So, with just a couple of blips, my last week with the Boys turned out to be a good one.
I continued to focus on the strengths in my relationships with Boys B and C and to give Boy A lots and lots of space.
The younger Boys and I re-established our reading ritual and indulged our Ikea cinnamon buns for afternoon tea addiction and even broke new ground with some crafting.
To give background, Boy C quite often has nightmares, coming into our room frightened at two or three in the morning maybe twice a week.
(The Lovely Man, bless him, always gives him a cuddle and puts him back to bed, or sits with him in his room until he’s sleepy and comfortable, depending on how quickly he feels safe again. I love Boy C dearly, but am ecstatic that kids climbing into our bed is a by-invitation-only event.)
The morning after his first nightmare this visit, I asked Boy C about his bad dreams and the “bad thoughts” he often has before going to sleep. He described his dream, and I listened.
The I asked him what he thought would help him have better dreams.
He said that at his Mum’s he has a dreamcatcher and that he thinks it stops the bad dreams.
Specifically, little Mister Precise Young Scientist said:
Well, it probably isn’t really actually true magic, but it helps me feel good about going to sleep and then I have good dreams.
I promised to buy him one, but the Lovely Man suggested that we make one instead.
Child of the Age of Googlearius that I am, the internet was mined pronto and spat forth reasonably simple instructions.
So I bought ingredients and, over a couple of afternoons, we set to work.
It was interesting observing my teaching style, and the different ways Boys B and C set about the various tasks.
I tried to use scaffolding, a set of teaching techniques where you show kids what they need to do for each stage and then let them do it, encouraging problem-solving along the way, thus building on their new skills step-by-step. They told me what they wanted help with and I played assistant to their creative directorship.
Boy C decided not to struggle through the traditional weaving technique to make the net pattern. Instead, he held the suede-covered ring and directed me precisely where to weave in each section of thread. His pattern turned out a bit chaotic but very effective.
Boy B was more hands-on and decided to make a starburst shape with his weaving. He also made plans to extend his dreamcatcher with a second, smaller ring hung from the main woven section.
Both Boy B and C chose headache-bright fluorescent feathers for the streaming tails of their dreamcatchers. Here is Boy C’s, photographed with my iPhone.
I was so impressed with how the Boys handled this project. Both of them showed a lot more patience with the process than I expected. They persisted, Boy B even completely rewinding the suede thonging around the ring to get a more even finish.
I felt really proud, too, when the Boys suggested that they would like to give the extra dreamcatcher I made as a trial run to my nephew, D, as a present from the two of them.
Seeing their catchers above their beds makes me smile; they hang as a momento of a time when we really enjoyed each other’s company.
It was interesting to watch Boy A’s reaction to my less engaged approach to him during the week.
He obviously noticed the difference; not because I was cold or nasty or left him out, but because I stopped seeking his approval and putting him front and centre, and so created less opportunities for him to demonstrate his feelings towards me.
My new choices made the situation much easier on me and even, I suspect, on him.
So, for instance, when I bought dreamcatcher materials I bought three sets, just in case Boy A wanted to be involved, but when I was setting up the crafting table I said to him, in a very low-key way:
There’s enough if you’d like to do one, too, Boy A, but I thought you probably wouldn’t.
No thanks, it’d be a bit….
and let the sentence trail off.
Previously, I would have been all:
Rah! Rah! I really want you to do one! It’ll be fun! I chose your favourite colour!
And his response would have been a much more direct and explicit rejection of me, the whole stupid idea and even, most likely, his suddenly-no-longer-favourite colour.
After all, as Wednesday Martin says in her (life-changing) book Stepmonster, for a child in a loyalty bind, the internal emotional pressures of feeling like they are betraying their mum can be exacerbated by a stepmum they find fun or warm or who seems to want to befriend them.
I’ve seen Boy A loosen up and obviously enjoy my company from time to time in the past; I’ve also seen him “snap-back” into highly rejecting behaviour afterwards, once he realised the terrible thing he had done what had happened.
Without my efforts to bridge the gap with him, he seemed more relaxed. I was more relaxed. There was even a funny moment where he was looking with interest at some nature pictures I’d emailed the Lovely Man – until he realised they came from me. The sudden change in his face was so comical that I said, very lightly:
Gosh, Boy A, it’s amazing how much cooler the animals in the pictures were before you heard that, hey?
He nodded, trying very hard to hold back a tiny wry grin, despite the almost audible siren of his inner voice wailing
DO NOT SHOW ENJOYMENT! DO NOT LIKE THIS WOMAN!
I think we both had a little inward chuckle at that.
Quite often in the past, my attempts to connect with Boy A have resulting in dismissive behaviour and even hurtful complaints about me to the Lovely Man. Certainly he was very much aware that I was trying hard to build a relationship with him, and in true loyalty bind fashion, the harder I tried the more he felt as though he had to demonstrate that he couldn’t possibly accept me.
This week, while it wasn’t suddenly happy families, at least we had something a lot closer to peace.
And in stepfamily terms, that’s almost a dream come true.