Parenting belongs in a unique time dimension where minutes can seem like hours yet somehow months pass in moments and years go by in days.
My cousin’s baby has just turned two and we were exchanging messages commenting wistfully on the passage of time. We were noting that they grow so fast and in the blink of an eye your baby has become a toddler. I’m sure in the time it takes me to finish writing this my toddler will have passed her driving test and by tomorrow she’ll be considering suitable retirement home options for her aged parents.
Yet the fifteen minutes of screaming as you march down to the maritime museum, where they have an amazing children’s play area that my eldest adores and even my youngest has now started to engage in, can feel like an eternity and you find yourself just wishing you were at the day’s end.
I find that time distorts even more so when the breakdown happens when you are in a stationary situation surrounded by other people who obviously have nothing better to do than judge your clearly terrible parenting skills and unruly children. You know, the times when the baby strapped to your chest is emitting a scream with a pitch so high that dolphins are starting to swim up the Thames and the toddler is wailing like a banshee, wriggling in your arms as you are forced to carry her like a rugby ball. The times when you think, my god, Durex should be paying me for this incomparable advertising. These are the times when your life is moving at a glacial pace so that you find yourself seriously wondering how long it will be before you die and should you be considering ways to speed up the process?
Then twenty minutes later when the drama is over and the toddler is scarpering about the play area, shoveling coal and building ships without any help required thank you very much (did I mention how great the children’s area at the museum is?) and the baby is trying to pull herself upright chuckling at her sister running amok and somehow it feels like you’ve arrived in an entirely new century.
The heave and swell of life’s moments have never been more apparent to me than since I became a parent. Before children I remember that every so often I would have these moment of perfect balance where I could feel my own insignificance as surely as I could my own uniqueness and it felt soul-quenching. But now I am constantly off-balance both literally, as I struggle to keep up with the niblets, and figuratively, as I struggle to keep up with the niblets. However, I feel like I have developed a super power that means I can manoeuvre through time like a fish in the sea darting his way and that. I have the power to glimpse my child’s life trajectory and my relationship to them throughout that and it can be, well, a little painful.
Right now my baby girl can look at me with such joy and happy recognition and in that moment I am her entire universe. It is such an amazing feeling but even as I am enjoying that moment I know that in time, and much sooner than I would care for, she will look to me less and less. My importance to her will diminish and be replaced by other joys, whether that’s watching Fireman Sam, going out with her friends or otherwise following her passions, whatever they may turn out to be. I will become not inconsequential, well hopefully not, but an offshoot of her life.
It’s disconcerting because this is absolutely what I want for her, and every step in that direction is something I hope I will be able to celebrate along the way, even if every step will be a step further from me. Already I see this with her big sister and she’s only two and a half. Big sister wants her independence, she wants to make her own choices and find her own way, but at the moment she still wants to share her victories with me and she can find her way back to me often enough so that each little moment in itself isn’t hurtful. It is just at those times when I stop to reflect on the entire momentum that it can be a little overwhelming at times.
I think I understand now why some people just want to keep having babies, the pure adoration of a baby is euphoric. I remember a friend once saying to me that being on ecstasy was the best feeling in the world, the happiest you have ever been, and I remember thinking well I definitely don’t want to try that because how hard must it be to return to normality after such a high. I cannot believe that ecstasy is better than the way it feels to be stared at by a baby who loves and trusts you so unquestioningly. But coming down from that high is hard. Knowing that the love your child has for you will change in time as you transition from being their one and only to one of many special people in their lives is hard.
Bittersweet is the term my cousin and I settled on and nothing really sums it up better than that.
But for now I shall employ my superpowers and ability to see the future by revelling in those moments of every day that set my heart on fire. I will stockpile them and store them up to keep me warm for those times ahead when I won’t be by my babies’ sides in the way that I am now. Change is terrifying but it is also inevitable and I am sure that I will evolve to adapt to the changing relationship that times sets out for me.