I don’t normally write about motherhood on my blog, but I was prompted to do this after my son, on Saturday morning, drank from what he called a ‘grown-up cup’, ran his own bath and then informed me, with some satisfaction, that he doesn’t need me any more.
This post comes with a bit of a warning. As a rule I try to resist making my little boy my only topic of commentary on social media, even though in reality he dwarfs everything else in my world in the manner of some benevolent 5-year-old giant. Occasionally I document some of the funny things he says (a recent favourite was when he misheard ‘inset day’ as ‘insect day’ and proceeded to refer to it as ‘bug day’. Who knows what he thinks the teachers are up to on these days? Fumigating? Show and tell with their pet millipedes and spiders?), mainly to communicate with family who might be interested, and in a way to curate him for myself.
But generally I find people who go on about how much they love their kids a bit, well, boring. And obvious. My inner response tends to be: I should bloody well hope you do love them! To my mind it’s a bit like announcing to Facebook that you breathe, or that you didn’t torture any bunny rabbits today. Of course you love your kids.
So with this admission in mind, I apologise if I veer towards the sentimental, the obvious, in this post. I guess you don’t have to read on. Anyway, back to Saturday and the thought train his little comment set me off on.
Now, my son is five. Obviously he does need me, quite a bit. Nevertheless, his announcement caused my eyes to prickle a little. Because every day I’m simultaneously delighted by his little steps towards independence, and saddened by them.
Motherhood is a series of these dichotomies. One by one you put away things that you think you’re glad to see the back of: nappies, dummies, the moses basket and later, the cot, ceremoniously replaced with the ‘big bed’. But each milestone is bittersweet. Even as you’re celebrating the new person they’re becoming, you’re saying goodbye to the baby they were.
For example, now that my son can read, his voracious appetite for books and comics brings me, a lifelong bibliophile, immense joy and pride. But it’s another job he doesn’t need Mummy for. So I bring increasingly challenging books to bedtime each night in a pathetic effort to ‘big up my part’, but he either gets bored and asks where the pictures are, or starts sneakily skipping ahead, reading aloud whole sentences on the following page.
(What’s more, I can no longer get away with, after a long day, reading only the first line or two on each page and skipping through a book – although to be fair, he got wise to this ruse pretty quickly; long before he could read, he was memorizing whole Julia Donaldsons and would correct me if I got a single word wrong. The bugger.)
There have been lots of things written about ‘last times’, in terms of childhood, some of them touching, many of them close to mawkish. But their message is consistent, I think, and it’s what occurred to me this weekend: pay attention.
On Christmas morning, at 5am (ugh – I know – but he was awake and I had no chance of coaxing him back to sleep, as he knew the night had brought not just Santa but, almost as enticingly, Nana and Granddad), before the frenzy of paper-tearing, Lego-building and chocolate-eating began, my son and I lay in his bed together, momentarily calm, heads touching, whispering. And it occurred to me: He will never be 5 years old on Christmas morning again. Blindingly obvious, I know, but what can I tell you? It was 5am. I squeezed him, smelled his hair as I often do in the manner of some desperate, wistful admirer being allowed to embrace her idol, and took the time to really listen to his early-morning chat, his hopes for the day ahead, and to feel the shape and weight of him, which would never again be precisely what it was in that moment.
Some people call it mindfulness, I guess. Living in the moment, being aware of where you are right now, being grateful. It can be hard as a parent, when the days hurtle past in a blur of feeding, cleaning and picking up after small people whose very purpose is to outgrow you. I suppose that blur is the reason I wanted to pause for a moment and write this blog.
I don’t believe I’ve run my son’s bath, or read to him, for the last time. Not yet. But I suppose it will come (well, I hope so – if I’m running his baths for him when he’s eighteen, I won’t be giving myself top marks as a mother).
In the meantime, when he told me he didn’t need me, I told him I’m proud of him (as I try to every day) but that I need him quite a lot, still. He gave me a big hug, we high-fived, and then we ate breakfast together, on grown-up plates.