To Be A Boy Of 7…Part 2

A million years ago, but also, only yesterday, I wrote this piece for your big brother, Dylan. https://chantelleatkins.com/2015/04/08/to-be-a-boy-of-7/ A million years ago, but also, only yesterday, he was seven like you are now. When he was seven, you were just a tiny baby, so you didn’t know him then. He was all stick arms and legs and tons of white-blonde hair. In a tiny blink of an eye, he grew older, he grew up and now he is a gangly fourteen year old with a sweet, wry smile.

But you, what are you like at seven? What is being a boy of seven like, for you?

I think to be a boy of seven must still be a glorious thing. I think your heart is as full and free as his was.

Yet being seven, is not as easy for you as it was for him…You’re more intense, more sensitive, more questioning and less able to sleep. Your brain never lets you switch off…Night after night, no matter what effort I’ve put in to wear you out, you delay sleep, you fight sleep and your mind fills with worries. You tell them to the worry dolls, Sam, Shepherd and Raven and you write them down in letters for me. You tell me that bedtime is too long, that you have to lie there for hours, that you feel like crying, that your stomach hurts or your eyes are sore. I try to be patient. I talk you through it. You listen, and you try what I suggest, but it’s like your mind just keeps on spinning. I sometimes wish I knew what was going on inside there.

I wonder if I am too soft on you…but do I really want to make you hard? I say it sometimes when you are being too sensitive, when you have exclaimed ‘ow’ for the thousandth time that day, when you tell me you are getting your ‘cry feeling’. I say you need to get over it, it doesn’t hurt that much, you will be okay, stop worrying, stop making a big deal, please, please, just go to sleep. Toughen up. I tell you this sometimes because I worry that your worries will drag you down.

Know this. I wouldn’t change you though. I wouldn’t change a wiry strawberry blonde hair on your head. Your hair that always smells like the rain. I wouldn’t change a thing about you, because you are one in a million. Sometimes people describe you this way, a real character they say. If you were not real, I would want to invent you!

The little boy who stops to say hello to woodlice and bumblebees, the little boy who always takes one sock off at some point during the day, the little boy who always says please and thank you to everything and everyone, the little boy whose stomach hurts when he gets his ‘cry feeling’, the little boy who just cannot stand to be told off, the little boy who does not like to play alone, the little boy who always brings home ‘good sticks’ and ‘cool stones’.

I love watching you walking along with a good stone or stick in your hand. Sometimes they end up in my pockets, but mostly you hold on to them. The kitchen window sill is full of your finds. The garden is littered with important sticks and several of them have residence in your bedroom. And every time when you walk the dogs with me, you ask if we can pretend to be in a zombie apocalypse. You’ll give me a stick and tell me its a machine gun. You’ll have a sword or a shotgun or a bat. We’ll take down the zombies together whilst searching for supplies. We’ll look for a shelter, or a community to join. We’ll rescue each other, again and again and again.

You want to be a builder or a vet. I see both in you. You play with bricks and blocks every day, creating towns and communities and car parks. You are kindly to animals, to even the smallest spider or tiniest caterpillar. They all deserve a friendly hello and protection.

At the moment, I see you are changing fast. It feels like seven is the bridge between little boy and big boy, and there you are, perched and teetering. You are outgrowing all your clothes and shoes. Every time I look at you I am shocked. Your face is thinner but your hair even wilder. Your legs go on forever and your appetite is huge. I try to fill you up but you are never satisfied. You are a small, warm hand in mind but you are getting too pick to pick up. You like to snuggle. You ask if I have time to snuggle with you now or later. You ask for me to snuggle you up. You tell me you love me about a million times a day. You also tell me I am pretty and you tell me off if I get cross with myself. You are my biggest fan.

Today we walked the dogs together and as we approached the road I felt your hand reach out for mine. I felt its smallness and softness and I felt the belief from you that I will always take care of you. We had to pretend we were leaving our base to get supplies and when we came back you begged me to play real army with you, which meant I got some of your best sticks as swords and you got your toy guns. You laid out all your weapons on the sofa in your room and told me to upgrade mine when I had enough points. You showed me your upgrade pose – blowing the top of each gun and then pointing them while you tipped your audience a wink. You made me laugh. You always make me laugh. Every day, there is something you say or do that sets me off. You’re just happy that I’m playing with you and as you say, I’m ‘getting into it’. I keep reminding myself how little time we have left of you wanting to play like this. How I must grab it with both hands, even when I’m tired, or not in the mood.

