Show More Than You Tell

There is a well-known writing mantra “show don’t tell” that applies equally well in life.  What you show people with your actions informs them about you far more than what you tell them about yourself.

Now just to be clear I’m not advocating for less talking, anyone who has met me knows that I will pretty much narrate my entire day to anyone who’ll listen, but what I am saying is people need to SEE who you are, as well as hear it.

Most people who care about each other, friends and relatives alike, show their respect for one another by consulting each other on matters than concern them both. 

It’s not always straightforward, admittedly. 

When arranging to meet up most people stipulate a few available dates.  Naturally, the other person won’t be able to make any of those dates, so they’ll then suggest some alternatives.  You then both get out your diaries and 4 short hours later you’ll have arranged to meet 2 months on Wednesday!

That’s how most people do things.  It is of course not how Grandad El Paso does things.  He likes to start with an angry answer-phone message to suggest he’s not at fault.

Then he makes an offer you can’t refuse, but still might not receive.

Am I being unfair?  I mean, sometimes he rings for a chat …when he’s stuck in traffic.  Also, if he’s stuck on a train, or- no, it’s pretty much only when he’s stuck en-route somewhere.  Nothing says “I love you” like “I had some time on my hands so I might as well”.

Still, when he does eventually turn up for a visit, every three months or so, it is of course the quality of the time we spend together that counts.  When he walks through that door, looks me in the eye, waves his phone at me and says:-

I choose to believe that him doing his phone admin the second he walks through my door is just his way of letting me know he cares, because clearly he’s really inconvenienced himself to come and visit us.

Whilst I maintain that the dog is definitely Grandma’s favourite child, she does tell us and show us she cares, in a variety of ways.  She voluntarily babysits (ha-ha fool!) and she brings us regular food parcels of fruit …although that could just be a comment on our eating habits? 

Also she tells me I don’t open my windows often enough – which tells me that she cares enough to look over and check up on us.  To maintain this beautiful ritual, and to let her know I care, I only open the ones she can’t see from her house.

So, if you want people to know who you really are, or you want them to know how much you care, don’t just tell them, SHOW them.

Where’s E.T.?

Grandad almost always buys you fabulous gifts, partly because he loves you, and partly because he wants to OWN your happiness (for further details on his behaviour with gifts please see my previous post “How to Respond to Gifts“).

Despite all this, occasionally Grandad gets it very wrong.  This is usually because the bargain-hunter part of his brain has wrestled the controls from the mafia-boss.

Recently, knowing your love of Sci-Fi, Grandad bought a second-hand, multi-stained, homemade, E.T. toy for you from his local car-boot sale – I can only assume located somewhere in the ninth circle of hell. 

I know what you’re thinking; what child wouldn’t want a misshapen corduroy alien smeared with mysterious brown stains, smelling of mould?  

As Grandad attempted to hand you this sack of botulism, I physically stepped between you looking so horrified that even he realised the gift wasn’t entirely appropriate.

I didn’t actually say this last bit out loud (unless saying it with my face counts?)

Gratitude

You’re right, the above does sound a bit ungrateful as Grandad’s intentions were good (if you ignore the part where he wants to own your happiness anyway). 

When someone gives you a gift that’s not something you really need or want, you should thank the giver politely.  When someone gives you a gift from a car-boot sale that smells, drips, and is covered in miscellaneous stains, it’s ok not to look too impressed.

Please note, in both situations, ALWAYS wait until they leave to burn the gift.

Normal Human

I spend quite a lot of time joking that you need to behave like a normal human.  I say joking, I do of course mean screaming.  The reason I get so upset by your unruly behaviour is because you have inherited it almost exclusively from me.

Don’t get me wrong, your Dad is also a weirdo, but ultimately he’s a much more normal weirdo than me.  However, I’m kind of lying because, and here’s the thing, EVERYONE is a total weirdo.

Ultimately, there is no such thing as a normal human.  Social convention dictates that in public we should behave a certain way, and some of us (specifically us) are slower to learn or take notice of those social edicts than others.

