Be Yourself

I realise that saying “be yourself” after spending most of your childhood training you not to be must seem incongruous, but in my defence, mostly it was to keep you from delinquency. 

I stand by the example above though.  When meeting new people especially, it is important to hold the crazy in for as long as you can manage.  It is also important to be yourself though, if for no other reason than that holding in the crazy can look a bit like this:-

Seriously though, it is important to be yourself and not let other people’s preconceptions of who you should be define you.  What makes this world a wonderful and interesting place is the variety of unique people you can interact with.  Be yourself and add to that community.

John Lennon said it best I think with:-

This is 100% true.  I’ve pretended to be someone else before (to fit in, not for any kind of identity fraud).  Pretending not to be me got me the wrong friends; people I neither liked nor wanted to be around. 

Actually, that’s not 100% true.  That time in my life did get me one truly brilliant friend, who has stuck with me even though the crazy is now 100% out of the bag. Though in all honesty that was probably more luck than judgement.

When To Let The Crazy Out

I enjoy being myself almost all the time now.  Letting the old ADHD out for a daily run is great.  People who know me are used to my inability to shut up, or sit still ever, and either they’re too polite to say or they don’t mind.  I choose to believe they don’t mind.

It’s not always great, sometimes I forget to “hold the crazy in” for the requisite time period and say things like this when meeting my new boss:-

He backed away slowly, smiling and nodding.  That’s a good sign right?

It doesn’t always go so badly.  Last week I decided to excitedly use my rudimentary “knowledge” (i.e. 2am Googling) of quantum physics to explain to a complete stranger at the tea point why I thought a watched kettle might take longer to boil.  It turned into a lovely chat and ended with them reading my blog and leaving a really kind comment.

So in summary, sometimes it’s good to hold the crazy in, sometimes it’s fine to let it out, always be yourself, and if you ever find out how to balance this effectively, be sure to let me know won’t you?

Live and Learn

One important thing I think you should know about the human race, we mess up.  We do this regularly, sometimes moderately, and very often spectacularly, but we ALL do it.

To Err is Human

Whilst the above phrase has fallen out of favour lately, the phrase “who did the risk assessment on this?” is very much on the up.  This, and the continuing popularity of “who can I sue for this?” have resulted in a tendency to try to apportion blame in any given situation. 

There is another lesser-known saying that I think applies quite aptly here:

Mistakes are part of the natural world, and need acceptance for what they are.  Attempting to eradicate all errors is like trying to wipe out flies – Firstly, it can’t be done, secondly, if it could, sure you might enjoy a drink outside, free from the winged-pesterers for a week or two, but shortly after the whole eco-system would collapse and die in a horrible chain-reaction. 

Errors have their place in the world, they are educators.  They happen so that we can learn from them. 

My Bad

As you know I myself am very risk-averse, so my mistakes tend to be limited to small embarrassments.  For example, the other day I came out of a shop and I tried to get back into the wrong car, inadvertently causing the startled elderly couple in the Mitsubishi Estate to think carjacking had reached rural Staffordshire.

Some people (i.e. Daddy) would say I should have checked whether the car was ours BEFORE trying to scramble in.  Of course, I SHOULD have, but I DIDN’T.  I will next time though because that mistake has taught me a valuable lesson; look before you leap.

Other people, who are not as risk-averse as me, may unfortunately make more life-changing mistakes.  Perhaps, they weren’t lucky enough to be parented by the weird tag-team I had growing up, where one made me learn my fire-exits in every building I entered, and the other dangled me over a 300-foot-drop to show me that heights were “nothing to be afraid of”.

Some people might jump or fall off things that they shouldn’t have climbed.  Some might not take out insurance and then lose all their stuff.  Some people work in jobs where one mistake can cost someone else their health, or even their life.  Whatever their mistake was, it was still a mistake, an error, not a malicious act.

