“When are you sending them back to school?”

  • “You’re getting more settled into a permanent home, the kids are more confident than they have ever been, they are actually learning now and thriving in the life you have given them… when are you sending them back to school?”
  • “How are they gonna do their SATs?”
  • “Well, what are you going to do at GCSE time?”
  • “How can you be sure you aren’t going to ruin their futures by refusing to send them to school?”

Common themes of conversations now that we are in our permanent space and settling.

Well let me put it this way, I can’t actually know for certain what they will achieve in their futures, but I can say with conviction that right now it is the best (and only) option. Their therapists have put it in black and white that with their combined issues “neither child can be in a classroom at present”. Not from my pushing, but from their personal assessment, observations and findings. A school institution cannot have a positive affect on their development, health and well being right now. But guess what? Home life does.

Right now they are trees with broken roots, replanted into healthy soil, being nurtured and encouraged to grow and develop. They need time for the roots to establish themselves and grow. Then they can flourish. And who knows, at some point in the future that may involve school. But if we put them into school right at this moment, they’d be unhealthy trees, overshadowed by taller, more established trees, unable to get enough sunlight through the healthy canopy towering above them, but healthy enough to not just topple and die. Existing, but never truly flourishing.

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I have days where I find it hard, but I am never ever in doubt that this is in the best interest of the children. Bruce is the same, he has days where he doubts whether this is the best thing for me (given that I never get a break), but there’s never any doubt about the children’s best interests. School is not in the vision. But our lives, as ever changing as they are with the children’s needs, are ever changing.

New family members

NEW ARRIVALS.

You may think that it’s a bit dramatic to consider them new family members, but meh… we don’t care. The children have been begging for pets for ages, and knowing that we were told we weren’t allowed anything at our old house (not even fish) meant we hadn’t got any. Now though, have 2 Russian Dwarf Hamsters (one for each child).

They have been here for a little while now, and the children are very responsible for ensuring they are cared for and clean and fed. Logan wants a dog, Caitlin wants a cat… we lost our cat (Moozer) to the frost and ice 2 years ago. And they have been begging for a pet since. However, we have decided for now that this is the limit to fit our lifestyle.

So please meet our newest bundles of chaos:

Dynamite
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and

Fire

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Review: Creatimber wobble board

Having been thinking about a wobble board for a long long time, I was confused as to whether one would be big enough, last long enough, be useful, be strong enough, help or hinder the developmental weaknesses experienced here. I am never worried about spending money on something if I know it’s going to get used and would have a purpose or have the potential to help. I just don’t want to waste money, or even space, by buying lots of stuff we don’t need.

After a family member had one of the Wobbel branded ones, I realised that size and use wouldn’t be an issue. But still unsure of whether it’d get much use, I was reluctant to spend out the prices. I am not at all put off by the quality of their products, I have seen them and they have a good finish, I just don’t want to spend that much and then the children not use it. And then a friend said something about their Creatimber.  Which was lower in price enough for me to think “ok we’ll try one”. We opted to have one with no felt backing as we are carpeted throughout, so it should be fine.

 

 

So, our experience. Well, its quality means it is both heavy and solid (so dropping it on your toe is not advisable – it will hurt, there will be tears). But the usage. No question. The children were encouraged to use it “however they saw fit” and the uses we have had so far:

  • wobbling side to side from
    • standing
    • seated
    • crouched/crawling position
  • as a boat
  • as a bridge to walk over (upturned)
  • a tunnel to crawl under (upturned)
  • a stage (upturned)
  • a role play shop display (upturned)
  • walking lentghways from one end to the other as it curves around
  • a very unsuccessful, but highly humorous see saw (big gaps in weight difference, hasn’t worked out yet, but some spectacular dismounts)
  • as a hill (upturned)
  • as an object to bounce bouncy balls off
  • as an obstacle in a course both ways

And this doesn’t even begin to consider the variations of each of those listed (the extra toys they have brought into it, the games they have made out of it. It is definitely worth the investment, it’ll definitely get used here, and we’d definitely recommend to others. The wobble board was shipped from Budapest, and I received order updates and shipping information relatively quickly. The product arrived within a week.

NB – this review brings me no profit, I have not been asked to review this product by Creatimber for a discount on my goods. 

Review: Spielgaben

Despite the children being a little more interested in worksheets recently, I know they learn best through what they perceive to be fun: nature walks, playing on apps (on the rare occasion they are allowed screen time), magazines, story time… and playing. So after hearing about the Spielgaben I was quite excited. Then I found out the price. At around £400 once posted, it’s not a cheap investment. So, I had to be certain I wanted it, that it’d get used. That it would help. I researched all I could about it and couldn’t find any reasons not to. So we made the purchase.

