Modern families

Aren’t all families modern? Are some old-fashioned? What defines a modern family? It could be both parents working and making full use of modern technology. They may make momentous decisions about when their eldest should get their first phone.

From 1980, that’s thirty seven years ago, I started to visit houses as a piano tutor. I stopped just before I retired so I’ve seen a fair few families and their households. I mean, I’ve seen families that have their children busy for every second of their young lives. I’ve seen families where the children live completely separate lives from each other. I’ve seen immaculate houses, scruffy houses, struggling houses etc. I’ve been welcomed with open arms, treated as a friend or treated like a tradesman; he must be paid. I took this all at face value. I was never there to judge but I did marvel at the lives people were leading. I still see it around me today.

Perhaps from my more isolated stance I can judge. But wouldn’t that put me on a par with the narrow minded short sighted bigots who slavishly follow the editorials and opinion columns of certain newspapers? Well I’m not even going to start judging people by their choice of newspaper because I know folk with polarised views who glue themselves to the same publication. If I buy a paper it will be the Times. I don’t always agree with what they print but I do like the crossword.

Somewhere close to me is a family within earshot. The mother shouts a lot. In particular she shouts at her children. I’ve never seen them on the pavement. I’ve never seen them walking their two dogs. Their cars may be constantly in and out of their block-paved driveway but there are never more than two people in them at any one time, except for the school run.  So they never go out as a family. (It’s a family of four.) Oh I can just see the abundance of screens and devices. I can see the massive television and the tops of their heads as they trawl their phones and tablets. I can even see the ready meals lined up in the freezer. But the fact is, I can’t actually see them so I shouldn’t make assumptions.

Having seen inside so many houses however, I can pick up the signs. Once I lived next door to a family with five children. During the long days of the summer holidays, they would tear up and down their garden. The mother would squawk like a bird as she complained about the mess they made and the chaos they created. Funny enough, there was a large park nearby, but she never took them there. She never took them anywhere. It was a pressure cooker of conflicting personalities. By late afternoon I would begin to detect the crescendo of intolerance. Tempers would rise like the turbulent spring tide bashing relentlessly against the wall of the promenade. They were friendly enough but I did detect an air of resentment. In their eyes I may have had the perfect life. Again, I don’t know because I didn’t know enough.

But I know this. If you got out as a family it can instantly become an adventure. I’m not talking about going to the local shopping centre or retail park here:

“It was also a two sided affair in the shopping centre.

Dad and I would wander around the walkways waiting endlessly for Abi and Mum as they gazed into brightly coloured shop windows. We were subjected to a barrage of noise. There were children shouting, people chattering, and teenagers squealing. Best of all was the faint sound of tinny music, rattling away through hidden speakers; loud enough to hear but not loud enough to listen!

Anything new and shiny was like a magnet to both Mother and sister. Abi would always find something she couldn’t afford. As a result she would devote the next ten minutes giving us her sincere, heartfelt reasons for buying it. It was either a bargain or something she claimed to genuinely need.”

(From The Ghost of Hartington Hall.)

I mean going where you will do things and communicate with each other; something you can talk about around the table at dinner time.

Some families were very particular about my time-keeping. It was so very important for me to be punctual in order for Charlotte or Simon to get to their karate or basketball or ballet or riding or international terrorist classes. I felt sorry for those children I feel sorry for all children living in the shadow of expectation:

“Win or lose, the consequences filled Tom with a sense of dread. As he stared blankly at the swirling clouds overhead, the approaching march of his father’s footsteps shuddered towards him. He could see a tall dark-suited figure tower above him. Tom still didn’t care about the result. Then he heard the sigh.

“What did I say? What did I say?” Tom’s dad had an annoying habit of repeating himself. Tom closed his eyes. “You jumped off the blocks, you just jumped out of them. Then you missed your rhythm; missed your rhythm and ended up flapping your arms. After a strained pause, he looked at his father silhouetted against the fluid sky. “Flapping your arms.” He walked off. Tom sat up to see his coach bounding towards him.”

