Letters to JKD

1

To my darling daughter

Last year I turned 30 and something in my mind clicked.

Now I’m an adult.

Now I want to do all the grown up things for years I had been avoiding. Children, a mortgage and marriage. All the things that previously I viewed as tying my down, limiting my freedom and choice. Now settle my soul, broaden my perspective and ignite my mind.

It all happened the same way falling in love did 5 years ago. At 25, something again clicked. I was incredibly fed up with playing the field, going from one love to the next. It was becoming exhausting, draining. I was tired of being strong all the time, of doing it all alone and wanted to rest my head on someone’s shoulder and have them share my life with me. And by opening myself to it, I found a love that calms me to my core and makes living happy.

So at 30 I decided the first thing I wanted to do was become a mum. Marriage and a mortgage could wait. My body clock couldn’t. So at 31 I had you, my beautiful baby girl who makes me smile every day.

I truly believe I would not be as happy as I am being a mother if I had not of waited. For me I needed to get EVERYTHING out of my system. Make the same mistakes over and over. I had to exhausted them all and know that they were not right for me.

Such as travelling. Since a little girl I had fantasied about the idea of being a nomad. Travelling from country to country. Seeing it all. Learning new cultures and languages. And when I became an ESOL Teacher at 22 (and loved it) I thought I had found a way to do this. Instead I found it simply did not suit me. I missed England and the pleasure of living in a country where life is easy and you know your land and surroundings. Life is hard enough without throwing a language and cultural barrier into the mix as well.

Then there was my career. Being a good teacher, I was quickly promoted to management at 26 and thought a life dedicated to improving others and educational institutions  would bring a sense of self satisfaction (and a high paying salary) would counteract the long hours and working weekends. However after 7 years of teaching I finally fell out of love with this corrupt, red tape industry, that rewards the mean spirited and belittles the do-gooders.

Being an independent, free loving 20 something with a city centre flat and friends to visit around the country and world  was also not the life for me. It could be lonely, and there was not a fab party to attend every weekend, or free friends with money and time. And being the only single girl at the dinner party quickly became very sad.

But I have no regrets about my twenty’s. After all I got to live many of my child and teenage dreams (how many people can say that!). I travelled, I lived abroad, I fell in love and lust-many times, I found a job I loved that brought a (fleeting) sense of giving back. Also if I had not of lived that life I would have regretted not having pursued my dreams and instead would have become a frustrated young mum, always wondering what if! Instead I can smile at my past and look forward to the future, to a beautiful home, marriage and motherhood-hopefully.

Because of all my past actions, experiences and conversations I feel I may also be in a good position to tell you some home truths about life, love, work and family. Please understand darling these letters are not commandments to live your life by, but more gentle advice given in an honest and personal way.

I believe one of the biggest causes for miscommunications between children and their parents, is the children think-“how can you possibly understand  what I’m going through!” and this is through the fault of the parents for not sharing their tales of woe and learning with their children. But instead laying out simple rules of life without any explanation or leeway.

Therefore, darling, I hope these words offer you some explanation as to why I give the advice I do, or even why I behave the way I and others around you do. Through knowing me and my life better, I hope it will help guide you through yours.

 


ROARLioness-Roar-ImagesTo my darling daughter

The other day while hanging out with my mum, your gran playfully commented on your babbling “oh she’s a noisy baby, be quiet little one”. In a half jokey tone I said to you “No don’t be quiet honey, you are a lioness, let me hear you roar.” And I let out a loud roar. You caught my eye, smiled, giggled, a let out the cutest little roar. Everyone fell about cooing, kissing and hugging you.

The following week I told this tale to one of my mummy friends who has a baby girl 4 months younger than you. Her eyes lit up and she admitted she did the same to her husband. “Whenever he shushes her I tell him not to.”

womenseennotheardNeither one of us said our determination to encourage you to speak was because these noises where the first babbling of speech and verbal communication but because as woman we were both painfully aware of how girls are often still told to be seen and not heard.

A quiet little girl is cute and pleasing. A noisey little girl is attention grabbing and disruptive. Every woman I knew grew up with this idea and for years it has effected our behavior. No more painfully so than through the difficult teenage years.

