This morning we waved off my ten year old nephew who has been staying with us for the past week. This is his first time coming to stay by himself, and it has been lovely. Unfortunately I have been working most of the time he’s been here, but every day I’ve been regaled with tales of their adventures.
It has been making me very nostalgic for all the long holidays I spent with my three younger cousins. I first went when I was eight, with my older brother on that occasion, and it was a definite culture shock!
Considering our mothers were sisters, our lives were pretty different. I came from a very conventional, middle class family, where full marks in the weekly spelling test, pleases and thank yous, and holding your cutlery correctly, were valued above all else. Where discipline was strict and rules were enforced. Where privacy and independence were key. Not an unhappy childhood by any means, and an extremely loving, warm, wonderful mother, but definitely conventional.
And so I arrived, after a long drive across the country, to a family who did things differently from us. They were vegan, and distinctly on the hippy side of life. They were artists, and there was paint and clay and colour and invention everywhere. The children (aged 4 and 1 at this point) were often running around naked, and were totally bemused by my desire to lock the door behind me in the bathroom. This never lasted long as they both knew how to break the lock and burst in on me. Having always had my own bedroom, my own private space, I was confused by the fact they all shared a room and a bed, and that my little cousins would creep into my room first thing, desperate to be with me.
There were definitely times where I felt completely out of place, awkward and unsettled by the differences I was very aware of. I was often caught in conversation by the glaringly obvious differences between the different values and beliefs between my parents and my aunt and uncle. I had so many experiences I would never had had at home, playing out in the street, helping with art installations, camping trips and building sand sculptures on the beach. There was a constant stream of local children to play with, friends, guests and lodgers coming for dinner and long evening chats.
I went from being the youngest, constantly bossed around by my older brother, to being the oldest. I admit that the sense of power went to my head at times. I apologise for all the times I made them clean my room and follow my commands. I like to think I made up for it by using my holiday money buying them treats from the corner shop.
I kept abusing their hospitality on my school holidays, right until my very final one, aged 22.
These have become some of my most beloved memories of childhood. To start with it may have felt alien, but it’s amazing how much these different experiences shaped me. Now raising my own family, when I think of what family means, these are the faces that I see. I want my children to grow, feeling that sense of freedom, fun, wildness and exploration.
I recently went to my eldest cousin’s hen party. I was struck how all of her friends also had relationships with her sisters. How they all shared stories of being welcomed and included into their family home. I am infinitely grateful for the many, many times I was welcomed in. I am so incredibly proud of the fabulous women my cousins have grown to be, and love them all fiercely.
I was very happy to welcome my nephew to our home this summer, and whilst he may have been a bit bemused by some of the differences between our families, I hope he had fun. I am hoping that my other nieces and nephews, as they get older, will also feel welcome, and my children’s friends. I hope that our house will feel open and welcoming, always a source of toast and tea and chat around the kitchen table for anyone who needs it.
I also sincerely hope that as my children grow, they have family and friends to stay with, to have completely new experiences, see life from different points of view, hear different values and beliefs. Whilst I obviously wish to mould my children to share my values, what I want more than anything, is for them to feel able to make up their own minds, form their own opinions, and carve their own paths in life. Those heavenly and occasionally awkward holidays of my youth most certainly helped me with that.