originally written September 2020:
This month I reach the age at which my mother became a grandmother It’s not a title I shall ever be able to claim. This week is World Childless Week. I am at peace (mostly) with that status by now but the milestone made its presence felt as I became aware of another circuit around the sun.
Becoming a childless person by accident rather than design has brought me into contact with a lot of women (and some men) who have learned to reinvent their future from the one mapped out for them in story, in film, in familial expectation. We’re not entirely trusted by society and yet we do a lot of the work that communities need. (More of that another day). Approaching my birthday and reflecting on how my art work and my activism have been hindered, helped and informed by the absence of my own children… I wrote this…
If I have anything to do with it
(but like all grandmothers I shouldn’t get too involved/
but I would)
somewhere your name will resonate
tracing a line back at least three greats
but skipping my generation.
I shall call you Cecilia
and hope you like music
For the love of it,
the sheer bloody joy of it,
no other reason –
and especially if
I would love it if you are an artist
but mostly I want you to do
whatever it is that lights you up
your brain, heart and body.
If you want to be a parent
I hope that you are.
If you do not,
I hope you aren’t forced into it.
By anyone or any law.
you will have autonomy
over your choices
and can breathe deeply
in a world less toxic
in every sense
than the one your
never-mother would have inherited from us.
We have made a terrible
mess of this present
but I do not believe
we can persist in this.
I am sure
things will get worse
and resistance will continue
to be our first duty
I am optimistic
we can make the change.
You must promise me
that with your white heritage
(however mixed or not, two generations on)
you will always acknowledge
that you will be under
less threat than some.
And you will always remember
that your fate is linked to
in your world –
I will not forget that
and neither must you.
You my never grand-daughter
may be a citizen of anywhere,
and everywhere you may live,
if the women who live there too
are not fully free, neither will you be.
By the time I’m old enough to need your help,
I hope that our resistance, optimism and activism
will have made it so that your brother
(should you acquire one) is equally
equipped and equally willing
to be there in his turn.
And neither of you will be pitied
or looked down on for taking the old activist on
– not all the time, mind,
I want to be enabled to live not die –
… we’ll see.
I’d like to think that after this hyper-alert phase,
we’ll reach a post-gender one
with less doubt and acrimony.
The accident of me being female
is a badge of pride to me now
(I wished when I was young
to do the things boys did
and have the adventures they had
and to have pockets).
Now I am proudly female
in defiance of an illogical system
that allowed and encouraged me to think
and behave as if somehow
I was worth less than the male.
you will have none
of that nonsense
cluttering up your head
And slowing you down.
I don’t much care
what pronouns you use for me
as long as you are kind.
I will stick to she/her
for as long as in some people’s minds,
she/her diminishes my humanity
or negates any of my rights as a full citizen.
And if those pronouns fit others
who weren’t given them by doctors or parents,
I’m fine with that too.
By the time you can vote,
and I promise you shall vote
in free and fair elections,
I want those status markers of gender
to be redundant in the legal system.
Like your great-grandfather
used to say about age,
it should only be useful
to remember / justify your pronouns
and physical attributes
and sexual attractions
if your doctor needs to know.
You and I shall be no person’s property,
no-one’s object or target of abuse.
I am glad you are not a Covid Baby.
But I would have loved to meet you.
To know that you are in the world.
I am glad that your first impressions
of authority figures
won’t be the ones that my teachers’
generation let pass unchecked.
There are many better people
for you to meet
symbols of courage in Belarus,
grace under pressure in New Zealand,
taboo-busters in Somalia and India,
climate warriors in Amazon and Sweden.
Female leadership is everywhere
and much of it
(but not all –
we are not by definition or nature
will change the weather in a good way.
In the fairy tale style
I will introduce you
to a gallery of characters
not fictional ideals,
real flawed and brilliant people
so that you can choose
your own dream team
You won’t have to do as I did
and steer a course around the pink aisle
and shape shift and skin shed into a boy
or a girl called George
to get all the fun and challenge.
Whatever your heritages
you’ll dive into stories
that include you
and allow you to try other
transformations on for size
out of curiosity
and to build empathy.
Empathy will be recognised
as the hard work that it can be
a truly brilliant superpower
that is acquired through
habit and imagination,
you won’t be told to quieten down,
what to be or what you can do
by parents or teachers
because of some accidental
or some social model definition
of your abilities and needs.
You will make your own choices
and you will have to face
consequences to your actions,
when we have re-understood
that rights come with responsibility.
If you are ill
you will be believed
and your pain understood.
You will be ill for less time.
Your child’s innate sense of social justice
will be encouraged
and your challenge that things “aren’t fair”
will sometimes be heeded
and sometimes over-ruled
because bed time is still bed time
you will need to wear a coat
or wait for the new
because it isn’t your birthday yet.
If I have anything to do with it,
treats will still be treats.
(I’m not the spoiling type,
so you’re not missing much there).
Whatever your family looks like,
our activism will ensure
that there’s a parent with you
to show you the boundaries to rebel against.
They love you
and even as you rage at them,
you know it and can trust it.
The world of work
will understand that its purpose
is to serve the community and its families
not the other way around.
there will be time for stories
I hope your grandparents will feature,
and a few of the curiosities
will have survived.
(I am the most accident prone of people)
And you may use them.
Don’t venerate them.
It’s a life not a museum.
Most of all
I wish I could meet you.
You are the person I shall most miss
in my future.
But thinking about
who you could be
and these promises
I am making, helps
move my future on
And makes it bearable.
I hope I am not a disappointment to you.
(originally written in early September 2021 – re-edited in Lockdown 3, January 2021)