I’m not saying don’t sue, or that people shouldn’t pay due care and attention to what they’re doing, or that there aren’t irresponsible, dangerous, people out there (Grandad).  I’m just saying that everyone makes mistakes. 

Perhaps for those irresponsible people (for example the kind of person that would dangle a 12-year-old over a castle’s retaining wall) we could introduce some kind of three strikes rule?  On their third “mistake” we’re allowed to get properly angry at them.

Forgive Your Own Mistakes

The most important thing I’m trying to say is, if you make a mistake, be kind to yourself.  Don’t waste time beating yourself up for mistakes you have made but couldn’t help making.  

No matter how much you think about something that has already happened, nothing can make it un-happen, and if you didn’t deliberately do it, how could you have deliberately not done it?  

To err is human, and entirely out of your control.  Don’t give yourself such a hard time, because they’ll always be someone out there more than willing to do that for you.

 

The Glad Game

If you don’t know what the Glad Game is, then, despite my best efforts to coerce you into watching it, you have obviously managed to avoid the 1960’s film Pollyanna starring Hayley Mills. 

Pollyanna

Depending on your point of view, it’s either about a little girl who’s so full of positivity that she wins the hearts of a grumpy town of misanthropes, or it’s about an obnoxious little brat who thinks servants should be grateful for Sundays and old ladies should be constantly sewing quilts for charity instead of lazing around on their death beds.  

My feelings about Pollyanna are somewhere between those two, but the moral of the story is spot on; if you’re thankful for the good stuff in your life it makes you happier. 

Be Glad

It’s SO important in life to be thankful and glad – I know that sounds like something a vicar would say, with deadly halitosis and dandruff, haunting your school assembly, but bear with me.  It’s important because it’s guaranteed to bring you happiness in this life rather than necessarily redemption in the next.

Plenty of psychological studies back this up (if you can be arsed to Google them) but it really is just plain common sense; if you regularly remind yourself of the good things in your life, you will be happier because you’ll be more likely to remember them during tougher times. 

Simples

It does sound simple doesn’t it?  In that respect it’s a bit like “I just won’t eat cake this week and then I’ll be thin”  …aaand I think we all know how that usually works out in practice.   

It’s easy to be glad about all the great stuff in your life when things are going well.

It’s less easy when they’re not going so well. 

Unfortunately it’s when things are not going so well that it is most useful to remember the things you are thankful for.  Try to think of them every day to effectively “rote” learn the joy in your life, so that those memories are there waiting to pop forward when you need them. 

Some people list what they are thankful for in the form of prayers, some write it in a diary, others repeat it silently to themselves during meditation.  There is no right or wrong way.  Strike that.  Remembering how weird we can all be, I’ll specify, don’t shout them out loud as you walk down the street.  That’s definitely frowned upon.

Gratitude Club 

Here’s three easy rules; list what you’re thankful for, do so regularly, talk about things you are grateful for whenever you can.  Basically, it’s the opposite of Fight Club.  

What happens if you don’t?  Well, you turn into a Kardashian.  What?  No, of course that’s NOT a good thing!  Alright, better example, you’ll turn into one of those people who leave book reviews that start “This was the worst experience of my life-“   Those people either have some kind of reading-triggered PTSD or they’ve led seriously charmed lives.

Now that might look like I’m bitter about a bad book review – I haven’t written a book yet so if anything, it’s a pre-emptive strike, but I have read a lot of book reviews (because I leave book reviews and I’m nosey). 

Life really is in the details.  Celebrate and cherish all the details you enjoy, and in return they’ll keep you going through the tough times.

P.s.  This is not advice for people with serious conditions like Depression.  When in the grip of such things, reality shifts, and they may be unable to access positive memories, even if staring at a list of them on a piece of paper.  If someone seems ungrateful, be kind, they may be going through things you can’t see. 

 

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.  

 

 

Comparisons Are For Catalogues

Don’t treat yourself like a catalogue item.  You are the only one of you, 100% unique, and you cannot be a better or worse you than anyone else.  Never compare.

