Post-Holidays blues are a horrible thing. Almost one month to the day since I returned to Ireland from travelling South America, I’ve been filling my days with practical odds and ends to keep the mild depression at bay.
One of those activities has been to finally clear the attic space in our family home. Years of useless junk has collected there, including my once treasured X-Files memorabilia, a horde of Christmas board games played once and a treasure trove of dolls and toys from our childhood.
An interesting discovery I made was a set of diaries from the early ’90’s that I had completely forgotten about. When I finally removed them from their box and dusted them off, I started getting very nostalgic reading from the pen of the child writer with big looped handwriting and even bigger dreams. It was incredibly revealing to read about a different time, a different generation. Experiences I had long since forgotten. The diarist could well have been a stranger. Even old enough to be my son which is a sobering thought.
I spent the next few hours reading and remembering long forgotten episodes in my life, and some of the insights struck me so much that I wanted to share them here.
1. ACCEPT THAT FRIENDS COME AND GO
My best friends were in the same year as me in school. We would experience so much together growing up – the trials of the 11+ exam, the painful isolation of not being hunted in the playground game of kiss catching or facing the wrath of our Headmaster and his ‘Yellow Friends’ – a set of plastic rulers bound together by a thick elastic band which he would slap down hard on the open palm of a misbehaving child. Those experiences bonded us and helped create an unforgettable childhood.
Zoom forward twenty years later and I haven’t seen or been in touch with them since. Reading back the diaries, a small part of me feels saddened by this. But the truth is, that people grow up and get older. I’m not the same person as I was back then, and neither are they. New people come into our lives at different stages in our development. One thing is certain and that is change and we need to embrace it. New jobs, new cities and new people influence us and our futures. It’s a fruitless task fighting to keep old friendships alive especially if they no longer serve you. Let them go and open yourself to new people who resonate with where you are in your life, right now.
2. FAMILY IS EVERYTHING
In some entries I made passing comments about my Father and his absence. He was required to travel to Europe quite often which meant long trips away from home. Through my ten year old eyes I only saw this as a negative, not realising for once the pain he felt at leaving behind a wife and four young children. Working long hard hours to put food on the table. It is only now that I can fully appreciate the sacrifices he made, missing a large chunk of our childhood in the process.
In 2007 he died from cancer.
3. LISTEN TO THOSE WISER THAN YOU
Peppering my entries was sage advice from my parents and teachers. At the time I bemoaned the fact that my new weapon; an elastic band-pen thrower was taken from me. Or that I was punished for sticking tacks on Gerard’s chair, banished to the P1 infant class for two hours.
Of course, at the time I felt the world was against me and couldn’t understand the reasons for it. It is important to recognise that more experienced people have been in your shoes. They’ve navigated the tough terrain so you don’t have to. It would be wise to remember this, especially in this age where older people are seen as a burden or handicap in the eyes of many younger people. They may be older, but their life experience can make yours much richer.
4. PROBLEMS PASS
I wasn’t an academic whizz-kid in my childhood. Impending exams, especially the big one to graduate out of primary and into secondary school were front of mind while I was a student. But, as soon as I put pen to paper, that stress disappeared and I could escape into my writing.
My biggest worries in the classroom involved girls, and how to get noticed. I was a fairly popular kid in my own band of merry men, but was paralysed with fear when it came to the opposite sex. My painful shyness was a constant thorn in my side which dug deeper in my teenage years. Little did I know at that time that those painful lessons would better serve me on my life path. I needed to experience the pain to prosper.
5. DON’T FORGET TO HAVE FUN
Aside from exams and avoiding eye contact with girls, I was having so much fun with friends and cousins. Every day was an adventure. Whether it was building a tree hut, playing Sega all day, making errands to the shop for my older, wealthier brother (I charged £1 delivery which was spent on Astro Belts or Fizz Bombs) and spending hours kicking football against a wall.
It is easy to get tied up in the small nuances of the daily grind, but taking some time off for some light-hearted relief is a great panacea. We can learn a lot from kids in that respect where the opportunity for playtime and adventure can be found anywhere.
School was the best time of my life. I just wish I had known it at the time. Where else do you get to have fun all day, every day – relatively stress-free without a care in the world?
6. SAY IT BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE
Almost on a weekly basis, the girl of my affection would change. Sometimes it was Moira – then she would give me a funny look, so I would suddenly switch my allegiance to Claire – who just happened to be the recent muse of my buddy Gerard so I would need to look elsewhere within the pool of ten girls in our classroom to dream about.
