Long days

wildflower meadow

“The days are long but the years are short” goes the internet parenting cliche. Like all cliches it has more than a little truth in it. Right now I am really feeling both sides of this.

The days are literally long at the moment – the hottest sunniest summer in recent years seems like it should be a cause for unmitigated celebration, and I feel a bit guilty and joyless saying this, but it is a bit much for me. I don’t think I’m designed for temperatures above about 22 degrees (or below 0!), and so hot weather makes me a little tired and grumpy and languid. It would be nice if all I had to do was saunter down the the beach, have a swim, and then find a shady spot to eat ice-cream, but sadly I don’t live anywhere near the sea (sob), and however hot it gets the children still need taking to school, and feeding, so the grocery shopping needs doing and meals need preparing, and the house hasn’t miraculously started self-cleaning. The heat also creates extra jobs – fighting a war on the ants who are determined to take over my kitchen, watering the garden and a bit of paddling pool maintenance!

The other problem is that the children sleep less during hot, light evenings and mornings, and so they get progressively tireder and grumpier too. The long days have felt even longer this week as poor little Sophia has had another bout of tonsillitis, and so has been off preschool and at home with me. I hate her being ill, obviously, but I do love the cuddles I get from my usually super-independent little girl when she’s poorly. Although, when its 30plus degrees, extended cuddles with a feverish little limpet are, umm, sticky.

But while I sit watching the umpteenth episode of Peppa Pig and attempting to comfort a crotchety toddler, counting the minutes until husband is due home from work to take over, I am also feeling all the feels at Anna coming to the end of Year 4. The years are so bloody short! How did we get to here? Last two years of primary school coming up, and staring down the barrel of secondary school open days and admissions process. It seems no time at all since we were going through that process for primary school, and that felt a big enough leap.

Anna is feeling it herself this year. Year 4 has been a great year for her. Her class teacher has been amazing (to be honest we’ve been very lucky with all her teachers so far, but she has got on particularly well with Mr M), and her confidence seems to have grown in leaps and bounds. I would love to press pause and have a re-run of Year 4, and what makes it worse is that I know she would too. I am not the greatest with change, and although I have tried not to let Anna see that. I can sense that she has inherited it from me. I was chatting with her and one of her friends about secondary schools (it’s already a hot topic of conversation), and her friend was bubbling with excitement that senior school is only a couple of years away. Not so Anna – she would like things to stay just as they are for the time being. It’s nice, in a way, because it is testament to how happy she is in primary school and what a great environment it’s been for her, but it does make transitions tough. Actually, though, like me as well, she finds the prospect of change much harder than the change itself. When she actually starts Year 5 I know she’ll be instantly filled with enthusiasm for a new teacher, new classroom and new things to learn.

Before I get too sentimental or moany, one thing I am absolutely unequivocally loving this summer is the World Cup! When I was younger I used to get really into the big international competitions – Euro ’96, and the 1998 and 2002 World Cups were my heyday, but I always took an interest until somehow life and young children got in the way. This year, though, Anna was really interested and we decided we’d watch the key matches with her, and I have got right back into it. It helps that England are playing so well, of course – I was at pains to make it clear to Anna that resounding 6-1 victories are very much not what England fans are accustomed to. The nail biting match against Columbia was much more familiar territory, but we did it! Having watched (alright, hidden in the hall because I couldn’t bear to watch, and made my brother tell me what was happening) Gareth Southgate’s penalty miss send us crashing out of Euro ’96, Tuesday’s victory on penalties felt like particularly sweet vindication for him. He’s definitely my hero of the moment (other, of course than golden local boy, Walthamstow born Harry Kane), and I am just wishing that Theresa May could show just a small amount of the England manager’s decisiveness, leadership and calmness under pressure!

How are you all finding the heatwave and end-of-term shenanigans and the football?

 

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Nine

A whitstable

So, as of last weekend, I am the mother of a nine year old. I wasn’t very well immediately after her birth, so the first time I saw her naked she was about 24 hours old. I cried because she looked so tiny and vulnerable, and I almost couldn’t bear that she was outside in a big scary world instead of still safe inside me. And now that tiny baby is halfway to official adulthood.

She may be a lot bigger now, but in some ways she is still just as vulnerable. The thing is, as a parent you can do a lot to control everything about your baby’s environment. In fact it is pretty much all you care about. I kept her warm and safe and fed and clean and cuddled, and there was almost no problem that couldn’t be solved by a cuddle and a breastfeed.

