When I was about 10 years old I discovered a secret I wasn’t supposed to know. 1sis was adopted by my father.
This actually relieved a worry that I had, in that I couldn’t work out why 1sis didn’t take after my father in any way. We often discussed who got which characteristics from which parent; it was our family parlour game. Our family also divided into those from Kent (my mother and 1sis) and those from Yorkshire, who also happened to be Gemini (myself, my father and 2sis). Which traits belonged to the North and which to the South was a frequent topic of conversation. It all seems puerile now and my parents are rational enough to not believe in astrology, except for in this context. Southerners were the warm, soft, wimpy ones whereas us Northerners are hard and tough.
More to the point though these conversations served to divide us as a family into the two groups rather than bring us together. When 2sis rejected her father as a teenager she deliberately eradicated every trace of a Yorkshire accent that she had and renounced every bit of her Yorkshire ‘heritage’ that she could. Thirty odd years later, she’s begun to value it again. My parents divided up many things between them. My father used to joke that my mother remembered all our birthdays so that he didn’t have to.
As a 10 year old though, while relieved I was also mighty confused. Did 1sis know she was adopted? What was the story? How do I drop this into conversation? It took a few years before 1sis and I were having a conversation where we were close enough for me to ask the question. It turned out that while at university my mother had gone on a holiday to Paris with her boyfriend. She came back knowing that he wasn’t the man for her and pregnant. My father married her and adopted 1sis.
Having discussed this with 1sis I was able to discuss it with my mother and get her story. Her excuse for not telling me was that they had told 2sis when she was 12 or so and she had thrown a total wobbly over it, saying that 1sis shouldn’t have been born, shouldn’t be part of the family and that if it wasn’t for 1sis, 2sis would be the oldest. So my mother had decided that all this was too much and she didn’t want to go through it again so she just didn’t tell me.
I also asked her, in the same conversation, how come then there was only 3 years between 1sis and 2 sis but then a whopping great 8 years between 2sis and myself. I didn’t actually get a reason for the long gap, or not that I can recall, but my mother did tell me that they tried for a fourth child but that since they were consciously or sub-consciously trying for another Gemini (yes, really) they didn’t quite get there in time as my mother had very early menopause.
I felt happier after this, as I was very aware as a child that 1sis and 2sis had grown up together, and that despite their differences I was jealous of that shared history. I was also lonely, not having a sibling to play with and considered my parents to have been thoughtless in the way in which they’d had me late and on my own.
My mother had felt incapable of being a single mother. Today, as a single parent I find it difficult to really imagine how much of a struggle she would have had on her own and I can’t see her parents being unsupportive. However I don’t think she had the strength to go up against the culture of the times so when my father offered her a solution she accepted it. Would she have married him if she hadn’t been pregnant? It’s the one question I never dared ask, and maybe I don’t really want to hear that answer, but I don’t think she would.
1sis was an accident.
My parents’ marriage was the result of an accident.
2sis’ birth was no doubt to cement that marriage.
And I felt like an after thought, an accident.
By the time my mother told me we were supposed to be 4 siblings I think I had spent far too many years wondering why I was there to grow up with the confidence of my place in the world.
I’m now angry that they emphasised our differences, the things that divided us rather than unite us as a family. Neither parent ever told me they loved me and I don’t suppose they told my sisters either. I wish my mother had trusted me enough to tell me herself. Most of all, I just wish our family hadn’t been an accident.