This is a letter to my boys. I’d love to share it with you too, but it’s long and wordy, and I wouldn’t mind in the least if you gave it a miss. Thanks for stopping by today, and we’ll be back to food and garden blogging in the next post!
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One of my favourite photos, taken at Small Man’s 7th birthday party..
Dear Big Boy and Small Man
I recently read a letter in the Sydney Morning Herald that a mother had written to her daughter. It made me think of all the things I wanted to say to you, but never seem to get around to at dinner, because the conversation is so often filled with bizarre hypothetical discussions, like the one last night about shrinking humans and comparing their resultant bone and muscle density to that of other creatures.
I thought I would write you a series of letters, via the blog, so you wouldn’t lose them. Indulge me, you know what I’m like when I get an idea in my head. You two are the left and right sides of my heart, and some times I love you so much that it actually hurts. I desperately want to share my thoughts with you while I can. Not that I’m planning on going anywhere, but if there’s one thing the last few years have taught us, it’s that life is unpredictable.
So here’s the first letter (it seemed fitting to post it on Mother’s Day). Some thoughts, in no particular order (but numbered anyway, because it helps me think clearly)…
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1. Be kind to yourselves…
I know I said no particular order, but this one is probably the most important to me anyway. You have never, ever let us down. You are kind, loving, beautiful human beings who have unique and special talents. No-one is ever good at everything – Small Man, you in particular need to remember that. Treat yourselves gently and don’t judge yourselves harshly – you are the least lazy teenagers I know, you never whinge, and you have always tried hard. And contrary to what my Chinese ancestors would have said, your best efforts really are good enough.
Life is about trying and failing, and trying again and failing again, and trying some more, and then succeeding. It takes time to get good at things. And finally achieving your goal is wonderful, but it’s often not nearly as much fun as the journey was. So don’t give up on things too quickly. Having said that, Small Man, you need to listen to us when we tell you that an idea is bonkers. (I’m typing that with a smile on my face, darling.)
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2. Find good friends and nurture those relationships…
If you look at our lives, you’ll see how important our friends and community are. There are folks who live within walking distance of our house who have known us since before Dad and I were married. A few of them knew us before we were even dating. Choose your friends carefully – look for people who are kind and emotionally honest, and who won’t play silly power games or take advantage of you. And be a good friend in return – be loyal, and generous, and accepting. It takes time to figure this out and to build those relationships (and you’ll be shafted by a few so called friends along the way), but when you do, you’ll be rewarded with a community of people you can trust implicitly, who will always have your back.
When Auntie Dan and I talk on the phone, our conversations often begin with, “Now, don’t judge me for this..”, to which the reply is always a tongue-in-cheek, “I won’t judge you, but I might mock you..”
That pretty much sums up all of our close friendships. We don’t judge each other, but hey, we’re always ready to take the piss a little.
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3. Don’t let other people disempower you…
I wish I could protect you from all the people who are going to try to do this to you over the course of your lives. All I can do is warn you to actively guard against it. Your self-esteem and your self-belief are your power. Don’t let people take this away from you, which they will often try to do for a variety of reasons that don’t make much sense. Sometimes they don’t even realise they’re doing it, and it can be gradual, and one day you can wake up feeling insecure and uncertain about yourself, and not really know why.
Learn to see it coming, and stop it in its tracks. It isn’t always easy to do, but try not to put yourself in a position where you’re vulnerable. Don’t be cocky or bigheaded, because pride always trips us up, and if you’re proud and boastful, there will always be someone who will try to bring you down a peg or two.
And remember, if push comes to shove, we’re always here. Come home, and we will reassure you again that the two of you are the most wonderful and interesting people in the world.
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4. Learn to say no…
No mother in her right mind would tell her teenagers this, but since you’ve never refused any reasonable request from us, I feel it’s worth taking the risk.
Following on from the previous point, one of the best life skills you can acquire is the ability to say no to things you really don’t want to do. Occasionally that won’t be possible because of work or family commitments (you can’t say no to your mother at Christmas, remember that), but as a rule, being able to say no is incredibly empowering.
There are two reasons it’s so important – firstly, it enables you to resist peer pressure. Both of you are already very good at this, but it can be insidious, and therefore it’s always something to watch out for. Secondly, life is about choices. Try to make them consciously and in a considered manner, and be aware that in this first world life we live, you almost always have a choice.
Learn to say no in an honest, non-offensive way, and it will lead you to better relationships with other humans. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to over-explain your decisions – “I don’t want to do that” is really a good enough reason. People will appreciate your honesty and forthrightness – and you will be all the wiser about those who don’t.
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5. People are complicated.
Sometimes we all fall into the trap of compartmentalising people – it’s very easy to think of someone as “good” or “bad”. But if there’s one thing Dad and I have learned over our lifetimes, it’s that people are complicated, and no-one is perfect. Once you understand that, it’s much easier to accept other human beings for the complex mixed bag of happy-sad-angry-kind-greedy emotions that we all are in varying degrees.
Try to search for the good in folks, but don’t allow yourselves be taken advantage of. Remember, complicated works both ways – nasty rude people might have a kind and generous side, but by the same token, the most congenial person might also have a bitter and angry streak. Understanding this will improve your interpersonal relationships no end, because it takes away the element of surprise when someone behaves in an unexpected way. We are all multi-faceted, multi-dimensional creatures with uniquely functioning brains, and to view each other as anything else can only lead to disappointment.
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Of course there’s more. But as you know, I like to work in fives, so I’ll leave it here for now. Also, your grandparents are due for dinner any minute, so I’d better get back into the kitchen!
My deepest love to you both,