We are family

A few weeks ago, my mother turned 75, and, as is typical for my family, this milestone was celebrated in a very low-key fashion, with immediate family (those of us who were in the country), 8 of us in total, having dinner at the local pub, in the small country town where my parents live.

This is my parents’ style. My parents have never held, or hosted, a large event for anyone’s 18th, 21st, 30th, or anything else, and in keeping with their example, nor have any of us organised or hosted an event for our parents’ milestone wedding anniversaries or birthdays. (I’ve organised a total of 2 parties for my own birthdays: my 21st and my 40th – my 21st was a friends-only affair with a lot of students and cheap beer, held in the shared terrace-house in Fitzroy that I lived in at that time, and my 40th was a very casual affair for friends and close family.)

Thinking over that dinner,  I realise that, coincidentally, 8 is the same number of people that sat around the dining-room table at meals all through my childhood.  The 8 in question back then comprised of my parents, myself, my younger sister, and my four younger brothers.

After my youngest brother was born, and there were now 6 kids to fit around the table, my parents had to upgrade from the small laminex table in the kitchen to a large, 8-seater laminex table in the dining room. (Up to that point I’m guessing we fitted 6 around the table and put the baby on a corner in a high chair).

At this time, we were each given a designated place at the table, in a strategy basically designed to minimise fighting between the older boys. My sister and I, opposite one another in the middle, and our parents at the ends, had the four boys  placed in-between each of us, in an attempt to keep them as far apart as possible. Crucially, the two older boys, the most likely to sock one another in the face at a moment’s notice, were at diagonally opposite corners – about as far apart as they could be while still at the same table!

However, no arrangement was fool-proof, and like a carefully planned game of noughts-and-crosses that goes awry, it was clear that there were flaws in this strategy, as it meant that although no boys were next to one another, each boy faced directly opposite another boy. Oh dear.

For all the planning that went into the seating arrangement, I’m pretty sure our dinners were not entirely free from the occasional heated name-calling or punch-up session – although these were more likely to occur when Dad was not home, and result in poor old Mum’s familiar admonishment: “You wait until I tell your father!”.


In 2014, the people missing from the arrangement around the table at Mum’s birthday dinner were my sister Cupcake,* who now lives in Ireland,  my youngest brother, Pickles,* who was temporarily in the Phillippines for work, and our brother Jeronimo,* who died 2 and a half years ago. Making the numbers up in their absence were my partner, my daughter, and my brother’s wife.

When I think of only 8 of us, coming together for mum’s 75th, I feel a bit sorry for my parents. They’ve never been into large events for the sake of show, but as staunch Catholics, my parents obediently followed the command to go forth and multiply, and produced 6 children. They place a great deal of importance on the idea of “family” and they must have felt that, having done their bit, it was not unreasonable to hope that if we followed their example, they might have approximately 36 grandchildren by the time they were in their mid-70s. Instead, they have 1 grandchild. Of their 6 children, only two are in long term relationships. One has passed away. This can’t be anything like what they pictured for the future of their family.

It seems that, despite all their early efforts, the next generation has let them down in the “go forth and multiply” game. They have gained only one new blood relative, and that small gain is neutralised by the fact that another family member was cruelly subtracted (gained: 1 grandchild, lost: 1 son). After 45 years of marriage and a lot of effort on their part, the total pool of “immediate family” that visits at Christmas, and attends birthday dinners (when able to), has increased by a measley 2 – the inlaws: my partner, and my brother’s wife.

They have never complained about this, although I’m sure it must be a disappointment to them. Whatever my parents may think about the failure on the part of their children to continue to multiply, they’ve never once pressed me about why I didn’t have another child. (Once, my mother asked me, hesitantly, if I thought I might have another child. But she never pressed that subject.) As far as I know, they’ve never pressed any of my siblings about not having children, or a partner. They keep their thoughts on these topics to themselves.


The last time I ever sat around the dining table at my parents’ with that strict configuration of seating still in place must have been about 20 years ago now.

By the time about 4 of us had moved out of home, it became rare for us to all be home at the same time, and then new people (my partner, then my daughter, and now my brother’s wife), became a part of the seating arrangement. Myself and my siblings would come and go at different times, sometimes not able to cross paths at Christmas or Easter due to differing work schedules or obligations to the families of in-laws, one sibling went through a long period of rarely bothering to show up for celebratory meals anyway, one sibling lives in another country and can’t very often be there for dinner, and one sibling has recently passed away. When it comes to sitting around the table at my parents place, nowadays whoever happens to be there for a meal can take a seat anywhere.

In any case, these days the table is in a different position.



*Not their real names – my parents were strict Catholics and there are no saints called Cupcake, Jeronimo or Pickles, at least to my knowledge.

Leave a comment




  2. Lovely post!


  3. We always have small family meals for milestones as well!
    I guess we always sat at the same places at the dinner table when I was little – I never really thought about it until now. Certainly every Christmas when everyone gets together we all sit in the same places every year.


    • While I was writing that post, I did wonder if the British are more low-key about these things too and that it’s our working-class British and Irish inheritance, that considers spending money on big parties to be an over-the-top extravagance, or whether it’s just that my mum is both anxious and introverted (and despite all the inroads we’ve made into equality of the sexes, it still seems to be true that it usually falls on the woman to organise family functions)…perhaps it’s a bit of both things. Interesting that your family still sit in the same places as always…..isn’t there anyone new who throws that into chaos?


      • Sadly no, neither myself nor my brother had kids so it’s only going to get sparser around the table from here.


  4. eyeontheuniverse

     /  June 5, 2014

    Sometimes we get up to 9, but that’s about it. My parents move the family to the US when we were kids and only on sibling ever had children. I think we all enjoy our small events, but I agree it does sometimes feel odd.


    • It goes against the expectations of the older generation (my parents are older than Baby Boomers) that their family would greatly increase through the younger generations!


    • I agree….and it’s probably not what your parents expected either! Thanks for reading!



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