I think I mentioned once that my children used to slow-crawl-chase each other around the house. It was adorable. I loved it; I thought they were learning to play together. But now I know what was really going on: Pink was trying to hunt Blue down and kill him.
If Pink could be granted one wish, I think that it would be this: to be an only child. She sits on my lap and when Blue comes close, she uses her new, shiny boots to aim a kick at his head. He tries to join in reading with her and she bites him on the hand, hard. He sits next to her on the floor and she scratches his face. He makes any kind of move into her personal space and she sets up such a shrieking that I start to worry about what the neighbours must think. (She does get into trouble about this, by the way, but this is about attachment rather than discipline so I'm going to leave that topic alone).
And I think - Pink, what's going on? You shared a womb with this boy. I look back at the time when we got our referral, and almost want to laugh. Oh babies, my babies I would say to their photo. You have already lost a mother, and now are going to be torn away from everything you have ever known. I can't imagine the pain you will feel. Then I would weep a little bit and, choked with emotion, say but babies! You will always have each other. And I would stroke their pixellated little faces and smile a teary smile.
For children who had lost so much, it seemed like such an astonishing blessing for them to have not just a sibling, but a womb-mate. Their other half, their other self, the other one who was right there at their own beginning. I assumed that being twins would mean they would have a head-start, attachment-wise. I thought that even if they didn't like us, they would have solace in the deep familiarity of a twin. I always assumed that their two-ness would be a source of instinctive comfort to them, but right now, it seems that the reverse is true.
Because it's not just Pink's dislike of Blue that makes things complicated. When two become three, it's possible that uneven attachment within the family unit will result in triangulation. But what about when two become four? There are so many new dyads going on when two children are adopted at once, and it all begins to feel not just difficult but frankly, pretty mathematically complex. So what's the word for what happens at our house? Square-ation? Diagonalisation? I think the technical term is probably hot mess.
I drew an attachment-o-gram for the people in our house, sometime in December. This is what it looked like:
Yeah, Blue loves everybody except Mummy. I am not saying that lightly. I wanted, more than anything, to be able to feel like everything was either fine or travelling towards fine. But as time went on and Pink became more and more secure (clingy, at times, but a normal kind of clingy, not an 'I'm terrified you're going to leave me' kind of clingy), I could see an increasing contrast between the two of them and by the time I sat down to draw this diagram, I knew that the arrow between the two of us mostly only went in one direction.
I don't think I appreciated, before we adopted, just what a spectrum there is in attachment. I knew about RAD, but I guess I thought that if we didn't face RAD then everything would be pretty much fine. And our babies were so young when we adopted them. Three months! And some children suffer much more neglect than they did, for much longer, and form new attachments easily. But because Blue was only three months old when he came to us, because he was held to be fed, because his sister seemed to attach so well, it can be very easy to minimise just how awful his early experiences were. It can be very easy to forget how totally logical, how totally understandable it would be if they continue to affect him. And I was aware that all children are different - some cling, some run. I didn't want to turn into the sort of mother who would drag my toddler off to the psychotherapist or the hypnotherapist or the aromatherapist for imaginary emotional problems, problems created in my own fevered imagination, problems invented to feed my own need for drama.
And for a while I hoped that this was only one of those imaginary problems. It never used to seem like a pattern, just an agglomeration of bad luck. He's sick. He's tired. He doesn't dislike me, he just prefers his Daddy. When he wasn't very cuddly, or didn't want me if he hurt himself then okay, that might just be personality. But when he rejected me and snuggled deeply into the lap of a stranger one week at the library - and then someone else, the next week, and then another again, and started doing the same at church - then, I was worried. Not calling-the-adoption-agency-for-emergency-suport worried, but worried enough. He would show a lot of signs of security - checking in, chatting, really good eye contact - and then lots of signs of insecurity - inappropriate stranger behaviour, ignoring me, a rigid body when he was being held by me - all in the same day. I watched him, and I found out some things that I wish I had never needed to know.
I found out that it is easy to project feelings of love onto any reasonably contented infant, but that a child who can move suddenly shows where their heart really lies. I found out that I really had expected my children would prefer mother over father, even if I had never said it out loud.I found out that keeping a child mostly at home might be wise for a hundred different reasons, but that it can give a false sense of security that comes crashing down once the child actually spends time in a situation where stranger interaction is inevitable. I found out that when Blue picks strangers to snuggle up to, he prefers brunettes. I found out that nothing throws insecure attachment into sharp relief like a sibling whose attachment seems to be fine. I found out that a child can show a lot of signs of secure attachment and then a lot of signs of horrifyingly insecure attachment within the same day, the same hour. I found out that nobody in my 'real life' has any idea what this means. I found out that attachment issues aren't necessarily two-sided. In fact, I felt like a teenager again as I remembered just how painful it was to fiercely love someone who didn't seem to love me back.
