Wednesday, 2 January 2013

growing up ordinary

I remember the first time I realised other families didn't work the same as mine.  I was eleven, and having tea at a friend's.  Sophie and I were both from a fairly 'well to do' background ~ both parents worked; children (two in each family) went to swimming lessons, girl guides, ballet lessons, played musical instruments in the school orchestra; a holiday each year; new car every three years.  To everyone on the outside, we were an ordinary family.

* * * * *

Sophie's house had a kitchen diner, and while her mum was making tea she and I sat at the table, chatting and doing homework.  I heard Sophie's father let himself in the front door, and he came into the kitchen, said hello and asked when dinner would be ready.  Coming over to the table we were working at he gave Sophie a hug, saying 'put your things away girls, it's time for tea'.  I scrambled to shove my pencil and ruler back into my pencil case, put the text book back in my school bag and put some scrap paper in the bin.  I glanced at Sophie, who was still sat down, surrounded by books.  "Come on Sophie, he said to clear the table!" I whispered urgently, unable to reconcile her lack of activity and relaxed demeanour with the fact her dad had told us to do something.  Her dad re~entered into the kitchen, spotted the books on the table and slowly, without speaking, walked over to Sophie, putting his hands on her shoulders.  I flinched on her behalf, knowing what was coming next, wondering why she had risked ignoring him.  Instead of bracing herself for the blow, she tipped her head back, stuck her tongue out at him and bubbled with laughter as he made faces back at her.

* * * * *

I felt as though someone had given Earth an extra push, sending it spinning out of control, and I was the only one who'd noticed.  All the sounds in the room were muffled as though I was underwater, and threads of conversations I'd shared with Sophie floated through my mind.  "I hate my dad, he won't let me watch that programme" ... "I had to tidy my room or else" ... "My dad was really horrible about it".

* * * * *

As I sat at the table and shared a meal with this ordinary family, watching the way they interacted with one another, I was aware that  something deep down inside of me had changed.  When others said 'I hate my dad', they didn't mean it, they had never experienced that dark mire of tangled emotions I felt inside of myself every single day ~ all the times I had nodded along with friends talking about how unfair life was ~ I thought everyone lived as I did.  But I saw Sophie's eyes shine as her dad made fun of her habit of eating all the squashed peas first, before eating any of the whole ones, making her and her sister giggle, and I knew that wasn't the case.  I could see the affection they all held for one another; the smiles behind the mock outrage; the tenderness within the teasing, and I thought of my family.

* * * * *

Children have an incredibly narrow field of reference, knowing only their very limited slice of the world.  My idea of what life was, how your siblings treated you, what your dad was like, how your mum spoke to you ~ all of these stereotypes, all of my preconceptions and expectations for the future had been based on a single faulty premise ~ that all families were the same as mine.  Looking back I wonder if I had already begun to unconsciously question my experience, as surely otherwise I would have viewed Sophie's family as the aberration, not mine.  I had always been an avid reader, but assumed that fiction books were just that ~ fictitious.  Made up.  Unreal.  Imaginary.  Turns out, not so much.  Ordinary families were about laughter as well as annoyance, siblings playing together as well as bickering, the odd heart to heart in amongst all the frustrated communication, hugs as well as tears.  My ordinary ~ anger and fear, bruises and blame, cold looks and disappointment.  My ordinary ~ not so ordinary after all.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Lucas, just stumbled across your site tonight and just wanted to say thank you for your honesty. Your ability to write and make sense of your past and desire for it to be used for good, to help others, is amazing and I'm humbled at your story. I remember a conversation I had with some uni mates before any of us had kids. One of them had parents who were in the throes of a break up. They'd apparently never got on and my mate commented on how she'd witnessed them kissing only twice throughout her entire childhood. Another friend in our group had parents who had divorced several years previously. She'd never seen them be affectionate to each other. Ever. I suddenly realised that I had seen my parents kiss and laugh and make each other coffee my whole life and I hadn't seen it as noteworthy until that moment. I was in my 20's when that conversation happened. Perhaps (like gender, race and sexuality), privilege is invisible to those who are lucky enough to have it. Normality (whatever that is) is an incredibly powerful thing.

    Jen Xx


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