I have very vivid memories of being 15 and madly in love with my very cool first proper boyfriend. He and his friends were the best things I had ever seen. They were into rock music, hung out at coffee shops at weekends, played pool in the city centre, skateboarded and went clubbing at nights. I felt very honored to be part of their group. Especially as I had been a greasy, spotty, swot for a few years, who had quietly spent her weekends at all girl sleepovers or movie nights with friends and families. They were a great bunch of lads and they all treated me brilliantly. However as we sat drinking coffee, playing pool or listening to music I would feel very uncool. This was not their fault. I didn’t give them a chance to shout me down as I never spoke up. In my head all my  thoughts, opinions and ideas seemed very stupid and immature compared to these worldly males, who spoke of religion, politics and history with such confidence. I never told them lots of things about myself. Such as I preferred pop music to rock. Or that I would much have rather spent my weekend nights in an R&B club then a dingy rock club. I found skate boarding silly and hated the way they dressed. But instead of telling them any of this I would pretend this side of my personality didn’t exist, and until I could substitute it for one which would be more suitable to my surroundings I simply kept my mouth shut.  This did not mean my brain was turned off. Oh no. Instead I would sit and watch, learn from my surroundings and try and soak in whatever it was that made this crew so cool. Sitting in the dark sweaty rock clubs, where I couldn’t mosh, my back to the huge speaker, letting the base pump through my body, coolly taking it all in, in my little tartan skirt, high leather boots and black velvet tank top, hoping I looked as sexy as hell and was acting as cool as could be. But as I watched I realized something. The boys around were cool because they were so much more comfortable and sure of themselves then my little scared self. They seemed to know they had a right to be themselves, have an opinion and voice it. And even if they were wrong they argued it out. But it didn’t matter if they were wrong or right, what mattered was the speaking of it, of your thoughts, of you.

In comparison the girls me and every other girl I en counted were constantly searching for approval. Trying to find out what they should say to make you like them and if they didn’t know what to do they either lied or kept quiet and tried looked pretty. Either fading into the background, hoping no one would ask their opinion or constantly be in hyper mode, trying to please the whole world, but especially the sexy boys.

How I was to behave given this new realization happened because of two men. The first was a friend of my boyfriend.  he was a fun guy who I could have a laugh and a chat with. However he was also a renowned womanizer who liked his girls young and virginal. One day we were sat in a coffee shop waiting for his latest girlfriend to arrive. He had been dating her for 4 months-which was a long time for him to spend with any one girl. Asking how this one had been able to keep his heart for so long, he admitted, smiling, it was because “She doesn’t speak. In four months she has only spoken a handful of times to me”. He voice was deadpan and I saw a few of the guys around me show signs of approval (To be fair not all of them did and some called him on his exist attitude). However the seed had been planted. I did not want to be a girl a man loved without every really knowing who she was (if she even had a clue herself). I ranted and rave at my friend and his dispicable behaviour. Years later he married a very succesful woman, so I do wounder if my words reached him.

The second came from a boyfriend I had at 18. By now I had had enough. I had a brain and I was going to start speaking from it. Only by talking about the things that interested me could I decide what my opinions were. I was going to talk and let people argue back. Convince me. Learn more about me, others and the world around me. My latest squeeze took a vast amount of pleasure of arguing with me. He used to love to wind me (and everyone else) up. He was a great arguer and would sit and argue the sky was green and the grass was blue until you either walked away or killed him. He was frustrating and fun in the same amount. And arguing with him often left me feeling incredibly stupid and angry. More than once I walked out on him, slamming the door loudly, after another heated debate on something or other. But at least my mind was working. And although I never won a fight (even when I was right) I learnt that using my voice could not only be fun.

Looking back I’m glad I found my voice. Even if I made more than one barman laugh at my loud silly comment just as the pub went quiet. Or made more than one person cringe at my crude questions. When I did argue Im sure I was not right all the time, nor was I classy, but I was still figuring out who I was, what I liked and what my opinions were and the only way I was ever going to know these was to talk, discuss and even have a few heated arguments.

I will admit there have been a few times over the recent years where I have thought it more prudent to bite my tongue then speak my mind. But these are the moments I now regret. As the people I love and who I have  daily in my life do not know who the real me is. Keeping the peace, meant my parents, sisters, brothers in law and friends never knew how passionate I was on issues of sex, gender equality or the environment. I kept quiet as I was worried I would be shouted down, or seen as stupid. But now I would rather be shouted down and let out a whisper then be silenced all together.

