“But wouldn’t you rather have a baby?”.
I took a deep breath. I was on the phone to one of three local primary schools, explaining that I was in the process of being approved to adopt, and asking if I could come in and visit so that I was well prepared when the time came to find a school place. Girl or boy, I wasn’t sure which at that stage, but I knew already that my future child was likely to be what the adoption world calls “an older child”, one of only 850* 5 to 9 year olds adopted from care each year.
That School Secretary’s question was thankfully very untypical of people’s reactions generally to my news, and she didn’t get anything like a full answer from me, needless to say. In fact, my reasons for wanting a school aged child were less emotional and more practical (in particular around needing to carry on working as a single parent) and statistical (I was likely to be matched with an older, harder to place, child much more quickly). I simply wanted to be a mother, something I had wanted for as long as I could remember, and age did not matter to me. I say it wasn’t an emotional decision, but the emotions certainly kicked in later!
My darling boy was six and three quarters when, not very long after that conversation, he moved in with me on the first day of the school summer holidays. He had been in foster care for four years, and a year earlier had featured on the front page of the Sun newspaper under the headline Neglected, Abandoned or Hurt. It was a National Adoption Week Special.
There are many adoption stereotypes, in particular about older children, and my son has confounded them. That is not to say that we have not had our ups and downs, or that I don’t sometimes find parenting immensely challenging. Adolescence and all that that involves has recently come as a bit of a shock to our hitherto fairly easy relationship. Nor do I want in any way to negate the very real difficulties that adopters of children of all ages can and do experience every day.
But…. older children need adopting too. My son was so ready for adoption when he came to me, he could hardly breathe. He threw himself body and soul into our extended family, and loved us all with an intensity that startled us. When he told me some years in that he had always loved me, and that he always would, I knew absolutely that that was the truth.
He is now a clever, handsome and funny 15 year old. This year he has learned to play the guitar, picked up the Maths Challenge Gold Award (a national competition) and a special certificate for being Best in Year, done a two week work experience with adults with learning disabilities, and he has just completed a three day Silver Duke of Edinburgh expedition in the Peak District.
So, School Secretary, “You can stuff that in your pipe and smoke it”.
*adoption figures for England, 2013.
I wrote this post for the British Association for Adoption & Fostering’s website, and it was published there today. BAAF supports, advises and campaigns for better outcomes for children in care. They work with everyone involved with adoption and fostering across the UK, and they also organise National Adoption Week, which this year takes place from 3 to 9 November.
I am linking this post up to the Weekly Adoption Shout Out #WASO83 over at the Adoption Social.
The image on my home page which illustrates this post is of a work by Anthony McCall, courtesy of the Serpentine Gallery 2007.