Manoeuvring In The Dark

There are moments in life when it’s clear that the decision you’re about to make will affect the rest of your life. When you have a family, you have to cast the dice on what is best for you, your partner, and your children. It’s such an impossible task, a huge responsibility, and nothing can prepare you for it.

That was exactly the kind of situation my husband Diego and I found ourselves a few months ago. It took us countless evenings of pondering, discussing, arguing, and fighting. Then planning, swaying, rethinking, and replanning. But eventually, we reached a resolution.

And here we are today, surrendered by boxes and empty shelves. Where once were furniture, now there are only dents in the carpet. They are deep marks, indentations that won’t easily disappear. We have been at this crossroad before, but not as a family.

We have sold our much-loved family home, and most of its content too, because in a couple of months we’ll say farewell to this country and head back to Italy.

I’m overwhelmed by the conflicting emotions this change brings up, and I find it really tricky to explain how I feel. Excited, afraid, happy, worried, panicky, overpowered and so much more all at the same time.

We will have to figure out how to bring a bit of England back with us. For our son, this place is part of who he is, where he was born. We don’t want him to forget his origins. And for us, after almost 20 years, this place is part of who we are too.

This decision has the potential to be one of the hard conversations waiting for us in the future. Since becoming parents, at every turn, we have been finding ourselves wondering how we’ll justify our decisions. Adoption gives even more chances for difficult conversations. Every word exchanged in contact letters with birth parents and relatives has to be chosen carefully, because we are keenly aware that one day our son will judge us on those words, and the choice we took for him. This time is no different.

I don’t know how I will explain to my son Ben that, although moving to Italy with us meant sacrificing part of his heritage, it was what we thought was best for him, and in the process he gained a life surrounded by a larger family. That we didn’t intend to hijack his life, or tear him away from what happened in the early part of this life story. We will always support his relationship with his birth parents and brother, correspond with both of them, and never forget about them. Moving doesn’t need to change everything.

We are striving to make this move as smooth and stress-free as possible for him. Our little Ben is enthusiastic and he’s already planning what to sell and what to take with him. His telling his friends about the big lorry which will collect all our stuff, and the plane that will take us in the new house.

I heard a song playing on the radio not long ago. It fitted so perfectly well in our life. I want to believe that those words are true, that what matters in the end is just being together, no matter where.

Cause they say home is where your heart is set in stone
Is where you go when you’re alone
Is where you go to rest your bones.

It’s not just where you lay your head
It’s not just where you make your bed
As long as we’re together, does it matter where we go?

(Gabrielle Aplin – Home)

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From foster care to {F}OSTER

A few months ago a new contact popped up on my Twitter feed, his name is Sirrele. I was captivated by the story of this young man, by his courage and his determination in making a difference in somebody’s life.

Sirrele’s life wasn’t an easy one. He was removed from his mother’s care before he was 2 and placed in the system. The placement became an extremely abusive environment that continued until he was in junior high school. After trying to protect his younger brother from abuse, he was placed in a juvenile detention center, then into a multiple group homes. He left one of the group homes to live on his own for 4 months at the age of 14. Then had an opportunity to reconcile with his mother in Sacramento. In Sacramento, he met two individuals that changed his life, Charles Kidd and Ed Manansala, who he now considers his dads. It was through their unconditional love and mentorship that helped change his trajectory in life.

You can watch him talk about his life story, and about {F}oster, his new project for children in care.

Sirrele has two big passions. One of them is helping children in foster care. At the age of 15, he began his advocacy for foster youth to help provide a voice to a community that needs it the most. His other passion is software engineering. He is the founder of {F}OSTER, a virtual free-of-charge coding mentoring program for foster youth ages 14-24.

Sirrele hopes to create a safe space for foster youth in the competitive world of computer programming. He knows first-hand that without a humble, responsive, sincere mentor, many youths–especially foster youth–can feel alone without a shoulder to lean on. {F}OSTER is that shoulder! {F}OSTER is that support system!



Sirrele agreed to a short interview. Here’s what he told us.

Where the idea of {F}oster comes from?

