My little boy has the roundest, softest face. When I creep in to stare at him sleeping, it is so much like a peach that it’s tempting to have a little nibble when I lean down to kiss him.
The other night as I was standing there in the dark, I suddenly realised that one day he will- fate willing- be a giant teenager, and then a man, and his cheek won’t be round anymore. It’ll be all chiselled and bristly. Would it be weird, then, for me to creep into his room and kiss his face? (Yes. Yes it would).
I could almost hear my heart constricting, when I looked at his shoulders, smaller than the span of my hand, and imagined them big and hulking.
It wasn’t knowing that he would grow up that made my breath catch in my chest. It was the sudden realisation that when he is grown or even just a teenager, there will sometimes be hurt bruising the space beneath those shoulders- hurt that he might not be able to, or want to, tell me about; hurt that won’t be solved by me folding him into my lap and hugging it away, and telling him that everything is OK, and him believing it.
It made me realise that this time in our child-rearing journey- these middle years, when the babies aren’t babies any more, but aren’t yet grown- is a sweet spot.
I’ve never yearned to go back to the baby days- even when I inhale the gorgeousness of a newborn’s head. Even when I pick up one of my kids and grunt with the effort, and they are all gangly arms and legs all over the place instead of a curled up little bean on my shoulder. Or when I scroll back through old photos, and feel a pang for Leila’s big birthmark that sat like a cherry on her forehead and has now faded. Although I loved having babies, I don’t want to travel back in time, or even to stop time. I seem to be missing the mum-nostalgia gene.
In fact, I love my kids getting older and seeing their personalities and interests unfold. But I hear that there are rocky times ahead in the teenage years- and then of course they will be adults, and I won’t be able to kiss away their troubles.
So I’m cherishing the middle years, which are, there is no doubt about it, easier- even if it often doesn’t feel that way.
They can talk, for a start, which means that not only can they tell me what they need and how they feel, but we can have conversations, and proper chats and laughs. At mealtimes, they sit on a chair, with cutlery and a plate made of china, and I know that they won’t throw it on the floor. When we go away for the weekend, we don’t have to take a maddening fold-up cot that is impossible to put up and even more impossible to collapse. When they cry, words and hugs can soothe them, instead of having to circle round the house doing a bouncy space-walk and going SH-SH-SH into their ear for three hours.
The other weekend they built a den in the garden with an umbrella and blankets, and played together, without us, for over an hour. It was great. (Though of course, the minute G and I dared to be smug enough to comment on how well they were playing, the deathly shrieks of sibling rivalry echoed from the garden and someone pulled the umbrella over in a strop). They are learning new things, every day at school, and it blows my mind.
I may not get mum-nostalgia, but perhaps I am guilty of the opposite- of wanting to move on to the next stage too soon, to find out what lies in store and who they’ll become, and (let’s be honest) feel the relief of having got through another phase or stage without fucking it up too much.
But then real life pulls me back to the present. The night when I watched Asher sleeping curled up on his side, and imagined him as a man, he woke long after I had got into my own bed and yelled “IT’S TOO DARK!”. We had to go in and soothe him and stroke his sweaty hair from his head and tuck him back in. The next morning, he had a tantrum because daddy has drunk all of the imaginary tea he had poured into a toy teacup, instead of waiting for it to ‘cool down.’
I was reminded that, as much as I may be diving into the middle years with relish, he is still tiny. Even Leila, who reads to herself, and horrifyingly knows the words to several Little Mix songs, none of which are suitable for a seven year old- she’s still so little, too.
I don’t want to stop time, but I mustn’t hurry it along, either. For now, while things are slightly less intense- the space between a bumpy take-off and teenage turbulence, perhaps- it’s time to lift my head, and breathe, and enjoy the view from the middle.