So my darling girl. Never let others silence you and never gag yourself. Instead speak, discuss, argue and roar. Only then will you find your true self and the truth of those around you.

i_speak_my_mind_because_it_hurts_to_bite_my_tongue___-1974146


BAD TV

To my darling daughter

There are many things my parents did growing up that I will apply to my own parental skills. Going out at weekends, learning to swim, taking you abroad, showing you the importance of family, respecting your elders, encouraging independence. However there is one or two things I will not encourage, and this includes TV.

Since it’s inventions parents have been plopping children in front of this electrical baby sitter while the adults can get on with other tasks, such as cleaning and cooking.

And who can blame them. It’s easy and it works.

Many a child would be hypnotised by the bright lights, funny noises and silly faces they would see flashing before their eyes.5

This was certainty true for me. By age 8 one of my families  nicknames for me was “square eyes” as I would sit soo close to the TV. We never needed to buy a TV guide as I would know what was coming on and when. (This was back in the day of 5 TV channels and TV guides had to be bought.)

It was all light-hearted banter when I was younger, but as I grew my parents would lament how I didn’t go outside to play like the other children did. How I had no interest in games or friends but instead would throw a tantrum if someone stood in front of the TV screen. How it would take several attempts at calling my name before I would answer. And the TV would have to be turned off it my parents wanted me to remember something.

5I look back now and remember entire summers passing by the French living room windows while I watched Dawson’s Creek. How lads on the street would knock on and ask me to play and I would say no as one show or another was coming on. This lack of social interaction as a kid explains my social awkwardness. Deciding to sit back, watch and be quiet rather than interact.

But I do not feel the blame for my TV addiction can be laid entirely on my parents. They did try and get me out and encourage friendship. I remember having one massive fight with my mother, when I was 14, during a summer holiday to a caravan park. I didn’t want to leave the caravan and go out despite the fact my mum had allowed me to bring a friend and had brought me new cloths. Instead I wanted to stay in with my friend and watch TV.

The seeds had been sown at a young age and I was hooked. I remember one day at primary school. We had to keep a journal and on Monday mornings we would write what we had done at the weekend. We could then draw any picture we wanted to go with it. Afterwards the teacher would check your spelling,  handwriting and vocabulary skills. One day the teacher marking mine she looked horrified! I had written about all the TV I had watched at the weekend. Including the tape cassette of Movies my mum kept in a box for me to watch when I wanted. She called my parents in to discuss my diary. My mum was horrified and explained we had also gone out shopping and seen family, none of which I had written about as it had not been important to me.

I am aware not all children become addicted to the TV like I did. I watch my two nephews, now, aged 3 and 6. One is exactly like me as a child-quiet, introvert and viewed as a little odd. While his younger brother is exactly like his mother. No attention span and prefers to be outdoors whizzing around.

5And of course not all TV is bad for us. Some of it is very educational. I learnt numbers, telling time and spelling from Sesame street and BCC’s The Bus Stop. As I grew older the travel and historical doumentaies showed me a world in more interesting and captivating detail than any classroom book could ever do. And I think back fondly of movie nights with friends or family, sat on the floor eating take out and watching a chick flick, or being taken to the cinema by my dad as a treat on birthdays.

5.jpgAnd good TV to this day still makes me think and inspires me to do and be better. For instance, last night Big Bang Theory Lenord inspired me to write this article, when lamenting with Sheldon that he has based his whole personality on the fictional character Spock “Well, now instead of idolizing fictional characters, you can focus on the real people who are already in your life.” I feel this is something I have been guilty of. Wondering why life did not play out the way I had been shown through the story lines on TV and often basing my actions or personality on different fictional characters.

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This twisted view of reality is something I feel everyday. My joy  of watching murder mysteries and detective shows was the reason why I was never completely comfortable at night or in the dark. Images of murders and rapists running through my mind.

I also enjoy shows about accomplishing a dream and succeeding. However this has made me feel that “anyone can become anything they want”. An idea I know, through harsh reality, to be completely wrong. With many people never being clever enough, or talented enough or the wrong personality to accomplish their dreams.

Instead, it is only now as a 30 something, that, as Leonard said, I try to take inspiration from the real people around me and judge my reality on the actual world and experiences I live through.

Another reason I would like to dissuade you away from a life of TV is its zombing effect. How unsocial-able, unmotivated and restrictive it makes people  How many times I have said to myself ” on the next break I will get up and do something” or ” just one more episode then I will go out”. If instead I turned the TV off and did all the things I should be doing instead, such as the cleaning or going for a walk or reading a book, how much more diverse and fulfilling my life would be.