I wanted to combine both of my passions, Foster Care and Software Development in a way that I could give back in an impactful way. Mentorship and programming have saved my life and I want other foster youth to experience the same thing.

How far into the project are you?

We are starting the actual pairing of Foster Youth and programmers in May 2018 (foster care awareness month). In the meantime, we are actively developing partnerships and internal processes to ensure that mentors and mentees have the best experience. My main goal is to get as many foster youth and programmers as possible!

Have you collected any material to use as reference?

Our mentors will be assisting mentees in a Code Academy course of their choosing. Each week they will use Discord, which is like Skype on steroids, to communicate with each other. The commitment is an hour, however, we do encourage that they spend more time together if possible. Before we pair the mentors, we will have training so that the mentors get a better understanding of the community they are going to be serving.

What reaction have you had so far?

Everyone has been extremely supportive! I have connected with 14+ organizations (school districts, foster care organisations, and tech companies) and plan to grow our partnerships. There are many youth across the states that are wanting to be mentored. Programmers are seeing this as an opportunity to get away from there daily code and give back.

What kind of commitment is required of programmers who want to join the initiative? Can small groups of programmers offer tutoring for the same child?

Right now we are looking at a week commitment. However, I have been posed this question a lot, and even more so by programmers. I really want to think about this a little more. I really see the value of one-on-one mentorships. I don’t know how the mentees will deal will having too many mentors that may be less involved.

What kind of technologies are kids more interested in? (general programming, web programming, hardware automation, etc)

I think it’s hard to answer this. Most people getting into programming do not have a full conception of all the options. My goal is to have the mentors introduce them to those options and pair them with a programmer in a field that they find interesting.

What kind of help do you need to promote {F}oster?

I would like AS MUCH help as possible! I would like to be in the position that there are too many youth or programmers interested! Any support to help get as many programmers and foster youth would be really appreciated!

How can people interested in the project get in contact with you?

I can be found on social media: Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Feel free to reach out to me. I’m always happy to hear from people interested in the project.

I hope you believe this project as much as I do Please, add Sirrele to your contacts, and help spread the voice about this worthy initiative.

{F}oster is accepting applications for mentors and mentees! If this sounds interesting, please fill out this online form!
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All about Adoption Conversations

In February 2017, after a three-year wait, I became the mother to a lively toddler boy who was born and grown up in India. I was the mother to a girl already and I was quite full of myself regarding parenting. Sleep, diapers, tantrums. I knew the drill, nothing could surprise me anymore, right? Oh, little did I know.

Adoptive parenting is a whole new dimension. Sure, I was spared a good degree of torture by not being a first-timer, but I had to train myself on a whole new set of skills. I had to document on trauma and its manifestations. I embarked on a journey which I feel will last years, potentially my whole life.

Books, communities, discussion groups, events, I researched adoption everywhere I could. I am a passionate podcast listener, so naturally I looked into adoption-related podcasts quite early on. There are some exceptional ones, which I follow and listen to regularly. However, I started longing for one which would expand the view and embrace different perspectives. There are excellent resources for adoptive parents. Others focus on adoptees and their experiences. And most podcasts are US- or UK-centered. I stood there, in the middle of all these different voices. And I was based in Finland, whose adoption and care system has little similarities to US and UK. I decided I wanted to collect all these voices and add the unheard ones. This is how my project of the Adoption Conversations podcast started.

Adoption Conversations is a weekly podcast where I interview guests with any kind of link to adoption. I have no agenda with it. I’m not trying to prove adoption is good or bad. I’m simply documenting my humble learning journey and collecting as many experiences and testimonies as possible.

My target audience is anyone who is interested or involved in adoption, as are my guests. So far, I have interviewed some adoptive parents and adult adoptees. I plan to host also birth family members, as well as experts, social workers, researchers, and policy-makers. When searching for guests, I am reaching out to people from different countries, to get in touch with diverse perspectives and experiences. I am convinced we can learn a lot from how processes and policies work in other countries.

You can find the Adoption Conversations podcast on my blog, ITunes, and Google Play. I appreciate any kind of feedback, so feel free to reach out if you have suggestions or comments, as well as if you have a story to tell.

