A mother's letters of love: As her daughter turns 16, Julia Lawrence reveals the letters she's written to mark every milestone in her little girl's life
10:22 GMT, 19 November 2012
This week a lovely young woman greeted me over the breakfast table. Poised, beautiful and on the cusp of adulthood, it was my daughter Lois on the morning of her 16th birthday.
I’d carefully chosen a present and baked her a cake, but, to mark this milestone, I also sat down to write her a heartfelt letter, continuing a tradition I began before she was born.
For I have written to Lois at all the significant moments in her life — from the day I found out I was expecting, to her first day at school — in letters that reveal my hopes, my fears and, most of all, my love for her.
Pride and joy: Lois Lawrence has just turned 16 and to mark the milestone, her mother Julia decided to write her a letter, continuing a tradition that began before she was born
March 14, 1996 — lunchtime
Darling little bean, that’s all I can think to call you, although I don’t even know if you’re big enough to resemble a bean yet. You’re still a microscopic cluster of cells, but even so I would willingly die for any one of them, I’m so utterly smitten with you — or the thought of you. I suppose that’s what they call maternal love, it’s nature taking over, turning me into a lioness to protect my cub.
The newspapers are full of the horrific events that took place at a primary school in Dunblane yesterday (16 children and their teacher murdered by a madman). I just can’t stop crying. Every one of those grieving mothers once must have felt what I am feeling now and my heart goes out to them.
Are you a boy or a girl A little girl would be lovely — girls, I understand — but I’m willing to learn about little boys.
I’m writing in the park at lunchtime. I feel so sick already the pigeons got most of my sandwiches today, I can only stomach the crusts — and bottle after bottle of ginger beer. (Nanny says bad morning sickness runs in the family, so maybe it would be best if you’re a boy!)
Your daddy and I were so excited when I did the pregnancy test yesterday — terrified, but excited. We don’t have much money, we’re still in our 20s and part of me worries if we’re ready, but you have such a lovely family waiting for you, I know we’re going to be fine.
As I crossed the road outside my office, I kept imagining what your little hand will feel like in mine. Hang in there little bean/cub!
Newborn: Julia had Lois in her 20s and despite having worries about whether she was ready, she knew everything was 'going to be fine'
New arrival: When Lois was 2 weeks old (pictured), Julia wrote describing her trip to the baby weighing clinic
You’re finally here
November 21, 1996 — very, very early
It snowed last night, I can see it piled up on the bedroom window ledge. You’re nearly two weeks old, and I don’t think we’ll go too far today. To be honest, we don’t go far most days.
You’re asleep on Daddy’s chest; we really should put you back in your cot (that’s what all those baby manuals keep nagging me to do) but we feel so cosy, the three of us in our bed. We’re like three bears, hibernating for the winter.
I did make it to the baby weighing clinic this week — a huge achievement. I get such a thrill out of hearing your name called out. No longer ‘the baby’, you’re called Lois Frances. We think it’s a beautiful name, Lois, and Frances after your nanny and great-grandma.
You weigh 7lb 12oz. You have almond-shaped, pale blue eyes like me and thick, dark hair like your dad. You have a National Health number, a birth certificate and an official identity. You’re a British citizen. You exist!
Your first steps
November 16, 1997 — 2pm
You took your first steps today. We were in the kitchen in our flat, and I was clearing up after lunch (you love couscous with tomato and basil sauce — nutritious, but boy does it travel). You were sitting on the kitchen floor, pulling the tufts out of the back doormat, when you noticed the vacuum cleaner was out. You desperately wanted the plug, yet know you’re not allowed to touch it, and that must have been what spurred you on.
In a flash, you were on your feet, and took five steps towards the cleaner, before falling on your bottom and continuing your quest in a crawl.
Sun, sea and sand: Julia took Lois to Crete on her first holiday
Well done, Lois, I am so proud of you, you’re such a determined, fearless little thing (but I’m sorry, I still couldn’t let you play with that plug). You were appeased with a plastic colander and the cardboard tube out of the kitchen roll — so much more interesting than all those expensive toys we’ve bought for you.
I immediately rang Dad at work and Nanny to tell them. They were very impressed. Welcome to the upright world, Lois. You’re officially a toddler. I can’t wait to go shoe shopping.
Your first holiday
May 28, 1998 — Crete
We’re on holiday with Nanny and Papa, and your auntie Heather. It’s our first holiday since you were born, and you are a big hit with all the locals. You always draw a crowd in restaurants, particularly when there’s spaghetti bolognese on the menu. We warn people at neighbouring tables to bring plastic macs and umbrellas!
You also adore the swimming pool, although it’s terrifying and exhausting keeping you safe all the time. Did Dad and I ever have holidays when we lay on sunloungers and read books They seem such a distant memory.
On the way back to the apartment tonight, we were strolling along with you in your buggy, on a beautiful, warm, moonlit night, when you pointed at the sky and said ‘moon’. It’s not your first word — you can name your favourite animals (mouse and spider) and sing a very impressive, if abridged, Baa Baa Black Sheep — but it was such a lovely moment, I know we will always remember it. Whenever I look at the moon, I will recall the day when it became your moon, too.
