When Stefani met Sotiris – A year’s worth of anticipation, thanks COVID-19.

The meeting of my son and daughter.

I think we all know there’s no such thing as a “normal” family dynamic but my family is especially unusual.  My husband was previously married and had child with his first wife. His daughter, Stefani (Stef), is now 10 years old. I know, so far nothing out of the ordinary. My husband, son and I live in Greece (most of the year) and Stef and her Mom live in Canada. We have a seven-hour time difference and the Atlantic Ocean between us. Told you, it’s a little different. Definitely not the typical split the week and every other weekend scenario.

Fortunately, my husband owns and operates a seasonal hotel, Melitsina Village Hotel (look us up if you’re planning a trip to Greece). With the hotel being closed in the winter months and me working remotely, this allows us to be in North America for 4 months in the winter. Stef also visits during summer vacation.

We work extremely hard to maintain a strong, healthy relationship with Stef. My husband really goes above and beyond with her and I give him a lot of credit. Also, shout out to Stef’s Mama for doing such an incredible job and doing so much on her own. Dimitri and Stef FaceTime nearly every day. Thank god for FaceTime! When they are together, he does absolutely anything to bring her joy and put a smile on her face. This even includes putting dirty socks on his hands and becoming the “sock monster”, chasing her around trying to tickle her socks off her feet. They have an incredible bond, and I am so proud of him for this. Despite how great their relationship is, as you can imagine, being away from Stef and apart so much is incredibly difficult and an insecurity for him. He wants to ensure she feels loved and never have any doubts in her mind about that.

Due to all of this my husband was extremely nervous to tell her we were pregnant and how it would go when we introduced them. There were a few bumps in the road due to Covid but here is what we did and what worked for us.

Once we hit 14 weeks, we told Stef’s Mom. She needed some time to process this news before we told Stef. We also spoke with a child psychologist to get an opinion on how to inform Stef and common reactions that could be expected. The biggest take away from the child psychologist was how to present the announcement of the baby to Stef. She told us to keep the focus on Stef. For instance, say, “You’re going to be a big sister!” and not, “You’re going to have a baby brother!”. Emphasize her important role as big sister. It was such a simple adjustment in the delivery that we felt made a huge difference. We were also told that it would be important to tell Stef all together including Dimitri, Stef’s Mom, and myself. It was important to show we were all still a family and a new baby wouldn’t change anything about that except for giving us another person to love and love us.

When we told Stef, I was about 6 months pregnant as we wanted to make sure everything was going smoothly. When we announced it to her, we had her open two gifts. The first was a babysitter Barbie, which we renamed a “Big Sister Barbie” and the second item was a t-shirt that said “Big Sis”. All our worry on how she would take the news was all for nothing. As soon as she realized what the gifts meant, she started break dancing! I will never forget her little body spinning in circles on the floor. She was ecstatic!

As I mentioned earlier, we normally spend our winters, a good three to four months, in North America. I was due in early December, so the usual plan was going to be slightly altered. It was extremely important to us to show Stef that she was still important and not everything had to change. We decided as a family that Dimitri would spend Christmas Eve with us in Greece and then on Christmas Day, he would fly to Canada to be with Stef. Thanks to the seven-hour time difference he would be there in time for Christmas dinner. Dimitri was going to stay in Canada for a month so he could also be with Stef on her birthday and then return to Greece. In the spring, once Sotiris (Ris) had gotten his first few rounds of vaccines, we planned to all go back to Canada and then to the US for Stef and the rest of our families to meet him. ENTER COVID.

That plan got blown to pieces with the lock downs and the unknowns of COVID-19. When we couldn’t make it out in Spring, we felt a little bit of distance from Stef. Navigating these new relationships and roles via FaceTime was not easy. We started really putting in extra effort connecting with Stef and coming up with new ways to show her we were thinking of her. This included sending her books, movies, crafts, etc.; all things both my husband and I loved as children. We would tell her about our memories with these things, like the first time I read my mom’s copy of Nancy Drew and The Secret of the Old Clock, and how cool it was seeing her with the same book in her hands reading the same pages. Another package she received was the Harry Potter complete series box set. I am a huge Harry Potter fan and to my elation, Stef became a fast fan too! We started planning a Harry Potter marathon for when we arrived and how we would do Harry Potter crafts and decorate the room and drink Butter Beers and Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans. We also started to send her a lot more pictures and videos of Ris. We wanted her to feel like she was still a big part of his life even though he couldn’t really talk or interact a lot over the phone. With all these efforts, the distance we felt decreased and her phone calls increased. She started calling us both multiple times every day wanting to see her brother.

Fast forward through summer and into fall, Ris was nearly a year old and had barely met anyone from our family, including Stef. ENTER COVID SECOND WAVE. Just when we were able to travel and leave work, the second wave started happening. We had a huge decision to make, do we stay home and stay the safest we could possibly be or do we risk our son’s health, our family members health and our health by traveling the 20ish hour trip door to door to North America. Although we were scared to death, we ultimately decided that Stef and Ris had to meet. We feared if they didn’t meet until Ris was 2 years old their relationship would suffer. They had waited long enough already, and Stef was counting down the days until she could meet her brother.

The day finally came. Dimitri and I were nervous because although we were positive about it and thought it would go well, you never really know how children will react. Stef’s mom brought her over to where we were staying, and her face immediately lit up when she saw Ris. She started making the raspberry sounds that they always did on the phone with each other and Ris immediately knew who she was. The two of them only got a few steps inside the door and they were hugging, rolling around on the floor, happy as could be like they had always been together. I will never forget the joy on my husband’s face seeing his babies together for the first time. That single sight of the kids and my husband finally playing all together, laughing and smiling made all the waiting, masks, security check points and hours in the air totally worth it!

Scroll for some Brother – Sister love!

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