Different families have different strengths and weaknesses, different spaces of trust linking family members, and different walls keeping some of them apart.
The most striking strength of our blended family, a strength which lasted and lasted, was the degree of complicity and intimacy between all of the older children and both of the younger boys.
From the moment that Charles was born, in August 1995, and the other children immediately crystallized into a kind of cocoon with him and around him, the energy among the children has been a source of constant inspiration and, yes, awe for me.
The arrival of Alex prompted more of the same: more love; more attention.
The kinds of petty jealousies and competitiveness that can influence childhood in any family were all but absent between each of our older children and both of our younger boys.
The best parts of all of the older children came out with their little brothers, and Charlie and Alex had a particularly good early life.
A charmed home life, in fact. Both of their parents lived with them at home, avoiding the distress occasioned by having one parent living in another country, and the older children each consistently doted on them.
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No-one relates to the little guys like Alban. All of the older children had a special place in their hearts for Alexander and Charles, even as they grew older and farther apart from the blended family as a whole, but Alban had a gift with them.
Charlie is four years old in the photo on the right and already heavily into video games. Alex at six is to be found below playing them too. There were other activities which preoccupied our young charges, but few as pressing or hypnotic as video games.
At the time, we parents went through periods of acute concern about the sheer quantity of time the children, and in particular the boys, spent playing these games. Looking back, I think that we should not have worried so much.
Especially when they were younger, before having friends over became easy (we were a little isolated before they and their friends could drive), they played with each other much of the time. It was social time, even though the screen was the focus of attention. And social time was teaching them social skills as well as, if not better than, school. There were enough of them at home to keep the social skills developing.
There are more reflections on the role of video games in our family here.
We lived innumerable moments of keen anxiety as the little guys followed in the footsteps of their wild boy brothers. This scene was but one example!
Here are a few more pics of Alban with his little brothers.
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Tom spent the fewest years of any of their older siblings actually living with Alex and Charlie.
They lived together first from August 1995, when Charlie was born, to June 1997, when those of us who could moved to Santa Cruz. Then Tom stayed in Paris with Nick with their mom until August 1999, when they rejoined us. In the meantime, Alex was born: he was 20 months old before Tom and Nick moved in with him! Charlie barely remembers the two plus years that Tom and Nick did not live with us.
1999 through 2007 was our period all together, pretty much! Of course, the older children started to move in and out in around 2005. Then, at the end of 2007, Tom left Santa Cruz to return to his mom, for good.
Here are a few more pics of Tom with his little brothers. The first three were all taken during his vacations from Paris in early 1999, during the period when he (and Nick) lived with their mother in Paris and the rest of us lived in Santa Cruz.
That two-year separation of the brothers may well have had an effect on their relationship going forward, but you can’t see it in the pictures! Because they were away from us most of the time, we did try to cram in fun things during their occasional vacations with us.
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Nick, the oldest in our little troupe, was nine years old when Charlie arrived in 1995 and 11 when Alex arrived in 1998. That’s quite a difference in age.
Daphné, just one year younger than Nick, had almost the same age difference from Charlie and Alex.
The relationship between each of them and the little guys had a sort of parental component, reinforced by the fact that each of Daphné and Nick was the older child in her or his family of origin. In other words, each was accustomed to running things even before we all moved in together, and that certainly wasn’t going to change!
Theirs was the better kind of parenting, without the responsibilities that can stress adult providers: just caring for the children, looking after them and entertaining them.
A household like ours offered each of its members more diffuse roles, almost like a community of hippies. And as our group of children bounced its way along, off walls and off each other, the roles that they adopted the most naturally and easily were caring roles. As I say, Charles and Alexander were very lucky from day one.
Here are a few more pics of Nick with his littler brothers.
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The only girl in our troupe, Daphné was inevitably a second mom for Charlie and Alex. Not full time, of course, unlike their maman, but a mom when she was there.
The age difference helped with that role, as did her own maman. When you’re looking after six, you need all the help that you can get!
I’m not big on presumptions that women “naturally” make better caregivers, but just in our household the social levers moving Daphné toward caregiving from a young age were considerable.
The world almost expected her to move in that direction – visiting moms, her maman’s friends, other parents from Happy Valley School, even the teachers there – she was automatically treated as a care giver.
Which Daphné was perfectly fine with.
Her mother was careful not to force her only daughter into a solely feminine role. For instance, she was positively discouraged from being passive, especially in the face of brotherly attempts to dominate, and encouraged to find her own path and follow it.
But even her maman wanted Daphné to babysit, beginning around 13 years old, in part because that was an easy way for her to earn her own money. She was 13 in the photo on the left, with her first regular babysitting customer. Brendan’s parents are family friends: his dad is a law school classmate of mine.
Here are other pics of Daphné with Charlie and Alex.
As time went on, the older siblings’ social lives became more and more important, and then even Alex’s and Charlie’s social lives took over. Then various of the older children moved away, at first for months, and then for years. There was less and less opportunity for the siblings to spend time together, and less need. The important work had been done.
Daphné would occasionally take Charlie or Alex bowling or to the Boardwalk, Nick would occasionally attend one of Charlie’s or Alex’s soccer games as a supporter, Alban played video games with them, and Tom liked to share his music with them. But the real work had already been done, and its effects have lasted pretty much without a break.
The six of them are spread out geographically every which way, and they are all still very solid.