From Summer to Autumn, From Baby to Boy

You can’t see changes as they happen.

You only really see it once it’s gone. One moment it’s glorious summer. The grass is dry, the day is long, and everywhere you go it is bright, and green. From the twisty lane, stuffed tight and expanding quickly with ferns, nettles, sorrel and blackberry. To the rows of Oaks and Sycamores, filling the skyline, creating a wall of green, a canopy of leaves. And then suddenly it’s Autumn. The nights are drawing in. The mornings begin to chill. And it’s the same with you. Because there is no straight line between baby and boy. There is no sudden, glaring realisation, only a season of subtle, bitter sweet changes.

As August made way for September, it seemed like the leaves were in a hurry to come down, as was the rain. On the first day of the new Autumn month, we picked leaves up from the lane. You carried them one by one and placed them in the bottom of the buggy. I told you we could stick them to some paper when we got home, to make a tree, and you said ‘yes, mummy’ and ‘deedo, mummy.’ I’m not sure when you will start saying thank you, but I do know you will forever be remembered for saying deedo.

I told you that the leaves were slowly falling from the trees, and you listened and said ‘yes mummy’. Blackberry season is in full swing, the lane bursting with their ripe, purple black colour. We picked some on our walk. You helped me fill a small, round tub, and on the way home, you stood on the back of the buggy and ate half of them. I watched your little hand go in time after time, and when I lifted you down, your lips and cheeks were smeared with purple. You kept saying, ‘one more, one more!’

And I realised how much you have changed over the summer.

My little baby has become a little boy.

Out in the garden you wanted more leaves for your picture. I hung out the washing while you picked them up. Then we stood and watched as the huge sycamore released them, one by one. I picked you up and we listened, hearing the rustle and the shush as each leaf fell in turn through the others, to land softly on the grass. I think we were both amazed by how quickly they fell, by how abruptly Summer must make way for Autumn.

I looked at the deflated paddling pool lying limply over the roof of your playhouse. It’s waiting to be washed and stored away. It made me think of all the long, summer days of bare feet on dry grass, of sticky ice cream faces and water fights.

Already there is a chill in the air first thing in the morning. We await the first frost. The vegetable garden is still producing, but we sense a panic. We marvel daily at the size of the biggest pumpkin and look forward to picking and carving it for Halloween.

After you finished your picture, you helped me make a fruit crumble. Apples and pear and rhubarb and blackberries. The smells of early Autumn bubbling on the stove. ‘Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ springs to mind, and yes everything seems full and ripe and bursting with life, determined to beat the Winter clock. To remain outdoors for as long as we can.

This summer made so many changes to you, and next summer will make even more.

You entered the ย summer a baby and you left it a boy. You started to say mummy, instead of mum-mum. You decided you didn’t want to wear nappies any more, so now you wear pants like a big boy. And then last week, you decided to go to sleep without being breastfed, something I had once thought impossible! You seemed restless, confused, then giggly. So I suggested we cuddle instead, and we did, and that was…that.

Another moment moved on from, another memory formed. Another time of our lives we will never get back again. I lay there every night after that, holding you tight, smiling while I blinked back tears.

You know all of your colours, even grey, purple and black. You try to count things. You like to point at letters and repeat back what I say. You just want to grow up so quickly! You say you are ‘gig’ because you’re not too great with ‘b’. And you like to pack your little bag and declare that you are going to ‘dool’, like your big brother and sisters.

In a few more weeks the trees will be bare. The lane will be covered with dead leaves and the weather will be colder still. The blackberries will be over and the acorns gathered by hungry squirrels. The trees will look so different, always black and silhouetted against the winter sky, beautiful and haunting in equal measures. Summer will seem like a distant memory, as will your babyhood.

Sometimes the hardest thing about life is that we can never go back. New days lurk without warning, new seasons push their way forward, and we never have any choice but to go keep moving. You can’t ever go back, that’s the thing.

 

I love the change of seasons. The end of something and the start of something new. Now is the time I start to feel the childish tingles of Christmas anticipation. But first there is Halloween and Bonfire Night, and I’m already getting excited on your behalf. So much more fun to be had. So many more memories to make.

I can’t help looking ahead to next summer. Wondering how much clearer your speech will be. Wondering what sort of conversations we will be able to have. Wondering what you favourite toys will be. And it seems impossible! Yet I know it will be here in a blink of an eye.

And it’s always sad, yet wonderful and magical, watching you change with the seasons.

