Dear Alula,

Yesterday you cried. You were inconsolable.

You want to leave now, you sobbed. You don’t want to make friends in England, you said, because you’ll just end up leaving them, so what’s the point? You’re really bad at math, you cried. And you call braids braids, not plaits. Who calls them plaits anyway? We laugh at the splat sound of plait. Braids is much prettier we agree.

You are foreign. This is the subtext. You will be a stranger in the place you’re meant to call home.

I’m sorry. I know it’s hard. As a mother it’s hideous to watch your child so torn up and to know that you are the cause. Everyone says to me ‘oh but children are resilient’ but I don’t think that’s as true as we like to believe. I think you’re deeply sensitive and that change is hard on you. You crave structure and stability and the universe has cursed you with parents who are always trying to stretch the boundaries of outrageous potential  and a Sagittarius for a mother who craves instability and adventure and who constantly questions the word ‘home’.

I wonder what the hell we are doing. I worry about how this impacts you. It isn’t the perfect solution I know that. We are probably only going to be in the UK for a year before we take another leap into the unknown, heading off who knows where. It’s terrifying for me. I can’t imagine how it must be for you.

I found myself speaking today to an old friend I bumped into, who happens to also be the school guidance counsellor. We talked about the challenge of raising third culture kids and the difficulty inherent in moving them around the world.

Do the pros outweigh the cons? How can a child be made to see the advantages when all they care about is the moment and the friends they’ve lost and are dealing with the fear of starting a new school? Should we just stay put, I wonder, settle down in one place? Give her the stability she craves? Are we selfish beyond belief?

All these questions rush around my head while you cry and I hug you. I tell you I understand how hard it must be. I talk to you about the whys and the wheres and the what fors but I know that with your mind so much in the present it’s difficult for you to see beyond the hard, narrow ledge of the horizon.

It might be difficult now Alula, is what I want to say, but what we see over that horizon is a you aged eighteen, ready to take your first unaccompanied steps into the world. What we see is how comfortable you are in that world – east or west, developing or developed, among cultures different to your own. What we see is a you unrestricted by a narrow world view but able, hopefully, to see the bigger picture and your place and possibilities within it.

You will know the value and the joy of following dreams and of working hard, and of the beauty of creating, because you have been surrounded by this every single day with your daddy and I and the community around us.

You will know that an exquisite kind of satisfaction can come from those things – from following dreams and working hard and imagining things into being.

You will have friends in every corner of the world ready to open their arms and welcome you home.

You will know and inherently understand the biggest fallacy of all; that there is no certainty in the world, only uncertainty, and you will, I hope, be able to use that knowledge to your advantage, embracing it rather than reaching for the security blanket of a 9-5 job that might not fulfil you and all the accoutrements that we grasp at to help fix our identity and place in the world. You will know that none of that really matters in the end.

So, while you cry, and it hurts my heart to see it, I have to believe that in the end it will all be OK – more than OK – that you won’t look back with resentment at your crazy drifter parents, but with gratitude.

But, just in case, we’ll start saving up for therapy costs now.









3 thoughts on “A letter to Alula

  1. Carine says:

    Sarah, you could have been writing this letter about me and my kids – beautifully written and so meaningful and personal to so many, me included. Thank you xxxx

  2. Nicola jones says:

    Some beautiful words here Sarah and I’m sure they will mean a lot to Alula when she’s older and she looks back on the decisions that were made. I think the life you and John are creating for and with her has already been incredible, and from the sounds of what you post about her she sounds like a wonderful girl who views the world with such optimism, hope and dreams. Like you say, the world is going to throw different things at her in life, and the type of upbringing she is having is going to make her value her great friendships and her background even more.

    I think we all sometimes crave to have had different things in life. I didn’t go abroad until I was 14, as we didn’t have the money for family holidays abroad, that background has turned me into a traveller – I’m curious about the world I didn’t know as a child. I wonder what it might have been like to grow up by the seaside, I think we’re all going to wonder what a different like was like. Alula will probably wonder what the other options would have been like, but at the end of the day we are what our experiences make us. With yourself and John (and all your family) around to support her, she will excel and she will live her dreams whatever they may be.

    And in the meantime – the world is a smaller place now. Facebook, Skype, Facetime will help her in some respects to hold on to her life in Bali. And England isn’t so bad 😉 xx

  3. John says:

    Beautiful post. Right to the heart of it all. Brought tears. Bravo my love!

    I’ll be matching this letter to A with one from me. I was foreign in England at seven…

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