I love you. I love you. I love you.

J on London OvergroundThis rather surly and uncommunicative young man is a far cry from the hyped seven year old who set out with me for three weeks in Croatia all those years ago. The eyes are the same, though his lashes and eyebrows have darkened and coarsened with puberty. Step to his side, and the streak of white hair still flashes brightly, a reminder of his birthmother and siblings who bear the same unusual mark. His limbs are longer, and muscled, his back and neck are broad, and his skin, which was once improbably white and clear, is rough and tanned and still bristly after a week’s camping. I look at him, and I feel the pain of no longer being able to gently nuzzle his head. I touch him and he brushes me away. My son is growing up quickly.

Eight years earlier…. J went into a deep meltdown at Stansted airport, not long after we’d met my sister and her family, and as we made our way to the departure gate. His anxiety had been building steadily, and so had mine as I focused on the complexities of our planned trip around Croatia using public transport. We had booked accommodation in Dubrovnik, Split and Zagreb, as well as on the island of Vis. The adults knew exactly where we were going and Camilla and Lloyd’s girls were happy to place their trust in us to get them there safely. J had had a different and altogether more dangerous history, where adults let you down and sometimes disappeared. The past year had been spent helping him develop a sense of control over his environment, and the impression at least that he had choices. But there, that morning, J must have felt very out of control as we moved through the unfriendly and incomprehensible structure which is the modern airport. Check-in. Passport check. Security. Duty free. Rush to departure gate. He threw himself to the ground and screamed.

It was a great holiday but it wasn’t easy. The children remember running on Dubrovnik’s ramparts, our trip by motorboat from Vis to the Blue Grotto, and endless joyful fishing on the island. I remember spending a lot of time devising strategies with my sister and brother in law to try to keep J calm. Camilla and Lloyd’s lasting memory is of trying to keep ME calm. J moved from his cousins’ bedroom into mine, we set aside time each day for him to be alone with me. J repeated ‘I love you. I love you. I love you’ as he strived to secure himself to his new family.


Today is the start of another holiday, and this time we are on our way to Sorrento in Italy where once again Camilla and Lloyd and their youngest daughter Eliza will meet us. J is a very much more confident traveller these days who has recently completed the Silver Duke of Edinburgh test expedition: three days with a heavy backpack walking and camping in the Peak District…. And I can confidently say that I am no longer an anxious mum.

While we are in Sorrento we plan to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum … Except that it is Eliza who now has the morbid fear of death and volcanoes, and so it will be J’s turn now to do the calming.

Happy holidays!

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8 comments

  1. What a moving story. Something that strikes me is that J is so lucky to have you as his mum. How gratifying it must be to witness his development from frightened little boy to confident young man. I hope you all enjoy your stay in Sorrento.

    1. It’s lovely of you to say that. Yes, I think he does genuinely feel lucky to have been adopted, and would happily speak out for adoption. Like many teenagers though, he has moments when I’m sure he wishes he had different parents πŸ™‚ I meanwhile feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to be his parent and watch him grow up into such a lovely young man. Even when he’s at his most uncommunicative!

  2. I am in awe of the enormity of your holiday to Croatia and the confidence with which you approached it. I think it’s wonderful that you could take J on such an exciting trip. It was lovely to read about your memories of that time. I too have been writing about how my oldest boy is growing this week, I hope you and your growing young man enjoy your holiday in Sorrento.

    Thank you for linking to #WASO

    1. It’s always surprised me that after that rocky start, in fact J took to travelling very well. I might have been a bit over ambitious that year though. I wonder if your son is like J and goes through these bursts of development and suddenly you don’t really know them or even recognise them any more. Very disconcerting.

  3. Wow! Amazing experience. Thank you for sharing it.

    1. Thanks for commenting Erin. Hope you’re having a great summer πŸ™‚

  4. Wow, what an ambitious trip you took all those years ago! I loved reading this, even though my OB is only three and growing up seems a long way away. Travelling is one of the things I long to share with him, but I think your Croatia trip is out of our league for now!

    1. I’ve always enjoyed travelling (in fact I worked in travel for years) so did really hope I would be able to continue with J. Lucky me that it worked out and he has loved it as much as me. Writing this from a bar in Siena in Italy where we are allowing ourselves an hour or to glue ourselves to our electricals. Really, getting around in Croatia is very straightforward! You should try it πŸ™‚

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