Because it means so much to you. You hate to play alone. Unattended, you wander around and make noises and get told off for annoying people. It’s like you don’t know how to be alone, not at bedtime, nor play time. I tell you all the time to play with your toys but you hate to do it alone, even though you have the most amazing imagination. But it pleases me that you read alone at bedtime, because reading is how we learn to be okay with being alone. I tell you you are never really alone, because you are full of memories, and dreams, and hopes, and you are full of all the people who love and adore you. I hope one day you will believe me.

My noisy little boy who can’t sit still. Watching a movie with you is like being on a trampoline. You ask endless questions we can’t possibly know the answers to. You live for the details. You want to know everything about everything. A little frown creeps onto your forehead when I answer you as best I can. You are my last little one and not so little anymore. I guess in some ways you will always be my baby boy, no matter how tall you grow, and I am sure you are going to be taller than all of us. Lately I’ve seen the changes that seven brings. The self-consciousness when you realise you’re the oldest one in the park. Telling me a park is too busy for you to play in. You have always been obsessed by parks, but now you are put off easily. You tell me you don’t want to embarrass yourself. You seem too aware of what big kids and little kids can and can’t do.

But at home, you are you. Our little wild thing, with one sock missing and always with a smear of food on your shoulder from wiping your face. You get in the bath and turn the water brown and I laugh and say, that’s how you know you had a good day. You write me little notes asking me to play with you. Little wish lists of things I’ll try to fit into the day. Army men. Playmobil set-ups. Zombies. Lego. Bricks and cars.

I’ve tried to hold onto you from the start, knowing you were the last and sometimes the knowing is like being unable to catch a breath. My God, it goes so fast. A chubby baby fills your arms, gets down and toddles away, climbs a tree, runs down a hill and then finally, one day, pulls their hand from yours and leaves. Parenthood is always letting go. One small step at a time. Parenthood is always being left behind, waving, smiling, crying, watching them go. And it’s a privilege and a joy, my sweet, funny, complicated, non-sleeping little boy…You are a joy, my boy of seven, you are glorious.

Slipping Through My Fingers…

Schoolbag in hand, she leaves home in the early morning
Waving goodbye with an absent-minded smile
I watch her go with a surge of that well known sadness
And I have to sit down for a while

I’d never even heard the song until I took my daughters to see Mamma Mia at the cinema. They were only little at the time, just four and five years old. And I don’t even like Abba, or any ‘pop’ music for that matter. But when that song came on, accompanied by the character of Donna helping her daughter get ready for her wedding day, well, the tears just flowed down my face. It was quite ridiculous and embarrassing. But it was just every word, you know? And I got this image in my head, of the first time I’d had those same emotions about my little girl. My eldest, two years old, running off ahead of me down an alley behind the flat we lived in at the time. I remembered watching the back of her, her long blonde hair swinging from side to side, and I had this sudden, startling image of her starting school, which up until that moment had always seemed an impossible thing. But I could suddenly see her, school uniform on, hair in neat plaits, school bag on her shoulder…

It hit me in the cinema, maybe twice as hard. They were both already at school by that point, and my third child was just a year old, and I already knew how fast it went, how the time, and the children, slipped through your fingers.

Well, my eldest turns sixteen this very week, so this song is back in my head again. And tomorrow, my fourth and youngest child starts school. Gulp. I had tears in my eyes for the duration of my dog walk this morning. And that bloody song going around and around and around…

The feeling that I’m losing her forever
And without really entering her world
I’m glad whenever I can share her laughter
That funny little girl

These words come back to taunt me now my little man is about to start school, and I can’t deny that’s exactly how it feels; like I’m losing him forever. Of course, I know I’m not and in many of my more rational moments, I imagine how much more work I’m going to get done now. And how he won’t have to be dragged out on so many dog walks, and I won’t always be saying; come on, come on, hurry up.

Slipping through my fingers all the time
I try to capture every minute
The feeling in it
Slipping through my fingers all the time
Do I really see what’s in her mind
Each time I think I’m close to knowing
She keeps on growing
Slipping through my fingers all the time

I’ve tried, since he was born, to capture every minute, to soak up every part of it, to live and exist in that one moment, that one speck of existence. I breastfed him much longer than the other kids…there was no hurry for any of it to pass…I carried him in a sling until he was too big, just clinging to that feeling, the weight of his little body against mine, the feel of his soft, fat cheek, the smell of his curly, wispy hair.

