On Friday, after delivering my darlings to school and having breakfast with some girlfriends, I came home to mess. I loathe returning at 11am to an untidy kitchen and unmade beds, but the morning had been hectic and I hadn’t had the time to make neat before we left. There was a good window of opportunity for the Tidiness Fairy to have come in and sorted things while I was out, but she obviously had more pressing calls.
First I tidied and cleaned the kitchen, then I went upstairs to make beds. Usually the sight of three unmade beds would send a shot of righteous irritation through me, a brief blast of bitterness that bed-making has become my lot instead of, say, making high-level management decisions or travelling through Europe on visits to customers or perhaps editing a literary magazine. But this was not the case. Instead, I was touched by the duvet covers still shaped from my children’s bodies, their warm smell, and the fuzzy joy of belonging to a large, loud and very slightly messy family. I wanted to climb in and inhale their smell and fall asleep and dream a child’s dreams. Briefly, I wanted to be them and experience our home from their perspective. I knew that, whatever failings I believe myself to have, their experience would feel good, that they feel safe, protected, loved. As if wrapped in a very warm duvet.
I read two beautiful posts about parenting this weekend. One was by Bindi from Epossums, where she talks about having a child on the cusp of adulthood and another was from Rae of the JourneyMama blog, writing about having a baby on the cusp of being a child. Both posts made me think about the journey of parenting. When a child is young, and so freshly arrived via your own body, you tend to think of them as part of you. Parenting is the process of separating out from them, and teaching them the skills they need to live without you. I feel acute sadness in that, but also joy as I watch each one of my three taking their steps to becoming their own person.
My oldest is seven and has left fairyland behind her. She likes playing with boys, pretending to be a pirate and playing catch, but she also likes to go into her bedroom to draw and practise writing for hours. She is finding a balance between rambunctious play and her own inner life. I love her orderliness, her calm and her quiet confidence. Every day is a little journey of independence for her, a practice run for when she lets go and says goodbye.
My middle child is five, and still has moments of being three emotionally. She struggles to accept the transition that is facing her. She sucks her thumb, screeches and needs to be carried, but she is also a daredevil, who climbs trees and taunts me from the topmost branches, or who skis straight down mountains with scant regard for parallel curves. She told me recently that she can still remember heaven. I am so grateful that I don’t have to force her to fit a mould, that thanks to the relatively gentle German kindergarten system, she will only start formal schooling at nearly seven. She still needs time to dream and remember heaven, and to shuttle between being a baby and a big girl.
My actual baby will be two on Tuesday. He speaks in beautiful full sentences: “I have to draw”, “Come and play, Mummy”, “I need it”. He whines in words, not sounds. He is agile on stairs, slides and climbing frames, but still drinks from a sippy cup and makes a big mess when he eats. He is negotiating the transition from baby to boy with a huge sense of humour, acute compassion for others (“You okay, Daisy?”) and by identifying strongly with that centre of his universe – Daddy.
When I talk to my girlfriends about parenting, we usually agree that it’s the hardest thing we’ve ever done. Some days are smooth and easy, others are rocky and leave me exhausted and drained. But what a privilege it is to be the one who gets to accompany these three individuals on their journeys to becoming who they are.