'The family - that dear octopus from whose tentacles we never quite escape nor, in our inmost hearts, ever quite wish to.'
- Dodie Smith
My octopus is bigger than average.
We liked to scare retired people by piling out of a large Volvo at campsites, carrying water guns and bikes. We absorbed additional children for meals, overnight stays and even holidays like it was no big deal. We were generally known as a tribe, and each individual was identified as part of the mass that made up the family unit.
Like any big family we had our sibling power struggles and a strong competitive streak. Everyone wanted to be the best at something just so they could stand out - the artistic one, the musical one, the cool one. Of course there was too much crossover for us to fall into neat niches and consequently there was a bit of toe-treading but I think adulthood has resolved the squabbles quite well by now.
My parents invested a lot of time and energy in making sure we learned to communicate properly with one another, which is probably the reason we are even closer now than we were as children. We weren't allowed to let a fight just blow over - it had to be talked out, and genuine apologies only were accepted. This sometimes infuriated us when we just wanted to go and play Lego Loco or practice the riff to Everlong repeatedly (that took up a whole summer for one of my brothers). But it meant that we learned to see situations from perspectives other than our own, and to recognise that our opinion and experience wasn't the only one that mattered. I like to think this has stood each of us in good stead in life.
Because we were such an enormous tribe, only the brave took us all on at once. Usually they were families that were equal in size to our own, if not larger. This meant we socialised with wide age groups from the get-go, having to put up with other people's siblings as well as our own. My brothers in particular seemed to acquire followings of smaller children, whose hero worship both bemused and flattered them.
Whatever struggles we've inevitably fought through, I have always felt centred within my family. When storms blow over and you find yourself in the familiar harbour of loving arms and consistent affection, the feelings of safety and strength that grow then keep you afloat through the next rough patch. My parents have excelled at teaching us to support one another, for which I am unendingly grateful.
My family also has its own bizarre humour to which years of joint experience has contributed. Dinner at our house was seen as a rite of passage, and guests would either sit confused or laugh along as proceedings decayed into hysteria over some in-joke or movie reference. It's a wonderful thing to be able to be the most absurd version of yourself and have a whole group of people think it's entirely normal and hilarious. I suspect few would have fully appreciated the genius of Top of the Prats, tape-recorded pathetic poetry, the Game of Frog, or 'sh-sh-share?'. If they did, they were wordlessly accepted as an honorary tribe member and allowed to partake in some of these sacred pursuits.
What I'm trying to say with all of this is, I love and appreciate my family beyond the point that anecdotes can take me to. They love, champion and challenge one another in the best of ways. They spread joy wherever they go. And with them, I always feel secure and centred.