And it never feels possible or real that they will grow older and go to school. It just doesn’t. Because you live in the moment with small children. They are always just the age they are. Soon you can’t quite remember or grasp who they were last year, what they looked like, what they could do and not do, and in the same way, you can’t see too far forward. You can’t imagine them much older. You just can’t. They are always just sort of stuck.

So it hits you hard, I think. Letting them go. And I know, he will have so much fun, and he will learn so much more, and I understood a long time ago that motherhood is really just a long process of gradually letting go. From the moment they start to walk and talk, to the first moment they pull their hand out of yours, to that all-important milestone, the first day of school.

This week I have watched as countless Facebook mummies have posted back to school pictures of their children, and it gets to me every time. All those fresh, smiling faces. Polished shoes, neat hair, book bags waiting to be filled. You can see all their potential and hope and optimism and you hope they get to hang onto all of it for as long as possible. You want each and every one of them to feel excited, and curious and valued. You want them all to be okay. And I know, that behind every back to school photo, behind every beaming smile, is a tearful mother feeling a mixture of so many things.

Bewilderment that it all went so fast. Relief, that they are going to get some life and time back for themselves. Perhaps excitement as they start a new chapter in their own life, maybe a new job or another opportunity that had to be put on hold. Worry for the child. Will they fit in? Will they be able to cope? Will they have nice, understanding teachers? Will they make friends? Sadness that an era has come to an end. That you can’t ever go back. Can’t stride into those photos you took when they were just a baby, can’t scoop them back up and feel them rest their tiny head on your shoulder. It’s always onwards. To the future. The next part of life.

Sometimes I wish that I could freeze the picture
And save it from the funny tricks of time
Slipping through my fingers (Slipping through my fingers all the time)

With those words ringing in my head, I just ironed all the little name labels onto his uniform, and double checked his book bag, shoes and PE kit are all ready to go in the morning. He’s only doing three hours for Christ’s sake! It will be time to go back and get him before I know it! But the first day leads to the second, and eventually to full-time school, to years slipping through my fingers that I won’t be able to grasp onto no matter how much I want to slow it all down…

So, this mummy will try to be brave in the morning. I’ll have a mantra in my head, don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry… I’ll have a great big smile on my face and I will have to absolutely refuse to let that song inside my head. Not even for one second. I’ll get him ready and I’ll see him off and I’ll do the hardest and most important thing you do as a mother.

I’ll let go.

Just for a bit.

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Hey! Stay Young! And Invincible…

The other day my fourteen-year-old daughter asked me what I was like when I was a kid, and the first thing that sprung into my head was my old nickname; ‘Cloth-ears.’ It was mostly my mum who called me this because I was always in a dream. I told my daughter that my favourite things when I was a kid are still my favourite things now; my pets, reading, writing, music, gardening. She said growing up seems boring, and I said yes it is, but you don’t really have to do it.

Growing old is inevitable...growing up is optional

You can’t stop yourself from ageing, but you can choose how you age.

After talking to my daughter, I realised that I’ve never really grown up. Okay, it might look like I have. I’m married, I have four kids, I drive a car, I have my own company for God’s sake, I pay my bills, pay my rent and all the rest of it. But when it comes to ‘adulting’, I drag my feet at every opportunity. I think this is why I hate phoning people and having people phone me. It forces you to act and speak like an adult. I’d much rather text or email. Of course, that could be the stubborn introvert in me too.

The more I thought about it, the more I realised I’ve resisted growing up at every turn. I was never in a hurry to be a teenager or an adult. I just wanted to write and read and play my favourite CD’s. I just wanted to be left alone, and I still feel like that now.  I put off going to University for two years because I didn’t feel ready. I got a job and worked, but that really just gave me more material for writing…

When I'm lyin' in my bed at nightI don't wanna grow upNothin' ever seems to turn out rightI don't wanna grow upHow do you move in a world of fogThat's always changing thingsMakes me wish

I was desperate to be a mum, and I was a young one at 24, but even that wasn’t about growing up. That was about love and fun and childhood. Being a mum has the potential for two things, in my opinion. It can lead you down a road of frustration and drudgery, where you end up repeating all the tedious things your mum said to you, lose your youth, your energy, yourself. Or it can be a chance to make childhood last even longer. Playing, make-believe, story-telling, arts and crafts, mucking about in the dirt, splashing in the river, making dens, tea-parties, imaginary friends, fairy gardens, bike rides, need I go on? I embraced all of these things with my kids and I still do. I love the fact that having kids means you get to go mental at Christmas and Easter and Halloween! I love visiting farms, and museums, taking them to festivals and castles, and on train rides. Would I do all these fun things if I didn’t have kids? I don’t think I would. I think I’d be glued to my laptop twenty-four-seven in a very unhealthy manner.

