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Reform Magazine | September 20, 2019

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On the pilgrim way: ‘Family dynamics give me food for thought’

Sheila Maxey enjoys a first family holiday

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For the very first time, we have been on holiday with our daughter, Ruth, her husband, Dave, and their children – Tom (20), Sam (19) and Hannah, who had her 14th birthday on the holiday. Ruth found a beautiful old villa in Gaeta, a little medieval Italian resort that is almost on the bay of Naples. Old Gaeta perches on a rocky outcrop with houses piled higgledy-piggledy on top of each other, and with narrow, winding streets running down to the sea and the shops. The villa was spacious, and there were glorious views from the many windows. Being so unusually immersed in their family dynamics gave me much food for thought.

Tom and Sam are, in very different ways, autistic. Sam got up early and I would find him sprawled out on one of the sofas with his phone, either watching fun things on YouTube or researching facts about Rome, which he intended to visit – along with his parents and Hannah – for 24 hours. He enjoyed taking himself off down the steep lanes to the shops for an ice cream, but he needed to know what our plans were and when and what we would be eating.

Tom slept long and was eventually coaxed up by his father with a cup of coffee. He loved the space and quiet, and stayed with my husband and I instead of facing the crowds of Rome. He got an email from his college, commenting critically on an assignment he had done in November, and became very anxious. Long conversations with his mother and her attempts to phone the college finally calmed Tom down. He went out for a walk with his parents if they felt he had not been out enough.

Hannah arrived in Italy exhausted from too many holiday sleepovers with her friends. She slept for the first day, and did not often emerge from her room. Conversation, laughter and even singing could sometimes be heard as she kept up her connections with friends. She did not want to be on the holiday, except for the trip to Rome, where she bought a startling Italian jacket! Ruth tempted her out with favourite foods – but also got desperate with her teenage behaviour and had to be restrained and calmed by Dave. Hannah was persuaded down the hill to a restaurant to celebrate her birthday and we enjoyed her company and her beauty – her grandfather even bought her a rose from a man who came round the tables.

The loving care for each family member had to be so tailor-made. I thought of the Easter stories and how Jesus approached each individual lovingly and differently. He called Mary by her name; he came specially to help Thomas to overcome his doubts; he had a challenging conversation with Peter; he stopped Saul/Paul in his tracks. I felt, being with Ruth, Dave and their children, that I was having a glimpse of what I understand as the fatherhood and motherhood of God.

Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform

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This article was published in the June 2019 edition of Reform

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