But in truth, we are all different and all break social rules sometimes.  Those who break them less often and less obviously might be considered more “normal” but they’re not, they’re just better at hiding the weird.

In my life I have experienced a certain amount of difficulty through not immediately conforming to behaviour that is expected of me, and because of that I try to get you to moderate your behaviour so you can avoid that same difficulty.  For example, I would not recommend going to school dressed as the Australian flag, just because you already made the outfit and you felt like it.

That doesn’t mean I think you should always conform to social convention – see my Be Yourself post for more thoughts on that.  What I’m trying to say in this post is, don’t feel weird because you’re different, everyone is unique, but don’t expect a round of applause when you break with social convention.

Every single person out there is a bit odd.  Different, unique, special, crazy, whatever you want to call it, we are all that, because there is no such thing as a “normal human”.  It’s a big myth, more so than Bigfoot, because there haven’t even ever been any reported sightings of one.

At this point someone will usually say or think “I see people who seem normal all the time?”  To those people I say, search your gut-feelings, they aren’t normal are they?  Somewhere deep-down we all know that the people that seem most normal are the least normal of all. 

Anyone can pretend to be a normal human, that’s why I ask you to try to do it so often.  Never think you know everything about someone because you know something about them.  People do actually purposefully try to present a different façade to how they feel inside.

Grandad for example, in my lifetime at least 3 people have told me what an all-round regular guy he is!?!   I can only assume they’ve not yet spent the requisite length of time with him for him to lose it and call them the C-word for little or no reason.  Certainly I would venture that he’s never dangled THEM over a castle wall to cure their fear of heights.

A colleague of mine, who used to be a colleague of his, once told me that I’d probably got a very one-sided view of him because my parents were divorced.  She’d spent a couple of years working in the same building as him, whereas I’d only been his actual daughter for 44 years, so of course she had every right to think she knew him better.

Never berate yourself for being or feeling different, but that still doesn’t mean that you should clean your teeth whilst doing a headstand.  A great many social conventions exist for a reason, in this case to stop toothpaste dripping into your eyes.

Also, a super-market trip is far quicker and less eventful if you don’t launch into your full Nickelback repertoire whilst using the trolley as a scooter.

How To Respond To Gifts

If you want to really upset Auntie Kate or I, give us a gift that we can’t give a literal equal response to.  We are incredibly awkward around gifts anyway, but we are especially messed up around unequal giving. 

Why?  Well this is quite obviously another Grandad El Paso story.  Normal people give gifts because they want to see you happy.  Grandad gives gifts because he wants to OWN your happiness, which is a very different thing. 

If Grandad has given you a gift, he wants to see the kind of gratitude usually reserved for being rescued from the jaws of a Kraken.  Also, Grandad will remind you of the happiness he has provided and will call in favours against it for years after, like Don Corleone.

Unfortunately, from this we have developed a Pavlovian response that gifts “bring pain” or at the very least require aggressively reciprocal gifts to negate the power of the original gift.  These are of course completely INAPPROPRIATE responses to gifts from NORMAL people. 

So, here comes the “do as I say, not as I do” advice.  If a normal person gives you something amazing they probably just want to make you happy.  So, simply show them that they have made you happy and say thank you, rather than panic and splutter that you can’t afford anything of equal value for them. 

If someone (Grandad) gives you a gift because they want something in return, then that is their problem, they should not have declared it to be a gift.  In any barter system worth it’s salt, the choice of what you are bartering away has to be known up front in the agreement, otherwise it is less bartering, more extortion.

That is not to say you shouldn’t reciprocate gifts, but you should do so because you want to make that person happy not because you owe them an equal amount of happiness.  Gifts should be a voluntary and benevolent act, not a straight-up swap, and certainly not a bargaining chip.

Most people are NOT Grandad and when they do something nice for you they are simply trying to spread a bit of joy in the world.  Help them spread that joy by experiencing the joy and then pay it forward when and to whomever you can.   

Disclaimer – Grandad has never really asked us to kill anyone, neither have we ever offered. 

