Advice for my niece… AKA ‘What I wish I’d known when I was younger’

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Your mum, pregnant with you on her 30th birthday… Champagne will have to wait!

Dear niece,

Hi! I’m your auntie. You are still being baked in your mummy’s tummy right now, and I have to wait four more months to meet you; but I’m so happy you finally are on your way. So is your nanny (mine and your sister’s mum) – I think she thought she’d never be a grandparent due to her daughters being what she called ‘slow’ on the uptake… You’ll know how much she longed for you to be here, by now, since you probably get spoiled beyond belief when you see her. Cherish her. [For her unconditional love, but also… she always has the best snacks. Seriously, even if you don’t think you are hungry, she’ll always get you by springing a pack of Jaffa cakes, marshmallows or a Dairy Milk on you – yep, she’ll always have exactly what you fancy. Damn her sixth sense…]

It has occurred to me, dear niece, that we will probably be spending a lot of time together. That’s cool – I’m looking forward to getting to know you. And, surprise, I’m going to be your fashion stylist – hope you like dungarees!

The funny thing is, even though I haven’t met you, I already love you a huge amount. I get an indescribable ‘pang’ every time I think about you, and I already know that I would fight tooth and nail to protect you, if you needed me to. And maybe sometimes embarrassingly so, when you really don’t. *Cringe*

I already know you like chocolate, since I was the first to feel you move in your mummy’s tummy, when I dangled a chocolate Easter egg above her belly. See? You’ll fit right in.

Recently, I have been thinking about what I have to teach you. What is life if we can’t pass on our learnings… and all that. I thought, I could tell you all about London, the importance of seeing the world and how to make the most of having to commute – should you ever be so unlucky. I started to think, “Hey, I’ll probably be distracted by how cute my niece is and how many shopping trips and holidays we will be going on, that I should maybe write some of my top ‘life’ tips down, for her”. So, here they are. Not written in stone. Not finite. But more like suggestions, from me to you. From one strong woman to the next generation.

Making mistakes will indeed make you stronger. Having said that, below is some of what I learned from making a few of my own. I’ll tell you more over a beer and peanuts, one day. The list is totally subjective, (and I will add to it/delete as appropriate where necessary), but, if it helps in any way, here’s what your auntie thinks she is better off knowing, now, and perhaps wishes sometimes that someone would have told her sooner…


1 – Buy matching underwear. The sense of achievement is UNREAL.

2 – Don’t be afraid to make (legal) mistakes. I know, confusing advice already, hey? But in general, try to make your mistakes early on in life. Teenagers can often get away with blaming things on ‘being too young to understand’. And mistakes can sometimes make funny stories. Side note: don’t do anything illegal, at any age – to be discussed further. In person.

3 – Always be sporty, or dance, or do yoga – just do whatever you like to be active, but do move. Bad bones run in your family, so keep them strong! I’m sure your dad will have you bench pressing just as soon as you can say ‘spotting,’ but, just saying… Also, you’ll be glad you were active when you hit thirty and need to start ‘squatting’ – so people will be keen to tell you.

4 – Teenage you – you aren’t fat/spotty/unattractive. One day you’ll definitely look back at pictures of your young self and think, ‘Damn. I wish I wasn’t so hard on myself.’ And never mind, anyway, because we will be supporting you through everything – although, I might keep my distance during the teenage years. Especially if you are reeeeeally grumpy.

5 – Keep your hair long if you want to. Girls will most likely tell you to cut it, but that will most likely be because they are jealous of it. I hope you inherit your mums lovely thick hair. Mine is thin, no matter how many products I use… Which could possibly be a part of the problem. Oh, and don’t dye your hair either – once dyed, you’ll be in the hairdye trap forever. You’ll probably start to go grey in your late twenties. Deal with it then, however you want to. Always stay away from Sun In and lightening treatments, they will turn your hair irreparably orange.

6 – Learn to laugh at yourself. And don’t take yourself so seriously. Some of my biggest laughs are looking back at my old young teenage photos (pre-Facebook/mobile phone filters), complete with monobrow and an unflattering angle. Being light of heart helps you to be happy.

7 – Don’t get caught up in using too many ‘filters’ on photographs. The use of social media is already out of control, so I wonder what it will be like when you’re a teenager? Hopefully we will have reverted to point and click cameras – much more spontaneous. Re comments on photos – If people are ever cruel, it says way more about them, than you.

8 – Smile. You’ll be remembered for it.

9 – Look after your teeth, brush them twice a day and floss. No one wants to be remembered for a yellow smile.

10 – Be patient. Actually, I know this is a good thing, but, I’m terrible at it. Ask someone else to explain the importance of being patient.

11 – Have courage and be kind… Yes, that’s a cheesy quote from Cinderella. But it’s a motto I try to live by. Kindness is the greatest thing in the world.

12 – A wide choice of shoes is important. They can make or break an outfit. Don’t let anyone ever tell you what is or isn’t important to you, shoes may or may not be, but if they are then don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. This applies to all areas of life.

13 – It’s nice to wear bright colours. Black is good for a little black dress, but otherwise, cheer up your outfit.

14 – Do experiment with your style. Until you can talk and say “No, auntie Catherine, enough with the metallic shoes”, you’ll be wearing what other people choose for you. So, when you can choose, don’t be scared to try things…

15 – …Which isn’t limited to fashion. Listen up, because this ones a biggy. Don’t be scared to take risks. You (usually, and especially with hindsight) won’t regret the things you do… I mean, you might regret a few things, but that’s a part of life. You live it, you learn it. I’d say, in general, it’s better to have tried something than to always wonder. This applies mainly to going travelling. Buying a plane ticket somewhere new is ALWAYS a good idea, in my opinion.

