Tuesday, 23 April 2019

Scrap that, Blood is thicker than water...

My children have no blood relative cousins. My husband has a brother in Australia who has no children and I am an only child, meaning my kids are cousin-less. Having grown up knowing the wonderful relationship you can have with your family members of similar ages, having the best of best cousins myself,  I have always wanted the same experience for my kids. I was delighted therefore to create that dynamic with people - who maybe felt for the fact I am an only, or cherished the relationship they had with me - so my kids were not really aware what a 'blood relative' or 'real cousin' even was. They had them. Simple as that.

But there will always be that person - who will tell them, who will remind them, that the relationship is false: like Santa or the tooth fairy - something great to believe in, but not strictly a truth. This year, more than any other has taught me one thing: no matter what you believe you have created, nurtured, cared for and invested in - others will not. That when the chips are down, one thing matters only: are you blood?

I've never seen life this way. Raised every weekend by my Mum's ex-boyfriend (whom I lived with from the age of 11 until I finished Uni) - I decided pretty damn early in life that family could be chosen. That being an only kid, who never felt she was her parents' priority - it was ok, because I could carve out family when it wasn't really there. Never living with my Dad, not having the classic 2.4 and all the trimmings - well, who cares, when you can throw your love at others and make it stick. Breathe life into the word family - in whole other areas, to find that love you are so desperate for.

And up until this year, I would have said, I did a damn good job of it.  But suddenly - in a single moment, standing in the queue at an airport - I realised that my construct of family - well, it was potentially all in my head. Perhaps how I saw a relationship - was in fact only in my imagination. I scrolled through texts and whats apps and our whole history to work out if I had in fact gone mad.... A friend described the effect on me as 'gaslighting.' To say it knocked me for six is an understatement.

Since then I have pondered on what I mean to others and also, what do they mean to me? Being an only kid I have never had a sibling to rely on, someone to charge ahead, forge the pathway for me. Someone to look up to, or to guide. Perhaps my love of company (husband says I am 'energised' by seeing people, whereas he is drained) is based on the fact that as an only child of divorced busy parents - I was often alone. The bonus of this, is I have never struggled to make friends and find it easy to engage with others. So for me, friendship, well, it is family. I choose friends sparingly and once I'm in - I'm there 100%. Thus the majority of my mates I have known 20/30 plus years...

And yet, if anything were to happen to me, I can imagine people turning to my soul mate buddies and thinking 'oh you just lost a friend... big deal.' It isn't like losing a blood relative.... Because we seem to measure love, commitment and importance on that simple fact - being related. Yet, my life is littered with people who mean the absolute world to me - who I literally would do anything for and who have supported me through thick and thin - and they aren't blood. I sent This article by Elizabeth Day to several friends because it was a love letter to friendship - the most underrated and unsung of loves of our life.

This year I lost someone dear to me. She introduced me to Prince on her weekly mix tapes...Taught me how to dress at a time when I thought long kilts and polo necks were cool.  We used to sit on the doorstep in our PJs and play albums loudly during the long summer holidays. She was the first person to get me drunk. (I still can't even smell Martini Bianco without wanting to wretch).  We would sit up late watching scary movies trying (and failing) to recreate McDonald's thickshakes. She showed me The Exorcist and I duly vommed. (Regan had nothing on me). We had each others' backs during the dark teenage years... covering for one another and sympathising when we fought with our respective mothers... Her daughter was flower girl at my wedding, sat in between my new husband and I through the reception. I flew home to celebrate her daughter's 2nd birthday. She wrote my children birthday cards from 'cousins X Y and Z.'  I knew her for 35 years, lived with her on weekends for almost 10 and yet I had members of my own family who never once said: 'I'm sorry for your loss.' I guess because she and I weren't related... we weren't blood. So my grief, it seems isn't valid.

Perhaps a less sensitive person would take this on the chin. But I am not that person. My friend H wisely said: "you have to ask yourself why this matters so much to you." My answer: I am the girl with 3 sets of keys and 3 homes as a teen. I am the girl who sought out family... I am the one who never believed that blood was thicker than water.  I am that lonely only. So whilst I thought that by 45 I had managed to contain all my demons -  suddenly they have come flying out of the woodwork.... A pandora's box opened, the contents mocking me and all I believed in. All I thought I knew. All I guess I had hoped for.

So this much I know is true: blood will always be seen as thicker than water. No matter how much you want it to be different.