I didn’t hear anything for a few days except my initial order confirmation, but then I received shipping and tracking information and the shipment was here within 2 days after that – well the first part was, the curriculum pack. The second package was damaged by the time it reached the sorting depot. However, it arrived after a few days – the box had been repaired enough to stop further damage and this prevented damage to the actual Spielgaben itself, which arrived unscathed.

The packages contained an extensive paper curriculum (including a Kindergarten pack, play guide, inspiration pack, math guide and planar figures pack), the chest of drawers (with removable top squares board,, and a peg board that can be used both upright for pegs, and upside down for dots) and all of the bits and bobs that make up each Spielgaben set – I could list, but there are pictures above and further info on their website here.

It is surprisingly small, yet shockingly extensive and quite heavy, very well packed and nicely finished. The quality can be seen and felt. It will last for sure. The website says it is suitable for ages 3-12. There’s no question that younger children will be drawn to it “things… lots of things… yay!” But so far we have tested it on age ranges 5-10 (3 children). The 10 (almost 11) year old was the one who spent the longest with it, so actually, yes it does appeal to the 10-12 bracket too.  He sat for over an hour making picture after picture using the inspiration cards, and they weren’t all just easy for him – there were some that posed a challenge.

 

So far we have only used inspiration cards, being summer holidays we are not into a full standard routine it’s just too busy everywhere so things are at a much slower pace (and therefore less activities) than in term time. Plus, this humidity and heat we have been having have slowed things immeasurably. However, I have look through all of the curriculum. It is printed on quality paper or card depending on which booklet it is.

I can see that we will be able to get a lot out of this set. Especially for improving hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, which actually is where we have some issues developmentally. Academics will be possible too – being able to discuss the things we are creating, in terms of math or science, building stories and developing language skills. The beauty of the kit is that it will be limited only by the imagination of the user. So I have no doubt, that now that the children have begun to use it, it will get a lot of use, and that it won’t be used the same way every day. These two have quite the imagination, and it’s only likely to grow with stimulus such as this. If I knew what I know now, we would have purchased this a year ago.

I would also add, for those with siblings, we have used this kit with 3 children simultaneously – you have to think a bit about what you are going to have them doing if you are doing separate tasks, but it’s feasible. Otherwise working together “engineer (picture reader), supplier (fetching materials) and builder (performing task of actually constructing picture)” and switching helps the teamwork and communication between the children too.

 

NB I have not been paid for this review, this review is based on my personal experience and observations of the kit I have paid for in full.

 

 

 

Review: West Midlands Safari Park

First I have to say, I am always very conflicted about places such as zoos, aquariums and safari parks. Like, I understand that many can do great work with conservation projects and endangered species, or even rehabilitation efforts with rescue animals that have been hurt, kept illegally or abused to the point of not being able to return to the wild. But there are also many that are terrible, keeping animals in poor, cramped conditions; caring more about profit than animal welfare. But after a debate in a recent Eco Kids magazine about the positives and negatives of zoos and the like. And actually I decided if I want the children to make an informed choice they’ll need to experience it themselves and draw their own conclusions.

With that in mind, the following will ignore my underlying moral and ethical conflict to the extent that I would consider “fair”; that is to say, if I comment on what I feel is not ethical, it’s above and beyond the “normal” level of conflict within me.

So West Midlands Safari Park happened.  The  safari itself is well thought out, with many animals experiencing a relatively “wild like” atmosphere. I am not keen on the fact that you can feed some of the animals, it takes away from the “wild” for the animal, and is purely indulgent for the humans involved. And can end in reactions that can scare or hurt the animals. That said, on the safari drive itself, although they don’t have the masses of land they’d perhaps have in the wild, the animals all do seem to have a fair amount of space, shelter food and care. But in general the overall experience of the safari itself is quite good, the animals look happy and healthy on the most part.

The walk through area contains: Penguin Cove, Sea Lion Theatre, Lorikeet Landing, Reptile World, Creepy Crawlies, Seaquarium and Twilight Cave.

The Penguin Cove does have a medium sized pool, a “beach” area and some caves. The penguins are seemingly able to retreat from spectators, the area looks well maintained and the penguins seem happy and healthy. They have balls etc. in the water to play with. The keepers to timed penguin feeds for spectators to watch, we never attended so I cannot comment on this.

