- a small child, waking up every morning and calling out "You are my favourite person in the whole wide world and in the universe."
- the same small person, wanting something; "Axcuse me, if you possibly, could I have maybe a piece of paper?" Or a wipe, a pencil, a cuddle.
- half-stirring, as I give her her late night meds "Aahhhhh. MY Mummy...." and drifting off gently again.
- or at midnight "I sorry I waking you, Mummy, but please may I have a turn over? I am not comfy in my hips."
And now every morning I have a daughter who needs "ten kisses" to store on her fingers in case she needs them during the school day. And I have a daughter who hugs the bus escort and thanks her for looking after her on the drive home. And I have a daughter who makes friends with everyone she sees, or at least everyone who will slow down long enough to respond to her hello. A girl who brings me dandelions and pages and pages of illustrated stories only she can tell me. A child who loves to sneak up quietly, and rest her head on my arm, or slide her hand inside my cardigan and hold on gently; she has a hundred different ways to snuggle in.
And she's here through adoption. And it did take a while - she was two years and nine months when the adoption order was heard in court. Twenty two months when she moved in with me. Eighteen months when she first visited our house, fifteen months when I first met her, and nine months when I first heard of her existence.
With hindsight, some of those delays should have been avoidable. Christmas slowed things down for a month. There were two separate panel meetings, one to approve me as an adopter, and one to approve me as her adopter. Three months could have been saved if they had both happened at the same time. August and summer holidays slowed things down again.
But, she came when the time was right. If she'd come earlier, I would not have been in a position to foster a child who has since become quite special to us. She would not have had her familiar foster carers to support her through adjusting to overnight non-invasive ventilation, but would have had to have learnt to cope with that whilst also learning to live without them. I would have had a year or more juggling three extremely complex children, rather than just a few months. Social Workers would not have had time to sufficiently examine other prospective parents. Sometimes, adoption needs to be slow.
And four years on (not that today is any kind of anniversary; just that adoption has been in the news, on Women's Hour, on You and Yours, and therefore on my mind these past few days), the delays don't matter a bit. True, I missed her baby days; I didn't get to see her first birthday, her first Christmas, her first taste of real food. But I got her first drink, her first non-pureed food, her first words, her first reading and writing. And I get all those things I listed at the top of the page too. They're mine, because she is mine and I am hers.
It isn't easy, it isn't perfect, and adoption doesn't create a new birth family. There are issues to do with adoption, as any adoptive family knows. There's loss, such a lot of loss. My daughter had just one extremely loving and experienced set of foster carers from when she left hospital until she came to me. But that means that on that day when I finally picked her up and drove off with her, knowing I didn't have to bring her back again, she lost her second set of parents. She loves me, I love her, but that loss takes its toll. The fear that I might disappear on her one day is always there, however deep down it gets buried in the good times. And there are questions. Some I can answer, some I can't. All difficult.
But despite all that (and the tantrums, and the challenges, the crayon on my walls and pencil on my furniture, the destruction which comes with driving a tank), the Little Princess is my Little Princess. And that makes me one of the most favoured ladies in the land. Teams of people weighed things up and decided I was the Little Princesses best option. And they handed her over, and let me get on with it.
The statistics say adoption levels are reaching new lows here. I know that, to an extent, Special Guardianship is taking over. And that's all good too - my Mog is mine through Special Guardianship and it is absolutely right for all of us involved. But if you're considering adoption, then why not investigate it further? You can't have the Little Princess; she's mine, I found her first. But take a look here at some of the other children in the country waiting for new families. You don't need to be married (I'm not), you don't need to own your own home (I didn't back when my first children came), you don't need to be employed or earning vast sums of money (financial support can be made available if you are adopting a "harder to place" child). Do you have the time, space, or energy to find a /Little Prince or Princess of your own? My life is immeasurably deeper for it.