I can remember spending weekends lying on the coach watching one repeat after the next and by the end of the day feeling fat from the food I had gorge on, my body drained off all life and energy, my brain zapped of all personality, unable to sleep and feeling like shit.

6This Christmas I was saddened and angered to see the TV on. I visited 3 different houses on Christmas day and each one had the TV blaring on in the background. Each addictive little black box showing a Christmas movie and at least one person sat in front of it, glued. Despite the fact they had seen the movie many times before and in the next room was their love ones talking and sharing seasonal celebrations.

On boxing day I had to laugh as your dad took nearly 30 minutes to pack the car for our journey home. Walking through the living room which had the Coronation Street Ominous on. I would watch him walk into the room, bag in his arms and suddenly be struck dumb, watching, opened mouth as the gripping story unfolded on the screen. “You don’t even watch Coronation Street!” I would shout to encourage him forward.

Now I know there will be those who will argue to you the TV is a relaxation tool that allows you to tune out for a while. And this is completely true and I do not begrudge anyone who at the end of a long days work likes to put their feet up and watch a programme or movie. However this should be for  1-2 hours a day, max! Not throughout the day!

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Convincing people of this in the present day though is hard. As we are living in an age were binge watching is  encouraged. Advert after advert encourages us to watched whole series in huge chunks. Giving up our weekends or being late for work in order to watch them. WHY! What possible benefit does this give us?  A walk in the fresh air, a swim, visiting our friends and family would be just as relaxing and far more beneficial.

This is why several months ago I decided to run a little personal experiment. I wanted to see if I could dramatically cut down the amount of time I spent in front of the TV. This had been prompted by not wanting you to pick up my habit of TV being a large source of entertainment and relaxation in your life.

As my experiment started I was disgusted by how much I did rely on the TV. It was one of the first things I touched in the morning and last thing at night. It took part in nearly all aspect of my day. While I was eating, cleaning, socialising and chilling.

I immediately  decided I would not have it on for “background noise”, where I was doing things and only half watching the TV. Instead I put the radio on. Being very irritated by my usual radio station that repeated the same songs throughout the day I started listening to other stations and have found several other shows and music generes I now enjoy listening to. Including classical music, talk shows and radio plays. I feel this has made me a much more rounded sense of music and culture.

I then decided I would only watch shows I really wanted to and would stop watching any old shit just to “fill the time”. Doing this really stream lined what I watched and how often. Eventually I found I was watching a lot less TV and if nothing was on I turned it off. This promoted me to downgrade my TV package which saved me £20 a month. My electricity bill also started coming down more, as although I had replaced TV with radio the radio is a lot less cheaper.

The other benefit is I find myself concentrating on more important issues than the TV and loving it. Im a better cook now I fully concentrate on the food and don’t “nip off” to watch a show. I play with you more, instead of sat half watching TV while you play on the floor. I get many “weekend jobs” done in the evening such as answering letters and emails or managing my budget more efficiently. I talk to your dad and concentrate on what he says, sitting in the kitchen, chewing the fat is a lot of fun.

I have not got rid of the TV completely. I still turn it on in the morning to watch the news when I’m feeding you and in the evening after dinner to chill out. And you father has convinced me that I should allow you to watch children’s TV on weekend mornings, as he has found memories of this as a child. Cereal on his pajama clad lap as he stared up at the screen. I also do find myself going to bed a little earlier in order to read or write as “there is nothing good on”. And I have refused your dads idea of having a TV in the bedroom/kitchen or bathroom.

Personally I am surprised to have found how easy it was to give up and how little I miss it. Instead I waver between being very irritated when I see it on and knowing that I have stuff to do-like a person talking none stop in your ear when your trying to think. And appreciating the good shows and movies that I allow myself to watch.

However I still have some strides to make. I would like to have dinner without a TV on and instead talk or listen to music. But your dad has said a big fat NO to this. The TV is on more than I would like at the weekend. Especially during these cold wet months were going out is unappealing and costs more than we can afford.  The trick I’ve found with this is to plan my weekend so as to avoid the TV or just live like it doesn’t exist.

As for you my darling daughter. I hope this article goes some way to explaining the life you will be leading and my decisions behind it. You will probably hate me at some point in your life for coming down harsh on TV and IPad (or there future equivalent). However you will not be completely restricted from it, as I can not control what happens in other peoples home, such as your grandparents and aunts house. But I do hope that you will come to see TV as a minor distraction in this big game of life. And that, unlike me, you will go out and play, socialise with friends and not let the real world pass you by.