 

For Now, You Still Fit In My Arms

If only they hadn’t measured time, carved it up, named it and logged it. Maybe things would be different. But now we all hear the clock ticking, which we would never have heard if time as we know it had not been invented. Of course, time exists by itself. Just as the new buds bloom in the Spring, only to curl and dry and fall in the Autumn. Just as fresh faces become wrinkled. Just as dark hair turns grey. Spring turns to summer and before you know it, it’s winter again. Everything in the world is cyclical and there is nothing you can do about getting older. But I’m sure time got faster when they named it, when they carved it up into segments of years, months, weeks and days.

Like you. Like when you were just a gestation. You were four weeks, then five, then six, then seven. Every moment of it was counted and numbered. Time drags when you are waiting for a foetus to become a child. It seems an impossible and unmovable thing. It won’t shift. Yet it does. Time doesn’t just move on, it moves us on. That’s what it does. And we are rarely ready.

I’m never ready. I’m always behind. I’m always dragging my feet, right from the moment you are born. Of course, I want to see you grow. The very thought of it excites me. Who will you look like? What will you become? When will you first walk and talk? I’m excited about all the memories I know are glistening on the horizon. First swim, first ice cream, first Christmas, first word. I know them all because I have been here before three times.

And three times came and went far too fast, so with you I’ve been trying to hang on, trying to claw it back, trying to savour it, make it last, bottle it and contain it. Only it’s stupid of me really, because experience tells me none of this is truly possible. Time and years are like sand, when you watch it on the beach, when it washes in and out, never staying the same.

Why is it, every time one of you had a birthday I had to fight back the tears? Such strange, stupid tears. I know it was pride and ‘look at you now’. I know it was love and aching. But it was also desperate sadness and regret. It was disbelief that time had led us so ruthlessly to this point. To first birthday, to second, to third, to first day at school, to first teenage year. And it’s not that I want to turn the clock back…when I see photos of my babies, I instantly smile, maybe sometimes I tear up, but I wouldn’t want to swap who they are now, for who they were then..With time and change comes revelation and surprise. Chats in the kitchen after school. Passions, and music and politics and arguments. But maybe I would…just a bit…just for a minute, I’d go back if I could, but not for long. I’d reach into that old photograph and pull out that chubby toddler, plant a kiss upon her sweet head, smell her, feel the weight of her in my arms, close my eyes against it all and remember.

But of course, you can’t. You can’t ever go back, except for in your mind, except for with photos.

And so with you, I’m drinking you in. I promised us both. I would do everything by instinct this time, learn from the mistakes of the past, listen to no one but you. Give you everything you needed on demand. Know that love and cuddles and comfort can never spoil a child. From your siblings, I have learnt to follow my heart. To hang on as tight as I can, to absorb every moment into my soul, to know that nothing lasts forever, and sleepless nights one day become something I miss.

I can still fit you in my arms. I can hold you in my lap. I can scoop you up and tuck you under and lift you up. I can make you smile. I can make you laugh. I can tickle and kiss you and make your eyes grow wide with wonder with the smallest and simplest of things. Bubbles in the garden. Bumblebees in the flowers. Chocolate buttons and Mr. Tumble. Milkies.

You’re still mine for now, but not forever.

I can cradle you in the crook of my arm and at night that’s where I still find you, warm curls against my cheek, small hand inside my top, clutching, hanging on to comfort. At the end of the day I can smell your day upon your skin and it’s my addiction to inhale it all, as if somehow I still believe I can bottle it and treasure it forever. Grass and dirt, milk and chocolate, play-dough, and beans, and strawberries and chicken feed. It’s all there, and I don’t even want to bathe you, I don’t even want to wash the dirt away.

When I hold you I get the urge to squeeze you, to squish you back inside of me so that the whole thing can start again. I want to never forget the weight of your small body in my arms, the press of your soft round cheek against mine, the feel of your tired head upon my shoulder, the caress of your tiny fingers on my neck and in my hair, your heart beating against mine like it did from the start. Your breath.

I can’t really remember what you were like a year ago, and that’s hard. A year from now the same will apply. I’ll see photos and smile longingly but I won’t be able to conjure up the feel of your body in my arms or the smell of your day. I’ll have you there and then, in the here and now, where you exist from one moment to the next and I know it will be just as wonderful and just as precious and yet just as fleeting and impossible to hold onto.

