Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The Truth? - I can't Handle It...

'Why do people abuse children?"

That was the question KC gave to me as soon as we got into the car and drove off to TJ's tuition lesson.

What is it with him and questions at the moment? And why are they always asked at the most innappropriate times?

I decided to postpone my answer. It's a tactic I use a lot.

"Can we talk about this whilst TJ is at his class" I said. "We can go for a Costa cake and have a chat."

KC seemed satisfied with this and the two of them sat chatting merrily in the back about the benefits of Minecraft.

We dropped TJ off and walked down to the local branch of Costa (other coffee stores are available but much further to walk to.)

We sat down - I had a skinny latte (I am being good) whilst KC had a huge piece of chocolate cake and a fizzy drink - he is not being so good.

"So," He looked at me.

"Don't worry I haven't forgotten," I said.

This had all come about because he had heard a news report that stated that thousands of known child abusers were probably going to escape any form of police intervention - simply because there are too many of them - abusers, not police. I'd like to say I am shocked - but I'm really not. I don't think anything shocks me anymore. Horrified, yes, disgusted, absolutely - but shocked... not really.

I thought back to the time during our introductions when we were told that the people who abused our children would not be prosecuted as the children were too young to be 'reliable' witnesses in the eyes of the prosecution service. Then I sat there shouting at the social workers - telling them that they all knew what was going on and now the perpetrators were going to get away with it?

"That's how child abuser's work," I was told calmly. "They know the police are unlikely to get a conviction - and the younger the child the less likely there will be any hope of a prosecution."

I was shocked then...

My eldest still believes that 'the people who did bad things' are in prison. They are not. One look at Facebook told me that. They are out there, living their lives - with new families.

I came back into the room and my son was looking at me expectantly across our hot drinks.

How was I going to handle this one? I couldn't tell him that all child abusers are evil - that would include his family - would he then think it included him? I opted for the sick route...

"People who do nasty things to children are very ill," I began, "They need help."

KC stopped me, "But the children need help too," he said, "Who do they ask for help? Does anyone listen to them?"

I was stunned. Was he now talking about himself? Was he finally opening up to me - it's something I thought I wanted him to do - In therapy they tell us that as parents we make the best therapists but I'm also terrified of hearing what happened to him from.. well, from him. It's one thing to read documents and listen to social workers, it's another to actually hear it from your child.

I think he read my fear. That sounds strange but he almost seemed to want to change the subject - he knew I was uncomfortable - and I felt awful that he had picked up on it. He decided to talk to me about his school day... I listened and nodded my head sagely at his problems with maths - I didn't actually hear a word...

Abuse was part of his life - part of what makes him who he is. I don't want it to define him and I'm sure he will cope with whatever life throws at him but it is there and, no matter how hard I try, I can't erase that - no parent of a child adopted from the care system can. I just wanted to make it all go away - but for him or me?

I'm ashamed to say that when he changed the subject I let him... I didn't want to go to his darkest places - not just yet.

Now I've just made myself cry...

Next time I'll be better prepared - I just hope I get some warning...

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

A Rose By Any Other Name...

"What would my name be if I was really yours?"

This was the question KC gave me just before he got into bed last night.

I was suddenly stumped - why do kids always ask these things at bedtime? Do they really want an answer? Is it something that has been troubling them all day? Or do they simply not want to go to bed?

My guess was that this was something thay had been on his mind for a while and he was waiting for the right time.

I sat on the end of the bed - preparing for a long discussion.

"Well, the first thing to get out of the way," I began, "Is that you are 'really' ours - you're not going anywhere, this is your family and we love you very much. Okay?"

"Okay" he replied, "I know all that but if you had me as a baby then what would you have called me - what is your favourite name?"

"I think KC suits you," I said, "It's the name your birth mum chose and it suits you - she didn't get everything wrong, she got some things right. Like you and TJ. She got both of you right."

I wasn't sure if I was making sense to him.

"Yes," he said, "I know that but what would you have called me if you first saw me as a baby in a hospital?" (Hospitals are where babies come from, apparently.)

"I really like KC," I said.

"No you don't," he replied, "It's not the sort of name our family has."

