Coming home after being away at uni on and off for three or four years feels like a massive step backwards, but it can be hard to articulate the every-day, nitty-gritty frustrations it can bring. Frankly, I’m surprised this issue doesn’t get more coverage on Jeremy Kyle: “I’m 23 and my mum still thinks I’m incapable of cooking pasta (even the really quick fresh stuff)”. Seeing Jezza get caught between a middle-class mother and daughter scrapping over the right way to load a dishwasher? That is an episode I’d actually watch without wanting to hurt myself.
While I am aware, as always, that I’m one of the lucky ones – my parents are generally very easy-going and let me do my own thing, and so far haven’t said “right, that’s it, we’re changing the locks, you’re on your own now” – there’s also only so much “darling, this was in your bin, did you mean to throw it away?” that I can take. Yes, that was a conversation that actually occurred in my house. I hope the parental signifier in question doesn’t make a habit of noseying through my bin; they might find a little more than they bargained for. Anyway.
It perhaps doesn’t help that we’re not a particularly close family. I don’t say (type?) that with any self-pity; most of the time I’m thoroughly relieved that we’re not. Sometimes, it does bother me a little – last weekend, for instance, when it seemed as if everyone else in my social circle was going to be having an Easter-based family gathering, I was the odd one out. I worked Good Friday, Saturday and Monday, and my mother was away in Houston from Friday to Sunday. What with both parents working for airlines, and pretty substantial age gaps between the siblings, I don’t think it’s surprising that I’m not big on family-time. We’re a really different bunch – while Mum and I have a lot of similarities, such as freakish tidiness, a complete inability to get ready quickly, pretty dramatic mood swings, and being prone to migraines and panic attacks (thanks for those, Mum, they’re especially useful), we also fight like cat and dog. Little bro and stepfather are generally similar – quiet, laid-back, happy just doing their own thing, and little sister is a mini version of Mother Dearest, but a bit more chilled out.
The rather sad side to this is the feeling I get when I do spend time with close families – those that make a point of doing things together, and seem perfectly happy to do so. It’s simultaneous envy and claustrophobia: “I wish we did stuff like this. Or do I? Do I really?” Growing up, I always wanted an older sibling, one that was close in age to me, a year or two older perhaps. Or to be an only child. I obviously wouldn’t be without my brother and sister now – they provide me with far too much amusement; it’s like Outnumbered but not quite as funny. But we’re all very different – and the large age gaps don’t help. While it’s quite nice being the oldest – I get told all the family gossip, for a start, and I have set the academic standard for the other two – I find myself “helping with” (read: completing) a lot of homework, despite not having studied anything that wasn’t the finer points of the English language for nearly five years. I’m also the “trial child”, being the first one – all the parenting got tested on me. I’m petty enough that I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve thought, “you two get away with way more than I ever did”.
I can’t wait to live with someone I’m not related to. I can’t wait to be able to cook [the limited amount of things I know how to cook] for myself again. To not feel guilty about watching what I want to watch on TV, to do my own laundry when I need it done, to have sex exactly when and where I want (and not feel guilty about any …noise). To not have to explain to the person I’m living with why the Daily Mail is a vile and dangerous thing. About the one thing I do envy my dear actuary-in-training friend is that she can choose to see her family when she feels like it. I can’t wait to have that luxury. I suspect they won’t see me for months when I eventually do move out; the novelty of not having to negotiate my life around people I’m related to isn’t going to wear off in a hurry.
Perhaps the weirdest thing about my vaguely anti-family sentiments is that I already know that I want the boring, unremarkable, “nuclear family” set-up if and when I have my own kids (two boys and a girl, who will all have flamboyant names that border on ridiculous. Lila-Rose, Cassius and Lysander, for example. I’d also consider Casper, Rollo and Claudia. Mustn’t forget the chocolate Labrador called Gulliver, either). So, quite different to most of my childhood (biological father AWOL, mother long-haul cabin crew, spent first few years of life with my grandparents). While I think having one parent away a lot is pretty good for a kid’s independence and is a quick way to nip any emotional neediness in the bud (for the time being, anyway), I think its impact won’t be wholly positive. The idea of simply being in a long-term relationship with someone who travels a lot for their work leaves me cold – which is awkward when you’re the girlfriend of an aspiring musician, but all anyone can really do is see how things go, and try not to get too stuck on plan-making.
I love my family, don’t get me wrong, and credit where credit is most definitely due, they don’t ask much of me. I’d just rather not live with them for much longer if I can possibly help it. And I’m hoping, that at the age of 23, that’s normal.
You need this lady in your life. Listen to “England”, and don’t be fooled by the gentle, folky start.
And, because I’d hate you to think I’m one-dimensional, you also need these guys. I’m going to keep telling you til you agree.