Birthdays are Bittersweet

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.

Owl Birthday cake
Cake thanks to BBC Good Food, decoration thanks to Wilton.


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.


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15 thoughts on “Birthdays are Bittersweet

  1. I wish I could do this with my 7 year old, although he is still a loving boy and is still thankful. I do get the occasional grunt. Time goes by so fast and yet when they are babies it drags, My youngest is 10 month so I have it all to look forward to again and this time I’m blogging it! I’m so glad the 1st year is nearly over though it has been sooo hard! But it’s great seeing their smiley cheeky personalities develop 🙂 #abitofeverything

    Pauline x

  2. What a lovely post. On one hand, you want them to grow up and succeed, but on the other hand you just want your babies to be your babies forever! #abitofeverything

  3. Oh I loved this post. You say exactly how I feel. More days than I care to admit are spent counting down the hours and minutes until bedtime but I know that the day will come when I wish I had this time back again and it will be here sooner than I anticipated.


  4. I totally understand that feeling. I can’t stand it when I see parents trying to make their children grow up to quickly! I just feel like screaming at them ”enjoy every single second because it goes by in the blink of an eye!!”

  5. I love this, I know exactly how you feel. Time does go so quickly and they change so quickly. I’m finding it hard without looking at a photo to remember what my daughter looked like when she was born. So now I’m trying to take a picture everyday xx #abitofeverything

  6. Wow… You really just hit the nail on my head with this one. It’s been one of those rough days for me. I like Saturday’s because there’s no getting up and rushing around to get everyone ready and off to school. But for some reason today I didn’t feel like even leaving the house…I blamed the new foot of snow we had gotten over the past couple nights but the real reason was I just didn’t feel like going anywhere. This then lead to restless kids and by 6pm mommy having a total meltdown. I wish I could rewind these days and make them better…I don’t want my kids to remember these days … I want them to only remember the good days and as a mommy I want to always remember them laughing. Thanks for linking this with #momsterslink I truly enjoyed reading it. 💌Trista, Domesticated Momster

  7. I understand your feelings here. My boys are now 16 and 21, not boys at all. I try to remember all those litrle things they did, but some of them have already slipped out of reach. I have photos of course, but they cant record evwrything.
    Thanks for linking up, Tracey xx #abitofeverything

  8. This is beautiful. It sums up exactly how I feel. I get misty eyed trying to remember at what point my daughter stopped putting random ‘Bs’ in front of words – her favourite food as a toddler was ‘buzanya’. One day all of a sudden she could say lasagne xx

  9. Oh how beautifully written! Absolutely spot on. The fleeting nature of it hit me when my eldest turned 10. I was devastated! It hit me like a truck. I still find it difficult to read the blog post I wrote for her without crying at the last paragraph. I honestly love how you wrote this.

    1. Thank you 🙂 It’s something I never expected about parenting – being so happy but so sad to watch them grow!

  10. Golly, I feel exactly the same right now. My son is 20 months, approaching the big two – it feels like yesterday we celebrated his 1st!!! WHAT IS GOING ON!? I know am really starting to understand the term “the days are long but the years are short”… #BloggerClubUK

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