As babies my two boys were a wonder to me, and a chore. I loved them deeply but resented the all-encompassing attention they needed. In the depths of baby shit, painful and bulging boobs and delirious inadequacy, I looked ahead to the time when they would be able to use the toilet, communicate their needs, and engage in conversation. Now they are able to do these things, I miss the younger versions terribly. Those tiny, cuddly, precious, vulnerable bundles are now noisy, heavy, whining, messy boys of 5 and 6, who challenge me with Star Wars trivia, use the house as an army barracks and alternate between fighting amid themselves and ganging up on me.
Rarely now do I get the chance to sit quietly and have a cuddle with them, looking deep into their eyes while they gaze at me adoringly. I miss them. I miss burying my nose into their hair to get the full benefit of their baby smell. I miss playing ‘Round and round the garden’ on their tiny hands and feet – so perfect and precious. I miss their giggles, and the way they fitted into my embrace like a conker into its warm cosy shell.
In the beginning, when things are tough, our new parent heads are filled with the future milestones of our offspring. It’s ironic, and one of the failures of human nature that we don’t recognise these phases as temporary, we’re too busy wishing they would hurry up and learn to hold the spoon themselves/use the potty/walk unaided. It’s only years later when we look back, do we realise that so many chapters have gone, to be lost forever.
As toddlers, they annoyed me with their night-time cries. I wished their lives away looking forward to the time they would sleep through. Now I miss these night-time reunions when the world is quiet but for their contented sighs. I wish I’d been aware of the last time I’d change a nappy, because, poo splats aside, I miss those few moments when we’d be fully engaged with each other. Had I realised that this phase in his life was ending and would never return, I would have savoured each and every stage, said goodbye to each version of my boys as they passed.
I know that soon I will miss them crawling into bed with me in the morning, or their still childish giggles at the words ‘bum’ and ‘poo’. Soon these simple amusements will be replaced by teenage sulks and an ear-aching silence.
I’ve a few years left to go yet but I know that, judging by the speed with which these last six years have passed, the next ten will fly by in the blink of an eye.
I urge all mothers of babies and toddlers who are struggling with the mind-numbing day-to-day to take a moment to embrace in all its glory; the feeding, potty training, night waking – all of it. Because whatever stage your child is at now, he won’t be there for long. You will look back, all too soon and wonder where those years went, and you will physically ache to enclose that small child in your arms again.
Nothing prepared me for the enormity of parenting when it began, and I fear nothing will prepare me for the end of their childhood, when they swan off into the world without a backward glance.