We don’t listen to Fleetwood Mac in our house.
Well, to be more specific, we don’t listen to their multi million selling album Rumours, and we have to make every effort to avoid ‘I don’t want to know’ from ever coming up on the radio, whether it be in the kitchen or in the car.
It’s not that we don’t like Fleetwood Mac, we do, especially the early stuff with Peter Green.
It’s the visceral, terrifying reaction this great British Blues Band provokes in our adopted son.
We discovered this purely by chance.
I don’t hold the Radio 2 DJ Ken Bruce responsible, but it was during his mid morning slot that ‘I don’t want to know’ came out of the car stereo.
‘No, no, no, no!’ screamed our seven year old.
At that time, he was with us on a foster placement and he’d been in our family for about a year.
He sat bolt upright in the car as soon as the first unmistakable beats were played.
As he screamed, he stared straight ahead, his whole body clenched in a rigid spasm.
I tuned off the radio, pulled over and parked up.
He was shaking. I was shaking.
He made it very clear that he didn’t want to hear that song and he didn’t want to talk about why he didn’t want to hear that song.
He’s never discussed it since, and we’ve not considered it necessary to broach the subject.
We can only assume that the song was the soundtrack, possibly the ringtone, to an episode in his past that was so traumatic that it must be avoided at all costs.
Sometimes, it’s worth helping such a child investigate their past.
Sometimes, it’s not.
In fostering and adoption, helping a child come to terms with their past is known as ‘life story work’. You probably find that songs, theme tunes, photos, TV programmes and even smells evoke strong emotions in you.
These emotions can help you heal, and help you understand your past, even if they bring a tear to your eye.
You can probably link the emotion to a time, a place or a person.
However, if you were taken into care in your early, formative years, it’s perfectly possible that emotional triggers come without context. It’s just frightening and it’s incomprehensible.
And there’s no one to ask.
Family history is a shared set of half truths, seen from a variety of perspectives, all of which are a little but wrong. Parents, grandparents, siblings and extended family all contribute.
Many kids in care experience a massive dislocation with their past, and have no ‘family memory’.
Our adopted son had a history of struggling in January.
It’s not a fun month for many of us.
The excitement of Christmas and the New Year are over.
The days are short, the weather is miserable and it’s a long time until Spring.
But for him, it was a time of intense distress, and I mean that in a ‘Foster Carer’s Scale’ not a ‘Regular Parent’s Scale’. I mean a long sequence of disrupted nights, apparently mindless violence and destruction. I mean ‘far away eyes’ where you just can’t reach him. We’d been trained to look for the reason behind the behaviour, which is quite difficult when you are drained and beginning to suffer from Secondary Trauma, which is a sort of PTSD-lite! In a rare, calm moment, we realised that he’d experienced a particularly difficult ‘transition’ in a January a few years previously.
He didn’t know why, but he was terrified.
The coming down of the Christmas tree, the short days and the bad weather all reminded him of a terrifying time and deep deep down, he thought his life was going to be tipped upside down again.
We had no solutions but at least we had a reason. We figured if we could just keep going, one day at a time, we’d get away from January and maybe it would get easier, and it did.
We went from the brink of breakdown to a much more manageable and even enjoyable household.
We are now on our 7th January. Each one gets a little bit easier, and at least we know what to expect.
If you’re a foster carer or an adopter I hope you learn to spot those triggers and learn to manage them.
If you’re interested in finding about fostering or adoption, get in touch with your Council, or get in touch with me.