February: the month of Valentine’s Day, and the culmination of a(nother) spectacularly dateless, romanceless year. I am not currently lamenting my singleness (although if you are secretly in love with me, now is a good time to share it) and while there is a definite absence of any prospect of a date, I have enjoyed being reminded of the abundance of love I enjoy in my life.
My thoughts turned first to a bond stronger than many. Archest of rivals, bitterest of enemies, most loyal of defenders: the sibling.
My ex-husband was, and I can only imagine still is, an only child. I can’t imagine my life without brothers. ‘The boys’, as I affectionately refer to them, have their own unique bond that as the only girl I miss out on. I couldn’t hang out with them the morning of brother #1’s wedding. I desperately wanted a sister for many years. Now I enjoy reaping the benefits of only, and favourite, daughter and sister.
They would suggest however, that this also makes me their least favourite and take great delight in goading me. Any family gathering is a good opportunity to wind me up and irritate me beyond belief. It’s taken 20-something years and I’m still learning, and failing, not to react. It is incredibly difficult to explain to an only child why I would still defend the brothers who had spent much of the day insulting me to the death. They are my brothers. I would do anything for them. We can antagonise each other for hours, but if an outsider attacks one, it’s closed ranks.
Because our harshest critics are also our biggest allies. The ones who cover our backs and with whom you can talk about your parents without feeling disloyal. They’ve fixed my bathroom taps, given me hugs, moved my furniture, stayed up until the early hours talking to me. They’re the ones who know the little things from your childhood to make you smile. It was this text that made me laugh at gone midnight following hours of crying (me not him) and helped me go to sleep.
On a parting family shot – I am never wrong boys, but if any of this is wrong, I will say sorry.
Not only do I have (mostly) loving brothers, I also have incredible, generous parents, a lovely sister-in-law (a sister at last!) and a scrumptious nephew. I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking I got pretty lucky in the family stakes.
But I don’t just have one family – and I don’t mean my ex-in-laws. For a little while I lived with some friends from church. Even my parents refer to these particular friends as my ‘second family’. Every important occasion is marked with them as well as my own family. Their house feels like home. Recently I received a photo of a family drawing by their youngest daughter. Mum, Dad, all the children – and me.There’s even a further extended family, who refer to me as ‘second daughter’. I love them all dearly, and much like my own family, I can’t imagine life without them.
A note from their youngest son that is always on my fridge. (To Ruth I love you)
I have, since moving out of their house and living alone, developed a new love of Skype. An old Uni friend and I regularly chill out over the airwaves. It’s like having another person in the house, except you don’t need to leave, drive an hour and a half or indeed get out of your pyjamas. On really cool occasions, we start the same episode of Friends at the same time, but some sort of time delay inevitably ends up with one of us fractionally behind the other. Enter the phrase, ‘I’m just going to turn you down…’ How we all wish this was possible in real life too…
Getting sent photos like this to congratulate on a new job…
Playing trivial pursuit in coffee shops…
Going crabbing in Weymouth…
Eating at Carb Central (aka Pizza Express), having me to stay for Valentine’s weekends, meeting me regularly to pray, insisting I gate crash holidays. And a personal favourite…arriving on the last day of Autumn term in 2012 to help me when my then-husband moved out, and finding I had moved every misplaced item (a LOT) from the house into the kitchen – saying only ‘Oh my!’ on seeing the sight, then helping clear the detritus. There are so many more moments of incredible friendship, those who’ve stuck by me through thick and thin, that I can’t begin to count them.
So, this Valentines evening I will be in, undated. But nonetheless incredibly loved.