Once upon a time there were six little girls — a poem about parental guidance

Wedding photo of David Taylor and Celia Twyneham

Wedding photo of David Taylor and Celia Twyneham

Once upon a time there were six little girls
(all my stories start that way)
and we all lived happily giggling and squabbling
and jumping and wriggling
and running wild and running free
or hiding away in a hedge or a tree.
And our Daddy David was a country vicar
and he always said “Be kind”
and he was kind, he was always kind.
Now from the grave our dear dead Daddy
still reminds us to be kind
and we try, we do our best, we try.
As for mother Celia, every day
she pushed us out the door and whispered
“Go on! Have an adventure! Go!”
and decades dead she still says that
and we obey, it’s easy, it’s OK.
Six old women on the same seesaw
have a primer for life with just two rules
one to be and one to do
and when things start getting out of whack
the sing-song say-so of our parents
can ease us up or down or back.
I need my mother, I need my father
I am my mother, I am my father now.

Buy the book that features this poem

Listen to the poem being read aloud and discussed

Parental guidance continues even after the parents are dead! My 5 sisters and I were lucky in our parents, very lucky. Their voices in our heads don’t contradict each other, but are so different that we have had plenty of wriggle room to be ourselves.

Image and poem and voice by Rachel McAlpine, CC BY 2.0: that means feel free to share them, but always attribute them to me. Thanks!

39 thoughts on “Once upon a time there were six little girls — a poem about parental guidance

  1. This is so beautiful! Although I can’t point to a parent specifically that taught me each of those values, I feel that – both by word and by example – I was encourage down both paths. Be kind… have adventures. Although mine are gone too, I still hear those words.

    1. How interesting. I never imagined another family would carry the same two messages.

  2. Robyn Haynes says:

    Rachel, while the whole poem resonates with me, it’s the last line I most relate to: “I am my mother, I am my father, now.” How shaped we are by our parents, who down through the generations, continue to shape our children and their children,through us. I hear my parents voices often in my head, giving advice, reassurance and love, especially when I make the same parenting mistakes they did. They remind me I’m only human. I’m here to learn. My grandmother and great gran too. I was close to them both. Thanks for a lovely post.

    1. Robyn, your comments kind of become part of the poem for me. Thank you for sharing your memories. I love that you hear a message so reassuring.

      1. Robyn Haynes says:

        What a great idea Rachel. A poem that extends its reach through the sentiments of others. And yes. I love the whole idea of continuity that you express.

    2. lisakunk says:

      I relate to this in so many ways there’s not a line I can pull out except those two instructions to be kind and have and adventure. What special words.

      1. Robyn, meet Lisa … except in the wordpess bloggging

      2. Robyn Haynes says:

        Lovely to meet Lisa

      3. Yet again my finger slipped. I meant, as WP bloggers you probably know each other already

  3. The poem hits home with me, both of my parents are longer gone than I care to remember but your poem brought both of them and their words of wisdom or not back to me.
    Thank you for your poem.


    1. That’s great: they too were only human and not always wise!

  4. Rainee says:

    That was lovely Rachel. Also lovely to hear your voice reading the poem. The line that stuck with me was “I miss my mother”. I am embarking on an adventure right now and I know my mum would have been right behind me. It would be lovely to share it with her.

    1. That’s hard, but also special, that you are in a way having an adventure for her too.

      1. Rainee says:

        Thanks for that thought.

  5. Joared says:

    I, too, “miss my mother” are the words resonating with me, though the .whole poem is delightful. She always listened to me. Even now when I reflect on what I learned from her, I think mostly it was the example she set. That, and allowing me to venture out independently into the world as I felt ready beginning at an early age with the boundaries extending correspondingly according to my years and demonstrated competence.

    1. Jo, you’re right, example teaches us the most. If a message contradicts what a child sees with its eyes, that must be disturbing.

  6. cedar51 says:

    interesting poem but I want neither of my parents back – and I do not miss them at all…although that’s probably because that was more than 40 years ago they went!
    I seem to recall an older brother (20yrs older than me) and now gone as well…that they never expected me to reach any great age…so hadn’t prepared me for anything…
    I think they would be quite stunned to know I had survived, without their “help”…

    1. That’s honest. My great aunt Bim had a similar gleeful thought when she was the sole survivor.

  7. rummuser says:

    The last line resonates with me just now. I am the eldest in my family now and am faced with one sibling at the terminal stage of cancer. The two other siblings and our extended family look to me for strength at this time as he is a popular member of the family.

    Though one sustains oneself with memories of carefree youth, when confronted with such tragedies it is difficult to handle realities.

    1. I understand. I wish my eldest sister had what we had: a lovely, caring older sister who accepted the burden of her role. It’s hard.

  8. My father died when I was pretty young (11), but I know he would have advocated for both the kind path and the adventure path. My mother did not stress either, focusing instead on the “be safe” or “be careful” path. It took me a long while, but I have chosen both adventure and kindness . . . and never looked back. Lovely post, thank you, Rachel!

    1. I am starting to wonder whether kindness + adventure are archetypal messages from good or good-enough parents!

      1. That sounds like an interesting idea to explore further!

    2. lisakunk says:

      I came from a mixture of be kind and be careful and have fun. I’m not sure they would have said I should be adventurous. That would have been potentially dangerous. Later in life that was added. I understand all these things now.

      1. Things are working out, then!

  9. Dan Antion says:

    I love “have an adventure, go.”

    1. Yes let’s keep doimg that.

  10. So very charming. Thank you so much. I think I need an adventure to go. But I hope I can be kind in the face of adversity should any get in the way.

    1. Yes to adventure. I don’t think it has to be Everest level: some scary new group or secret event can do the trick. I know you are kind: that’s sorted.

  11. Ah, your sister took on the role of mother? She became your mother. I read that if your parents are bad parents, you should find a new set. Easier said than done, so you in that sense were lucky.

  12. candidkay says:

    “she pushed us out the door and whispered
    “Go on! Have an adventure! Go!”
    and decades dead she still says that”
    Love these lines. I’d like to live by these lines. Good go of it, Rachel!

    1. Maybe you already do…

      1. candidkay says:

        I hope so!

  13. It’s the second line that got me. ‘All my stories start that way.’ Because you give us a real truth. All our stories start with ourselves and our families. And the end line – we realise our parents were not the Gods they once seemed, especially when we become parents, mentors, leaders. The challenge is to understand how important our role is, that these same emotions are borne in the little ones in our lives. What is could living be about?

    1. What a satisfying reading of the poem. I appreciate the way you have found meaning and shared it with us.

  14. lisakunk says:

    As always, like dessert for the mind.

  15. Osyth says:

    OK, so my rule is not to follow immediately but really? How can I resist … I just know that I am going to love engaging with your blog – your voice really is a lovely voice.

  16. It is hard to deny that we are likely to turn into our parents. I have been struggling for decades to escape from my mother’s influence. If I lived my life again I would (perhaps) rebel more successfully. I always looked up to my father, but I knew if ever (rarely) he wrote to me it would be to reprimand me for something. Usually for not following my mother’s example. But I have surprised myself wit how much I have thought about my father and his accomplishments since being awarded the MNZM. He was given the MBE and if I have come anywhere near what he did and was, then my pride is overflowing.

    1. You were caught in a double bind: not fair. I am happy about the validation that arrived with this national honour. I feel so bad that I was unaware of it— belated congratulations! It is richly deserved for your services to seniors. So, one down, one to go. One day your feelings about your mother will change for the better.