My youngest daughter turns 7 on Sunday and this year, more than most, I am feeling nostalgic about leaving behind the early years of my children’s childhood.
Why is parenthood so bittersweet?
In all the madness and mayhem of life our children are constantly growing: moving away from those precious baby years and into childhood proper. And why is that so hard? Why does the memory repaint the past, conveniently glossing over all the challenges, traumas and sheer hard work of parenting babies and toddlers, leaving the over-riding feeling of loss that those days will never come again?
The joy and excitement that our children are growing, changing and emerging from their babyhood chrysalis into fully fledged little butterflies is tempered by the nagging feeling that we should have done more to cherish the times that have gone before: that we should have hugged our babies close a few more times and breathed in their unique baby-ness a little harder so as to have etched it in our minds to keep forever when we have left all that behind.
I remember how I felt with each passing stage. Sure, there was a tinge of sadness when we packed up the cot and passed it on to someone with a younger family; maybe I felt a little ache of regret when we no longer had a child in need of nappies; but in reality, I had my eye on the prize and the prospect of leaving the house without a nappy bag and change of clothes filled me with an overwhelming sense of relief rather than sadness.
I know I have inwardly whooped with joy on more than one occasion since my children were happily ensconced in backless booster seats and able to put on their own seat belts. The memories of so many frustrated occasions leaning awkwardly over the backseat trying to get the dratted seat belt into the clip are still clear enough in my mind to make me glad on a daily basis that I no longer have to face that task on a rainy day with an uncompliant toddler!
But still I ache sometimes to stand with my baby on my shoulder, rocking gently in that familiar motion, feeling their breath on my cheek.
When I tell other people this they sometimes ask ‘so are you broody then? Do you want another baby?’ But in truth, I don’t. I don’t yearn for another baby to take through those years anew. What I yearn for is the chance to have all the precious moments from my daughters’ baby years gathered in one place so that I could dip in when the feeling takes me and be back in that moment, just as it was, just for a second, just to make it real once again.
It is not another baby I yearn for, and equally I have no desire to go back and re-live those years again. I have moved on; WE have moved on. I love my growing children: I love seeing them becoming themselves, developing personality quirks that are unique to them. I love watching them learn about the world and begin to discover their own talents and interests. I love being able to chat to them about their lives, and my life and LIFE. I love hearing their voices on the phone and realising with a jolt that they sound so grown up.
No. The paradox here is that I want both of these things. I want them to keep growing and changing and yet I also want to be able to stay in the moment. All of their moments.
I want to capture those moments as they happen and keep them in real time so they are not lost in a haze of memories but stay clear and true.
It is not a baby I yearn for, it’s MY babies across all their lifetime. The past, the present and the excitement of the future all wrapped up in one parcel to treasure.
And that’s parenting: joy and excitement; frequent frustration; impatience to move forward and sadness to leave things behind.