… you are from a large family.
I am thrilled to have Clare Bennett writing for us today – about coming from a large family. Clare is one of the voices of The Midult and is to my mind one of the funniest writers knocking about at the moment; I’ve had to eviscerate beauty freebie cupboard to persuade her to do this.
I am the fourth child of five. Three boys, two girls. Raising this number of children is basically like crowd control rather than the Sound of Music – I never actually heard my mother say, ‘Keep them clean, keep them alive,’ out loud, but she was probably thinking it.
1 You do not sleep.
I shared a room with my younger brother when we were little and he would do stupid, noisy things like fall out of bed, screaming. When I was a teenager, my older brothers would set an alarm for 4am and leave it hidden in my room, so not only would it wake me up, I’d have to get up and find it to turn it off. They would also forget their keys, go out and get pissed and then throw stones at my window to wake me up and let them in. Or just come in while I was sleeping and have conversations. No wonder I’m still always tired.
2 Having a lot of brothers demystifies boys.
When I was eleven, I started at an all-girls school. They were bewitched by boys. ‘But they pee with the door open and watch sport on TV all summer,’ I tried to explain, ‘and that’s literally it.’ No one listened.
3 You will not survive without a sense of humour
Once you have experienced having cold water spat at you while you are in the bath/ had your favourite film taped over for the Grand Prix/ been laughed at for crying when your pet tortoise died – you learn how to let the small stuff go.
4 Church is the funniest place on earth
I have never laughed like I have laughed in church with my siblings. Laughed to the point of seeing white spots flashing before my eyes. Crippling, agonising, head-exploding laughter made a billion times worse because you have to suppress it. Also made worse (or in a perverse way, even better) by our mother always being absolutely furious. We even got separated once and made to sit in different pews. I was about 22.
5 You don’t get into trouble for things other people do.
No one ever got into trouble for smoking. My parents just could not be arsed to be angry about it again and again and again. Although I think they did object when my brothers invited one of our septuagenarian babysitters to watch Scarface with them. Fortunately she was sewing at the same time, so I don’t think she saw Angel Fernández get his head chain-sawed off.
6 Don’t call for your mother in the night
After years and years and years of being woken in the night, my mother reached the stage where she really needed to see A LOT of blood or fire or bone sticking through skin to justify being woken up. We have repeatedly told her that it’s her fault for having had too many children and she violently agrees.
7 Winning games is not important
It’s not even the taking part – it’s the not having an actual physical fight over it that’s the achievement.
8 Too many phone calls
The problem with having a problem in a large family is the amount of time you then spend on the phone. Everyone has to ring everyone. And then report back to someone – usually my sister. There’s no point emailing about a problem – it descends into sarcasm way too quickly.
9 Everyone has an opinion
Everyone has an opinion on everyone else and likes to make that opinion known. My mother used to say my youngest brother had six opinionated parents instead of two. And then we’d all get cross and give our opinion on why we were cross.
10 Your love life becomes other people’s sport
When my eldest brother had his girlfriend to stay over for the first time, my little brother and I hid our plastic dinosaurs in her bed as a nice surprise. When a potential suitor turned up at our front door to see our sister, my little brother informed him that she was ‘ON THE LOO.’ A boy called Peter rang me when I was 15 and I was mocked for it for four ACTUAL years. Apologies to anyone who ever tried to go out with any of us – especially the ones who succeeded.
To read more from Clare FOR FREE, here is a link. Clare also contributed a lot to The Midult book I’m Absolutely Fine, which is a really super Christmas gift for a friend or colleague.
Love this, and as the 4th child of 6 I am in a position to judge. There’s a large-ish gap between my two sisters then the rest of us so it’s me and 3 boys all born within 6 years. 4 under 6 and 2 teenage girls! What were my parents thinking! So I grew up in a house full of boys and they hold no mystery to me. Giggling with my brothers during Christmas Day mass is still one of the highlights of my year. I’m 37. I like to tell people I was given 2 sons because I’m more than prepared for life in a house full of boys and their smells. Elaine x
I have sometimes been tempted to think that a larger family is in some ways easier than a smaller one; with two I am always striving for balance and it is easy to drive yourself dotty trying to even things out in terms of time and focus, whereas with a larger group things perhaps play out more naturally and according to need. I am the youngest of 3 so only modest as larger families go, and struggle with not having followed suit as 2 seems quiet and small in comparison. But then I still have trouble with lifts and small spaces due to being continually trapped under the stairs/under beds/in wardrobes/under small wicker chairs/in sleeping bags by my older brothers so it’s swings and roundabouts.
My older brother tied me up in a duvet case once, the absolute arsewipe.
I can still remember the dim orange glow of the sleeping bag lining, and the confusion.
