Yesterday was my 28th birthday. I won't lie - I'd been mentally preparing for the jump from mid twenties to late twenties for a few months. And yes, I realise claiming 27 as mid twenties was already a stretch!
The trouble with getting older is there's a tendency to dwell on all the things you haven't done yet. Am I the only one who does this? Even though I've let go of all sorts of silly targets and built better goals for myself, I am prone to feel a failure at times. Getting older and not being where you thought you'd be can really screw with your head.
But - and in my case, it's a big one (steady now) - there is a saving grace. The older I get, the more I get out of what my parents have taught me. It's like some kind of timeshare that increases with value as the years go by. I bet they wish I had listened more ten years ago; but hey, I'm listening now. And I decided my birthday post shouldn't be about me - it should be about them.
Things I Learned From My Parents
1. You can always ask why - and you should
Curiosity killed no cats in my house. Curiosity led to hours poring over Dad's old Purnell's Science Encyclopaedia; making bottle rockets in the garden; and loud historical re-enactments loosely based on Horrible Histories. If I wanted to know something, I was never simply told 'it doesn't matter' or 'I don't know'. I was always taught that to be curious about the world is a good thing, and knowledge isn't only for passing tests.
2. Always resolve your arguments
'Don't let the sun go down on an argument' was not one of my mother's mottos. That's because the sun was hardly allowed to continue through the sky until a quarrel had been resolved. The guilty parties would be escorted to another room to discuss their differences and return when an amicable agreement had been reached, and genuine apologies given. My mum taught me that it's always best to be the one who takes the initiative to resolve a hurt, even if it isn't entirely your fault. She also taught me the value of forgiveness - that it helps you let go of burdens you've been carrying.
3. You can be both a realist and a dreamer
I'd say both my parents inhabit a world of beautiful balance between imagination, aspiration, and practicality. I suspect they'd both say they haven't always been that way and it's probably a case of hope and experience converging over time. There's a distinct joy in their ability to spring creativity out of seemingly nowhere, but still have their feet planted on the ground. I always dreamed big - but they taught me to work hard, too. Not all things are possible, but I always felt they showed me there's more harm in having no vision at all. Over the years I've seen them face practical and personal difficulties with faith but also with their sleeves rolled up, with no fear of hardship when the end goal was worthwhile.
4. Love takes work, so make time to work on it
Contrary to the popular belief that true love is just 'right' and should never be difficult, my parents told me and showed me that good relationships are about what you put into them. With five children by the time they were in their early thirties, finding time to have an uninterrupted shower let alone a proper conversation must have seemed like the holy grail. Without fail, they had a night a week that was 'our evening', and a strict early bed policy for us. Even if they did more paperwork than watching Frasier, they kept it sacred. It was just one of many little things they invested time and energy in to make sure they worked at loving each other in fact and not just in word.
5. Let people see that you are not perfect
Of course, as a kid you see your parents interact on a daily basis. Only superhuman parents could come off as right all the time! But I bet it's tempting to try. Parents play a huge role in how we see grownups, and admitting they got things wrong sometimes was one of the best things my mum and dad could have done. They showed humility, the ability to learn from mistakes, and importantly taught me that it would do me better to own up to my errors than try and make people think I had it all together. This is a lesson I am still learning!
6. There is always time for reading
I'm a bookworm by nature, so this hasn't been hard for me. But my parents read to us even when we were tiny, too young perhaps to grasp every story. And it wasn't just schoolbooks - we worked through the entire Narnia series, classic Rosemary Sutcliff historical drama, and a lot of Asterix and Obelix for good measure (with dad doing all the voices, obviously). Bedtime wasn't complete without a story, and on the odd occasion at 11/12 years old that I was handed the storytime baton, I considered it a privilege to be responsible for such an important ritual.
7. That family rituals are the simplest form of magic
The bedtime story was only one of many rituals we held. Sacred too were family dinnertime, family movie night, walks on the Quantock hills to see the wild ponies, and a whole host of other moments. On our birthdays we'd be served breakfast in bed and the whole family would crowd in to watch us open our cards. The night before, someone in the family would run us a bubble bath and provide snacks and music for us to enjoy with it. On Christmas Day, we had 'wise man's boxes' which we opened together before breakfast. There are more rituals than I can list, and all carry fond memories. More than that, they were bonding experiences that will never be replaced or bettered.
8. It's good to rely on the people you love
My mum and dad are a wonderful example of strong people who choose to rely on one another. There's a great beauty in their willingness to be vulnerable with the people they trust, because they understand that to get the best out of relationships you have to be willing to be open. They never pretended it would be easy - plenty of times I've cried with my mum over some upset with someone I trusted, even if it was a childish nothing in retrospect! But I don't regret being trusting. It's stood me in good stead, and helped me to build meaningful relationships that have real depth to them.
Twenty eight years and a day since my parents became parents (to a little screaming being they could hold, anyway), I want to honour and thank them for the lessons they have taught me. They truly are remarkable and I would not be who I am, in more senses than one, without them.