Tag Archives: growing up

This used to be my playground

During half-term I met a friend for coffee in a café on the far side of a nearby park. Walking through the park to meet her, I passed the play park that used to be my regular haunt when the girls were just a little smaller. As I walked round the perimeter heading towards the café, I glanced across at the children and parents climbing and hiding and shouting and laughing and my head was filled with memories of the times I spent there with my own children.

My very first solo walk with my tiny, fragile new born in the gaudy green-checked pram we were kindly gifted from a friend was in that very park and my memory of circling the play park with my heart in my mouth tempting myself to believe that I really was taking a walk in the park with my very own baby, just like a real parent, is still so vivid. I still have the large reddish brown leaf picked up from the path as a memento to place in my baby’s box of memories as a reminder of our very first outing (I started out with good intentions at least, although this habit of collecting keepsakes did not last much past her first birthday, and my second daughter was lucky if I managed to keep her birth certificate somewhere safe!).

As soon as Ana was old enough to sit in a swing, I made this play park my home from home. I quickly discovered that a visit to the park with a 6 month old was not a significant time filler and, after 20 minutes maximum in the toddler swings, we were pretty much all-parked out and ready to move on to the next brief activity, but as she got bigger and began to venture onto the slides, this park became as much part of our routine as tea and cake with friends (and distinctly healthier!).

Many a Saturday morning was spent with Ana, and later her baby sister too, crossing the park to visit the library before wandering round between the climbing frames braving the chilly winds or enjoying the sunshine depending on the season.

Many a day in the summer holidays was spent packing up a picnic and heading to the park to meet with friends and spend a few hours enjoying the luxury of free fun, fresh air and green space offered by a city park.

Many an afternoon was spent standing below the monkey bars waiting to catch a falling child or just to be there as a security blanket as they demonstrated their considerable muscular superiority over their puny mother!

And so, last week, as I walked past the play park, I remembered with fondness the part it has played in our lives. Its role is not quite over for us: at 7 and 9 the girls have not yet outgrown the park and we still visit reasonably frequently and still will for some time I imagine, but the days when it figured as the centre point of our entertainment schedule are fading now.

Much like the rest of parenting, I realised that afternoon that we only really appreciate things when they are soon to be gone. I’ll be the first to admit that I spent many days shivering in that park and wishing I was at home in my nice warm house; I spent many hours cursing as I was begged and cajoled to run round the edge of the lopsided circular tyre shape that has replaced the roundabout in many modern parks but is frustratingly difficult to manoeuvre without scraping your limbs on the floor; I have spent many trips to that very park attempting to find a secluded spot behind a tree for one or other of my daughters to pee because there were no nearby public toilets.

At the time, I did not relish any of these things, but now – when I see my play park years drawing to a close – I rush to cherish those memories, to box them up and hold them close and chide myself to remember the times when this used to be my playground.

What’s their age again?

As parents, trying to manage the less desirable elements of our children’s behaviour; encourage just the right amount of independence; and steer our kids towards age-appropriate toys, games and activities, it is useful to have some kind of gauge on what exactly is ‘age-appropriate’ for our children’s current level of development.

In the early years, this is relatively straightforward:  don’t give them small toys they might swallow; try to keep them from chewing on electrical cables; and accept that full on meltdown tantrums in a public place are par for the course in the notorious ‘terrible twos’.

As our children get older however, things becoming a little less clear cut.  The more they grow, the more they appear to diverge from any kind of common path and so the less we are able to look to their peers as a guide to what type of behaviour they ‘should’ be displaying.  I know as I write that last ‘should’ in its quotation marks, that there really should be no ‘should’ about it. Our children are individuals and they progress at their own pace in their own unique way, so why should we look to what others do or what others expect?

Well, maybe we shouldn’t, and maybe the fact that I do makes me a bad parent, but the truth is that – if I am honest – it DOES matter to me what other people think of my children and I DO judge my own parenting – in part at least – by the extent to which their behaviour and actions reflect society’s expectations of their age group.

And so, as my eldest child hits 9 and my youngest turns 7, I find myself pondering (more often than I probably should) on what exactly they ‘should’ (there it is again!) be doing at this age and how they ‘should’ behave and interact with others.

Some of my current worries include:

  • ‘Should’ my 9 and 7 year old children really be able to swim by now?

I know the answer to this one:  yes and yes and yes!!  I MUST probably should get this sorted as soon as possible by getting them back into swimming lessons. It is at the top near the top of my list of things to do. I promise.

  • ‘Should’ I be able to trust my 7 year to walk alone to the end of a road without appearing to need to get as close to the edge as she possibly can, worrying surrounding car drivers and her mother in equal measure?

I am guessing that this is one of the situations where it totally depends on the child.  When my 9 year old was 7, this would have been no issue, but with my current 7 year old it is a different story:  her awareness of things around her is really poor.  I’m not sure if it is the delay in getting glasses sorted for her (http://motherinferiorblog.com/2015/02/08/i-can-see-clearly-now/) or a more general attention problem, but I don’t really trust her road sense at the moment.

  •  ‘Should’ my 9 year old be able to tell the time consistently and with reasonable accuracy?

