Gherkin was desperate to have a sibling. A brother to be exact. Though, when questioned by the social worker on whether he would prefer a sister or a brother, he glanced awkwardly over at me and surreptitiously mirrored the movements of my mouth, “I r e a l l y d o n ’ t m i n d”. I smiled proudly, chest puffed out at my son’s mature diplomacy. Then he turned to her and added, “so long as he can play football”. Damn my foiled brainwashing tactics!
I knew he was excited at the prospect of becoming a big brother because he had announced it at ‘news time’ at school, before it was even supposed to be news!
However, the reality for Gherkin was understandably very different to the bosom-buddy ideal he had committed to his imagination. Pickle was aggressive by nature, both physically and verbally. He hadn’t learned how to play gently. He had no concept of quiet time. Belligerent behaviour had been actively encouraged in his past. It was all he knew. He spent his time tumbling around in a hamster wheel of chaotic speed and erratic aggression. And Gherkin was bearing the brunt of it.
Gherkin’s morning greeting was a habitual and unprovoked punch or knee in the stomach. My looped voice repeatedly chanting ‘flat, kind hands, please’ seemed to be having little effect. And added to the daily physical ambush that Gherkin was being subjected to, were our own adult-sized – and in hindsight unrealistic and exceptionally unfair – expectations of him.
We had learnt to follow the Supernanny Code of ‘ignoring the bad and praising the good’. We had learnt not to rise to Pickle’s antagonistic charms. Yet, somewhere along the way, we seemed to lose sight of the fact that we had another child in our midst. A child who was unable to think like us and react like us. Us. The so-called grown-ups. How ridiculous this now sounds as I write it down. How could we have placed that level of demand on a then 8-year old boy? But we did. Even though there were plenty of times when we personally struggled to cope, we still found ourselves getting frustrated with Gherkin’s responses; not understanding why he simply couldn’t disregard Pickle’s hostile manners.
Looking back he has coped with it amazingly well, though not without kickbacks. He has and still is experiencing something that none of his friends has, and he is muddling through admirably. He has had nobody to share his experiences with, nobody of his own age to talk to throughout his ordeal. And yes, it has been an ordeal. What he has been through these past 2 years has been no doing of his own. It was more or less forced upon him.
He has presented some anxieties. Particularly towards me. He has also had friendship issues to deal with at school, possibly due to the fact that our once gentle pacifist has had to toughen up over the past couple of years. He’s become more aggressive himself, more argumentative, more assertive. He has had to puff his own chest out to be seen in the shadow of Pickle’s huge loveable character. But without envy or jealousy, he adores Pickle and Pickle adores him. They continue – as they will throughout the many years to come – to squabble and beat seven sorts out of each other, as all siblings do.
He’s done himself proud, he’s done Pickle proud, and he’s done us proud.