16 – My generation is one of the first to experience a freedom to travel as much and as far as we do. It’s becoming ever faster and easier to see the world. Go see it!

17 – Moving house/school/area can boost your confidence in the long run. The ability to make new friends is one of the most important skills to learn.

18 – My mum (your nanny) gave me and your mum the life skills and independence to have an incurable curiousness for the world. I hope you inherit this. It will mean you’ll always have exciting stories and interesting dreams.

19 – Learn how to be bored and to get through being bored. Life isn’t always exciting. Enjoy the moments of calm, things will soon heat up again, and you will long for nothing to do. Mind you, I am bored by 11am if I have no plans for the day, so…

20 – Learn how to have conversations in pubs. Being sociable and skilled at talking will win you friends and ensure an interesting life old age. Ask your nanny (my mum) for tips on talking – you won’t get her to stop, as I’m sure you already know.

21 – Equally, learn how to listen. Don’t ask your nanny for tips on this… (Joke! For the important things, there is no better listener than your nan. And me, of course)

22 – Listen to your parents (mainly your mum, obviously. Yes, I’m biased). It becomes clearer, as you get older, that they are people too, not just parental robots who had no lives and experiences of their own before your arrival. Although, I already know you will be improving all of our lives for the better. I’m so excited to meet you and teach you everything. Like, how to hide the coffee pods from daddy without being caught.

23 – Don’t get married young. Date, have fun, enjoy being on your own. It’s cheesy and a cliche, but I have found it to be true, that you have to be happy with yourself before you can be happy with someone else. Plus, being single in your twenties is AWESOME fun.

24 – When/if you do get married/a serous boy/girlfriend, your partner’s mum will almost definitely dislike you. This isn’t to do with you, it is just a weird unwritten rule, which totally defies any kind of sisterhood and keeps being passed on. Come to me direct for tips on this one. Most importantly, though, make an effort with his family. They might be yours one day, too.

25 – Boyfriends – we need a week on this one. Just maybe don’t fall head over heels for the first boy/girl who is nice to you. In my experience, you won’t understand until you are much older exactly what you’ll need and want in a partner. But everyone’s experience of love is entirely unique to them.

26 – Want should always win over need, in relationships.

27 – Otherwise, you should always say ‘I would like’, not ‘I want’. Manners go a long way, so ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ should be par for the course.

28 – Taking out the bins. If you find someone who will do this job regularly for you, they are probably your soulmate.

29 – My favourite advice work-wise? ‘Be nice to everyone while you’re on your way up. You never know who you’ll meet on your way back down.’

30 – Work hard. Hard workers tend to be luckier. Also, it is true that if you do something you love, it doesn’t feel like work. I love writing – can you tell?

31 – You don’t need to know what you want to do for work straight after school. I didn’t get my first writing job until I was 24. All jobs give you transferable skills. It’s so annoying when people say ‘transferable skills’, as well as ‘this is unpaid but good for your profile’. But, still, these things will come up and so, good to know.

32 – Be good at keeping important secrets – there’s not many who will. And don’t tell many yours. And don’t gossip idly. It’s mean.

33 – Always check an area for witnesses before gossiping. Because, let’s face it, we all do it at some point. And so will you.

34 – Holiday money isn’t always more expensive at the airport. Order it online at a great rate, and then collect it at the terminal. Two birds, one stone.

35 – Always write your PIN numbers down somewhere secret. It’s likely you’ll have a credit card that after Christmas you’ll solely be using, then forget the pin to your regular account.

36 – You aren’t boring. Worrying about being boring is a waste of energy. It takes two people to make a conversation interesting.

37 – Stay inquisitive. This will help keep you from being judgemental.

38 – If you think you might want to live abroad, go for it. Don’t wait until it’s too late, like I did (I was too old for the Canadian visa programme. I’m general, I don’t think you are ever too old for anything).

39 – Do the Camp America programme, as you’ll make some of your best friends in the world ever. And they’ll be from all over the world, too. Meaning, places to stay all over the world! More than that, it’s an eye opener into other countries. It’s so important to learn about other cultures. Don’t be ignorant, it will hold you back.

40 – Learn a few jokes, and a few random facts. Always useful to drop in a conversation. Plus, a few questions for conversations starters.

41 – Save money. Again, don’t ask me, I’ll always tell you ‘yes, that’s a great idea to buy that flight/car/pony’ – but your mum and dad are great at saving. Listen to them.

42 – Equally, though, do take up opportunities. Your mum is a better saver, but I KNOW she is sad to have missed out on going to Ibiza on a horribly expensive yet extremely brilliant cash-fest of a holiday.

43 – Fake tan is great. But mind the lines. I’ll show you how.

44 – Dance! Dance all the time. Dance yourself out of bed in the morning. You can’t be grumpy if you are shimmying backwards and waving your hands in the air. Your mum and I will be teaching you the dance moves to Candy, Spice Girls (various), and Steps as soon as you can walk.

45 – Let us embarrass you. Being embarrassed of your dancing, loud relations is a rite of passage that you can laugh about in years to come.

46 – Main thing? Try to be happy most of the time. Yes, yes, you have to have the lows to have the highs etc, but honestly, life goes on whether you smile or sulk. So, you might as well get your grin on. Plus, you couldn’t have been born into a family that is more excited to meet you, happy to have you and eager to enjoy our lives together with you.

All you really need is love, and you already, and you will always, have it by the tonne.

Love your auntie,

Catherine

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