I am passionate about documenting my learning journey and spreading information about adoption. Outreach can plant small seeds of change.

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The Kindness of Strangers

“Good morning Mrs Boccaleone. Could you please come to pre-school? Something has happened and we need to talk to you straight away”.

The few months before the Christmas holidays have seen my son’s behaviour becoming more and more aggressive towards other kids at school. But this time was different. There was a tone of urgency and uneasiness in Mrs Smith’s voice, the headteacher at pre-school.

I asked few questions, I wanted to understand what was going on, and finally Mrs Smith just said “you need to come to school right away. Your son cut another child with scissors. He did it on purpose”.

A picture flashed in my head: my son with scissors in his hand, a deep cut, blood, screams and tears. I dropped everything and rushed to school.

Once at school, I was invited into a tiny office. I could only recognise Mrs Smith. Who were the other people present? I was asked to seat, and then Mrs Smith started “we asked you to come over for a meeting because Ben’s behaviour during the last few months has been very aggressive towards other children and staff. Today your son cut another child, but luckily this was just a light graze. We are concerned for the safeguard of the children in the class. We are here today with the family support worker, the head of inclusion, and the children protection officer.”

And however it’s unlike me, I burst down in tears. I couldn’t stop crying. I was thinking about that little boy my son hurt, at my son and how scared he must have felt, at how things got quickly out of hand. Most of all, I was thinking at how I could have let go things this far, at how I failed to protect and help my son when he most needed it.

After what it seems to be forever, I calmed down and recomposed myself. The school staff seemed open to help, but they didn’t know how. They were asking me what to do, and if I had any idea. This was a first for their little school. I asked them to give me a couple of days to come up with a plan.

When I was ready to leave they added, “we will need to report the incident to social services, so you might get a call from them”.

Great! That was just great!

The feeling of having failed my son was so overwhelming that I couldn’t think, I couldn’t come up with a plan, I couldn’t remember even one of the suggestion read in books. I felt lost, unprepared, and defeated.

Then I put a post on my Facebook page asking for help. And someone, a complete stranger, answered to my plead with a simple “call me on…” followed by his mobile number. So I did.

We talked for an hour or so. He told me about his life with his adopted children. He spoke with honesty and kindness. And he gave me few ideas on what to do. Not everything he said was new, but the advice of an informed person looking at your situation from outside can be invaluable.

I own this guy so much! After that call, I felt like a new person. The time for crying was over, we had a plan to follow.

When I came back to the school with my plan to help my son managing his emotions, all the professionals were really impressed. They didn’t have anything to add to it. They also took notes and said they’ll implement some aspects of my plan with some other challenging kids. Thanks God for the professionals!

Three months down the line and we can now draw some conclusions. My son seems to be much happier, and much more in control of his emotions. We had a couple of incidents at school, but nothing as serious or as often as before.

The Twitter community and social media in general are made of amazingly experienced people. There have been other difficult times in the past, and it happened before that one of my online friends had offered me their phone number. I never did. Out of shyness, pride, fear for what that might say.

That was a mistake.

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Bedtime Questions

My adoptive son, 5, has been with myself and my wife for three and a half years now. He is strong healthy and adorable and has taken to school life far better than we ever expected.

He is intelligent and now has begun asking questions about who he is at bedtime to catch me on the hop. Well that’s how it makes me feel. We read our bedtime book, snuggle and suddenly “you know the lady that made me, what is her name?”. “You know the man that made me, is he still in prison, is he a bad man?”.

When first answering these questions, the words of his social worker rattled in my head “be honest, age appropriate and consistent”. I answered that the lady that made him could not look after him and did not feed him properly and the man that made him sold chemicals called drugs and smoked them near him in the house. I told him they did love him but loved the other things in their life more.

As quickly as the questions come, they are replaced with “when is it Christmas” or “can we play Lego Star Wars tomorrow?”. Amazing how resilient children are, and we as their parents are there to drip feed the information they need as their questions and curiosity is stimulated by school, friends and situations.

I will be ready for the next question probably while reading the Grufallo or a Squash and a Squeeze as we snuggle.

