The one about families.
Family, to me, has always felt an odd concept. When I was a kid, there was my mum and me (and 3 dogs, 2 cats, numerous birds, later rescued wildlife, and money trees). We lived in a little cottage with two rooms. My mum drove (a pretty racy) 2-door Toyota Celica. We were two girls, looking out for ourselves. Thelma and mini-Louise (minus Brad Pitt).
I knew that we were different. We weren’t like other families, even in our own family. And then, when I got to primary school, all the other kids (in their way) reminded me that we weren’t normal: “Don’t you have a dad?” The self-possessed 8-year-old I was could easily answer that question: “Yes, I do. I just don’t know him.” (Do not ask me where this level of nuance came from.)
As an adult, these convos still arise. But, less from a place of confusion, and more from cautious curiosity. Most people kindly wonder if I felt the loss of not knowing my father. And that’s also quite easy to answer: it’s pretty hard to miss something that you’ve never experienced. My mum was my mum, and she was enough. I had no point of comparison. I hadn’t experienced a loss. It’s just the way it was. Normal is relative, after all.
The other thing that crops up every now and then are the only child questions. And here’s where it gets more complicated. As a kid, it’s just how it was. I wasn’t really lonely (I had my mum’s undivided attention, not to mention cousins to spare). And, I pretty much thought I was an adult, anyway. But, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to notice that there’s something about siblings that, to me, is undefinable and unobtainable.
My best friend is one of eight: six girls, two boys. From the outside, it’s like sitting in on your favourite reality show: The Melkis could quite easily be Australia’s answer to The Kardashians. They’re all beautiful, and unique, and funny in their own ways. They have their roles. And yet, they’re all the same. They’re a unit. And, you can’t help but feel that, united, they’re indestructible.
This is completely foreign to me. I have absolutely no idea what that feels like: that complete assurance that there is someone (or seven) who has your back. Who will call you on your bullshit, but invite you round for dinner nonetheless.
So, enter SK. He comes from the ultimate in nuclear families. He’s got two siblings. His parents are very happily almost-50-years-married. They’ve lived in the same house for all their lives. They don’t fight. They happily gather for big events: anniversaries, birthdays. They’re kind. They go to church at Christmas. They’re functional.
Like siblings, this is also completely foreign to me. (I’ll save another post for my batshit extended family and what happens at our functions.)
Needless to say: when facing the imminent arrival of a tiny dictator in our lives, I was worried about how two people with such different concepts of family could possibly function, and all of a sudden, I felt the loss of all those things I’d ‘missed out’ on. SK’s family felt so rich in comparison to my own. And, they were so far away. How could we possibly cultivate that same connection when we lived on the other side of the world? Would V know that he had a family, would he feel that connection even though they were so far away?
We were there, in Germany, when I was pregnant. And, the day before we left, SK’s mum went looking in the basement. She emerged bearing the most beautiful Moses basket for us to bring back to Australia. It was beautiful because in it, V would sleep where, 40 years earlier, his dad had slept. It had been lovingly cared for in all that time, it had housed some other tiny dictators, and it had been saved for us. And in that moment, I knew that all of my worries were without need. He would be loved. There were a whole bunch of people on the other side of the world who would love him, just because.
And, I guess that’s what family is, right?