What the foxes taught me: my sisters are my home


In our last house – my seventh home – there lay a field at the bottom of the road. If you left the house early enough, when the sliced sky was still bleeding from the centre, you might see the fox family. 

Two adults and three cubs would pad across the grass, the leader of the pack halting every few steps and sniffing the air, their protector. I loved to watch them from the window. I never desired to be any closer to them than I was. To be closer would have been wrong, would have exposed our secret. I felt privileged to just see them from a distance. 

Living in our seventh home was the period when I was depressed and frustrated. But those moments watching the foxes, I remember being present, in the moment. Those fleeting auburn shadows made me feel awake: a kind of visual alarm. 

When a fox mother gives birth to a litter, all the other females in the leash (the correct, somewhat anti-wild name for a group of foxes) help the mother to raise them. They take it in turns to tidy the lair and mind the cubs so that the mother can go out to hunt. It is a team effort, and the will to help is instinctive, natural. Foxes mate for life, so the male is present in the raising of the young, and yet the other foxes still sense the necessity of helping the mother so that the responsibility is shared. They understand that she deserves a break. 

I remember when I was helping my Mum raise my young sisters, watching them for her if she needed to go to the job centre, doing school runs and picking up shopping. The most common remark I heard from people who thought she was demanding too much of me was, ‘She should just get on with it (meaning alone). We all manage.’ But at what cost do we manage? What is the mental and physical price of unnecessary struggle? And why would you want to push that on another person?

It was Maya Angelou, a strong single mother who said ‘I don’t want to just survive, I want to thrive.’ Surely everyone has that right? Empowerment ultimately comes from oneself, but sometimes you can be the most empowered, strong, independent person possible and you still need a bit of help. This does not take away any power. It is necessary. 

I was rude to my Mum in the seventh house. I felt trapped and she knew it. I let her know it. Not with words, but with my reflexes, sighs, tension in my shoulders, my narrowed eyes. I felt like I was on a leash and I was always trying to cut it off. I skulked around. Skulk is another word for a wolf pack. It also applies to a few other animals that are considered vermin. I don’t like to refer to foxes as vermin. It takes away their majesty. Why else would they have a golden hue to their fur if they weren’t majestic, celestial?

Foxes are often associated with skulking and sneaking around rubbish bins for scraps. They’re associated with breeding too much. And yet we urbanised the world and created the rubbish, so we’re what made them dirty aren’t we? To have lots of cubs and to collectively raise them does not make one a pest. Our society - the society of success, where to help each other is to be held back, where individual achievement is given prime status - has made them pests in the eyes of too many.

To a fox, the lair is core. They will wander far on independent hunts but they always return to the lair. 

I have always strived for independence and adventure, which is a will I have no intention of suppressing. However, I now realise that no voyage of independence and self-discovery would have any deep meaning without my sisters being present in my life. My sisters are my centre. My own life and desires just fold outwards from them. 

I am lucky enough that family, for me, is no leash. It is the centre of the rose that all the petals fold away from when light beats down and then fold back over in protection of when night descends. Whilst I have always, always loved my sisters with a power equal to no other emotion – because love is not a choice, it is an instinct – it took me some time to realise how amazing that is.

How lucky I am to always have a core to return to, to live for, to provide motivation. Many do not have this and their petals are simply tossed aimlessly in the wind. So, whilst independence is integral to my nature, I have learnt via application that to help each other, even for an indefinite time, is not a leash. It is as wild and free and as central to ourselves as is the drive for personal adventure. I owe everything I am to my sisters and my Mum. 

I owe everything I am to the demand their existence put upon me, causing me to be prematurely responsible. Whilst I certainly didn’t always live up to this demand, the unwavering nature of it is the best therapy I have ever had. It has ensured I have kept true to my nature and whenever I have lost myself it has brought me back. 

Whenever I begin to forget this, I think of the foxes. Earthy streaks on the horizon, living out their care for each other, largely unseen by the pulsing rush of the world. 

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