H is seven next month. A rather grown-up sounding age. Not only does this time of year mark my eldest reaching another milestone, it is also the anniversary of when it all began, when my life changed irreversibly and immeasurably.
I will never forget that moment of realisation: that there was no such thing as being ‘off duty’ ever again. I became a mother in that moment and I always will be, for the rest of my life. It was brutal and terrifying, despite the joy of the brand new baby staring up at me with a look of recognition that took my breath away. It was glorious and horrific all at once.
The months that followed were the hardest of my life and a huge part of that was about coming to terms with the reality of parenthood, the change from being relatively carefree to being responsible for a tiny real live person who was totally dependant on me. None of this was helped by the fact that H was a screaming bundle of rage until he was about three and a half. Hardly the gentle transition into motherhood that I had dreamed of. Luckily, they broke the mold with our H. The younger two were a good deal less horrendous.
So, seven years have passed and I find myself reflecting on what seven years of kids has meant to me. We have yet to have a time when we have been without either a baby or toddler in tow, with all the problems and paraphernalia that brings, so it has been intense parenting. Seven years of nappies – we’ve not had a single day without at least one nappy clad bum to deal with, sometimes two. Seven years of broken sleep, nose wiping and floor mopping. Before giving birth, the thought of dealing with another human being’s bodily fluids filled me with horror. I’ve been practically swimming in the stuff for seven years now.
Baby T is only 19 months old so we are still very much ‘in the shit’, in every sense. It will be at least another year before we are nappy-free, and being tantrum-free is a total pipe dream. But T appears to be growing incredibly fast at the moment – some days, he seems to have noticibly changed overnight. Language is taking it’s time to materialise but he is now grunting with intent and becoming more physically capable all the time. His second birthday isn’t far away and, come September, M will be at school and T will be my only remaining child at home. The relative calm of that sounds rather appealing.
In just two and a half years, my firecracker third will start on his own journey into education and my life will change again. Two years seems like a remarkably short period of time, compared to the seven years that came before it. Although the change will be less earth-shattering this time, it will truly be the end of an era and it is beginning to take shape in front of me. No longer a far off world, impossible to imagine from under piles of nappies, but a reality that is wonderfully liberating and joyous, but also rather sad and somewhat scary.
There is a list as long as my arm of things I will not miss but there are many things I love about my life with young kids and many precious memories made. I intend to enjoy these last few years, despite suffering from baby fatigue at times. I want to try to capture with my second boy some of the things I was too exhausted and worried about first time round to take in. The greatest joy of having a third baby has been relaxing into it, enjoying the moment without all those endless, nagging fears and insecurities ruling my life any more. To actually trust my instincts and revel in my own ability as a seasoned Mum has allowed me to see through that fog of fear and enjoy the beautiful, happy, healthy boy in front of me.
I often feel sorry for H that I wasn’t able to be that way with him seven years ago. I know that, with each new parenting experience to come, he has to go through it first, with parents who don’t know what they are doing, who are stressed and anxious about things that they will take in their stride with later children. It is a distinct disadvantage of being the first born.
When I think back to being a new Mum all those years ago, I can’t help but remember all the times that I have felt trapped and bogged down in the daily grind of life with young kids. The distance from my traumatic crash landing into parenting is not yet great enough for me to be able to rose tint it. I doubt it ever will be. But things are really good now, despite the daily craziness and noise levels that could shatter glass. And perspective is a great thing. Seeing myself as seven years into a nine year plan makes me see how soon it will all change and, whilst I crave even a minute to myself these days, I know how much I will miss the mayhem of my whirlwind preschoolers when the time comes.
For now, I am really enjoying looking forward. I’m excited about eventually being able to regain a bit of time for me, but also about the nearer future, about watching my clever little girl gain confidence and start school later this year, watching my last baby learn, grow and morph from a bundle of pudge into a proper little person.
The future is never certain but, with any luck, the near future at least feels like it might be rather less fraught and stressful than the recent past. I’m ready for the next steps: my second tearful first-day-of-school send off; the arrival of my third round of terrible twos. Practice may not have made me perfect but it has made me happier, less anxious and able to see that no stage, no matter how stressful it is, will last forever.
It seems I have always just needed the light at the end of the tunnel to be able to enjoy the ride. And oh, what a ride they make it.