The right words
Using the right words with any child is a challenge. The way they see the world, the way by which they translate your language and actions into something which, for them, is understandable. All of this leaves you thinking that sometimes you need to engage an interpreter.
That's certainly been our experience. Indeed with our children we discovered that their histories, and their adoption, added additional potential for confusion. On many occasions we have chosen our language very carefully to ensure that the message gets through correctly and that it is clearly understood.
Soetimes of course we get it wrong. On other occasions we have got it right. And sometimes the result is just very funny.
I've talked a little about how our son viewed having same sex parents in 'I kept expecting a mummy to appear.' Around that time, as he discovered his place in and what constituted our family, he also began to describe the neglect and abuse he had suffered at the hands of his birth parents.
His foster carers had, quite appropriately, identified themselves by their Christian names at all times to our son. We had been introduced to him as Dad J and Daddy N. He therefore, at the beginning of his life with us, still referred to his birth parents as 'Mummy and Daddy.' He would however prefix their names with adjectives or adverbs all of which denoted some violence of some kind. 'Fighting Mummy, Angry Daddy, Hitting Mummy and Daddy,' are just some of the examples.
As the weeks passed it became clear to us that this began to bother our son. He would still refer to his birth parents in the way I've described, but increasingly he referred to us by our Christian names only. We found ourselves correcting him often.
Our son began to become slightly agitated around using our names and even seemed to start avoiding situations where he would be forced to do so. In turn this concerned us as we appeared to be struggling to get him to identify us as his parents, fearing that the use of our first names placed us, in his mind, in a similar category as his foster parents.
The situation reached a head when J took our little boy for a walk one Sunday afternoon.
Our son began to talk about "Hitting Mummy and Daddy. J let him talk for a while and then gently raised the question of who our son felt his family to be.
Our son seemed confused and couldn't give a very straight answer.
J decided a different, more direct approach was needed. "You know that Daddy and I are your parents now. We are your family and you will be with us forever," he said. "Hitting Mummy and Daddy are not your parents any longer, and they never will be. I think we should call them by a different name from now on," J continued. "I think we should call them by their first names?"
Our son thought for a little while before replying: "A & B are not my parents any more, you and Daddy are. That's a good idea."
This change of name for his birth parents had a revelatory and a revolutionary effect on our son. He settled and also bonded to us more smoothly, and we believe more quickly, once that very simple change had been made.
So from that day on we have always referred to our son's birth parents, and now our daughter's too, by their Christian names. By doing so it places them firmly in the past, along with social workers and foster carers. By ensuring that the only people in our children's lives called Dad or Daddy are J and I, we have also rooted our children with us as a family unit.
Our son started school about a year after he had come to live with us.
For the first couple of mornings he went in quite happily, reporting at the end of his first day how interesting and how much fun it had been. At the end of the second day our son was a lot quieter. initially we put it down to tiredness. He went in to school quite happily on the third morning, but was still quiet and withdrawn when he returned home that afternoon.
Recognising the signs of there being an issue we began to investigate with our son what might be wrong. Had he been told off? Had someone been mean to him? Did he just not like the routine?
Our little boy was very clear that everything was OK and avoided the subject if we tried to bring it up.
At the end of his first week we were sufficiently concerned to make an appointment with the teacher to discuss what might be upsetting him.
I explained to our son that morning we would be going to school early to have a chat with his teacher. He asked why and I explained that we felt there was something wrong and we wanted to make sure that everything was OK with his teacher. I went on to say that he would be at this school for some time and therefore making sure he was completely happy was something that we really wanted to do.
"So I don't have to move house?" Our son asked.
I didn't understand. "No, of course you don't," I replied, "why did you ask that?"
"My teacher told me I had to move house and go and live in Europe," he said.
I was incredulous. "You don't have to move anywhere, you're part of our family forever. I think you've not understood something she said."
It then dawned on me what had happened, and our conversation that morning with his teacher confirmed my suspicions. The school divided into houses, each of the houses being named after a continent. The house to which our son had been assigned was Europe.
Very clearly our son had totally misunderstood the purpose of this and believed that his teacher had been speaking about a physical move of house. Something that would probably never have occurred to the vast majority of children. To our son however, who had become used to being moved between foster homes, it seemed entirely possible this would be happening to him again.
We therefore found ourselves the following afternoon snuggled under blankets on the sofa, eating popcorn and watching Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. Watching Harry and his friends being placed in their houses by the Sorting Hat put into context the reassurance we, and our son's teacher, had been giving him in the previous 24 hours.
I've talked about how insecurities remain in our children no matter how much reassurance we give them in the post 'You mean you're not sending me away,' writing this story down has reminded me yet again how that remains the case.
Of course language can also sometimes go hysterically wrong. In our case some of these mistakes have now entered our family lexicon.
For example, since our first Christmas with our son 'instructions' have been, and always will be, 'destructions.' A misnomer that's quite appropriate given my cack-handed inability to construct anything.
Within reach of our home there are two drive through take-aways. A KFC and a McDonalds. Not our food of choice by any stretch of the imagination, they remain a treat for the children or an emergency stop if we are late returning from a day out.
Driving home later one afternoon we found this to be the case. A fast food meal offered the immediate sustenance our son needed to combat his increasingly grumpy state. Which one to visit? We gave him the choice.
"F*cky Dried Chicken!" Our son shouted from the back seat.
We sat in silence, torn between guffawing and being appalled. We chose to say nothing, not alerting him to his mistake in case it drew attention to rude word he had inadvertently used.
Our son has always been able to pronounce 'McDonalds.' The same can not be said of our daughter. When she joined our family she struggled with the name, her closest guess becoming the name by which we now know it, HotDonalds.
So now, whenever we need to choose between fast food restaurants our children argue over F*cky Dried Chicken or HotDonalds. Names I suspect will stick for many years to come.
And long may they, their uniqueness helps, amongst many other things, to identify and bind us as a family unit.