Girls Running Hand in Hand

A Mother’s response to Terrorism

To my darling daughter

3This week Paris was the victim of a terrorist attack. I visited Paris In my early 20’s and was struck by the romance of it. The pink blossom trees, the music that filled the air, the art and grace of it all. It saddens me to think of the violence and chaos that its people and tourists have had to endure because of the deranged mind of an extremist.

I have read and heard many things since this terrible event struck. However one thing that angered me was a heavily pregnant woman writing online that this atrocious act had made her fear the world she was now bringing her daughter into. I have to admit for a while in my youth I too thought I would never have children as I did not want to bring a child into being that would have to live with all the hate, terror and evil of the world.

But to focus on the darkness means we never see the light.

This was demonstrated to me in 2011 when London was hit by riots. Our own people looted, ransacked and destroyed their city. People across the nation feared it would come to their cities as well. I remember leaving work early the second night of the riots as my employers were worried over their employees safety. In horror we watched as police went to war with the street fighters. Water cannons were eventually brought out and after a while things started to settled down. The entire country was either saddened or angry by what had happened. The newspapers started trying to find blame, the government, immigration, students and it all felt empty and rotten.

Then something amazing happened.

2The people of London came to the streets with their brooms, buckets and sponges and started to clean up the streets. Watching the shop keepers, bikers and homemakers mucking in and taking back their city and their dignity made me smile and remember that the whole world is not bad. It may seem that way when a few terrible idiots do something horrendous. But the vast majority of the world are good moral people trying to lead a pleasant life.

While pregnant with you a strong thought hit me. Once you were born my main job in life would be take care of you. Not just as a mother but as “a guardian”, to guide you, to keep you safe and healthy, give you an education and morals, to show you a good life and bring you a life filled of happy moments. 3The more I pondered this thought the more I realized that is what all people should do for one another. We need to take care of one another. My parents, grandparents , teachers and brownie leaders, all took care of me as a child and each played their part.  And as I became an adult I tried to do it back. Looking after my friends, sisters and boyfriends. Sometimes with great success and sometimes not.  Whatever the outcome we all tried to support one another, dance with them through the happy times and give a shoulder to cry on through the pain. It saddens me when I see homeless people as I believe there support system has failed them (either by their own doing or others lack of love) but they do act as warning signals as what becomes of us without the support and love of others.

As you grow I’m sure you will see more hatred and violence. I grew up in a world were the memory of Germans dropping bombs on your house was still fresh in my gran mothers mind, IRA in my parents and “war on terror” in my own. There will always be evil. However do not bow to it. Whenever these barbaric events happen I always remember the following. In WW2 Britain was hit by the Blitz, and Hitler tried to weaken the British moral by night after night of bombing. However, it backfired and only strengthened their resolve. The day after the 7 July London bus bombings Londoners were waiting for there buses to work. They refused to let the terrorist win. In 1996 Manchester was bomb by IRA. All I remember of it was a loud bang, no one being killed and the rejuvenation that happened to the city afterwards. New shopping centres and flats being built.

Yes there are evil people in this world. Corrupt governments that do shady deals rather then solve problems. Abusers who turn children into killers and manipulators who will let hundred of people die for their own self interest.

But there are also amazing people.

Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head for daring to be a girl seeking an education. She survived and now fights for the right of female education. Doreen Lawrence son was murdered in a racially motivated attack, started her own charity and reformed the police.  These woman show us that though the darkness of horror and abuse a light can still shine brightly.

5As amazing as these woman are thou honey there are other ways to help. Every year my boss goes to Africa to check up on the children he supports through education. This week your grandfather bought a sandwich for a homeless man in Brighton. Last month your father found a note on his car from a stranger who had pumped his flat tire. This month Auntie A is supporting a charity that gives toys to children from poverty families and you will be making a shoe box for a local families in distress.

So my darling girl. My advise to you is when the horror around you strikes. Do not dwell on the evil of it all and do not become numb to the pain and sadness. Instead light a candle. Say a pray. Kiss your love ones and tell them how you feel. Show your respect for the innocent that has gone to soon and think how you can help. It may be big, it may be small, it may be for the event itself, it may be to show love and kindness to others, but do something, for we are the quiet army, the soldiers of peace and we will not let the bastard’s win.

