"One in ten families has a long lasting estrangement."
"One in seven children grows up in a house that could be described as without love or dysfunctional."
I read both of these statistics this morning and wondered, why then, did I feel so far away from normal? Do we stand next to each other on the tube, me and the other equally rejected adult children?
Am I sat next to a woman in a coffee shop who weeps daily that her children never phone? Are we all one mawkish Christmas advert away from a giant social meltdown?
It doesn't seem like we are, but if those statistics are right I guess it has to be a possibility.
Even in a functional and normal family there would seem to be a wide range of frictions. Ranging from the barely controlled dislikes to the long simmering resentments and the truly aberrant behaviour of some, and yet monsters saints and sinners alike we are all pushed into a melting pot of family festivals over the dark winter months.
Tired and frayed we seem to need to come together in these dark months to remind ourselves of our ties and buy gifts and share food and celebrate "Family."
This year I will be buying less presents than ever, yet I am not sad about it, (perhaps a little wistful, but not sad.)
My children are not especially excited by "things," so we buy small gifts that make us laugh and feel treasured. My friends spend time with us, we may buy a new game to share and something that we saw that made us "Remember when...?"
For me though there will be no buying gifts bought like those for my mother throughout my earlier life. Those bought in a tragic tension of calculations.
They were carefully considered so that they showed an appropriate level of frugality,
then added to, to show an excess of affection.
Wrapped thoughtfully well, and timed to arrive not too early or too late.
Significantly showy but also elegantly restrained.
To be returned to me later as being: "Too scratchy, the wrong colour, or size, or shape,
inappropriate, complicated, too modern or dated"..there was always a reason, they were, like me, never quite good enough.
I tried for many, many years to buy the perfect present. I tried every tack. Spend more, make it more significant, interesting, life enhancing, even the deviousness of getting items that the recipient had coveted in a shop months before. which were confusingly still criticised for my lack of taste or understanding.
I thought I was the worst gift buyer ever. I marvelled at how others could buy me gifts I loved and treasured. That I would take pleasure in handling and how I wondered at the thought and care that had gone into their purchase, whilst I endlessly shopped and never succeeded. I clearly didn't understand the complex balance of gift buying and worried, often for months, about what might make a good gift.
Eventually and somewhat slowly I learned what was going wrong.
A few years ago, I gave a gift of a bracelet to a friend, she had helped me significantly that year and I had no real way to repay her but I wanted to mark her kindness - so I gave her a silver bracelet I had, had made. I had found a silversmith - and commissioned them to make and engrave it , with a small part of a poem that meant something to both of us. She was quite moved and I ? ... I was somewhat surprised. Yes I know! I am quite stupid sometimes. But this had been so much less work than I had put into presents that had been so deeply unsatisfactory to my family that they could not even be given house space. Yet she said it was lovely , and hugged me and even in my usual cynical self assessment it dawned on me that she actually might like it. It allowed me, finally, to consider that the whole "gift problem" might not be with me.
It is only when seen from a distance that I realise that my mother is probably not capable of satisfaction and this is her tragedy, not mine. Be it in a gift, a person, or herself, she will not be having a Happy Christmas this year, and my presence, and presents, are immaterial to this. Christmas, will not be good enough for her - again. The difference is - this year I will be taking no more responsibility for it.
Her final and total rejection of me is a rejection most mothers would not be capable of. If I, like the gifts, am not good enough for her, then what option do I have but to find others to share myself with? People who can treasure me a little. I will not try to share myself anymore with someone who can only list the inadequacies of my offering.
I expect that there will be moments of wistfulness, I may even shed a tear too. The whole marketing machine that would like us to buy our happiness, and measure it out in gifts and calories, parades the shiny happiness that could too be ours, "An, amazing offer! - Three for two prices. Ready wrapped. Just fill in the attached gift tag for Guaranteed Family Competitively Priced Pleasure*."
*(subject to terms and conditions of course)
I am inclined, as I think many people would be, to imagine my mother alone and sad and somewhat grey and tragic, particularly at Christmas.
Clutching a partially defrosted ready meal for one and a single bauble on a needless tree...There is more than a touch of the Miss Havershams about how I imagine her, but I am probably falling into the other side of the marketing trap, and her own self serving publicity.
In reality she is someone who would present me with guilt and blame for her own unhappiness and has clearly decided she would be happier without me, and perhaps she is. She may well be dancing the winter away in sequins, or cruising on the Mediterranean. Spending my sisters inheritance on cocktails and gambling. Maybe being free of me has really made her happy. I would find a quiet amusement in that if it were true, but I don't know how she spends her time and can only hope she has chosen well.
This separation is a thing she has actively chosen for herself, so I can only hope it is better than I imagine it to be.
I do however also suspect ( and it may well just be self serving of me) that really, she will find, it is like everything else,...not... quite.....satisfactory.