Some people are better at Maths, some people are better at French, some people are better at being fun to be around.  Everyone has their own “super-powers” and usually their own corresponding version of kryptonite. 

My “kryptonite”, as you already know, is anything that requires working-memory.  My super-powers are a positive attitude, a high shame threshold, and I never give up.  …Well, I hardly ever give up, ok I sometimes give up; did I mention my positive attitude? 

Sometimes it can look and feel like everyone else has better super-powers than you, but remember the wise words of Rob Lowe:-

Rob Lowe is a brilliant actor, gorgeous to look at and now, as it turns out, wise as well.  He seems perfect.  He has lots of super-powers, just not the one for avoiding sex scandals – although that was a long time ago so I imagine he’s acquired it now from experience.

People are a lot like Clark Kent; they show you only what they want you to see.  Clarke Kent is hiding X-Ray vision and the power of flight, whereas your friend Kelly on Facebook, with the giant hot-tub and weekly parties, is hiding crippling debt, minor incontinence and the ability to ignore mounting high-level problems.

We All Have Super-Powers

Everyone, no matter how similar they seem, is unique.  Each and every one of us have our own superpowers.  Even that guy off X-Factor, who appears to have no discernible talent at all; yes, even Simon Cowell has super-powers – making money from that nonsense for a start. 

It can sometimes take a while to work out what your super-powers are, perhaps they need a bit of practice to develop, or perhaps they are the kind that only become apparent as you get older, but trust me they are there. 

Learn as much as you can about the stuff you enjoy, practice the stuff you love every day.  Learn about things that hold your interest, not simply what you’re told to learn for a test.  Be the you that YOU want to be and your super-powers will show up when you’re ready.

A quick note for Thing Two, one of your current super-powers is an extra-loud voice – I hope one-day you’ll learn to use this power for good.  …One of my super-powers is hope in the face of adversity.

Be Kind and Still Kick-Ass

Now this might seem a bit rich coming from someone who has ostensibly set up this blog to slag off family members, but it’s secondary purpose was always to impart important advice, so here goes; be kind and you can still kick ass.

Being kind increases the amount of good in the world.  If you learn nothing else from Star Wars (which would be sacrilege by the way, because it’s full of useful lessons) at least learn that empowering the good side of the force really does mess things up for the bad guys. 

We have done our best as parents to shelter you from the true horrors of the world, so it might come as a bit of a surprise to find out that the world isn’t always a kind place.  In all honesty, it’s actually a bit unpleasant sometimes. 

Many people are going through traumas you aren’t aware of because they don’t talk about them.  If you are kind to as many people as possible, even those who appear grumpy and rude, you will be helping people through tough times without even realising it.   

Now I’m not talking Secret-Millionaire-level kind – we don’t have anywhere near the funding for that (unless McDonalds straws and odd socks ever become legal tender) simply a kind word or a gesture, here and there, is enough to turn someone’s day around and power up ‘The Force’.  Simply telling people why you think they are fantastic will do it.

Still Kick-Ass When Necessary

Being kind doesn’t mean being a pushover.  The kindest people I know are also the strongest people I know. 

Daddy is super-kind to almost everyone he meets, but God help anyone that drops litter in front of him, …or forgets to say please or thank you. 

I have a lovely colleague at work, who goes out of her way to help customers and colleagues alike.  Always friendly and kind, she’s a dainty, petite, softly-spoken Diana Prince most of the time, but if you try to occupy the meeting room that she has already booked, she will Wonder Woman your ass out of there before you can splutter “Blue-sky thinking”.

Auntie Kate is always helping out other people, running errands for them, looking after their kids, but if you were to say, take her T-shirt without asking, and wear it in front of her whilst dancing around her singing “I-got-your-t-shirt, I-got-your-t-shirt”, I can promise you, she’ll break your God-damn nose. 