Of course I still do my best to keep her warm and safe and fed and clean and cuddled,  but it is no longer in my power to solve all her problems. Friendship issues, finding out about the all-important parts in the school play, struggling with a dyslexia diagnosis that makes some aspects of her school work very difficult for her – none of these things are within my gift to solve. Recently I discovered that a few weeks ago she had been upset about something at school, and her lovely friends had made a huge, and successful, effort to cheer her up. I felt pretty miserable,  though, feeling I had failed at mothering because I hadn’t been there for her. Then a very wise friend pointed out that, actually, having strong friendships where she feels comfortable and safe talking about her feelings is actually a really positive thing. At nine it is right and appropriate that my husband and I no longer meet all her emotional needs.

I know parents of even older children/teenagers (and adults!) will probably tell me that this is only the beginning of it. The list of things which will affect her wellbeing and happiness and which I can’t control is only going to get longer.

One of my favourite quotes is that we should give our children “roots and wings”. My lovely, clever, creative, thoughtful, sensitive and loving little girl is growing her wings. Our job is to maintain the roots so that she knows that whatever life throws at her she can always come home and find love and security with her family.

We celebrated last weekend with presents, chocolate fudge cake and a trip to Whitstable for some (rather chilly) beach frolics and a seafood lunch. On Saturday we have a pizza-making party with 10 of her friends to look forward to. Anna has definitely inherited my talent for making birthdays stretch.

Nine years into motherhood I am still waiting for someone to give me the rule book or instruction manual. I still feel like I’m winging it almost every day. But whether by good luck or (far less likely!) good management, we’ve got a pretty awesome nine year old daughter, and I’m very proud of her.

Bye bye baby stage

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My baby girl is about to turn three. Not such a baby anymore. She is my little miracle, my rainbow baby. Conceived after a series of miscarriages, carried when the specialist team had told me there was only a 40% chance of me carrying a healthy baby to term. Birthed via emergency c-section when the epidural failed and left me able to feel everything. Raised as I have battled Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and post-natal anxiety and as we made repeated trips to A&E and assorted tests when she suffered siezures which were absolutely terrifying as they happened, but have thankfully turned out to be harmless.

My eldest daughter transformed my life by making me a mother and teaching me the true meaning of unconditional love; my youngest has taught me about the tenacity of hope, completed our family and filled the hole in my heart. She has made me both infinitely stronger and infinitely more vulnerable than I could have dreamt possible.

Her third birthday is also going to mark the end of our extended breastfeeding journey. I never intended to feed her for this long, but it has been absolutely the right thing for both of us. She is feistily independent, and I love that nursing her is one of the few times she will completely relax into snuggles and into admitting a physical need for me. A couple of weeks ago she had a throat infection and became horribly dehydrated because it hurt her to swallow– breastmilk might just have saved her from hospitalisation. However, the time has come. I have talked to her about how bigger girls have their bedtime milk in a cup (like her sister), and she seems enthusiastic about that. Twice in the last week she has declined her bedtime feed; maybe I have already breastfed for the last time without knowing it. She is ready, and so I must be too. Part of me is. The part which would like some pretty underwear and a bit more freedom. But another part of me is very sad at the ending of such a wonderful phase in my life.

She moved into a bed last month, so I have already tucked a baby of mine up in a cot for the last time. She is well on the way with potty training; soon changing a dirty nappy will be a thing of the past (I might not be quite so nostalgic about this one). Her speech and vocabulary improves daily. I used to be Mee-mee, now I am Mummy, before I have time to blink I will be Mum. She loves going to pre-school three mornings a week so much that, from January, we will be increasing this to 15 hours a week. This will give me more time for myself which I badly need, mainly to get my writing career, which has been somewhat in abeyance for the last three years, back into gear. But it also means she will spend a significant proportion of her week away from me, and I know I will miss her.

That is the problem with her getting bigger. I know that all these last times are last times forever, because I won’t be having any more babies. While on one hand knowing that I am extremely lucky to have two healthy daughters growing up, I never expected parenting to be such a bittersweet series of tiny losses. Tomorrow I will lose my two-year old daughter. I know that the three-year old will be just as loveable, I know that there are many more adventures we can share as she gets older, I know that it is my job as her parent to encourage her development and independence – and I am so proud of every new little achievement.

Tomorrow I will put on my big-girl pants and I will blow up balloons and give presents and bake a birthday cake with a huge smile on my face as I celebrate the wonderful, funny, strong-willed, kind, determined and loving little girl that my baby has become.

But right now I just want to stop the clock and hold my precious baby close while she is still just a baby.

