Last month you turned four, and I’ve thought long and hard about whether to write this letter, the letter I wrote you last year proved really popular, so I was worried that I might not be able to live up to it, but in the end I decided there was nothing to lose and it didn’t really matter if it didn’t!
Quite a lot has happened since last year. We’ve all got more used to life without Grandad and Great Grandad Bert; your Mummy and Daddy bought a house in Devon and when Daddy left the army you all moved down. I love having you and Phoebe closer, and your Mum and Dad too, even though Daddy is working away at the moment. You started at pre-school and settled in really well and Phoebe learnt to walk, so she’s around everywhere. Sadly Nuby doggy died this year, but you were so grown up and sensible, imploring me to come and see her when I arrived to take you to school – completely matter of fact about it. You remain a brilliant big sister, and I’m delighted that so far you seem to have stuck to all of last year’s ten suggestions. You’ve also taught yourself, with a little help from Auntie Georgie, to take selfies, keep doing it Libs, they’re ace. As are you, you are one completely ace, inquisitive, kind and brilliantly determined young lady.
So what advice do I have to offer you this year? As last year there is nothing to say these are the most important things, but they might be useful.
1) Don’t take any notice of people who tell you that you’re bossy. If you were a boy people will probably say you’re a natural leader, but because you’re a girl, you’ll be called bossy. Take no notice, stay as you are, offer suggestions, join in, consider other people, but don’t stop getting involved.
2) Never stop asking questions. This was number two last year as well but it is so important it’s worth repeating! As you get older people play this trick on you where they suggest asking questions is dumb because it let’s on that you don’t know something. That’s ok, in fact it’s more than ok, it’s essential. People who pretend to have all the answers are just pretending. Even your teachers and your Mum and Dad sometimes.
3) Keep reading. When Auntie Georgie was little she was called bookish, like this was a bad thing. Grandad used to tell her to get her nose out of a book and get outside!! To be fair Grandad was probably right, you need both, but don’t stop reading. It’s a great comfort in life to be able to read a book, and you learn so much.
4) Spend time outside. The older you get the more time you seem to spend indoors. Even now you spend quite a lot of time inside, but there is so much to do outside, there are gardens to play in, great play parks and of course the beach. Sometimes when life feels tough, just spending time outside in nature can help.
5) Wear bright colours. I know you like pink and that’s your favourite, but you look great in all sorts of colours. Keep wearing bright colours Libbie, wear spots and stripes, trousers or dresses, whatever you like as long as it’s comfy. At Christmas you insisted on wearing your Doctors outfit and your beauticians accessories at the same time – and why not, you can wear what you like.
6) Dream big. Grown ups tend to focus on what you can’t do, what the problems or limitations are. These usually involve time or money or other things. Keep dreaming big Libbie, you can be and do anything you want to, now or when you grow up. Ok, Mummy and Daddy might not let you do some things until you’re older, which is annoying, but they’re probably right.
7) Sit quietly. You and I are both quite loud people, we like talking and being sociable, and chatting to folk. That’s fine, it’s really good most of the time, but sometimes it can be good to sit quietly, or walk quietly. I find that when I stop using my mouth my brain often works a little differently. It’s worth being quiet every once in a while.
8) Don’t worry too much about money. The older you get the more people talk and worry about money. Everyone needs a bit of money to exist, to have somewhere to live and food to eat, but often grown ups get so caught up worrying about money they forget about what’s really important, about being happy and kind and helpful and about spending time with people who respect you and make you feel good about yourself. Lots of these things don’t require lots of money, but they are worth more than anything else in life.
9) Listen. I know that adults nearly always have something to say, and they’re not always great at listening, but most of the time it’s important to listen to grown ups. Also it’s important to listen to your friends and other children, and your little sister even though she often says the same things at the moment. Remember sometimes you have to listen really carefully not just to hear what people say, but also to work out what they’re not saying. This is a lesson for life this one Libs.
10) Stay true to yourself. Now you’re at pre-school and meeting lots more children, you will find that some things are fashionable. There will be unofficial rules that are made, about what you wear or who you speak to, who you should or shouldn’t be friends with. Take no notice, be true to yourself, do what feels right. Don’t get sucked in to having to fit into someone else’s view of life Libbie, you write your rules, and you’ll go far. No-one knows you as well as you do yourself, actually right now Mummy and Daddy probably know a lot about you, but you know yourself, you know what is right and wrong, you know how to be kind and share and think about others, but you also know that you can be friends with boys and girls, you can be anything you’d like in life. If you stay true to what’s important to you, you’ll find rewards money can’t buy.
So that’s some thoughts to add to last year’s. You’re growing into a fantastic young person and I’m very proud to be your Auntie.
Lots and lots of love,
I’m going to start with a disclaimer! This was a blog post constructed on a train, the image was sketched on a train, my thoughts are sketchy – I’m not sure if this stands up but am putting it out there, a half way constructed post, for discussion, debate and musing over. Please do share your thoughts, experiences and opinions in the comments.
2012 was a major year of loss for me. My Grandfather had a fall at the start of the year, breaking his hip, recovering, then falling again later in the year and being admitted to hospital. He switched hospitals but never returned home, dying in July. In his 90s, having lived a full and productive life, his death was a big loss for our family but it was also a release in a way. I still miss him frequently, but for me it’s not painful any more.