I probably did deserve that one though, with hindsight. 

…Perhaps, I should have been kind instead.

Freedom Of Speech – Why?

Now you might think it’s ironic that I am about to big up the importance of being able to speak freely, when 90% of the phrases I have screamed at you throughout your childhood involve the words “shut” and “up”. 

Silence isn’t always Golden

Sure silencing other people sounds great, but there’s a problem.  Where free communication stops, conspiracy festers.  Underground groups form and then the ignorance they whisper to each other goes unchecked by anyone better placed to explain the truth.

It’s only human to want people that you don’t agree with to shut up, and one of the best reasons people have for wanting to limit free-speech is that it’s bloody hard work arguing with idiots.  BUT, and here’s the important bit, one of the WORST reasons people have for wanting to limit free-speech, is to silence all opponents.

There are countries in this world that do not have freedom of speech, and for precisely the worst reason above.  So we must fight hard to maintain the freedoms we currently might NOT enjoy, but do HAVE.  Even if that means our ears do bleed occasionally.

Listen To Opposing Views 

You don’t have to listen to someone whose general values and opinions are the opposite of yours, but you should, because you might learn something 

…even if it’s just something to use against them later. 

Seriously, the phrase “know your enemy” was invented for a reason.  It’s easier to outgun someone if you know what they’re packing.

Another important reason to listen to people you disagree with, is to maintain objectivity in your own opinions.   Living in an echo-chamber, where nothing is ever challenged, not only damages your objectivity, but worse it damages your ability to argue your case effectively.    

Auntie Kate and I have never liked the phrase “If you’ve got a problem, say it to my face!” because we both hate confrontation and agree it’s far more comfortable for everyone, if people say things behind our backs instead. 

We are of course right, it IS way more comfortable, but it neither identifies nor resolves problems, for that unfortunately, you have to let others speak out.

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 Family Memory

There has long persisted a myth that one side of our family has the most diabolical memory known to man, or as it is more commonly experienced in our family, known to woman.  This myth has persisted because none of us can remember if it’s true or not, or why we keep finding our purse in the fridge.

Not everyone in our family suffers from “the memory”;  Thing Two you are lucky enough to have inherited yours from Daddy’s side.  Bad news Thing One, I think maybe it comes with the ADHD.  …Although I forget why I think that.

A poor working memory doesn’t have to be a disability though.  Over the years I have discovered a few handy tips to cope with it.  I’ll impart these to you now, in writing – because…   well, I forget why but here goes.

Never trust your memory – Write It Down

“Of course I’ll remember my best friend’s new baby’s name!  It’s SO them, it’s unique, it’s beautiful, it’s…    shit what is it?!”

Keep an address book, preferably brightly-coloured and too heavy to move.  Write in it, methodically, all the important details – especially addresses and phone numbers, and especially that one number you are 100% certain you will remember tomorrow – you won’t.

Keep a calendar, somewhere highly visible, a place where you naturally glance every day is ideal.  If the screen of your gaming PC is a little inconvenient, maybe try on the back of the door.

Post-its AND Technology – Two-Pronged Attack

“Oh-my-God I’m so excited, the finale of my favourite show ever is on tomorrow night, I can’t wait to find out what happens with the dragons, and the White-Walkers and the…   Last night, it was on last night! That’s why all these spoilers are on Twitter.  Arrggh!”

Set a reminder on the TV, AND stick a post-it next to the telly, or the door, or on the fridge, preferably all three.

Also, TOP-TIP, marry someone with a better memory and get them interested in the programme.  Make sure they’re the kind of person who won’t start watching it without you (*gives Daddy serious side-eye*).

Explain It – Friends Will Understand

I mean pick your moments obviously.  A job interview, for example, is NOT a great time.

Once you’re safely out of the probation period of a job (having narrowly survived on post-its and Outlook reminders) that’s the PERFECT time to let the cat out of the bag.

