Sometimes I look at my Instagram account, whizzing back through the past in a matter of seconds, and watch my kids get smaller. I see her hair get blonder and curlier, dungarees aged 1-2 years, short pudgy arms, big eyes on a little round face, walking, wobbling, crawling, rolling, still, staring. And him, in a few rows he goes from baby to newborn to bump to gone.
I wrote about his birthday the other day but I mostly talked about the cake. I didn’t mention the fact that the last year feels as though it’s been hoovered up into the ether. It went by so fast and all I have to do is scroll a thumb or two and I’m back to a time when it was just me and my little girl sitting in cafes, feeding our bulging bellies, days out, playgrounds, one on one and not being confined to the house because of naps or fear of copious sand eating.
I was looking at the photo I took of her on her first day of Montessori, this time last year. I can’t believe how tiny that person was that went in so bravely, no tears. She was so small. She seems much more robust now, able to handle herself, able to say what she wants. She never stops talking. Verbal diarrhoea. People used to say that about me when I was small – it didn’t translate into adulthood. She loves to help. I hurt my back the other day and she was delighted with the role reversal, uttering sympathetic things as I exited the car, groaning and wincing. She insisted on clambering over me so that she could hold my hand and walk me to the front door. Last year, that little girl was barely more than a toddler recently liberated from nappies. Now Charlie is wearing the same size as she did then. She has grown and changed so much, I wonder where I was while she was changing.
I was here. With her. With them both. But was I present? Or was I too busy firefighting, getting through the newborn days, one feed to the next, hastily made meals, waiting for Brendan to get home so that I could offload the weight of a small person onto him. Did I rush back downstairs after my little boy had given in to his nap, or did I sometimes linger, look at my phone, enjoy lying in stillness without any demands for my attention? It was nothing at the time – just a few extra minutes of her watching TV by herself – but how many times have I done that? How many minutes have been lost while her legs grew longer?
People always tell you to enjoy them while they’re young, to relish the baby days and delight in tiny feet, and then there are those who will admit how hard it can be, how lonely, how tiring and difficult to lose yourself while being so occupied with others. I think most of us go back and forth between the two, on one level knowing how precious these years are, how magical, funny, exciting and new, yet we do it all under the veil of snatched sleep, long repetitive days and oftentimes in isolation.
I do my best. Sometimes my best is not particularly great, but in those moments when patience has been worn or stolen, I tell myself that it’s good enough and I’ll be better tomorrow, and maybe I will. I try not to beat myself up for the bad days, but guilt is a skill we mothers spend our lives perfecting.
I worry about things, the world, huge exterior events that have little impact on our everyday lives. I try not to, but I do. Sometimes I get so caught up in it I feel swamped, choked, terrified. I try not to let it show. This, too, is part of the job description.
It seems trite to say it but I’m often astounded at how becoming a parent changes a person so much. The relief you feel when a childless friend says they’re pregnant. Finally, they’ll get it. They’ll understand. They’ll be part of the club and you can shudder and quake at news bulletins together.
My husband and I are happy with two children, that was always the plan. I make jokes about an accidental third while he googles vasectomies. I never understood why people would want a big family, but I’m beginning to get it now that I have two. The love you give and get is intoxicating. It becomes fundamental to your being. You are what you are because of that love. And the joy. Watching them emerge, drinking in their delight. It’s your drug. And the more you have, the more you get. The problem, though, with having more people to love so fiercely is time. It speeds up. Your attention is divided. You’re distracted. You’re tired. You miss things. And somewhere in there she skipped a whole shoe size. But she didn’t, not really. She grew and you weren’t watching.
Try not to let it happen again.
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