Sunday 11 September 2016

How my boy learned to love his brother

In recent weeks I've seen some adorable photos on facebook of older siblings lovingly holding their new baby sister or brother. These 'meet the newborn' poses are often heartmelting. It was while I had my head tilted to the side admiring one such photo that I had a revelatory thought. My boys never had that.

The loving, unconditional love of a new baby in the family, the big brother holding his baby brother gently and kissing his head. Those magical moments when the older child gets to meet and love his sibling and still know he's just as loved as he always was. It just didn't happen that way for us.

We had a run up to the boys meeting, but it was nothing like as long as 9 months and it wasn't as cosy as showing a scan pic and choosing baby things. We showed Brown Bear a photo of a 9 month old a while back and then after we'd met him we showed him up to date photos before they met. We had no idea what he would bring with him so we didn't know if we should buy toys, clothes or bedding.

It wasn't a case of bringing home a baby and starting from day one. By the time Blue Bear came to us he was walking, he was eating solid food and he had formed family relationships with his foster carers. My boys met at the foster carers' home. They were lovely and kind, but it was strange to meet our son then go home without him. Brown Bear couldn't make sense of it either, but we tried to explain that he would come and live with us soon.

Most siblings don't meet this way. With the exception of step children most siblings share a home from an early age and their introductions are more organic than this was. We had spent so much time preparing Brown Bear for his baby brother, but what he met wasn't a baby at all. Blue Bear was a walking, grabbing, opinionated toddler and he had no reason to want to live with us.

Of course he had seen photos of us and the foster carers had tried to prepare him for our introductions by talking about us to him. When we met he went over and pointed at photos of us in the photobook to show he recognised and knew us from there. We had tried to do the same with Brown Bear showing him photos of his new brother and he was excited and nervous to meet him.

Brown bear was ready to love his brother, but Blue Bear didn't want to be loved by him.

He didn't want to be loved by any of us. He was happy where he was and when we dropped him home after his first all day visit it felt like leaving a part of myself behind as we handed him over the doorstep to his foster family. He was always pleased to see us, but he was also delighted to be 'home' again.

It has taken a long time for all of us to become a family. Longer than I think I realised it would take. 

For the boys it's been a struggle for place in the family - they were both only children and suddenly they had to share everything including parental love. There have been arguments and fights and tears as they have both asserted their authority and tried to show each other who is in charge. It has only been in the last few months that Blue Bear has conceded that he loves and admires Brown Bear. In the same way Brown Bear is fiercely loyal to his baby brother and has found that having a small noisy shadow can have its advantages.

Brown Bear is an early riser, up before the sun - always has been. Blue Bear is going to be a 3 coffees before you talk to me kind of man. For a while in the summer holidays Brown Bear would go in to wake up his brother to play with him at 6am. Blue Bear would go along with it as he wanted to be with his brother so badly and then he'd collapse in a tearful, exhausted heap by 10am. Neo trained Brown Bear to bring him biscuits and has now trained Blue Bear to open the front door to let him out for a wee in the mornings. He's like the Gallagher brother that no one sees. 

For the first year of their life as brothers we didn't have any of those unconditional love photos. What we are starting to have now are genuine brotherly love photos instead. Ones with a smile or a shared joke and arms round each other for a few seconds before one of them annoys the other one and they are bickering again.

I don't have those endearing photos of their first meeting. What I do have is the knowledge that these boys have grown to love each other not just 'because.'  The love they have is borne of honesty and bravery - from both of them.

I couldn't be more proud.

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