“They grow up so fast!” How I hated it when ‘smug’ parents said this to me. It seemed like every parent with a child over five said this to me, all the time. My two month premature daughter was not yet a year old, I was suffering with postnatal depression and a serious drinking problem. Confused and in a fog of Chablis, sleepless nights, painful loneliness, rock-bottom self-esteem and the occasional suicidal thought. Really? Really? That seems unlikely, given that each 24 hours seems to take 48, I can’t breathe, I’m so scared and lonely and all this child does is cry and eat, cry and eat. Oh, and not sleep, ever.
Yet here I am. The crying one is now ten, a beautiful, funny little girl – with a seven year old brother to boot (God knows how I did it a second time, but I made it, just). I am no longer depressed and have not had a drink for almost 7 years (that’s another story). Now I am one of those ‘smug’ parents – except I no longer consider them smug – just wise and honest. Just further down the line.
Because last night, as I brushed my daughter’s hair, squinting into the mirror, NO! There they were. Tiny little spots, pin pricks really, on her otherwise porcelain skin, around the nose and forehead and chin. Barely perceptible, but there nonetheless. This, the first physical sign of puberty. Her body is still tiny, as mine was until well into my early teens. For several weeks now there have been other signs that I have chosen to ignore, a sort of blind denial. The sudden uncontrollable rages and sullen sulky quiet moments. But they pass quickly and boom! There she is, back to her happy-go-lucky self. There has been the sudden desire for privacy too, and calling and Face-timing her friends for a ‘chat’. But these tiny dots are the first outward sign of this loss of infancy, of innocence. And suddenly I am gripped by a fear of losing her. Also of guilt and remorse, that I cannot get back those terrible baby years that I wished away so readily. Now that I have my own life back, now that I seem to have got the hang of things I am grieving for the time with the helpless baby I struggled so hard to cope with during those early years.
She will start secondary school in September. While on holiday last week, our good friend with older girls said (not smugly) “That’s when you start to lose them, when they go to secondary school”. Well, if I have learnt anything on this sometimes godforsaken journey it is this – TO LISTEN (to the people and things worth listening to, anyway). I am going to enjoy every moment of this last primary school term and summer. I won’t say no when she asks to paint my nails neon pink five times every Saturday, I will allow her to turn off Alt-J and turn Little Mix up to full blast on a Sunday morning. But most of all I will try to listen and not wish away any more of her precious childhood. Because as I can now attest to myself…it really does go too fast!
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Karen is mummy to 2 Humans and 2 cats, and partner to 1 (Human). She works in Telly full time and is constantly wracked with guilt about it. When she’s not helping to make TV programme she’s cooking, knitting or trying to escape the mayhem to go to the lido, because she is utterly obsessed by swimming in cold water.
Image credit: Karen Smith