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Play encourages attachment

It is never too early or too late to make or even strengthen the bond between a parent and a child. The best ways to create a bond is through laughter and play. It doesn’t matter if you are playing with toys or just you two; the main instrument you can use is having fun. Due to that, I want to share with you a few games you can play with your children to encourage attachment.

Hide and seek

Hide and seek is a great game because it keeps kids occupied and it is extremely fun. Hide and seek is a game which develops the creativity and object permanence and the best part is that you don’t need anything but you and your kid. It is a great game you can play inside during the boring rainy days and you both will have a lot of fun. The game has a special meaning for children how have been neglected in the past. It reminds them that someone is looking after them and that this person cares so much about them that he or she is ready to look everywhere to find them.

Swimming

There is something peaceful in slowly swimming in warm water. If your child is not a good swimmer, gently hug him and let him feel safe. Teaching a child how to swim requires trust between two people, which is something many hurt children struggle with. Remember to start slow, build gradually, and always let the child set the pace.

Reading books

After a day filled with activities, the evening is the right time for some storytelling. Grab a children’s favorite book, tuck your kid in bed and start reading. Your kid will listen to your gentle voice and slowly enter in the world of dreams. Now, that is a perfect end to a day.

Table games

Game tables are a great addition to any game rooms and they are a lot of fun. If you want to strengthen the bond with a little older child you can get a tabletop version of the air hockey or even foosball table and play a match or two. Game tables are great team games because you can’t play them alone and they offer a chance to start bonding with someone. You will spend time together and it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, you will have fun. It is a game which can teach how teams work, which can help a child later in life.

Foosball has always been a special game for me. I grew up on it and the thing I like the most about foosball is the fact that you have to play it with someone. My favorite part of the day when I was a kid was going to the arcades with my father to play foosball because we didn’t have it at home. Later, when I grew up, I and my friends played it all day long. We were the perfect team, we knew each other styles and we could see which move the other will do before he did it. It was a bond which made us an unstoppable dream team through college and we played in local tournaments few times. This bond we had is still strong but not as before, now we all have families and we want to share our foosball experience with our family.

Games like foosball can define your life without you even noticing it, and that is what makes them so special.

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Who’s my family

Growing up I often questioned if I was the biological daughter of my parents. I’m sure most people think that at some point in their life, but I had good reasons to be suspicious, or so I thought.

I didn’t look anything like my parents. I couldn’t see any resemblance in the shape of their mouth, or the colour of their eyes. I felt out of place in my family, I never really identify with them, and I used to wonder if there was someone out there that looked like me.

When my little brother was born, this uneasy feeling of having been switched at birth became even stronger. My brother and I couldn’t be more different: one is tall, the other is short. One has olive skin, the other pale. One has brown eyes, the other green. The differences are also clear in our personalities. I lost count of how times, in my twenties, my brother was mistakenly confused for my new boyfriend, which just confirmed my insecurity towards my origins.

Then the years passed, I met Diego, and eventually, we got married. That was when I decided to change my maiden name and become a Boccaleone, taking Diego’s name. My parents were less than thrilled with my choice. In Italy, unlike the UK, there is no option of changing your name once married. It’s something to do with the right of privacy or some other very typical Italian nonsense. So, the newly married couple goes on with their new life maintaining their respective family names. But for me, that was the perfect excuse to cut free from a family name that never really represent who I was, and that never did.

For about 15 years now, I’ve been a Boccaleone, Mrs Laura Boccaleone. When our son Ben arrived to live with us, I was immensely proud of being able to give him our family name. That name was my promise to Ben of a forever family, our forever family together.

Soon, I might have to reverse to my old maiden name. A name that was never truly mine, a name that I haven’t used in a very long time, a name that doesn’t reflect me, nor my family.

I know very well that Ben, Diego and I are not kept together by a name, but I have an irrational fear that once I won’t be a Boccaleone anymore, our family will grow apart.

I see our last name as the heart of our family, that one thing we all have in common. We don’t have genetics on our side, we haven’t been always together, we all have a past that doesn’t include the others. Boccalone is where we came to be as one.