The Twilight Cave, Creepy Crawlies and Seaquarium are all housed within the same building, in a “route through” style. You can skip the Twilightcave if you do not wish to go through (it is dark, damp and has bats flying around, so if bats flying or dark, damp, strong smelling rooms are an issue – for Caitlin they are – you can by pass this). It is a large room, with freedom of movement for the bats and plastic flaps that prevent the bats from escaping. It’s not possible to see much in it, but we have been there as the room’s cleaning is just finishing – so they do ensure the place is cleaned. The Seaquarium is setup with fish tanks containing the usual suspects you’d find (nothing like an Octupus in a cramped tank or anything) and Creepy Crawlies contain usual suspects of spiders, snails, ants, stick insects etc. All of the tanks looked well maintained and clean and filled with fresh supplies of relevant food and water sources.

Similarly the Reptile World seemed adequate, clean and well supplied. I struggle personally with the size of the crocodile enclosures, and perhaps some of the larger snakes (but I don’t have sufficient training and professional background to criticise the adequacy of it all – so please do just understand that is just my personal struggle).  We have not visited Lorikeet Landing.

In all of the areas you will find masses of information about all of the animals, also access to hand cleaning facilities if you have come into contact with animals etc.

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The Sea Lion Theatre provides “shows”, which are described as part of the sea lions’ enrichment program. It is packed with educational information regarding sea lions. I cannot comment further on this, as shows are an area I do not morally agree with beyond being conflicted.

Near to the Sea Lion Theatre is the entrance to the Ice Age exhibit. This is a large area of models, information and animatronics applicable to, and representative of, the Ice Age. The children absolutely loved it (Caitlin in a slightly conflicted way, as she’s still at that young-naive, “it’s alive” kind of stage). You get to walk through the smoking volcano on your way in, and there are cracks with Lava under your feet (along with rumbling sound affects). And then an adventure through the Ice Age area, complete with little finger-trail Identification games. Then at the end you walk through an Ice cave under the volcano, which is complete with its own little “secret tunnel” which the children loved going through. Even a small child’s wheelchair could fit through.

But one of the things that got them very silly and laughing we signs like the below. “No smoking. Only the volcano has permission” and “Keep to the paths. If not, the mammoth may tread on you and that might make their feet sore.” There were many others too.

 

The Land of the Living Dinosaurs had similar signs too. And was equally enjoyable. Similar to the Ice Age exhibit it is filled with models, animatronics, information and finger trail identity games. Unlike the Ice Age area though, it has a large sand pit for fossil discovery, a themed shop and a geyser sure to attract some attention. Again the children absolutely loved it (even with Caitlins slight fear that the raptors would eat her). It’s definitely a well thought out area, and fun for all ages.

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What was also fun was noticing the evolving foot prints on the floor, on the way in and way back out… see below gallery.

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Once you are through this area you cross a small, private road (with zebra stripes on the zebra crossing) which takes you over to the theme park, the Boj Giggly Park (for the little ones), the Hippo Lakes and the African village. Despite more than one visit (you get a free return included in your ticket) we didn’t have time to do everything. We did see the meerkats briefly, and breeze past the hippos and park, but didn’t really take time there. The children, were naturally, drawn to the rides, and that’s where we spent much of our remaining time.

You can purchase ride wristbands to get unlimited rides, and really, if you plan on going on rides this is the advisable thing to do. You just show your wristband and on you get. They have quite a selection of rides you can go on, from carousel-based rides and a kiddy coaster for the littlies, to flying hippos, rhino-coaster and snake helter skelter for the slightly more adrenalin filled littlies to wild water rapids,  twister-coaster and even bigger rides for the even more adrenalin fuelled theme park go-er.

There is clear signage and height checkers around this area so you’ll know what each guest can go on (whether independently or accompanied) including by the wristband exchange area where you’d purchase the wristbands from (so you’ll know if the guests can do what you expect/want them to do). The staff are very efficient at trying to get everyone through and filling up the rides etc. And were all friendly and welcoming; trust me, I know how boring it is to repeat the same safety stuff over and over, and I have been multiple places where actually they kind of show hatred towards guests who mishear/misunderstand/ask questions etc. We did not experience this here.

Then the important bit – food of course…

We only used the Dino Diner. I mean – it has a Jurassic Park feel to it and I have 2 dino mad children. Of course we ate there. The whole restaurant is decorated to have a dinosaur feel, with various dino creatures featuring around the place. The most amazing part of the decoration though was the light shades which are themed as hatched dino eggs. The children honestly wanted to take some home with them. They can not be purchased though – the talents of team they have on park created them. I think the children would lay an egg apiece if I got them a light shade like that each.

