A small step for Syria

Dear Leo and Miller,

A lot has happened in a week. One day at work I made the mistake of reading too much about the situation in Aleppo and almost started crying at my desk. There was a letter on the BBC website from someone working as a doctor for the International Red Cross. He or she spoke of what they had seen on one particular day in December which happened to have been my birthday. What they described was like the end of the world. When I got home that night, I couldn’t look you both in the eye until I was doing something. Something useful to raise money or awareness or to try and make something happen no matter how small. Maybe a fund-raising event? A charity night? I didn’t really know. So I emailed a handful of friends about what I was thinking and within 24 hours we had a venue and a grand plan. This kick-started a project that I think is going to take over my life for a bit. But you will understand one day why I couldn’t do nothing. 

It seems impossible that a humanitarian crisis, which looks almost biblical in scale of destruction, could be happening right now in a country not so far away. I don’t think I am any more affected by what I see now that I am a mother. In fact, I find it vaguely insulting towards people who aren’t parents to suggest that they feel less intensely when confronted with suffering children. But I do weigh up the faces and little bodies with more of a reference point than before and think – you’re about Miller’s age or that group on their own with no adults to be seen aren’t much older than you Leo. It’s terrifying. They look so like you, right down to the clothes they wear. These aren’t refugees in rag cloths and sandals: they’re in Adidas and children’s clothes I almost recognise. They could be you. On sight, they’re just a dirtier, heart-broken version of you two. The only small sliver of hope to come out of the relentless and brutal footage we’re seeing day in and day out is that it is so shocking and so vivid, that we in the West might start to choose our words differently. Because that will be the start of a wind of change. We talk about the threat that refugees pose to our nation and our way of living, and we talk about the threat of what we call our migration crisis. But the only real crisis we face is a moral one if we continue to look on and do nothing. I’ve done what I suppose most people do and donate some money to Unicef or Save the Children or another charity. And feel a bit better that we’ve ticked a box that says we’ve given enough money to keep x amount of children in warm clothes and full bellies. But it isn’t enough and it will never be enough. The one tangible thing I can do is make a promise to myself to bring both of you up as best I can. To protect you fiercely but not to protect you from too much. I want you to know what kind of a world we live in: the good and the bad. And I want you to be free enough of mind to come to your own conclusions. All that is up to me is to arm you with information. I won’t allow you to become complacent about all the privileges you enjoy – that I whole-heartedly promise. I will make sure you know that not everyone you come across with a foreign voice has come here with a happy story. I will be rigorous with the language I use around you. I won’t slip up and let prejudice and judgement filter into our conversations. I won’t let you hear views I heard growing up about ‘bloody foreigners’ or even worse. Or at least I will make sure you know it’s not OK to speak that way. The world is tiny now. It’s on the screens of our tiny phones. Pictures of war zones so clear and close you can practically taste the dust. You will have no excuse to say you didn’t know. I will make you both realise that these pictures aren’t the problem of another country. You have a responsibility to pay attention because they are part of your own lives and your story. Muhammad Ali got it right when he said: Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth. There is no doubt in my mind about that. How you fulfil that service will be up to you.

Love Mum.

PS. You can read the letter here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-38257312

 

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55.5588° N, 1.6342° W

Dear Leo and Miller,

So I missed a week… It was bound to happen eventually. I think I’ve done well to get this far without slipping up but I’m sorry this letter is late. Last week was all over the place because you finally got chicken pox too Miller. After 3 weeks of all the symptoms minus the spots, the spots made an appearance. Just a light smattering compared to Leo’s (which looked like cigarette burns) but they came nonetheless. And with them a continuation of the crying and sleeplessness and the upset. It was also my birthday mid-week and even though everyone was tired, irritable and not in the mood to do anything, your Dad and I made the effort and had a night out. To the Tyneside Cinema of course. We promised each other after you were born that we would make the effort and go out together once a month, which at the time seemed reasonable, almost easy, but now is laughable. Quarterly is about what we manage these days. I’m sorry if all I seem to do in these letters is list the ways you are an inconvenience to our lives. But I can’t deny that you’ve destroyed our social life. It wasn’t back-to-back parties before, but we did love going to the cinema and I can’t even remember the name of the last film we saw…  The closest we get to watching films these days is the first 20 minutes of Toy Story, Cars or The Little Mermaid about 10 times a day.

My only spare time recently (to sit and write a letter) has been taken up driving to and from Beadnell because we’re having work done on our cottage. To prevent it falling down or being condemned, which would certainly not help increase bookings next season. Neither of you really appreciate it yet but Beadnell is going to be very important to you. That is my hope anyway.  It was to me and I want you to have the same connection with the place. I want it to be our refuge from town and school and work and all the other pressures in life that seem to evaporate as soon as you step onto the beach. It is the only place where your Dad properly relaxes and for that alone it is worth all of the trouble and strife it takes to keep it going. We bought the cottage before we had you two, before we were married, before we even had our own home. In hindsight, it’s difficult to argue that it wasn’t a huge mistake. A big expensive mistake. But neither of us would have the heart to sell it now and so instead of ruing the day we bought it, we have to start looking after it.

Love Mum.