We spent a week snuggled in the bosom of family life in Chelmsford a couple of weeks ago. A beautiful puppy dog Lottie, who would bring us a shoe every time we came to the front door; school drop off and pick up, soccer in the back yard, flips on the trampoline. Family dinners and dishes, chats with a cuppa, conversations over wine. After a long time of our tight little unit of five, having somewhere else to go, others to play with and talk to was a burst of lemon gelati. We gratefully and humbly accepted such generosity from people we barely knew, but felt like we’d known forever.
It’s no small undertaking living with those you love the most so intensely for so long. It’s not very common for couples to spend so much time together either. Normally one or both partners work, there’s sporting interests that take us away from each other, kids activities that often require one to be here and one to be there, hobbies that aren’t shared which provide opportunities for one to be away without the other (can you imagine Matt at one of my sewing weekends? Actually….). There’s always people we catch up with separately and I spend more time with my parents and sisters than Matt does. He has been away surfing, I’ve been away hiking. We get our space from each other daily. The children are at school 5 days a week so we are generally all together a few evenings a week, most of the weekend and the holidays. Here, we are taking a very long holiday. 325 days minus ten days in Singapore when Matt was away is how long we’ve all been together. And we seem to be a close family – physically close, like we have to be near each other all the time close. It’s become a bit of a running joke. I’ll find myself in a tiny bathroom or kitchen with 3 other members of the family fighting for space, and the call will go out to the last one of us not within the same square meter and she will come running so we can all stand on the same floor tile.
What happens when you have such expanses of time with great intensity all together? Of course it would be different for every little unit, and everyone would manage themselves differently under the same circumstances. I’m even pretty sure that some would choose never to put themselves where we are in the first place. Why test things? Being together for so long has been a lot of things – challenging, interesting, educational, funny, annoying, comforting, claustrophobic, rewarding. And it ain’t over yet!
Despite the daily oscillations in everyone’s mood, level of fatigue and blood sugar level (not only Matts) we have been able to make some interesting observations, things we have noticed or seen mostly BECAUSE of the uninterrupted stretch of time we have had together. Patterns of behaviour, cycles of mood, influencing factors that we see with a clarity because we are so much in each other’s pockets that nothing can be hidden or camouflaged. The flow is not disrupted so we see each other on a continuum. Painful to live through at times but fabulous information and knowledge to have. Each of the girls growing more as individuals but us knowing them differently too. Understanding them more deeply and therefore, hopefully, giving them more of what they need and seeing when it’s needed.
It’s not just the girls we know and understand more fully. I can really only speak for myself, but I have certainly gained a deeper understanding of Matt since we let home almost 12 months ago. The expanse of time being focused on our unit and what it’s doing, without the distraction and interruption of everything else back home, helps to sort some behaviours into patterns and personality traits. And of course there’s no running away. At home it was easy to sometimes leave disputes unresolved for a while. Time to take the kids to school, talk to you later. You’re off to work, talk to you tonight. I’ve got a committee meeting, talk to you tomorrow…. and so it could go on. Not often, and things were always eventually resolved and talked about, but dragging it out felt terrible. Not being able to run away from each other here has meant we have just learnt to deal with our s#*t and get over it. Move on. Neither of us wants to spend the day in surly discomfort with the other, epecially when we’re walking around Paris! It just doesn’t seem right.
I’m an introvert by nature and have always needed my own time and space. I got better at living with less of it after having the girls, as we all do. Certainly in the last 12 months I have had to learn to manage myself with even less, and learn to take it when I can get it, in different ways (my stitching is fabulous for that). In the time we’ve been away I think I have learnt some things about myself too – my place and what I might be working towards when we get home.
But there is still more than seven months to go, all together in a van (albeit a big one!) and many kilometres to travel. There is one thing I know, however, with absolute certainty. For all the challenge and claustrophobia, the benefit of this time to our little family unit will be immeasurable.