I often think that one of the best things about being a parent is being able to give your (often questionable) opinion to someone who doesn’t generally have the know-how to argue back. And in the instances that they DO argue back, you can mention the word “bed-time” and automatically win the argument. (Did I tell you about my guide to good parenting…? Strangely unavailable in most good bookshops, but you can read The 8 Most Embarrassing Things My Son Has Done here)
Motivated by this advice-giving obsession, and in part by having managed to come off my bike onto my face a few months ago – which inevitably made me think “What would happen to the monster if something happened to me?” – I decided to write him one of those letters-only-to-be-opened-on-your-sixteenth-birthday kind-of things. Only it’s on the internet, so it’s basically open already. So here goes: my life advice for one four-year-old monster.
1) Don’t ever stop being ridiculous.
I know I get grumpy with you sometimes when I’m trying to get you to do something – well, pretty much ANYTHING – and you’ve got your pants on your head and your shoes on your hands and are rolling around on the sofa. But the ability to laugh at yourself is pretty much the most important weapon we have against violence, aggression, and putting our own concerns ahead of other people’s welfare. If more people had a sense of humour, I can promise you that there would be fewer wars. And making other people laugh is unbelievably important too. If you can bring fun into someone’s life where there wasn’t any, or brighten even a few moments of everyone’s day, then you’ve shone a little light on the world. So keep on being silly, ridiculous, and keep up with the silly voices and the laughter. I’m sort-of hoping that pants-on-head, shoes-on-hands antics will have moved on to something a little more sophisticated by the time you’re supposed to be reading this, but if not, I’m sure the world will accept you just the way you are… (Only put pants on the usual places too, yeah? Or the world may be a little bit less accepting.)
2) Find out what the one thing you really want out of life, and pursue it for all that you’re worth.
It may take a long time to figure out, or you may know it already (if so, I’m sure the Lego corporation will be very lucky to have you involved). But whatever that one thing is, don’t let anything get in the way of it. Even if you want to do something that you might kind-of suck at, then you do it to the best of your ability anyway. Do what you love, and you will love your life. And when I say “don’t let anything get in the way of it” – then I guess I mean anything except the welfare of everyone around you. But other than that, I really do mean anything. Not what your friends think, not what your partner thinks – and not even what your ridiculous mother thinks.* I really do mean what I say here, that whatever odd reaction I may have to any of your life announcements, I want you to be happy, and that means supporting what you really want in life for all that I’m worth.
For that matter, whoever you decide to love, make sure that he/she loves the person you want to be and not the person they want you to be. You will genuinely be happier in a state of singleness than trying to fit into someone else’s image of what it means to be you. So choose someone who makes you feel like the person you want to be. And ideally, someone with a good credit rating. But you can’t have it all. *Only pretty please don’t let it be motorcycling.
3) When you said you were lucky to have two houses, you were right.
You are lucky. You have not one family that loves you, but two. You are the absolute priority of both – and you should never feel like those two families are a second choice or a consolation prize. Your two sets of grandparents, your Dad, your aunts and uncles, your godparents, are all there for you when you need them. And will be, even if you go through a stroppy teenage phase where you don’t want to talk to most of them.
4) Cuddles are pretty amazing
It’s taken me thirty years to figure this one out – or at least, twenty-six years – and I have you to blame/thank for the realisation. But they really are amazing. Comforting or being comforted sort-of make the world go round, so never be sparing with your cuddles if you think someone needs some.* *Whilst bearing in mind that “no cuddles” means “no cuddles.” You’re going to be physically stronger than quite a lot of the people you might be cuddling, so let’s have cuddle respect and boundaries.
5) Don’t ever listen to anyone who says you’re too tall, or too big, or that you look wrong in any way.
I’m not going to try to deny, here, that the first impression anyone gets of you is what they see. Unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do about that, so it’s worth considering when you choose what you want to wear or how you want your hair – but more importantly, it should be considered when it comes to the expression you present to the world. If you smile out at everyone, it’s going to make good and certain that they think some good things of you.
And if, after smiling and doing what you want with your appearance, someone takes exception to it – just do what you did when the boys were being mean to you at nursery. Grin at them, and tell them you’ll go and find someone else to hang out with. And maybe add that you’re sorry they feel bad enough about themselves to want to be mean to someone else. Because, trust me, that is the ONLY REASON anyone is ever mean.
6) Reversing with a trailer on your car is easier than it looks.
Seriously. You just need to look in your mirrors. If it appears in the left mirror, turn the wheel left. If it appears in the right mirror, turn it right. Job done! I did say this would be life advice from me…
7) Never be ashamed of your abilities.
This goes for whatever they may be. I’m pretty convinced, by your letter-reading and your su-dokuing and your maths, that you’re going to be a smart one – though I suppose, as your mum, I’m pretty much bound to think that.
But even so, you will undoubtedly be good at something – hopefully, at many things. And whatever those things are, you should be proud of them. There will probably be times at school or beyond when someone tries to mock you for some skill – for being into art, or a know-it-all, or for music or drama, or whatever really appeals to you. (Except probably sport. For some reason, this is generally ok for boys to be into. Who the heck knows why?) Don’t let them get to you. The things you’re good at will be the foundations of the life you want to lead, and if you enjoy them, you go and do them, get good at them, and if anyone asks you, be modest but firm about your talents.
8) There are few bad moods that can’t be improved by fresh air an exercise.
I wish I had this sentence on some kind of automatic pop-up in front of my face whenever I get grumpy. For some reason, the last thing you want to do when you’re in a funk is the one thing that will definitely help. And the other great thing about fresh air and exercise is that it makes you feel good about yourself, too. Your body is a wonderful thing that can do some pretty amazing stuff (and yes, I do include being able to lick your nose in that. I’m pretty sure it’s still impressive). If you look after it, you will feel good in the way that matters – the inside-your-own-self kind of good that has no dependence at all on what all the other muppets may think.
9) There are no problems on this earth that you can’t get past with a little help.
Except maybe world poverty, but I’m working on it. Honestly. Don’t despair, and don’t ever try to face alone something that is making you feel like you can’t handle it. Things WILL get better, and sometimes it’s just about asking. Which leads me to…
9a) It’s ok to ask for help sometimes.
People genuinely like to help people. It’s a truth you will probably recognise if you think about how good it makes you to help someone else. And if you need help – as long as it’s not ALL THE TIME, because that’s caused being a needy mofo and nobody likes that – then asking is all right. You’d be surprised how helpful friends, and the world at large, can be given half an inkling that it might be useful. And for that matter, the flipside is also true – that you should help other people whenever you can. It’s something you’re unlikely to regret.
10) You know that time I said “Well maybe I don’t love you either?”
It wasn’t true. It will never, ever be true. I will love you no matter what you decide to do with your life, or what you become. I will always, always love you, even when I’m being too flippant or sarcastic to voice it (though you help with that, too). Even if you ruin the carpet, or destroy the cake I’ve just finished icing; if you knock me over on purpose, or if you decide to start a Peppa Pig Appreciation Society; if you end up in jail (try not to do this…) or get renounced in the press; if you abandon the rules of grammar or vote Conservative (try not to do these either…) – none of it makes any difference. I’ll love you anyway.
So Happy Birthday, monster. You’ve been the most awesome addition to my life, and I’m happy to have been regularly assaulted by you.
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