Wildly Cautious

With one parent whose attitude to life is incredibly wild (Grandad El Paso) and another who is fairly cautious (Grandma Tiny-Face) you might expect that Auntie Kate and I would be at least a little wild.

In actual fact, Kate and I would be better described instead as “wildly cautious”.  We take caution TO THE EXTREME!  There are very few people, even very few health and safety officials, that are wilder about being cautious than we are.  We are COMPLETELY 100% risk averse.

In our defence I’d like to give some examples of the parenting we experienced, so that you can at least understand where these wild levels of caution began.  Also, as I still don’t have the balance right yet, there’s a pretty strong chance that you’re going to grow up with some “issues” in that area.  I’m not saying explaining it will help, but hey, who doesn’t love a good origin story?

Holy Toledo 

I think we’ll start with a Grandad El Paso story because, well, there are so very many of those to choose from.  First, our trip to Devon when I was five and Kate was around three.   

It was a long journey from the Midlands, but with Grandad driving our Triumph Toledo at speeds ordinarily only achieved by jet planes, and with the same level of care and attention as the Dukes of Hazzard escaping the law, if anything, it felt even longer. 

Flattenin’ The Hills

We reached the steep and windy roads of Devon in record time, powered by Grandad’s competitive nature, and seemingly inexhaustible levels of anger.  As the car skidded around tight bends, atop steep hills, my “fear of heights” (or as I like to call it, my fear of death) kicked in rather strongly.

Grandad, annoyed by my constant whimpering and occasional screams, pulled the car over, and calmly explained why there was no reason to be afraid, promising he would drive slower to put me at ease.   

No of course he didn’t, that’s what a “normal” parent would have done.  What Grandad DID, was on the largest STEEPEST hill he could find, he drove straight off the road, skidding down the almost vertical drop, in an, admittedly impressive, handbrake turn, until we finally came to “rest” at a fortunately-positioned tree.  I shall never forget his reassuring words:-

Pre-Empting Trauma

Now, Grandma Tiny-Face, as I’m sure you’ll know from the way she flouts use-by dates, is not overly cautious.  However she is a big fan of pre-empting trauma.

To be fair to her, despite Grandad’s best efforts, she did a pretty decent job of keeping us alive.  …Which brings me neatly around to the way Grandad often mistook homeless people for a reliable source of childcare.

 

I realise, from my proof-reader’s sharp intake of breath here, that this looks like quite a dangerous situation, even to people who aren’t as risk averse as I am.  However, I want to reassure you that he was indeed back in under 3 hours as promised, and the homeless people we met were very kind, offering us sweets and drinks, only some of which were alcoholic, so you know, no harm no foul. 

Ok, even though this goes against every single one of my instincts, and mental scars from childhood, I need to tell you, DON’T be wildly cautious like me.  For the love of God don’t be as crazy with risk-taking as Grandad, but don’t be like me either.

The Dalai Lama said “Great love and great achievements involve great risks” and unfortunately he’s right.  You can’t get the most out of life without taking at least a few anxiety-inducing risks. 

Bearing in mind that I consider going to a different branch of the same supermarket a risk, at eighteen I still said yes when Daddy asked me to marry him – even though everyone else said we were too young, and one of my friends had helpfully declared him to be “too handsome for me”.   

Daddy and I have been together for 26 years now and, although I don’t like to say this too often, he’s pretty bloody brilliant still, and marrying him is one of my favourite big decisions ever. 

You two are obviously my other favourite big decisions.  Pregnancy and childbirth aren’t fun for ladies (or indeed for anyone in the vicinity).  You go through all that discomfort, then intense prolonged pain, with absolutely no guarantees of what the outcome will be. 

You can’t know if your baby will be healthy, how long you’ll have them in your life for, or indeed whether they will grow up to write a blog about what a terrible parent you were, but for me you’ll always be two of the best risky ventures I ever embarked upon.  

 

 

The Best Dad Ever

Your Dad is a natural parent.  When you were born, he showed me how to hold you, clean you and change your nappies.  If I remember correctly his exact words were “YOU’RE going to have to do this one day”.  In brief, having parented me for 15 years, he already had it down to a fine art when you came along.

