Sarah Oosthuizen – a biological mom, adoptive mom and foster mom – shares a rather entertaining picture of her “family forest” in chapter 1 of her book. Originally referenced in her perspective on celebrating foster care.

Chapter 1: Headcount

I’m sure Census Officers have a few stories to tell – if they weren’t the law-abiding bureaucratic-type bound-to-secrecy, that is (although I’m not sure that “law-abiding” and “bureaucratic” are mutually exclusive). When they knocked on our doors, they weren’t expecting the household matriarch to be unsure about how many children she had.

Trying to establish exactly who lives in our house, and How We Fit Together, is a mystery to many. It certainly is to me. What with adoptions (two – one deliberate, one accidental), one Fake Daughter, three biological daughters, and a multitude of long-term “residents” (of whom two became my sisters), the Familie Flodder is hard to pin down in neat, tickable boxes. When the polite Census-officers asked us how many people lived in our home, they were met with blank stares. It really is just a routine question – it’s not that complicated. But it was one I couldn’t answer.

In the end they solved it quite creatively: “How many people’s toothbrushes are in the bathroom today?” A revised version of the official question, deliberately made simple for these Simple Folk (“village idiots”, I almost hear them think). This we could answer! That evening there were seven toothbrushes in the bathroom, because Fake Daughter (it’s a term of endearment, I promise!) was still living with us. She’s only “fake” because she was too old to adopt, but she’s ours anyway, despite having the same name as biological-daughter-number-3. We use the definitives “Big” and “Small” to discriminate – although neither is terribly “big” or “small”. But it works for us. As does this odd collection of children.

A collection that grew – again. This time it was the poor Reception teacher (so sweet and pink and blonde and fluffy and smiling that she immediately makes me think of cachou-stocking-filler-sweets) who was perplexed. It was Family Week. Or Mother’s Day. Or “Our Parent’s Wedding Day”. I think it’s about time this archaic, paternalistic, outdated claptrap is dispensed with anyway. Silently of course (it doesn’t do to upset a teacher this early in the game).

This was all due to a phone call early one morning. Chirpy-voiced-lawyer is phoning me from outside the High Court. “Congratulations, Mrs Oosthuizen,” she booms over Cape Town traffic, “you are now the mother of your sister.” I wished I’d recorded this for posterity! This is how daughter-number 4, or 5, became “mine” (depending on how you categorise her: by age, by date-of-arrival, or by officialdom). She is 38 years my junior, and will sort-of live with me. I share custody with my father. And this is why I understand this poor teacher’s confusion when talking about me (in sweet singsong tones) to my sister-child. “Show Mummy – I mean your sister – your lovely picture” at pick-up is rather awkward.It’s a great point-scoring device though: my cheeky, rambunctious, wild-child, always-the-outsider sister wins every playground battle of “Who Has the Eldest Sibling?”. There are always perks when viewed bottom-up.

“How many people live here?” is anything but simple in our Funny Family. Therapy-tools such as “Sketch Your Family used by my son’s educational psychologist turned her single A4-sheet into a multiple-leaved Fold-Out-Book. She took to using differed coloured kokis eventually. It was quite beautiful.

Family-tree? Ours is a Family Forest!

I’ve always loved forests.