Sometimes I like to think of my family as a patchwork quilt. Because we’re covered in cat hair and permanently draped over the couch in the TV room. Ha ha. No, but seriously. I think of it as a quilt because, as any quilt-maker can tell you, organizing the various pieces of fabric into a whole can be a challenge. The bits might all be lovely on their own, but they need to achieve some sort of harmony if you want a quilt that doesn’t give you a headache every time you look at it.
As with soft furnishings, so with life. Two or more people, with unique characters, different needs and (sometimes horrible) habits are forced to live together in one house for extended periods of time without going completely mad … it may sound like a description of Big Brother, but I’m actually talking about families.
For example. In my family, we have a few differences of opinion around issues such as sleep (my husband and I enjoy it but the children aren’t big fans) and holidays (I’m into Slow Travel while my husband tears through destinations as if the tour bus were being tailgated by Time’s Winged Chariot). But these are minor incompatibilities. Our real area of mismatch – where we just can’t get our pieces of fabric to fit together – is in our attitudes to other people.
My husband is an extrovert, which means that socialising not only makes him happy, but actually gives him energy. He’ll come back from a weekend of sport, brunches, barbecues and parties all fuelled for the week. The bigger child is cut from the same cloth, only hers is a rather bolder pattern: she absolutely lives to socialise. She can’t walk to the post box and back without making a new friend, and is constantly coming home with someone’s mother’s telephone number scribbled on a piece of paper, which I must then use to cold call and set up play dates. She’s done this at parties, in restaurants and, most recently, on a twenty minute boat ride up the Thames.
I, on the other hand, am an introvert. Socialising makes me tired (most probably because of all the extroverts, sucking out my energy to fuel themselves) and I need a fair bit of time alone to recuperate. The smaller child is like me but more so. Much more so. When we were planning her birthday party, her biggest concern was not the cake, or the decorations, but how we could best keep everyone out of her bedroom. And only last week, on hearing that friends were popping over for a visit, her immediate response was, “Oh no! Lock the doors!”
“But I thought you liked them,” I said, as she headed off to her Happy Place (a cardboard box under her bed).
“I love them,” she agreed. “But not in the house.”
I’m not sure yet how we’ll work these disparate needs into a family that is both vaguely socially normal and still respectful of the space that some members need. But I do know what the quilt that represents us should be like: it should be soft and warm, and big enough to wrap around all of us, and whatever friends we want to bring along; a joyfully-coloured, free-motion crazy quilt with plenty of embellishments. And some pins left in.
Robyn Goss is a South African writer, recently moved to Switzerland. You can read her blogs at www.robyngoss.com