Family: Who says we can’t choose them?

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Image from Pinterest, quote from Disney’s Lilo and Stitch

Most of us use our Christmas break to spend time with family, some who you’ve missed for months or even the whole year, and can’t wait to catch up with, others who, if you were being totally honest, you don’t really want to see but feel like you should. Why do you? Most people simply answer, ‘Because they’re family’. I’m not sure how I feel about this. Don’t get me wrong – if you have elderly relatives who are likely to be lonely, they will appreciate your company, but if this is your reasoning, a visit once a year is not going to stop this loneliness, so I would assume, if you’re seeing someone out of kindness and fondness, rather than a sense of family Christmas duty, you will have a relationship with them, and would see them fairly regularly anyway.

The type of people I’m talking about are your superficial aunt, who doesn’t give you the time of day unless she wants a picture or some gossip to share with her ladies-who-lunch club. Or the cousin who can’t hold a conversation because they are apparently incapable of listening to any voice other than their own. These are not terrible crimes. But if you had friends who behaved like them, how long would you remain friends? To me, family loyalty trumps any other kind – say something even slightly negative about any of my brothers or sisters and I am highly likely to jump down your throat – but I know that (even if they wouldn’t admit it) they would all do the same for me. Relationships, whether family or otherwise, have to be maintained, and they have to work both ways. As much as I love and appreciate the family members I am close to, I am entirely unconvinced by the idea of unconditional love for all family.

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Image from Pinterest

I have also realised that I have gradually and selectively added to the people I consider family; friends I count among my (admittedly numerous) siblings, role models and surrogate aunts and uncles I have found in teachers and friends of my parents. At what point does an unrelated friend reach the status of family? Here are my top five things I have found are common to all my relationships with my (extra and selected blood-related) family members:

  1. Trust. You trust them with your random, at times odd thoughts and questions about life, and they are fully aware that you might be certifiably insane, but they love you anyway. For me personally, this one is really important, because I don’t trust many people – if I trust you, you have made it into the inner circle, and, if you don’t already, I will work hard to make sure you know you can trust me.
  2. Conversation, or silence, is never awkward between you. Sometimes you talk for hours about anything and everything, other times you’re happy to be quiet together, watching movies or crap TV, or listening to music, without worrying that you need to fill the silence.
  3. You can be mean to each other, and know the other wont be offended, (although they will often dramatically protest that they are mortally wounded by your insinuation) but if anyone actually hurts them, you will plot their downfall together. By extension, this also means you automatically hate everyone they hate. Even if you haven’t met them.
  4. You become an accepted member of their actual family, and find that you know as much about their crazy relatives as you do about your own.
  5. You feel like you have known them forever. This might be because, as with biological siblings, you grew up together, and have witnessed all of one another’s questionable choices in dates, fashion, music, and anything else you could possibly have got wrong. You know all of each other’s secrets, so it’s in both of your best interests to keep them, and each other, close. This could also apply to a relatively new friend, who has become a fundamental extra family member to the extent that you are unsure who you went to in a crisis, or phoned to relate your latest ridiculous escapade before you met them.

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Instead of guilt tripping yourself into going to yet another extended family lunch, or visiting your dreaded Aunt Beatrice, choose your family. Surround yourself with your favourite people, whether that is your family, your friends, or a mixture of the two, and enjoy their company, whether it’s Christmas or any other time of the year.

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Crazy golf: the perfect people watching opportunity

When the boyfriend and I took a day trip to the East Coast of Scotland, we found that playing crazy golf provides an excellent opportunity for people watching. It is one of the few instances I can think of where following directly behind a group of strangers is not considered strange or creepy, and we found the family in front of us on the course suitably interesting.

We agreed quickly on the relationships of three out of the four in the group – a father, aged around fifty, and his two children, a girl of about fourteen and a boy about ten. These three looked obviously alike, with dark hair, olive skin and similar features. The fourth member of the group, however, was a young woman, I’d guess early thirties, very blonde and fair, who looked a little out of place, made more noticeable by her slightly awkward conversation and body language.

What first drew our attention to the group was the boy, in Jake’s words, “being a little shit”. A ten year old boy being bored of crazy golf and winding up his sister isn’t surprising, but when we realised his antics were, in fact, directed towards the young woman, we became intrigued.

After a muttered discussion, and a probably not very subtle assessment of whether or not the father or Blondie were wearing rings, we came to the conclusion that this fourth member of the party must be the father’s girlfriend. I realise that, at least on my part, this conclusion may be slightly biased, given that my Dad has taken up with a blonde of a similar age (incidentally, closer in age to me than to him). However, whether we were right or not, my sympathies were definitely with the unimpressed little boy.

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Images from Pinterest, peterrabit.com and Etsy

My next evaluation of the scenario was that the two children were clearly desperate for their father’s attention, marvelling at how great his golfing skills were, and turning to tell us that he was a “professional golfer”. From watching, we doubted that, but since my golfing skills are questionable – apparently I stand like a duck – I refrained from judging.

Interestingly, the girl’s approach to the girlfriend situation contrasted with her brother’s. She seemed to be making a huge effort to talk to Blondie, and scold her brother for sabotaging her golfing efforts. This could, I suppose, be because she likes Blondie, but what seemed more likely to me, (again, perhaps slightly biased) was that this was her way of trying to get the father’s attention. My guess is that both children would have preferred a day out with just their dad, but he was determined to play Happy Families, and massage his ego by showing off his golfing skills (clearly you’re going to be better at golf than your kids…) and shiny new girlfriend.

From this people watching exercise, I realised that my assessment of situations is affected a lot by my own experiences. I’m still convinced that I was right, or at least close, about the family situation, but I also realise that I probably wouldn’t have reached that conclusion without the picture having triggered a personal response from me. I suppose this makes sense – we like to feel connected to other people. What is interesting is the weird and wonderful ways people find connections with one another. In this particular instance, I found myself relating to someone who, at first glance, you wouldn’t think I would have much, if anything, in common with. This might mean that we think we like people who are similar to us, but, in fact, when we want to feel a connection to another person, we show quite an impressive ability to find obscure links. Or, maybe, I just have more in common with a ten-year-old boy than I’d like to admit.

Kirsty x