Yeah Baby!“For the first time in my life I’m a complete ‘babe magnet’!” Denise looked perplexed. This probably wasn’t the response which she had expected when she turned to me and asked “So, how are you enjoying helping out at the crèche?” My other half was suppressing giggles but she knew that it was a totally true statement. I was a bona fide, 100% “babe magnet”. I fixed Denise with a confident stare and said, “Yup! It turns out that if you’re less than two years old I’m completely irresistible.”
The last two or three weeks I’d been in the enviable position of having several toddlers almost fighting over my attention. Sam was just over eighteen months old and he didn’t like being left by his mummy. The only way to stop him crying the place down (the ONLY WAY!!!) was for me to cuddle him and introduce him to all the animals painted on the walls around the room. Similarly Mark, barely one yet, had declared that my the crook of my left arm was the cradle which he required for his morning nap. No other would do. This left Chewitel (between two and a half and three) and Isobel (only just under two) in an awkward position. I recall one Sunday morning sitting in the creche room with Sam in one arm and Mark in the other while both Chewitel and Izzy were trying to climb onto my lap too. My lap’s just not that big. There was a good thing to be had here and it was already being hogged by the youngsters. To be fair they had their reasons. Izzy was the daughter of some really good friends (and in fact a pair of our referees). She was practically a favourite niece and had expectations to be fulfilled. Chewitel was a needy little boy. Overly inward and reluctant to communicate his needs, verbally or otherwise. He always looked ashamed of himself and took out anger and possessiveness on the children around him in a pushy, aggressive manner. Some of this was purely normal toddler behaviour but somehow it seemed amplified.
By now we were so completely immersed in the process, with our heads spinning with case studies and attachment theory, that we could not help wonder about his home life. What type of parenting style had produced this sort of behaviour in a barely three year old. How were love and discipline modelled and demonstrated in the privacy of his parents’ house? Where had this constant outward “shame” display derived? He became a fairly regular topic for discussion in our chats with Denise. In the end, it was nice just to see a connection being forged between myself and this closed-in little boy.
The discussions with Denise were still at a formative stage and the topic was largely what made us tick as a couple and as individuals. It was interesting to spend time thinking back to our early lives and seeking to assign significance to the events which made up our life stories. Equally interesting was finding out how thinking back to early childhood served to unlock layers of long forgotten memories. One of the exercises which Denise set us in one session was to think back and try to identify our earliest memories.
I knew for certain that we had moved some time before my fourth birthday so memories of that first house were definitely early. I eventually pieced together some fragments of memories which could not have been from my dad’s effort to be the new Cecil B. de Mille. Standing in the back garden picking up some tiny bits of gravel in pudgy little hands and popping them into my mouth only to be told that they were “Dirty!” Seeing that the front gate was ajar and making a break for it. Then wobbling up the street, hearing my mum shriek and my oldest sister racing after me to retrieve the escaped prisoner. Seeing my dad standing on the landing proudly demonstrating the loft ladder which he had just installed. Creeping silently out of my room after my bedtime and sitting halfway up the stairs watching the telly through the crack between the door and the frame (Dr Who and Z-Cars if my memory serves). Its amazing just how precious these authentic snippets of life before real memory have since become. A valuable insight into what it must be like not to have access to family memories or a knowledge of where you come from.
This whole adoption lark was certainly making us think!
We were also asked to think about where our family history derived from. What were the information sources? Where did we go to ask questions about the past? To whom? What did Grandad do during the war? How would you ever find out once those people who had experienced it all first hand had passed away. How would that make us feel? How would this relate to the information voids which we might have about an adoptive child’s background? What would we say when, inevitably, those same questions were asked?
We talked a lot about identity and how our memories built up our vision of who we were and where we came from. It was exhausting and emotionally draining. Every time Denise left we felt a strange mixture of exhilaration and fatigue. Thank goodness it was only a short stagger to our nearest coffee shop and a lifeline latte!