Sunday, 12 April 2015

Lessons from my Mother

I have a confession to make. Recently the third anniversary of my mother’s passing came and went. I don’t know the exact date. I haven’t gone out of my way to forget it, but nor have I committed it to memory. The reason being, I prefer to think about her life.

That being said, it’s hard to ignore the thoughts that roll around this time of year, and as some of them have occurred to me, I decided to create a list. My mother taught me a lot, both purposely and simply through her example, so here are some of the things which come to mind.

Never be ashamed to get involved. Whenever there was a holiday, play, school event, or what have you, Mum would take to it with enthusiasm. She wasn’t worried about whether others would laugh; she’d happily look silly in order to make things fun for her kids or others.

Creativity is important. When we were young, we were always allowed and encouraged to muck around with paints, crafts, cooking, old clothes. All things which encourage creativity and art in a young mind. Once, we played astronauts in the lounge and Mum brought us green milk to add to the alien effect. I’ll never forget that.

Self-esteem. Let’s face it, I was a gloomy teenager a lot of the time. Hell, I can still be a gloomy adult. Still, my mother was always telling me to believe in myself, and be positive. I didn’t see the importance of it at the time, as is often the way, but now I do.

Permanence. During your childhood, your parents are ever-present. Though I availed myself less of the opportunity than I could have (due to aforementioned teenage gloom), Mum was always ready to lend an ear, and, also, to offer sound, practical advice. She was also exactly what you want when you’re sick: someone to sympathise and bring you soup. Even now, I still miss my Mum when I am ill.

The fact that being a parent is a pain in the ass sometimes. If you look at the amount of my mother’s pottery or sculpture that my brother and I broke, it might represent the amount of hard work and frustration she put into us over the years. (My Aunty Es had a similar problem I am sure.) Despite that fact that I’m pretty cool, I threw the odd strop, and I know my brother and sister were no angels. Behind all this, though, as a child knowing you’ll always have a warm home to come home to no matter how many windows you break is something more than special.

Words can hurt. I think back to one or two things I said when I was younger, which upset my Mum, and I feel ashamed. There is a lesson in this, and it’s one I try to remind myself of regularly.

Practicality is important. From my Ma, I learned the basics of cooking, cleaning, laundry, and she pushed me to learn to drive and to get my first job. These things laid the foundation for some of the every day things I do, taught me to be confident and independent, and to stand up for myself. My Mum also showed me that life isn’t fair, and you have to accept this and battle on when difficulty arises.

A system of belief requires conviction. Though she didn’t realise it, an independence of mind (some results of which she might regret) was instilled in me. While young, my thoughts about how people should be treated, how they should behave, and a tentative moral philosophy, were developed by watching and listening to my mother.

There are worse things than a dignified death. My mother’s last days must have been frustrating, even maddening. I don’t know how she stayed calm, but throughout her decline, that’s what she did. She always seemed peaceful. This is a testament to her strength of mind and heart.

Now, I’m not saying she was a saint, and there are definitely one or two things which I found frustrating, like a double standard when it came to talking in the lounge while the TV was on, or a stubborn streak of her own from time to time. But I can forgive these things when it comes to my Ma, because the good far outweighs the bad. I am sure there are other things that are lost in time or overlooked, but the home life, and the later support I received have given me many reasons to be grateful.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

The Internet Generation

My generation is lucky. They are the first to have access to the internet, and they have avoided being the first to be born with the internet available. The children who are born now, I think their attitude to the internet will be different to ours, and different to their parents. I say this because we are now witnessing a generation of children who will ‘grow up online’, so to speak. We have millions of children who already have a substantial online presence that they did not create, and in which they had no say. Their parents have uploaded pictures of them, posted videos, added status updates telling the world about their misadventures and bowel movements. Formerly, these embarrassments were the domain of stories from parents at parties, and the occasional polaroid of a baby in a bath or with cake all over their face. Now, it’s all out there for the world to see. Children have email addresses and facebook pages before they learn how to speak. It’s like everyone is growing up a child celebrity, but without the money to insulate themselves from the negative aspects of being in the public eye.

Why is this so bad? What’s the harm in a few baby pictures online? To that, let me posit the following scenario. A man trawls the internet looking for pictures of children, because he finds them exciting. Sure, your privacy settings are high, but are your friends’? That video they shared is now in the hands of Pervy McNasty. Even if it never goes further than that, that’s a chilling thought. But keep in mind it could go further than that. People know how to find you, to get your address, to figure out where your children go to school. It’ll probably be ok. But you never know.

There’s also the problem of privacy. There are things I don’t want people to know, both from my childhood and as an adult. These things, I have a right to keep to myself. If I start dating a girl, I don’t expect her to be able to find my baby pictures online immediately. That kind of thing can wait.  Similarly, she doesn’t need to know all the gross things I got up to (and have no memory of) when I was a two-year-old. That’s information I keep to myself.

I’m not saying never share anything. After all, parents will always be annoyingly proud of their children (despite the lack of any real achievement thus far - call me when they win a Nobel prize, would ya?). But think about what you put online on behalf of a person who is going to have to live with that online presence, with photos and pictures and information about themselves which they did not choose to make public. Even if the information is mild and inoffensive, it’s still information about a person which they had no say in posting. And have no doubt, once it’s online, it’s public.

The only advantage that today’s children will have is that they will understand what it is like to have their whole lives smeared across the internet before they even knew what the internet was, and they will be more considerate than their parents about what they choose to post. At least, that’s the hope. We’ll have to wait and see.