It is both strange and fascinating that one can grow up in the same family and have a completely different story of upbringing. After all, my formative moments and memories of childhood seem so vivid that it seems puzzling that they only exist that way in my thoughts.
Family to me was structure and adventure, springboard and safety net… the dinner table a place to regale everyone with the antics of my daily interactions. I am the eldest, the rule-follower, the people-pleaser. I fell into line with relative ease, the only stubborn defiance being a brief dalliance with a boy my parents decided was too rebellious (for a conservative Christian school) and a sneaky attempt to ditch the modest cover-up that I had promised to wear over my strappy dress at a youth dance one night.
My sisters have a different story, stories that are theirs to tell. Who can fathom how one group of people – bonded together by genetics and shared history – can spin such different tales of origin, find such divergent moments upon which to build a life.
We spent the weekend together in Mornington.
The sprawling house was flanked with fronds and birds of paradise, designed with elegance – home living magazines invitingly tucked into cosy corners. We commandeered one wing – with generously-sized sturdy bunk beds for the kids (and Dave) and a rainbow-hued room for Harvey and I. Chandeliers sprinkled muted light and shiny surfaces gleamed – clean and crisp.
Taking four kids away for a couple of nights in a house populated by other adults made me feel a little apprehensive as we approached. Would there be clashes over appropriate standards of behaviour? Unsettled cries that awoke the whole house overnight? What hour is sufficiently late enough to unleash the rising voices from their rooms? With what audience in mind would activities be determined? It turned out that I needn’t have worried… compared to our previous getaway in July, this one felt like a breeze.
Eli was remarkably subdued due to a nasty cold and spent most of the time snuggling under blankets and keeping warm. Ivy set a new record for amount of paper used to create portraits of all present. Harvey gurgled and cooed, happy not to be relegated to his usual position of craning his neck on the playmat while life swirls around him. Hudson went with the flow, as usual, in between sneakily trying to plug in his phone to ‘charge’ it and hoping we wouldn’t realise he was actually playing with it instead.
We made lazy plans in a meandering way… savouring smoky Thai curries from the local Thai Makong the first night, Mum’s home-baked scones with jam and cream for dessert. There were cookie tastings, whisky and wine, games of dominoes and the renamed classic – Billionaire. The girls (and Matt) went out for a lingering brunch at The Winey Cow, strolling down Main Street and leisurely browsing the op shops for bargains. Dad and Dave concocted adventures for the kids – the pirate ship playground near the foreshore, beach cricket, heaped strawberry ice-cream cones (some of which actually reached the intended destination). There was gourmet locally-made sausages and crusty rolls for dinner, an excursion to the local strawberry farm and the lavish Italian smallgoods nirvana – D.O.C. Even ‘pirate treasure’ (in the form of lovingly collected gold coins) made an appearance for distributing.
When all was dark and the sound of even breathing issued from silent rooms, Dave and I stole away (with permission, of course)… slipping stealthily into the starlight. We visited Spain first (Casa de Playa), the evocative, twinkling atrium that returned to us echoes of our early dating days. We settled in red leather chairs by the roaring fire, sipping on sangria and salted caramel affogato. Calling the night young, we strolled into Mexico (Mi Mexiko) with its chilli chocolate brownies and homemade honeycomb and plum-stained tempranillo.
Families are never perfect. There are misunderstandings, humorously heated discussions over the best way to shuffle a deck of cards, moments of explosive frustration borne from uneven task distribution… Yet these blemishes can provide character – a chance for freedom from those who have known us since first breath. If we are to look beyond the surface there is the glimmer of love, hard-wearing and flint-like in its strength. For when fire comes to consume, the bonds that bridge are not easily broken.