The swinging door
For as long as I can remember, we have always had people in our home. Visitors coming for a few nights, some crashing for a few weeks, others moved in temporarily, many allocated a bed with no end date in sight. My family home was pretty much a local drop in – our friends were always welcome, day or night, neighbours always hanging around longer than expected and if you were really special, you had a plate set for you just in case you turned up.
You see, my mum and dad are pretty spectacular people. Selfless almost isn’t even weighted enough to be a true reflection of just how altruistic they really are. They’re the pinnacle of noble and the underpinning of their whole belief system is that is you’ve got something to give - be it time, money, advice, a bed – then you give it. And, of course, they always had something to give, because as they continue to tell us, someone is always worse off than you.
The swinging door of Tilga street welcomed everyone. It didn’t discriminate, it didn’t judge, it didn’t question. The only rule was that when you came, you said hello, you did your part to help out and you used your manners. Not only was it a loving, warm home for me and my 3 siblings, but it housed many types of people over its lifetime. The lounge was a place of refuge for fellow mums struggling through separation, a warm place to sleep for cousins who had been kicked out, a crashing spot for plenty of relatives after Xmas festivities. The spare room never without a mattress on the floor, rarely without a body or three sprawled out. Mum always cooked for a small army, and the fridge was never short of leftovers. Spontaneous dropins, last minute swing bys, the odd extra child were always catered for with both food and love.
The best thing to come out of our open-home policy was our darling foster sister. Mum and dad had built this wonderful feeling of belonging in our home, this unspoken spirit of acceptance, that when my little sister brought home a new friend for a play, she was welcomed in, arms wide, hearts wider. Play dates evolved into staying for dinner, which turned into sleep overs and eventually a temporary stay. When our new little friend’s family circumstances changed and she was lost, unsure and without a place to stay, it was no shock that she became one of us. Not only wasn’t it a shock, it was almost expected, an unspoken, natural progression. That was all because our parents made it that way. They saw a little girl who needed a home and they stepped up, like I am sure many others would too. We didn’t get to feel just how magic mum and dad were until that sweet 8yr old girl who planned to stay for 6 months ended up staying forever. 25 years later and she’s just one of us now. She’s mum and dad’s 3rd daughter, she’s our sister, she’s my boys aunty. It’s pretty phenomenal to be witness to something with such gravity but to have it feel so normal.
Not all of our visitors came and never left, we were just lucky with her. But many have stayed for long periods of time. We left Tilga St when I was a teenager and brought our revolving door to our new home in a new city. Lister Cres has followed on the tradition and has housed billets, teammates, school friends, boyfriends, university students, apprentices, colleagues and bosses. More rooms meant more beds, which meant absolutely no reason to say no. An old friend would call Mum and ask if she had a bed for their daughter who was coming to start uni – sure. A work colleague who’s roommate was moving out needed a new place to live for a bit – no worries. A lady’s house sold too soon and was without a home for a few months – come on out! All of these people, regardless of how long they were staying for, regardless of their background, were welcomed in to our beautiful family. They slept under our roof, joined our dinner table, cooked meals, helped out with chores, were kissed goodnight. Never asked to leave but always missed when they finally flew the coop.
People often ask me how I coped having to share my parents and my space with so many others. The honesty of the matter is, we knew no different. While we were (and still are) loved beyond belief, we were raised to be compassionate, to root for the underdog, to give a helping hand when needed. While our swinging door meant that we always had people in our home, that no two days were the same and occasionally we’d have to top and tail a few nights in a row - the barrage of lessons mum and dad were subconsciously teaching us were more valuable than we could even comprehend at the time.
We learnt that a full house is a happy house. We learnt that divided love is not less love. We learnt that our problems weren’t really problems and that there was always someone doing it tougher than us.
We learnt to wait for the toilet and take turns for the shower. We learnt to be respectful of other people’s spaces and other people’s business. And we learnt that there is always room for one more at the dinner table.
By watching mum and dad do their thing, mostly seamlessly, we learnt to stand up for those who needed a voice, be a loyal and trustworthy friend and show strength even in the face of adversity. And when the times got tough, they taught us that being overwhelmed was ok, that nobody has all the answers and that saying yes even if you aren’t sure what you’re doing, is better than saying no.
Our swinging door was a blessing I really couldn’t appreciate until now. It was the opening to a hub, a haven and a home – for plenty more than just us 6 family members. I will forever strive to be half the people my parents are and hope that one day my home will house someone needing a place to stay.