(Or: You’re not a mother, but you are magic.)
Everyone knows that the supposed consolation of childlessness is to be the “cool aunt/uncle”. And if you’re trusted by the parents, you might even get to be a child’s godparent.
Things have changed over time. Back in the day, a godparent was supposed to be a guardian, and a spiritual one at that. They were supposed to be the people who’d become the child’s guardians if (God forbid) anything happen to the parents.
My understanding now is that it’s more of a nominal honour (like “Will you be my bridesmaid?”) rather than any hard and fast agreement to take over guardianship of a child in the unfortunate event of parental demise. Not only that, but it conveniently bestows a more regular obligation on the godparent – to lavish the child with gifts at birthdays and Christmas, to pay them a visit every now and then, and generally to move the child up to favoured status in the godparent’s estimations.
Added to which, nowadays children seem to have a whole plethora of godparents to pick from rather than the original one godfather / one godmother – so in the event that something happened to their parents, they’d presumably have to be split between a bunch of different homes. Which wouldn’t happen obviously!
I’ve questioned friends on this before and it becomes clear that they pick each godparent for varying reasons, not all of which are to do with spiritual guidance (if any!). NB Maybe this is just my friends. Maybe it’s just the UK. It does seem to have changed from what I thought it as when I was little (and kind of a lot more religious than I am now).
Some are to do with the person not being short of cash – “They’ll get them good presents!” Some are to do with being a “cool aunt/uncle” figure – “He’ll take them clubbing when they’re older.” And a few are to do with the actual concept of future care – “They already have children so think they could take on mine.” And some are family obligations.
I was the firstborn (not to my mum… to my first mum, but first adopted) and so I like to think I got the “A team” of godparents, but in reality it was probably more the family obligation route. My godmother and godfather were the siblings of my parents respectively. In reality I’d have seen these people anyway and they would have happily (I like to think) taken on my care if anything bad had happened. The fact that they were from two different households never seemed to make sense to me!
My godfather was an avuncular man (appropriately enough, as he’s my uncle) and I always liked him a lot as a child. Although I definitely preferred my dad. He has a big beard which was quite unusual back in the day (my only reference being Roald Dahl’s The Twits – we used to ask him if he kept food in it for later!) and he’s the father of my two cousins who I idolised as a child. They were only a few years older than us but enough to make them impossibly cool – they were teens when we were in primary school, and so on. Even though we didn’t see them often, we thought they were great.
My aunt was the one I really loved. She’s very arty, creative and slightly bohemian. In complete contrast to my moderately strict upbringing, and my parents’ focus on academic achievement, she encouraged my arty and creative side. I can still remember the times she sat and drew with me, and showed me how to use complementary colours on a colour wheel, and how to do shading to make a 2D sketch look 3D. Looking back on it, I completely take it for granted that my creative side exists, when it was most likely encouraged by her.
As someone who was adopted as a baby, I have no way of knowing if my “talents” or interests are somehow innate or if they were nurtured by my environment. I do know that my parents were hugely encouraging of pretty much everything but especially academic achievements and sports/music. We were all encouraged to have “our thing” – mine was art. Even though I never ended up going down that route, I always did it at school and it was a huge part of my childhood – once I became old enough though, the focus was on academics as you got more bang for your buck in terms of scholarships and future careers (the one thing that mattered above all to my dad – he always wanted us to be self-sufficient).
So my aunt-godparent was the one who said it’s okay to want to do something just for the joy of creating it. Also, not being a parent herself it meant that the four of us were her sole interest children-wise. I never stopped to think it could have been infertility – we just always thought she didn’t want children. Looking back, it seems so hard that she spent all this time with four demanding kids when she possibly couldn’t have them herself. (Given my parents had problems and adopted two of us as a result, it’s not outwith the bounds of possibility that my aunt also had problems.)
My fairy godmother
When we were kids, and living overseas, we had a fairy godmother. Her name was Agnes and she was amazing. She would turn up and take the four of us out and lavish us with attention and love. I think I was a young teenager at the time and my youngest sibling was only little. She would take us out in her car and we’d go on trips to places, like little amusement parks or some kind of outing. I can’t really remember where we went apart from it was just about this lady who wanted to spend time with us and my parents thought it was great. We’d also almost always go to McDonalds or some kind of junk food place, and get to eat the junk food we weren’t allowed usually at home.
