At bedtime, my daughter declared her intention to sleep in her own bed every night from now on. ‘I’ll never come into your bed again, Mummy,’ she said proudly, anticipating that this would be something that would please me. (which, given how much I’ve whinged about my lack of sleep/ the small child kicking me in the back/ the creeping into bed at 3am and treading on my head, would seem a reasonable assumption) ‘I’m going to sleep in my own bed every single night.’ I’m frankly doubtful, given her previous history of such assertions, but it did make me think. What if that really was the last time?
First times are easily remembered and widely documented. If I cast my eye back over my facebook timeline, it’s all there, proudly and happily written for my long suffering facebook friends to like and browse swiftly on by. First smiles, first shoes, first steps, first teeth, first day of school. I could tell you that child 1 walked at thirteen months and child 2 at nine months. I could tell you that child 1’s first word was ‘car’ and his greatest amusement once he’d learned it was to sit in his pushchair next to the high street and shout ‘car! car!’ (I swiftly tired of the game; he did not) I could tell you that child 2 was obsessed with playdoh and puzzles when she was very little and I was convinced she was a genius, and she has rarely looked at them since. I could tell you all of the firsts, lined up in neat, beautiful order, but the lasts – well, they’ve faded, withered, dispersed – because I didn’t know they were the last time.
I felt unreasonable grief when child 1 was tiny and grew out of his first, newborn babygros. I think I knew even then that parenting is a gradual process of detachment, and you’re never ready to do so. I folded up those miniscule, giraffe and elephant printed sleepsuits, and knew it was a stage to which he’d never return. I could never get back those first, euphoric moments of his life, those days when all I did was look at him and wonder how I had created such a miracle, those nights when I didn’t put him back in his moses basket because all I wanted to do was hold him and marvel at his tiny perfection. These moments were, of course, replaced with moments of equally great joy as he grew, but I wanted somehow to capture those moments for always, close the lid of the jar tightly to preserve them, come back to them over and over, glittering like tiny jewels in the light.
They still call me ‘Mummy’ but I won’t know when will be the last time they do so. They still run to kiss me goodbye in the morning, and at night they watch for my car in the driveway and run to the door, screaming ‘Mummy’s home! Mummy’s home!’ If I pick them up from school unexpectedly, their little faces hold nothing but clear, undiluted joy. My daughter always holds my hand when we walk down the street, her little hand nestling into mine, clutching me tightly. My son always says ‘I love you’ at bedtime and holds up his sweet, innocent face for my kiss. My daughter says, ‘I want to be with you always, Mummy.’ My son waits all day for me to read him his book at night. One day, they will do none of this, and I won’t know that I should have treasured the last time they did.
And so tonight at bedtime I smiled at my beautiful girl, told her I would be proud of her if she did stay in her own bed all night, because I would be, and closed the door softly. As I walked away, I tried to remember every single thing about Thursday night, when she crawled into bed at 2am, and cuddled up close. I remembered the poem about the last times of motherhood currently circulating on facebook. If it is the last time, I am happy for it to be so, because part of my role as a mother is to let them grow up, but I want to know that I have treasured it, and all the small things of their childhoods, now and in the future, while they lasted. Because I won’t know when each is the last time, buried as they are beneath all those endless other moments of tiredness, frustration, and tedium, but I do know how lucky I am to have had every single moment.