I’d seen the TV programme.
I’d talked to my social worker.
I’d read the odd article and surfed around on the internet.
I’d watched with interest as friends online talked about their views and thoughts.
I’d been sort of glad when my first opportunity to attend had been easily ruled out by it clashing with a wedding day (it wasn’t even an option, so I didn’t have to think – which was probably helpful).
I’d spent much time considering and pondering and wondering and contemplating.
I still didn’t know what I thought. But I decided that this whole journey is about learning and new experiences and I will try every experience I can. And thus I found myself, despite my reservations and my uncertainty, regardless of my slight excitement and apprehension, on my way to my first Adoption Activity Day.
I was looking forward, first, to meeting one of my online buddies – we’d tried to arrange a previous “tweetup” but failed so this was our first opportunity to turn online chatter into real life drinks (and no doubt more chatter). We both made it and it was great not only to put a face and name to the Twitter handle but also to exchange notes and to chat and to feel less alone.
After much slapstick hilarity as the two of us drove in convoy up and down and round and round the village seeking out the venue (who knew such a small rural enclave could possibly have three schools to drive between?) we made it, parked up and walked towards the entrance.
So first impressions? Well – it was busier than I had anticipated. It would appear from the introductory talk it was also somewhat busier than the organisers (BAAF) had anticipated or planned too mind you! It was also hot. Some people were in full fancy dress; many were showing off a home-made hat, or dodgy shirt, or were sporting fancy-dress-shop accessories. Others appeared to have decided that the whole fancy dress thing was a step too far, with the added benefit they generally appeared rather cooler and more dressed for the weather!
Our route from car park to registration to briefing was all signposted and managed well, with plenty of BAAF volunteers and staff around to point you in the right direction. Unlike the London 2012 volunteers they lacked large fingers and high umpire-like chairs; but they were just as efficient, friendly and polite.
Because we were a large group our briefing for potential adopters was split into two. A little uncertainly our gang crammed into a stuffy and overfilled classroom with every wall lined by people as well as every desk being filled. Couples chatted and cast sidelong glances around the room. Everyone flicked through the profiles they’d just been given (you don’t get them in advance of the day, so there’s not much time if you do want to flick through to do so other than during the briefing). Social workers tried to set a tone of cheerful calmness. As a singly I decided I might as well look around – thus spotting the sidelong curious glances of others at each other. It is the British way I suspect, but I was also mildly entertained to see that anyone who unintentionally made eye contact with a third party – a stranger no less – looked away hurriedly and pretended it had never happened! Some potential adopters were avidly screening profiles: maybe they wanted a small single child, or a sibling pair. I have very wide and open criteria so I skimmed through a little helplessly. A few exasperated, intended to be undertone but sometimes carrying rather more than intended irritation could be heard that the ages of children were not given (although my understanding is that that is always the way at Activity Days and it is a deliberate decision, all part of the “see the child as a child” concept so I was slightly surprised that others hadn’t anticipated or known that would be the case). Some (including me) eventually resorted to using our profile book as a makeshift fan. (It may not have been good for identifying children’s ages or medical conditions. It was great as a fan though let me tell you.)
The briefing was helpful, above all in giving everyone a focus and a chance to calm and listen to someone else speak. There are house rules – e.g. no photos, no giving stuff to the children, no monopolising of any one child – and suggestions/requests – e.g. that we stay to the end and enjoy the free show and food, and that we provide (celebratory/positive) feedback for any child who we interacted with.
And then we were off, encouraged to wander, chat and above all play. We had maybe a couple of hours, with a crafts room, a sports hall and an outdoors area all available with toys and resources and materials and big inflatables outside; then to end the day there was a buffet and a show (which was indeed as advertised well worth staying for – if only to see how much the children enjoyed it!).
I won’t talk in detail about the children or anything: that wouldn’t seem right. However, I’ve been asked by a couple of people to share my thoughts and feelings as well as my experiences. So here goes, to the best of my ability.
It was definitely a day I am glad I attended. I enjoyed playing with the children, although I can see why some people really don’t enjoy the day at all – there’s no getting away from the artificiality of it. (Let’s be honest: if I’m five and in fancy dress and tired after a long drive and my foster career are there and my social worker is there too and there’s chocolate to be eaten and water to be drunk and a ball pool to jump in/a crafty thing to be made/I have a face to be painted – oh and if I do want to play with someone there are many other children there to meet plus of course potentially my own sibling(s) … why would I want to play nicely with a total stranger who has just plonked herself down next to me and tried to be friendly?!)
It was insightful talking to the foster carers, who in my experience were friendly, open and happy to talk about their children at length and without restraint. (I have heard on the grapevine that I may have been lucky, as others found the foster carers they spoke to off-hand or unfriendly and off-putting; however I can only speak as I found and everyone I spoke with was helpful, interested in me, willing to answer questions, and came over as genuinely simply wanting the best for the children.)
I had an interesting chat with one social worker about transracial adoption – so a very “on-topic” discussion. In contrast I chatted to another about mobile phones and our modern reliance on them (someone had (hopefully temporarily) mislaid one) – not quite so relevant or related to why we were there! There were plenty of discussions about the weather!
At one point I did just sit and watch, feeling hot and somewhat tired.
