Culture Cul De Sac

Published: Sunday September 7, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Updated: Saturday September 13, 2014 MYT 12:37:16 PM

Suddenly 16

What happens when a baby niece becomes a young lady? You write her a letter.


OMG, what happened? It seems like it was just yesterday that we were all eagerly awaiting your arrival at the hospital. Thrilled at the prospect of meeting the next generation’s first-born. Do you remember the teeny-weeny bouquet I sent you to welcome you into the family?

In just a few months you grew into a sweet little baby, all close-cropped curls and chubby cheeks. Then we watched you every step of the way, from wearing glasses before you were three to struggling to tame your hair in your teens.

You were rather cheeky then, too. You didn’t like your friends to see your grand dad picking you up from kindergarten, so he had to stand far away to wait for you. If he was too close, you would wave him away. And if your grandmother turned up, you’d scold her for wearing her kaftan. You hated those long, gaudy, billowy things.

Even as a child you knew what you wanted or didn’t want. When you were not even six you refused my kind offer of my old car that I thought would do nicely as your first car. To drive yourself to uni when the time came. But you sniffed, “I want a new car, maybe a BMW.” Not much older than that, you told me that you didn’t want to be a writer, “It’s no fun because you work all the time.”

I know you have been waiting for a while now to turn 16. And now, it’s here. Finally, six and 10, in all your glorious beauty, even though you say that school is draining all your energy. You moaned, “No time to be excited about my birthday ... OK, maybe I’m a little bit excited. I’m tired of being 15.” Thinking about your birthday, baby – never mind that you’ve grown up too quickly – made me think back to the time when I was 16.

We have told you many stories, not only the boring ones, about how different it all was back then. Not necessarily better, nor any worse, just a different era. My own 16th was spent ignoring my family, celebrating with my friends. I’m surprised they still talk to me. But I’m glad you’re not doing the same. You’re sharing your day with your family. Good girl.

But being 16 then was quite different, you know. I remember your surprise a few years ago when you realised that we didn’t have mobile phones in our day. “How did you talk to each other?”, you asked, wide-eyed. We never travelled out of the country either, only short trips to Port Dickson or Penang.

There were no shopping malls either, so weekends were spent cycling to the river to swim and to surreptitiously sip shandy. In the past year I was informed that you wanted to start practising on mocktails so that you’ll be ready for the real deal when the time comes. I didn’t even know mocktails existed then.

Oh, and the only time we shopped for new clothes was for Christmas, and perhaps for the occasional birthday. We only had horrible, thick hairbands and rubber bands, perhaps an occasional ribbon (do people still wear them?) to tame our unkempt hair.

See, that’s the best thing about being 16 now. The range of hair care and treatments make even having a bad hair day an unusual treat. Since we share the same hair gene, I’m glad yours is better cut, treated and maintained. Hope my tips and tools helped you weave your way out of that dreaded hair maze. Kiss Kiss.

Now, I like selfies, too. Just like you do. Thanks for sharing yours with me and for helpful tips along the way. We have certainly improved our poses and pouts. It’s nice to learn things from you, too. Didn’t hear about Birdy until you mentioned her – what a voice! I didn’t know about Prada when I was your age. But I hope you’ll also eventually like vintage bags, when you inherit mine.

You know, when I first started writing this I was ready with advice. Do this, don’t do that, be this, don’t try that, since I’ve been there myself, albeit decades ago. However, as I recalled my memories of you, I realised you don’t need any advice. Except for one precept, quite a vital one at that:

Boys (and men later on ...) will always say the silliest things. Don’t believe them. It’s true, they will regale you with sweet words, read you poetry and promise you the world. Most of the time, they’ll forget what they said, will stop listening to what you say and eventually break your heart without a worry in the world. Eventually, you will find the right one ... until then, treat the rest with disdain.

Oh, and you will make many mistakes, too. You will learn through experience (and my words of wisdom) to separate the wheat from the chaff in everything. Just promise me that you will always stay sweet and loving and remain as funny as you are now. Don’t forget to try new experiences and open your eyes wide to absorb everything in the world that awaits you.

Happy birthday, darling girl.

Auntie J

Delighting in dead ends, Jacqueline Pereira seeks unexpected encounters to counter the outmoded. Find her on Facebook at Jacqueline-Pereira-Writing-on.

Tags / Keywords: Column, Culture Cul De Sac, Jacqueline Pereira, niece, newborn, advice, teenager

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