Family is a funny old thing. I spent last weekend with four generations of mine – chance for some proper quality time. I know that we’re incredibly lucky to have four generations still around, and I love that the children get to know my grandparents as well as their own. This photo, taken when Elvie was a week old, will always be precious. Not everyone gets to take that picture.
I’ve always had a good relationship with my family. As a child I thought we were perfect – obviously that didn’t last. As I grew up I questioned the way things were done, found out more about our history and discovered that some of what I thought I knew wasn’t entirely true. All the skeletons came out of all of the cupboards. I assumed that people had been keeping secrets from me. In reality, I had never asked. It’s safe to say that I dealt with it very badly, and did my best to make my parents feel as though they’d failed. Raising my own babies now, I realise how it must have felt to be criticised so harshly by someone you had loved unconditionally for so many years. I’m so sorry.
When we were engaged, and again when I was pregnant with Elvie, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to ‘do family’. Wes had changed his surname, and I took on that new name when we married. It was exciting – starting a new family with a new name and a new legacy. This was our chance to start over and avoid all the mistakes that our respective families had made. It turns out that the cliche is true – you don’t make the same mistakes as your parents, you’re too busy making new ones.
Part of my problem was that in my desperate quest to be an individual, I’d somehow convinced myself that I didn’t fit my family’s mould. That I was different, and that nobody really understood me. This weekend, as I spent four days with them I realised the opposite. There are a lot of similarities…
My nanny has always been something of a mystery. To me, anyway. I’ve never known what to say to her, and never felt like we had any common ground. This weekend as I watched her plug in to her audiobooks, determined to get her stories even though her eyes have failed her, I recognised my love of words and narrative and escaping to other worlds. I don’t know how I never noticed it before. I heard the humour she used to deflect from the fear of losing her sight. And, when my sister spent longer than expected in the cabin looking for something warm to wear, nanny turned round and asked whether she was “knitting that jumper herself?” Took the words right out of my mouth.
Dad is more familiar. My personality is an echo of his. As demonstrated perfectly in our Sunday evening card game. Competitive just about touches the edge of it. Suffice to say that there was deliberately bad listening in order to have a ready excuse for losing, lots of attempts at rule-bending and the occasional ‘let’s just use that as a trial run.’ That was just Dad. As for me – when I got back to our cabin and told Wes I hadn’t won, his response was “didn’t you cheat?” Like father, like daughter. Makes you proud!
I see myself in my aunty’s fretting and fussing around, trying to make everything perfect and feeling responsible for everyone else’s happiness. And in the sweets that she brings out every night. I see myself in Elvie – being overwhelmed by the number of people and wanting to hide away in a corner. That’s a lot more socially acceptable when you’re two years old.
There is so much good in my family. Especially my parents. They are the most selfless, generous people I know. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief when they enter the room – if they’re around, it will all be alright. They do so much for others – for us, for their friends, for the orphans in Tanzania, and for people they have never even met. They’ve had tough journeys but they’re strong and determined and they’ve built up a wonderful life for themselves, and for us. They’re loving, caring – and fantastic at celebrations. If you get the chance to have Christmas at their house, take it. And don’t eat for a month beforehand.
Every family has its good parts and its bad parts. Looking at my family now I can see our chances and our brilliance and our problems. We’re not perfect. And we’re not a disaster. That’s normal. And healthy. And my new little family? Our little gang of four?
This is our chance to start over – but I’m not sure I want to. Not completely. There’s so much I want to take with me. Instead of avoiding the mistakes of previous generations, I want to celebrate the successes. To share the legacy of my parents and my grandparents with my own little ones. Hoping that one day they’ll do the same with ours. We’re all in this together. Thank goodness.