Agnes was our fairy godmother because she wasn’t a member of the family and she wasn’t a godparent. She just sort of adopted us. Her relationship to us was that she worked at my dad’s company, and when she found out about the four of us, she volunteered to take us out. My parents both worked and so did Agnes, but she somehow found the time to take us on days out when my parents were at work. I think my parents were just pleased to have us off their hands now and again! Also I think it’s a nice memory of something that probably wouldn’t happen now… I can’t imagine people letting a random woman take their kids out on day trips. People are so suspicious nowadays.
The thing is, she couldn’t have any children. As kids we always used to ask why she didn’t have any, and I guess we didn’t realise why she didn’t have any when she clearly loved kids. I mean, she loved them so much she was willing to take a rag-bag motley crew of us out and about with her, and I’m pretty sure it was all at her own expense. It’s sad in retrospect to think that it was because she couldn’t have her own kids. And I guess it was nice of my parents in that way – as people who’d struggled with infertility for many years themselves – to allow someone to be that person to their kids.
I think the difference between godparents and fairy godparents is that godparents are picked by the parents – but fairy godparents pick themselves.
Agnes was our fairy godmother and we loved her. As children it was great to have an adult who wanted to spend time with us just for the fun of it, and who would take us out and spoil us. I think how she would lavish all this attention us and we just enjoyed it… We never gave anything back. And she never asked for anything other than the chance, for a few hours, to feel like a parent. Maybe we sensed it, which is why we let her take us out all the time. Or maybe we were selfish kids who enjoyed being fussed over and spoiled with fun day trips! Either way, we always had fond memories of her, even after our family moved countries and we never saw her in person again.
There’s a happy ending to all this – Agnes is now a mum. I guess she’d be in her 50s now. She and her husband couldn’t have kids and ended up adopting two. The last time we spoke, a couple of years ago (though my parents speak with her semi-regularly), she was enjoying being a mum to two toddlers. I could hear the joy in her voice and see it in her pride when she emailed us pictures.
Some people are meant to be parents. And some are awesome fairy godparents. And maybe those fairy godmothers get something out of it too – the joy of granting little wishes. The enjoyment of giving. I don’t know if Agnes got that out of it, or if she just liked us – a noisy, demanding rabble. We did love her but I think kids can be kind of casual in expressing it… I hope she knew we did.
This is the thing. Neither of my godmothers had children, but they were significant figures in my life. They were the people who devoted time to us, who loved us even though we weren’t theirs*. My aunt-godmother taught me to cherish creativity and not to let that part of me die. My fairy godmother taught me that someone who wasn’t yet a mother could have a mother’s love. They both taught me that you don’t have to be someone’s mother to be a significant person in their life. More than a friend or family – a (fairy) godmother.
(*Strictly speaking, me being adopted meant that my parents and family did this too. Which only makes them even more awesome because believe me, I’ve been extremely difficult to love at times!)
Being a fairy godmother
I don’t know when I became a fairy godmother but it happened a while ago for the first time that I really noticed. Friends of mine had a baby, and for some reason I found it easier because they lived in a diferent country to do the whole baby present thing. I found it difficult to go and visit babies in person. I still do, a lot of the time. But I’m an awesome present-giver, even if I do say so myself.
I love giving presents. I love sending cards, or telling people something that says “I’m thinking of you”. I have my friends who have birthdays, but I also have a small bunch of fairy godchildren too.
There’s my little baby (now no longer a baby but a walking talking kid) who lives overseas and who actually calls me “fairy godmother”. I get busy during the year and I don’t see him all the time but he’s probably been the recipient of way too many toys over the years. And clothes. I used to love getting him clothes. When he was born I was still in the phase of thinking I’d never have children (with my ex) so I pretty much did all the research and present buying I’d have done for my own baby. He’s a cute kid. And the great thing about being a fairy godmother rather than a “proper” godmother is that I have no obligations… I get to give when I have the time and opportunity, and he doesn’t expect anything.
Another one – my friend who had the baby. (Which one, you may ask. You’d be right… They all have babies!) The latest one is the one that really hurt… My rather demanding friend, who kept demanding we go and see her, bring certain presents etc etc. Well, she moved country too (I think I can get on better with people in different countries, haha) and then a couple of weeks ago she posted on Facebook about her kid’s birthday. He was sitting in a toy car and looked really happy, and the caption said that they were looking for his birthday present but ended up buying him something else… They’re notoriously stingy!
