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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For now, I Can Still Carry You

Tonight, the last night you will be two years old, I lay next to you in your bed, and you pulled my arm under your head, as you always do, and with three cars clutched in your hands, you said to me; “I want to get in Mummy’s tummy.”

I giggled and asked you; “why?”

You said; “to hide.”

Minutes later you were sleeping soundly, so I kissed my two-year-old goodnight for the last time, retrieved my arm and snuck out of your room. Just before story time I’d grabbed you and pulled you across my lap. I said I was checking to see if you still fit there, and you did. You still fit in my arms. Just. You pointed out that your feet were sticking out and you were right. They were miles away.

Another year has passed and we’ve sped through it together, despite both our efforts to slow things down. You, with your feet dragging on dog walks and constant questioning; “what’s that? What’s that? What’s that?” and me, with my addiction to grabbing you and holding you as tight as I can, while you wriggle to be free.

You’re not so much a toddler any more, my little man. You’re about to be three. You’re a little boy. You still ask for my arm at night and I still have to lay with you until you fall asleep, and more often than not you end up in our bed at some point, but I treasure those moments as I know how quickly your next birthday will approach. Last year, I was thinking; for now, you still fit in my arms. This year, I am thinking, for now, I can still carry you.This year will see changes coming our way. Pre-school is on the horizon. You’ll have to leave these arms and trust someone else’s. You’ll have to learn to run to them when you fall and scrape your knees. And I’ll have to drive back home without you, to an empty house.

Even now, the thought makes my breath hitch in my throat and tears fill my eyes. That’s what you are to me, my blue eyed boy, you are the hitch in my throat and the grasp to my heart. I can barely look at you sometimes without tears flooding my eyes, without the urge to grip you and hold you so tightly it would hurt. And it’s been like that since the beginning because you are the last one, and the straggler at the end of this beautiful, breathtaking journey. This journey into motherhood that back then saved me from myself, and even now, saves me from the darkness of this uncertain world.

The first time around, I remember holding your biggest sister, when she was oh so tiny, and she had the same big blue eyes that you have, and we stood at the window together in the hospital where she had been born. And I was exhausted and utterly in love and the most excited person in the world. For months I had been talking to her in utero, telling her my plans and dreams, giving her advice, talking to her about life, the universe, and everything. And now here she was, filling my arms, making my arms feel like that was what they had been made to do. Hold her. And staring into that perfect face, feeling the most terrifying yet soul fulfilling explosion of love, enough love to last a lifetime.

I looked at her and thought it would be slow. I thought we had so much time ahead of us and she was so tiny, so fragile and pink and new, it seemed impossible that she would ever walk, or talk or pull her hand out of mine. But she did. So quickly I was left blinking. I held my second baby girl in the murky waters of a hospital pool, catching her underwater and pulling her up to my chest. I was the first person to touch and hold her, and she didn’t cry, not once. I had to unwound the cord from her legs and I was laughing and crying and as high as a kite. It’s still bizarre to me how you can be so utterly in love with a strange, new person.

The third time, I met your brother, and he didn’t cry either. Just lay in my arms and sucked his thumb. I knew by then how fast time would go and I truly thought he would be the last one. But I didn’t want any of it to be for the last time…not yet. So the thought of you was born with your brother. Every time I held his hand, and felt him fall asleep against my shoulder, I longed for it not to be for the last time. I longed to be able to do all those things again. My love for him, my addiction to love, brought you into this world.

You, my angel faced baby boy, you are the last one. And everything we do now is for the last time. A few months after you turned two we had our last breastfeed. Not long after that you wore your last nappy. And now you want to do everything yourself. Soon the last pushchair ride will happen. One day you won’t want me to lie with you while you fall asleep. There will be so many first times and so many lasts.

We know we won’t go through this again, and that one day this journey, in many ways will be over. Children don’t stay. They grow bigger and older and they move on. You look into their faces and you still see the baby and the toddler and the child, like ghosts. You can still hear the things they used to say, the words they used to mispronounce, and I know so much of your dad and I’s future, will involve reminiscing about the funny things you all did.

You’ve just stopped saying ‘deed-do’ and you now say thank you instead. ‘Deez’ is now please. A year ago you were only just putting words together, but now you’re bossing us all about, telling us we’re your best friends, but that we also have to go to prison, and do we want food from your shop? You think everything is amazing; running down hills, scrambling through trees, building dens. And you ‘wud’ everything. You’re soaking up everything I teach you about nature. You point at weeds and ask what they are called and if we can eat them. You remember some of them and tell me first. You ‘wud’ crows and holly bushes, and you ‘wud’ nettles and bees and Oaks. I hope you wud everything and find everything amazing for the rest of your life.

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This time three years ago I was waiting for you to arrive. You were two weeks late, had to be induced and got stuck on the way out making it the most horrific birth I’ve had. They rushed you from the room and it felt like forever waiting for you to come back. But I heard you cry and saw your face and when you came back, I felt like an animal, wanting to snatch you into my arms and sniff you all over. Mine. Mine. That’s the intensity of the love. The person you would kill for and die for. I remember those post-birth moments with all of you, as clear as day. The exhaustion, the cold sweat, the shaking, the after pains, and the weight of the baby in my arms, making everything okay, making the world brighter, life more vivid, me stronger. Never ever wanting to let go.

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But let go we must. Us mothers. We do it every year when you wake up on your birthday. We are letting go bit by bit. When you blow out your candles on your cake, we’ll be looking away and wiping the silly tears from our eyes.

 

You can’t get back in my tummy, my love. We can’t ever go back. I’ll just wipe the tears away when you’re not looking and keep telling you a thousand times a day how much I love you (and it’s more than three) And one day soon you won’t fit in my lap either, and one day soon I won’t be able to pick you up and carry you any more. So for now, let’s hold on as tight as we can. Let’s play hide and seek and read Mr Men books, and serve mud pies and dendelions in our shop. Let’s walk the dogs and go the way you want to go, never on the path, and scratch our legs and find fox holes and rabbit warrens. Let’s play cars, and play-doh and Lego, because one day you won’t want to anymore. Let’s go outside. Let’s snuggle up. Let me and you hold onto each and every day as tight as we possibly can.

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