Cindy, I sometimes panic about my future family life- 2 kids is so normal and quiet, I only know chaos and crowds. I genuinely can only make certain meals to feed 12, so I hope my boys at least have lots of friends who like my cooking. But I try to focus on things that I will be able to give my children that don’t work in a huge family. I am close to all of my siblings, and wouldn’t change them for anything, but since I’m not about to have 4 more kids (I started too late anyway) I need to focus on what I can do. Eg. I can give my anxious and emotional oldest boy the kind of attention and support I didn’t get as an anxious and emotional child in a family of 6 in the 80s. They both get time with me, their dad and each other that didn’t happen in my family- we will know each other in a whole different way. Yes, we will miss out on other great things, but you can’t have everything, no one can, so I try to look at the positives. That said, I always thought I’d have 3, then had 2 and changed my mind! But think I will also wrestle with that choice until it is out of my hands. And in some fantasy future I sometimes daydream about I go for a last minute 3rd baby just before it’s too late and get twins, giving me my big family after all, not of my deliberate choice. And then any future loss of sanity isn’t really my fault. NB. I don’t really want this, I just daydream about it sometimes. Elaine x
We dream the same dream, Elaine. I agree, my son especially benefits from having some time with me on our own. School is so full on at this time of year and he doesn’t thrive on the busyness so it makes a huge difference to him for us to go and do something together, but it’s a struggle to make time for it as it is and then balance the books with his sister. But I sometimes think in the future it all won’t seem like such a big deal and I should’ve just chucked another one in and got on with it. I think it’s just a biological urge trying to kick in before it’s too late because the reality is I’m fortunate to have what I have x
I am the second of seven (MFMFFFM) with the middle five born within seven years, and I howled at the church bit. My second brother is a liability in church, sit next to him at your peril. And as for relationships, this same brother went through the friends of two of our sisters, much to our DISGUST. My elder brother was a nightmare of a teenager, doubtless coz my mum was drowning in small children throughout, so I had the book HURLED at me for any minor infringement when it was my turn. When I lost my virginity, I was summoned home from school for a bollocking. By the time my youngest sister was 16, mum was casually asking her if she’d shagged anyone yet.
We are now almost all grown up – the eldest is nearly 40, middle batch are 26-33, youngest is 17 – with kids and spouses, and our mum died a couple of years ago which means we don’t have that central person to revolve around, although the sibling whatsapp is hilarious.
But having loads of siblings is the funniest way to grow up, and the least lonely.
Dex you’re my fave x
I’m one of three so very small fry but the church one is spot on. We once had a full on fight during a nativity play in our local church resulting in my youngest sister being pushed of the stage, and many years later, my other sister (a very responsible GP) fell of the lectern steps after giving a reading during my grandfather’s funeral, taking out a large table with an Easter ‘tableau’ on it. Cue loud swear from her, bursting into tears and our other sister and myself then spending the next 30 minutes shaking with laugher and inappropriate snorting. I have three myself and that’s more than enough!
Reading this with total envy! As an only child I dreamt of having siblings and never found out why my mother stopped at me. I wasn’t spoilt but was often lonely, and, even now, I can’t always cope in large groups. I also would have loved to have had lots of girlfriends, but we moved around at key points in my education and I never got the hang of that either! I had 2 children, would have had more but my then husband put his foot down due to financial reasons. I have some good friends now but have always “missed” the family I never had.
Incidentally I have just turned 70 so maybe a bit old for the Spike, but always enjoy reading it and the accompanying comments!
Pauline no-one is too old for The Spike. I am one of four and I’m not great in large groups either… xxx
An interesting problem: I am the eldest of 4 (all girls) and absolutely love having so many siblings. There is always someone to pick up the parental slack / answer the phone (we span many time zones) / pick a Christmas present with etc. And I have 2 kids and could potentially have more – but the only reason to have more is to produce more siblings for the existing 2 as ideally I wouldn’t have more kids, but I feel that 2 is not enough to be a “proper” family because it isn’t my experience (massive disclaimer that obviously you can be a family with any number of kids including none). I don’t really know where I am going with this, but it feels better to say it out loud. Great post, anyway.
Yup, yup… say it all out loud. I feel you Peabody x
I think I’ll wrestle with the idea of having more until I definitively can’t, even though I know it’s the right decision to stick, financially, physically and oh god Mum’s now a full time crazy person-ally. My two are such good friends they don’t need another sibling, but then I think if my parents had stopped before me…well it would have been a bit shit for them all to be honest.
I am one of three. I have three. Here’s the weird things: three is easier than two. With two, they always suspect you’re OFF WITH THE OTHER ONE. Now there are three, the bigs just assume I’m looking after the baby and take care of themselves. Jealously is at an all time low and my net engagement may be lower, without a corresponding drop in standards. It is most peculiar. Sadly, I cannot afford another or I would in a flash.
If I had three I go out of my mind
Don’t be sad Elena – trust me I have four and it’s a car crash! There has also been a significant drop in standards…
Catherine MT says
omg this made me laugh so much, I’m oldest of four and the church thing! The only time I got spanked was for vanishing during mass (to the loo) and reappearing to tell my siblings that Father Tomas wore red silk boxers, cue total collapse – mum still makes me sit one side of her in church. I’m 40.
And I miss the demise of the landline, as my three sisters and my mother have almost identical voices, the stuff you’d hear before the caller realised it wasn’t the right female was brilliant. Poor, poor boyfriends. I still hold off saying who it is when I’m home, just you know, in case I hear state secrets.
Well I am pregnant with number 5 (the others are 8,6,4,2) and this was very heartening! Fingers crossed they all turn out like Clare. Xx
This is the first time I’ve felt like having another baby might actually be a good idea after all. Siblings are the best.