“…And so your granddad, a great GP with a compassionate heart, never charged for medical care in the town where we lived, in the countryside of Brazil. He freed the poor people from those long queues they had to join at three or four in the morning, just to receive assistance from our inadequate public health system. He knew that, often, people died in the queue and so the doors of his private surgery were never closed to them.”
This is only one of the many family tales I tell my four children, whilst they watch me with their unblinking hazel eyes. What I have been trying to make them understand at their young age (the oldest is 10 and the youngest is four), is the importance of acting, in life, with kindness and never measuring people for what they have, but giving them the value of the human beings they are. Like their granddad, who continues to work as a GP at the great age of 84, showing the same determination as in his early years.
Even though we avoid thinking that sometime in the future we won’t be here anymore, many parents worry about leaving a luxurious standard of living to their descendants, without realising that they really need little money to live a happy and fulfilled life. In fact, making good memories is about leaving a positive legacy, something that’s more worthwhile than money. We have reached our current situation in society through the legacy of our ancestors. As we are also passing our world to our kids, we can find some time to make good memories, bonding with them, cementing meaningful relationships and in doing so, bringing a smile to their faces in the years to come. In this way, we will be encouraging them to pass those recollections to their own descendants.
My children are growing up very quickly and at the same time I have aged, so needless to say that they are already building their own life history, with a happy childhood like mine, but very different. What makes our childhoods so different is this Internet age, which is a great way to enhance our lives worldwide. Actually, it has become of such overwhelming importance to us that it is also making it possible to keep our family stories very much alive.
For storing our family memories, there is now LifeStoryBank, an online space where you can maintain your family tales not only for your children, but for your future generations who will never know you in person. It is very easy to access, all you have to do is to search the website www.lifestorybank.com. Then, you will be able to record yourself talking about your life, through questions asked by an avatar. It is a good way to keep our faces and voices recorded forever, while telling our good and painful memories, ensuring that our children do not forget family tales or remember them inaccurately.
However, storing our memories on a website should never be the only way to help our children understand and enjoy our past moments. There is little better than speaking face to face with them and few things can enhance our friendship with our kids more than eye contact whilst we explain all the details of our good moments in life, as well our ancestors’ achievements.
Working parents may find it difficult to spare some time for their children, especially when the minutiae of everyday life seems to crowd out everything else, but strong families are the ones where there is love, which is not a superficial feeling that just happens, but actually it takes work and nurturing. I am sure you wouldn’t like your children to repeat the sentiment pronounced sadly by the American writer Mary Dell Harrington: “I wish I would have sat my parents down and learned every single thing I could about their parents and grandparents.” So, trying to avoid such frustrations later, my husband and I have decided that when all of our family sits at the table for our evening meal, that moment is ours alone. We talk about everything we want and I am moved, realising that one of my childrens’ favourite subjects is to speak about the days they were born. For sure, these moments at the meal table will stay forever in their memories and in mine.
Sometimes, my kids get curious about the fact that even though I am a mum, I also have a mum and dad in Brazil and I delight in telling them that everything started when their granddad was dropped, totally alone, on the outskirts of that town 56 years ago, after getting a lift in a lorry. Then, as he had only the equivalent of £10 in his pocket and his Doctor’s degree in his suitcase, he went to the local hospital and won a contract as a GP. After that brave start, he married grandma, who moved with him to the same town, where he became one of the most reputable doctors who ever worked and lived there. And grandma was equally courageous, going against her lifelong training and her parents’ wishes that she enter a convent, so she could be at granddad’s side as the wife of a country doctor and a secondary teacher in the local school. My children may take longer to understand the meaning of grandparents, as they don’t live close to us, but having such a varied heritage, thanks to both sides of the family (English and Brazilian), they may become more flexible regarding various views of seeing the world.
We parents are leaving to our children, the heirs of the world, problems of coping with climate change, which we unknowingly caused, but we may have some control over the legacy we leave behind; love, confidence and strength. Our legacy of good memories will become an inner voice, giving them a moral code, principles, values and standards of behaviour which will make them who they are, wherever they are. So participating in their upbringing is key, as every day is ripe for a memory to be made. It doesn’t have to be a big life-changer, like my father’s. We are making memories every day in our lives for our kids, when we look after them in the night, take them to the doctors for a small thing, talk with their teachers in school, attend school events, it all means a lot.
Sometimes, bad things also happen, but we can make the most of these bad moments for our children. Never feeling guilt about things we can’t control is one of them. Keeping close and giving support to our children in those moments, we can show them that life is not all about never falling down, but being able to stand up again after having fallen down. Encouraging our kids to hold together in the worst moments of life is crucial for developing toughness and resilience, therefore giving them the best memories of us.
I hope to be still around on my children’s 13th birthdays, celebrating their transition to adolescence with an important gift: a book called Touching the Void, by Joe Simpson (there is a film as well), a lesson in overcoming adversity, which should be shown to all teenagers. When they grow up and start their relationships, my two daughters will probably be interested in my advice, as our wisdom is part of the memories we leave to our children.
Another way to be remembered is to use pen and paper; recording our thoughts, hopes and dreams in letters and cards to them. With this aim, Martin Scorsese wrote an open letter last year, published online, to his 14-year-old daughter Francesca, where he says: “I’m writing this letter to you about the future… I’m not writing these words in a spirit of defeat. On the contrary, I think the future is bright.”
I hope my children, one day, read all my articles and also my letters and cards marking special occasions, such as a birthday, first day of school, celebrating a success or offering comfort for their disappointments in life.
My husband and I have been taking our children to Brazil over the years, making these trips very significant as they can visit family members they see so rarely, especially their grandparents and I have lost count of the number of times I’ve told the kids their granddad’s life story, as I decided not to let time pass without repeating it all over again.
Last year, taking our children for a ride in that town where my parents live and I was born, we ended up passing in front of a health centre which caught my 9-year-old son’s eye. “Mum, why is granddad’s name on that building?”, he asked. So, trying to seem equally surprised, I continued walking by him, whilst answering: “Haven’t I told you yet? It is the most amazing life lesson of character, backbone and kindness. Everything started when your granddad moved to this town in 1958 and…”