"I hate presents, go away!!!" the child screams.
"I hate you" when you bought them a new top.
"Why would you buy me socks? I don't need more bloody socks," after you try to replace some old socks with new ones.
"You know I can't choose," in tears because you asked them to choose between eating a Twix or a Mars Bar.
"Err, um, hmm, I, I, I, what, err, I don't know," frozen in a panic because they are too scared to tell you that they would like a sandwich rather than chips.
At first glance, you might mistake these responses for those of Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Indeed, they may appear brattish upon initial reading. However, it is important to recognise that these are not the words of a spoiled child, but rather the expressions of a deeply traumatised adopted child. Their fear of what you, as the adult, expect in return creates a sense of danger even in the smallest gestures, such as receiving a simple biscuit can be enough to set their triggers off.
It's heartbreaking to watch, 10 years in, and we still get this daily. The Freeze and explosive panic when I ask them what they would like to do, eat, drink, or wear. The blank expression can appear like they have learning difficulties because they can't answer—it's easier to look 'special' than to risk making the wrong decision. Worst of all are the missed opportunities of the things they really wanted but were too scared to communicate in case you let them down. They end up 'choosing' something they never wanted because it's safer.
The hangover from trauma runs very deep in adopted children. It's so hidden and ingrained in their very core that I sometimes wonder if it will ever truly leaves. After all, I didn't cause the harm to my children, but I am the keeper of that reminder. In my attempts to give them the love, care, and nurturing every child needs, I also remind them of all they have lost. That pain is raw.
My children know they can never return to their birth family, but it doesn't make it okay. It doesn't stop their pain, nor does it erase their identity. Within the intricate tapestry of their lives, my children exist as part of two families—their birth family and my own. Their story encompasses several siblings they have never had the chance to meet, aunts and uncles who may have faded from memory, and three mothers who have played distinct roles in their lives. From the birth mother who brought them into this world, to the foster mother who provided care during their transitional period, and finally, to me—their adoptive mother—we are all woven together in their remarkable journey, contributing to their unique identity and history.
My children need an apology - its simple, isn't it? They long for the acknowledgment of what they have endured. A genuine sorry for the pain they have suffered would mean the world to them from the adults who should have kept them safe. Yet, they understand and are prepared for the possibility that this apology may never come.
As I have said before, Adoption is messy; it can get ugly. But this is my children's story; I can’t take that away from them. All I can do is walk beside them.