My Dad died in November 2012. He had found out he had cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer) five years previously, days after his 60th birthday in Nov 2007. He lived with a terminal diagnosis for his last two years and in many ways cancer was a positive experience, Dad worked hard to find the positives. In some way I think I started grieving for Dad as soon as we knew his condition was terminal, there were periods where he was very poorly and they acted like preparation for loss. I found it painful to watch Dad’s health deteriorate and watching him stoically soldier on was almost more painful than his death in a way. We received amazing support from our local hospice and after a period as an inpatient, Dad returned home and died at home a number of weeks later.
When it came to grieving for Dad, my pain was almost as strong for him when Grandad died, as it was for Grandad. There was something about the injustice of it all. It was also painful (for me) in the weeks immediately before Dad’s death, which when it came, almost provided relief. I’ve tried to plot this on the following graph, where Grandad’s death is the orange and Dad’s the blue:
This week Sara Ryan yet again shared the trajectory of loss that she has faced. Since her son, LB, died unexpectedly in an NHS treatment facility. LB was a young man in rude health, just 18 years old, having has epilepsy for a number of years, he drowned in the bath. Horrendous enough as that is for any family to deal with, the trust ‘responsible’ for his care have made mistake after mistake after mistake, in how they are treating the family. Sara’s tweets explain it all here.
Now I’ve not asked Sara about this, but from where I sit the behaviour of Southern Health is tantamount to emotional torture, the constant promises and let downs, agreeing things then changing their minds, always moving the goalposts. I don’t know what possesses them, and I don’t want to discuss that here, I just want to consider what damage their behaviour is likely to do. Thinking of the trajectories of grief I shared, I’ve overlaid how I think it must feel to suddenly, out the blue to hear that your fit and healthy son has died…if that’s not enough to break you, there is no let up to allow grief, pain and loss to subside because the people responaible are toying with you, constantly screwing your emotions. I guess it might look something like:
The stars indicate when the people died, the trajectory for Sara and her family and friends must be beyond painful. Someone has to step in and make this stop, surely. They need to be able to grieve and let go of the pain, not be constantly poked and prodded and let down. Someone please make it stop.
Short, random post for you all. The selfie (word of the year for 2013) has been getting some schtick lately, not least because Barrack Obama decided to take one at Nelson Mandela’s funeral. There’s a whole other blog post right there, but I’ve been thinking a lot about selfies, what they represent, and whether they’re a good or a bad thing.
I hate having my photo taken, have never really been a fan. As a small child I was very shy (up until I went to secondary school, I know, I know, hard to imagine), but I was and I hated making eye contact and when I shook off my shyness I never really got past the hating having my photo taken thing. I’m fairly average in this regard I’m sure, I obviously have some highly elevated self concept of what I look like because my most frequent response to a photo, any photo is one of surprise. My internal monologue usually goes something like this:
Thought 1: Oh, oh okay, well it’s not *the* best but I suppose it could be worse
Thought 2: Ohhhh dear god, look at the chins, hair, belly rolls, bingo wings, rugby thighs* etc etc etc (*delete as appropriate depending on season, clothing, bodily state)
Thought 3: Delete, delete, delete….oh hang on X looks really nice, guess it’s not all about me.
These three thoughts usually occur in the space of a few seconds, we’re not talking deep reflection here. Occasionally there are pleasant surprises, where the light, or the photographer, or the scenery, or the healthy eating plan have all gone as they should and collided in a magic pot of brilliance. That’s rare though.
So what has this got to do with the selfie then. Well the selfie allows us take a photo, edit the light slightly, project something that we’re somewhat happier with, or at least delete the twenty images that aren’t so great and save the one that is. It is all the things that people complain about, egotistical, a projection, to some extent inaccurate, self indulgent. Yes, yes, yes. However it creates a record and it also creates somewhat more comfort in front of the lens.
I’ve become a much bigger user, and fan, of photography (and yes I sully the genre by including selfies within it) in recent years. Decent camera on my mobile has made a great difference to the number of photos I take, that and the purchase of my first proper adult camera. What I’ve realised in the last few months is that most of my selfies or pic never see the light of day, but that doesn’t stop me having them as a record, and loving them for that.
This record becomes unbelievably important when you’ve lost someone close to you. I am so grateful for the photos that I have of my Dad. He was never shy in front of a camera, we’ve hundreds of him, few serious, mostly fooling around and I love them. I’ve not got half as many of me and him as I would like, and that’s the reflection really. For all people criticise the selfie, if it allows you to capture a moment then it’s a very precious thing. One of my favourite photos that I do have of my Dad and I was taken a few months before he died, at the start of our roadtrip to Wales to visit granddaughter number two when she was a few days old. The photo is a generic, man and woman in car photo to anyone else. It’s not a perfect image of either of us, I don’t particularly like many of the elements I flag above within it, but, and it’s a big but, it captures something for me. Dad just discharged from hospital, topped up with blood following a transfusion, full of anticipation and adventure. It was a role reversal of the many, many times Dad dropped me to Wales and the last trip we took anywhere, and the reward so special.
So I implore you this Christmas, take photos, take selfies, hell take photos in the car!!! You may feel a bit self conscious, you may not like the results, you may detest what you look like in photos, but trust me it’s a great thing to be able to look back and remember, and all the flaws fade into insignificance when you can’t take any photos any more. Happy snapping.