But the food. You could argue it’s over priced if you are used to your chip shop, Spoons or McDonals prices, but actually as seasoned day trippers the menu is on par, at the lower end of the scale, of attraction prices (especially when you factor in portion sizes). The first visit saw the adults with “Chip-izza” (a plate of chips covered in pizza topping) – completely by accident, I forgot what was meant to be ordered when I got to the till and end up ordering that – which was enjoyed. And the children ordering their usual “can we get away with it today Mumma?” chicken goujons and chips. The second trip saw us order a platter of sizzling chicken fajitas for 4. Including drinks, dining for 4 was around £30-35. but you can see the prices in the above gallery.

The food wasn’t fast, but it was busy, and still came out within a reasonable time frame (the kids had started moaning they were hungry but weren’t on the verge of meltdown both times, this usually happens within 20 minutes in a busy restaurant so reasonable). The food was ok, good portions as stated before. Not of excellent quality or flavour, but also not bad. For example, the chicken in the fajitas was not bad, but it was tough. But the overall flavour was good.

You can also purchase a guidebook packed full of information about the animals found at the park. I also have to point out that I am aware that safari parks and zoos such as this do important work towards conservation, research and endangered species.

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To summarise. 

Safari park and the walk through discovery trail are mostly good (well maintained, clean and the animals are clearly cared for), it just depends on your moral position on certain aspects. But the Ice Age and Land of the Living Dinosaur exhibits are unquestionably good. Theme park is good, with attentive and friendly staffing, clear signage and ability to purchase unlimited ride wristbands. The food isn’t cheap and isn’t amazing, but it’s on par with other attractions prices and a good portion and isn’t bad either.

*** As an aside. The site is wheelchair friendly (if not hilly in places). And if anyone is visiting with adults/children who have issues with busy places (but feel safe in the comfort of their car) I would say, on arrival head straight to the car park. You can do the Ice Age and Land of the Living Dinosaurs before the Discovery Trail opens, then do the Discovery Trail before the theme park opens and then get that done before people start really coming in and queuing and making it feel busy. The safari itself can be done multiple times if you want and at any point in your day. ***

Review: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (and Dippy the Dinosaur)

Knowing that Dippy the Dinosaur (the diplodocus skeleton normally resident in London’s Natural History Museum) is on tour around the UK (currently at Birmingham), how much my children love dinosaurs and how easy Birmingham is by train I decided that this was a must this summer… so a day trip was planned with my little brother (Max, only 10 months older than Logan).

We were surprised to find out it’s all free. Not just the exhibition to see Dippy, but also the entry to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. So that was a bonus. But I must say, having never been there before, and knowing it’s a free museum, we were pleasantly surprised not only of the quality of the exhibitions on offer, but also the interactivity layout and presentation of the place. It was fantastic. The regret we have is not having planned more time there. But knowing it’s free and easy to get to, I expect there shall be a return visit at some point.

There were various different permanent exhibitions, from Ancient History through to the history of Birmingham There were many artifacts on display, quizzes, electronic interactivity, models, example clothing and fashion as well as sections for the children to play on something related, for example the 1930’s kitchen in the above picture gallery.

Then it was time for Dippy, although it is free entry, you have to book in for your time slot to enter online here. It was a big hall with Dippy being the central focus. Some dinosaur related information and displays around the outer sections of the hall. And then towards the back the children were given the opportunity to write on a brown label, with a message for Dippy to take on tour with him.

The museum itself was about a 5 minute walk from the Snow Hill rail station, but surrounded by a lot of building works. It wasn’t that hard to find as it’s quite centrally located. However, using google maps on my phone for directions we ended up facing the task of getting a wheelchair up a enormous amount of steps. Luckily, Caitlin can walk, so she could get out and be supported up the steps whilst her wheelchair was carried. However, on exit we found that if you enter the museum from Edmund Street this is much more accessible. The Museum itself does have lifts, though the one at the beginning of the museum was the only one in use whilst we were there, so you had to walk back through the exhibition to get back to the lift to go down… or find a way down the stairs. Toilet facilities were good and clean, though had run out of toilet paper by the time we used.

Up and about

Well, despite low levels of energy, Nanny and Grandad have been up with Max (my brother, whose been mentioned before – he’s 10 months older than Logan). They have stayed for the week, which has both helped and hindered the recovery (mental health is up some, but physical exhaustion is down low, the heat is not helping).