My son will grow up and it’s possible he will feel like I felt all my life in respect of my parents. He might struggle to feel truly part of our family, and he will have a million questions. This is what I’d like him to know:

Dear Ben, we became truly a family the day you arrived to live with us. I might not be your only mum, and I’ll never hide that from you, but you will always be my only son.

You belong to our family because you have made it one. Go out, explore who you are and where you came from, in the knowledge that you will always have a place to call home, somewhere to return to, and a family that you will always be able to call your own.

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Troublemaker

Last week I was called in the headmaster’s office, again.

I got to the school to pick up my son Ben, and instead of finding him sitting on the carpet with all the other children, I was asked to go into the office as Mrs Smith wanted to talk to me. Ben was sitting there, in a corner of the office, on a chair that made him looks small and helpless despite being a big and tall boy.

Mrs Smith started talking, “Ben hit a child twice today while sitting on the carpet and waiting for the pick-up time”. I went down on my knees and look at my son. He looked uncomfortable and embarrassed.

Mrs Smith carried on, “He bossed everyone around, as if he was in charge of grown-ups and children”. I sweetly asked him if that was true, and he burst into tears. He hugged me and said he was sorry. He didn’t want to let go of my neck. I could feel his tears running down my cheek.

Mrs Smith didn’t quite finish yet, “When we told him off and explained he didn’t behave kindly, he didn’t show any remorse so we had to take him in timeout in my office”.

It felt wrong taking a child away and isolate him from everyone else. What does that teach him? He wasn’t a danger to anyone, and they could have just sat him next to one of the teachers. But their choice was to remove him from the room.

I‘ve been called to talk to the teachers more times that I can remember. Ben started preschool just after his second birthday and no long after that, my visits to the school office started. And with it my frustration.

I know my son. I know how strong-headed he can be at times. I know how he likes to be always first, how he thinks he knows better than anyone else, how he’s sure he can decide not only for himself, but for us as well. But I also know he has a big and generous heart, and his teachers seem to be blind to it.

He’s three and a half years old. He’s learning to control his emotions. At that age, everything is so intense, so permanent. Anger quickly becomes rage, and I’m proud of Ben when he punches the floor instead of a person! Love becomes obsession, and sometimes his hugs and kisses resemble more a headbutt or a strangling than a demonstration of affection. All the emotions at this age come powerfully like a crashing wave and staying afloat becomes almost impossible.

My son has been labelled as the troublemaker kid, the one who is tricky to handle, the one who will look at you straight in the eyes as to dare you. And I’m angry about the way the teacher handled the situation and upset to realise how the school is failing him at such a key stage of his emotional and social development.

It’s not a matter of adoption, or trauma, or previous experiences. It’s a matter of parenting styles. I don’t believe in seclusion, and I don’t believe in reproaching a child for not feeling remorseful. I wonder if they gave him the chance to tame his emotions, calm down and reflect on his actions before demanding a remorseful apology.

My son woke up in the middle of the night crying and saying, “I’m sorry I’ve been bad at school yesterday” and, when I picked him up from school the following day, the first thing he told me was, “I didn’t beat up anyone today”. It was hard to hear, he must have felt anxious about it! The previous day experience didn’t teach him resentment, but surely made him feel guilty and left him feeling like a bad child.

I never really wondered much about what a school should offer, it never really was any of my concern. In a way, I just gave for granted that schools would be exactly what I thought they should be.

The school should co-parenting our children, but as parents, we don’t have much saying on how they do it. And although I recognised the school as being run by professionals, I’m not sure I agree with their methods, when their ways differ so greatly from mine. When his teacher reports about Ben has had a good day, there is always a tinge of surprise in her voice, as if his good behaviour is the exception.

This week my son came home with a long red scratch on his cheek. When I asked him about it, he explained that a friend hurt him so that he could take away the train he was playing with. I asked the teachers the same question. They told me they didn’t know what had happened and when Ben gave his side of the story, they decided not to believe him.

I suppose that children labelled as troublemakers never get the benefit of being right, and never run the risk of being hurt by someone else.

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