When I was a child, I spent hours and hours making cards for my family. This was because I had endless access to the materials I needed (paper, which I lifted from the printer in my dad’s office, and pens, which I took from my little sister’s pencil case), and almost unlimited time, but also, realistically, because I had no private income. Even as I laboriously attempted to draw a realistic depictions of my ‘family’ (I used the opportunity to add in things that didn’t exist, but I thought we ought to have, such as trampoline in my bedroom, or an older brother, who would teach me how to dive from the top board), I knew that this was only the beginning. Soon, I thought, I would be able to ‘be like mum’, and hastily shove overdue birthday cards into the trolley at M&S, whilst protesting ardently that it ‘wasn’t for Daddy, but don’t tell him’.
As the above vignette has shown you, my mother wasn’t particularly good at cards. She bought them in a hurry, often in bulk, and paid scant attention to what was written inside them. (My 13th birthday card encouraged me to ‘get well soon,’ which alarmed me enormously, because puberty was frightening enough already). As a reaction, my little sister and I are perpetual card givers: we send thank you cards, personalized birthday cards, postcards to one another whenever we go abroad. So it was growing consternation that we searched for a ‘Sorry for your loss’ card, the day before she left for South Africa. ‘They don’t sell them,’ my little sister informed me. ‘They must,’ I replied staunchly. ‘They sell cards for everything. Look- this one is for someone waiting in for the delivery man. To be fair, they are a modern day hero, but still. A card seems excessive.’ ‘It’s for an expectant mother.’ ‘Well,’ I agreed reluctantly. ‘That’s very confusing.’
I stared at the expectant mother card, justifying my initial impressions, and suddenly realized what we needed to do. ‘Here you go,’ I said to my little sister, a few minutes later. ‘A lovely home-made sympathy card.’ My little sister looked at the card. ‘Sorry you’re leaving,’ it said, and I had crossed out ‘leaving’, and put ‘left.’ ‘This is not OK,’ she told me. ‘Fine,’ I said. ‘I also made this one: “You’ve passed! (Away!)” From the look on my little sister’s face, it will be some time before I return to making homemade cards.