These are my cousins. Ella is the red head, she is 9, and Ruby is 11.
When I was a kid, all I wanted in the world was cousins. I had second cousins, but I desperately wanted my aunt Mary – who in many ways I am actually more similar to than my own mum – to have children of her own. By the time she was 40, it seemed that it might not ever happen for her. Sure, she had dated many cool, smart and handsome men. But none were the right fit.
Then she met John. A filmmaker, like her, solid, sane, smart, and funny. He is her fit. I adore John.
When I found out that Mary was pregnant with Ruby I bawled like a baby. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
When I found out she was pregnant with Ella, it was another joyous moment. She and John and Ruby came to visit us at Christmas, and they walked in the door, and Mary said, “Ruby, do you have news for everyone?” and Ruby, then two, pointed at her belly and said “BABY SISTER!” We all cried. It was amazing.
My mum has a cool expression for having children. She calls it “making your own favourite people.” I think that is such an eloquent and beautiful way to put it.
Ruby and Ella are two of my favourite people on earth. And not just because they are related to me, though it is a great joy to discover all the similarities between us, running through our blood.
But really, they are two of my favourite people because they are incredible human beings. Watching them grow and learn and mature and change is an unparalleled joy for me.
They are two of the smartest people I know. Full stop. Incredibly sharp, incredibly perceptive.
Ruby’s favourite band is Talking Heads – how awesome is that? One of Ella’s favourite songs is Heart of Gold by Neil Young – one of my own favourite tunes. Ruby requested a Mighty Boosh t shirt for Christmas this year.
And they are already making avant garde art house flicks. Check it: creepychristmas.net/ Their film is posted on December 24. Ruby did the scenario, Mary directed, John did the shooting and editing, and Ella is the star.
I mean, seriously. How cool are these kids? They have so much personality for their ages, it’s unreal. I feel a particular affinity for Ella, we are cut from the same cloth.
She’s very feisty, very funny, very spunky, and very no-nonsense. If she was a character in Harry Potter she would be Ginny Weasely. Since she was two everybody could see how similar she and I are. The family suspects she might go into the sciences, like me. Already she lists “mammals” as one of her favourite things, on a map of her heart that she drew.
One of the things I find most amazing about the girls is how different they are, and the fact that they both had their own distinctive characters from the very start. As their dad John put it, “It’s like they came out already done.”
Ruby is a different breed. As Ella and I are similar, she is from the same planet as my aunt Kelley.
She is – and I’m serious – the most generous, sweet, kind and sensitive little girl I have ever met. If she was a character in Harry Potter, she would be Luna Lovegood – but not flakey. For example: she recently wrote a short story that involved a stone that if you touched it you would feel every emotion in the universe. She is one sensitive soul.
And she is remarkably philosophical. She’s always asking deep questions, sometimes ones that I find very difficult to answer.
At the moment she’s very interested in religion. Her grandmother was Catholic, and a few other members of her father’s side of the family still practice. “What religion are you?” she asked.
“None, Boo. I’m not any religion.”
“Because I don’t really believe in God, and I don’t think I need a list of rules to make me a good person, or that we need to invent stories to make life seem amazing.”
Then she wanted to know why there were so many different religions. We talked about Jesus and how I agreed with basically everything he said. She has a friend who is Wiccan and thought that was cool, and then said, “I don’t want to be a Christian I think that’s boring. Also I don’t like this hell idea, I think that’s mean. Also some Christians don’t believe in evolution and they are really silly. I met a girl who didn’t believe in dinosaurs and I thought she was dumb.”
Then she asked, “Why is there religion at all?”
“Well, because the world is a confusing and amazing place and people want to understand why it is the way it is, and why we are here at all,” I answered.
“But maybe there are other ways to try and understand the world,” she said. Then we visited the science museum. It was a good day.
This summer I had the incredible privilege and joy of watching old episodes of The Simpsons with the girls, which they are just now discovering. We watched the episode where Lisa gets a talking Malibu Stacey doll, and the doll simply spouts sexist and inane statements, like “I wish they taught shopping at school,” and “Let’s make cookies so the boys will like us.”
I explained to the kids that this was based on a real Barbie doll, which caused a lot of controversy when it was programmed to say “Math is hard.”
“That’s stupid, why would they make the doll say that, just because she’s a girl doesn’t mean she can’t do math,” Ella observed.
“Girls, do you know what a feminist is?” I asked. They shook their heads. “A feminist is somebody who believes that boys are no better than girls,” I said.
“I’M A FEMINIST!” they both cried. I was pleased.
I really don’t know if I can quite find the words to explain just how much I treasure and adore these kids, and how happy they make me.
This Christmas, for the first time in six years, my cousins, my brother and I were all together.
I was going through a very difficult time in my life, for professional reasons. To make it worse, my brother is suffering from a terrible lung and sinus illness. He’s been in awful shape for three years, and it completely breaks my heart. My brother means the world to me, as I have written about before. When he is in pain, so am I.
I was really down. So it was wonderful for the girls to be here, they cheer me up so much. I don’t quite understand how or why, but for some reason, almost every time for the past six years that I have been going through a sad time, the stars have aligned to put me in the same geographical location as the girls.
When my parents were fighting constantly in 2002, about to split up, and it was awful.
In the spring of 2003, after I had gone through the most difficult and painful year of my life, culminating in my first love and best friend breaking my heart into a million pieces.
Just before I left London to go back to Canada in 2006, which was a very sad time for me.
When I returned to London in 2007, after my failed attempt to reunite with my first love, and I was shattered beyond belief.
And now this Christmas, when I was feeling incredibly low and shattered, watching the publishing industry go down the toilet, and hearing my most beloved brother wheeze and cough with a mysterious and crippling illness, the girls came to visit. Thank goodness.
One night we were all going to have dinner together, and Ben couldn’t come because he was just so, so ill.
After he apologized profusely and I hung up the phone, I started to cry. No, I said to myself, don’t break down in front of the girls, you are supposed to be a role model and a rock for them. I wiped my tears and sighed. They looked at me sympathetically.
“I’m sorry guys, I’m just so sad about Ben. Imagine, Ruby, if Ella had been incredibly sick for three years, and nobody knew what was wrong with her or how to make her better.”
They nodded in silent understanding.
“Ruby, what advice would you give me to make me feel better about this?”
“Well,” she said. “Don’t worry, because it’s not going to make anything better, and you’re just going to make yourself feel worse.”
“You’re totally right.”
“Also, don’t be pessimistic and think he won’t get better, because pessimism will just make you depressed.”
This girl is so incredibly astute. I am inspired, comforted and counseled by an 11 year old.
How amazing is that?