The moments after your birth are the clearest to me, and perhaps they are with all my children. The panic and the fear, and the sitting up to see you whisked out of the room by one arm and one leg, and the big massive size of you , and the room full of faceless professionals and it was just me, in a haze and a blur, alone on the bed seeing you wrenched from the room. It was just me and you, though they were taking you from me, I saw your face and I heard your cry and everyone laughed and sighed in relief, and it was all going to be fine, and everything was worth it because you were so cute, so damn cute and I could tell you were mine.

It felt like years waiting for you to come back, and then you did, carried in by a proud and smiling midwife, wrapped in a blanket and wearing a blue knitted hat, and placed into my desperate, aching arms, and oh what a face, just like your brothers, what a bruiser, what a chap, what a chunk, what a boy. And it was me and you in a spinning moment that in truth could have lasted forever. And you were safe. And I loved you.

Addicted to you, because that’s what happens.

And now here we are. That moment seems so very long ago.

Time does not care for mothers like me, who want to calm it down a bit, who want to drag our heels and say hold on, not forever, but just a bit…

Time is impatient for the next season, and a newborn becomes a one year old, and a crawler becomes a walker, and a toddler starts to talk, and a child has their first day of school. And everything constantly, restlessly moves on.

It’s like every birthday I can see the ghost of them all waving to me from behind us all. Everywhere I look, everywhere I go, there are echoes of the past. One day I can feel their legs around my waist and then the next day they are far too big and heavy and tall to be carried. You can never recall the last day. The last day you carried them up the stairs. The last day you tucked them in and read them a bedtime story. We remember the firsts, but not the lasts.

But anyway, for now, a day after your second birthday, I can still fit you in my arms. I can still carry you up to bed, and cradle you like a baby. I can still scoop you up and know you won’t push me away. I can still smother you in kisses and breathe in the scent of you. We can still be the centre of each other’s worlds. For now.

 

 

Snotgoblin

I try to soak you up when I can. Addicted. You think I am playing when I sniff and inhale, but really I am trying my best to soak you up, to make you last. The snotty, toasty, chocolately smell of you. I wish I could bottle it up to bring out when I am an old woman. I’d be able to unscrew the lid and close my eyes, and there you would be. The warm sweet smell of milk and drool. I’ll close my eyes and open my arms and there you will be again, your chubby wet cheek pressed against mine, snot and dribble stretching from you to me, your ear and the way your red gold hair curls around it, and that fuzzy stiff bit that sticks out straight at the back. I’ll be able to feel your little fat hands gripping and pinching my skin. I’ll breathe in and out and I’ll smell the cheesy sweat in your neck, the damp of your nappy.

As for now, I do my best to hang onto you. But you are moving so fast. Snotgoblins are fascinating. A future unwritten, all that potential, all that possibility. Everything you were, and are, and will be.

What were you? You were an idea before you existed. You were a thought, a longing, a need, a want, an instinct. You were an ache in my womb. You were a dream at night, a wish in the day. Then you were a line on a stick. A positive. You were something. You were sick in the toilet bowl, and tenderness in the breasts. You were the taste of coffee changing. You were a possibility, a hope. You were tiny, you were alien, you were basic and primitive and roaring to life. You were a black and white image. You were snapped in time. You were my stomach writhing and twisting and changing shape. You were swollen ankles and heartburn. You were a boy or a girl. Healthy, or sick. You were everything.

What are you? You are a creation, a sticky mess, a mewling dependent, a cry in the night. You are heavy in my arms and in my heart. You are small hands in mine. You are some of me and some of him and some of them and some of you. You are big blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair. You are eating crayons and throwing cups. You are not like us, not yet. Not defined by rules, tradition or culture. Not narrowed down or constricted or affected. Not weighed down or strung out or lying low. You are all the wonderful gentle vibrant potential of human life. You are what exists before it all starts to go wrong. You are bright and shiny. Your hands are soggy. You feet are stamping. You are full of everything and yet you know nothing. You live on instinct alone.

What will you be? It can’t be predicted. Is it already written? Do you have a destiny or a path? What is around the corner as you grow? What walls will you hit? What disappointments will you face? What triumphs will be yours? We can’t say what you will look like, we can’t know what you will be like, we can’t guess what you will become. You are a mystery in snotgoblin form. A book waiting to be written. A song waiting to be sung. You could be anything, anyone.

But just for now, just for today, just for the smallest, briefest, sweetest moment in time, you are mine and you are in my arms, with your head on my shoulder, and I can smell your snotty, mucky smell, I can smell your day, and your fun, and I can feel your heart beating, and for just a second, you are all mine.

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