It’s not all one-sided, in return I protect Daddy from his two main fears; running out of chocolate and, of course, his only natural enemy, the spider.

If you’ve ever wondered why Daddy vacuums the house so much, and why it’s Mummy that insulates the loft, it’s just part of the ongoing Daddy vs Arachnids war. Daddy can hoover up the small ones, but as you know Mummy has to catch the big ones with the more traditional glass and a bit of card.

Daddy Versus Arachnids

Mummy can’t kill spiders because they eat flies, and she hates flies.  Also, as the mediator between Daddy and the Arachnid species, I don’t really want to start any vendettas with the bigger ones.  At least not until I’ve finished the loft – where Daddy won’t set foot for love nor money until I’ve spider-proofed it completely. 

Daddy isn’t afraid of much else.  Although that’s not always a good thing either, for example when he chases down people, with what are clearly gang-tattoos, to give them a good telling off for dropping litter.   

Thing One – Daddy may well be where you get your urge to police people from.  Although, that could also be Grandma Tiny-Face, as she is equally keen on rugby-tackling litter-louts twice her size.  Though, to be fair, EVERYONE is at least twice Grandma’s size. 

Daddy has always been a very kind person, he especially loves looking after old people, but he’ll help anyone who crosses his path.   

If you see him out and about he’ll invariably be helping an old dear across the road (not always me), picking up their spilled groceries, or waiting with them for an ambulance whilst other people (like Mummy) step over their cold motionless body and hurry about their day. 

As you already know Daddy is the “fun” parent and Mummy is the screechy-killjoy one.  He’s the one who swings you up in the air (usually straight towards fan-blades or a mirror) and Mummy’s the one who screams.

There is no right way to be a parent in the same way as there is no right way to be a human (although in both cases there are plenty of wrong ways) but if there was a right way to be a fantastic Dad, your Dad would be as close as it’s possible to get.

 

 P.S.

If you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned Grandad El Paso (my Dad) on Father’s Day, it’s because I took him out for lunch and he was perfectly lovely the whole time. 

It was great for our Father-Daughter relationship but the downside was no new material for the blog…

 

The Best Things in Life Are Free

It’s the really unpleasant crap that eats up all our money.  The very best things, a first kiss, a sunny day or a well-behaved child certainly cannot be bought, so money isn’t the only route to happiness. 

I am womansplaining this particular saying because whilst the above is how most people, human people, interpret “The Best Things in Life Are Free”, that is not how Grandad takes it.  Grandad thinks it means “Stuff is best, if you GET IT FOR FREE”.

He Loves A Bargain

Grandad LOVES a bargain.  This is great when he’s passing a coat shop with a big sale on, as his compulsion results in an urge to buy a coat for everyone he’s ever met if they happen to be the size that’s available at the largest discount.

Evil Step-Grandma-One

It was less great when he met Evil Step-Grandma-One, who looked like a pig with a giant arse, but she was 10 years younger, which constituted a bargain in Grandad’s eyes.  He didn’t like her, but he was compelled to show off to his friends about her nonetheless.

There is another downside to Grandad’s quest to pay less.  Have you ever wondered why Grandad’s roof leaks?  Or, why mice have opened up a fairground in his kitchen?  Even though, as he buys coats for the whole world, he clearly has the money to fix these things.

Broken Boiler

If OUR boiler were to break, we would have to raise a substantial amount to pay a plumber, preferably corgi-registered, to come and fix it.  It would be a huge problem for us as, best case scenario, we’d have to raise the funds, find a reliable plumber and wait in for the repair. 

Grandad would approach this situation somewhat differently…  Grandad would start by ringing everyone he knows to “tell on” the boiler.

His next step is to continue in abject horror that anything this terrible could befall HIM.  Next he will explain why this is different, and worse, than what has ever happened to anyone else EVER, and seek to elicit some kind of consensus about how terrible the boiler’s behaviour is, perhaps in an attempt to shame the boiler back into action?

Kicking It

If that fails, he then tries good old percussive maintenance.

Can You Fix It?

His next step, and this is the particularly unusual part of his response, is to ask if YOU can fix it.

