The concept of the perfect nuclear family is all around us. With the exciting arrival of a new Royal Baby, the Stepford-like perfection of the Trump women’s appearance and the still constant bombardment of domestic adverts, I am more grateful than ever for my own imperfect circus of a family. The ability to laugh at my own family falling pretty short of the Victorian standard, extends to laughing at others’ too. In fact I firmly believe the ‘perfect family’ is a myth.
It was my sister’s birthday last week and it coincided with Parents’ Day at her school. Since we all revert to being children on our return home, my sister and I soon became locked in a mortal battle, fighting for the high stakes of the last pancake, like Knights of the Round Table fighting over the last roast chicken in Camelot. The fracas, as usual, had become physical and my (little) sister had me in a headlock, as I stamped on her feet making good use of Shakespearean insults, thus getting some utility out of my degree. My mother, out of desperation, tried to break the whole thing up by standing on a chair and blowing my old school recorder as loud as she could.
We eventually arrived at Parent’s Day, greeted my father and with the family once again in the same room, I followed them into the building whispering sadistically underneath my breath, ‘Let the games begin’. Parents’ Day too is a battle. A polite, cravat and chino wearing battle, but a battle all the same. The effort to look like this ideal nuclear family, the need for the teacher to speak up when they are praising your child, the queue jumping and networking. But all must be done with the sprezzatura of the Renaissance individual. No-one must know how hard you are trying.
We had been waiting in line to see a certain Mr Grant, whom you could spot from a mile off as being the Classics teacher. The parents in front of us leave, we head towards the seats but, like a flash another family swoop in and seat themselves, knowingly jumping the queue. My father goes in to say something, I hold him back ‘We’ll get our own back, don’t you worry’. I spend the next fifteen minutes joyfully stalking this rule-breaking family, with the same zeal of MI5 trying to track down the Salisbury poisoners. After locating the perpetrators, I gather the family and position them perfectly, out-flanking the enemy. As the rule-breakers move to their long-awaited interview with the Business teacher, on my command, we swoop in, like vultures; if vultures were obsequiously polite. If Debrett’s had a section on the etiquette of revenge this was it. I raise my tea-cup to my father as he raises an eyebrow and whispers ‘One all’.
Ah, Parents Day! I refuse to believe my family are the only ones that enjoy this absurd sport. You only have to listen in to a few conversations to know that the perfect family does not exist. For example, the parents harassing a tutor about ‘lack of substantial progress’ because they need to know exactly when six-year old Jessie is going to get the Noble Peace Prize. Or the ladies stood in front of me in the coffee queue that were discussing Deborah’s extended family that from the sounds of it has so many factions it could rival the court of Henry VIII. Families making spectacles of themselves is one of my favourite shows, neatly framed in the irony of the event being held in the school theatre.