While I had no privacy at times, there was more than enough love from my family members to go around.
For 10 years, I lived with my parents, two siblings, grandparents, two uncles, and one cousin in a four-room flat.
I shared a room with my parents and siblings while my cousin and her father shared another. My grandparents stayed in the master bedroom and my other uncle slept in the living room. This was my living situation before my immediate family and I moved out in 2018.
Though it got crowded at times, I loved living in the packed house.
My large family taught me many valuable life lessons that have shaped me into the person I am today.
In my 19 years of living, I haven’t had a room alone to myself. Sharing rooms with other people meant that I could not always do what I wanted.
A mere sheet, hung from the upper deck of my bunk bed, was what I called privacy for 10 years. I couldn’t gossip with friends on the phone or even laugh that loud as it would disrupt my other family members in the room.
The only time I’d have the room to myself was when my family members would be out doing their own activities. I would take the time to try on clothes and video call my friends to carve out some alone time.
Not having the luxury of privacy made me appreciate whatever little alone time I had to myself back then.
Living with many heads under one roof also meant that there are many family events to look forward to every year.
Be it birthday parties or Hari Raya, there is tons of excitement, love and noise filling up the atmosphere every time my extended family members, beyond those living with me, gather at the already-filled house.
Even if there isn’t a special occasion, every family gathering felt like a celebration just by having everyone around.
Over the years, I’ve learnt to develop a thick skin after all the teasing from different family members.
My family would always poke fun at me for being too dramatic or dressing up when we are just going grocery shopping.
Thankfully, everyone in my family has their fair share of being teased. Knowing that my family would never upset me intentionally makes the teasing feel like inside jokes that only we can understand and laugh at together.
Little things like not hogging the bathroom or being quiet when someone’s asleep can make a world of difference for others. I realised that every time I did something considerate for another family member, the favour would be returned in another way, like good karma.
Whenever my grandparents would cook a chicken dish, my family members always made sure to leave a few pieces of the chicken wing for me as it is my favourite.
Seeing those chicken parts reserved for me always brought a smile to my face.
Living with my grandparents meant that there were many valuable life lessons to be learned. They often shared stories about their kampung life and all the hardships they had to overcome to give us a comfortable life. Knowing this makes me feel grateful for everything I have.
I also learnt a lot about my culture and family history from listening to their stories.
My grandmother used to tell me about her experiences cleaning other people’s houses to supplement the family income back in the day. She shared that my mother would sometimes follow her to help out and admire the homes.
My family members never shied away from showing affection and caring. But this does not mean that they always expressed their love verbally.
My grandfather, for one, is a man of few words. He would take note of what fruits I liked and buy them for me if he saw them on his daily walks. Nowadays, he still does the same, even after I’ve moved away.
We also showed love in other ways like spending quality time watching TV together.
Although I didn’t hear the words, ‘I love you’ out loud, I knew I was loved.
There were times I couldn’t wait to move out of the house so that I could finally have my own space. Now that I’m only sharing a room with my sister, I can’t help but reminisce about living with my grandparents and having my uncles and cousin around.
There’s a different sense of togetherness when you live with a big family, and it is something that I cannot quite explain.
I now understand that relationships within a big family can be complicated. Tensions may rise and arguments can take place. I’ve been lucky enough that I only have fond memories of my family and I watching Indonesian soap operas together and celebrating Hari Raya in the same house.
I hope that you’re able to take the time during this circuit breaker period to learn more about your family members and create new memories together, just like I am doing now.
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