There is a whole dimension to our adoption story that I haven’t really blogged about yet: we already had a birth child.
For quite a few years we thought we would just have Big Bear and that would be grand. I’m not somebody who feels it is absolutely essential to have siblings; that if you have an Only your child will grow up somehow incomplete or un-socialised. I was very much at ease with one and Big Bear was growing up lovely and rounded and sociable. And then he started asking. Those questions that stop you in your tracks and make you wonder if you really are doing the right thing. That make you feel like you are, well, just not fun enough. Yes, he became quite keen on the idea of a sibling.
Of course this alone was not enough to fuel a life-changing decision but it was the first bit of fluff that stuck to a lot more bits of fluff to eventually create a rather large dust ball that could no longer be ignored.
Although having a baby was a biological possibility (as far as we knew), it was not a desirable option for any of us (see my post ‘Love’ for more info about how Grizzly and I were feeling). Big Bear had always had a fairly irrational hatred of babies (too small, too unpredictable, too noisy) and therefore was definitely going to be up for other options.
We floated the adoption idea with him before we met with any social workers and I genuinely don’t think we would have proceeded if he hadn’t been on board. It was a family venture right from the start.
Big Bear was on board though and soon started referring to ‘Brotherorsister’ as if that was a child’s name. He told everyone about what we were doing, including his whole school when he stood up in assembly to share his news. He was 5.
When we had to travel away from home for approval panel, Big Bear was desperate for us to ring with news. His first question was “so will they let us have Brotherorsister?” and when we said they would, he let out a big “YES!” which was clearly accompanied by a large fist pump. So far, so good.
Matching was trickier though. We were in a strange and time-pressured situation (I won’t say too much but it wasn’t our time frames we were working to) and knew that if we were matched, we would be meeting Little Bear very soon afterwards. It didn’t give us much time to prepare Big Bear. By the same token, we didn’t feel we could tell him too much before panel because what if he got really attached to this little person and then panel said no? It was virtually impossible to keep the whole thing a secret though as Big Bear had to come out of school to meet Little Bear’s social workers; Grizzly and I were visibly stressed and Big Bear is one smart cookie who doesn’t miss a trick. In the end I settled on telling him that they had found a boy who might be the right one to be his brother but that there were still lots of checks and panels that had to happen. We didn’t tell him a name or show him a picture.
One day I was feeling particularly overwhelmed and stressed. I worried whether the match was right; whether we were allowing ourselves to be rushed along without sufficient time to think. I worried whether it was right for Big Bear.
At bedtime that night, out of nowhere, Big Bear said “I really want this brother” and I realised we would be ok. Big Bear would make things ok on his part because that’s the kind of guy he is.
Over the next days we involved Big Bear fully in preparations. We had to tell him a name in the end as we needed to make a video and photobook to give to Little Bear’s foster carers at matching panel. We went to the Build a Bear Workshop too and Big Bear chose and built a bear for his brother and even recorded a message to put inside it. We prepared Little Bear’s bedroom and got a few new things for Big Bear too so that he didn’t feel left out.
After panel, Big Bear was the first person to see a photo.
For the first couple of days of introductions, Grizzly and I went alone. On the third day, it was finally time for Big Bear to meet Brotherorsister. He was SUPER excited and brought along a little toy he had chosen for Little Bear a few days before. It was, therefore, like seeing someone kicking a puppy when the day was an unmitigated disaster. Grizzly and I are still a little traumatised.
Little Bear received Big Bear’s gift with disdain and cast it asunder. He was less than friendly, very difficult to manage and very aggressive. Throughout the process we had clearly said that the one thing we did not want was a dominant child. Whilst Big Bear is confident and friendly, he is also very gentle and sensitive and we knew he wouldn’t cope well with a dominant sibling. Yet on that day, the day of our first crisis, Little Bear was nothing but dominant. It was hideous.
We were incredibly proud of Big Bear though, as, instead of giving up and not wanting to go back, he brushed himself off and returned with us later that day to do our first bedtime. Which was, again, a huge disaster.