That was incredibly astute of him. Our family is full of Joseph's and Freddie's, Marcus's and Rachel's. Good old fashioned traditional names, whereas he and TJ have more 'modern' names - thank goodness they didn't ask about their original middle names which sounded as if they had come straight out of an edition of Heat Magazine. I try not to be a name snob but I do think that a name that suits a celebrity's child who attends a public school in Harrow is not going to sound quite the same when yelled across the playground at the local junior school. But that's probably just me.

Interestingly when the children were baptised and chose their own new middle names, they both picked more traditional ones.

I told KC that he could use his middle name if he liked, after all he chose it.

"I don't want to," he said, "I just want to know what you and Papa would have called me if I had been born to you."

I gave in, "Alright," I said, "When we were thinking about names, before we even knew about you, we had always said that we liked Ben for a boy and Beatrice (after my grandmother not Prince Andrew's eldest) for a girl. Interestingly, I later found out that my Gran hated her name, which is why she always shortened it to Bea - so KC is not alone in his dislike of his given name - but his reasoning is probably different.

"You can change me name to Ben if you like," he said, "I don't mind."

My heart went out to him. Was his sense of self so low that he was willing to change his name just to please us?

I cuddled him, "Look," I said softly, "There's a very famous play called Romeo and Juliet and in that play Juliet asks if she should stop loving Romeo just because of his name and she says, '... a rose by any other name would still smell as sweet' (I'm sure I paraphrased a little) and that means that no matter what we call a rose - we could call it a 'widgy' or a 'smellybum' - it would still smell the same and still be as beautiful. So it doesn't matter what your name is - you are still beautiful and still lovely and still very, very smelly!"

That got a laugh out of him.

I tucked him in.

'So," I said, "You will always be KC and we will always love you. Now go to sleep."

He sat up again. I braced myself.

'Daddy," he said.

"Yes," I held my breath.

"Is there a heaven?"

My guess was this was the sort of bedtime question designed to prevent lights out...

I looked at him. "If you don't go straight to sleep," I said, "You'll soon find out."

I don't think he got it - but he went to sleep anyway - whilst I poured a drink!

Adoption is hard work!!!!

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

A Gay Family Overseas... 'What if..."

I've just spent this morning engaged in some very serious chats with some of my closest friends (and partner) about the rights of gay people overseas, particularly in relation to illness and families.

It's been a real eye opener.

It all started because dear Papa commented that he didn't really see the point of 'upgrading' our current civil partnership status to a marriage certificate, as we will be allowed to do later this year. I pointed out that the very fact that our 'status' is different is a form of discrimination - although he felt it was a positive discrimination as he 'didn't want to be married like everyone else.'

This led onto a 'whatsapp' argument where I pointed out to him that when I asked him to marry me all those years ago I used those words, "Will you marry me?" I didn't say, "Would you like to form a civil partnership and protect our legal rights should one of us become ill?" That was met with a silence - I think we will be having a 'chat' when he gets back from work.

Two of our best friends are getting married soon. A lovely gay couple who are made for each other - they are going to the USA to have the ceremony - even though they live and work in Singapore, a country that does not recognise same sex unions of any sort. This has left them in a quandry, after all, if one of them is rushed unconscious to hospital (heaven forbid) then the other has no legal rights to be at his bedside - unless a kind nurse or doctor allows it. They are not considered as next of kin and, should the same doctor or nurse be of a discrimnatory personality - or merely someone who 'follows the rules' (that's very common in Singapore) then they may be completely forbidden from seeing their ailing partner.

Of course, thats a worst case scenario - but one always has to ask the 'what if's' in these situations.

For us the 'what if...' is a simple one... ''What if one of Papa's family over in Singapore should become ill and we need to go back permanently - how would we cope not only as a couple but as a family?'

When I wrote the book version of '4 Relative Strangers' it was a point that my agent was particularly interested in - the legal status of gay families overseas. Singapore is odd as (if I read it correctly) they would recognise both Papa and I as parents of the children - but not as a couple, so we would be the boy's next of kin, but not each other's - which is just wierd.

Our friends, whilst busy planning their nuptials, are also worried about the same thing, and they really shouldn't have to be - they should just be excited about committing their lives to each other but the reality is they live in a country where they have no rights as couple.

