Where There Is A Family

Geneviève Hone introduces herself and her new column with all due modesty

Where There Is A Family

Granny Witch has something to say

Geneviève Hone, image.

  Granny Witch, image by Julien Mercure.
  Image by Julien Mercure.

Sometime ago, I boasted to a few colleagues, who also happen to be good friends, that I could answer any question concerning families. My friends exchanged conspiratorial glances and I knew right then that they would put me up to the challenge. I hastened to add: “As long as you give me two years to come up with an answer!” A few weeks later, I received a letter requesting my opinion on a family situation. It was signed with a pseudonym, in typical Dear Abby form, but I easily recognized the sender, because my friend had written her name and return address on the envelope.
Before I reveal the contents of this letter, let me tell you a bit about myself. I am a strikingly beautiful and extremely bright woman, highly educated, well read, an excellent cook, an accomplished pianist, a talented writer, a master seamstress, a creative organic gardener, a most loving wife, a devoted grandmother. You stare at these lines in disbelief. Surely such a person does not exist! You are partially right. She doesn’t exist in what people call “reality”, but in the parallel world of the dreams of my youth, she did exist for a while until I let go of my goal of attaining perfection. I chose instead to embrace life as a fallible human being, and trained to become a social worker and then a family therapist.

It has been 50 years now, and as I look back on my career, I realize that I have led a very privileged professional life: indeed, what greater privilege than to support people wanting to live and love better. I have always felt honored to be part of that process. In turn, I have learned so much from my clients in many ways. Without knowing it, they regularly sent me back to my books and mentors to keep up to date. They challenged me to be bold and invent new approaches. They dared me to keep hope alive for them, when they had temporarily lost it. If I never lost my enthusiasm for my profession, it is in great part due to the clients who opened their door to me, and said “Come in.”

Over the years, I became older, hopefully somewhat wiser and at times a bit frumpy like an old witch. I also became a grandmother and therefore have the privilege of being taught many a thing by people much younger than me, but so wise in their own way. “Granny Witch” as I will call myself in this column for True North Perspective, still believes she has a few things to say about relationships, especially within couples and families. I hope you enjoy her, and please show a little patience: she can be quite outrageous at times.

Let’s see how Granny Witch responds to the following letter.

Dear Granny Witch,

My 11 years old identical twin daughters display a strange behavior and I would like your opinion on this matter. When one of them is sick, for example, with a bout of flu, the other one refuses to eat. When asked why, she answers that she doesn’t feel hungry and that if she ate, she would become sick. My husband and I worry about this and are concerned that both twins might be developing anorexia. 

Signed: “Double trouble”

Dear Double Trouble,

One of the big questions awaiting beings who have dared to be born as humans, is “How can I be with others, yet be separate from them?” The family is the terrain where we make our first attempts to solve this unbelievably complex question. Very early on, this question is reflected in the naming of our babies. Surnames indicate sameness, affiliation to the family: this child is part of us, the Smith clan. First names indicate difference, separateness from the family: Jessica is unique; she is not only “us”. Trying to belong without losing oneself, trying to be oneself without losing the others, will remain a challenge throughout Jessica Smith’s life. At times Jessica Smith may feel as though she were wearing a personalized t-shirt that only she can see. On the front, she proclaims “I belong to them”; on the back, “I belong to me”. She will turn as needed to show either side, depending on the circumstances of her life. Of course, trying to reconcile these conflicting statements may occasionally send her into quite a dizzy spin! 

If Jessica Smith is a twin, especially an identical one, she will face this challenge at an additional level. Identical twins share the same genetic blueprint, so a high level of sameness is a given, at least at the beginning of their lives. Also, Jessica and Jane will probably form a deep emotional connection through the sharing of so many experiences, the first of these being roommates in their mother’s womb. They will inevitably continue to be part of each other, but they will come to realize that they are very different individuals, shared DNA or not. They must step out of “twin-state” to do so, and this is not always an easy process, according to my identical twin friends. Apart from striving to be unique within her family, Jessica needs to modify the special bond she has with her twin. Of course, this will not be a linear process with well-defined stages. At times it will be relatively easy, and at other times achingly difficult. And it will be a never ending process. The process may be especially complicated if Jessica needs to differentiate earlier than Jane who may not be ready for her sister to pull away.

In practical terms, dear Double Trouble, since you are concerned for your girls, one sick and the other not eating, you must act, if only to ease your mind. Of course, “acting” may mean many things. In this case, I suggest that you talk with the girls and listen to them. They are after all, 11 years old, and you know how girls at that age love to talk about everything as much as they like to giggle about boys. Your twins are the ones who know best what’s happening to them. Avoid the “why” questions that put people on the defensive. Go for unusual questions so they can’t fire back a glib answer. For example: “What helps each of you when you are ill? What helps each of you when your sister is ill?” You will gain some insight: perhaps Jane is trying to manifest her concern for Jessica by not eating, thus leaning on the side of “sameness” (we are together in this). Perhaps Jane is trying to make sure that she continues to receive her fair share of attention while Jessica is ill, thus leaning on the side of “different” (don’t forget that I exist too). Enjoy the discoveries you will make together.

Anorexia is a serious disease and you are concerned about the girls developing this problem. If “not eating” results in weight loss or if the girls seem overly preoccupied with their body image, do look into it. Read on the subject, observe and take notes, discuss your concerns with your friends and family and don’t hesitate to consult a professional.

So, dear Double Trouble, I wish you the best of luck, and I hope that the next time I hear from you, you will be able to sign: Double Pleasure!

Granny Witch

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