Cue a very panicked phone call to our lovely social worker (to whom I will dedicate a future post) and an evening of soul-searching, knowing we were on the brink of a disruption.
Thankfully, we did persevere and things improved enough for us to see a light in the future, a possibility of a good brotherly bond.
When Little Bear arrived at our house to stay forever, the thing that was the hardest for Big Bear was worrying about his “stuff”. He coped admirably well with sharing us and his whole life being turned upside down but his anxiety over his possessions went through the roof. When you are 6, your extensive Lego collection is of utmost importance. You don’t want a wild 3 year old throwing it around and breaking it.
We had pre-empted this by re-arranging our storage so that Little Bear had low down space and Big Bear had high up, out of reach to little hands space. We had also moved very precious things to Big Bear’s bedroom. This, however, was not sufficient, as Big Bear could not rest with the possibility that Little Bear could get into his room when he wasn’t looking or when he was asleep. When I say he couldn’t rest, I mean he couldn’t do anything at all apart from worry about this. It was for this reason that on day 2 or 3 we took the unpalatable step of fitting a lock to Big Bear’s bedroom door. Neither of us felt very comfortable with it but it made a huge difference to him. The lock is too high for Little Bear and opens from the inside and out so my fears of fires etc were allayed.
This problem sorted, we needed some bonding to happen. As is the way, this took time and moved with a push/ pull motion so that sometimes we were moving forwards and other times definitely backwards.
Little Bear caved first. He fell in love with Big Bear almost straight away. He worships him and wants to do whatever he does, down to his sitting position. He always thinks of Big Bear and if he has a treat, ensures he gets one for Big Bear too. He has always been keen to come on the school run and every day carries Big Bear a chocolate bar, guarding it ferociously. In fact, prior to all our work on boundaries, Little Bear used to physically barge other children out of the way to get to his brother after school.
Big Bear has always secretly loved this and from day one has entertained his friends with tales of what his brother has been up to now. He has been more reserved at the falling in love part though. I think that first meeting wounded him and it has taken a while for him to lose his wariness.
One problem has been that Big Bear doesn’t cope well with confrontation and is not sure how to defend himself. It is not within his nature to hit back. Little Bear went through a phase of exploiting this (those old issues with Opportunity and Mischief) and whenever we were out of the room, even for a few seconds, he tended to hit Big Bear. We have taken a very dim view of this and in turn, Big Bear is beginning to stand up for himself (a blessing in disguise that is helping him in school too). He still doesn’t hit but uses his considerably greater size and strength to stop Little Bear from doing so.
Little Bear’s willingness to solve problems with his hands has helped a couple of time though. On one occasion we were at a party and Big Bear had got himself entangled in a situation with a girl who wasn’t playing nicely. Instead of moving away to play with someone else, Big Bear didn’t really know what to do and was getting increasingly upset. Sensing an injustice against his big brother, Little Bear strode right over to the girl and punched her squarely in the face! Although I obviously do not condone violence, it was very difficult to have the stern word I probably should have had as Little Bear was so happy to have helped his brother and Big Bear was so proud of him for coming to his defence.
Over time, Big Bear’s confidence in the sibling relationship has grown and quite often these days, the brothers are pretty loved up. They tell each other they love each other all the time (“I wuzh you”, “I love you”, “I wuzh you more”, “I love you most”) and I don’t see many brothers giving each other a big hug and kiss at drop off and pick up.
Big Bear finds Little Bear completely hilarious and I think this is making Little Bear funnier as a result. They are quite the comedy duo, sharing a love of toilet humour and general craziness. Big Bear is very tuned in to Little Bear’s idiosyncratic way of speaking and frequently acts as translator. He has also got very good at finding ways to distract and cheer up Little Bear when he is feeling tired and emotional.
It is not always easy, there are frequently tears, there are sometimes outbursts of violence but both bears have tried really hard to make it work. They are very proud of each other and us of them.