Crushing joy: being a parent, being a child

Last weekend, we went to stay at my sister’s house while she was away (treating it as a free hotel, basically). My sister’s house used to be my house, our family house. Our parents bought it when I was a baby. I lived there until I was 18. Mum lived there until her death in 1999 and Dad til his in 2010. Then my sister moved in.

In front of the fireplace. (I'm on the right.)
In front of the fireplace. (I’m on the right.)

Since she’s lived there, people have asked me – and I’ve asked her – if it’s weird to live in the house we grew up in, sleep in our parents’ bedroom. I’ve said no, she says no. But last weekend I found it really weird. Every room was bursting with memories. I said, “When I lived here, when I was a child…” so many times that eventually Harry said, “We don’t CARE about when you were a child! We’re only interested in us!”

But there I was, sitting on the loo, remembering hiding from my sister while she hid (or I suspected she was hiding), waiting to jump out and scare me. Or the time some boys were coming round, the doorbell rang, Leanne shouted at me to get it, I shouted back “I’M ON THE LOO!” Of course they heard and I was mortified.

I stood in the bathroom, remembering putting on make-up, shaving my legs, lying on a bench with my head backwards over the bath while Mum washed my hair. (Just typing that, I can feel the bench under my shoulders, the edge of the bath against my neck, the perfect water temperature I thought of as being “like a peach.”)

Dad, in the front room (where these photos are taken), with his foot up on the sofa, playing the guitar and singing Country & Western. (Probably The Crystal Chandelier.) Sitting at the dining table, watching Pepsi & Shirlie on Splash! on the portable TV, the windows all steamed up, the smell of boiling potatoes…

I had to keep stopping myself, pushing my mind away before I got overwhelmed. It wasn’t even just the house – we stopped in town to get some cash and by the time I got back to the car I was almost in tears. We’ve talked about moving there so the boys can be nearer to their cousins, but I don’t know if I can. All those memories bellowing at me all the time.

Joe, in front of the same fireplace. (Harry wouldn't pose.)
Joe, in front of the same fireplace. (Harry wouldn’t pose.)

I think part of the reason I get so upset (apart from the whole orphan thing, obv.) is that I feel so guilty about not appreciating my childhood. Until fairly recently, I didn’t think I had a great childhood. I’m not even sure why I thought that. When I scanned in the hundreds of slides after Dad died, happiness shone out of so many of them. We were (almost) always smiling. And we did a lot of stuff. We had great holidays and days out. My sister thinks she had a great childhood, so what’s my problem? Why do the bad memories – they’re not even that bad, mostly the usual childhood angst things – stick so much faster than the good?

I suspect that what came later – Dad’s redundancy, Mum’s MS, their unhappiness, my desperation to leave (to move to London) – has overshadowed the happy childhood stuff. And I worry that all the time (and money) David and I spend trying to create a close-to-perfect childhood for our boys could be washed away too. Does that make any sense?

I guess the upside is that I feel like I’m getting it back. The memories keep coming and I can appreciate them, I can appreciate what our parents did for us. But it’s a total bastard that I can’t share that with them.

“There is a crushing joy that crackles in every corner of this world. I am tiny, and yet I am here…I can do nothing but laugh, and sometimes laugh and cry.”

– N. D. Wilson (via SweetSilver)

6 thoughts on “Crushing joy: being a parent, being a child

  1. Keris, I know what you mean. I don’t think I could go back to my hometown now after losing Mum. It would be too hard. I find it hard to even drive past the house she lived in over here and that was only “home” for 10 years. I’m so lucky that I still have my Dad and now treasure every moment with him (probably not really, but I do cherish that he’s here with me) and with him, I’m starting to remember the wonderful things we did when I was little. I always thought we had it quite hard too, since Dad worked away a lot, but when he was there, we had great times. And Mum always made the best of things for us when he was away!

    I love this post and the photos! Just do whatever you need to do to get through and settle where you feel most content. The kids will look back in years to come with warmth and happiness at the wonderful childhood you and D created for them! xxx

  2. I love that house! I remember it as such a happy, joyful place and you guys were always laughing and joking, there was always music playing and budgies everywhere 🙂 I loved our sleepovers and never wanted to go home! Of course, I wasn’t around for the later, sadder stuff, which I guess must have left some imprint there, but I’m sure Leanne’s family have made it joyful once again. Having said that, I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to go back either without bawling my eyes out. (Sorry, Leanne, if I ever come round to visit you, don’t mind me, I’ll just be having a moment.)

  3. Beautiful post Keris, so evocative. My dad was in the army so I don’t hav a childhood home but I do get very similar feelings when I visit my Gran’s house (my uncle lives there now).

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