Miss M is officially a tween. At eleven, she is beginning to show little hints of the woman she will one day be. Time has chiseled away at her face and is, startlingly quickly, revealing beautiful, angular cheekbones where chubby cheeks once were. Without me realising, she has grown in stature and is nearly as tall as me and only a shoe size away from becoming a sharing buddy. When she tries on my heels, she no longer totters around, comically playing at being a grown-up. My breath catches in my throat as I watch her instead, fitting almost convincingly into something that was once no more than a dress-up.
She refuses to wear the clothes I choose for her, often sighing and explaining apologetically that they’re too babyish. Her babyhood creates a tug-of-war between us – with her pulling away as I haul it closer, clutching it tight. Even though I know that her pull is stronger than mine, I hang on because DAMN IT, her childhood really has gone too fast and I am not ready.
Just yesterday, I stared open-mouthed at the positive sign on the pregnancy test that announced that my life was about to be upended and re-formed in the most exquisite of ways. That 38 weeks seemed endless, but really, it was only a microsecond in my memory. The day she was born, a new part of me was born too. A brand new baby and a brand new mum.
The not sleeping, refusing to eat, unpacking everything, bed-wetting, perpetual motion, utterly exhausting phase was endless, too, and I wished them away. In that chaotic bubble of time, I had no idea that what felt endless would, in retrospect, be a blink of an eye. It seems I hardly took a breath and another milestone had appeared.
Suddenly, my baby was behind a desk at school, running a race, dancing on the stage. She was a big sister – twice – and without warning she became my friend. With her dry sense of humour and intelligent thoughts, she changed the nature of our time together. My baby had become a child and was asserting herself as a valid person with theories and stories of her own. She had grown into a mentor for her siblings, too, getting them breakfast, teaching them the ins and outs of playground games, giggling by my side at how ‘cute’ they were.
Now, at eleven, she has a strong opinion and, as tweens do, she will assert it loudly. With hormones raging, she often rails at my decisions and yells that I don’t understand, I’m mean, I’m unfair! And so the tug-of-war plays out as I stubbornly hang on to her childhood and she, equally stubbornly, pulls towards adulthood.
Last week, when I was walking out of the school after dropping off Baby G at her pre-school class, I spotted Miss M, with a group of her friends. I began to walk over to say hello (as I have done countless times in the past). This time, when she spotted me approaching, instead of the smile and TV Commercial-worthy run up and hug, her eyes opened wide in alarm, she clenched her teeth and said “Mum, go! You’re embarrassing me!”
Stung, yet understanding, I smiled apologetically for cramping her style (remembering all too well how she felt because I was eleven too, once) and left. The tug of war game had shifted in favour of her growing up. Acceptance is sweet and sour, I’ve learned, and the miracle of witnessing her become herself, apart from her dad and I, was a balm on the pain I felt as she tore away from me that little bit more.
Acceptance is sweet and sour, I’ve learned, and the miracle of witnessing her become herself, apart from her dad and I, was a balm on the pain I felt as she tore away from me that little bit more.
I spent that night digesting these facts: Miss M was growing up. I was no longer the centre of her universe. I was no longer cool. I was embarrassing. I prided myself on my own rite of passage – that of the tween parent. Adolescence, I was realising more and more, was not going to be something experienced by Miss M alone, but by her Dad and I, too.
The next day, as I walked in to the school to fetch Baby G and Little Man from their classrooms, I spotted Miss M and her friends playing sport. With great restraint, I didn’t yell out or even wave. Which is why I was so surprised when she grinned, left her friends and came running over to me. With gleaming eyes, she took hold of my hand and squeezed it, then happily walked into school by my side, hand-in-hand.
As I walked, her delicate hand ensconced in mine, listening to her lightning-fast chatter with not a breath between thoughts, peppered with the enthusiasm that only innocence can bestow, I tried to act normal, lest I tip her off and remind her of the adulthood she’d momentarily forgotten that she so badly wanted. I took a mental picture of this moment and willed it to stretch out just a little longer.
I felt that tug-of-war mercifully slacken in that bubble of time and I took a deep breath. I looked at my baby girl who, in that moment, was not fighting to be a grown-up and I soaked it in the way you appreciate the view on the last day of a vacation.
I’ve learned that every moment with our kids passes more quickly than we expect. I’ve learned that living in the moment means stopping to look – really look – and see the blessings that are right in front of me.
Soon enough, the hand-holding days will be gone and we will be in the midst of a new, dynamic phase. The common thread is, as cliched as it may be, the love I have felt for her and her siblings from the first time I saw a positive pregnancy test and every nanosecond since.
Time changes seasons, it has taken me on a journey of her growth and it has forced me to say goodbye to her onesies, pig-tails and skipping ropes.
I’ve learned that, while looking back often feels like I’m losing something precious, looking forward will always reveal a new phase and a bounty of memories yet to be formed and added with care to my ever-growing collection of Treasured Moments in Time.