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Back to school: A letter to my children

As their schools reopen after the summer break, Nasheet Khan, Gulf News Deputy Editor, International, shares some life lessons with her children

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Nasheet Khan's children: Dua, Shanzae and Ashaz.
Gulf News

Dearest Ashaz and Dua,

I love you and Shanzae so, so much. I know you know that but I can never let you know enough.

The past few days you have seen me hunching over the laptop, working on “my assignment”.

The truth is, I was writing this letter to you hoping that I would have it ready in time to give it to you as you boarded the bus on your first day of school.

I’ve been asked to write a letter offering 10 pieces of advice that could help you get through this school year, and possibly, even life.

But I need to say this here — I don’t think it’s either of you who needs advice.

At the age of 10 and six, it amazes me how much kindness, compassion, wit and intelligence you both exhibit when the time and moment calls for it.

But a parent’s task to protect, love and nurture never really ends. It hasn’t ended for Nana Abbu (grandfather) — I still call him for advice or when I need a new window to look at a problem from.

This year is especially important as it is the stepping stone to your formative years [Dua, I will tell you in a bit what formative means. I can imagine you reading this letter out loud, slowly. Don’t give up darling, you are doing just fine].

Let me explain.

Think of life as a jar of tiramisu — there will be the bitter bits, the cheesy bits and the sweet layers.

This year is the first layer of that jar. I pray that you relish every bit of each layer as you progress in life.

From here on, you will make memories that will become a part of several “remember when” conversations which you will have with your best friend, your spouse, with each other and hopefully, with me and your father too.

Remember this though — what this letter means to you today, it will take on a completely new meaning and significance as you enter your teens, when you graduate, when you land your first job, when you fall in love, when you get married and when you finally have children of your own.

I pray that you are blessed with a long and healthy life. That aside, if you fail to reach any one or none of the above milestones, know that I will still continue to celebrate your kindness, compassion, wit and intelligence.

So, by virtue of the powers vested in me as your mother and your all-weather friend, I’d like to share some life truths.

Here goes:

1. Don’t just study, learn

It is far more important that you understand what you are being taught in school rather than focus on just getting good grades. You don’t need to excel in all subjects. Pick two. Those that sing out to you. And be the best at whatever you do. Learn from your mistakes. Learn from others. See the good in the world and try to be better than that.

2. Choose the right friends

These are going to be people who will later on become a part of your tribe, your squad. Pick those that are kind, funny and kind of funny. Those that will stick by you, no matter what. There will be several trials and errors. Be patient. Making good friends takes time. The best ones will find you.

3. Learn to know when to be selfish and selfless

What I’m about to say here is a borrowed thought, but a beautiful one at that. Do you remember why we were asked to wear oxygen masks in case of an emergency in the aeroplane? So that you could save yourself and in the process, help others too. Sometimes in life you will be forced to think about yourself first. Do it. Especially if it helps you help someone else. There is no greater joy than a selfless act and trust me when I say this — the good will always come back to you.

4. Invest in yourself

Pray, exercise, eat healthy. You need to take care of your mind, body and soul. Give yourself time and some tender, loving care. Learn basic skills – cooking, how to shop for groceries, sew a button, fix a leaking faucet. When you are an adult and if ever you end up broke, at least you can cook up a happy meal with the most basic ingredients. Don’t forget to tell me how it tasted.

5. Celebrate other people’s successes

If you seek applause, you need to clap for others too. There is no person more insecure than he who cannot be happy in someone else’s achievements. You don’t know what it must have taken for that person to get there. So don’t judge. Just clap. And mean it.

6. Cut the chase

Running after success, relationships, a promotion or something that is not falling into place will get you nowhere, except that it will add to the infinite space of your negative thoughts. If you do not have the answers for the “why is this happening to me?”, let me assure you — at your age, none of us did. Leave those parts for now. They will provide you with the answers when the time is right.

7. Try and avoid the “what ifs” in life

Life — just like its name — is too short to think of what you could have done with it.

Want to colour your hair purple? Do it. Create your own comic strip? Great! Visit every country in the world? By all means. Be part of a flash mob? Please do (but let me know too — I’d love to be a part of it). Do everything that you wish to do as long as you do not harm yourself or cause irreparable damage to anyone else. Just do it. Dua, in your case — just Dua it :)

8. Open the door for others

Be it in terms of opportunity or to showcase basic manners — open that door for someone else. By doing so, you exhibit two very strong personality traits — self-respect and respect for others. When you make time for others, you are giving them a part of your life. And that’s a big deal.

9. Invent something that is your own

It could be something as simple as a personalised ketchup recipe or as elaborate as a secret code for NASA. It’s called leaving a legacy — something that people will remember you by. And it doesn’t have to be ground-breaking. You can leave a legacy by making a difference to just ONE person’s life.

10. Get personal

Make eye contact. Even if it’s for a single minute, give that person your complete attention. Blind people can sense affection too. So always remember – it’s not what you say but how you make someone feel. And that is the only thing that makes all the difference — how you made someone feel.

And last but not the least, take lots of pictures and write something about them. In cursive.

On its own, it’s a beautiful art form. Not all of your memories need to have a digital footprint, so live and laugh in the moment too.

I will end this letter with a big thank you. Thank you Shazu and Duee for making me so happy and proud, all the time.

For being you.

I wouldn’t trade it for anything else in this world.

Lots of love,


[P.S: Shanzu, you can read this letter when you are a little more grown up.]