A love letter to my parentsBy Emma Pearson
September 22, 2023
Photo my own
28 July 2023
Last weekend my parents had their 60th wedding anniversary celebrations. A little prematurely, in truth, for they were married on 7th September 1963 (“seven nines are sixty three!” being the clever little ditty for each and any one of us who wanted to be sure to remember their special date).
Forty-something people gathered in Worcestershire, England, near where my dad’s sister, my auntie Thelma, has lived for the past 50+ years, with her husband, my uncle Ceddy. A second home for many of us in the family, and where we had ten extraordinarily comfortable and exciting Christmases during the 1970s and 1980s. What a lot of work those Christmases must have been – for a family of four to absorb a galumphing family of seven for a full week – feed and water them, keep them vaguely clean by washing off forest mud, twigs, barn hay, and more… I barely remember how we all fitted into the house, but fit in we did, and very comfortably so, and I am sure we all have equally fond memories of those special weeks.
The house and the surrounding land remain special, and over the years, my aunt and uncle have designed, shaped, cajoled and developed the garden such that it could easily feature in high end “house & garden” magazines (something tugging in my brain suggests that this has in fact happened). They now host special events in their garden, bring in caterers, and – assuming the weather is clement – there’s space for tens of people to mill around, chat, catch up and reconnect.
And so it was this past weekend – an evening event in the garden (washed out by freezing July rain, as it happened, but no worries if you were not camping, and too bad if you were), followed by a very posh lunch at a gorgeous nearby venue the next day – complete with ponds, birds and lush open grounds. Even the sun deigned to come out. English countryside at its best.
I chose to say some words of appreciation at their posh luncheon – words that I felt I would want to say at their funeral(s) should I outlive them. Words that I want them to have now, to hear now, while they can, and hopefully appreciate them.
Mum and Dad
A few reflections from me. Observations and appreciations of you as parents, rather than any kind of commentary on your marriage. I know not to do that. Mum has advised me on multiple occasions, typically with a bit of an edge in her voice, not to comment on anyone else’s marriage, because no-one outside knows the goings on inside. Very fair. So I will focus instead on how I feel you’ve been as parents – to me – just one of your five children.
I like to think that, with my professional hat on, I know something of how to give feedback. But this won’t be balanced. It won’t be comprehensive. It might not be actionable. And it certainly won’t be objective. All of which is fine.
So mum and dad – here’s where you have shone, to me, for me, as parents, and as human beings:
Mum – you’ve been an extraordinary and inspiring role model – not just for your generation but I believe for any generation – in terms of being committed to “doing good and interesting work while also raising kids”. I still don’t know how you did it. I credit Mike and an army of au pairs and childminders for helping me manage my career and raise three kids, and know that dad’s career meant he wasn’t around as much as Mike was. I take off my hat and bow deeply. Thank you for repeatedly saying things like:
- “Make sure you find work you enjoy – that way you’ll want to continue it if you have babies”.
- “Remember that your work-life will be longer than any childcare years. One or other can take a back seat at times, but neither needs to fully stop”.
- “Over time, your earnings will increase and your childcare costs won’t – so even if a whole salary goes on childcare, if you love your work, work. You won’t always have those costs”.
- “Get all the help you can afford”. This one got quoted so often that even some girlfriends heard it and acted on it. My best friend and best woman, Nathalie, misheard it as “Get all the help you can’t afford” – and acted accordingly. Even the twisted advice served her well enough. She’s had four kids, is a CEO, and still married to her first husband.
There was period of a couple of years, from leaving school in Brussels until my first year at university, where I struggled with Bulimia. Nothing too serious, but nothing pretty either. I went to a support group in my first year and met others – all women – and had this fascinating insight. As everyone went around the group, talking about their worries, and why the eating issues, a common thread of “mothers” came up. Of course. But as I listened, I realised that every other young woman was navigating the tricky territory of dealing with a mother who was angry or sad that their daughter had gone off to university, or who was bitter and resentful that the younger woman had all these choices that they themselves hadn’t had. And I realised, “Oh my golly – I am not concerned about outstripping my mother. I am not concerned that my mum is bored and sad and lonely now that I have left home. If anything I am concerned I will never be able to come close to her accomplishments!”
Mum – it’s extraordinary how you parented and carried on doing good work. You kept your career going, even though of course you had to make some choices you didn’t want to – or had choices made for you by education systems. I have never come across anyone who mastered both facets of adulthood with such skill and dexterity. Thank you for being such an inspiration. I’ve always loved my work and still do. I’ve loved being a mum and still do. I hope that I now model some of this wisdom for younger women. And men.
And then there has been health. I’ll have been a teenager when I first truly understood the value, the importance, of health. I remember you spouting wisdom like, “If you have health, you have choices. If you don’t have health, your choices disappear”. I have lived by that tenet and made choices aligned with it for at least four decades. It’s been one of my top three life values – along with Love and Learning. So much else grows from it, lives in it, depends on it. It truly nourishes all of the rest of life. Even if I drop dead later today, or get diagnosed with something tomorrow, I know that I have been stonkingly healthy. Perhaps I am just lucky. Perhaps I have good genes. I mean – look at you both. But perhaps there is something to nourishing health as a strategy to support a good life. I believe so. Thank you also for that precious wisdom.
And now to dad.
Of course I have the multiple memories of you leaving open Encyclopaedia Britannica volumes outside my bedroom door at night, for me to find in the morning, bookmarked with a piece of grey recycled notepaper from the European Commission with a reference to something I had for homework – invariably Latin or History. I think I learned from that that education was my responsibility – but that I could draw on other people and their knowledge.
More impactful are my memories of listening to you play piano while I was already in bed on a school night. I sensed your enjoyment and pleasure at playing, even though still only a child, and realised “Hmm – if I want to have something like that when I am a grown up, I’d better keep on playing”. Which I did. Music has provided such solace to me – I know this was an influence from both of you, but I will attribute it to dad. It’s not that either of us were particularly gifted, but I witnessed your enjoyment, and realised that being “good enough” was good enough. I saw that you could start piano lessons again in your 40s. I have them still now in my 50s. And you’re still having them in your 80s. I love that we have sat piano duet exams together, that you have accompanied me on saxophone and cello, Ben on trumpet, Megan for flute and voice, and Julia on oboe. I love that we still play piano duets today. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. Dad, thank you for the music.
And finally, in recent years, these shockingly hard years for me, for you, for all of us. You (both) losing one of your children. All of us losing Edward as either brother, son, nephew, cousin, son-in-law, husband, or father. Me losing Mike, then Julia. Ben and Megan losing their dad, then their sister. Izzy and Nina losing their dad. Alex losing her husband. All of us losing so many precious and dear people. I want to thank you for being the one constant person who’s been capable of just sitting with me in the shittiness of it all. Without trying to fix anything. Without trying to minimise or sunshine anything. Without shying away from or trying to change the subject. Never have I heard you utter, “At least….” or “Be thankful for…”, “He’s/she’s all around you”, or any other trite platitude. It’s a rare and precious gift, and one that I value enormously.
Thank you for being remarkable people. Thank you for being remarkable parents.
Thank you both for the gifts of wisdom, health, life and love.
Truly, nothing else much matters.
Emma, 28 June 2023