Well, I couldn’t let it go. His little face was all lit up. So I went online and searched for a car and I sent it to them for his birthday. You know what? His face was a picture. A picture she posted on FB with a caption thanking his “auntie” – me. My other friend couldn’t believe I’d spent money on someone who is soooo stingy but I told her it wasn’t for our friend – it was for the kid who wouldn’t have had that car to ride around in. Every kid needs a car to ride around in – it’s a human right! And he shouldn’t have to suffer because his parents are miserly. (I promise they’re not poor! They’re just very stingy!)
And you know what else? The joy I could see in his face, and the gratitude from his mum – it was worth it. But I didn’t do it for the thanks. I didn’t do it because I’m a great altruistic person. I’m selfish and I did it for myself. For the ability, because I don’t have kids – because I have some spare cash, to be a fairy godmother.
The best gifts are the unexpected ones and I genuinely, selfishly get more fun out of giving than receiving. I have an honorary little sister and she’s had a lot of health problems so she is currently living at home whilst all her peers are making their ways into an adult world. It sucks and I’m so sad for her, because she is one of the most vibrant and fun loving young people I know. And growing up she was like the young, cool girl who wanted to hang out with me – the boring adult. (If you haven’t seen a theme yet, I’m totally selfish in my “generosity” – I just love to hang out with nice people.)
I like sending her little surprises in the post. She always tells me that they arrive just at the right time, when she’s having a really bad day. I usually send her makeup or jewellery or stationery – small things that say “Hey, I haven’t forgotten you”. I love that I get to be the big sister that I used to wish I had. I never want her to feel like she doesn’t matter or has been forgotten because she’s sick. Knowing that someone who’s really seriously ill gets a kick out of it and forgets their illness for a moment gives me a kick too. So often I sit around at work thinking all my hard work is inconsequential, so I do things to remind me that other things matter too.
And there are my real little (though taller than me, annoyingly) siblings and I get to spoil them too. My sibling overseas currently has a parcel making its way towards that country which cost more to post than it did for the contents… It’s stuffed full of British chocolate. It’s probably been stopped at customs! Another of mine received a giant advent calendar full of luxury cosmetics. It’s so fun now we are older and a little bit richer (not rich!) to be able to get these things for people.
And for parents you can be a fairy godmother (daughter?) too. For my mum’s birthday I sent her a subscription of fresh flowers once a month. That’s nuts. I still love getting the text from her saying her flowers have arrived. To be able to spoil your parents (my dad, with contraband candy) – it’s a special luxury. Some people don’t get their parents for very long, and some people don’t have as fortunate circumstances in life. I know that. It’s like a mini celebration of life. A few years ago my dad was seriously ill. My mum has ongoing health problems. I know they won’t be here forever and I want them to know I love them. Wow, life is s*** sometimes but it’s also good. We have love, and we have enough, which is pretty awesome. I try to remind myself of that.
And I have little fairy godmother moments too… as a recipient. My BFF is a case in point – she always sends me the cutest things. It’s like we just know each other – I sent her a charm bracelet advent calendar and she sent me a L’Occitane one (I love L’Occitane!). She always gives us loads of crazy Christmas presents and I always get her and her sister Kiehl’s! (I already stocked up in the US.)
But really, I could go crazy on gift giving because it’s like a drug. It doesn’t even need to cost much. You can make a cake, or candy, or chocolate truffles or cookies. The last few presents I tried to “make” by doing some calligraphy. I sewed my BFF a dog back when I had the miscarriage and we were on our healing holiday with Dog. It was kind of crazily sewn but it had a lot of love stuffed into it.
So here’s my resolution: I might never be a mother. But I’m going to be an awesome fairy godmother. I’m going to try and inject a bit of magic into people’s lives. As a fairy godmother I’m not obliged to do anything, so nobody’s expecting it. I can just think of someone and send them a little wish. It can be big or small and it could cost a bit (if I have cash) or it could cost nothing. The important thing is what it says.
I love you.
I’m thinking of you.
It will be okay.
I’m here for you.
Thank you for being in my life.
The good will out.
© Disney (Who else?! Walt knew the meaning of magic. I may not be religious, but I believe in magic… I believe in good. Cheesy but true!)