Blending families: Fairy's story
Fairy was only five or six when we started the adoption process. We did what we could to prepare her, as you do, and being the beautiful, empathetic child that she is, she really got it. She instinctively understood about her future brother being worried, about having to teach him that we are kind, that we would look after him. That it would take a while for him to settle in. Throughout the process, both Husband and I, and various Social Workers periodically used to ask her if she had any questions, but she only ever had the one:
"How long will it take for us to get to know each other?"
She knew it was a question that couldn't be answered, obviously, but regardless, that was the thing she most wanted to know, and she held it clutched to her chest like a talisman.
Fast-forward nearly four years, and she and I were chatting about this in the car, part way through our half term break. To me it feels like something has slightly shifted this week, like she is starting to find her place with Tickle. It's only small things, like the way she puts herself in charge of getting his drink, or the way she lets him follow her around for a bit while she's building a bug house, rearranging all the bits of moss that he's put in the wrong place. But it's definitely there.
As we were talking, it occurred to me that, had I got pregnant and had another baby, it probably would have taken at least the same amount of time for them to form a meaningful relationship - but it wouldn't have seemed odd, because for most of that time the baby would pretty much just have been pooing, sleeping, or eating. The baby would have spent time just being a baby, and Fairy would have been able to use that time to make her own adjustments, realign her world a bit, and figure out where her place is now she has to share her mum.
But instead of all that, her baby brother came fully formed, with a loud voice, and five and a half years of abuse and neglect. He has needs far greater than anyone ever suspected - including his Social Worker, who admitted as much to me at a LAC review about 9 months in.
Babies are hard work, I'm not going to deny that. But instead of snuggles and DVDs while I was feeding on the sofa, Fairy sat in her room listening to Tickle rage and scream at me, while I was holding him on the sofa, to stop him from hitting me. There were no nap times, when Fairy and I could have had some special time. There was no stream of relatives eager to take the baby off for a cuddle, or push it round the block in a stroller. We didn't have that period of adjustment, where the baby is pretty portable so you can basically get on with life as normal but with something extra to carry, where Fairy could have gradually got used to the feeling of being a sister, and could choose how much of herself she was willing to give to her sibling at any given moment. Instead, Tickle infiltrated every waking moment, demanding as much from her as he does from me and Husband, because he doesn't really understand the difference between a sister and a parent.
It's that weird thing again, where adoptive parents say something, and biological parents say it's normal, and all kids do that. Like, I might say, Tickle wants Fairy to look after him. That sounds pretty normal, right? But if I were to explain that Tickle thinks Fairy can take him to his swimming lesson, which is a twenty five minute drive away... sounds a bit less normal now. He genuinely doesn't seem to understand that there's a difference between Fairy being the one who can get him a drink, and Fairy being the one who can take him to soft play.
Sometimes I'm not sure whether I'm helping the situation or not. I try and buffer her as much as I can, guard her from the worst of Tickle's meltdowns, butt in on his demands and explain to him that I am the one he needs to ask for things. I wonder whether I'm not giving her the room to have her own voice and make her own boundaries with him.
On the other hand, she's only nine. She's been thrown in to this situation which is far beyond what anyone expected, and she has to get on with it. I am tentatively hoping that by keeping her at arms length, by removing the need for her to *have* to deal with Tickle at any given moment, I'm providing the space she needs to make her own choices about what she will be to him.
She is really, really fragile at the moment, bless her. Some days she can steel herself and get on with it, and some days the tiniest thing can send her over the edge. I have no words for how proud I am of her.
So I've spent the last few days trying not to get too excited, and have quietly watched from afar with butterflies in my stomach and tears threatening, as she's cautiously tried on her big sister role. They have played together three days in a row, with no hitting, no crying, and only one disagreement, in which Fairy came out on top - just. I could sense she was about to crumble; Tickle was wanting to do something with one of her toys, and kept arguing back when she said no, and then just on the point where the wobble came in to her voice, and I was about to intervene, Tickle gave in - just like that - and they carried on playing.
We still have a very long way to go. We are all right on the edge. Tickle is waking around 4.30am at the moment; he's been disclosing little bits and bobs over the last few weeks and I can tell he is building up to something again. This morning he threw a shoe in Husband's face, but that is the first serious violence we have had for a while. (We've got to the stage where hitting doesn't really count...!) He also hasn't hit Fairy in over a week. We are all sleep deprived and emotional. This is testing our relationship, our parenting, our mental health, and everything else. But there are also some little moments, the calm in the eye of a storm, where I am starting to see how this - us - our family - might just work.
I haven't done any best bits for a while so here are a few:
- We've had the usual holiday intensive swimming lessons for the kids. Fairy has absolutely shone, and the swimming coach has been really impressed. On Wednesday she came out of the pool bursting with so much confidence she couldn't help but dance around the changing room as she was getting dressed. This is such a contrast to how she has been at gymnastics lately it's really woken me up, so we're going to ditch gym and see if we can get her regular swimming lessons.
- I have a wonderful friend in our village, who is going through a pretty tough time herself but still made time to invite us all over this week. Tickle has been asking to go over and play with his little friend Elf for weeks now, and Fairy is friends with Serenity, my friends older daughter. Tickle was terrified when we first got there; tried to run away, cried, hid round the corner, and sat on my lap far away from everyone else for the first 40 minutes. But gradually, he started to move away and play, and my lovely friend is so kind and patient with him, and she just *gets it*, which meant he was able to have a really positive experience, and actually be over at someone else's house, playing with a friend. Fairy and Serenity disappeared outside and had a fabulous time climbing trees and getting filthy, we decorated buns and ate them, played with trains and a dolls house, even went in to a different room to play, and my amazing friend supported us all through every step. She is one of those people who I don't think realises how special she is, how she just exudes calm and kindness and puts people at ease. I hope she reads this, as I want her to know how much I appreciate her, and that I will absolutely find space in the madness that is my life to support her when she needs it.
- A slightly odd best bit, but my back has been very twangy this week and I woke up on Thursday in agony as it has seized up all down the right hand side. I powered through Thursday as usual (although I did ask my mum to drive the kids to swimming as that would have been dangerous), but then when it wasn't better by late afternoon I asked Husband to take Friday off work so I could rest. I actually prioritised myself. I realised that I didn't have to spend the day in pain and trying to look after other people, and I asked someone else to take over. I feel quite proud of myself, and a bit silly, all at the same time. It really shouldn't be that much of a thing... but it is. I am gradually learning how to do this selfcare thing.