Promise to a grandchild I shall never meet

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…

A Promise:

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

Cecilia –

 tracing a line back at least three greats

but skipping my generation.

I shall call you Cecilia

 and hope you like music

and sing

every day:

For the love of it,

the sheer bloody joy of it,

no other reason –

Even if

and especially if

others wish/think

you shouldn’t.

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.

I promise

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.

I promise,

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 committed imagination,

not luck.

I promise

you won’t be told to quieten down,

what to be or what you can do

by parents or teachers

because of some accidental

identity characteristic

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

and sometimes

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

and sometimes

I hope your grandparents will feature,

 and a few of the curiosities

we collected

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)