Growing up with several step parents, seven siblings and an indomitable great aunt.
I was born in 1982 via an emergency cesarean. I was due two weeks earlier in September, but seemed to have no inclination to budge. Then as now, I like my resting spots and it takes a great deal to move me. My mother was taken to hospital and induced, however during the delivery I became distressed and the umbilical cord wrapped round my neck. My mother was pumped full of drugs, ‘knocked out’ in her own words and an emergency cesarean was performed. I was therefore placed first in my father’s arms and had been fed a bottle of formula before my mother groggily awakened.
My parents separated whilst I was very small and I was brought up by my great-aunt simply known as ‘Ma’. Ma had come to England in the 50s, after an failed engagement in Trinidad and had offered to bring her sister’s children with her to great Britannia. My grandmother and several uncles and aunts come to London with her to start new lives. Starting a tradition that my mother continued, my grandmother gave birth to a baby girl, Rosemary in 1964, and Ma offered to look after the baby so my grand mother could continue her life. Eighteen years later, Ma would offer Rosemary the same opportunity for her baby Michelle- me.
I was taught from an early age to do as I was told and that children and adults were not equal. I recollect that I called one of my friends mum’s by her given name in Ma’s presence- later she would ask me ‘Why yuh call Fiona’s mum’s ….(i have forgotten it now) and when I explained that said mum had said I could call her by her given name, i was told ‘You and she aint friends, call her Mrs Noone’! Ma was of a completely different generation and culture, remarkably she was in her 70s when bringing me up and I have some of her values regarding respect, order and eating well! I would regularly see my mum and dad, my mum had married an Irish man called Drew and they would pick me from school and take me to the park, feeding me ice cream. When I think back to my childhood, it is always summer in that park. My Dad would take me out at the weekends, I enjoyed our trips to Macdonald’s (i still have the same order) and less so our trips to his mother’s who scared me.
Over the years I would become big sister to seven younger siblings. Cillian came first when I was 8, then Tiar’nan when I was 10, both Drew’s sons. Simone would be next when I was 11, my Dad’s first child from his new marriage to Sharon. Several years later I would be sitting with my mum at her ultrasound when the nurse confirmed my mum was pregnant- but with twins. I was 15 when they were born. My dad would get his long awaited son, Jerome when I was 17 and finally when I was graduating from university, my mum was heavily pregnant with Elijah, who was born in that September when I was 23. I love all my siblings, but am closest to one of the twins, Harmonie and my sister Simone, seeing them on a more regular basis. I take being a big sister quite seriously, wanting to be a good role model for them, counseling and coaching them when necessary, sorting them out with money/ food/ a place to stay when needed and acting as arbitrator between them and the parents! I wish I saw more of them all and that we could be a democratic, functional family.
My childhood was a place of stark contrasts. Living with Ma I was well fed, a little spoilt and very sheltered. Ma had a typical 70s abode, antimacassars on the sofa, a glass fronted sideboard to hold pictures, records and to show off the nice plates, nick naks scattered around- yet everything had its place. Life was ordered, calm and boring. Ma was reliant on my parents to take me out, so I sometimes felt frustrated being inside. Luckily my salvation was reading. I read a huge amount as a child and lived in my head, experiencing vicariously through books others exploits, lives and adventures. Reading meant I could escape and I was indulged by family and adults who bought me mounds of books for my birthday. I credit reading for largely making me who I am today and Ma as the illiterate woman who ordered my education. Despite being Ma being a Hindu originally, i believe she converted to Christianity and all of her nieces and nephews were brought up as a catholic, I in particular have reaped the benefit of an excellent catholic education.
In contrast, life at my Mum’s was all 90s Alternativeness. I was encouraged to paint the kitchen cupboards; we had an old coke refrigerator as a larder; the hallway was adorned with a wall sized poster of Nirvana’s Nevermind album cover; there was a red light in the toilet, saris hanging from the ceiling. My mum was rebelling against the strait laced, traditional West Indian upbringing that Ma had given her. She was a vegetarian, took me to Camden when her and Drew had a stall, was studying Psychology and later became a yoga teacher. My mum was planting the seeds for the future Guardian reading, liberal, Michelle though little did either of us realise it at the time.
The relationship between my Dad and I is better than it has been for years.
As child and teenager I was not very close to him, my mum blamed him for their break up and was bitter about him. Also my Dad’ conventional values about money and work was in contrast to the non-materialism that I was being brought up with. For a long time I didn’t understand him. However after my Masters, skint and heart broken I ended up living with him in Leyton. He had started to slowly recover from a near deadly bout of pneumonia and was less full of the macho piss and vinegar approach that had characterised him. As he has recovered over the years, our relationship deepened and I am thankful that we are now close.
Family continues to be important to me, I never forget birthdays and can be guaranteed to call either parent to make sure the siblings are on track and proffer my wanted or unwanted advice. I hope Ma is proud of me and maybe one day a niece or nephew will write about me too.
What are your family values? How have they moulded you?
Do you strive to create order like Ma or create a whole new world like my mother?
Or are you like me, an organised older sister?
Send me your thoughts!