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Christmas Presents

To my darling daughter

5Buying presents at Christmas is something you will probably want to start doing when you get your first stint of pocket money. As a child buying presents for my love ones was fun. Thinking about what they liked and what I could afford.  Liquorice allsorts for my mum, socks for dad and Boots beauty boxes for sisters. But as an modern adult life tries to suck the love, thought and sacrifice out of these gifts and instead replace it with worry, shame and guilt. So honey hear is some advice I have for you on buying Christmas presents.

  1. Present buying should be heartfelt and fun.

The amount of people who get stressed at this time of year is staggering. Pushed into spending too much. I know people who work over time and extra weekend jobs to pay for this time of year. Buying gift after gift. So many mothers I know look at the pile of presents under the tree and wonder if it is enough?  (Enough for what?) Others will get into debt while those unable to buy, buy, buy will feel embarrassment and depression.

Why?

Because, the western world would have you believe the gifts you buy reflect on the success you have made of your life.

6In England we are bombarded with images, sounds and smells that all tell us to in order to have a good christmas and be seen as normal people we must pay, pay, pay!

And the guilt, of not living up to these commercialised standards (unlike English snow at Christmas) is laid thick. With the undertones of adverts hinting that however much money you spend on someone reflects how much they mean to you!

But, be aware honey, this is all a lie that has been fed to us to spend, spend spend. If we don’t,  we are scrooges who hate Christmas and who cant just have a good time.

2. Christmas is NOT about the presents

Christmas means many things to many people.

Looking back over my past Christmas the memories I cherish are of being with family. Waking up early and sharing the excitement, a special breakfast, a festive movie, a long winter walk, a stuffing dinner, drinking till you cant stand, laughing till it hurts, leftovers, board games, the queens speech and Christmas songs. I love how my mum tells the same stories every year and they are still hilarious. I love watching the dads assemble the gifts they bought the kids. I love watching the children play in the wrapping paper. I love assembling my little pile of presents and thinking where to put them and when and what I can spend my vouchers on.7

In fact the presents themselves rank very low in my favourite memories. This is not because I didn’t get a lot. I was a child of the 90’s and on Christmas morning the presents would spill out from under the tree, almost blocking the living room door. But, as a child, I really only remember two Christmas gifts. My Little pony and Design Wheel. I remember these as I loved them and used them everyday.

This is why I am so saddened when parents become stressed at this time of year. Trying to give their children a good Christmas. When really it means more to mum and dad then the kids.

3. Do not worry about “appearances”.

This is hard and something I still deal with. Especially in the world I live in of social media and live streaming Facebook seems to exist to show the world how “wonderful” your life is.8

Don’t get me wrong. I have pangs of jealousy when I find out the people around me have been brought expensive presents or have spent hundreds of pounds on their love ones, or have bought 11 present for each of their children.

But then I sit and wonder how happy are they really?

Did the person who buy it have to get into debt to afford it, see less of their love ones while working over time? Did the gift last or live up to expectations? Was it bought purely to make others jealous and then stuffed in a cupboard never to be used? Or did they truly love and cherish it and not care what others think. I have to wonder.

It seems to me getting the things we want or the flash expensive gift only brings us fleeting of happiness. And if the gift were to give any more depth of feeling does that not just show how shallow and limited  the person who places there happiness on it is.

4. Remember it has not ALWAYS been this way.

What I think annoys me the most about present giving at Christmas 9though is historically this need to buy more, buy bigger and buy more expensive is a new trend.I know my parents and grandparents tell very different stories of Christmas. Of feeling grateful for the one gift they got and playing with that all day. Perhaps it is something we adopted from the commercial loving Americans or perhaps it stems from the materialistic 80s. Either way this “tradition” of buying a lot of gifts is something we have made up, purely to feed the money gods. So the norms people are presenting of the indulgence and Christmas going hand in hand is simply not true and a norm only in that persons head.

5. Love can not be bought.

10Lastly I will not be buying a lot of gifts as I have a baby girl and I do not wish her to think my love and her happiness can be bought, wrapped and opened under a tree. I want her to know I love her all year round. That even if I was a billionaire there would never be a present I could buy to show my love. That there is more to us as people than the things we own. That there are children in our own city who will receive nothing this year and instead will be asking for a little peace and safety, rather then a trip to the toy shop. Of course she will be getting gifts, but I will refuse to feel like a bad mom for not spoiling her (even if it is just one day a year).

