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The 18th Birthday Celebrations

My name is Julia and I am an adopter, therapeutic parent, GP, coach and aspiring author and trainer.  I’ve wanted to write about my adoption journey for many years but lots of things have stopped me. Having three children, a husband, two dogs and a budgie (all animals are adopted and come with their own stories) gave me the excuse I didn’t have time. The other reason is that, as many parents do, I put the needs of my family before my own and have this underlying belief that I’m not good enough. The ‘not good enough’ story is one I will come back to and write about again. It can wait as it never fully goes and from my learning and sharing in recent years, I know it is one shared by many.

Reaching this 18th birthday milestone as an adoptive parent feels so huge and emotional to me. I’m sure it is the same for others too. I am acutely aware some adoptive parents don't have their children still living with them at this age for many reasons and have experienced secondary trauma along the way. The journey to this date has certainly not been plain sailing for us and I’m hoping to share some of those experiences in future blogs. I don’t know if the ‘18’ milestone feels as emotional an achievement to non-adoptive parents and I cannot comment myself but the impact of getting here hit me the night of Lauren's birthday. As we lay in bed, in a hotel room in Amsterdam, I shared my overwhelming relief and gratitude that we had got this far, with a strong bond and relationship. I asked her to not leave our home now she had reached 18. I had not realised until that point that Lauren moving out of our family home was my biggest fear. It was not intentional but reflecting on the choice of trip, proximity within the ship's cabin and the side-by-side (touching) single beds in the shared room I realised that therapeutic parenting is a way of life now.

On the 4th of October last year, we set sail on DFD Princess Seaways to celebrate Lauren’s 18th birthday in style. We had an overnight journey on the ferry, two nights in Amsterdam and then an overnight stay on the same ship on our return. When I say we, I mean myself, Lauren and Auntie Sharron (Lauren’s birth Dad’s sister).

Some of you might wonder how the heck this happened. And, of course, there is a very long story. I describe the situation as ‘weird’ but Auntie Sharron feels it is very normal and over the years, it has become normal for us. Lauren knows nothing other than what it is, and it certainly works well for us. When Laurens’ birth Dad sadly died a few years ago, we made contact with his sister, Sharron. It was a big leap of faith for me, but I felt it was the right thing to do. I did know a bit about Sharron as I had done some of what I call ‘Facebook stalking’ over the years and had realised early on that we had a mutual friend. The mutual friend was able to keep a very big secret and let me know vital information about safety and risk I felt I needed to know. It was through this friend and Facebook I became aware of the death of Lauren’s birth father. Little did I know at the time we would be spending Laurens’ 18th Birthday on holiday with Sharron.

Sharron has been a big part of our family since. She shares lots of memories, stories and photos with Lauren that have made understanding her life easier. I know ‘birth’ is not the word everyone uses to describe their family of origin but Lauren does so this is why we use this word, sorry if it feels uncomfortable to others.  It was Lauren’s birthday while we were In Amsterdam and her birth Dad’s birthday the day after hers. This led to a lot of sharing of memories by both Lauren and Sharron during these days. Lauren’s memories of him were of fast and fun adventures, mixed with police officers, hiding and running away. Sharron’s recollections of life events over the years have not been so positive but both Sharron and Lauren were able to make the very difficult times they both experienced when he was alive, upbeat and lively and shared these anecdotes with fondness. Having a real-life narrative of Lauren's life story makes such a difference and has very few similarities to the one she received when she came to live with me. Sharron gave Lauren lots of lovely presents for her birthday but the one that stood out was a metal credit card she had had engraved with her brother’s handwriting. This meant such a lot to Lauren.

After boarding the ship we decided to have a drink at the ship's bar (outdoor, cold and wet) and watched as we left the Tyne and headed out into the North Sea. The sea wasn’t too choppy, and we decided to look in the duty-free shop. There ensued a game of ‘my ex smells better than your ex’. This entailed spraying various limbs with aftershave and reminiscing about good and not-so-good memories of previous boyfriends. This was particularly hilarious for us and took up much of the time until dinner. The food onboard was amazing and plenty of it.

The trip itself was not without the usual therapeutic parenting challenges which arise on all holidays as I’m all you all know. Such challenges have either lessened for me over the years or I have got better at dealing with them or avoiding them, I’m not sure which. I don’t even know if I can describe them. They are the ‘issues’ that present when away from home and pop up to surprise you that you just know parents of securely attached children don’t have to deal with. They are now so ingrained in ‘normal’ life that they float by. Practising Sarh Naish’s ‘pausing’ is a little harder in such confined spaces as a ship cabin and a shared triple hotel room. I was, however, able to nip off for coffee on my own a couple of times and do some ‘wild writing’ which helps me in many situations. I was aware that my therapeutic style of parenting (and brain breaks) may be viewed as ‘you are leaving your child with me and naffing off for a coffee and listening to your audiobook again’. I know Auntie Sharron has seen how we do things and has the confidence that whatever our parenting looks like, it works for us.

Knowing I was going to write this blog, I took the opportunity to observe things I may not have noticed previously. Whilst watching Lauren and Sharron walking and talking and laughing, I became aware of the physical and temperamental similarities. I was able to reflect on the journey we had made emotionally (over the years) and geographically and how contacting Sharron had been the right thing to do all those years ago. Lauren has a link to her pre-adoption life and I have a good friend.

After walking around the city and observing the cultural sites that Amsterdam has to offer we decided to go on a spontaneous boat trip along the canals. The views were amazing, and all was going well until the captain went quiet, said a few fast words in Dutch and the engine noise disappeared. Lauren’s first instinct was to ‘ring dad’. My husband is a mechanic and rescues all family members when in strife! As Dad could not help us out in this particular situation, the rescue was left to a tug boat which came up behind our barge very quickly and pushed us to start the engine. Who knew you could bump-start a boat?

Other highlights of the trip included a crash course in Snapchat apps and TikTok video making. Who knew you could look like Gollum one moment and Patsy Kensit another! My early adult years are recorded in grainy photos but nowadays every memory is captured on video.

The last morning of the trip involved a long walk to a lovely market before getting on the bus to catch the ferry. The market was amazing and seemed to go on forever and sold lots of trinkets and items particular to Amsterdam! A little chat about the type of cakes and lollies on sale and the laws of the land followed with some facts about the ingestion of Amsterdam’s chocolate cakes dropped in!

We reboarded the DFD Princess Seaways late that day and set sale home looking forward to the next adventure with memories I will treasure forever.

this blog was written by Julia Rowlands

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