I was recently clearing out an old laptop when I found a letter to my niece, written a few hours after she was born, in June 2012.
Amaia was the first of all my nieces and nephews and I doted on her. (I have now six nieces and nephews, alongside my own two children. We’re a very active family.)
I first posted this 8 years ago when Britain was celebrating the Olympics and the Jubilee. It was a very different time in the country but I like to think the words still ring true. Maybe even more so now.
NOTE: It is important to note this was written more than a year before Kerri and I got together and I have made a rough edit to highlight that.
A Letter To My Niece – June 2012
As I write this you are only 1 day old and have already been on an amazing journey. You have finally met your Mummy and Daddy, your Grandma and Grandad, and me. Oh, I’m your Uncle Al by the way. Actually, I think I’d prefer to be called your Uncle Alistair. I imagine the name Alistair will be quite hard for you to pronounce as you learn to speak, and will result in you coming up with your own name for me which sounds like my actual name but isn’t actually my name. (You know, like when people have to explain the history of their name stemming from a childhood misunderstanding which is particular only to them and their family. Sorry, of course you don’t know; you’re only 1 day old.)
As I held you for the first time and looked into your eyes (I was wearing the checked shirt that you were staring at; I think you quite liked it), it amazed me just how much you will learn; also how much will simply be the norm for you. For instance, you will probably just accept that pre-packaged cheddar cheese with Branston Pickle mixed in is something that has always been in your life. Why would you think any differently if it’s just always been around since you were born? You probably won’t even think twice about it until, one day at school, you are learning about life in England before the millennium and discover that you had to buy Branston Pickle separately (and in a jar) to put ON TOP of your cheddar. (If you have to do a practical about this then call me and I’ll be there to help out). This is all part of food evolution. That said, there is this woman called Aunt Bessie who thinks it is acceptable to make mass-produced frozen Yorkshire puddings. It isn’t. Although, as someone with Yorkshire blood, you probably will know this before you know many things more.
You have arrived at quite an amazing time in the existence of your two nations, Amaia. Your paternal nation of Syria is facing great difficulties and unrest; whilst your maternal homeland of Britain is covering everything in flags and different coloured icing by way of celebration. Both of these situations, as preposterous as they may seem for varying reasons to your mind which is still innocent and bereft of judgment, have been brought about by grown adults.
The trouble with us adults, Amaia, is that we tend to learn things; yet still remain uneducated in so many ways.
(That said, we are educated enough to come up with Branston Pickle Cheese and different coloured icing, so we do have our moments.) As you are still only a few hours old at the time of my writing, you have yet to form opinions (except that you like milk and, obviously, my checked shirt) but I hope that when you do, you understand that love, compassion and the well-being of others are the most important things any individual or nation can afford each other. Those and bunting.
I find it amazing to think that, at 1 day old, there is still so much – almost everything – which you are still to learn. I envy you that you haven’t heard Frank Sinatra for the first time or The Beatles for the 100th. I can barely comprehend that you have yet to experience what an egg is; despite having being one for a lot of your time on this planet. (A lot of people will tell you that you spent time in your Mummy’s tummy but you didn’t; you spent time growing from an egg in her womb. These people just feel too awkward to explain what the womb is and that is why we have Wikipedia).
One of the memories I have of growing up with your Mummy is painting faces on eggs and rolling them down hills. I wonder what will come first for you: painting faces on the egg; or knowing that’s where chickens come from.
There will be times as you grow up that you may hear people say, “The world is a scary place”. I can tell you now that it isn’t. The world is actually a happy, beautiful and amazing place. To prove what a great place the world is, we have news programmes on most of our TV channels which run for less than 30 minutes. (They tend to be on when you should be in bed – depending at what age you’re reading this.) The entire programmes can’t even be filled with bad news because, invariably, they tend to finish with a good story.
The reason they focus on bad stories is because if the news was made up of all the good things happening in the world, there simply wouldn’t be time in the TV schedule to fit it all in: this is why they concentrate on only the handful of bad things. Feel free to remind anyone who tells you “the world is a bad place” of this fact, and try to remember it yourself whenever you’re worried of the same thing.
I hope that, as you grow throughout life, you realise just how extremely silly it is.
When it comes down to it there are few things that truly matter, but I hope what you decide truly matters, matters to you with your whole heart and soul. I would say the things that truly matter are love, family and friends (although feel free to add “cheese” to that list too). There are a whole range of things that are important; but what is important isn’t the same as what matters.