So instead of living by the current media rules of present buying-buy a lot, pay a lot and shop till you drop. I would like to suggest, honey, that when you feel yourself stressed by the modern world and all its pressures, you (at least momentarily) reject all its principals and instead make up your own norm.

Here is some of mine to help.

1.Buy as many presents as possible locally from independent shops.This puts money back into my local community, the money goes to people who need it and is  environmentally friendly, as products don’t have long to travel.

2.If I see something I like for someone throughout the year I keep it and place it in my Christmas box. That way I will have a little collection of things that shows I have thought of them all year long.

3.Any vouchers you get on which you want nothing, spend them on others. This will help financially and again show they have been thought of.

4.Save money for big presents you know people have longed for, buy in sales then store away. It will be a real surprise and make you giddy knowing how happy it will make them.

5.Listen to the people around you. When they say they want something get it. Don’t make a list-you never check it. And the pressure of woundering what to get the person you love so short notice can only lead to buying Christmas themed tat!

6.Buy present for people who have been a part of your life. Not the people you feel obliged to buy for. The ones that have helped and loved you throughout the year. This is a time to say a loving thank you to them. The others get last minute socks and pjs.

7.If you are good with your hands or have a skill try and use that as a Christmas present. Again it shows thought, personalisation and is usually a bit cheaper.

8. Don’t buy charity items unless the person is passionate about that charity. Yes it is morally right to spend your money on helping those less fortunate, rather than buying another pair of socks. However, its a sad fact of life that no one really apprechiates this.

9.Remember Christmas is one day of the year, don’t bankrupt yourself or feel stressed out. Those who love you will understand and know you give love to them all year round.11


 

Inspirational people 

To my darling daughter

Sally was another girl I met at work and her name suited her. She was long and tall. But she also looked Amazonian, toned arms and legs, long blond hair, piecing blue eyes and a “bony” face. But she wasn’t vain or boastful. Instead she was incredibly approachable and friendly. When I looked at her “Suddenly I See” by K.T Tunsell would snap on inside my brain.

I was 22 and was running the Business Centre for the brand new Hilton Hotel in Manchester. It was a very glamorous job. The first client I had was a famous boxer who used all the conference rooms to advertise his new fight and do a weigh in. There was plenty of press and hot bodies that day!

The building itself was also amazing and towered above the skyline. Everyone was intrigued by it. As its 1employee I used it as my own personal playground. I wondered all around. I got friends discounted hotel rooms, I had work friends I’d visit in the basement kitchen and sample some of the amazing food, take the lift up to Cloud 23 (on 23rd floor) on my lunch breaks, which was the hotels bar and had a glass hole in the floor that allowed you to view down to the swimming pool, 20 floors below! I used the gym and pool for free and met my mate Rachel (who was a gym instructor) there. I got to sample the new menu for the restaurant and loved to gorge on the fresh croissants and coffee we offered for guests in the morning.

The Hotel was ran by a very powerful woman called Brenda. With peroxide blond hair and bright red lippy. She could be an outrageous flirt and a forced to be reckoned with.

My uniform was a very tight blue dress and brown necktie, a massive step up from my previous kitchen and supermarket stuffy uniforms. And when I wasn’t busy hob nobbing with celebrities or running around the hotel, I would spent my time either flirting with the cute gym guys and hotel electricians or would chat away with my French co-worker.

1Looking back it all sounds very glamorous and it was a massive step up from the waitressing jobs I had been doing 3 months previously. However there was 2 problems

1.I was massively board. I often sat around all day with nothing to do and had not yet discovered the joys of the internet. The only thing that took up my spare time, was chatting to my work mates on the company’s internal messaging service. However we didn’t realise our conversations were being watched. So they were soon stopped once we were pulled into Brenda’s office and asked who “the drunk waiter with the drinking problem who steals the hotels wine was?” We were told we had to give him up or risked loosing out jobs-sorry Lawrence.

2.The hotel business is incredibly corrupt and the more outwardly glamorous the hotel the more rotten the core.

My boss was called Chris and he was a big heavy set man in his early 30’s who had a fiancé at home but tried it on with everyone at work. By the time I had left he was in an all out affair with a Team Leader, Samantha, who freely admitted she was sleeping with him to get a promotion.

My bosses second in command, Bill, was a lot more handsome but a bigger dick. He wore tight suits and pointy shoes and had no time for you unless he could get something out of you. Weather that be a pay rise, more power, an ego rub, sex or drugs. He was having a proper relationship with Samantha’s Second in Command, Claire-who was already eyeing Samantha’s job. I remember leaving the job shortly after catching Ben and Claire in the mixed toilets during the work Christmas party snorting coke of the basin sinks!

