My family are a very nuclear family. Always have been. Every Christmas, my mum, my dad and us two kids will be the only people seated at the table. In the past it was also my rather wealthy and eccentric auntie Noycie. But she's passed on now, so it's just us at the Christmas table. Mum, dad, two kids. It's never bothered me. I like our family Christmases.
Both my parents were the black sheep of their families. Although I know my relatives and my parents are on friendly terms with all of them (the ones who don't live in Spain, that is), they just don't understand why anyone would not eat meat and get up with the birds to do yoga, like my mum, or grow veggies in a garden like my dad, instead of saving time and buying them from the supermarket. So I guess my parents have never really "belonged." We all are black sheep in our close, loving nuclear family. Our extended family are the chooks, the dog and the cats, and the numerous birds mum feeds in the yard every day. These are our extended family more than our blood relatives could ever be.
At 21, my younger brother will soon be a father, when his long-time, live-in girlfriend gives birth. These days, you could call my brother the "white sheep" of the family. His girlfriend's family are very different from ours. They are the sort of people who could not imagine the quiet Christmases our family has -- they're the kind of family who would have kids and aunts and uncles and in-laws running wild around the Christmas lunch table. I can just see them all, wearing bargain Christmas tree earrings and T-shirts and paper crowns, laughing continuously after a few too many Christmas beers. My brother's mother-in-law dyes her hair and wears fake fingernails and lots of brightly coloured lipstick. They're that sort of family. They're great, don't get me wrong -- just different from our family. And now they're our in-laws. What do I call my brother's mother-in-law? Is she my mother-in-law too? And how am I expected to behave when she's around?
I expect an amazing culture shock and a very eye opening experience -- a meeting of two very different cultures. I'm wondering the effect it will have on our previously very nuclear family. When my brother's girlfriend was 8 months pregnant, she came up for a five hour drive to visit me. It was a little awkward, because I barely know the girl, but nice. We talked, and I kept looking at her and thinking, "You're family. You're carrying my flesh and blood in your womb." It didn't seem real. She let me feel the baby kick. My flesh and blood. It was strange. Nothing stirred. I don't think I felt the reality of it. An intellectual understanding, but not the full realisation.
Everyone has a feeling this baby is going to be a little boy. They want to call him Noah. I've never had to relate to a baby relative before -- not since my brother was born when I was a toddler myself. Some of my friends have babies, and sometimes they hand them to me, and I am seized with fear. "Aaagh, a baby!!" I think, as I hold it stiffly to my body, "What if I drop it? Am I squashing it? How do you hold these things?" I am stiff and afraid when holding babies. I am not a nurturer by nature. I cannot keep most of my house plants alive. I'm not good at being responsible for a tiny helpless life. The thought scares me. Then the babies grow into toddlers, and I feel the pressure to be able to play with them, talk to them. How does one talk to a toddler? I always feel so condescending, so patronising. So...detached. When I see my nephew, will I be expected to cry tears of joy at what I see? What if I don't?
My brother's girlfriend was very hurt because I had not bothered to contact her during the pregnancy, except for one phone call at the start. I've never made a habit of calling my brother, nor he me. I guess that was just the way it was. We get along well when we see each other about once a year. We would probably run out of conversation on the phone pretty quickly if I'm honest with myself. We're very different people. I guess this will have to change. She was so hurt that I had not supported her during the pregnancy. She was crying. I was out of my depth. I guess it was naive of me to not realise that this was expected of me. I guess I've just never had to do it before. I felt pretty bad. I plan to make it up to her, I guess it's a little challenging for me because I don't actually know what it is I'll need to do. In a couple of weeks, I will be finished with university for the summer (I'm in the southern hemisphere). I will be heading down to spend time with my new extended family.
It's a strange feeling, knowing I'll be an aunt. How do I deal with this new being that will be my new family? I hope I am not asked to baby-sit. The thought of that kind of responsibility absolutely terrifies me. Even the thought of holding it scares me. Visiting relatives that are not my mum and dad is just something I've never had to do. What will we do at Christmas? Where will we eat? How will we handle it if they want a big Christmas turkey? I've never had to navigate this terrain before.
This Christmas is going to be different from any I've experienced before. This Christmas I'll have to deal with what most people deal with every year -- a big family Christmas. I really don't know what to expect or if my Christmases or will ever be the same.
e x t e s s a y -
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