Then I thought about work. I’ve done my share of boring jobs. I’ve worked in a chemist, a supermarket, I’ve been a gardener and a cleaner. And then I chose a really fun career which also allowed me to carry on being childlike. I became a childminder. At the time this fitted in perfectly with my own young kids. I could be with them, have tons of fun and get paid to look after others too. I truly loved it. I have great memories of the things we all got up to.

As my kids got older, I started thinking about my childhood dreams and the lyrics of an Oasis song came to me one day when I felt myself drifting towards a kind of crossroads. ‘The dreams we have as children fade away.’ My youngest child at the time was starting school after the summer and I felt like there were dreams I had ignored and forgotten about. When I was a kid I wanted to work with animals and write books. I’d been too busy and too exhausted over the last ten years to do either. So I swapped childminding for dog walking, started fostering rescue dogs and started writing again.

_While we're living, the dreams wehad as childrenfade away_Oasis

And so here I am now. I turn 40 in a few months. 40, I tell you!! I don’t feel anything like 40! I don’t have a clue about so many adult things that I really struggle sometimes talking to other adults. I still feel like a child and I intend to stay this way. I’m still doing all of the things I love. Walking dogs, caring for my mini zoo of pets and taking in waifs and strays, attempting to grow my own fruit and vegetables, reading like a fiend, writing like a demon possessed, and doing whatever crazy childish things my kids want to do!

Anyway, just in case adulthood has you prisoner, here are a few tips to help you release your inner child when you can;

  • keep hold of the things you loved as a child; music, art, dance, whatever your passions were back then, there is no need to pack them away when adulthood comes calling
  • try to find employment in an area you are passionate about. Easier said than done, I know, but even if you can’t, try and do some voluntary work instead, or do it as a hobby. Never, ever give up the things you once loved
  • be silly. I can’t help myself. If you can’t say ‘wheee’ when you go around a roundabout, what’s happened to you? If you can push a supermarket trolley and resist the urge to zoom along and lift your feet off the floor, sort yourself out now!! Let your inner child out as much as possible. They know how to have fun
  • talk to a three-year-old. Or any young person. They will soon remind you how hilarious and carefree life used to be
  • go barefoot
  • go out in the rain
  • listen to new music
  • read books aimed at young people
  • put loud music on in the car and sing along
  • don’t miss the little things. Dirt, dust, sunlight, leaves, birdsong, tree bark, the sound of rain, the rush of a river, the flight of a blackbird, so much is going on under our noses and while little kids seize on these things and notice them for the treasure they are, as grown-ups we tend to forget

See, you don’t have to grow up! It’s optional! I suggest you fight it at every turn. And in the words of another great Oasis song “all the dream-stealers are lying in wait, but if ya’ wanna’ be a spaceman, it’s still not too late!”

It's funny how your dreamsChange as you're growing oldYou don't wanna be no spacemanYou just want gold Dream stealersAre lying in waitBut if you wanna be a spacemanIt's still not too lat

 

I see you, single white eyebrow hair!

Yes, I see you. There’s no hiding from me. Not that you were trying to hide that much anyway. I mean, how could I not notice you? One bright white hair sticking up in the middle of all the black ones? You weren’t exactly trying to be anonymous, were you? No, in fact, I rather feel your flamboyant combination of stark white colour and blatant lack of respect for the order hairs lay in, was more of a giant fuck you, to be honest!

But that’s okay. I can take it! I’m a big girl. And you know that already don’t you? And anyway, I hate to piss on your party parade, little white eyebrow hair, but you were beaten to it by a couple of head hair a few years ago! So there! And there have been a few more since then, believe me. So you weren’t such a shock, I’m sorry to say. You looked sort of weird and out of place though, so I plucked you out and examined you, and I expect you’ll be glad to hear your brief existence as part of my body did encourage me to stand and consider the passing of my time.

But the white hairs on my head was a bigger deal. Because those little bastards crept up on me. They took me by surprise, unlike you. Those hairs got me in a right little spin. They had me thinking about age and death for weeks! But you, I’m not so sure. I feel like I will just shrug you off. You see, back then, I was a few years into my thirties. And let me tell you, shocking white eyebrow hair, your early thirties are a time of massive denial and self-delusion.