And although I had a few trysts while I was there I was not banging every Tom, Dick and Harry in the customer toilets during my lunch break as many of my bosses where.

In the end it was just not the place for me and I wanted to leave, but I didn’t know what my next step should be. I had finally worked my way up into a good position in a global business and I didn’t want to leave it for a shitty little job and I didn’t want to stay in hotel work where I knew the same sin lay. I was now university educated and I thought I might like to travel but other than that I was stuck.

Then she entered my life.

Sally.

It’s odd how the right people can come into your life just at the right time. Maybe its fate, maybe it’s because you are just keeping your eyes open that little bit wider.

She was a waitress and part of my job was to make sure the new waitress where aware of how to serve correctly (I had three years of waitressing behind me so I was an old hand). When I met Sally it was obvious she knew what she was doing, she had had plenty of experience and was very level headed. So I made her a Team Leader and we got chatting.

1It turned out she was a year older than me, had finished university two years ago and had also studied an English Degree. Since leaving Uni she had divided her time between England and the rest of the world. She was usually in England during the winter months when she could easily snag a waitress or bar job and see her family. But the rest of the time she worked as an ESOL teacher. I learnt this meant teaching foreign people English. During the summer months she got work in camps teaching children and the rest of the year she worked in schools and independent colleges teaching all ages.

During the quiet hours at work she told me how she had got her teaching qualification within a matter of months online and that is was quite cheap. Then she signed up to a couple of respectable ESOL teaching supplying business’s and had worked in America, Europe and Asia. She was now hoping for Australia or New Zealand. She gave me a few tips, like how some companies will pay for flights and set you up in a nice place during your stay. While others will put you on a plane, take your money and run as soon as you reach a foreign land. “Do your research” she said

As we talked a lightbulb clicked above my head and was getting brighter and brighter. This was the life I wanted. To teach people and be of some use. To travel and see the world. But return and see my family, friends and homeland from time to time. YES, YES, YES.

1What impressed me the most about all of this was SHE DID IT ALONE! She wasn’t relying on a boyfriend or friend to come with her. She planned and did it all herself, by herself. “Arnt you scared?” I asked “Don’t you worry?”

“No more than I should” She answered. “I keep my wits about me, do my research, I don’t put myself in dangerous or silly situations, I surround myself with friends I meet, If I feel scared I leave, I find out where my embassy is, my local police station etc. I don’t keep a lot of cash on me, I always let someone know where I am and I always keep my phone charged”.

“Sounds like me on a Saturday night” I thought

“Yes the world can be a dangerous and scary place and things do happen. But it can also be fun, friendly and inviting and to shut yourself away from it all in the fear of the darkness is no life at all” she finished.

Wow! Yes, yes and yes. I want that life.

But could I actually do it?1

To test myself I went to the one city I had always wanted to visit-Paris! I had planned to go after university with a friend, but she had pulled out last minute. I still had the cash saved, waiting for another time. Why not let the time be now! I did as Sally advised. I did my research, I found out about the dangers of Paris, I booked my hostel, got a tour book, found out the local embassy and I went for 4 days and 5 nights.

It was the beginning of one of the best adventures of my life.

1Yes I made a few silly mistakes. The hostel turned out to be on a back street where hookers hang out. Meaning I couldn’t walk down the street in the dark on my own. But next time I checked on google earth and read a few more reviews. Then there was the creepy stranger who followed me through Paris until I ducked into a posh hotel knowing the receptionist would speak English and would shoe him off. I started wearing a ring on my wedding finger, to stop getting attention on the underground and tried eating pigs totters stew-yuck!

But I did it! And I did it all alone!

From my conversations with Sally I went to Paris, which led me to leaving the hotel business and getting 2 teaching qualifications, this led to me working in Madrid for a year and teaching English for another year in England, then having a career in education for the next 4 years after that! True by the end it wasn’t what I wanted anymore but I wasn’t the same person as I had been at 22 bored and sick of the waste of human life around me. Is it any wonder Sally was like a angle in the darkness.

So darling. My advice is if you find yourself stuck in life, unsure of where to go or what to do, keep your eyes (and heart) open for some inspirational real women who can show you the way and guide you through the dangers. The power of speaking to these people is immense.

Thank you SALLY where ever you are.


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