In Her Words
The strongest bonds form in childhood
-Stacey Conner, anymommyoutthere.com
October 16 is our “forever family” day. The day we arrived home with our daughter from Haiti, four days after our son’s first birthday. Although she had been ours in our hearts from the beginning, we accepted her referral when she was 10 days old, and she was 14 months old when she finally joined our family in person and forever.
Our social worker called our children “forced twins.” She talked to me about how I would handle our son’s displacement in the family, how I would balance their needs. I listened, I understood, I prepared over that year, alone with our son, waiting and wishing and longing for our daughter, but I didn’t think of it as forced. It was just our family. They were so young. We would all adjust.
She came home, and we drank in the joy of getting to know her and of being together. Honestly, though, it was a really difficult transition. Far more difficult than I had dared to imagine. She cried whenever I put her down to hold my son. Screamed, actually, with anger and outrage. I felt angry at times, and overwhelmed. Couldn’t she just give me one minute? Must she hoard every single second? Her brother needed time too. He cried, as well, those first few months. His new sister took his toys and sat in his mother’s lap. He didn’t understand. None of us did, really; we had a lot to learn. I cried a lot myself.
Some days, I felt like it wasn’t working. I could meet nobody’s needs completely. “Meet their needs, not their wants,” the social worker told me. Oh, how I tried. It was hard. All children have to adjust to their new siblings, I soothed myself. They both have to learn to share. I am only one person. That was all well and good on most days, but in weak moments, their crying broke my heart. I wanted my daughter to attach to me, and I knew that meant I had to hold her and be physically and emotionally with her. I wanted my son to feel special and loved as well. Not displaced.
In that first, wonderful, terrible, hard-to-process year, I wondered if we had made the right choices. I had my doubts. They shamed me; I kept them secret, but I had them. Some days, the cons seemed to outweigh the pros.
My children grew and changed and adjusted, as did I. As the first year ended, we had a routine; we had balance; we were a mostly happy, secure family. We all welcomed a newborn baby boy with barely a hitch in their second summer. The adjustment went beautifully, but doubts still plagued me. We wanted a bigger family, but were they each getting enough of my time? Did the fun of playing with siblings and having sisters and brothers to see you through life outweigh the stretched resources and the stretched, tired, sometimes impatient parents? We hoped so, but we didn’t know.
There were still times when everything fell apart, and I’d mentally beat myself up. When things went badly, it was hard to accept it as normal toddler ups and downs. I panicked, wondered if we were facing unresolved adoption issues, if our daughter’s attachment was secure, if our son had hidden grief and anger to process? At a memorable birthday tea party for little girls, my confident, well-behaved daughter disintegrated. She regressed so far in that hour that I felt like it was the first year all over again. She screamed about nothing and everything. She clung to me and then hit me when I protested and had to set her 30 pounds down for a moment.
Defeated, I finally removed her from the party, as a consequence and as self-preservation. Sitting in the car, my nerves flayed by her protesting screams from the back seat, I spoke to her less kindly than I should have. “You need to use your words. Your behavior was not okay. Not only did you miss the cake, but you won’t be going to any parties for a while.”
Her lip trembled and her eyes filled with real tears. “I felt shy,” she quavered. “I miss my Garrett.” Amazement and sudden understanding flooded my brain as hot tears flooded my eyes and choked my throat. She had never been anywhere with other children without her brother before that day. I hadn’t realized how much she relied on him, for safety, for guidance, for stability.
My inner worries transferred to my son. Was it too much for him? Did it seem like pressure? Did he feel usurped, like his place in the family was threatened? It was so hard to read their complex little minds.
As the fall approached, they both turned 3. I prepared them for their new drop-off preschool. Only one day a week, for three hours, but for the first time ever, beyond some nights with a trusted sitter in our home, I would not be with them. I had, I think, a typical parent’s reservations and conflicts. Would they cry? Did I want them to cry? I wanted them to need me; I longed for such concrete evidence of Saige’s attachment to me. But my conflicted mother’s soul longed for other things too, like strong, confident children, an attachment so strong that they felt no fear in separating.
They showed no fear in our discussions. “Momma won’t stay, but I’ll be back before lunch.”
“We’ll go to school all by ourselves?” The proud declarations pricked at my heart a bit.
The day before school started, I talked with my son in a quiet moment. “Are you excited? Are you scared?”
He remained resolutely closed. Then, for a moment, he softened and turned to me with his wide gray-green eyes. “Will Saige be there?”
“Yes, baby, of course.”
Maybe it wasn’t only Saige who took comfort and confidence from her sibling’s presence.
My heart beat way too fast when we pulled up in front of the small in-home preschool. I took pictures in the driveway, fighting tears like the silly mother that I am. We entered the lovely basement room holding hands, but they immediately separated, enthralled by the roomful of new toys and flew, flew, from my side with squawks of joy. I stood to the side, catching my breath, alone, and quietly watched the teacher deal with a little boy sobbing in the fetal position on the floor, his security blanket clutched in his white fist. My eyes wandered to another wide-eyed little girl in the corner, crouched as far as she could get from the teacher and my excited, confident siblings. My beautiful, disparate twins. Nothing felt forced about their relationship in that moment.
“Saige, Garrett,” I said softly, “I’m leaving. I’ll be back for you after school and we’ll have lunch.” Saige yelled “Bye, mommy!” without pausing in her exploration. Garrett gave me a brief wave, possibly of farewell, but it looked more like dismissal. They didn’t look up again, so I quietly exited.
Outside in the van, the sun warm on my face, the baby asleep in his car seat, I let a few tears fall. Tears of sadness, to see my babies reach another milestone, grow, change, move step-by-step away from me as they should, as all children must. And also, I cried tears of joy, to see our unusual choice for building our family work. To see a difficult transition smoothed for them, eased by their bond. They didn’t need me today; they had each other.
Things still fall apart, more often than I’d like. They fight, they hit each other, they compete for attention, they stretch us to the limit at times, just like all siblings. They also play, they whisper secrets, they team up against me. Like brothers and sisters everywhere, more often than not, the pros far outweigh the cons.