Making it funny
We were lying in bed last night. I was drifting off to sleep, having just finished our usual scrap over who has more of the duvet.
"Are we weird?" J asked, out of the blue.
"What do you mean, are we weird?" I mumbled. "As in are do we behave strangely? Is our family strange?"
"No," J answered. "As in the things we do and say, we have odd conversations."
"Like fighting over the duvet. We do it because it's silly, not because it's important." This was J being profound and it nearly being midnight it was too late for this.
I resorted to my normal refuge of self-depricating humour. "Fighting over the duvet is all that's left once the passion is gone!"
J groaned and rolled over, he knew when he was beaten.
We are a bit weird though I suppose. We do strange things sometimes, but almost always they have a purpose.
It started with wearing Quavers as ear-rings when we met our son for the first time. I've talked about that in an earlier post, The viewing and a few Quavers.
I've also spoken about Emily and Juanita, the duelling hairdressers. The device by which we have engaged both our son and our daughter when washing their hair in the shower.
As a family we banter, J and I had always done so before the children. We have continued to do so and, as their verbal dexterity has improved, the children have joined us.
For example, fully aware that I am in the room, the children decide to discuss me at breakfast.
"I like Daddy, he's a bit nutty, but he's nice," our son tells our daughter.
"No, I prefer Dad, Daddy's too hairy!" Our daughter makes her preference plain.
I'm standing about five feet from this conversation, "Hellooo children, I'm in the room!" I say.
"Who said that?" Our son is looking around the room in a surprised manner.
"Don't know!" our daughter replies, stifling giggles.
We encourage this though. Humour can defuse very many situations. A very wise person told me in the last couple of days that having the ability to bat insults away, or even better, back at the person delivering them is one of the best defences against bullying and unpleasantness.
I think that's a very good piece of advice. It would be both naive and negligent of us not to prepare our children for disapproval of and negativity about our family. We feel one of the best ways to help them face that is to equip them with the verbal skills to answer it with eloquence and hopefully humour.
We've used humour in many different ways throughout our adoption journey. One way has been to diffuse anger.
I've talked how, in the early days of him living with us, our son found it hard to manage strong emotions. We don't do this, we do this, explained amongst other things how he would press his fists to his temples when he was unhappy or angry.
J devised a perfect, and loving response to this which helped him deal with and soon forget that response.
I came up with a different strategy, one which has persisted, so that we now use it during any argument or play fight.
"Not the face, not the face," I would scream, camply. Our son still laughs heartily whenever I do this and repeats it quite often.
We've also tried to make stressful situations fun too.
Going on holiday was another challenge when we first adopted each of our children. Neither had been away before and successively the thought of being away from a home where they had only recently become settled was clearly stressful for each of them.
The first time we went away with our son was to a large resort hotel in Spain. We did all we could to mitigate the unfamiliarity of the room by taking a number of items from home with us.
We could not, however, easily control what happened at meal times. The dining room was very large, populated mostly by elderly Germans who had dressed formally for dinner. In the centre was an enormous, lavish, buffet from which diners chose their preferred food.
Encouraging our son to choose food of his liking, let alone eat it, in such a busy and intimidating environment was an enormous challenge.
So I developed the idea of the talking prawn.
Each evening there would be a display of whole prawns on the buffet. Loving seafood I chose some the first evening we were there. Our son was fascinated and horrified in equal parts at the process of removing their heads and tails in order to eat them.
I therefore chose one of the prawns and in my best my Monty Python silly voice began to talk to my son.
"Hello, what's your name," I asked. He answered.
"Hello <son's name>, please save me, I'm a prawn, I should be in the sea, your horrible Daddy wants to rip my head off and eat me. Save me! Save me!"
Our son answered back and agreed eventually to release the prawn into the sea at the end of the meal.
Next to us were an elderly German couple. They sat mesmerised by the conversation between the prawn and our little boy.
We left our table at the end of the meal, taking the talking prawn with us to 'release' back into the sea before returning to our room for bed. The German couple stopped J and asked, very politely, which of us was our son's father. J explained, equally politely, that he was both our son as he was adopted.
"Really?" The Germans were incredulous that we in Britain had, for once, a more progressive social policy than their own country.
Our German neighbours watched entranced as, each evening, a different prawn (but as far as our son was conncerned the same one) was brought back to the table to have a chat with him. We would then sneak it out of the restaurant to be released back into the sea, only for poor Mr Prawn to be caught and presented at the buffet again the following night.
Our son, the prawn and to a lesser extent I, became minor celebrities amongst the elderly German contingent in the hotel that holiday.
Finding Mr Prawn, have a chat with him and sneaking him away to release into the sea has become a staple part of any holiday, engaging both our son and now our daughter in the game.
Then there are the time when we're just a bit funny peculiar.
Soon after he started at primary school our son was talking one day, when we were all in the car, about a song he had learnt in class.
"Do we have a family song?" He asked.
"A family song? No, we have favourite songs," J replied.
I was shocked. J had forgotten. "We DO have a family song! How could you forget?"
And so, to the tune of 'if you're happy and you know it' I sang our family song:
"When you've got to have a widdle, have a widdle,
When you've got to have a widdle, have a widdle,
When you've got to do a poo, then you do a number two,
When you've got to have a widdle, have a widdle."
J devised that song. I'm not allowed to give you any of the detail as to how he came up with it, but I can tell you it was composed many years ago after leaving a bar in Barcelona where quite a few mojitos had been consumed.
When we collected our daughter for the last time from her foster parents to come and live with us permanently, our son decided the first thing she should learn was that song. She was 18 months old, so she wasn't really able to comprehend what he was singing. Now that she is three and a half she fully understands.
So we sing our family song whenever we set out on a car journey together. If nothing else, it reminds the children to go to the loo before we leave.
I'll finish by going back to the word 'weird'. Not long ago our son said this. It sums up our approach perfectly:
"I know our family is a bit weird, you two being gay and all that. But we are a family, and we do love each other very much. That's all that matters."