When I told my now 15 year old son about his half sister, he was about 7. The conversation happened right after I found her and I was full of emotion and hope. I believed back then there was a chance she might meet me and by extension, him. I did my best explaining to him. I cried while my son sat listening, watching, questioning and later, overwhelmed with the information, spinning in his chair. My ex-husband, his father, sat by and said nothing. The entire experience is documented in my post, Telling Children.
I never held such a conversation with my youngest son, soon to be 11. I had hoped, at least in the early days that my daughter, his sister, would be common talk in our house. I foolishly hoped he would grow up with an awareness of her and that I would not have to make a big production about it. Read any of my old posts and you will see how foolish I was in those days. The naiveté, the hope, the ignorance.
As my reunion slowly turned from what I hoped it would be to what it is today, the talk of my daughter, his sister, also turned. I put away her pictures. I stopped sending her gifts (at her request); I stopped sending cards signed by her brothers and me. Gone were the days where my oldest son drew her pictures, asked about her, and told me she was a total “hottie”. In its place came silence, tears, and stilted conversations. Despite my best efforts to encourage dialogue, my oldest son picked up on my angst. While I never told him to, and never would, he stopped asking. As a result, the free flow of information I thought would find its way to the eyes, ears and soul of my youngest son also stopped.
I have been aware of this. There have been opportunities to have that conversation, again, yet I let them pass. I have seen what my reunion did to my oldest son. I saw his confusion. I answered his questions like “why doesn’t my sister want to know me?” and “what did I do to her?” and finally “If adoption was so good for her, why isn’t she happy about it? Why isn’t she nice to you?” as best I could. My answer was almost always “I don’t know sweetie. I hope some day you can ask her.” For that is the truth, I don’t know. Only she knows. I am aware that anything I say will influence his perception of her both now and in the future so I avoid the questions, cease the conversation, and go on.
Yet in doing so, I left my youngest behind. I want to think I was, or am, protecting him. Today, on mother’s day of all days, I came to the conclusion that I have to find a way to tell him something. I have to accept that another one of my children will make an installment on the loan of my heart taken out by Easter House. Only now, it will be my youngest sons’ heart I offer up to the emotional bank teller.
It’s the same question each time. A statement of utter confusion with big brown eyes looking anxiously up at me.
“I have a sister?”
Today the question came while we were sorting old photos. My husband and I had recently cleaned out our basement and I had three Rubbermaid bins full of photos, papers, books, and more from my first marriage. My sons loved sorting the photos, asking who was who, laughing at my bad hair and excessive weight and the mullet their father sported in college.
Photos were being tossed into various piles when my youngest son says “Who is this?”. I look over and see him holding a picture of my daughter. The picture was taken on her college campus. I had saved the picture early in reunion when she once gave me access to her Facebook. I had scoured those photos, saved every single one of them and later printed them all at my local Walgreens. Most I had put into a large scrap book, again, early reunion. A few extras seem to have escaped the album and were now mixed in with all the other family photos, much like they should have been all along.
“That’s your sister, [Amended Name]” I say.
“What? My sister? I have a sister?” he says thoroughly confused.
My oldest son utters a sound of exasperation and begins to grab more photos. As I struggle to respond, he does it for me.
“Uh, yeah. You have a sister.” He says in a lower, somewhat uncomfortable tone. He is protecting me. I can feel it. He wants to shut the conversation down. He knows that I have told his brother this before. He is likely annoyed his brother is asking again but further annoyed that it is going to bother me, and presumably him as well. What he does not know is that he was given a lengthy conversation, time to ask questions, time to talk about his sister where as his inquisitive brother was not given such an opportunity. Mommy expected him to pick up the news and figure it out all on his own. Bad mommy.
“What, you mean, like Sienna? But she is my stepsister..,” he says even more confused as he mentions the child of his father’s new wife.
“No. Not her.” Oldest son says with a tone of annoyance. He has that brotherly duh.shut up.stupid tone to his voice. He is jumping in and attempting to quash the conversation.
I should have jumped in here. I should have said something. The good mother I am supposed to be, I think I am, the one I try so hard to be, would have used this as an opening to that long overdue conversation.
But I will.
I just need to find the words. New, age appropriate, developmentally on-target words. While I have told him many times before, I clearly need to tell him again, in a different way.
Yes, you have a sister.