Brave Faces

Today was a big day. I have had preschool children in my life for 9 and a half years. That is almost a quarter of my time in this earth. Today was the last day. On Monday, my baby starts school.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about all this. Part of me – a pretty big part, I have to admit – is utterly delighted. It’s a moment that, in dark times past, I’ve dreamt of as a shining beacon of hope. There were times when it felt impossibly far away, when I was buried alive in small, smelly, noisy babies. Work was my only respite.

But, the closer I’ve got to the light at the end of the tunnel, the easier live has become. Preschool with a handful of babies and toddlers is a whole different ball game to having one happy, easygoing 3-year old padding through the week with you: more of a tiny, fun companion than a trial. The last year of being home with my little T has been a pleasure for both of us. Sure, I’ve still had next to no time to myself or to get things done, but he has been fun to hang out with and we pleased ourselves from 9 til 3 on our days together.

Today was our last day of preschool chillin’. We popped to soft play with his best mate, who is also, thankfully, joining him in his class on Monday. We had lunch out then headed back to his mate’s house for a cuppa and to play trains before the school run. A great last day, to round off a brilliant year.

After the long summer, Monday is nearly here. The school uniform is ready, the new shoes are waiting to be filled with little feet. The home visit from his new teacher was very successful, with T chatting away confidently. Much as I was worried at the beginning of the summer that my only-just-4-year old (who loves to be babied) wouldn’t be ready, this week has made me think he just might be. He is counting the sleeps and excited to be joining his big brother and sister at school. It is just as it should be.

So, I’m getting what I’ve dreamed of, and my baby boy is growing in confidence every day and excited about his new challenge.

But….

Monday will be the end of an era. A quarter of my life, my entire parenting experience, has involved having at least one little one at home. What does parenting look like on the other side of that? Does it feel like a hole has opened up somewhere, like something has gone missing? There will be many times when I don’t have a small voice to listen out for, when I can sit and have a cup of tea in an empty house. Will that feel liberating or like something has dropped out of my world? Will I feel like I’m less needed? Just less, somehow?

The shockwaves of the end of the preschool era are really only just beginning to hit me. I always thought I’d bounce out of the playground on that first Monday morning with a skip in my step. But as I’m typing this I’m welling up thinking about it. How can something you have been waiting for for so long also be something that brings a lump to your throat and tears to your eyes?

I don’t crave babies. I never have, if I’m honest. Give me a 3 or 4-year old over a baby any day. I don’t want to go back to any past stage. Why would I when this one is so wonderful and relatively easy? But could I just freeze this moment in time for a short while, please?

Next year, my little brood will turn 10, 7 and 5. When did time start going so fast? They are growing so tall so quickly. Facebook keeps reminding me how they looked 1, 2, 3 years ago and it is beginning to get alarming. A ‘9 years ago today’ post popped up this morning with my now lanky eldest dressed as a baby bear. 9 years!? How is that possible when I remember that moment like it was yesterday?

Our summer holiday in Norfolk this year was amazing. It was so chilled and full of fun. And yes, actually relaxing for my husband and I. I can safely say that it is first family holiday since having children that we adults have come back feeling like we actually had a holiday, rather than just same shit, different location. It was incredible and it will only get better as T gets bigger and more able. No, I definitely don’t want to go back.

The only way is up. And up means the next big thing, which is school. I will have all 3 kids in one school for 2 whole years before H moves up, which will be amazing. This is the sweet spot. We have 3 kids who are now low maintenance and still love family fun as they haven’t hit teenage grumps yet. This is the bit I always meant when I wanted a big family. We need to lap this stuff up.

But….

If I’m loving the Now, why do I feel such a sense of impending loss?

For the last decade of my life I have defined myself as ‘Mummy’. It was a change so hard to face at the beginning, leaving my carefree life behind, that I almost lost myself in it at times. I’m reaching a stage when I can begin to reclaim some of who I was and, whilst that is exciting, it is also terrifying. Does that person even exist any more? How do I get back there? Or has that ship sailed? Do I have to start again and reinvent myself in a life where there will be small pockets of air in which I can begin to be Me again?

When I’m welling up, is it worry about my confident little lad that is getting to me, or is it a fear of being left as an empty shell? My life has been so crammed full of small people for so long. What’s left when you take them away, if only for a few hours a day? Is there anything left of Me to reclaim?

But I know in the light of day that these nighttime worries are all far too dramatic. I’ve always been there underneath it all and I’ve been slowly emerging and remembering who I am for some years, as the drudgery of babies falls away. I finally have a chance to lap up that childfree time that I’ve craved for so long. I am not who I was before this journey began. But that’s OK. I am something new and I’m looking forward to getting to know what that is.

Monday is going to be a big day for both me an T. Change can be a scary thing.  But I know it’s what we both need, and I think we are both ready for it. It is time to learn and grow and change. Time to come out from hiding behind Mummy. For both of us.

It’s a whole new world, kid. Brave faces on. Here we go.