For example, it is almost certain that you will hear your parents (or even me and your Auntie) argue at some point in your life. It won’t always matter but, to those involved, it will seem highly important at the time. I hope that when you are old enough to realise that honesty is a precious gift between two people, you’ll feel warm inside knowing that the adults in your life respected and loved each other enough to share their views and opinions with each other, face-to-face. (I also hope that the Auntie I have mentioned is
Emmanuelle Chriqui from Entourage Kerri because that would be ace).
There will be times when it is important to stand up for the things that matter to you. Similarly, there will be times to smile, nod and walk away because you’ll also realise that proving your point, in certain situations, doesn’t really matter. (Such a time will be if you are ever stopped for speeding. Trust me, it is cheaper that way).
The great thing about your journey is that you still have yet to decide your parameters. Is life hard or is it easy? Again, you get to decide your own definitions of each. There are clearly some people in the world for whom opening a jar of pickle and spreading it upon cheese, which they have had to slice themselves, was too hard. These people have had to go and create a pre-packaged cheese which encompasses both cheese and pickle in one slice in order to make life easier. However, it is inevitable that these same people will find the buttering of their own bread, and the removal of the slices from its packaging, too much effort eventually. These are the sort of people who will claim life is tough. You’ll learn and decide throughout your life whether or not you agree or disagree with these people but, for me, the people who developed (and, indeed, who buy) readily mixed cheese and pickle slices are missing out. For them there is no choosing how much pickle they put on their sandwich; or how thick they get to slice their cheese.
On the whole life can either be seen as hard or full of challenging and enjoyable opportunities. I suppose the lesson here, Amaia, is that it all just comes down to how much cheese you want to eat.
There will be times in your life where you encounter love and romance. On the subject of boys or girls… it’s a subject best left with your Mum and Dad to deal with.
Suffice to say that if a boy tells you that The Notebook is one of his favourite films, for all it may be, it’s a cunning rouse to get you to see his sensitive side. Don’t fall for it.
The only thing I would say – and it took me probably 30 more years than you’ve been alive to realise this – is that you should only ever be with someone who makes you feel better than you already feel about yourself, and with someone who you want to make feel as special as they make you (if not more so). Of course, I write this having not yet married
Emmanuelle Chriqui from Entourage Kerri so feel free to ignore my ramblings on this subject. (Not The Notebook bit though. Don’t ask how I know; I just know).
Although life is amazingly brilliant on a day-to-day basis and, as much as I hope that the heartache you face in your life is miniscule and rare; it will come. At these times, never apologise for how you feel. You can’t help or control how you feel and those around you who love you will never expect you to.
Bathe in the memories of the good times because, as life continues – and it always continues – the good memories will far outweigh the negative ones. Good memories have amazing healing powers. Good memories and cups of tea with two sugars. And bunting.
A wise friend of mine… Hold on, I have just realised something: you haven’t even met friends your own age yet!! That is going to be an AMAZING thing for you. Seriously, life begins to really open up when you make friends.
The best thing about friends is that the true ones will stay with you throughout your life but you can also make new ones along the way. There isn’t a limit to how many friends you have (unless you’re on Facebook) and the amount of random fun you can enjoy together. Friends are BRILLIANT. You will laugh, cry and have a multitude of bizarre episodes with them that only you will be able to understand together. Amazing.
Now, where was I… ah yes, “A wise friend of mine…”.
A wise friend of mine once told me that “sometimes life gets in the way”. Realistically that is true. So, if you can: appreciate as much as you learn; make others smile (it’s amazing how much that makes you smile in return); don’t be afraid to make mistakes (making mistakes is how you learn in the most effective way); follow your dreams (however impossible they may seem); and try to find the positive in every situation. It is all easier said than done but I hope you discover along the way that, actually, it isn’t that much easier said than done after all.
So, Amaia, Here’s What I Have Learnt Today: I hope you never stop learning. I hope every day brings you more love than the day before and more laughter than you expected. I hope you have experiences that fill your heart with happiness and that your choices lead you on a path that fascinates you. I hope you can giggle at the absurdity of life and display compassion to the people who are unable to. Above all, Amaia, I hope you are happy.
Welcome to the world, little niece: I think you’re going to like it here.
Uncle Al xxx