Growing Up

On Friday, I wrote the following for a status update on Facebook….
“Some families muddle along harmoniously through life, some split and reform several times, forming new arms and legs at each junction. Mine… is a mixture of both. I’m enjoying a weird (but only slightly) and very wonderful weekend with relatives, catching up on darker times that allowed years to fly by without contact.”

I have been in Dorset this weekend for a cousin’s wedding and a family reunion, where we’d finally emerged from our personal spaces to address an awkward silence that has spanned more than two decades in some cases. Dad’s family has been at times, like a Greek tragedy and as each generation emerged, it seemed as if our genes travelled first class: with a greater baggage allowance than most other people. This weekend I felt immensely proud of my family to have survived the enormous difficulties which life has thrown at them, though a little sad that it took so long to develop this awareness of absent communication. Had an awesome time with my cousins, gran and the extended family and have already booked flights to ensure we get to follow up on this reunion.

This weekend generated some mixed emotions… which have obviously provoked a few reflections on “Family” and how it defines, restrains and supports us… Since my parents divorced and I’ve seen aunts, uncles and grandparents remarry…. I’ve been introduced to a variety of influences alien to my gene pool. In the short-term, this was tough. There were fights. War was declared. We all had to define our territory. Yet almost two decades later, I am in fact very grateful for meeting these “aliens” who challenged traditions in the family.

Other alien encounters include the families of friends. We moved to The Middle of Nowhere when I was 16, although I continued to go to school in Carlisle. This meant that nights out at the weekend were spent at the houses of friends (usually Caroline’s or Tamsin’s, occasionally Bob’s or Tony’s) and I obviously got to know their families. It was this nomad facet of suburban adventure, which must have provoked a more relaxed attitude in the company of others… to make myself  [mindfully] at home, because my parents have never been particularly good at this.

When visiting Cas’ family at Christmas, they still occasionally remind me of my “posh” pronunciation of certain words (less so now after years of northern conditioning) and there’s the traditional interrogation about my love-life and ritual gossip about “The Wheel” generations. My friend Tony reminded me that we have our own family – a bunch of us that continue to stay in touch and meet up from time to time, in Carlisle and occasional *exotic* destinations.

Then there are the families I’ve lodged with over the years…. like Matt’s folks or Ali’s…. (by coincidence, the fathers in these families were both church ministers) and the quirks I still think about, such as lottery scratch-cards with breakfast, guessing the “secret ingredient” in Peter’s cooking “for the chance to win a luxury holiday”, the three-legged cat and the jokes about the ceiling bulging with the weight of all my stuff.

We make such fuss about the importance of family and rightly so. As a teenager I longed for a different family structure, but as we’ve split up and reappeared with new people, in the longterm it’s improved our relationships, not weakened them. Marriage, fidelity, stability, support, love …. are all relevant orientations, but if events take us take an unexpected path, although it’s not pleasant being unable to see where we are going, change does provide a greater choice of destinations.

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