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, 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.