At the end of June when we hung up your school uniform and kicked your little black shoes into the corner of the cupboard, I thought the summer would last forever. I saw the unstructured days stretch ahead of us as an unknown quantity and felt just as daunted by them as you were excited.
And then we woke up on day one, and it was 7.30am. And I didn’t have to pack your lunchbox, or chivvy you into your uniform, or make either of us look presentable until we were good and ready for our day, and we had nowhere to be and no one requiring anything of us. So we celebrated with Coco Pops and morning cartoons and life was, splendidly, wonderfully, a holiday.
Nine weeks went by in this vein. We didn’t laze around every day – sometimes we got up and swam early or walked on the beach. One set of grandparents came to stay, and we went to stay with another. We had a holiday by the sea and another in the countryside – and that collection of days gone by, spent in your constant company, will be days I’ll treasure forever.
Looking back now I’m sure there were days that felt endless. I’m sure there were moments I lost my cool and hours I wished school was starting sooner than the end of August. There were almost certainly days I clock watched, counting down the minutes to wine o’clock, and I absolutely used the phrases, “Why don’t you play with your Babies for a bit?” and “What shall we put on Netflix?” more times than I’d care to admit.
But here’s the marvellous, miraculous, utterly surprising thing about motherhood: I remember none of those moments. Looking back on our summer now, the summer spent in the constant company of your wondrous little soul, I remember it like a montage of sweet moments and happy memories, of sticky ice cream fingers and sandy footprints on the car seats. Of exuberance and fun and living through the eyes of a four and a half year old, and – oh! – I am grateful for you.
Grateful, and proud. So proud of you, my little person who walked into her classroom for the first time a year ago, and came out at the end of the third term like a butterfly bursting with new things learned, energy and fun. I’ve been proud to have your little hand in mine as we travelled far and wide this summer. I’ve been proud to be able to rely on you when I said, “Go and get your sister” or “Help your sister” or “What is your sister doing?!” I’ve been proud to watch the light in your grandparents’ eyes this summer as they got to enjoy the little person you’re becoming. I’ve been proud to watch you pick up new habits and skills – not least your casual familiarity with a Nespresso machine or your knowledge of which beans are ready to be picked and which aren’t.
I’ve enjoyed your endless capacity for conversation and remembered why I’ve not spent one moment since the day you were born feeling lonely. I’ve witnessed your kindness and your generosity, and also your self awareness when your four-year-old capacity for kindness and generosity has eluded you. I’ve watched you devour the books of my childhood, curling up on a lap you’re rapidly outgrowing just as I used to, and my heart has been full to bursting at least once a day.
This week we lowered the hem of your school dress a good three inches, we polished your old school shoes only to discover we needn’t have bothered because after a summer of running barefoot they were far too small. I packed your brand new backpack (texting a friend to ask if I’d remembered everything as it felt so light, missing the stones and shells you’d collected over the last year), and walked you to your new classroom door to leave you in the care of someone other than me for the first time in two months…
And instead of feeling the relief I expected to feel as the days stretched long and lazy ahead of us at the beginning of the summer, I felt an irrational sense of loss. I came home that first morning and your baby sister and I listened to the silence stretch from wall to wall. We missed you already, baby girl.
It’s so true that, while the days are long, these years are short. I already feel a panicky kind of certainty that, while I lose myself in the business of preparing endless snacks, responding to calls from the bathroom, negotiating bedtimes, wishing for a moment of silence and a cup of hot tea, and just generally surviving from day to day, these are in fact the best days of my life. They are happening right now, right here in front of me, and I can’t grasp them any more than I could water. The privilege of being your mummy, of being needed by you, of being all-knowing in your eyes – it’s fleeting and it’s slipping through my fingers even now. Milestones like the first day of a new school year are reminders of this fact – reminders not to wish the time away.
Thank you for a summer in the company of all that you are. Thank you for making me young again with your wild laughter and blonde blonde hair and insatiable appetite for a soccer ball and a patch of grass. Thank you for bringing me back to the simple things and for filling my days so that I fall into bed completely exhausted at the end of them. Thank you for you. I miss you already.
If you enjoyed this article you may enjoy Perfect Enough.