Lines in the Sand

Terrifying, Heartbreaking and Horrible

First I heard was the chair crack against the cold tiled floor, first I heard was the absence of sound after that.

When the girls fight, we fight.

We take sides, we have to. There are two of them and only one each of us. We have made our choices, and resent the other for having done so. I’ve got Big. Certainly that is how things are playing out at the moment. We spoke about it the other night, a night of fury and panic and fear.

It happened like this.

Little loves to put her feet on the table when she’s eating. Little loves to see her little toes on the table as she spoons, badly, her food to her mouth. Distracted by food, and this habit is not problematic. On Wednesday, I put her in her chair too soon, placed the promise of food too quickly in front of her. She thought I was teasing, she thought I was being mean. I needed her corralled, needed her confined and controlled, whilst I did my thing with the boiling pan and the pasta, the finishing touches to the food we would eat. I didn’t see it happen, didn’t see the foot on the table or the kick away in frustration, in desperation. First I heard was the chair crack against the cold tiled floor, first I heard was the absence of sound after that.

Then came the screaming, the shouting and shushing. We ran to her, both, raced to be the first to reach her. I don’t remember who was the first to hold her, was the first to feel the swelling rising on her head. But I remember that when I held her, the bump was massive, was large enough to be gripped — to be grabbed, had I wanted to, to be held firmly enough to have tried to lift her.

She was going to hospital.

We have friends here, friends for whom we have done the same. So, Big was dispatched to theirs and we took Little to the doctors. She was calm by now, the screaming stopped, the fear subsiding as she disassembled the shock. The Bump, though, was huge.

We waited. Out here, out here in the ‘burbs, there is an outpost of a Big City hospital. We made it just in time to see a doctor, and just in time for her head to be X-rayed. From there, there would be a CT scan, the fear of bleeding too big to ignore. None of this could happen now, of course. We had no appointment, and would have to wait. As we did so, even though Little normalised, regained her ways of mischief and mayhem, of jokes and joviality, we worried. We worried, I think, about different things.

For me, I was worried about Big being alone, of not knowing what was going on, and not having anyone that she really knows to try and explain it to her. Silly really, as we later found out: she asked not for us once, was too busy watching her favourite film and relishing the fact that she was getting to have a sleepover, her first ever one. But I saw Little, and felt that she was fine. She was running and talking and smiling, everything that she always does and always is. Except when she is tired, or hungry: things that she currently was. She had missed a meal and it was getting late. Further, given that she looked fine, was acting fine and full of beans, I thought the following things: that, by being here, Little was preventing me from seeing that Big was too; and that hospitals that see insurance cards and adoptive parents have their own circle of hell marked out for them.

She saw fear, and knew the nature of it, knew that it went beyond just the physical possibilities

My wife saw this, or I think this is what she saw; we’ve spoken about it a little, but we tread carefully when it comes to discussing the fact that none of this is easy, none of this is how we imagined it to be. And I can’t speak for her here, we don’t talk about my tapping, this mission of words. We tread carefully, or we don’t talk at all. So the details are sketchy, but this is what I know. She saw fear, and knew the nature of it, knew that it went beyond just the physical possibilities, (even I knew that), the potential for damage to a baby’s brain. She saw a banged head and knew that if anything happened, it could come back on us. If Little had been hurt, really hurt, and we had only discovered in the night, or the next morning, she saw that people would use that against us, would use it to hurt us and take her away. She saw danger that I couldn’t see.

I couldn’t see it then, and still struggle to see it now. I saw only Big. I saw only Big at bedtime in a strange bed, with no story, no milk and none of the things that we always say. I saw Little, fine but grumpy, saw Little stopping me from comforting Big.

When they told us that we would need to go downtown, I assumed, I was sure, that she would do it alone. That we would divide our responsibilities equally. It wouldn’t be nice, not easy, but that is how it would have to be. When I realised I was wrong, it silenced me for much of the rest of night. Not fair, not even approaching fair. But I felt that she had chosen a side, had chosen a side that was actually a child. I was angry. I was muted with anger. How dare she, how dare she make me chose?

I’m not in this for sides, for turf war and battles of affection. If we’re doing this then everyone has to be equal. I felt then, that not everyone was equal, and that Big was becoming the collateral damage in our skirmishes over Little. I said nothing. I said nothing beyond civilities most of the rest of the night. She asked me: you hate me don’t you? I said nothing, and was thankful when a nurse came and interrupted our less than comfortable silence.

Little, meanwhile, would only settle on me. Or that’s how it felt. I think she responded to my resolute dislike for the situation, my frustration and fear, far better than she did to her mummy’s nondescript and generalised agitation. The CT scan, by the way, was utterly inconclusive as to whether the nick the X-ray had revealed was anything to worry about at all. Certainly there was no swelling, no bleeding on the brain.

I said, at some point, screamed it really: You have chosen Little, everything you do is all about her, and you do it to the detriment of Big. She always has to be the one to give in, has to be the one that loses out. And by choosing Little, you have forced me to choose Big. No wonder you think she doesn’t like you.

Not a nice night.

Everything is now fine, better at at least. We’ve spoken about that night, our respective fears and how we could have handled them better. We’ve been talking a lot of late, have been trying hard to ensure that we always do. We have been ticking a long nicely, taking time for ourselves and communicating. But those lines have been drawn in the sand, I fear, the sides chosen.

We spent today up to our necks in warm water. Beijing is filled with hot springs and, the school closed for the week, we decided to steal a day. It was time for us, and deservedly so. It was lovely.

But because it was lovely, we came back to chaos. Tears and tantrums and everything else. The two of them were fighting; Big put out by Little’s very existence, it seemed, and Little on finest floundering form. They were fighting over my lap. We separated them, taking Big outside, whilst Little stayed with me. It was precisely the wrong configuration, or so it seemed to me. I was left with Little who had caused none of this, and was precluded from dealing with Big (but from calming and consoling her too, from letting her know that everything is going to be all right).

We need to talk more. I need to judge less. We need to trust that other has got our back. We need to think more closely, more carefully, about what the other might be thinking, what the other might be feeling, and respond less quickly, but more precisely. We need to give the other a break, we need to know that no real harm will come from our mistakes. We need to relax, to calm it down. Just one day at a time.

The next part of this story can be found here:

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