She won’t remember any of it, but my daughter had a summer just like the ones her Mum did, year after year, growing up in Australia. We stayed at a beach my family have been returning to for as long as I can remember, a place synonymous with a very free, very vital kind of happiness. It was brilliantly hot some days, rainy others; December in New South Wales is an indecisive season, indecisive enough that blue sky days are celebrated for the simple reason they may not return the next day. That sort of luxurious certainty belongs to January and February. We went to the beach every day and in the same little pool, carved from the ocean by stone walls covered in soft brown sea slugs, the same one I swam in as a tiny, chubby thing, she kicked her little legs like mad. We had big, messy surf-club burgers, and she lay under a chair covered in a towel, away from the harsh Aussie sun. Sand everywhere, hot car trips to the local shops, a Santa photo, bare feet, cricket permanently on the TV, the Christmas ham lasting for what felt like weeks. It was just how I always remember it.
I think, on some level, we see our children as extensions of our own selves, something I suspect fades with time, or as a baby becomes a more willful, decisive, self-guided being. Consequently – and heightened by raising her in a different culture to the one I grew up in – I think a lot about her childhood and mine. I see them side by side because, I suppose, I want for her what I had and I know fundamentally, she won’t. She won’t have anything less, but by virtue of not growing up where I did, she won’t have the same. That isn’t a bad thing, but it is a simple truth that spins through my consciousness almost daily. I think many parents see their childhoods side by side with their own children’s – it is an inescapable, necessary comparison. We want to draw the best from how we were raised and apply it to how we will raise them. Our own childhoods, the way we were parented, is often the only template we have.
I always spent the kind of summer we just had, as a kid, or a teenager, unwittingly following traditions laid down by my parents. This time I spent it as a parent. I was acutely aware her little feet were walking in my own footsteps, unwittingly following us as we laid down the first of our own traditions as a little family. These traditions she will come to know are ones that will both encompass and diverge from those known by both her parents, and that isn’t unique to our situation of bringing up baby across two different cultures. No two parents have identical childhoods, within the same culture or across many. There are some traditions we all grow up with that we are unable to pass down to our children, some parts of our template we cannot match to theirs. And while I often think – nostalgically – about what I had growing up that she won’t, quite like my husband looks at what she will have growing up, that he didn’t, and cannot help but feel this twinge of something like sadness, this is simply part of growing up.
My growing up, not hers.