Who’s kidding who?

Monday, July 30, 2012

There’s a fashion at the moment for people to write letters to their 18 year old selves, sharing the wisdom of how things turned out to reassure their young selves that they would get through.

But I wonder if a more interesting letter might be from our 8 or 10 year old selves to who we are now?

I say that having just watched Disney’s The Kid, in which 8 and 40-year-old versions of Bruce Willis get to meet and learn about each other. Both are dismayed.

To the 40 year old ‘image consultant’ (‘so your job is to make people be someone they’re not?) the 8-year- old is an embarrassing failure: overweight, under-achieving, friendless and clueless.

Through the 8-year-old’s eyes the sins of the 40-year-old are far greater. “So we never flew planes?” “We’re not married; we live alone?” “We never even got a DOG?!!” In the child’s eyes you can see fury and disbelief. What were all those years of struggling for, miserable, being bullied, losing his mum to cancer before he was 9, if he was STILL going to end up friendless and clueless.

The adult’s designer suits, immaculate apartment, successful career: none of them impress the boy. Shaking his head he delivers his verdict. “I’m going to grow up to be a loser.”

A moment with my 8-year-old

I wonder, what would an 8-year -old version of me think?

Of course some of the things we dream for ourselves change. I think the 8-year-old Jane would be fine about me not becoming a showjumping champion. Her heroes and heroines - David Brooome, Harvey Smith and co, were from a world so different from her own she never identified with them enough to believe in that dream. Instead, she’d be thrilled to know she was going to write books, if a little puzzled by their serious subjects. Her taste was for Enid Blyton and Just William and anything that promised adventure. 

As for being told alongside the books there were almost two decades ‘in communications’: she’d simply look blank. I’m not sure that job existed five decades ago, and even if it did she’d have thought it boring. Which is sort of the conclusion I’ve come to too.

She’d also be puzzled, and maybe sad, to discover there was no great love story ahead, no happy ever after as she understood it. But then at 8 she didn’t know what lay ahead in her parents’ lives, and how profoundly its fallout would determine her own ideas on relationships.

Putting my older and wiser hat aside for a moment I return her sadness. As Bruce Willis decides, maybe the child is right on that one. Maybe that’s an area where it wouldn’t hurt to hear the 8-year-old out sometimes, and let go a little more.

Growing pains

On the whole I think she’d be excited to know what adventures lay ahead: the travel and moving around the UK; the journeys and the jobs and the people and the huge richness of it all. AND we’re still only 55.

But there’s one area where I know she’d be disappointed. One of the reasons she’d be happy to let the showjumping go is because however much she loved visiting the riding stables she never felt she was good enough or that she fitted in, however hard she tried. 

It was the same at school, where she was nervous and uncertain, attaching herself to those who seemed to know what they were about, wanting to be liked, but so fearful of so many things.

Like every child, she thought that it would all be different once she’d grown up. How devastating to discover life would only bring more and more growing. Never a point at which she’d be able to dust off her hands, look around at her life, and say ‘job done; I’ve finished growing up and I’m not scared anymore’.

I need to talk to her about this and tell her that while she’s right - I should be less fearful - the thing I’m working on now is NOT trying to fit in. Being who I really am, and letting go of the internal ‘image consultant’.

From the mouths of babes

I love the way this film turns growing up on its head. At 8, 10, even 18, we can be forgiven all our fears and failures. We don’t know any better. We’re the products of our upbringing and our society and we’re simply doing our very, very best. We deserve understanding and compassion. And we deserve the grown-ups around us to believe in us - precisely what Bruce Willis fails to do for his young self.

At 40 we still deserve compassion and understanding. But if we’re looking for people to believe in us we need to start by believing in ourselves.

And maybe a good place to start is by asking ourselves what the child we once were would make of what we’ve made of our lives. And perhaps even give them a say in what happens next…

Posted by Jane Matthews on 07/30 at 10:24 AM
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Alphabet therapy

Monday, July 23, 2012

It’s many years since I’ve had to conjure up car games to keep the little ones amused on a trek up north to see my sister. Since most of the miles were on motorway my options were distinctly limited. No pub cricket (you score the number of legs appearing in the pub sign) and very little scope even for i-spy.

Most of the time we were reduced to endless games of I went shopping and I bought…. moving through the alphabet from A (always apples) to Z (always a struggle!)

I only remembered how boring that was when I spotted on a friend’s timeline her A-Z of depressing words - despond, morose, unremitting…you get the idea, and I can’t resist a special mention for ‘nylon’ which sneaks into her list on the grounds that it really is too depressing to leave out.

If only I’d read this 15 years ago how much more fun would those car journeys have been. The A-Z of people/things you’d like to be stuck in a lift with perhaps. Or, in tribute to that ‘nylon’, how about the A-Z of clothes you wouldn’t be seen dead in? An a-z bucket list maybe, or, if you’re feeling ambitious, an a-z of things that have changed your life.

For now, as I sit idling at my laptop, staring out of the window in search of excuses to be distracted, I’ll settle for an A-Z of words that make me feel good.
And hopefully, will make you feel good too:

A is for allow
B is for breathe
C is for compassion (and also chocolate)
D is delight
E is for enthusiasm
F is for faith
G is for glee
H is for heartfelt (or) anything with heart in it
I is for intimate
J is for joy
K is for Kilimanjaro (it’s personal; you’ll have to trust me on this one)
L is for lusciousness
M is for miracle
N is for nibble
O is for original
P is for peace
Q is for quiet (how lovely that they follow each other)
R is for rich
S is for soft
T is for trust
U is for unconditional
V is for violet
W is for wisdom
X is for xxxx (lots of them)
Y is for you 
Z is for zzz (which always makes things seem a little brighter)

Posted by Jane Matthews on 07/23 at 04:59 PM
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