In my early teens, I used to lose myself in television shows like Little House On The Prairie and The Waltons. Those television shows encapsulated the idea of the utopian family for me. They represented proper families, something I aspired to have more than anything else, when I grew up.
I craved the ‘happy ever after’ of the Disney dream.
It’s funny to look back on those shows now, and analyse them a little more closely. Those families went to hell and back, survived wars, disease and sickness and yet their love as a family unit, always stood firm. Those shows taught me about unconditional love – that when shit happens, close families stick together, no matter what.
Melissa Gilbert, who played Laura Ingalls in Little House On the Prairie, spoke to Oprah this week and revealed to the audience a little about what went on behind the cameras back then. Apparently, she and Nellie (played by Alison Arngrim) were best friends in real life.
For those of you who never watched the series, Laura Ingalls and Nellie were arch rivals.
When you get sucked into a show like LHOTP and live vicariously through your favourite characters, you like to believe that what happens in front of the camera happens in real life too. I liked to think that the Ingalls sisters, Mary and Laura, were best friends in real life and that all those Walton kids really sat around one big table at Thanksgiving together.
I liked to think that Ross and Rachel would end up married in real life, too.
That’s what well-written television and books can do – they help us suspend belief to such a degree that we find ourselves part of their story.
We’ve experienced our own Walton moments over the past few months. First, we were visited by my side of crazy, with my dad’s visit, and then this week the old man’s brother and our niece arrived in Sydney to share the crazy from the old man’s side.
It’s nice having grown up kids now, because we can discuss ‘family crazy’ and dysfunctionality without fear of offending anyone. We can even laugh about it these days. It’s nice being with family and not having to pretend to be a better person than I am. It’s nice being accepted for who you are and not fearing exposure or being abandoned by them if you don’t meet expectation. It’s nice having people in your life who are genuinely interested in you and your kids.
You can’t choose your family, so maybe I just got lucky. Unlike the Ingalls and Waltons, no family is perfect, (I now realise), but their love and support is unconditional.
But these visits have also made me realize how much I miss my family. I miss the ease between the old man and his brother, where they can make communication without either of them saying anything at all and where their shared laughter is intuitive. I love the sisterhood of NC and her cousin. I love the fact that Kurt has a cousin who has faced similar issues over the last few years and those dark points in their young lives have created a bond between them.
Most importantly, I’m so glad that absence does make the heart grow fonder and that distance is completely irrelevant when it comes to familial love.