 

Roots and wings

Sophia started pre-school last week, and after a few days of settling her in, today is the first day I’ve left her on her own. I’m huddled in the nearest cafe to pre-school (a good three minute walk away), watching the snow fall outside, and wondering how my tiny little baby is suddenly big enough to cope for two hours without me. At least, I hope she is.

Sophia is an independent, feisty, determined little girl, who rushes headlong to meet life and new experiences, so I think she’s going to be fine. So far she’s seemed to love it, and when Nanna and Grandad came to visit she was excitedly telling them about the ‘yide’ (slide), ‘beep beep car’, ‘yand’ (sand) and ‘tiny house’ she’s been playing with. She is going to benefit so much from the play and socialisation opportunities which pre-school can offer. And to be honest, I’m going to benefit so much from three mornings a week to have a little break from 24/7 childcare and a chance to do some more writing, maybe a little exercise, and remind myself I’m a person as well as a mother.

But, but but. It brings to the fore the contradiction inherent in parenting. My job is to create two independent adults who can go out and make a place for themselves in the big wide world. We celebrate every little step along this path – holding their heads up, rolling over, sitting up, eating solid food, standing, walking, running, talking, feeding themselves, coming out of nappies, getting themselves dressed, holding a pencil, learning to read and write, making friends, starting school, singing in the school Christmas concert, making their own snacks for themselves, and many, many more. We teach and encourage and nag and cajole and bribe and praise. We are so proud of every tiny yet enormous achievement that our hearts burst with it. And yet they also break a little. Because every one of these milestones, necessary and celebrated though they are, is a step along the road to them not needing mummy any more. To mummy and daddy not being the lodestar of their lives. To interests and loves and experiences and mistakes that we will not, cannot, should not share.

If I do my job properly, one day Anna and Sophia won’t need me anymore. All my efforts are directed towards this end, and I would be devastated if I failed, and yet when I succeed I will grieve bitterly for the little girls whose every need from milk to cuddles to comfort to company I could provide for. At nearly eight Anna is already at a stage where she has problems that I can’t necessarily solve, but I still know what the problems are, and a cuddle still makes her feel better at least. In a few years there will be issues with friendships, crushes, schoolwork which she won’t even want to tell me about.

I visualise my love for the children as a very soft, very warm, invisible blanket which surrounds them at all times. They might not be with me, and they might be having problems I can’t solve, but I can’t shake the sentimental belief that my love is so strong that it will enfold them and protect them wherever they are, and that our unconditional love and acceptance will make them strong enough to cope with whatever life throws at them.

And, of course, if they’re anything like me, and they have babies of their own one day, I will suddenly be needed again. “Mum, is this normal?”, “Mum, what do I do?”, “Mum, can you babysit for me?, “Mum – help!”

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Beautiful bespoke lino print created by Free the Birds

 

End of an era

Well, in just over half an hour I will go and pick Anna up from her last ever day at Infants. Where did that time go? It feels like yesterday we took her for her very first day in Reception, and then husband and I went out for lunch afterwards to take our minds off worrying about her constantly until it was pick up time. And now it’s all done. That little girl, barely out of the toddler phase, has grown up so much, developed her independence, learnt to read and write and do fractions. Learnt to manage, and thrive, without mummy around for most of the day.

We couldn’t have asked for a better school, and she has loved pretty much every minute. Juniors is part of the same school, but on a different site, so moving up feels like a bigger deal than I think it might for some people. Anna is looking forward to it, mainly: “a bit nervous, but excited nervous if you know what I mean, Mummy”, and I know she will cope just fine. Better than fine, I think she’ll relish new challenges and new experiences. She is ready and eager to grow up and move on, and I’m so proud watching her, whilst also wanting to press Pause, just for a little while and keep my little girl little for a little bit longer.

Before Juniors, though, we have a summer to look forward to. She has eagerly anticipated trips planned to see and stay with both sets of grandparents, and I’ve been making a list of activities and day trips which work for a 7 year old and a 19 month old. It’s quite short so far, but actually if the weather carries on like this then they’re both pretty happy playing various very splashy games in their tiny paddling pool in our tiny garden with an ice-cream every so often.

Here’s to some lazy, hazy, crazy summer days which contain no school runs. Here’s to making the most of both children at the lovely ages they are right now. Here’s to me remembering to keep the freezer stocked with Mini Magnums and the fridge stocked with post-bedtime white wine. And here’s to my patience not totally deserting me by the middle of next week, leaving me desperate for Anna to go back to school, any school, just as long as I get some peace and quiet! Happy Summer, everyone.

summer fun