The opposite end of childhood.
I’ve been a mother now for fifteen years and a few months and a mother of two for nearly ten years.
Reading that sentence back is still incredible for me. There is so much focus and attention on the early years but it’s like once those tearful, toddler tantrums are done time speeds up. Their growth is lost in a sea of spellings, a clean P.E kit, a lost P.E kit, birthday parties, school terms, Christmases, summer holidays, trips for school shoes, uniforms. Then suddenly your children are having grown up conversations with you. Your youngest is correcting your grammar or telling you what the meaning of a word is. Your eldest is explaining something scientific that goes straight over your head. And it feels like it’s always been this way.
Yet fifteen years ago I thought time had stood still. I was there, in my lounge - I spent a lot of time in the lounge back then - feeding my son for, what felt like, the twentieth time that day, and I thought I was the worst mother in the world. Because I hated it.
I would have been wearing light blue jogging bottoms with several spit up milk stains down them and a black t-shirt. If I was lucky the back of my t-shirt was clean - if I wasn’t there would be regurgitated milk dripping down the back of it.
I would be sitting on our settee, it was a greeny/gold coloured one, with various damp, slightly off-smelling muslin squares next to me. Two two-seater settees and there were milk stains on them both. (Do you see a bit of a theme here?)
If it was a week day I would be hoping my husband would be coming home soon. He worked five days a week in London and as soon as he left the house on a Monday morning I felt the loneliness rush into the house, filling the void where he had been.
Those early days, when I was still sore from the birth, when I still re-lived the birth, some ten weeks after the birth, I sat and watched TV all day long. I’d not venture far outside but would see other people walking up and down the road. My neighbour going out and about with her small baby. People having fun. And I was so envious, so isolated, it hurt. But the thought of talking to anyone wasn’t appealing either.
Over time the shadows that filled my head started to get lighter until they disappeared altogether. And I started to have fun with my boy. A sister came along when he was five, not far off six and a few years after that we moved to the countryside.
And here we are.
It’s a Sunday afternoon and normally he’s either doing his homework, asking if he can have some time on his gaming, or sitting with us as we relax. Today he’s not here. He’s not even in this country. In fact, he’s well over five thousand miles away, asleep in a hotel after spending the day on a tea plantation.
The thought of him going away for ten days has been incredibly distressing. I’ve been clenching my jaw for over a month and in the darkness of night time I would get really upset.
When you decide the time is right to have a child you think of having a baby. Or a toddler.
And those early years are hard. They’re knackering. You expect it. You aren’t prepared for it but you know it’s going to happen.
But you don’t think about the opposite end of childhood. The teenage years when they’re turning into an adult. When they start doing things, GCSEs and so on, that you can remember doing not so long ago. When, in a few years, they’ll be old enough to learn to drive bringing with it a whole host of other worries. Or leaving home to attend university. After all, that was only a few years ago for you.
You don’t think of it because it’s going to be a very long time before your baby is going to be doing any of that.
Except, their childhood goes a lot faster than your own.
There’s no manual for this. It’s brand new territory.
So why the puppy sitting in front of the books in the image? Well, I distracted myself when he left on Thursday by completely gutting my office. I cleaned, I chucked, I wiped and I created piles. All those books behind PuppyFace are just half the amount heading for the charity shop. My office is now sparkling and clutter-free.
Distraction is key, I think. Imagine how tidy my house will be when he leaves for university?