In March 2019, my son came home. He was eight years and four days old, and I can’t begin to imagine the compex emotions he must have been feeling as he walked through that door for the first time. How would I have felt if that had been me? Nervous, scared, reticent …? All that and more, I imagine. Bryan’s future was decided by others; social workers and judges who saw that he was living in a situation that wasn’t safe, so needed to be taken out of that environment and helped to heal from those early years.
That’s so far beyond my experiences, I can’t fully comprehend it. I hope sincerely that I can empathise with him over his experiences, but I never spent time in the care system as a child. I was never called “it”, never locked in a cupboard under the stairs, and never beaten or hit; I was treated well, with respect, and with love. My son had very different early experiences, and it must have been such a strange experience for him to go into care and see a different type of home – one that was filled with love and kindness instead.
And, of course, he had to move again when he came home to me – indeed, he had to move across the country to live with me, in what became our home. I remember this little figure walking in through the front door for the first time, accompanied by suitcases and belongings galore – there was a lot to unpack – and then there we were; united as a family, having spent time together already but never having lived together before. I remain in awe of this boy – who is no longer quite so little – who seems to be adjusting to his new life with grace, interest, and passion. The compex minds of children aren’t always easy to fathom – I don’t entirely know if I have understood all the hidden, complex depths within my son’s mind just yet – but I am sailing on the sea of his consciousness as I try my best to figure him out, and figure out parts of myself at the same time.
You never fully know, as a parent, how you will respond to various scenarios until you’re actually facing them. I remember, when I first began investigating adoption, that I spent three days on a course looking at adoption in great detail. But that course feels like a lifetime ago now, and I’m not entirely sure I could recall much of it from the recesses of my mind. Partly my fault, I know, but my lived experience of being a parent so far tells me how much I have still to learn, and looking at the nuances of my son – and our relationship – it will continue to evolve and develop.
In the intervening three years, who would have thought that a global pandemic would have got in the way of developing normal routines? One of the things you learn – have drummed into you, really – when you first start exploring adoption – is that routine and familiarity is so important. Almost a year to the day after Bryan came home was the order from the UK government to “stay at home”; Year 1, where we had assiduously formed a load of firsts (first Easter, first summer holidays, first Christmas, first birthday), turned into Year 2, where schools closed, all activities closed, and we had to develop new routines. Year 3 started to mellow a little, so I could re-establish old routines and even keep a couple of the new routines that actually worked for us … but we hadn’t had a normal life up until now, to be sure. For everyone, life had turned on its head, and routines were by no means certain any more.
I’ve shared every birthday with Bryan since he was eight (when we were in his foster carers’ house), and now that he is turning 11, he gets his first birthday party. It’s a big deal to him, because it’s something he’s never had before for himself; he’s attended the parties of his friends, but never been the centre of attention at a party before. For a child, that’s inevitably important, and I’m excited for him as well; this is something he wants as part of a normal life, to be like his peers, and I absolutely can’t wait to give him that opportunity.
He has security, comfort, and love; he had those things in his foster home, but that was never going to be permanent. That’s not the fault of the foster carers – they were there to nurture and care for Bryan and his siblings – and, in many ways, it was no-one’s fault. He deserved a permanent security living somewhere that could care for him forever, and I got the privilege of being that security. He has grandparents, friends, a school he goes to every day, and regular quality time with his siblings (who have a life with people who love them very much as well). It is never perfect, and it’s not always easy, but it’s our life and I love it.