What doesn't destroy you makes your stronger
Writing this blog about our adoption journey I've tried to continually balance the sadder parts of our children's stories with the truly uplifting experience our becoming a family has been for all of us.
That led me to think how, with very few exceptions, the negative stories always do have a positive alongside them. Be it that we have created our own positivity from the challenge, or that the bad times ultimately have a positive outcome.
When J and I talk about our experience of adoption to groups of prospective adopters, (as we do for some of our local adoption teams and private agencies), we always try to emphasise how, no matter how bad the experience, our children have come through it and, ultimately, it has made them stronger.
To make my point I'm afraid I have to remind you of some of the sad bits.
Between them our children have suffered neglect. They have been left on their own for considerable periods, left with people they didn't know, abandoned in public places not knowing where their birth parents were.
They have suffered physical and verbal abuse. They've been hit, stabbed with pencils, force fed, dangled out of upper storey windows.
They've also witnessed considerable violence. They've seen the people they love and care for hurt one another. They've seen them engage in adult activity that must have seemed both strange and frightening.
And at the time of their entry into care system they have been removed from birth parents who, no matter how badly they treated our son and daughter, were their only source of constancy and stability. The circumstances of their removal have been profoundly shocking in themselves.
Finding, at last, some stability and comfort they were still moved between foster families, sometimes for respite, sometimes permanently. They were aware throughout that time too that this must, at some point, come to an end. That eventually they would move again to another unfamiliar family and home, albeit one where they would live forever.
All of this is heart-wrenchingly sad. To think of it makes my stomach tighten to this day.
But let me now give you the uplifting part of this story and I implore you to focus on this.
Our children are funny, quirky, clever, confident, emotionally intelligent, independent and resourceful young people. In many respects they are mature well beyond their years. They are incredibly resourceful and their confidence surprises and impresses me daily. They make me truly, enormously proud.
I took my daughter to a party at a play area some time ago. The story is very funny thanks to my getting stuck in a mangle, a different tale entirely which is documented here if you ever fancy a laugh at my expense.
Something I didn't highlight in that post was how, at the point of entering and then exiting the play area, the children had to remove and then replace their shoes and socks. I thought nothing of it as our daughter took off her shoes and socks when she arrived and happily put them back on again at the end.
Other parents though seemed seriously impressed. Our little girl was only just three, yet I didn't even attempt to help, knowing she was sufficiently independent to manage the job alone. "Sam is five and I still have to do that for him," one dad said to me as we looked on.
Our daughter has been able to wash and dress herself independently since she was only just two. She's washed her own hair regularly since she came to live with us, when she was eighteen months old (much to the chagrin of Emily & Juanita).
She's sufficiently dextrous to manage these things because she had to learn to do so, which is going to make her entry to school so much easier for her.
Another example is our children's confidence in new and unfamiliar situations. This is where our son shines a little more than his sister. Our daughter will still quite happily go into a new situation, but only so long as one of us is around.
Our son on the other hand will happily enter a completely unfamiliar setting without batting an eye. Situations where I know I would have been clinging to my parents for support until I was in double figures do not faze him in the slightest.
Other children may be hanging on their parents arms as they attend a new club or unfamiliar party venue for the first time. As long as we have confirmed, in detail, where and when we will be collecting him our son will very happily go off, chatting to new people without a care.
He has this confidence because he's had to learn it. There were many occasions where he was looked after by unfamiliar people in locations that were alien to him. His ability adapt has given him an inner strength well beyond his years.
In those new situations our son has the ability to display truly amazing emotional intelligence and kindness. He will take the hand of the most reluctant, often distressed child and encourage them to join in the activities or play with he and his friends.
Our daughter shows this too. Her play school teacher reported one day how, when a little girl who was new to the group was very distressed at being left by her mother, our three year old daughter found the doll the little girl had been playing with the previous week when they had been there together.
Giving her the doll, our daughter then took her new friend's hand and led her to join some other children playing with play doh. Soothing and calming her much to the relief of the little girl's mother.
There are days when thinking, talking or hearing about the awful experiences our, and other adopted children, have suffered seems almost unbearable. On those days we focus on the old adage, which we have found ultimately to be true.
That which does not destroy you, really does make you stronger.