This last week we have finally embarked on branching out a little, with journeys a little further afield. I had tried to listen to advice given on the preparation group training and not plan any long journeys in the car until now. No big journeys or long holidays for at least 6 months, they said. Now, I have a lot of friends and family, all spread around the nation - and into the nations - and I love to travel and to have friends to stay as well as to go and stay with them. It has felt like a life sentence at times, cabin fever, my wings clipped, to remain so local and true to the cause but the wait has been worth it. PJ came to me from out of my local authority area, so travelling long distances - several hours - each way for part of our introductions meant loooong days for her when she did some initial visits to my home. We planned introductions to do several day visits before we began the overnight stays. The reason being, she was young and transition and change and past trauma of being moved could trigger anxieties for her at a very vulnerable stage of a major upheaval being imminent : her moving from her stable environment with her foster carers to live with me. The reason at Preparation group it is advised to take long journeys and holidays with caution, is it is too unsettling for them. Time and distance and new places can trigger fears of moving on again and wondering if we will ever go back to our home again that is, by all intents and purposes, still relatively new to them. We were told stories of families booking big holidays abroad in the first few months and then wondering why sleepless nights, unsettled behaviours and the children regress. Children who have travelled many hours to move to their new adoptive home might associate a long journey by car with returning to their foster placement again.
So, with all this in mind and gradually getting to know PJ, we have approached the idea of travelling and going away with care and given it time and preparation. When PJ first arrived, she would cry and become distressed and ask to go home when we got beyond our local park. I spent weeks driving the same pattern in the car to certain places, pointing out key landmarks on the way: the doctors, the postbox, a friends house, the park etc. as the weeks went by, PJ would audibly recite the route as we journeyed along it saying past the park, past the postbox where we post our letters, past our friends house where we go and play. It was like little connections, pieces of a jigsaw, falling into place. I hoped that this would breed a sense of security, the strange becoming familiar and help her orientation to a new place and give a firmer foundation for belonging.
Friends and family have visited us and have stayed overnight locally and I have gradually broadened our horizons with day trips of half hour car ride to an hour each way. I have picked places that have gradually increased our journeying time so we pass the previously visited places, to act as landmarks as we then ventured into new territory.
So, 6 months in, I had a plan. I planned a long day trip. We have met the people we went to for the day trip several times as they have come to see us and we skype and phone them regularly, which has helped, as well as photos of their home in PJ's Introduction book. Knowing that we had an overnight stay, looming, I also got her a little suitcase that I gave her the day before we did our day trip, that will be perfect for a few nights stay away once we get to that stage. We talked about going in the car early to get there for lunch and staying for tea and having a bath there and coming home in pyjamas to sleep in our own beds at home. She helped me pack her pyjamas and a towel and then added an interesting and rather eclectic mix of assorted "useful" items into the case as she saw fit! She then spent a lot of the day wheeling her new suitcase around and showing it off to friends. We had a truly fabulous day although, when we arrived some 2 hours later at our destination, just as I was turning off the car ignition she said: Mummy I want to go home! Knowing she says this often when we go anywhere, new or familiar, I uttered a few reassuring words and once we were out of the car, the adventure became quite magical. She loved the day and we had no wet pants, no tears, no regressive behaviours. She was my dream little girl!
This last week, we have done our first overnight stay with friends. Again, this was met with great excitement once I explained it all to her. She was a little hesitant about some of my plans but we got there in the end. She was unsure at visiting one of the places I mentioned, presumably fear of the unknown was kicking in, despite having previously met one of the friends we were meeting and seeing some photos of where we were going. We did go there but I introduced it as a place we would play, which seemed to settle some anxieties she had. It was actually the area where I grew up, so it will be a place that over the years we will visit often and she will hear stories over time of my memories and this place will grow up with her and hopefully help her connectedness develop. It was lovely to run around with her in some of the places I had run as a child and show her a few places I have begun to tell stories of. Then we went to the friends we were staying overnight with. I had taken her own duvet but of course she didn't want to use it! She took several hours to settle down to sleep - and woke up early saying: Mummy, let's not just stay for one sleep, let's stay for lots of sleeps! 5 sleeps.
it was great to hear and hopefully this has paved the way for many more journeys and adventures and holidays to come.