Back in November 2013 we were interviewed by Kate Hilpern (@KateHilpern), from The Guardian newspaper for an article about adoption and for National Adoption Week. I was very wary about the boys being interviewed, but they loved it. They were so proud of it. Kate was understanding and compassionate. She wanted to hear our story, but mindful to not be intrusive. Here’s the article Kate wrote.
There’s a moment when I’m chatting to 13-year-old twins James and Tom in a hotel lounge near their home in northern England that it hits me just how remarkable they are. Rewind seven years – half a lifetime ago for them – and it would have been a very different scene. Nobody, including them, wants to go into too much detail about their early years, but solemn faces are pulled at the mere mention of it and that all-encompassing social workers’ phrase “chaotic lifestyle” is used in hushed tones. The facts that do leak out are shocking. By the age of four, the twins were in foster care, which for various reasons ended up being another failure, until finally, aged seven, they were adopted by Matthew, a 44-year-old health worker.
However turbulent you imagine the twins were at that time, double it and then some, says Matthew as he and the boys laugh in unison. Tom remembers running into doors. James remembers running into roads. Matthew simply remembers them as Tasmanian devils and the shock of going from a calm, empty house to constant shouting, screaming, climbing and hiding, not to mention the meltdowns when the boys didn’t like a particular smell or even a word. “They were seven, but regressed to toddlerhood. Even at night, when one finally got to sleep, the other would wake up. Despite a brilliant network of friends and family, I felt utterly alone and out of my depth,” admits Matthew.
Yet, sitting here today with this warm, jovial and considerate family, you’d hardly believe it. They all agree it’s been a heck of a journey.
It’s unusual for youngsters to talk to the press about being adopted. They are, after all, still children and the distress of being removed from their natural families can make them vulnerable and immature. Adults get understandably twitchy and the idea is almost always ditched.
But James and Tom are adamant. Adoption, as James points out, is one of those areas where young people can feel they are always being talked about, while their own voices are never heard. With National Adoption Week upon us, the boys decided to seize the opportunity and Matthew backed them all the way, although for complex reasons to do with protecting the boys’ identity, their names have been changed. “Above all, we wanted to tell others how great adoption has been for us,” says James, sipping his diet cola. “Anyone can adopt, you know. Lots of people think they’re too old or need to be married, but it’s not true and so loads of children are left needing families unnecessarily.”
Matthew’s family were thrilled and his parents – the boy’s grandma and grandad – are particularly supportive. “They knew how much I loved children, but I just hadn’t met the right person. And I had two spare bedrooms,” he says.
James laughs. “Hey Dad, do you remember the picture I was asked to draw of the kind of house I wanted to live in when I got a family and how it looked just like yours?” he says.
Matthew smiles, in turn recounting the day he brought them home. “I took them to the swings and slides and a man said to me, ‘I knew they were yours because they look so much like you’.” And it’s true – their colouring and facial features are uncannily similar.
It’s not that the boys were cut off from their birth family altogether. “We see our younger brother and sister, who are seven and eight, every couple of months at their foster home and that’s a good feeling,” says Tom, who, like James, is dressed in school uniform. “But we don’t see our little two-year-old sister because her adopters stopped contact. We were a bit angry about that, although we have calmed down now.”
Truth be told, says James, leaning forward, he and his brother used to get angry about a lot of things. “At our primary school, the other children would come up to us and say, ‘How’s your mum?’ or tease us about being adopted. It made us get into fights quite a bit. Then there were the things we used to get angry about without really knowing why,” he says, looking down.
Matthew explains that the boys were emotionally damaged and academically behind when they came to live with him, as well as having attachment issues, which made them clingy towards Matthew and untrusting of others. It all made for pretty challenging behaviour, which in their case often culminated in rages they couldn’t control. “It didn’t help that the school was unsympathetic and for a long time I was called most days to pick them up,” says Matthew.
But thanks to various factors – Matthew’s sympathetic employers, his calm, reassuring manner and growing love for the boys, some courses he took on parenting adopted children, an excellent support network, a much better senior school and anger management lessons for the boys – James and Tom are in a very different place now. “If people tease me, which is much less often, I am now able to walk away,” says James. “And I haven’t had a single detention this year,” says Tom.
Another major challenge for the boys has been learning to cope with change. “Moving to senior school set them right back,” says Matthew, who adds that fear has been another tricky area to overcome. “It’s only recently I’m not scared of the dark,” admits Tom.
But it’s the positives in their life that the boys really want to talk about – positives that they feel have come about directly as a result of being adopted. For James, it’s singing, drama, his guinea pig Tiddles and his keyboard that come up tops, while for Tom it’s playing basketball, watching sport, playing guitar, his Xbox and his hamster Snowdrop. Scouts is up there for both of them. “Nobody bullies us there,” says Tom, who says he’d like to be a policeman when he’s older, while James would like to be an actor or singing teacher.
“We love board games, fishing with Grandad and shopping in Costco, especially when we get a slice of pepperoni pizza. And we like Diet Coke and going to Grandma and Grandad’s seaside cottage, where they have the best fish and chips ever,” adds James. “Oh, and we love Center Parcs, although Grandma tripped over and ended up in hospital when we went.”
“We still wind her up about that,” giggles Tom.
The boys are on a roll now. They want to tell me all about the day they went to court. “The judge asked if we wanted Matthew to be our dad and I said yes,” says Tom proudly. They tell me about their joint christening, which they asked for when they were eight. “We’d been to a christening and we liked how happy it looked, especially the photos of people hugging,” says James. Then there’s the chocolate cake Matthew’s friend made for them the day they moved in and the way Tom didn’t feel able to call Matthew “dad” for a few months, but now it’s impossible to imagine calling him anything else.
Despite this family’s clear zest for life and a glass-half-full attitude, it would be wrong to suggest this is a simple case of happy ever after. “I often think of my mum and start crying,” admits James. Meanwhile, Tom gets out his guitar when he feels sad. Both are starting to ask more questions when their mum writes to Matthew once a year as part of their “letterbox contact”, adds Matthew.
But you have to accept the rough with the smooth in adoptive families, they all agree pragmatically, and I’m left feeling this trio will be OK. In the meantime, the boys stay true to their mission. “We really want other people to learn more about adoption – not just adults,” says James. “A lot of children we know say things like, ‘Haven’t you got a mum, then?’ and ‘We don’t believe you’re adopted because we know you live with your dad.’ There’s a lot of ignorance out there.”
To look at the original article have a look here.