This year I shall be turning 25, my younger sister 3, my mother 60 and her partner 75. So, within two generations we have an age gap of 72 years.
My sister is young enough to be my daughter, my brother-in-law is old enough to be my father and my stunt father is old enough to be my grandfather. The story is the same for my half-Indian sister, who is older than her aunt and has twin brothers young enough to be her sons.
Between us, we have turned the 2.4 children scenario into a calculus equation.
Of course, age gaps within generations are nothing new. My father is fifteen years younger than his brother and his parents were nothing if not conventional for their time (apart from the small Freudian eccentricity that lead them to name their four daughters Steve, Anthony, Leslie and Val, and their sons Dick and Willy). The difference today is that the age gap is usually caused by having different parents, rather than large families.
As parents separate, move on, and meet new partners, the number of children born to older parents increases. As people chose to have relationships with people five, ten, even twenty years their junior (or senior) that generation gap increases again. My father, who had me in his early twenties, had his youngest daughter in his late forties, my sister’s father even later.
To be the age your parents were when you were born, only to have them be parents all over again, while you are still barely able to look after a pot plant, certainly throws a new light on the whole notion of ageing.
So, how does it feel, at the age of 21, to stare into the milk-gurgling face of a new born baby and think ‘Hmmm, so this is my sister’? Well, it feels ridiculous, as you would imagine. How can I have a sister who can’t remember Ed the Duck? How can I have a sister who doesn’t remember the Spice Girls? And how can I have a father who is simultaneously going deaf and potty training (his daughter; he is still continent, as far as I know). Well, because others around me wanted it to be so.
For twenty one years I was the young one. Now I am not. Hopefully this means I can develop a raging sense of inadequacy, get forgotten at Christmas and embark on a glittering pop career to prove the haters wrong now that I am a middle child.
But, family maths isn’t simply about sibling ribaldry. Across the modern family there are all sorts of amusing cultural and generation gaps. Because he is married to my sister, I usually assume my brother-in-law to be roughly my generation. Until he talks about New York in the early 80s, or mentions his parents’ age. Likewise, I always tended to clump my mother’s partner in with the rest of her baby boomer friends, until he talks about doing National Service, or visiting London during The Blitz.
Does this age gap affect my family life? Well, I will probably always have more in common with my father than my youngest sister, because we grew up together. I will probably also have more in common with my mother than my brother-in-law, even though the age gap is greater. I will always be able to relate more closely to my mother’s partner than to my grandmother, because he worked in the same area as me, while my blood relative spent her life in the country.
So, much as I hate to end on a pun, when it comes to families I suppose age is just relative.