…because today my niece was born, and this post is written to her.
To my brand new niece,
I am writing this while your mother is in labour, bringing you into the world. She and your father are an ocean away from me in England, from the rest of our family, and I so wish I could be with you, I wish that in the first few hours of your life I could hold you and kiss you and sing and whisper prayers over you. But that will have to wait a few weeks. For now I have only words on a page, but they are infused with my love and my imagination and I hope you will read them one day and know that I sat in eager, quiet, excited anticipation at the moment you came out into the open.
Welcome to our quirky family. (I’m speaking for the Groves rather than the Woogs here). You are the beginning of a new generation, my parents’ first grandchild. I can hardly believe that my little brother has become your dad, but I feel so sure that he will be a kind and wise and wonderful dad. He’s big and strong, but such a softie underneath.
It might seem strange that I am writing to you before I know you, before we become proper friends, but I have been thinking a lot over this last year or two about family, about our family, about what there is to celebrate in our story, and what I hope will be left behind with past generations. And I know you will discover so much of this for yourself, but I want to tell you what I’ve seen, I want to give you eyes to recognise the goodness, and I want you and your siblings and cousins to be the best incarnation of us yet.
It will be many years before you read and understand this letter, so if I’m honest I guess I’m also writing it to all of us, and to me, to remind me what I love about our family.
We are made up of soldiers and nurses (as your parents exemplify – at this point in their lives at any rate), of teachers and train drivers – practical people – but there is a rogue artistic thread that winds its way through us too. Your great grandmother, Pat, a wry, elegant, resourceful army wife only gave way to her creative leanings late in life and became a painter (although she had dabbled in lampshade-covering earlier). She taught me to draw, and to make fudge, and almost to the very end of her life, kept painting. To reach the end of your life on earth, this complex and heart-breaking planet, with the desire to create and to participate still intact, is a glorious triumph of hope. Too many of us retreat into criticism, cynicism, spectating. I pray that hope and creativity will course through your veins to the very end, and that they will never be defeated by the pain you will encounter.
Our family laughs a lot and I love that. There is always joy and silliness, and we never stay cross long as a result. At our worst moments we use humour to defend ourselves and hit out at each other unkindly, to get attention or to deflect it, and we wound people. We go too far. That is the side that I hope you only observe and never join in with. I hope we’re getting better.
You are the next in a line of strong and beautiful women (oh it’s so true on both sides of your family); we have fire in our bellies and will fight our way anywhere we feel called. May there be fewer fights in your way than there were in ours. And may you revel in your God-given strength and never feel you have to prove it.
And now some small kernels of wisdom I have accrued in 32 years of life in our strange family: Trust people, even after you get hurt. Listen out for God speaking to you and believe Him over what we tell you. Tell people you love them and tell them why, tell them more than you think they should need to hear it. And savour all the good food and drink.
Amelie May (yes, as I have written this letter you have been born and been named) you are so welcome, and you are so loved. I am counting down the time to meeting you and I hope we will always be good friends.
With love from your old aunt,
PS Mum (your granny) always swore she didn’t want to be a grandmother, but she has been besotted with you since before you were born.