Parenting is full of milestones – first tooth, first steps, first day at nursery, then first day at school. There are first sports days and hockey and football matches, first nativity plays and first school trips… and then before you know it, you start clocking up ‘lasts’ too – the last day at primary school, last parents’ evening, last exam, and last day at secondary. But in amongst them, come more firsts – driving lessons, holidays abroad with friends, hangovers and jobs, then first terms away from home at Uni or College.
It’s important not just to aim for and tick off these milestones (especially not the first hangover), but to try and enjoy the time in between them all too. I was dreading the empty-nest stage, but now I appreciate the freedom it brings me. I also love the contrast between the peace and ‘pleasing myself’ of my quiet times at home, and the bustle, noise, warmth and excuses-to-cook that they give me when they pile home for weekends or holidays. And I particularly love it when they bring their friends home with them too – you can learn so much about your children through the friends they choose, don’t you think?
It seems hardly any time at all since I was sewing name-tags onto that first school uniform, and now – thanks to a couple of all-night sessions and an extended deadline, Daughter #1 has finished with education; at least she is finished with it for now. All her essays, exams and dissertation are complete and – thankfully – handed in. Assuming she has done enough (and I really, really hope she has!) she will graduate with honours next month. And she will also start her new job – her first full-time permanent position. It even has a pension. My child has a pension. How terribly old that makes me feel. (Note: I don’t have a pension.)
I’m not sure I can describe just how proud I am…
Ages and stages. At this particular moment in time (and let’s just remember the exam results aren’t out yet) I cannot tell you how proud I am of the woman that my tiny firstborn baby has become, and although I have tried, I’m not sure I have been properly able to tell her either. In her 22 and a half years on the planet she has both remained exactly the same as she ever was and yet changed out of all recognition. Stubborn from the outset (I wonder where she got that from?) she has trodden her own path, found her own tribe and chosen her own future. Which is exactly as it should be.
I have friends who are just starting on their own parenting journeys, and while the thought of us starting again with another new-born fills me with dread, I am full of excitement for them. It’s a cliché, but I cannot impress on them enough just how quickly the years will pass. The tough stages seem interminable when you’re in the middle of them (did anyone else find the tiny baby stage mind-numbingly boring once the not-pregnant-any-more novelty wore off?), but within weeks their tiny bundle will have outgrown its first tiny vests, and within months it will be sitting up, rolling over and pulling itself up on furniture. It will then thank them for their considerable outlay and efforts by leaving home.
Parenting can be dull. Then, without warning, it will be mind-blowingly wonderful. It can be wildly frustrating, and it can be a battlefield, especially if you raise your children to be free-thinking and independent, with minds of their own. But mostly, it’s expensive, all-consuming, educational, funny, and impossible to imagine what life might otherwise have been like.
Getting the first of our two children off the payroll is a big moment. Getting the second off the payroll will be even better. But we feel privileged to have been allowed to have temporary custody of these extraordinary humans and are delighted that they still seem to want to spend time with us, and not only when we take them on holiday.
I’m not sure I’d have believed myself to be up to the challenges
Parenting is not for everyone, and I fully appreciate that many who would love to be parents simply don’t have that option. If I had known at the beginning of this journey what was ahead, would I still have embarked down this road? I’m not sure I would have thought myself up to the challenges. But looking back from a position of nearly-there, I can categorically state, hand on heart, that I have no regrets. Not a single one.