11 January 2018

Slipping Through My Fingers

Babies and toddlers and all the usual salmagundi of sleeplessness, potty training, bed wetting, weaning and food refusal associated with them rack up an impressive amount of column inches in print and on social media. I left the mad years behind some time ago along with a different version of myself, and while it felt terminal at points (some days wobbling on a knife-edge of sanity I longed for it ‘to just get easier’), I once more find myself in unchartered waters. Instead of it getting easier, it has just shifted gear.

They will need you less, I was told by someone. You will sleep again, some other person reassured me. Both of those statements are untrue (for me anyway). The prerequisite of being dressed, fed, watered, bathed, read to, rocked to sleep has abated, but what has slipped quietly into the gap left by the little people is just as important, and individual to each child, just as tantrums and sleeping patterns are when they’re younger. One style of parenting doesn’t fit all. I tried it when they were tiny with mixed results!

Children never need you less, they just need you in a different way. I find if I get through the work day, prepare the food, skim aimlessly over the surface of our lives in order to get to bed, I miss out on all the minute details that make up my teenage children’s lives that are now not so readily shared as ‘look at this Mummy’ from the small children era. Instead of escaping to the toilet for a much needed break from Why Why Why of yesteryear, I find myself seeking them out in their bedrooms after dinner and walking a treacherous tightrope, performing a precarious balancing act somewhere between appearing too nosy, and enquiring interestedly into their inner worlds. I have turned detective with my thirteen-year-old, listening intently for the real reason crouching behind the stroppy mood and moany voice. Like coaxing a reluctant story from my writer’s brain, I have to carefully excavate below layers of indifference to find the jewel, mostly always something that to me appears innocuous: someone said something to someone and they said something back and now everyone is being a cow. To her, it is a thorn in her paw and needs extracting with care and definitely no eye-rolling or a ‘stop being silly’. Thirteen, that awkward age when you’re not really a proper teenager, still like sleeping with your mum and cuddling, but want to go to Camden for the day with your friends but are scared of getting lost.

My fourteen-year-old is so different. An open book, her pages easily turning in the light breeze of her sunny disposition. Now she has her own social life and a confident life plan that puts my own career expectations to shame, I still make sure I don’t gloss over her presence in the house. It would be so easy to do so, to let go of her string and watch her drift off into her own life because she copes so well, always has done. Her friends are her world and it’s hard not to feel left out, but the best way for me to deal with this rehearsal for the flight from the nest is to have an open house like my parents did; friends are always welcome. I feel like Meryl Streep singing Slipping Through My Fingers in Mama Mia – I cannot watch that scene as it reduces me to a snotty mess, grizzling into a cushion. I’m catastrophizing that time is down to the last few grains in the hour glass so I know I need to stoke the fire of our connections, keep talking, keep listening, keep caring about the little things because when the big things happen, I really hope they will trust enough to tell me.

I still have a foot in the small children camp – a ten-year-old boy who still needs me in the way I am used to. His neediness sometimes still drives me mad because it sticks out like a sore thumb against the girls’ independence, but I remind myself that one day it will feel like a sink hole not to have that little body creeping into bed in the morning bringing his penguins for a snuggle and telling me he loves me more than anything, then wanting breakfast and to go to the skate park in sub-zero temperatures.

Every stage of parenting has its ups and downs and as I hurtle towards a time when they are all at senior school, setting sail without me, I know my job will never really be done. It will just change gear again, ready for the next stage, whatever it may bring.

Written by Janet Hoggarth

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