But we have had quite some time out of the house. The weekend should afford me enough down time to update, post reviews and generally get back on top of things.

But I thought I should come on and say how pleasing it is to be off the sofa! 😀

Getting better: it’s hard.

When you are ill or suffering from post illness chronic fatigue, it is vital that you rest. But it’s really hard because somethings in life don’t just stop when you are ill. You still have to get on with things, and when you are primary carer to 2 complex children the days are very much arduous like a full time, demanding job. So “rest” isn’t really rest. You have to be continuously on your toes.

However, I am slowly getting up and about a bit more. Trying to push myself to get out of the house for an hour or two here and there. But I get tired very, very quickly. And because the children are seeing my health waver up and down, it’s been made all the more difficult; when they see me not being strong their anxiety and therefore hyper-vigilance rises. In turn, out comes the emotional behaviour.

Anyhow. When we haven’t been out and when I have been sofa bound, I have been trying to distract the children by getting them doing bits and bobs. They have been taking massive pride in being able to help with chores. They have been asking to do academic worksheets. They have done crafts, cooking and letter writing. A particular favourite was making slime (as per these instructions). And most of it has been achieved at a distance.

 

Adoption: why does it create burnout?

As per my previous post (Burnout) my body is so burnt out that a cold turned into a chest infection. 2 weeks later I’m still getting over it and knowing my body well and how it feels I can see I’m going to be battling chronic fatigue now. This is the result of secondary trauma, compassion fatigue and a support system that doesn’t work. Adoption isn’t hard because of the kids. Adoption is hard because of a system that’s too weak to support the children’s needs.

They are only entitled to basic medical needs on NHS (if they needed A&E through accidental, or if they had a medical problem like anaemia or asthma etc.) Anything mental health, sensory, behavioural and developmental must be done through the Adoption support (because the NHS won’t even look into until they know it’s not ado[tion related). Which means, £5000 is their cap on therapeutic support and specialist equipment. £2500 is the cap for assessing. Meaning they can be assessed once in a year. If one of them needed a specialist car seat (which we are on the border of needing) it costs £2200+. So we’d have the option to self fund that £2200 bill, or to halve our current therapy which is only 8 sessions per year as it is.

Adoption is not hard because of the kids. Adoption is hard because of the fights you have to go through to get their basic needs met. Because of the circles you run in trying to prove whether their needs are medical or adoption related (don’t even go there if the two overlap – dyspraxia/DCD+ attachment related development and sensory issues).By the time you finish the fight, there’s pretty much nothing left for the children who need all of your energy and attention to help them heal. Do you fight, and neglect them whilst you fight? Or do you not fight, and neglect them by not getting them what they need? Either way, they are left neglected in some form. It’s not right.

The children are being removed through experiences of neglect, and in turn they are being setup to be neglected in some way shape or form. Us adopters aren’t robots or machines. We have a finite amount of energy. Things shouldn’t be made so difficult for us to help the children. I made the selfish choice to adopt, to become a mum. But I did it not knowing they’d be refused all they need. It is torture to watch. Exhausting to live. And isolating.

Things need to change. Not just for us as a family, but nationally, as I know we are just one in a picture of thousands of families in similar situations. We didn’t mess our children up, we are trying to pick the pieces up, unsupported. It’s like trying to push toothpaste back into a tube that’s still being squeezed. It’s not working.

I don’t want to mum today.

Almost a week of this stupid bug, kids with anxiety so high that even just trying to get to breakfast is an exhausting battle, and having to get through the trauma of the nights (nightmares really high again for one child, crying/defending self in sleep, the other just flat out refusing sleep or help).
 
I don’t want to be a mum today. I just want to hide. My body is in agony. No one sees this side, everyone just sees my “charming, well behaved, polite and compliant” children. I apparently make up their struggle, or exaggerate it to my own end. “How could they possible be as bad as [I] say they are”. Trauma that’s how, they hold it together in front of everyone else to protect themselves. But at home, in the place they feel safest (not safe, just safest, they still don’t have any reason to trust me to be the mum they need me to be). 
I am burnt out. Caitlin had the same cold as me. For her it lasted 12 hours. For me, a week later it’s still going strong because my body is too exhausted to fight it. So yeah, once again I am sat here, out of energy, depleted of the patience and tolerance I need to get through the day and it’s not even 9am yet wondering how the hell any of us are still going to be breathing at the end of the day. 
I hope I can turn it into a positive day, despite knowing right now I don’t have much hope. But I thought it’d be worth sharing this in the moment because these are the times no one sees.