Making memories. That’s what we are all “supposed” to be doing all the time as parents, isn’t it? Creating those picture-perfect moments, weaving a rich tapestry of experiences, spending a fortune on days out and making every minute count.
Before I became a mother, I absolutely thought that is what life with children would be like; our days would be filled with baking and crafting and imaginary play. Imagine then, my disappointment in myself and my Pinterest aspirations, at discovering that motherhood hasn’t brought about a total personality transplant. In truth, when I finally get my children into bed of an evening, I am 100 per cent more likely to spend 20 minutes catching up on Neighbours than planning a series of ambitious art projects for the next day.
And yet still, like a lot of us, I constantly beat myself up about my inability to achieve perfection; whether it is stressing that I almost certainly won’t be able to bake a convincing Paddington Bear birthday cake, or worrying that I spend too much time letting them watch Mr Tumble when we should probably be outdoors doing messy play.
Recently, while spending my umpteenth hour researching where we should go on holiday this year – knee-deep in Trip Advisor reviews and price comparison websites – I had a lightbulb moment. And – I’m perhaps reluctant to admit – it came courtesy of my husband. “Doesn’t matter where we go,” he said. “They’re not going to remember it, are they? They’re not going to remember any of this bit. They’re too little!”
And it’s true. Sort of. You try to think back to being a toddler, and I bet you can’t. I’ve got a memory like an elephant and, if I really try, I can just about remember snatches of things from about the age of three onwards – meeting my little brother for the first time, being carried sleepily from the car to my bed by my Dad, watching Moira Stuart read the news and thinking she was glamour personified – but it is all still really hazy. The clear memories only really start at about the age of five.
If you’re a perfectly imperfect mother like me, that thought is both reassuring and depressing. On the plus side, my sons won’t remember all the times I was driven to exhausted distraction by the lack of sleep, the endless potty training, the mountains of washing, the under-the-breath swearing. But nor will they remember first holidays, first steps, first Christmases, or learning that they really do love each other after all.
But that’s the thing about memories. We might struggle to recall specific events in the past, but sometimes – to paraphrase Marcel Proust – they just sneak up on us, and all these things make us who we are. The other day, while scrabbling around in the kitchen for something to satisfy my sugar craving, I found a long-forgotten party bag containing a packet of Jelly Tots. So I ate them, obviously. I don’t think I’d had a Jelly Tot since about 1983, but the moment I put one in my mouth, I was transported back to that time; I was at home, with my Mum, eating my sweets, watching something brilliantly 80s – probably Trumpton, and I felt safe and happy. It’s not exactly as chic as Proust and his madeleine, but it was so vivid and so comforting, even 34 years later.
So, where does that leave us? Well, I have come to the conclusion that it’s not worth sweating the small stuff because real magic moments aren’t about whether all the paper plates and cups at your child’s birthday party match, and they aren’t even about whether you can fashion a convincing Hungry Caterpillar out of loo rolls and pipe-cleaners. Sometimes they are about going round Sainsbury’s on a rainy Tuesday morning in November and getting a bit of (bribery) cake in the café afterwards.
And as for the first steps, words, Christmases and birthdays? Well, they’re memories for me, because I am DEFINITELY old enough to remember them.
About Geraldine Cooper
Geraldine is a multimedia journalist who has spent her career working in some of the UK’s busiest newsrooms. Her hobbies include singing, learning useless trivia, watching terrible TV and eating chocolate. She lives with her husband and two young sons in a house in South London which may one day be lost under a pile of unsorted laundry.
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