An open letter to my daughters

Spot the differenceLook after each other, for the fact you are twins is a miracle. It is a joy watching you now, as babies. Already you can make each other laugh, and you gaze with fond concern when your sister cries. Don’t lose that. Share the good, and the bad.

Know that you are beautiful, but don’t act like it.

If you ever feel trapped – in a situation, or a relationship – shout. I have a drawer full of keys.

Unmotherly as it may seem, I wish for you just a little misfortune – just a little – so that you may grow stronger, and better armed to deal with life’s arrows. But not so impermeable that no one can get in.

Find the Wonderland on your side of the fence. Don’t fall prey to thinking that somewhere out there someone is having a better time. In all likelihood, they’re probably thinking the same.

Anger can be healthy. It’s what you do with it that sometimes isn’t.

Know that you already have a knight in shining armour, and that’s your giant brother, who loved you like his own before you were born. But even though he may be bigger and hairier, look after him too. Not least because, unlike you, he had to put up with 100% of my nagging, on his own, for 18 years…

Be a little bit mysterious.

Seek out the company of your elders, and their counsel. Respect them and learn from them because, alien as they seem, they were once you and there is precious little that they won’t, through the simple fact of more experience, know how to deal with, or how not to.

Be polite. Sincere charm will take you a long way, and it warms people.

Enjoy your gorgeousness. In your twenties you will pine for your teenaged body. In your thirties, for your twenties. And in your dotage, you’ll just yearn for one that works. Have fun now. Wear a bikini. Flaunt a mini. And I’ll wink at you behind Daddy’s back when he says you’re not going out like that.

If you bottle things up, they ferment.

Know that, whatever storms you’re facing, they will, eventually, blow themselves out. THIS SHALL PASS. Sometimes life can be genuinely unbearable, and the world a black darker than any colour you’ve seen. Crises do have a tendency as well, like buses, to come in three. But things WILL get better, I promise you my darlings, and when life is a cosmic hurricane just come and shelter in my arms awhile.

Know one delicious dinner party dish, and one poem, off by heart.

Never try to look like someone else. You can’t; you’re you. Take care of your appearance, but not too much. Be groomed, and wear lovely things, but don’t be a slave to it.

Find a cause you believe in, and campaign for it; find a hobby that’s satisfying, and work at it so you enjoy it more and more.

The words of the alcoholics’ prayer (Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference) are a useful guide in general for life, particularly if you replace ‘things’ with ‘peopl’e, and therefore develop the wisdom to know that the only person you can ever change is you. Years can be wasted trying to change people. They are as immutable as the tides.

Be kind. But not a people pleaser. You are the most important person in your world.

Do the hardest thing first each day, as that way everything’s downhill, without it hanging over you and spoiling all the nice things.

Never settle with someone that you do not love. Never think, well, I could do worse. You are the best in the world at being you, and you deserve the best. You deserve to ache when they’re not with you, for there to be nothing better in the world than having your head stroked on their lap while you read the Sunday papers and munch toast, to have hours feel like minutes when you’re just pootling round a foreign city together, doing nothing much at all. To think that you have lucked out finding them, that they’re out of your league, and for them, brilliantly, to think exactly the same.

Give yourself a little treat each day. Just because.

Make lists. When you feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume to work through, break everything into chunks, and include the most minor and practical – eg polish shoes, make bed – so that you can give yourself a satisfying boost by ticking them off.

Enjoy your own company.

Do your important learning while you are still young. So driving, languages etc. It gets so much harder as you get older not just to absorb new knowledge but also to accept someone else telling you what to do.

If you’re going to use something often, and for a long time, spend as much as you can afford on it. For all other purchases, be penny-watching.

Do more of what makes you happy. But also do something you don’t want to do, that’s boring but necessary, or scary but exciting, every day.

Travel. This is a big old planet we live on, full of the deliciously ordinary, as well as the intoxicatingly extraordinary. Drink it all in. As well as being just loads of fun, it will give you perspective, and increases your chance of finding people and things that make you happy. And when you can’t travel, take a long swim in BBC2/4 and Radio 4. There are almost 7bn people out there who don’t have the BBC, and are bereft.

Learn to forgive. Bitterness, frustration, regret, spite and resentment are bitter vials. And indulging in them is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.

Write letters. They are one of the best examples of the effect being disproportionate to the effort.

Accept that the societal and family odds dictate that one of you will probably develop a mental illness at some point, whether that be anxiety, depression or addiction. That isn’t because you’re weak or immoral, you’re just ill. Watch out for the signs of it in each other and yourself, and ask for help as soon as possible. Whatever it is, wonderfully, it will be treatable, and you will be all the richer for it as you will know yourself better.

Do a good turn every day. You get bonus points if the recipient doesn’t know it was you.

Invest as much time in friendships as you do in romantic relationships. The odds of your first boyfriend being with you at 70 are as slim as me giving up cheese. But if you make an effort with friends in your teens and twenties, they’ll be there to put your heart back together, each and every time. If you don’t, you run the risk of fleeing one relationship to fall straight into another, purely to combat loneliness. Surround yourself with love, so you’re not always looking for it.

Make peace with yourself, and others, before you sleep. That way your head rests on a soft pillow.

Make sure there is nothing of you on the internet that you wouldn’t want a prospective employer, or your father, to see. And while we’re talking wild nights, remember that if your lover won’ t use a condom, they’re not your lover.

Yesterday has been and gone. There is nothing you can do to change it, though you can make amends if you hurt someone. Tomorrow is unknown, and you can but hope and wonder. But today, today you CAN do something, and that’s to be the best you that you can be.

Be grateful that you have been born women, though often that can feel tough. Hopefully my generation and those before have made it a bit smoother for you but I have to be honest, it IS harder to thrive on this planet as a girl. We have to do everything men do with less muscles, thinner skin and higher heels. But never feel less, and never let someone tell you that you are less. We are different, but equal. Relish the fight, because we are stronger in so many ways, not least our ability to see with another’s eyes, to hold and be held, to bend, to love.

Read. Read. READ. The human brain is more wonderful than anything on this earth, and a book is a privileged insight into someone else’s, that makes yours keener in the process.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned work yet. Work to live. Find something you enjoy doing, that makes you feel your contribution to the world is a positive one, and that earns you enough money to be able to push a trolley round a supermarket without mentally totting up its contents, to keep any children you have sheltered, fed and warm, and to live in a lovely house surrounded by beautiful and functional things that make you smile each time you pass or use them. No more, and no less.

Point out to your mother that there is not a single one of these rules that she has not broken at one time or another, but she does try, and that’s all she asks of you.

You are twins, a blessing to your parents, and a blessing to each other. You have another half, literally. You will fight like hyenas, I am sure. You will know exactly how to hurt each other. But the reason you know is because you know each other more deeply than any human being ever can. You have swum together as spirits longer than anyone else has or will. And therefore you can protect, soothe, love and enjoy each other perfectly. Whilst standing next to each other on the battlefield though make sure that it doesn’t become a perennial cry of you two versus the world. Let other people join in, and try not to be jealous.

And finally, know this my darlings, that there is nothing you could do – NOTHING – that could make me love you any less. I may rage at you, I may despair, but it will all be at the hurt you are causing yourselves. My love is a constant, and an absolute. That Daddy and I love you, and always will, is the one guarantee you have in this world. So go out and be brave and magnificent, in the knowledge that we are here, waiting, with a hug and a hot chocolate. Make this world better. It already is, simply because it has you.

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