You’ve just come out of your twenties and you can’t quite believe you’ve actually crossed the threshold into your thirties. It doesn’t seem real. Or fair. Twenties sounds so nice, doesn’t it? No one really wants to be a teenager forever, not with all the angst and insecurity, but your twenties are fantastic. You’re still young. You look young! You feel young. Old age feels a million years away; something that can never touch you. Then you roll on into your third decade, and it feels like quite a beating if I’m honest.  Quite a shock to the system.

I remember when I was heading out of my twenties. Being thirtysomething distressed and confused me. As that big 3-0 approached, I started looking around at other women of that age. How was I supposed to dress? How should I act? I felt like I had to leave my old scruffy, student style clothes behind me and try to appear a bit more polished. I genuinely thought this!

Early thirties is a strange time. You tell yourself you are still young, and of course, you still feel exactly the same. We never really change much on the inside. But you are suddenly confronted with one hard, cold fact. Entering your third decade is the beginning of the end of being young. Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight. You don’t suddenly wake up with crows feet and saggy arms, thank God. You don’t suddenly turn grey or develop arthritis. But it’s the start…or the end.

And towards the end of your thirties? There is no denying it. You’re a woman now, not a girl. You’re approaching middle-age, something you never, ever, ever thought would happen to you. You see, we witness the changes of the seasons. We watch leaves turn yellow and brown. We see them twist and twirl in the air as they fall to the ground. We kick through them and watch them turn to mulch. We see their decay but not our own. The new buds start the process again. Another season. Another Spring. Followed by another Summer, and Autumn, and so on.

Realising the world sees you as an adult, is weird. I still don’t feel like one. I always think people are older than me and feel genuinely shocked when I find out they are my age. I mean, they’re old…I’m not? 

doneadulting26

Those first white hairs were amusing to me. I pulled them out and looked them over. I was pleased by them, oddly. I liked that they were bright white, not grey. And I feel the same way about you, white eyebrow hair. So funny how things go full circle! I was so blonde when I was a toddler, my hair was almost white. To think one day I will have white hair and white eyebrows and eyelashes is really sort of exciting. I can just about see myself if I stare hard enough.

When I stop to think about it, and yes, okay, I admit the appearance of white hairs like yourself, does inevitably cause me to ponder…I really think I am okay with getting older.

There’s something I always think about and that’s how lucky I am to be here in the first place. You know, out of all those eggs and all those sperms, and all those opportunities for life to exist or not, I made it through. I saw a video this week where a guy was saying you have more chance of winning the lottery 10 times than you do of getting a life in the first place. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I agree with the sentiment. It’s mind-boggling if you think about it.

Getting older, spotting wrinkles and white hairs, it does make you feel a little sad, a little bit nostalgic. Of course, I stare at my face in the mirror and try to see the younger me. I hear songs that take me back, I experience memories out of the blue, ones I had forgotten. I think, how nice it would be to go back to that time. To do that again. But I would never really want to go back. To go back would be to lose who I am now. The years that have passed have shaped and moulded me into who I am now, someone I mostly quite like!

I think the whole fucking thing is amazing. This life. Getting up every morning and placing your feet down on the floor. Feeling the rain on your face. Facing the dark. Watching the shadows. Catching the light. Feeling the endless earthy beat of the world beneath your feet. Knowing love. Holding tight. Inhaling embraces. Star gazing. Paddling. Holding hands. It’s beautiful and amazing that we have the gift to look back, to remember and feel the emotions of the past. And it’s exciting and enthralling that we have the vision to look forward, to dream and imagine and hope. And it’s breathtaking when you think about it, that we have this same, one moment that we live in perpetually. Just us. Inside our skull. Looking out. What do you see?

For me, life is full of small, perfect moments. Of bare feet on warm concrete. Sitting on the doorstep with a hot cup of coffee. Watching birds fly in and out of the hedgerow. Finger nails filled with dirt. The sun setting and rising. Listening to the rain at night. Getting lost in a good book. Falling asleep beside your child. Smelling their hair. Knowing that nothing lasts forever, least of all you. But you can wake and walk and sleep and dream and live and love, day after beautiful day, until it ends.

So, you don’t scare me little white eyebrow hair. You don’t worry me. In fact, you make me smile. There will be more of you along, I know. One day I will give up plucking you out and I will let the white takeover. And that will be okay.

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