These girls were always in my thoughts and featured in most of the articles I wrote in my diary. Self-Doubt and insecurity plagued me for every single day and the therapeutic act of getting it on paper must have felt good for my confused young mind. Every day was building to that perfect moment when we would be alone and I would have the boldness to hold the glance she would pass my way. Every evening in my journal I documented the jokes, hair pulling and constant teasing my friends and I would play on the girls. I was building toward a grand finale.
It never came. They never knew how I really felt about them as we exchanged our awkward goodbyes two years later, the final time I would ever see them again. They never knew about the dozens of hours I would spend in my room at night, listening on the radio to Cool FM’s ‘The Love Zone‘ dreaming about our future together as Whitney or Mariah opened up my heart.
If I had been braver back then who knows what could have happened. Probably nothing. There have been many missed opportunities for me as an adult to say what I REALLY felt, holding back for fear of appearing the fool or misreading the situation. There is no perfect time to find the words – sometimes we can logic our way out of saying the right thing. But our heart knows. And keeping those words hidden inside you serves no one.
7. LIGHTEN UP
There is a prophetic entry in my diary which offers this advice to a future me – the reader. To quote my ten year old self – “…When I read this again I’ll probably be 40 years old with a crap job and a Lada so Aidan, ‘Loosen Up!’
8. IT’S OK TO BE YOU
I was much taller than my classmates in primary school. I also sported a faint furry ‘tache which I was painfully self-conscious about. Below my left eye, I had a raised blood vessel which looked like a permanent zit and was my constant companion and a source of name calling from my brothers. They called me Vein. We all had nicknames then, so I let that one slide for Brothers – Tube and Mole Hair respectively.
Even in spite of this, I was still quite popular with my classmates because we looked beyond those physical characteristics and just focussed on being ourselves. Being kids and having fun. Living in a small village, we were probably exempt from the latest fashion trends or maybe we were all too young to care. That kind of honesty is refreshing and something lost today where as adults we try to conform to what society dictates. We need to wear certain clothes, listen to certain music and be a certain weight to have others acceptance. Which is all bullshit really. Sometimes we need to listen to our own inner oddball – the real you.
9. DREAM BIG
There are no filtered expectations as a child. Before parent’s/teachers/bosses really have clipped your wings, there are those wonderful years where you truly believe you can soar high above the world and be anything you want. My aspirations as a child were to become a footballer. I was convinced that if I kept playing for hours each day, honing my skills and most importantly having fun, then my dream would become reality.
Cue a couple of short years later where I wasn’t chosen for the class football team and my motivation began to taper off. I haven’t kicked a football in ten years. As a 10 year old I would play for at least 2 hours each and everyday and religiously follow the results of my beloved team, Blackburn Rovers.
Were those years of kicking a ball against the wall wasted? I don’t think so. The road to success has many speed bumps and unfortunately my car conked out near the beginning. Now I realise it wasn’t necessarily the car’s fault. I was on the wrong road. These were early lessons that I needed to learn. Coming to terms with the disappointment of not being selected. Nevertheless, that burning desire that I had at an early age needed to be nurtured and directed to help achieve its objective. I believe that same passion can be rekindled in adults, as long as you know which road to venture out on – experience will teach you if you’re on the right one because it is the one that connects with your heart.
10. ENJOY IT WHILE YOU CAN
I lived every moment to the fullest as a kid. The people, even the tyrannical Mr. Laverty helped teach me many lessons in my young developing years. Whether it was the Headmaster’s strong disciplinarian style, my sidekick Barry’s constant comedy turns even in the face of adversity, my long departed Granda’s kind words when I would run at breakneck speeds to buy him a lighter in the corner shop, or even my brothers who constantly beat the shit out of me when I was growing up.
In the thick of all that, it was a fun, crazy, mad, joyful, difficult and entertaining ride. Some of the characters that played a part in my growth from childhood to adulthood have since left the stage, gone from this world. They brought enormous joy and fun into my life, and it is important to not only remember them but to celebrate their lives by making the most of our short time here. Life’s too short to be filled with plague, worries and doubts.
If we could learn to see the world through a child’s eyes even for a glimpse, I think it would remind many of us to live with a little more joy and adventure again. And that is the biggest lesson of all.