Don't travel too far when the adoptive placement starts they said. Don't plan on any big family gatherings, no big family holidays, definitely we wouldn't recommend going abroad - for at least 6 months. Oh, and no big house changes or changes in circumstances for at least a year.
We began our new family life and I intended to take it slowly. I planned on slowly introducing PJ to new family members, new places, new friends slowly - which I did do - gradually over those first few weeks we "met" my close friends - they would come to our house - so that it was on our turf, our terms - and friends stayed for just a short time. PJ is very bright and articulate, hyper vigilant, remembers everything and everyone. I tried to be mindful of these things and tried to prepare her, so to lower the anxieties. Her Introduction book had photos of me and the house and the cat and a few carefully selected close friends and close family members we would meet in those early weeks. A few friends gradually come and play with PJ and I for about half an hour or an hour at a time. It seems to go OK. She brings out a strange selection of toys that we hadn't really played with together during Introductions. The doctors set, containing some "joke" cut fingers. PJ thinks it is hilarious, my friends think it is gross but dutifully play with her and steer her towards the other items in the doctors set. After they leave, there is a huge puddle on the floor of wet pants. This pattern continues with the arrival of anyone home for the first months. Friends arrive, out comes the doctors set and the joke fingers, they leave and there is a puddle on the floor.
I thought I was prepared.
I was, except PJ is an individual, has anxieties and past trauma as well as been uprooted from everything she has known. Everything and everyone. Everything familiar and previously known has either gone or has been uprooted and moved. Familiar toys are in a new place in a strange room. No person we meet and no place we go to is familiar. We go to the park. We've looked at photos of it before we go and it becomes a seemingly enjoyable experience. Home and the park, our park, become relatively safe. The strangely familiar. I am the most known person to her, now and we have only known each other for an increased amount of time for a few weeks. The reality is, that during the Introductions of several weeks, we still hadn't spent 12 hours together in a 24 hours period until she came home to be with me for the last leg of Introductions. We go to the park everyday. It becomes part of our daily routine, our new ritual. It all still very new for her, the strangely familiar.
We go beyond the park to the river after a few weeks. I thought it would be nice to see the swans and the boats. She becomes distressed and cries and starts saying I want to go home Mummy. We need to go back. I want to go home Mummy. She clings to me and becomes anxious. We return to the familiar park, reassuring her all the time. she seems to relax a little and we return home. The strangely familiar is more strange than familiar.
Taking her to a supermarket - even if the supermarket was the same brand name - was a completely new experience, new turf, the unknown, the never been here before, place. The trolley is different, the store layout is different, no one walking down the aisles is familiar, the car park is different, the journey to and from the supermarket is different. Heightened anxiety, hyper vigilance, fear, fright, flight takes hold. We kept it to a minimum. I pre-stocked the freezer and cupboards with familiar foods, and meals, based on the list the foster carer had given me that I had requested, prior to Introductions starting. Family stocked the fridge with fresh milk and fresh food prior to us arriving home for the last leg of Introductions. Friends turned up at tea time with a home cooked meal to drop off for us to eat - for the first week - which we then extended for 10 days - so that I could focus on PJ and not worry about having hot things and knives in the same breath, when it was the start of being the wrong end of the day to leave PJ alone whilst I cooked tea. I did Internet shopping for the first few weeks and we went in the buggy to the same small local store if we could. After a month we did a bigger shop. To a bigger store. Not the green one Mummy, not the green one, she cried. No, it's OK, I reassured, we are going to the yellow one. For some reason the thought of going to the green store, triggered a memory, a past trauma that resulted in some anxieties. We went to the yellow store. It was tough going for us both. She refused to go in the trolley, tripped on the wheel of the trolley and bashed her nose. And cried. I cradled her in my arms and did my best to soothe and calm her as we both and the trolley queued at the checkout. With everyone staring. 4.30pm is the wrong side of the day to be doing this, I tell myself. Shopping with a 3 year old is strangely familiar to me, too.