Families are so hard aren’t they? So many different personalities to deal with, so many different views and beliefs. My family are particularly difficult; none of us really get along and for the most part I often convince myself I was swapped at birth by a tired 1970’s nurse. But, we grow up and move on and like most others, I started my own family. Although never being one to be conventional, I always maintained a slight twist on the whole ‘nuclear’ thing.
I had a baby a nineteen. His name is Joel. He will be twenty-one in April and no matter what has happened to us along the way, he will always be my first. Joel and I got off to a rocky start because I get the wonderful psychosis after child birth. Basically, from the age of six months to three and half years, he lived with his ‘Dad,’ whilst I made strides to become sane again. Joel and I have an unconventional relationship. When he came back to live with me, he didn’t really understand who I was, so I just built a bond from there. We didn’t have that mother and baby thing, but we had something that turned into something else. Of course, by the time Joel came back, my baby Nathan was here and I had another psychosis under my belt. They built a relationship also, with a subtle nurturing nudge from me.
We became a comedy of errors really, the three of us hurtling around whilst I worked full-time and smashed out being a single mum. Boyfriends came and went. We were pretty much skint all the time and I always had a basket of washing in the boot of the car ready for the launderette in my lunch hour. The boys always seemed happy though, in their own little world, feeding from each other’s ideas and torturing me as much as they could.
As life moved on and they grew up, they headed off in different directions and it was very hard to keep them focused on each other when they had different fathers and extended families. I managed to do it though, even if it meant spending all weekend driving them around and collecting them from this grandparent or that one.
They were and still are very different from each other. Nathan is an artist, a scholar and a potential megalomaniac. Joel uses his hands, his ‘devil may care’ attitude and get down and dirty work ethic to prove his relevance in the world. So different and yet so close. As a young mother I didn’t always get things right and I don’t mind admitting that I downright messed up a lot of the time, but these two boys just carried on and saw through it. When they realised that I had a long standing mental illness, they weren’t phased. When I eventually married and had their little brother Jamie and subsequently was struck with psychosis again, they just meandered through and never once blamed me for the eight month hospital stay and suicide attempts that followed.
They had their moments. Each of them mischievous in unique ways. They also managed to make the best of being part of different families. Let’s just say that Christmas was always a very lucrative event for both of them. Even when their fathers made attempts to divide them, and they did periodically over the years, they stayed true to each other for reasons that only they will ever know.
For the most part I only ever wanted them to feel like brothers. The term half-brother didn’t and doesn’t exist in my house. When my husband and I made decisions or changes, the boys were considered as a unit, never thinking of one without the other. Even now, as they both move onto being men (Nathan is eighteen this year), we never think of anything without thinking about ‘the kids’ first.
Recently, the bond that Joel and I have has been broken, it will be temporary, but it’s broken never the less. The cheeky devil does not care to speak to me right now. I have angered him and then angered him again by not knowing what I have done. He is away from me right now. He is a soldier in The British Army, however, Nathan is here, albeit flitting around as teenagers do, but he is here, with Jamie, counting down to starting University in the autumn.
Nathan knows that I am hurting over Joel’s silence, he knows that I am confused. He also knows that I will not stand for him or Joel falling out with each other and I know that they never will. Nathan travelled up to see Joel in his passing out parade. He spent the day with Joel’s father’s family and flew the flag loud and proud for our little set. He supported his big brother on the best day of his life so far and I was proud, so proud of both of them that day for totally different reasons. I have very little family, through choice, to protect my mental health and to make sure my boys don’t see the effects of their behaviour on me. I don’t force this into Joel and Nathan’s thoughts and they have made their own choices of what contact they have, which has turned out to be none. But on that day, when Joel stood proudly as a fully-fledged soldier, Nathan stood proudly for all of us and clapped him on.
Joel will be a hero, he will be a soldier. He will carry the badge. Joel is also a hero to me, because against the odds, he followed the path we asked him to and gave his best to achieve this career. But Nathan, he is one of those unsung heroes. The one that stands back and lets others have the glory. He is the beautiful, soulful, intelligent gentleman that occurs only once in a while. Nathan exceeds my expectations every day and his bar is set higher than most. I have a feeling that one day Nathan may change the world because his heart and mind see things the way only certain people can.
Sometimes, when families are chaotic, people like Nathan can get overlooked. At the tender age of eighteen, he has his life together, he chose his own path and it’s sparkling. He is going to university to study law, but is talented at so much more. Nathan never asks for attention and welcomes any that is offered with open arms.
He manages both of his families and never lets any of us down. Nathan is more than just a hero. He is a brother, a son, an achiever and a dreamer all rolled into one. His shine is subtle in the company of his louder and more obvious brothers, but its getting more prominent every day.
I love all my children equally and am proud of all their achievements, but occasionally when I look at Nathan and the young man he has become, I wonder perhaps I did get things right after all. Nathan drew this portrait recently of his older brother and for me, his talent, his love and his uniqueness bursts through as he draws.
Our unsung hero drawing his hero with love.