I don’t want another child. I was never especially maternal. So I never thought I’d be someone to mourn the passing of the “baby years”. I used to read stories of women’s sadness at saying goodbye to this time with, if not scorn, then at least bemusement. But you had those years with them, what gives? But now, I’m here.
My youngest child turned three near the start of this year, next August, he’ll start school. I went back to an office job at the beginning of June. It’s a seismic shift in my life, after 4.5 years of being a freelancer and stay-at-home-parent.
This week it’s been hitting me: the baby years are gone.
I thought I’d be pleased, entirely. I have tried to enjoy each step of my two children’s development and I’ve always relished the next stage, skipping ahead, looking forward without regrets. I don’t want to hold them back, or fix them in time. I love seeing them grow and become more independent. I see my biggest success as a parent displayed in their increasing ability to do without me.
And yet, and yet…
I find myself tearing up with regrets. Yes! Me! Maybe it’s a natural backlash to major change to glance back over one’s shoulder as your train leaves the station, wondering if you should have stayed one more hour, one more day.
A passage in a novel described a new mother “kissing every inch of her baby’s body” and had me welling up in tears. Did I ever do that? Did I stop, and take the time to explore his skin, lip-print by lip-print until I’d covered it with an invisible velvet of love? It wasn’t the author’s intention (I suppose) but, like all the bestworst parenting articles I read, it had me questioning myself.
Because maybe… I just got through? Maybe I didn’t stop and simply exist in love. Maybe I didn’t even feel that perfect, gentlefierce babylove they describe in stories. I am not doing mum-guilt here. I honestly do not remember.
I do remember feeling anxious, feeling the need to get things done. Being miffed by the books that said “leave the housework!” because, what is worse than sitting, pinned to the couch by breastfeeding and contemplating a huge, dusty mess? Ugh. I got things done, I met my friends, I did the grocery shopping, I went for long walks listening to music and exploring the suburb while the baby slept. I walked an hour a day, easily. I read books and newspapers. I produced a 48-page quarterly magazine for the local NCT branch. I cooked food and kept the baby fed. I went to the pub occasionally. I organised minor repairs and renovations on the house. I went to the park, to baby swimming, to coffee dates and tea with mates. Did I ever just kick back though, suffused with joy in my small perfect creation? I don’t know.
Probably I did? And maybe I still do. We’re all attempting to be more mindful these days after all.
Perhaps it’s that the moments of quiet joy are just that – so quiet and humble and unmemorable. You can’t recall them, much less write a whole 750-word column about them, unless you’re really smug?
In another novel, the mother regards her newborn as “the most perfect thing she’s ever seen”. OK it’s another one of those clichés, but I don’t know if I ever felt this either. Others must feel it, I believe that. Was I too busy, too sensible, too practical, too nervy to have allowed myself to feel that pure love and contentment? Did I have postnatal anxiety? I do remember describing that first year of maternity leave in London as “the best year of my life” and it was. I went back to work, eventually moved countries and had another baby, then spent another busy “maternity year” and beyond. In many ways, things have just got better and better.
But I can’t remember. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But now, I never will know for sure…
So I’m mourning a little. And it’s somewhat unexpected. Goodbye baby years and all your chaotic, scary, busy intenseness and boredom that means I can almost only remember rushing about and enjoying myself, sometimes frustrated and upset, other times happy and occupied but almost always with something-to-do rather than sitting in a post-natal haze of rosegold glow. Ahh, maybe that’s just my own version of it.
Whatever it is, or was, I find myself surprisingly sad to say farewell to that bright pocket of time as my life moves, ever swiftly, onwards.