For the first time in a very long time I listened to the hubster on the phone to his nine year old daughter last week, looking cheerful, sounding positive and actually arranging for her to come and spend some time with us over the weekend.
I’m not going to lie, in the past I have anticipated her visits with a mixture of reluctance and dread. The fact of the matter is that when JJ was born things really changed for all of us and her behaviour and attitude around us became a little bit stroppy, moody and miserable. As JJ got older and began hitting his milestones she would do everything in her power to put obstacles in his way or make him cry (I clearly remember her moving objects further and further from his reach as he was just learning to crawl which might sound like healthy encouragement, but actually I think you’re meant to let the baby reach their goal once in a while!).
As a toddler she knew how to push every button to tip him over the edge and every time we chastised her it would all end in her playing the wounded and wronged unwanted and unloved step-child routine and sobbing down the phone to her mother as if we had shackled her to a rusty radiator and left her with a bowl of water and a piece of stale bread for 48 hours (we hadn’t!).
At the age of three (and her at 8) she took on the role of bossy, strict, know-it-all voice of authority, ordering him around, enrolling him in ‘projects’ he wasn’t really up for and harshly berating him for anything and everything, sniggering openly at the meltdowns she induced.
After this description you might imagine that he learned to hate her but this is very far from the truth. He loves the girl and still gets excited about seeing her.
And don’t suppose that I don’t understand why she has behaved in this way – I am not unsympathetic to the fact that she is the child of a ‘broken’ home although it took me a while to really believe that her behaviour was borne of any kind of desire to belong with us (God knows we’re not the perfect family).
Which leads me to the present day. For the most part this weekend was a good one with her. Since EJ was born we’ve seen very little of her as she seems to have constant sleepovers at a friend’s house on weekends and has shown no interest in spending time with us. So when she voluntarily agreed to come over and spend the night I was surprised. She even requested a sleepover on the floor of JJ’s room despite being warned about his (adorable!) snoring. She played nicely with him and the bickering was kept to a minimum. She helped him build an indoor den, kept him occupied with improvised games and actually seemed to be enjoying herself. Very tellingly EJ (20 months) saw her after his nap and walked straight over to her, giving her a sleepy cuddle. She remarked on how much he had changed since she last spent any time with him (last August, right before he started walking).
I had an excuse to actually unfold the dining table and cook a meal (sausage, mash and peas!) that we could all enjoy together and it was indeed like being a family of five.
I’m not sure if any of this has anything to do with the fact that her mother’s new partner moved in with them last October and she gave birth to another little girl in February. Having a newborn around must be unsettling and in effect the girl’s world has been dramatically altered – it is no longer her and her mum against the world. She has yet again been given a reason to feel like she’s falling into a gap between two worlds.
Maybe I’m a bad person because I’ve found it hard to embrace her as my own – I just feel like so many obstacles have been thrown between us and her hard faced attitude has made me want to push her away, but these recent chinks in her armour show that she is feeling the vulnerability and I hope that it might be the beginning of a less guarded and confrontational relationship between us all.
Certainly seeing the children playing together this weekend was a bit of a magic moment!