This year is the first year all three of my children have been at school. It’s a milestone I’ve been looking forward to for, let’s see, since they were born. That’s a lot of days, given that the eldest turns 11 this year.
I’ll be honest, having five days a week with all the kids in free, high quality, public education for six hours a day is exactly as great as I’d imagined. If you’re looking ahead to the days when you too can have the freedom to drink a hot cup of tea, and even, dare I say it, go to the toilet without the company of an inquisitive toddler – hang in there. The day is coming, and it will be just as good as you hope.
What I didn’t expect though were the little twinges, the pangs of yearning for the little babies who have grown up. They’re not even that old yet, but in some ways, those long, long days with babies and toddlers seem a lifetime ago.
Here are just a handful of things that are great about life with little children, none of which I get to do anymore:
1. Showing your new baby off for the first time
I don’t want to get all ‘miracle of new life’ here, but have you ever stopped to think about how amazing it is that you and your partner made a person? A real life, living, breathing person, and you even get to decide what they’re called! The moment when friends and family (and especially your own parents) meet the person you have made for the very first time is, I think, intoxicating. It’s almost addictive enough to make me want to have another baby. But not quite.
2. The newborn koala stage
This one doesn’t last long – probably less than six weeks – but it’s that stage when your teeny, tiny newborn tucks his legs up like a koala and snuggles in whenever you pick him up. Once, I picked up a friend’s baby and she did this and the yearning that came over me to have another baby was so strong it shocked me. My appalled husband quickly knocked that idea on its head, reminding me of all the other things that are hard, hard work about newborns, and that we already had quite enough children, thanks very much.
But if you have a newborn, and you’re exhausted and feel a bit teary (and frankly, who doesn’t?), try the snuggly koala trick as a reminder of what’s great about this age.
Yep, actually, I miss it. There were plenty of times when I never thought I would – but there you go. I don’t miss having to wake up in the middle of the night to feed, but I do miss the half hour or more of snuggling with a contented and happy baby, in a comfortable chair, in a sunny spot. Breastfeeding is the perfect excuse to just sit, several times a day, with the tv remote, or a good book. Plus, you are actually making food for your baby with your own body! It totally beats cleaning the kitchen.
4. Carrying your toddler asleep from the car
Gosh, a lot of these are about snuggly moments, aren’t they? But seriously, carrying sleeping children in from the car and feeling them wrap themselves around you is one of my favourite snapshots of parenting. And if they stay asleep, and you can slip them into their bed and then have an unexpected hour to yourself? Bliss.
5. Buying food at a drive-through with kids who were too young to realise what you were up to
Those days are long gone now! In fact, brand recognition being what it is, I was amazed at how quickly my children were able to recognise (and demand) the Golden Arches, even from a fair distance away. But there were the glory days at first. Days when I could satisfy the desire for a little something, even with children awake in the car, and they were none the wiser. It felt like a sneaky little triumph.
6. The freedom to just be
It might be the rose-coloured glasses, but there’s a sense of lightness about that stage of life called ‘at home with small children’. Career? Don’t worry – you’re at home looking after the kids. Achievements every day? You kept the kids alive! Everything else really does sort itself out later. Plus there’s something about having kids who aren’t old enough for school that makes you feel young, or at least young-ish! After all, you must be – you have little children.
7. Hours to spend chatting with dear friends whose kids were the same age
Not everyone gets this, I realise. But I was lucky enough to have plenty of dear friends living reasonably close by, with children roughly the same age and stage. Isolation and loneliness are a killer when you’re at home with small children. The antidote? Friends who don’t care how messy your house is, how tired you are (because they are too) and whether your child is going through a biting stage. And who like to bring cake with them.