Gay life is tolerated in Singapore - but it's seen as something to be pitied (in my experience) as if homosexuality is an illness or a 'mental issue' and it is assumed that the theatre scene in Singapore is essentially a club for gay men. Let me elaborate, I remember a very well known personality/politician explaining to me that the National Arts Council has rainbow coloured shutters not to reflect the 'diversity of the arts' but to promote the arts as a 'gay club' and just recently two lovely gay theatre practioners, have openly married each other in London which has generated a lot of publicity in Singapore - which is fantastic as at least it gets people talking about it - but on the flip side I can imagine many people saying, 'Well, it's what theatrical types do."

When I first 'came out' to my parents my Mum said, "Well at least you work in theatre.. its much easier to be gay there." Hopefully that has changed here in the UK and nowadays the law allows you to be openly gay wherever you work - whether you still feel you can is another issue - but at least you cannot legally be discriminated against, unlike so many other nations.

As we saw this week, with that poor British man going to prison in Morocco for merely having 'compromising photos' on his phone revealing him to be homosexual, the reality of going overseas has really hit home for a lot of gay people and for gay families it is even worse. Do we want our kids to see us be arrested and they then placed into care should we visit an intolerant country - again a worst case scenario - but I'm sure its something the Russian authorites would be happy to do. Especially as the foreign office can only stand by and watch.

At the moment Papa's family are well and we are happy heading over there twice a year to see everone and spend time with them - but 'what if....'

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Presentations, Tumble Dryers and... Kylie...

Yesterday, Dylan and I were asked to give a presentation to a group of adoption professionals.

When we agreed we thought it would be a small, informal affair - the sort of thing we are used to doing - chatting to would be adopters about our experiences. But a couple of nights before we were told by the organiser that we should pass her our powerpoint presentation and a transcript of the speech... what?!

I had intended to 'wing it' but that wasn't going to be possible. There were going to be a lot of important people there from adoption social workers, to senior family judges and head of adoption charities. Suddenly it was very scary!

So we worked over the weekend (my birthday weekend) and put together a half hour talk accompanied by various images and 'bullet points' - Dylan likes bullet points...

We turned up at Somerset House, a beautiful historical venue in the heart of London - although we were an hour late due to a nasty traffic jam - although we had missed a couple of other speakers we weren't on until later - that didn't stop my heart from beating at a furious pace though.

Eventually we went up and stood in front of this large group of people.

I said my opening lines, 'Good morning, my name is James and this is my partner Dylan... I talk a lot - he doesn't - you might say he's the Bobby to my Cilla...' (I have no idea where that last bit came from - it wasn't scripted but it went down really well). I had huge laugh - I don't think there had been much to laugh about before then. I went on saying how we chose our adoption agency after being turned down by so many purely on the basis that they offered us cake - this also seemed to go down well. After that the script was out of the window and we chatted openly about our experiences, about the ups and downs of adopting siblings and the help they needed - especially the input they required post adoption. As I said, just because the adoption order is signed doesn't mean that any of the problems miraculously disappear...

We spoke (yes, Dylan spoke too) for a good 45 minutes and sat down to a nice round of applause whilst the next speaker came on to talk about data input... as he was sorting out his powerpoint I was asked if I would like to sing something, maybe by Cilla - I was sorely tempted...

We couldn't stay after lunch (childcare is still not really an option for TJ) but we also didn't get to eat anything as so many people wanted to chat with us.

This morning I received a lovely couple of emails from speakers who followed us, both saying how they had changed their prepared speeches in order to reflect on what we had said and to continue to press issues that we had raised - mainly about the availability of good therapy and proactive post adoption support. All too often these areas only come into being when the adoption reaches a crisis.

We came home last night exhausted when Papa passed me a little red envelope - a belated birthday present.

I had made the mistake of saying that we needed a tumble dryer a few days ago and saw Papa frantically tapping away online. So I expected the gift to be the delivery date for the dryer. I have had numerous white good for birthdays before - I once got a Hoover because I 'admired it in the shop window' - I now only 'admire' Bulgari... not that any of that has come my way.

Still I was surprised to see that the envelope didn't contain a receipt for a tumble dryer but instead there were two tickets for tonight's concert by Kylie Minogue at London's O2.

I don't think I looked particularly overwhelmed as Papa said, "But it's not a tumble dryer and we're going to stay the night in a hotel - I've even arranged for the baby sitter to stay over."

Maybe I'm just too old for concerts now... eek! Maybe I just don't like surprises anymore - there is something to be said for anticipation... or maybe I just looked at the huge pile of washing I'm trying to get dry... and wished I had a tumble dryer...

I can be quite difficult to please sometimes...