You’re a big sister
December 4, 1999
Last night your baby brother Joe was born. You’d wanted to call him Tarzan after your favourite Disney film, and are a touch miffed that we didn’t go with your suggestion. He’s a lovely little chap, and looks exactly like you, but with Dad’s hazel eyes.
I am waiting for the two of you to come and pick us up from the hospital, and I’m a getting a bit impatient, so I’ll pass the time and write to you — and Joe.
What can I tell you about brothers Nothing, I’m afraid, I never had one, but I do have the most wonderful big sister. Joe, you are so lucky to have one of those, too.
She’ll drive you mad at times, tease and boss you around (don’t ever expect to play the teacher or doctor in pretend games, you’ll always be assigned the role of pupil or patient) but as you hit your teens and 20s, you’ll have the best friend and ally in the world. Just make sure you look out for each other, carry each other home from the pub if need be and share taxis. Don’t snitch on each other and be loyal. I know you are going to love each other as much as I love you.
First day at school
September 11, 2001
Julia wrote a letter to her daughter (pictured aged 5) on her first day of school
Today was your first day at ‘big’ school, but the rest of the world will remember it as the day the Twin Towers in New York were attacked.
The morning went well. You weren’t nervous at all and couldn’t wait to put on your new uniform, particularly the big girls’ knee-high, white socks and shiny black shoes (it’s all about accessories with you) and bolted straight in, chose a book, and sat down on the carpet.
You came out at 3pm full of stories: lunch was a partial success (chicken and mashed potato — two ticks; fruit salad — no ticks).
I watched the other children pouring out of the door and into their parents’ arms, and was struck by the sheer breadth of nationalities, races and religions in the playground: from Turkish to Korean, Ugandan and Pakistani — Muslims, Jews and Christians.
I worried initially about raising you and Joe in multicultural inner London, but after the events of today, I know we are doing you — and the world — the biggest favour imaginable. You chatted about your new friend Nafisat, about the pretty corn row braids in her hair and the fun you’d had in the sandpit. Not once was her race even mentioned.
In your world, her colour is so far down her list of identifiable characteristics, it’s irrelevant. She’s just another London kid, and your friend.
If we are ever going to tackle the divisions and hatred that led to the terrible events of today, then surely it must start here, with children like you, Nafisat, Anum, Abdul — and Katy and James. I hope that between you, you can make a better job of it than my generation has.
A trip to hospital
October 15, 2007
Your first trip to hospital. It’s been so frightening and you’ve been so brave. It all started when your eyes went puffy and you felt a bit lethargic. I took you to the doctor suspecting a nasty eye infection, but the GP suspected some strange, dangerous malfunction of your kidneys and we were dashed to the Whittington Hospital double quick.
The paediatric unit was amazing, it was like watching a car up on a ramp, with the whole team swooping into action. But amid this activity, I felt so helpless; it’s usually me who takes all the ‘hurt’ away, and when your frightened eyes met mine, I felt I’d betrayed you.
In the end, it turned out to be a very nasty case of glandular fever, doubled with a bacterial infection on your tonsils. Your immune system was overwhelmed, hence the puffiness. The relief is immense.
Back home, as I tucked you up with a serious course of antibiotics and a hot Ribena, I admit it’s nice to have you to myself for once and to feel needed again. You’re growing into such an independent, feisty thing, I sometimes feel my role has been reduced to one of a mobile cashpoint and internet invigilator.
You rested your head in my lap as you slept, and I stroked your hair. You felt like my baby again.
Happy families: Julia Lawrence with her children Lois and Joe and her husband John
Your 16th birthday
November 12, 2012
Sweet 16, a young woman. I don’t think modesty is called for here. We’ve done a good job with you, Lois, and I am very proud. You’re clever and funny, you can beat me in an arm wrestle and, most importantly, you’re kind. Doors have been slammed, stairs stamped on and harsh words exchanged, but on the whole I don’t have many complaints about you as a teenager. You’ve kept me amused, if nothing else.
What advice can I give you, as you enter womanhood I suppose the most important one will be your choice of partner: don’t overlook the geeks. The boy with the briefcase in his hand is a much better bet than the one with the guitar, ultimately, and acne clears up, trust me. Also, self-belief and good manners go a long, long way. Be nice to yourself and others and the rest will follow.
I hope we’ll always be close. In two years’ time, you’ll probably be gone, and I’ll miss you more than you can possibly imagine.
When you accuse me of ‘going on and on’ and sometimes repeating myself, remember the nights we read the same Bear Hunt book, over and over again. I can still recite it, word perfect.
As I watch you now, buried in your Kindle or sweating through your Steinbeck and Austen GCSE course books, I’d love to read it again, one more time. In fact, I might dig it out and do just that — with a tear in my eye as you head out the door to celebrate with your friends.
Happy birthday my beautiful, big baby girl.