(From Stop, I want to get off.)

Such pushy parents would be demanding chapter and verse from me after every lesson. I was quite good at billy bull because music is a very esoteric playing field and I’m a veteran.

When I taught in Cheshire, I knew some brilliant families. They were hard working and proud of their success. It was a small town and everyone seemed to know each other. But there was a minority who sent their children to private school. It seemed odd to me because I knew that the primary schools in that town were brilliant. I knew a lot of the teachers. No, these families considered themselves to be on a higher level. One mother expressed her embarrassment about my car being on her driveway. Her daughter was lazy and spoilt. She didn’t last.

Another family were expecting me to change my day to fit in with their faddy daughters’ ever changing clubs and societies. I stopped turning up.

On he whole, most of my teaching in Frodsham is a happy memory of friendly jolly households. So the odd jumped up anally retentive parent will not remain at the forefront of my memory. I remember turning up at one house, only for their neighbour to stare at me in disgust as I walked up the driveway. I had a few day’s growth. Designer stubble as it was called it in the eighties. I also had holes in my jeans; all very trendy but resulting from nothing more than a “life’s too short” mentality.

“Oh, she’s all fur coat and no knickers,” said Vicky’s mum.

Now let me tell you about one of my favourite families. From the dad down to the young daughter, they were intelligent and talented. The parents wanted their children to be happy and fulfilled. We had easy going, sometimes exasperated lessons. During the lessons we would be visited by the cat and the dog. The children were not put off. We’d do the lesson and enjoy the music.

The son was highly intelligent. He’d come in from school and flop in the kitchen. Was this a brief respite before being taxied off to tennis or judo? No, his mum would make him some toast and they would chat before our lesson, which also involved some chat. This boy went to Cambridge. I think he did his doctorate there. His sister went to another university but she was not judged for going elsewhere. It was just a happy family. I’ve had parents trying to force intelligence on their children. A successful career does not automatically promote their children to a higher intellectual level.

Of course I’ve known struggling families. The needy, the workshy and the clueless have all passed through my door. (Well I passed through their door!)

In 1991, Natalie was a talented year six girl. Her dad vented his frustration at the mayhem in his kitchen. It had turned into an artist’s studio. But he had to laugh. It wasn’t what he expected from his beautiful intelligent highly communicative daughter but it was a sign of her engaging with a genuine love of all things creative.  Anyway, she’s now in charge of display at a well known London museum.  There was another family I knew:

 John was an only child. He couldn’t look me in the eye. The house was cold; not in temperature but in atmosphere. I looked at the father. EGOMANIAC.

Now, I hope that my own daughter and her mother will have a life free from parental pressure. In nursery Rose is helpful to others. She has friends and gets on well with the staff. As far as I’m concerned that’s a result.

Finally, a family I actually know properly. Mine.

Our terraced house in Kenilworth Road was one of many. We were part of the community. I don’t think we were judged. Everyone accepted each other as they were. The only reason we were any different was our junior school. It wasn’t local. We were on the bus every morning. I thought nothing of it. Nobody said anything about it. No-one really mentioned my music:

“He’s got ideas above his station.” Did anyone think that? For years, the sound of the piano tumbled out of the front room window. It was just accepted until one day in June of 1980, when a relative newcomer complained about my Mozart.

“Oh that’s so and so,” said my brother. “He never had any friends.” Well, he didn’t talk to anyone else in the street so I treated his foolish admonishment as the rantings of a young upstart. He wasn’t Kenilworth. I was not going to stop playing as by that time, I was busy teaching and accompanying.

And now, I appear to be burdened by the judgemental urge. How can I judge with such little knowledge? All I have to go on is experience. Does that count? I’ve had to bite my lip when some of my fellow professionals have made a scathing assessment of a family’s choices. Like me, they cannot possibly know everything needed to make such assumptions.

It doesn’t stop them though.

Thank you for reading.

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Author: mcchrystalise

Because of MS, (it's a swine of a thing) I no longer work because I no longer work. I blog about the things I think about. I love music.

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