It’s good to tell friends early days so that they are more understanding when you remember every word of a Star Wars film but can’t remember that today is their birthday.

True friends will probably overlook the occasional lapse BUT, true friends are also worth making the effort for.  Employ all of the above techniques to do everything you can to remember their stuff.  If only, to show them how important they are to you.  By the time you lapse, hopefully they’ll have seen you turn up to a night out in your slippers enough times to have made their peace with it.

It’s a Handicap, Not an Excuse

Everyone has something they don’t do as well as others, it doesn’t detract from what they’re great at, and this is just the same.  It’s not a get out of jail free card though – literally, I’ve checked with a policeman.  It’s simply an area we have to work harder at to achieve the same results as others.

Most of the time, with a bit of effort we can function just like everyone else, standard hit and miss, except that when we miss, we don’t remember the embarrassment. Win-win.

Dementia

At any one time there are at least three family members concerned they have dementia, but this is only because they don’t remember that their memories have always been this terrible.

I have checked the Dementia leaflets in the doctor’s surgery several thousand times and the gist of the thing is this:-

If you know who you are, where you are and who you’re with, it doesn’t matter if you can’t remember: why you went in there, what for, or the word for the thing you’re trying to tell them about, which you’ve currently misplaced.

I’ve also heard people say that people with bad memories don’t get dementia.  I don’t know if that’s true or if, as I strongly suspect, it’s just impossible to tell the difference.

Now, what did I come in here for…

Diet Advice

Everything in Moderation

Despite regularly chanting “everything in moderation” at you like a wise old Buddha, it will quickly become abundantly clear (from my similarity to a wise old Buddha if nothing else) that I have never followed my own advice for longer than the minute it popped into my head.

I can tell you some basics, like burn off more calories than you take in and you’ll lose weight.  It works both ways, take in more calories than you can use and you’ll gain weight.   

Although, if you’re lucky enough to take after Grandma you’ll be able to stuff your face with anything, then drive every single person in the room crazy by announcing how terrible it is to not be able to put on weight “no matter what I do”. 

I suppose that’s an important bit of advice, if you’re lucky enough to take after Grandma, do remember not to gloat.  Saying “I just can’t put weight on no matter how much I eat” is the equivalent of loudly proclaiming that “I have so much money I can’t get rid of it no matter how much I spend.”  It’s not only a problem that most people want, it’s also one they’ll hate you for, immeasurably.

She’s No Renée Zellweger

Also, to an extent Grandma is telling only a partial truth, when she says “no matter how much I eat” or “how much I try”

(a) She rarely eats food with a high fat or sugar content.  Yeah, sure, she can put away a roast dinner (eventually, once she’s cut it into one hundred pieces and chased it around her plate for an hour) but it’s not like she’s ever sat down and eaten a box of donuts to herself, even once.   

(b) She’s never really “tried” to put on weight – That’s an out-and-out lie.  She’s not Renée Zellweger preparing for a role, and she’s not in training to become a boxer either. 

Remember the old woman lies sometimes, so before we take her word for it let’s do a controlled experiment at least, where we make her eat only pizza and cream-cakes for a week and see if she still “can’t put on any weight”.

I suppose the most important thing I can tell you about diet is not to get too hung up about it.  There are no bad foods, just bad portion sizes.  …Actually there are LOADS of bad foods, anything with more than one ingredient that doesn’t sound like food for a start.

OK, so some general guidelines:-

  • Drink water when you’re thirsty – hydration is important for health
  • Foods made of food are good
  • Foods not made of food are usually less good (also applies to drinks)
  • You can tell what is food by the way the ingredient list says things like milk or butter
  •  Vice versa if it says things like Chemicalum Biexplosionate or Arsium Flypoosite
  • Smaller portions and exercise will help you lose weight
  • Larger portions and no exercise will make you put on weight
  • Food is not your enemy, or your friend, it’s just food

Most importantly of all, do as I say and not as I do.