And I found out that each time I tried to draw him in, to get closer, I had Pink screeching and pushing him away.
I cannot possibly explain just how big an issue this was. Because of course - she needs me too. If she wants to cling, I want to let her cling. And which child do you think is more likely to be picked up - the child who is grabbing my legs, saying 'mu-mmy! mu-mmy!' (yes, that's FINALLY happening) or the child who is running as fast as he can in the opposite direction, covered in his sister's bite marks? Yeah, you guessed right.
Call me stupid, but I did not realise how difficult this would be when we decided to adopt two at once. Overall, I think we had excellent adoption preparation. Our homestudy involved months and months of weekly visits from the social worker, so you'd hope so, right? We covered the usual adoption topics in considerable depth, and I feel like we went into this as well prepared as was possible. We discussed attachment. We discussed race. We discussed discipline. We discussed food. We discussed our own childhoods. We discussed pretty much everything, I thought - but we never discussed the realities of adopting two un-attached children at the same time. We were asked one question about multiples during our assessment, and I improvised wildly and said something like we would treat twins like any other siblings, siblings who happen to be the same age. And our social worker said Yes! Absolutely! and ticked a box, and that was that. I think that they were just wanting to check I didn't want twins to be a pair of dolls to dress up in matching outfits, and my answer reassured them. (As if I would do that!
The truth is, I had no idea at all just what it would mean to be working on attachment with two kids at the same time. I'm going to insert all the usual disclaimers about our twin referral here - very lucky, extremely grateful, yes indeed, no question. But seriously, no idea.
With twin-life in general, when people say 'oh, twins, how DO you cope?' my most frequent answer is: Triage. And I say it like I'm joking, but I'm sort of not. Sound extreme? You're welcome around here on a rainy afternoon, just after naps, anytime. The irony is, I make jokes about how having twins is all about triage, but I never noticed how I was utterly failing to properly triage the attachment situation that was staring me right in the face. The whole idea of triage is that you don't just care for the patient who is screaming the loudest, you care for the patient who needs intervention the most. On a battlefield, the person shouting the loudest is probably going to be okay, and I think that it's probably the same with children. The child who is wrapped around my knees, showing me she wants me and needs me, isn't going to get forgotten. The child who is quietly ignoring me probably needs connection much, much more. I was being an idiot, and letting the important get crowded out by the urgent.
And I'm pretty slow about these things, but eventually something clicked and I got it. I started to shove Pink off my lap and plonk Blue down there instead. Actually, I was pretty mean about it, sometimes. I would read Shades of People with him, and she adores Shades of People. So if she wanted to read along so that she could point at the giant infant on p14 and say 'bay-bee', she was going to have to suck it up and get deal with being close to him. And if she didn't want to, that was fine, but she was not going to shove him off my lap and sit there herself because Mummy has two babies, Pink-my-sweetie, Mummy has two babies, and Mummy loves you like crazy but Mummy loves Blue, too, because Blue is Mummy's baby just like YOU are my baby! And Mummy is having a cuddle with Blue right now, and it would be lovely if Pink wanted a cuddle too - we can all cudddle together! - but if she doesn't want to cuddle with Blue then she needs to play with a toy because Mummy is cuddling with Blue now, sweetie. And some of you are thinking no wonder your children are having trouble with speech and language if you use sentences that long to talk to them! but mostly I was just talking and talking to cover the sound of her screaming at me in protest.
But she got used to it. And more importantly, so did he. He started to relax with me much more. I spent a lot of time on the floor with him, crawling around, and letting him feed me stale cheerios that he found under the high chairs. And for a while, whenever someone asked me 'what do you do?' I would tell them about my job, but I would silently think I'm working on attachment with my son, that's what I do. I've always worked hard on attachment with them - always. But it's always been with them. It's only recently that I realised just how much he needed it to be with him.
And now suddenly, the last four weeks or so - it's like a switch has been flipped. He's always known I was The Mummy, but it seems that pretty much overnight he finally decided to stop shopping for a replacement. He will still go to other people for cuddles, but after a while he wants to crawl out of their laps and into mine. And then last week, he climbed out of his father's lap and into mine, and wouldn't budge. We went to the library again today and he snuggled with me all through the song time. He cast flirtatious glances over my shoulder at the other ladies, of course - otherwise he wouldn't be my Blue - but he wanted to stay with me. And when I come home from work he runs up to me and squeaks and wants a hug, most days, which sounds like a small thing but feels far from small to me.
I'm sorry to report that we have seen less progress on the Blue-Pink dyad. They are starting to enjoy tickling each other, but unfortunately when Pink hits Blue, Blue has now started to hit back. So things aren't static there either - but that's probably a story for another day.