My husband has a theory about the Toy Story films. He says that they are an allegory for parenthood. The toys are not really toys at all, he says, but parents, learning to let go of the childhood versions of their children.
Today is my second child’s first birthday. Birthdays bring mixed emotions.
Her one-year-old laugh will not be the same as her two-year-old laugh. The change will come slowly, oh so slowly – I won’t notice day-to-day or week-to-week but, one day, that one-year-old laugh will be gone forever. I will strain to remember its exact cadence, the essence of its purity and joy. Of course these days we have the ability to record so much more of our children’s lives than our parents ever did. I have made sure I have a recording of that laugh. I play it to myself on dark days.
But it is not quite the same as hearing a laugh break out spontaneously, unexpectedly, is it?
One day, we will pick up our children and it will be for the last time.
We won’t know it is and so it will pass without note or occasion. But one day, that part of our lives will be over.
I think that is the most bittersweet part of parenting, and a part no one really warns you about; childhood is painfully fleeting.
Of course, we don’t treasure every moment. Parenting, like teaching, is a job that has demands that are difficult to appreciate until you are already trying to juggle them. It is hard. Just as there are golden moments we wish we could bottle and save, there are just as many long, dark, sleepless nights we wish we could fast -forward through. Tantrums we wish were already over. Terrors that are so much more visceral than the days of lie-ins and disposable income…
But there is also exquisite joy.
My son is three. He says ‘Sank you’ when I give him his juice cup. Sometimes I make him extra juice, just to hear him say it again – because, and I am definitely biased here, it is one of the cutest utterances anyone will ever hear. But one day he will say ‘Thank you’. One day he may well just grunt and not acknowledge me at all. Sometimes, this seems very unfair; I want to keep three-year-old him. Sometimes I wish he was already older, I already knew what the future held for him, could reason with him like I would an adult.
But some days, just some, I wish I could be trapped in that snippet of time when he says ‘Sank you’ forever.
The way my children love me is intense, even claustrophobic at times. My daughter can’t bear me out of my sight. My son needs me to kiss any injury better – urgently, anxiously. Good times or bad times, we are their world right now, my husband and I. I won’t always be so – just like their one-year-old laughs and their three-year-old ‘sank yous’ will one day be gone forever. The ache of having held a 24lb toddler against my hip for several hours will one day be a dim memory.
One day, their love for me will be different too. It won’t diminish, I hope, but it will certainly change. They will have other loves. I will always be there, of course, but their hearts must make space for new passions. Mummy and daddy won’t – can’t – be their whole world forever.
If you listen to the song ‘When She Loved Me’, from Toy Story II, with that thought in mind, it is transformed into a lament for those painful, demanding, beautiful, evanescent childhood days. We might be desperate for the next stage, next milestone, for the difficult parts to fly by quickly – and that is natural too, I think – but one day we will look back and wish we could touch each and every moment again, savour the babies, toddlers, pre-schoolers and teenagers that once were; when they’re gone we’ll feel their absence keenly.
I try my best to remember that, on those fast-forward days.