When you are reading my first book A Bird and the Dragon: Their Love Story: a Memoir you very quickly meet all the daughters of a Bird and the Dragon. Starting at the top is Cora, then May, Elizabeth, Felicia and finally Annie. Unlike the usual advice given to a second-time-around couple we found that often we couldn’t get time together without including the girls. Our very first date was with children. That fact leads me to this week’s story. When working to build successfully blended families, it is probably easier to have only one sex in the mix of children. Somehow the mixture of boys and girls brings a whole different set of problems. My personal experience comes from raising five girls. Girls bring foreign intrigue, jealousy, emotional manipulation, and secrets. Boys also bring jealousy but they tend to work it out competitively. In my observations boys are more straight forward, physical, and noisy. The challenge for us was having three daughters with bipolar disease. Only one daughter demonstrated this behavior from early childhood which was enough to handle. As you will read in my book two of the daughters presented with the disorder in their early adult life.
In your reading you have also found that my husband Sy and I each had a youngest child that was of the same age. We called them our ‘his and her twins’ and this picture demonstrates how life was in the beginning of our lives together. Felicia on the left and Annie on the right appear like lifetime friends in every sense of the word. If you look closely this picture was taken at the first Christmas in the Ugly Green House. The girls’ clothing combinations are appropriate for nine years old and the rainbow striped suspenders had to have been a gift from the grandparents. But as lifetime friends it didn’t matter that the suspenders didn’t go with the outfits: they went with the budding twin relationship.
But these endearing pictures don’t show the evolution of that relationship. Felicia was my biological child and Annie was Sy’s child. Annie was often forgotten by her biological mother so she wanted to push Felicia aside and cuddle in right next to me. I struggled with this issue and then decided that if I let that happen, my birth child would never trust me, nor would the other children in the family so I had to hold Annie, dear as she was, at a little distance. This competition for my attention was the start of the strain that came between these two. By the time they were sharing the same room day in and day out the relationship was beginning to dissolve. As you may have read, the twins finally asked for separate rooms. We were lucky in the sense that we could afford to do that for them.
This next picture shows our family posed for a church directory picture. May was not in the picture because she was still living with her biological father. The picture was taken about a year after the one above. And you can see as the children line up that Felicia is now closer to her biological sister Elizabeth. There is a little more maturity to both twins and Annie has a protective hand on her biological sister, Cora’s shoulder. (The hand got cut off in the transfer of the picture but it is there.) These are the type of rotating relationships that go on in any family but especially so in a blended family. The old biological ties show in this picture.
As both Sy and I tried to help bring these children together into a true blended family we often took them on trips to see new things and experience new places. This was an effort to give the girls new memories and history that included all of them. There were trips to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. On this adventure we took the girls into the museum and Elizabeth said, “Where’s the gift shop?” and was off on her own to explore the goodies there. She had no interest in the history behind the other walls. We took the girls on a trip to see an up close real baseball game in Fenway Park, Boston. That is the time when May decided she didn’t want to be seen with our motley crew so took off along the bleachers to find some young and interesting boy. Sy finally spotted her across the ball field from where we were seated. He gave her the ‘you-come-home’ wave and she ignored him. She was the daughter that displayed the bipolar disease from the very beginning. There were trips to Cape Cod and to the local ponds for swimming along with picnics and afternoons in the sun. By the time we get to this last picture the older two girls were striking out on their own or didn’t want to do these “stupid family” things with the old folks, anymore. This last picture was taken on a trip to the Finger Lakes in New York State. And as you can see the break-up for the twins was now complete.
I say the break-up was complete but that is not totally true. They eventually went off to the same small college because neither one of them felt safe doing that journey alone.
And now we come to present time. Felicia and Annie don’t communicate a lot but they do get together when they think I’ve gotten too old to do some activity and then they team tag me to get me to stop. If I didn’t know their evolutionary story I might be upset, but I think it is kind of nice that when they fear for my well-being they team up again. Makes me think we did something right in building our blended family!
My sister PollyAnne had three girls and a boy and she says she never knew when she went to clean their bedrooms who would be sleeping where. She had a room with twin beds, a room with a double bed, and a small room with a single bed for the boy. He stayed put, but her girls rotated depending on who was talking to whom at the moment.
Do any of you see this same type of evolving/revolving relationships with your children? I know many of you have younger children so the relationships may not be so obvious yet. I’d enjoy hearing from you.