“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” according to chief Yuletide crooner Andy Williams. For those of us who no longer live in the country where we grew up, however, I would question the use of the word “wonderful”. When you have to abandon your grown-up life in another city and return to your family home, “stressful”, “difficult” or even “likely to cause a breakdown” all seem more appropriate.
I would like to preface what follows with the fact that I know I am beyond lucky to have both a family and a home to return to and I am very grateful for my two parents and the lovely house we have called home for over 30 years. That said, this does not detract from one cold, hard fact: returning to said family home in Dublin shaves a solid two decades off my mental age.
I feel sorry for my parents as it’s not their fault but honestly, it’s as though our house is bewitched; the front door, like that wardrobe in Narnia, transports me to a magical, mystical (but never really snowy) land where my parents have aged 20 years, but I remain resolutely in my moaning, whining, grumpy adolescent years. Not a good look given I just turned 36.
It’s a phenomenon from which many of us appear to suffer. Upon mentioning my topic for consideration in this week’s column, there were nods of assent from almost all of my colleagues. We agreed that any return to the homestead inevitably leads to an astonishing volte-face psychologically.
When I first moved abroad almost 10 years ago, I thought this strange behaviour was in some way excusable – I was still young and figuring out life and this gave me licence to be a complete pain in the proverbial to my poor, long-suffering parents. (Seeing that written down now makes me realise how utterly ridiculous it is).
Back then, as I tiraded my way around my mum and dad’s small terraced house like some kind of emotional terrorist, I did not give two hoots. Not a single hoot was given as I snapped when my incredibly kind and patient mother asked what I’d like for dinner every night or as my interested and generous father asked about my job and my friends and my new life in London.
But I’m not used to waking up to: “Did you sleep well? Were you warm enough? Would you like a cup of tea? Or there’s coffee too. Your father’s bought a new milk frother thing. Complete waste of money. I think it’s broken already. There’s porridge on the hob if you want it – or bread in the freezer. I know! I could do you a fry? I got you your favourite [insert cooked breakfast product]. I’ll make eggs!” All delivered in one breath as soon as you walk into the kitchen.
I’m used to waking up, ignoring my alarm for a solid 30 to 40 minutes, saying good morning to my husband, getting washed and dressed and off to the Tube – where I stand in silence for another 30 to 40 minutes, perhaps listening to music or a podcast but definitely not speaking to anyone. Under any circumstances. And I’m also used to leaving the house without telling anyone where I’m going and whether I’ll be back in time for dinner. I’m not answerable to anyone in London.
Somewhere in the back of my mind I kind of assumed I’d eventually grow out of it. That by my late twenties or, failing that, definitely by my thirties, I would have started behaving like a normal human being. That has not been the case: where in my twenties, I hid behind the excuse that my bad-temperedness was down to immaturity, in my thirties, I now blame constant exhaustion and stress from work for being a grouch.
Once my ageing didn’t deliver a solution, somewhere in the deepest, darkest recesses of my mind, I convinced myself that I would actually grow up once I got married. How wrong I was.
I got married earlier this year and I’m sorry to say that having a ring on my finger doesn’t appear to have delivered or resulted in any kind of Damascene moment where I became that otherworldly being – “a grown-up” – when it comes to my parents. (A grown-up is very different to an adult – you become an adult just by growing older, it happens automatically and without trying. You can be an adult without ever growing up.)
My behaviour is a bit of a joke for my husband now; we head back to the Emerald Isle for “quality time” with my mum and dad only for me to spend some “quality time” watching Netflix in my room while he hangs out with my hospitable parents, answering their (many) questions. But he’s never afraid to tell me to grow up and stop snapping at my kind hearted parents who only want the best for me.
Having a partner who pulled no punches in telling me what a brat I was being definitely helps and maybe writing this article (and seeing what a monster I can be written down in black and white) will have been my redemption.
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