02 November 2014

Mum stuff : Advice for a daughter

by Star Athena on Flickr

A lot of lateness this week. I'm late with my post (just a day or two- I blame half term) and I'm even later catching on to this article by Caitlin Moran (by a whole year. What? I've been, erm, busy). On top of that I have not exactly been overwhelmed with exhilarating ideas for posts (you will be getting Five Favourite Pasta Dishes, Five Slow-Cooked Wonders, and Five Journeys I Once Did But Can't Remember Much About Other Than The Photos soon, though, don't worry), and the words are not flowing easily.

So anyway, I thought that copying this lovely letter- written in 2013 by Caitlin Moran to her daughter- might be an easy solution to my lack of inspiration, but I may change my mind on that in a moment when I realise that adding my own five pieces of advice I would similarly give to my daughter might, just might, turn out to be a little bit harder than I thought...

My daughter is about to turn 13 and I’ve been smoking a lot recently, and so – in the wee small hours, when my lungs feel like there’s a small mouse inside them, scratching to get out – I’ve thought about writing her one of those “Now I’m Dead, Here’s My Letter Of Advice For You To Consult As You Continue Your Now Motherless Life” letters. Here’s the first draft. Might tweak it a bit later. When I’ve had another fag.

“Dear Lizzie. Hello, it’s Mummy. I’m dead. Sorry about that. I hope the funeral was good – did Daddy play Don’t Stop Me Now by Queen when my coffin went into the cremator? I hope everyone sang along and did air guitar, as I stipulated. And wore the stick-on Freddie Mercury moustaches, as I ordered in the ‘My Funeral Plan’ document that’s been pinned on the fridge since 2008, when I had that extremely self-pitying cold.

Look – here are a couple of things I’ve learnt on the way that you might find useful in the coming years. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s a good start… The main thing is just to try to be nice … Just resolve to shine, constantly and steadily, like a warm lamp in the corner, and people will want to move towards you in order to feel happy, and to read things more clearly. You will be bright and constant in a world of dark and flux, and this will save you the anxiety of other, ultimately less satisfying things like ‘being cool’, ‘being more successful than everyone else’ and ‘being very thin’.

Second, always remember that, nine times out of ten, you probably aren’t having a full-on nervous breakdown – you just need a cup of tea and a biscuit. You’d be amazed how easily and repeatedly you can confuse the two. Get a big biscuit tin.

Three – always pick up worms off the pavement and put them on the grass. They’re having a bad day, and they’re good for… the earth or something (ask Daddy more about this; am a bit sketchy).

Four: choose your friends because you feel most like yourself around them, because the jokes are easy and you feel like you’re in your best outfit when you’re with them, even though you’re just in a T-shirt. Never love someone whom you think you need to mend – or who makes you feel like you should be mended. There are boys out there who look for shining girls; they will stand next to you and say quiet things in your ear that only you can hear and that will slowly drain the joy out of your heart. The books about vampires are true, baby. Drive a stake through their hearts and run away.

This segues into the next tip: life divides into AMAZING ENJOYABLE TIMES and APPALLING EXPERIENCES THAT WILL MAKE FUTURE AMAZING ANECDOTES. However awful, you can get through any experience if you imagine yourself, in the future, telling your friends about it as they scream, with increasing disbelief, ‘NO! NO!’ Even when Jesus was on the cross, I bet He was thinking, ‘When I rise in three days, the disciples aren’t going to believe this when I tell them about it.’

Babyiest, see as many sunrises and sunsets as you can. Run across roads to smell fat roses. Always believe you can change the world– even if it’s only a tiny bit, because every tiny bit needed someone who changed it. Think of yourself as a silver rocket – use loud music as your fuel; books like maps and co-ordinates for how to get there. Host extravagantly, love constantly, dance in comfortable shoes, talk to Daddy and Nancy about me every day and never, ever start smoking. It’s like buying a fun baby dragon that will grow and eventually burn down your f***ing house. 

Love, Mummy.”

And my five:

1 : Don't eat chocolate. Okay, it's better than smoking, but don't even start on that slippery slope, if you're anything like me, and you probably are. Chocolate is brilliant and wonderful and would solve all the world's ills if only it had the chance, but it also- after the initial lovely, silky, comforting hug- will ultimately lead to your downfall. If you are able to enjoy it in sensible small doses, then go ahead. If not, avoid it. Having said all this, if your voyage of rebellious discovery is- because this is a realistic scenario- between chocolate and say, crack, please, please, please take the chocolate. All of it. Here, have it now. That's how much I love you.

2 : I can't help but echo Caitlin's first point. Be nice. Be happy. Be yourself. Treat others like you would want to be treated, stay away from anyone who doesn't treat you well and spend lots of time with those who do. I've no idea what you're going to be like when you're older but if how you are now is any indication, you'll be fairly clever and you'll enjoy laughing and dancing and hugs and you'll have a very cheeky smile. Just don't change, not too much. (Except for blowing raspberries whilst eating yoghurt. Please stop doing that. Please.)

3 : You're a girl. I'm not sure you've entirely sussed that there's a difference between girls and boys yet (though I am nervous when I ask what you've done at nursery and you reply, "boys"), or why it's important, and actually, really, it's not. There's nothing you can't do. You don't have to play with dolls and diaries and make up and dress up as a fairy or a nurse and love pink, BUT equally you can do all those things if you want to. Make up your own mind- and that's easier said than done. Just don't listen to anyone who tells you what you can and can't be. (I reserve the right to retract this last statement in certain circumstances. Drastic ones, and none I'm going to specify here. There you go, some good old parental hypocrisy, but let's save that for an argument when you're 15.)

4 : Spiders are your friends! Really! They're lovely, cute, entirely inoffensive little balls of fluff with funny spindly (*shudder*) legs that scamper about like little... oh, forget it. I'm scared of them. For no good reason, other than I just don't like the way they look. I hope you won't be. (But if you're not- well done!- please don't ever think it would be funny to pick one up and dangle it in front of mummy's face. This goes back to that whole 'be nice' thing. Okay?)

5 : Take opportunities. Have adventures. Even if it seems frightening, and even when your little scared inner voice tells you you can't, or you shouldn't: be brave. Be confident. Be sensible*, but be brave. Even if it's a disaster, you'll get something from it, and- in another appropriation of Caitlin's tips- it'll one day make a very funny story, probably. 

* But really, be sensible. Drinking some unidentifiable South American 70% alcohol to excess then going for a walk alone along a narrow promontory at high tide out to a small rock in the North Sea is not brave or adventurous, it's just plain stupid. And if you do do that, I can only hope you too have a good friend who follows you and makes sure you're all right.

Caitlin's article was first published in The Times, here (£).

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