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14 January 2016

A message for my twin daughters on their eighteenth birthday

All the good advice has been given, so I'm going to turn it around and say thank you.

By Tracey Thorn

My twin daughters are turning 18 this week, a fact that seems no more likely just because I’m looking at it written down. Adults. My babies are adults. It’s still not sinking in.

All through Christmas I kept remembering the Christmas just before they were born. We cancelled all travel plans in order to be within range of the hospital and I stayed at home, struggling through the backache of the day, clutching on to furniture like a drunk, falling asleep in front of Vertigo. Each evening I lay gratefully in the bath with the dome of my belly rising above the water like a cartoon desert island.

And then New Year came and time sped up, and the problems became an emergency, and the babies arrived six weeks early. Tiny scraps of nothing, each weighing less than four pounds, they lay scrawny and helpless in their incubators, one bright red and the other ghostly white. Curled, gently furred like a leaf. I thought I would die of love for them. I still think that.

For the next few years I was queen of their little universe, omniscient, omnipotent, until, gradually and so subtly I didn’t see it happening, my superpowers slipped away and they stood level with me, and then began to creep ahead. So now I’m full of doubt about the idea of offering words of wisdom or advice to them.

Even if I wanted to, I feel it’s been done brilliantly by others. Tina Fey wrote “Prayer for a Daughter” in her book Bossypants, a hilarious summing-up of every mother’s hopes and fears. “May she be Beautiful but not Damaged,/for it’s the Damage that draws the creepy soccer coach’s eye, not the Beauty./When the Crystal Meth is offered,/May she remember the parents who cut her grapes in half/And stick with Beer.” Parenting being almost entirely an exercise in terror, we welcome any excuse to laugh about it.

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Caitlin Moran also wrote an open letter to her teenage daughter, full of endearment and encouragement – “Choose your friends because you feel most like yourself around them, because the jokes are easy and you feel like you’re in your best outfit when you’re with them, even though you’re just in a T-shirt.” Sound advice, and achievable, too.

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Yet I can’t help feeling now that all the good advice has already been doled out. So I’m going to turn it around and say a few thank yous instead to my girls, as they stand here at this momentous moment.

Thanks for teaching me to text. Remember when I got a phone, and for the first year didn’t realise people were sending me messages on it? Oh, how we laughed. Oh, how I needed your help. And after that, thanks for teaching me what all the acronyms stand for, and also the latest slang words. (Though I do suspect you make some of them up, and laugh at me for believing you.)

Thanks for changing the screensaver on my iPad whenever I turn my back. I’m loving the current one of Aljaz from Strictly Come Dancing.

Thanks for still being surprised and impressed when you find out I’ve done something like appear on the John Grant record, which you bought because he sounded cool in an interview and then came bounding down the stairs full of excitement when you heard me singing on it.

And thanks for watching the Christmas Agatha Christie adaptation with me. I loved the way that when I said Noah Taylor and Anna Maxwell Martin looking like Nick Cave and Polly Harvey running a Goth B&B, you looked at each other and smiled that I had heard of Nick and Polly.

And above all, even though you’re officially adults now, thanks for still being teenagers. I know it’s hard, with all the exams and pressure and endless, endless stuff, but nothing makes me happier than seeing your pleasure in being allowed to pierce your ears, or chop your hair off, or dye it pink, or any of the other things I wasn’t allowed to do.

So, do I have any advice for you at all? Not really. Except that I know sometimes you worry, like all young people (or old people these days, in fact), about being cool. But don’t. Who cares, really? Cool’s overrated. Warm is better. 

This article appears in the 13 Jan 2016 issue of the New Statesman, David Bowie