On the 2nd of September 2016 I arrived in Switzerland with my 7-year-old daughter, 4 huge suitcases, 2 dogs and 2 cats and reunited with my husband, Vic, who had moved here 6 months earlier. The new school year began just 2 days later. Despite the warm welcome we received at this fantastic international school, we were shell-shocked.
We had left our beloved family, friends and home behind. We’d also left our beloved sunny, and often wild South Africa and stepped into this pristine, well-ordered and highly efficient foreign country. Duo lingo French lessons had been part of our lives for the past year, but oh my! Now we were in the deep end. Absolutely everything was strange and foreign, and apart from our family unit of 3 humans and 4 furry people, we didn’t know a single soul.
Our little daughter, who at the time was our foster child, put on a very brave face indeed but my heart broke when she came home from school one day saying that her class mates were teasing her and calling her a liar when she tried to tell them that she had 2 mommies and 2 daddies, with lots of brothers and sisters, but that she lived here in Switzerland with her heart mommy and daddy with just 2 dogs and 2 cats who were now regarded as her brothers and sisters.
Our daughter came to live with us as our foster child, when she was 3 years old. Over the years, we were very fortunate to have the opportunity to build a relationship with her biological parents and extended family. I know and understand that this is not always possible in circumstances like this, but this was our experience and when the opportunity availed itself to have this relationship with her biological family, Vic and I grabbed it with both hands. In order to explain this unique situation in easy terms to my then 3-year-old daughter, we referred to ourselves as her Heart family and referred to her biological family as her TUMMY family. It was a neat and easy way for her to understand and package the whole dynamic at play.
Thankfully, at her new school, my daughter had a wonderful teacher, who at the first signs of her distress, asked me to come in to class to explain it all to her fellow students. Now, I knew that this would be a defining moment in my daughter’s life. Up until this point, she had found it difficult to integrate with her fellow students. My heart broke over and over as she came home from school with saying that she hadn’t played with anyone during recess, saying, “I made little boys and girls out of snow and played with them.” She felt like an outsider and that she didn’t fit in anywhere or with anyone. My husband and I worried as we saw her retreating further and further into her shell.
I have a theatrical background and decided to put it to use and write a story to present to the class, and presented “A Family Just Like Mine.” A story about an adopted 9-year-old little girl called Gemma who travels the world looking for a family the same as hers. During her travels she comes across every type of modern family unit there is to be found. From Families with a mom and a dad and child, to families with 2 dads and children, to families with 2 moms and children, to single parent families, to divorced parent families to grandparents in place of parent families, you get the picture.
On her travels, Gemma asks all the families that she finds the same question:
“There is this thing I’m thinking of, it might sound strange and funny, but just where are your children from, your HEART or from your TUMMY?”
All of the families reply that they are TUMMY families, and so Gemma continues with her search.
Gemma’s search finally comes to an end in South Africa, when she finds the family she has been looking for. A family with a mom and a dad and a little girl, who, when Gemma asks them her question, their answer is “We’re a HEART family.”
The children in my daughter’s class listened to the story carefully and had lots of questions about Gemma and her travels as well as questions about my daughter and her unusual family set-up. From that day on, my daughter stood proudly in the uniqueness of her story and was empowered by claiming her narrative. With her new found confidence, she found it easier to integrate with the other children, who because they understood her better, accepted her into their games.
I am delighted to tell you that a happy and unexpected ending to this little tale is that the wonderful and insightful teacher who was behind all of this and who is herself a published author, put me in touch with her publisher who took my little book on and “A Family Just Like Mine” was published early in 2018. It has gone on to win a Dragon Fly Book Award as well as making the Top Ten on the Ex Pat Library Book Sales list.
A Family Just Like Mine can be found on line at Amazon, Barnes and Noble as well as The Book Depository. It can also be purchased in the English section at Payot Geneva and Nyon branches, as well as from Trevor at New Books 2 Go the travelling English Book Library in Switzerland.
Lovingly written for you by Barbara-Anne Puren
Pixabay Photograph credits: lucasbierie