19 03 2013

How do you bring children from two families together in a new home? How do you help them come to terms with this new set-up? How do you make them feel that they each belong?

You don’t. They do it themselves.

We tried to talk to the girls, we tried to thaw out the lingering mistrust each had of their ‘stepmother’. And we held onto our boys, probably because their lack of years meant less disapproval. But … we weren’t that good at it, actually. Our miserable inability to convince the girls that life wasn’t that bad became clear the day Ella took a kitchen knife and threatened to stab herself. On the surface, this was because she’d wanted to get her hair cut and her mother had refused. Of course, it was nothing to do with the sudden whim of a precocious child pushing the envelope because she ‘could’. It was the manifestation of the despair caused by our actions, the tearing apart of our families, the willful destruction of all they had held dear.

This is how it went:

Me: Don’t be silly. You’re not going to stab yourself.

Ella: (holding the pointy end of the knife towards her chest) I am!!!

Me: Okay … if you must. But that’s my knife, and I’d rather you did it with one of your own.

Ella: How can I? I don’t have one! Mum’s left them all at the old house!

Me: So you’ll have to wait until you can go to the old house. Meanwhile, you’re not using mine.

She put the knife back. There’s something about ‘possession’ a nine-year-old understands.

It wasn’t all bad. Just when we were wondering how all this was going to pan out (not us, the kids) we became aware of a pattern. All four went to the same primary school and would arrive home together. As the weather improved, they would all four enter by the front door and, all four, disappear out of the back door into the garden. We would watch through the kitchen window, suddenly redundant, as they climbed onto the trampoline and began the daily ritual of the ‘game’, in which they would pretend to be … well … children … with different names and different lives. Ella was boss and dictated activities, most of which involved elaborate jumps and ‘act outs’. Each child had to get into the middle when it was their turn to be the focus, and for Vinnie, this involved devising new acrobatics. So was the Flip Reverse It born. Don’t expect me to describe it. If I asked him to help me out with that one today, I still wouldn’t get it. Suffice to say – I could never have done it myself.

Actually, that brings me to my own trampoline activity. It was limited, and involved climbing on and lying in the middle, whilst the children jumped around me. The aim was to make me bounce as high as possible, completely at the mercy of wherever they landed. I’m not a small person, so presented a challenge to this aim. Children love a challenge, especially if it results in the focus of that challenge begging to get off and suffering an electric shock in the process.

As the girls got older, the trampoline lost its usefulness (unless as a mass seating area for the thirteenth birthday parties). The boys, however, continued to play on it until they, too, lost interest.

Some years later, the trampoline had to go. It had fallen into rusty misuse and we needed to smarten the garden up for a remortgage valuation. I tried to cut the metal bits so that I could get them into the car and take them to the tip, but found this difficult. I called on the boys for help, not really believing they’d fare any better. How wrong I was. The next day, I transported several neat pieces of metal and canvas to the tip, each prepared by our boys.





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