Umm…I think probably yes.  It is in the diary at the back of my mind as something we need to work on this half-term soon.

  •  ‘Should’ my 7 year old really be waking the neighbours with her screaming tantrums on a Saturday morning?

I think, probably not.  And I think my neighbour thinks probably not as well.  In fact, I think my neighbour probably thinks he would like some nice, quiet new neighbours as soon as possible!

  •  ‘Should’ my 9 year old be able to tie her shoelaces with ease without shouting in frustration and giving up in a temper?

Maybe if I bought her more shoes with laces, then yes.  Given that I wimp out and buy Velcro shoes instead, then probably no.

  •  ‘Should’ my 7 year old have a better grasp of Geography than might be implied by the following questions and observations from recent weeks:
    • When approaching Wimbledon at midday this weekend: ‘is London the same time as Portsmouth or is it night-time in Portsmouth now?’
    • An observation enroute to London: ‘It’s a bit weird that London is in the United Kingdom, but Poland isn’t.’
    • On the (approximately 40 minute) journey from Portsmouth to the New Forest: ‘Is the New Forest a different country?’
    • In an email to a friend currently visiting New Zealand: ‘Can you speak the language in New Zealand yes or no?’

Well, I guess the final one is a reasonable enough:  New Zealand is very far away so why would she assume they speak English? But her grasp of basic geographical concepts is amusingly, but also rather worryingly, poor.  Every journey longer than 30 minutes prompts the question ‘Is this a different country?’ Is this typical of a 7 year old?  Who knows!

For my 9 year old in particular, life appears to be balanced between two worlds:  the grown-up world of increasing independence, the first stirrings of romance and the excitement of the impending ‘tweenage’ years and the child’s world of play, adventure and limitless imagination.

This weekend I witnessed those two worlds very much side-by-side in my daughter’s thoughts and actions with the emergence of her two greatest secrets:  the first (moving into the grown-up world) marked by a Valentine sent to a boy at school she has ‘loved’ for some time and the second (firmly in the child’s world) announced when she offered to tell me her ‘biggest secret’ this weekend.  After a significant build-up during which I steadied myself with a slight feeling of apprehension, she finally whispered letter by letter that she is ‘actually H A L F. W O L F.’  I think she actually half-believes it, suggesting reality and fantasy are still very much intertwined in her world.

If I ever thought there were clear cut lines on ‘age-appropriate’ behaviour, then recounting these incidents has served to remind me that there really are no rules.  So, there are many 9 year olds who can tell the time with ease….that doesn’t mean that Ana might not forge a successful career as an Olympic timekeeper!   So, there are 7 year olds who are aware that leaving the county does not mean we are entering a new time zone and need to get our phrasebook out….that doesn’t mean Faith won’t one day circumnavigate the globe with only the stars to guide her!

You know, and I know, that children are all different.  They have their own skills and talents and their own particular struggles and challenges.  Sometimes, in the desire to appear a good parent, I (and maybe you too) forget this.  But maybe I should check myself next time I find myself saying ‘You are 9 years old, you should…..’ because that ‘should’ is an unnecessary burden on us all.

Be my baby.

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.

And you may ask yourself…how did I get here?

I write this post after a day spent at my children’s school for the end of year certificate presentations. Whenever I attend an event like this, or more specifically, any time I am forced to view my children from a slightly distant perspective, I find myself thinking of the Talking Heads song ‘Once in a lifetime’. You know the one…’and you may tell yourself, this is not my beautiful house, this is not my beautiful wife…’ where the narrator appears to have suddenly realised that they are in a life that kind of crept up on them bit by bit. I have much the same thoughts at these times… ‘these are not my growing children! How can they be? How did I get here?’

They goes past quickly, our children’s childhoods. We all know this. We know we have to grasp the precious moments and savour each milestone. But it’s hard. In the rush and chaos of everyday life we barely have a chance to catch a breath, let alone savour anything!

But see your child in a group of other children; away from the family nest; out in the world and suddenly you are jolted to a stop and you notice just how much has changed.

From that slightly distant perspective, I see my children with new eyes. I see them, just in that moment, as other people must see them: as little people in their own right; growing and changing and becoming themselves. Becoming other. In this moment I recognise that I tend to see my children as an extension of myself. I assume I know them completely; they are mine as much as I am me. But as they grow, I realise this is no longer true. They are becoming separate; unconsciously tearing themselves away from my grasp; making their own, unique way in the world.

And I don’t know them completely.

Granted I probably know them better than anyone else, and as I look at them standing on the stage, my heart softens with love that is born of recognition. My children. I claim them.

I watch my youngest daughter grinning on the stage, suddenly much taller than I thought she was, looking over to me and swelling with pride, and for a moment I don’t recognise her. For a fleeting instant, I ask myself if this girl on the stage is really my daughter; the child I have nurtured, fed, clothed, scolded and loved from her very first hours in the world. Because in this brief moment, I see she is more than that. She is herself. And I know in my heart that every passing day will make her more so and will pull her that bit further away from me.

And one day they will both be fully grown and I will ask myself…how did I get here?