Families. Love them or loathe them? Discuss.
It depends on the family I suppose. And who you mean by family. In this instance I mean the family into which I was born, not the one I have created. There is my mum and dad, still married after almost 44 years and my brother, 22 months my junior and somewhat confusingly sharing the same name as my husband. And that is it. A tight little unit of four which seemed perfectly normal at the time and now seems quite meagre compared with the numbers rampaging around my house.
I have never been terribly good at the whole family thing although I do try a bit harder as I get older. As with most traditional units, my family falls into two parts - mum's side and dad's side. As we had something of a nomadic lifestyle, moving every few years to follow dad's job we never lived anywhere near any of them. So there was no popping in for tea or older cousins baby sitting or confiding in aunts when mum wouldn't listen. We would go and visit either for long, long days or for whole weekends depending on how far we had to travel.
We generally saw more of my mum's side. I don't know whether this was because they were slightly closer or because they were mum's family and she did the arranging ( although I have my suspicions). There were grandparents, aunt and uncle and two cousins as indeed there were on my dad's side as well. My main memories are of going as a teenager. By then the cousins all had their established characteristics and we enjoyed playing up to them. Elder cousin - heart of gold, very good with oldies. Younger cousin - bright but bad and thus adored by aunt. Brother - baby, kind and thoughtful. Me - high achiever, difficult, gobby. If you put us together we still slot neatly back into these roles and I wonder how much this stereotyping has had to do with my attitude towards family since.
Yesterday, my dad's sister had her 80th birthday party. My own family was invited. All invitations are very gladly received as they can be a bit thin on the ground now that I have four children. However, this one was particularly welcome as I rarely see either my aunt (of whom I have always been particularly fond) or my cousin and his family. Plus, they live in Suffolk which is one of my favourite parts of the country and I hoped to turn it into a bit of a holiday. But the fates were not on my side as the date of the operation meant that us all going wasn't a viable option. However, my parents and brother were driving down in a day and would I like to join them? Eight hours in a confined space with my family. It required careful consideration but in the end the desire to wish my aunt a happy birthday overcame any doubts that I had about the means of getting there.
And so the appointed hour came and I clambered into the car armed with phone and ipod in case of dire emergency. Actually, my concerns were unfounded. Despite the fact that I can't remember when the four of us last spent any time together without outsider or interruption we all just fell back into our time honoured roles. My brother was treated as golden child and we all ganged up on my mum, mainly in relation to how she favours the golden child. It was fun and the four hours passed without argument or even tongue biting.
At the party there were lots of my aunt's friends a couple of whom I knew or knew of so after a period of polite chat, my brother and I retreated to talk to my cousin. Even though we saw my dad's side of the family far less frequently, my memories of those trips are remarkably clear. I remember the places that we played, the smell of my granddad's beautiful, flower filled garden, the vast playing fields of the Royal Hospital School where my uncle taught. Our cousins would spend hours playing with my brother and I swinging us round and round until we were so dizzy we couldn't walk. They had a fantastic collection of Asterix books which I read but never properly understood. But because we saw them rarely I never had a label of which I was aware and so I have no reputation to live up to. I didn't have to be the difficult, gobby one. In fact I firmly believe that my cousin could give me a run for my money on that front should the mood take him!
So in all it was a highly successful day. I proved to myself that I could spend eight hours in a car without murdering my family and I got to see my lovely aunt, albeit briefly and my cousin and family. And suddenly Suffolk doesn't seem so very far away. Perhaps we can all meander down again before too long.