We then have a long convoluted session of a game I like to call “annoy the hell out of someone with stupid but detailed questions to see if they give in and come round to take a look”.

Once he finishes ringing everyone he knows, if that still hasn’t worked he simply moves on to ANYONE else he comes into contact with, distant neighbours, work colleagues, complete strangers…

Amazingly, this scattergun approach, coupled with that weird streak of luck that he has (or pact with the devil, whatever) eventually combines to result in locating someone who will fix things, either for beer or a reduced rate.  

However, because of the length of time this approach takes to work, it does have the more predictable outcome that Grandad always has at least one large item in need of urgent repair at any given time, and that some of the repairs he has had done are of the quality one would expect if someone was working for beer.  

…Never touch his electrics!

Grandma Tiny-Face Turns 70!

Grandma turns 70 today, but she’s not your typical 70-year-old, she is always full of energy and never still.  I should say, Grandma Tiny-Face is not her real name, it’s Christine*.  I should also explain, for anyone else reading this, that she doesn’t only have a tiny-face, she is in fact, tiny all over.  Like a little skipping happy-pixie.

Some people, cruel people, would say that she is the clear source of the ADHD that runs so strongly through our family, but I would remind them that Grandad is also a massive fidget, so really, that trophy is yet to be awarded – Although her ability to drift off mid-conversation does leave her firmly in the running.

We asked Grandma what she wanted for her “big” birthday, and after some spiel about good health and world peace, and us explaining that they were both out of our price-range, she settled on an almond tree.  She loves a practical gift does Grandma – she’d make a terrible Kardashian.

Rescue Dog That Wasn’t

Grandma rescued a little dog recently “Pike” from the mountains of Spain.  I’m not sure how much rescuing was involved, as sun-drenched mountains seem like somewhere a dog would love to be. Don’t they?

We weren’t overjoyed to meet “Pike” initially, what with us all being ALLERGIC to dogs, and Daddy having that slight phobia since he was a postman, and all the bitings and facial-scarring.  Still, we can see how much joy Pike brings to her by the big smile plastered all across her tiny pixie-face.

Grandma loves nothing more than skipping off on a five-mile hike with her little pal, but she likes to pretend that it’s a chore.  She says “phew, it’s hard work because he runs so fast!”  Then we have to point out that she’s dragging him behind her again.

We live near Grandma now and the lovely thing about that is that you both get to see more of her.  I used to love having my Grandma (her Mum) in my life and I love that you have her.  I also like that she sometimes goes to your school stuff instead of me and Daddy.  It’s so great when she goes INSTEAD of me.  What’s not so great is when she goes WITH ME.

Quick example – School calls a meeting for a residential trip, to tell us what to pack etc.  The Headmistress addresses the roomful of parents and Grandma starts replying to her like they are the only two people in the room.

High Shame Threshold

Grandma is where we get our really high shame threshold from.  Like the rest of us, I don’t think she can afford to lower it, considering how impulsive the ADHD makes her. 

For my 16th birthday she took me to the cinema to see A Cry In The Dark, and halfway through she stood up and yelled “my God they’ve found the matinee jacket!”  I tried to tell her that A Cry in the Dark was a title, not an instruction, but it was too late.

We have to forgive Grandma for these things, partly because we’re all like that, but also because of all the wonderful things she does.  She brought Auntie Kate and I up to be strong, independent, resourceful women. 

Even if sometimes she achieved this by lying to us:-

Leading By Example

Other times she led by example.  I especially love Grandma’s many, many, techniques for opening jars and bottles.  Throughout my childhood there wasn’t a door-jam in the house that hadn’t been horribly maimed in the process of opening pop bottles. 

I have never heard Grandma say anything like “I’ll have to wait for a man to come in and open that”.  I have however seen her take a crowbar to a jar of pickled onions, more than once.

Happy 70th Birthday Grandma Tiny-Face.  We hope you get the good health and the world peace that you wanted, and that, at the very least, the stick-in-a-pot we bought you turns into a lovely tree.

* Her name’s not Christine either, but then you know that already.