Summer with the In-Laws

I have just come back from my summer holiday in the Kerry, in the south of Ireland. I have been doing this trip for the past 23 years save for a couple of years. Now Ireland is not known for the weather and for someone originally from sunnier climes, you would think I would be heading for the sun whenever I get chance. I head for a different kind of warmth.

My husband is Irish, hence the annual pilgrimage. I call it a pilgrimage because the annual trip to Ireland is a rather unique experience for our family. My husband has been going since he was a baby. Then I came along as a girlfriend and got taken to meet the family. It was an overwhelming experience the first time round but it was also rather efficient as you got to kill multiple birds with one stone by meeting everyone at once.

What happens every summer is everyone comes with their families in the last two weeks of August and we all rent accommodation in the village. We are in and out of each other’s houses for two weeks, go on day trips, we have lunch and dinner dates with different branches of the family, we go for swims in the sea together, we go to the races we do all sorts. I love it! I haven’t always loved it mind you, but as I have got older and understood what really matters in life, I have come to appreciate it even more and more.

Nothing warms the heart more than to see someone you love do something nice for someone else that you love and there is lots of that here in the summer.  The children are in and out of each other’s houses and whichever parent gets the short/long straw around dinnertime feeds them. Sometimes your children leave home in the morning and you don’t see them again till bedtime but you know they are safe and someone will feed them.

We take trips to neighbouring towns and villages and whoever you bump into on the way to your car for the trip, if they express an interest, gets bundled along. If you don’t know us, it is hard to tell whose child is whose. The mother with the baby might not necessarily be the mother to the baby. Also when you go to someone’s house, the one that opens the door might not necessarily belong to that branch of the family. We are everywhere, in no particular order with very fluid plans and although this takes some getting used to at first, it is quite a beautiful chaos. It took me while to learn to go with the flow and embrace it all rather than be disconcerted by it. Let’s face, it is nice to have some certainties in life like knowing which child belongs to whom but once you get past that, you learn to let go.

About 19 years ago, before I had kids of my own, one of my sisters-in-law had just had a baby before we arrived in the summer. The baby was only a few weeks old.  Another sister-in-law, who was more experienced as she had older children, offered to have the baby for the day, so the baby’s mother could have a break. We took the baby away with us on our day trip, and I for one could not wait to play mum as I was as broody as hell. The baby was such a good baby and slept most of the time, apart from when she was being fed and changed. This baby has now finished her exams and is on her way to University. How time flies!

This is the other side of this unique holiday where you get to see people grow from babies; girls become mothers, mother’s become grandmothers and grandmothers become great grandmothers. The past 23 years have quietly and sedately unfolded in the summer months before my eyes through the different life stages. Of course I have done my bit by joining the family as a young woman, become a mother and contributed two children, become an aunt and a grand-aunt; and now see myself as a mature woman, as I watch my nieces with their babies starting their life journeys with their partners.

This year I had the pleasure of giving my niece’s son a bath and a massage while I minded him for about half a day so that his parents could get some much needed time to themselves. I first knew this niece when she was 8 years and she grew up to mind my children during later summers, while we were here on holiday and my husband and I craved some much needed time for ourselves. It beautiful to see things come full circle and be able to return the favour. That sense of continuity and being valued that contributes to our mental wellbeing is had to fabricate elsewhere.

Summers here are never same. Every year has a different dynamic as there is always something going on. I joined the family the year after they had lost their father, so the mood was somewhat sombre that year. Then the following year was the year after I got married so yet another dynamic for me as a fully- fledged member. Then there have been the other weddings, the births and one funeral last year when we lost my mother-in-law, who was the epitome of kindness and acceptance. She is buried here in the village. This enables us to visit her grave when the whole family is here on holiday. How wonderful that is for the children. My father-in-law, who I unfortunately never met, is also buried here.

We also have our dramas and bust-ups, but what makes us family is that you get past that and you move on. There has been the odd search party combing the sand dunes for missing nieces and nephews, the children bitten by stray dogs, the rescue party sent to camping children in the middle of the night who have decided there is nothing fun about camping when you have diarrhoea. Most of these dramas seem to involve the children but there has been the odd rush to the doctor for the husband who wakes up one summer morning and decides he is middle aged and toys with idea of a heart attack! We have survived them all.

In my book Octopus on a Treadmill; Women Health, Success ,happiness; I explain about how our social connections are important to our sense of wellbeing. The family unit used to provide this for us when we all lived closer to our parents and our in-laws were on the other side of the street. We don’t live like that anymore and sometimes the sense of isolation this brings can result in mental health issues. Life is hard enough and sometimes when you have had a bruising day at the office, it is nice to know your children can wander into their aunty’s house one street away and be fed without you worrying about where they are. Most of us don’t have that luxury so we soldier on. Some of us create friendships to fill this void, which is great but not everyone is good at making friends especially as you get older.

This is why I treasure these summer holiday’s so much. It is just simply heart-warming to see my children join in with their cousins and practically take over the beach, (there are rather a lot of us.) It is nice to see them form friendships with their cousins. It is nice for my nieces to remember things I said to them some 20 years ago that had a big impact on their lives, which I have long forgotten. It is nice to know you below somewhere, you matter, people are interested in what you have to say and they love you because you love their brother/Uncle/Son and that makes you one of them.

That sense of belonging, as far as I am concerned is saving the NHS a bunch of prescriptions for antidepressants.

When I started this blog, I was going to write about something entirely different. I was going to write about a rather interesting 80-year woman we met on our day trip to Ballybunnion. You have to wait for the next blog as this one has already got too long and I have to go for my 5K walk in the countryside. I find walking along the beach here too windy, much to my husband’s chagrin, as he would rather be walking along the beach. Anyway that is all part of the sense of belonging, being dragged along where you don’t necessarily want to go.

Stay tuned for the next blog about the 80-year-old woman I met in Ballybunnion. She was a hoot!