C’s sister wants shoes, a shirt and pants. She wants those horrible jeans all the teenage girls are wearing which are, for me, an embarrassing reminder of a particularly dreadful period of the late 80s when everyone was wearing ripped jeans. I suspect ripped jeans won’t go over well in Timbuktu where she lives.

I don’t judge.

I did tell her I don’t know how to figure out her size. I have not seen her in 2 years. I suspect she must be bigger than she was in sixth grade, which was the last time I saw her.

We discussed this for a bit.

Then she sent a chain letter I was instructed to send to 20 friends, including her, unless I don’t care about her. I specifically hate these.

I said, “But you call me mom. We aren’t friends, are we?”

I wasn’t trying to be mean about it. I hate them, but the Country X kids who send them to me all the time don’t know that. Usually I just ignore them. In this case, that didn’t seem okay to do.

“You are daughter,” I said.

She answered, “Yea mom ur daughter.”

That’s part of my reassessment recently. I had not believed this child was C’s sister. We haven’t chatted that much, but three or four times we have–and more often recently. I did not recognize her as the same child I saw in C’s house and occasionally at school.

There are a few things I am trying to wrap my head around and sort out because of this. One of them is that some of the information I have in my mind comes from VP Ma’am and some from IT Ma’am–VP Ma’am was their neighbour for years in Y-town. IT Ma’am I suppose knows the family because she had been close to C and C and confided in her.

What I got from them was mainly the idea that Sister had a pretty hard outer shell. In person, I saw her presenting herself in a way that’s fairly off-putting–a good girl trying to be perfect. Village gossip had it said that Sister was favoured over C, because she is the natural child of her mother’s husband, while C is not. I always tried to interact with all of the children in that house as worthy human beings who are interesting in their own right, even though I went there to see C specifically, so I have had some chats with Sister about different things–her studies, weaving. I did not carry away from that any deep impression about that.

I have a very different feeling about C’s family situation now and how it may have affected all of the children in the family. Everyone adapts in the way they are able to, but a family like C’s suffers from a double whammy of lacking the skills needed for relationships (self-control, self-regulation, emotional processing, etc.) and reacting to stressful moments by entering into altered states of consciousness that don’t always include an awareness of the needs and intentions of the real children in front of them.

That’s what I think now. I have a few reasons for thinking that way. I might go into that in another post. But the point is the damage to the children does not always arise from actual maltreatment. In C’s case, I think it has, but it need not. The emotional deprivation arises from not knowing how to attune with one’s children or partner, or even other supportive adults who might help a parent cope better with life’s stresses. The intense feelings of loneliness that result come from not being able to form relationships where one can feel and understand oneself and feel and understand the other well enough to co-regulate or share activities. It also comes from having traumatic reactions that are transmitted to future generations: responding with fear to a non-threat is confusing and teaches your children to be afraid of the things things you became afraid of in the course of traumatic events they have no awareness of.

I was reading about disorganized attachment, and it frequently coincides with maltreatment but not always. In many cases, there is no indication of maltreatment. It is more closely correlated with the parent’s history of trauma. The parent may not actually do anything to harm the child, but the parent’s traumatic state frightens and confuses the child.

That affects all of the children in the family–not just C. So while C always seemed to present herself as a lost thing no one cared about and her sister appeared to be brittle and arrogant, they are both deeply and profoundly lonely. They both enter into altered states of consciousness when I am chatting with them, mostly in response to exchanges of warmth and affection.

I don’t really know why I feel shocked by this. Maybe it upends my own idea about my family, in which I presume I am the more damaged of the two of us sisters. I don’t know. But I adopted C. I really aggressively pursued her while I was in Country X, because I interpreted her retreat as arising from real fear about reaching out, rather than rejection or indifference. Sister, on the other hand, has adopted me. Why would she?