One of the blogs I read is one man’s efforts to preserve his family memories and cultural history for his children and wider family. I enjoy the many posts he has written about the warm, loving relationships he shares with his family of origin in its many extensions, but I often feel as if I am standing outside in the cold, looking through a frosted window into a sweet shop crammed with delights that I will never taste.
Last weekend we had guests to stay, one of whom has a similarly extended family, with three sisters and a brother who share a loving bond that extends to each other’s children. She happens to share half an ethnic and cultural background with the writer of the blog though I do not think this is much more than accidental. I watched her buying presents for her small nephew on whom she clearly dotes, and, again, felt as if I was looking into a different world.
My family of origin is a long way removed from the descriptions they both paint of fond uncles and devoted sisters and loving parents.
Though I am happy that the lives of these friends have been filled with so much familial love, I have to actively brush away my own sadness that floods over me. Comparisons are always invidious, but I would have loved to have such a family. Though nothing I can do can make that happen, there is everything to play for with my own husband and children, and small hopes of retrieving sibling relationships over time.
Tiny gestures of kindness, or unexpected observations of a parent and child interacting sometimes threaten to overwhelm me. A few months ago a teenage skateboarder broke his arm falling of a wall in front of us. I took him to hospital with his friend and suggested that he phone his parents as he needed an operation immediately. He spoke to his father who told him he would drop everything he was doing and meet him at the hospital. The closeness of his relationship was evident from the way in which he spoke to his father, from his tone of voice, and it moved me to tears of envy and sadness inside. Sometimes my sadness temporarily blocks out the happiness I do feel for those who enjoy the relationships I have coveted.
Much longer ago, a tiny gesture of kindness from the Greek mother of a friend, wiping away some food that I had dropped on to my blouse, made me long to be mothered. Sometimes I feel like stealing some of the sweets from the sweet shop before I remember that they are not mine to steal.
I hate feeling sorry for myself. Yet part of allowing myself to feel the pain is a process of accepting that not everyone is blessed with a happy family and childhood and that, for those of us who fall into that situation, our hope lies in overcoming that beginning and creating our own families where the qualities we were denied are in abundance. In the absence of our own role models, we have to resort to books and the patterns of other more successful relationships we see around us, and to our own instinct. This powerful internal voice tells us insistently how things should be, and we aspire in that direction. In allowing the pain to come in, having fended it off for so long, I know that I also allow in the possibility of a happy family for myself.
Often those families we create will include our friends who stand in for the extended families we do not have. Our friendships become important to us in a way that I suspect they never are for those who have large, happy families.
I also hope that, knowing what it feels like to be standing on the outside looking in, that my own little family might be generous enough to offer some of the love we have to those who, like me, did not get enough when they were too young to do anything about it, and that in years to come we might have created enough happy memories for our own children to fill several blogs.