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Club Membership Expired

So here we are, June 2017. I am on the cusp of a landmark birthday, crossing the threshold from my 30s to the big 4-0 in a couple of weeks. I am in the final stretch of having my last preschooler at home before the summer holidays. And then he joins the big kids. After more than 9 years of parenting – always with at least one home with me during the day – having all three off and out from 9 to 3 five days a week is going to be a massive adjustment.

I feel like I’m on the very edge of a big change and the fact it has come along just as I tip over into my 40s makes it seem even bigger. It’s just a number, I know, but maybe – just maybe – this one feels a bit more like growing up. I’m leaving two clubs I’ve been part of for a very long time: the 30-something Club and the Parents of Preschoolers Club. I’m gonna be ticking the 40+ box on forms from now on, for fuck’s sake!

But the club I feel most unsettled about leaving is the Preschool Club. Despite the hard work, it’s a comfortable place to be. Club members can exchange sympathetic glances as we pass one another with a screaming kid under one arm. I’ve joined other clubs as I go through life (the School Mum Club, the Sitting-on-the-edge-at-swimming-and-moaning-about-the-heat Club, the Music Group Club, etc, etc) but I’ve always been in the Preschool gang. I’ve laughed along with the Mummy Bloggers and seen myself in their tales of woe and stress. They’ve been so familiar and pertinent to my life.

But I’ve found myself wandering away from those blogs now. Because my daily life with one preschooler – who is out of nappies, pretty self sufficient and generally great fun to be around – is no longer reflected in them. Without realising it was happening, I’ve drifted out of the mayhem. I give the same sympathetic glances to Mums with screaming babies before realising I’m no longer one of them. My membership has expired. I’m somewhere else now. Although I’m not quite sure where yet.

Where does that leave me? And where does that leave this blog, which I’ve also found it hard to return to of late. I’m no longer writing about what drove me to write in the first place. My kids are older and I cannot betray confidences by sharing things they wouldn’t share themselves. So, where does it go from here? Perhaps it doesn’t and maybe that’s OK. Or maybe it evolves into something else. Who knows?

I can see on paper how appealing it is to be out of the shit and moving on. It really is. And I know deep down that I am definitely done with preschoolers, with the bloody hard work of it all. But as the day approaches, my funny little blonde bombshell seems to be less trouble and more adorable by the day – which is very inconvenient of him. It makes September feel just a little too close, especially since he is still only a very babyish 3, turning 4 at the end of July. He just doesn’t seem remotely ready to don a school uniform and work out how to write his name. He simply isn’t interested. He’d rather be playing in the paddling pool or racing cars up the hall. I can see his point.

With the first two, I was pretty happy when school started. After all, I had 2 preschoolers each time and cutting down that workload was something to aim for. H was a right handful and handing him over to be someone else’s problem for 6 hours a day was amazing, although the screaming at drop off every day was less fun. M was so keen to start school when her time came around that I made her a wall chart just to stop her asking me every day how long she had to wait. How can you be sad to wave your child off when you know it is what they want more than anything else in the world?

But this time it feels like neither of us is quite ready. It is the last time. There is no going back. But if I’m not ready after 9 years, will I ever be? Perhaps my sense of not being ready is just a fear of the unknown. What is parenting like on the other side of preschool? I worry about justifying having some time to myself at long last, between work days. I’ve been so busy for so long that I’ve forgotten the art of doing things by and for myself. Will I rediscover that art, around all the domestic stuff I’ll finally have a bit of time for? And if I do, will I be able to take advantage of it without feeling guilty that I should be doing something else?

A good step is to make the next few weeks about me. If you can’t drag your 40th on for a good month, you’re not dong it right. There are drinks and lunches and spas planned. It’s gonna be ALL about me! And hopefully I’ll be able to hang onto some of that when September rolls round and claw back some of the many layers of me that preschoolers have stripped away. Operation reclaim.

I spent pretty much all of my 30s up to my ears in nappies and utterly exhausted. I’m hoping the 40s will be a bit more balanced. More fun, less stress, more sleep, less weeping into my tea/wine. Time for my poor long suffering husband and I to remember what it feels like to be Us. The preschool years can be beyond brutal and that is something I must remember as I wave them goodbye.

Can I and should I also say goodbye to writing this blog? I’m not sure. Not yet, I don’t think. It has been amazing therapy, a salvation in the madness. But times have changed and I don’t know quite what it will be as I move forward. I’ll spend some time working that out as I sip my birthday prosecco and wave goodbye to the 30s and the baby years.

So, to my dear old familiar Preschool Club: I’ll miss you deeply. I really will. And I’ll try not to rose tint you as I slowly inch away. You have given me some incredible memories and been the hardest years of my life. You have changed me beyond measure. Thank you for making me feel one the gang. Without that, I’m not certain I would have made it through.

But time waits for no Mum. Onwards and upwards we go. I am hoping the 40s club will welcome me with open arms. Time to stock pile the prosecco and put on your party pants, 40s gang. Here I come!