working our way towards sleepovers and eventually moving in with us. During his first visit I remember all to clearly experiencing his fear of failure and rejection, which took us completely by surprise.
He arrived for his first visit at our house, wide eyed and eager, wanting to know every detail about everything;
“How long have you lived here?”
“How many rooms are there?”
“Like, um, do you have lots of visitors?”
“Will you live here forever?”
“Which room will be my room?”
Once he was satisfied he knew everything he wanted to know and we had eaten (Spag Bol, his favourite), we decided to play Mario Kart, an easy enough game which he was incredibly excited about. He was so excited, he didn’t seem like he could lose the smile on his face but we didn’t have the heart to really compete against him, we just wanted to enjoy our time together. Admittedly however, his skill level wasn’t quite up to speed with ours and after a few races he eventually lost. Before we could figure out what had happened the controller was on the ground, he was on his feet and out the door as fast as his little feet could take him.
We were slightly bewildered as to what had just transpired and looked to the youth worker who was sitting in on the visit, he reassured us it was ok and went out to see if he could calm him down. It didn’t take too long before he was back inside and ready to play again, meanwhile we were still scratching our heads, had we done something wrong? As they left we both got huge hugs whilst being strongly reminded of our next visits and requests for food and entertainment and even a promise to call him in the mean time, we also got a moment to debrief with the youth worker as to what had transpired.
He felt like a failure, in that moment when he was so desperately trying to impress us and show us how fantastic he could be he had felt his inability to beat us in the game had shown some weakness, he thought we wouldn’t like him, we wouldn’t want him, he had completely blown his chance as living with us. In that moment he’d decided to give up and leave, feeling rejected and like a failure, over such a minor thing.
We were to find out over the course of the next 2 years that this behaviour would become all too familiar, particularly socially around other children as he struggled to make friends and adjust. Situations where other children didn’t show interest in playing with him could trigger complete meltdowns involving swearing, kicking, screaming and breaking of poor defenceless inanimate objects. It was something you could never predict and something we could only try to work with in building his confidence through love and support.
Ultimately what we couldn’t predict was the leaps and bounds that he could progress with this behaviour, in the early days sitting and discussing these things with youth workers, teachers, case workers and the like we were reminded that things like after school care, parties, sleepovers and such would be out of the question for a considerable amount of time, they reminded us that it would be a very long time before anyone expected him to be able to break down these barriers and work past his fear of rejection and failure.
Proving people wrong is always a great thing and today it really feels like we have, the fear is still there, but it is worked through, he is confident and brave, he tackles it head on and when it hits him he works as hard as his little mind can to process it and deal with it in the best way he can.
We did something with him last weekend that they never thought we would be able to do, we went to a party.
It was a great night, a grown ups party that was planned to accommodate the 15 odd children that were in attendance as well, including a jumping castle. Yes, that’s right, a jumping castle all to themselves.
It was fantastic to watch him ditch as soon as humanly possible and take off to the jumping castle and photo booth with the other kids, returning only to be fed and watered at appropriate intervals, until an hour in when I spotted him power walking through the event, that steely look in his eyes that I knew something had happened. He reached me and I managed to stop him;
“The older boys just stopped playing with me! They went outside and they said I can’t go with them!”
“That’s right mate, you can’t, but it’s ok there are still heaps of other kids to play with, they’ll be back”
Two years ago he might have exploded, blown up, thrown things, cried, kicked or screamed, instead that night he gave me that indignant look that I thought was generally reserved for teenagers who’s parents don’t know anything particularly useful in times of great importance, turned on his heel and headed back to the jumping castle. I followed closely behind and watched him march over behind it, take some deep breaths, mutter something underneath his breath and low and behold he went back to the other kids, who by this stage were now mostly young ladies. I kept my eyes on him for a few more minutes, he was still calm and he had even started smiling again, the other boys seemed to be furthest from his mind now.
Several minutes later he strode up to me with a proud pronouncement;
“Dad, I’m going to get a date!”
Then turned on his heel and marched off.
To my utter amazement he asked 3 young ladies who all politely turned him down, each time without missing a beat he continued on until lucky girl number 4 conceded or was won over by his dashing outfit purchased by his stylish fathers and carefully chosen by himself for this evenings event. Regardless he had single handedly taken 3 consecutive rejections and persevered without incident, we couldn’t have been more proud. As he marched over to us hand in hand with the young lady he proudly announced upon his arrival;
“Dad! I found one! This is….”
He turned to her, “What’s your name again?”
“Jessica, this is Jessica, she’s my date!”
Off they strode together to the dance floor, where they proceeded to dance hand in hand, complete arms length apart awkwardly swaying side by side for about 2 complete songs before two of the mothers intervened to help them shake it up and enjoy the dancing.
He has had some pretty adorable moments from time to time, but this was certainly near the top of the list.
Although the date was adorable, the simple fact that he was able to socialize, take risks, feel rejected, handle his emotions and continue to enjoy himself was a beautiful testament to the incredible steps forward he has taken in his journey. He is complex, beautiful, daunting, challenging, emotional, moving, draining, loving, caring, thoughtful, dramatic and everything in between and most specially, he is our son.