We had a room we could retreat to, where we could look at the profiles (we weren’t supposed to take them out with us so the children didn’t see us with them). There was plenty of tea, coffee, water and snacks. As a singly without a social worker the BAAF staff had clocked me when I registered and when I ran across one of them they did check up on me and if I was ok. Very occasionally I crossed paths with my new Twitterfriend, and it was good to have someone to speak to and a “familiar face” to turn to later on at the buffet. I’m pretty sure I’d have been ok if I’d been on my own but it was lovely she was there and definitely made a difference. The joy of Twitter!
I know that some of my fellow attendees found it a really hard day. There were signs of strain and the occasional note of tetchiness (yes, that was just the adults!). Paradoxically I think it was easy, on a day meant to lead towards a forever future of family and inclusivity to actually feel excluded and separate, very “them” and “us”. Maybe I was lucky as I didn’t feel particularly like that – although I too found it tiring and, like any party, there were times when I felt very much on my own and detached from everything.
There were definitely children who seemed, on that day and in that place, to be more comfortable/open/friendly/chatty and others who seemed less interested in wanting to talk to those of us who were, let’s be honest, total strangers. There’s also clearly a big difference between climbing a huge net and rope tower with an active and physically adept 5 or 6 year old, and lounging on a rug trying to interact with an 18 month old not yet able to sit up or communicate. So it really was a day that I suspect varied hugely for each of us. Indeed, one of the most striking things about the day was that when I reached the buffet (I ended up walking over in a little gang with two or three foster carers, two or three children, a social worker, and a couple of other potential adopters) I realised I hadn’t even really seen all the children there let alone interacted with them! That wasn’t at all surprising once I considered it logically but it did bring home to me that even in this, deliberately face-to-face environment, there was still a huge element of lottery about it all.
I can entirely see how the Activity Day concept is one that, given the right day, the right weather, the right child/ren and the right adult(s) could work really well. We are all different, every child and every adult. Some of us are highly driven by instinct; others cautious and deeply rational. Many of us want to feel that “love at first sight” concept; others are suspicious of such ideas and feel their driving need is for it to be as right on paper as it can possibly be for the best possible chance. Children too are themselves. For those children in a place (whether development phase or attachment issue) where stranger danger is not in their way of thinking Activity Days might seem great. For others, the idea of new people plonking themselves down and – however subtly and gently – wanting to play could be enough to cause real fear or shutdown. Given this huge mix of who we all are it seems to me that matching is bound to be a process where different methods work differently for different people. I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that maybe no one approach is right or wrong, each has its part to play.
For some children and some adults their forever family begins to form on the day they attend just such an Activity Day. Indeed I know, on the grapevine, that enquiries have been made (although not by me, currently) as a result of the day I attended. Equally I am very conscious, as no doubt we all are, that for some children (and adults) attendance at an Activity Day can be both emotionally draining and upsetting, while still not taking them towards any future of permanence.
I could see that there were some other potential adopters present who were clearly quite overcome by the end. I also chatted to some who had found the whole event quite off-putting, not feeling drawn to any specific child, not feeling they’d had a connection, and in that way we do, worrying that maybe therefore there was something wrong with them. These thoughts were clearly quite dominant despite their rational brain acknowledging as we chatted that, logically, the chances of such a “total connection” had probably always been low.
Following the event I was surprisingly calm about it all. I think I was lucky in managing to have a good time but also being in a place to balance that with a realistic expectation of what came next. I too had the intermittent self-questioning about why I had not had an attack of “this is my child”; on the other hand I was interested to note that I had felt differently about different children – I am inclined to think that’s absolutely inevitable but also made me feel a little guilty even so. (I also, more generally, remain unconvinced by the idea that I will “know” at first sight/sound that a child or children are “mine”. I suspect, taking into account how previous close friendships and relationships developed, that that’s not really how I’m made in general.)
So, back to the bigger picture.
Am I glad I went? Overall: yes, I think I am. I definitely gained fresh insight and a new perspective into the children out there waiting, the process of matching, and, as ever, myself.
Would I do it again? I don’t know is the honest answer. Nearly everything is easier when you do it for the second time and maybe I’d be less worried about how it was going to work and why, and be better at just getting on with it! On the other hand I’m not sure that, for me, this kind of event is the most likely way that I will meet my forever child/ren – although I do believe you never know in life. So maybe I would do it again. I guess I’ll wait and see if/when it becomes an option again.
As someone who is not the world’s greatest party animal the very idea of a huge jolly event where everyone is being determinedly happy is a pretty scary one without the additional tiny possibility that this could be the day your whole life will change. But despite that I still found much to enjoy, experienced much that will remain with me, and gained much food for further thought. For me therefore, it was the right decision to go at least once. And I am pleased I did.
Generally my blog is written largely for me and in the possibility that someone somewhere might be interested. That is true of this post too, but it is also written in the knowledge that Activity Days are for many of us a matter of some anxiety and worry. I hope therefore that if that is true for you, this post will either help add to the information you already have and help you therefore decide whether going along feels right to you, or if you are already signed up provide a few additional insights ahead of the day (albeit insights from someone who may of course be entirely different to you anyway!),
I am sure Activity Days are not for every adult, any more than they are for every child. But yes, as above, I am glad I went to the one I attended. And I hope if you are reading this and you do end up going you too feel afterwards that you are glad you went and you get something out of it (even if the things you get out of it include knowing you will never do another!).