A letter to my girls
o my two beautiful, scruffy, dishevelled daughters,
When I was a very little girl, a little bit older than you are now, one of my favourite fairy tales was Sleeping Beauty. The best part, for my money, is right at the very beginning, long before the spinning wheel or the handsome prince even get a look in. At the princess’s christening her fairy godmothers lavish her with gifts they think will help her in life. I think they opt for beauty, wit and musical talent, not bad choices, as it happens. I loved the idea that you might be able to get qualities, talents and virtues given to you instead of stuff, and wondered endlessly what my fairy godmothers had given me. All I ever seemed to get were book vouchers and BHS knickers. I would much rather have had beauty and wit any day. So, as we approach your second birthday, I have been thinking about what gifts I might bestow upon you if I had the choice. Here are some things I want you to have. Promise me that you won’t spend them all at once.
Too many people shy away from life as they get older, they stop going on holiday because so-and-so told them about somebody-or-other’s daughter getting mugged in Milan, they stop swimming in the sea in case they get an ear infection. They don’t climb trees. The courage they took for granted as children withers away as adulthood sets in and doubt clouds the mind. I want you to experience everything life has to offer, and in order to do that, you must be brave.
As you get older I want you to embrace every new opportunity as if you were still children. Don’t follow the path of least resistance, don’t be sluggish, or accept other people’s opinions without question. Be brave enough to challenge those that oppose you, and big enough to realise when they are right in their opposition. Carry on climbing trees, if only to check out the view from the top.
You have a choice. You can allow the weight of the world to bear down on your shoulders like a massive granite slab, take every depressing news story at face value, moan endlessly about the weather (whether or not it is actually miserable) read the Daily Mail and worry about your pension into the wee hours – or you can wear it lightly as if it were made of silk. Take it from someone who’s never quite mastered the art of living lightly, the latter is preferable by far. I wish I’d learned this lesson when I was still a kid. I’d have had much more fun, now I am trying to make up for it as a thirty-year-old woman. You don’t have to do it this way round. As your mother, if there was anything I could be certain to teach you, it would be this: most things come out in the wash. Anything that doesn’t most likely needs to be put back through at a higher temperature, or gracefully made-do with.
Quality sleep is massively underrated. Learn to sleep well and you’ll begin each morning feeling refreshed and ready to cope with whatever that particular 24-hour period has to throw at you. Neglect sleep and you’ll feel pissed off, run-down and disorganised. As someone who has counted herself among the sleep-deprived for almost two years, I feel qualified to tell you this; when you can’t do it anymore you will miss it like hell. Sleep in. Create a space in your head, a private and untouchable sanctuary that only you know about. I have one. I go there when I am ready for sleep. I also go there when I am at the hairdressers, on the loo, on the bus, pretty much whenever I can actually. Sometimes it will be very easy to access, at other times you’ll struggle to get there and it will feel like a thousand-mile hike, but struggle you must. Sleep is a skill, master it.
Firstly, be aware that no one, NO ONE, could ever love you as much as I do. I have no doubt many will try. Some will get close. I hope those that do are worthy of your energy. I hesitated about putting this one in because it sounds so schmaltzy, but let’s face it, what mum wouldn’t want her daughters to experience love. The best kind is the sort that thumps you in the stomach and tickles the back of your neck at the same time, and that’s the kind I want for you, the thumpy, tickly kind.
If you care to look, you will see that a lot of women cover their mouths when they laugh or smile. Your aunty does it, I do it too. I know I do, but I don’t know why. I suppose I don’t like people looking at my open mouth. It feels vulgar somehow, improper, as if I am leaving myself prone. I’ve never liked my teeth. If you have great teeth you never need worry about covering your mouth, you can continue to smile and laugh just like you do now, without any hint of awkwardness. I wish for you lots of lovely, straight, sparkling, milk-white teeth, so that you can laugh like a drain.
I should probably have put this at the top of my list, because I think it’s the most important. Life without laughter is like a Sunday roast without gravy; bland, uninteresting and hardly worth the effort. Laugh at yourself at least as often as you laugh at others, preferably more, because you can bet anything you like that, if you don’t take the chance, others will. There is nothing more attractive than a woman who knows how to laugh, and laugh often, apart from one who reads, and reads well.
I can’t physically give you most of the things on this list, but this last one I can. I can’t make you love reading, but I can make sure you have access to the same thing I did, a bookshelf full of all kinds of stories for you to plunder and pick-over whenever you like. I hope you’ll find something in there that grabs your imagination and shakes it by the scruff of the neck. I don’t really mind what it is. Books can transport you through time and space, and help you to see the world through somebody else’s eyes. If you can do that, you can learn any number of lessons. Wuthering Heights taught me that love can be destructive and mental and incredible all at the same time. A Picture of Dorian Grey taught me that beauty really is only skin deep and from The Little Prince I learned that sometimes the most interesting questions are often the ones left unanswered.
I still believe that the women in our lives really do give us gifts. My Aunty Grace gave me the strength to say ‘no’ once in a while without feeling guilty, although I’m still working on it. My Grandma gave me a tongue I could peel carrots with. My mum gave me loads of things, the most precious of which is the friendship we share. So here they are, my gifts to you. My dirty-faced darlings, you have so many lessons left to learn; make sure you learn them from the treetops.