It is mid August and the summers end looms like a late afternoon shadow. It has not been a vintage year; a chilly start muddled with downpours, weeks of tedious humidity and bleak, grey-white skies. This has been a summer to take what you can when you can, snatching fine days for picnics and river swims, forging ahead with camping trips – dodgy forecast and all – and dreary mornings brightened by a visit to the rose garden at Hampton Court, where an embarrassment of velvety blooms hang heavy and rich with fragrance. Dinners of fish and chips on the beach, eaten straight from the paper and swaddled in hoodies; this is what British summertime means. In the last fortnight the blackberries have come into season, lustrous black jewels bursting with tart sweetness. Felix is in heaven, his face smeared with claret, berry stained hands testimony to rich pickings.
When Felix was less than a year old, my cousin and her family visited from Poland. We had much to catch up on, and during the course of an emotional conversation about birth and miscarriage she said something that has stayed with me and which I think about during moments both tender and tricky. 'No matter hold old your child or children are, whether three months or two years or five, you always come to believe that this is the best time. That they are now at their height of sweetnesss, their perfect ripeness. That this is the moment you will look back on in years to come and remember as the golden time'. How right she was and what a gift to a parent it is. It is this selective madness that makes parenting possible, that offers dollops of sweetness to mask the sour taste of tantrums, sleep regressions and food strikes. That burnishes reality; enhancing the good and making the bad fade as if it never were. Every parent believes the best of their child, seeing through to the core of gold that exists in every tiny person, glimpsing the limitless possibilities that surround them like an aurora. Being a mother to Felix has tested my spirit, my relationship, enhanced and pruned and strengthened, bringing out the truest, most resilient and resourceful parts whilst cutting out the deadwood. In turn I feed this energy, commitment and zeal for life back into him, one vessel endlessly refilling another. A miracle of infinite sustenance.
I write this final entry just as everything changes again and a new routine is becoming established. The daytime nap is no more. After months of on/off napping, at times daily battles and spells of relapse, he has decided that definitely he does not wish to or need to nap any longer. This has changed the very landscape of our day, and therefore the equilibrium of life in general. Gone are my two hour slots of daily writing, replaced by a brief half hour of enforced ‘quiet time’, enough only for a cup of tea and a period of doing absolutely nothing at all. For the rest of the day, all twelve hours of it, he is on the move, a darting, dancing, questioning, playful robin with the short fuse of a tiger and the emotional fragility of a teenage girl. It’s quite a whirlwind, and evenings find me too strung out to compose my thoughts enough to write. It’s not the physical demands that tire me, but the almost constant need for attention, the eagle eye and elephant ear that notices everything and asks ‘What’s that mummy?’
Yet just as Mother Nature adds another burden she takes also something from the load, sensing that otherwise you may simply collapse under the onslaught. His ability to play alone, and the development of imaginative play, has hugely improved. He can be left in a room by himself for some considerable minutes without the need for supervision. As parents of toddlers will understand this is an immense blessing, and means you can sneak off for a quick glimpse at your phone, go to the toilet, or just sit looking into space for a few minutes. For non-parents-of-toddlers, imagine a meeting that lasted all day, from the moment you wake up, during breakfast and through lunch and dinner, having to take your toilet breaks with someone knocking on the door and saying ‘can I come in?’ and never being allowed to speak your mind, swear, be callous, impatient or give a bad example (lest it be instantly copied and magnified to the nth degree) In fact whilst being the best, kindest, most patient, encouraging, stimulating, loving and selfless person you can be, whilst the boss (or in this case your child) rushes about creating mess, wanting to simultaneously draw/play trains/brush the cat, needing regular snacks, meals, water, milk, cleaning up, hand washes and bum wipes and trips to the toilet or corners of the playground to wee even though they only just did one ‘but it was only a tiny one and now there’s more’. Therefore these precious moments when they become lost in their world of play, that incredible space in their imagination where a little plastic house can be simultaneously a garage, a moving train that announces its destinations and just a plain old house are like tiny breathing holes, giving just enough air that you do not stifle.
Everything is changing, and everything is about to change. In four weeks time Felix will celebrate his third birthday, and I can hardly believe that I have been writing these entries, these odes to our amazing journey, for three years. Soon, our extended period of intimacy and exclusivity will be challenged, for the term after he turns three, in his case January 2017, Felix will be at last be eligible for some free hours of preschool. Only for three mornings a week, and then only for three hours at a time, yet this will be the first time he has ever been left for more than a few minutes with a non family member or close friend. It’s a seismic shift in our relationship, and my primacy as mother, the chief carer, the main educator, the shaper of the dough that is Felix, will be in part handed over to others. What a very odd and disquieting prospect, after so much time being the centre of his world. Not that I’m saying it is not time, if anything it is long overdue, and yet the thought filled me with so many mixed emotions. For many kids and parents this enforced separation comes a lot younger, and whilst this is undoubtedly harder and often more harrowing, having been so long in harness with each other it seems utterly impossible that this will not always be so.
Felix is about to fly a little way from the nest that I have so painstakingly built and feathered with my own down, the nest that has come to symbolise the unbreakable bond forged by our many years together as a couple, the nest built on love, laughter, art and music, and a deep level of mutual respect and admiration. He is strong, able, and confident, and the time is ripe to stretch those wings. It is a season of change, and as an unassailable sentimentalist I am already marking the time before he begins his tiny foray into the wider world. In part I am looking forward to it, thinking of the time I will have to myself, the mornings of freedom, the chance to write, organize my life, do whatever I choose, yet I am painfully aware that the singular time we have spent together, co-conspirators in the adventure of our own making, is drawing to a close, and at times the thought of that makes me weep. Oh, the passing of time, the growing up of the child. Never again can you have any of it back; that is why it is vital to fully appreciate and experience it as you go.
Every morning as I open the back door so Felix and I can welcome the day, a robin swoops down to greet us, red breast flashing against the green of the garden. I can no longer consider it coincidence, for the regularity of this daily occurrence spurns chance. It is a small thing, and yet somehow it represents all that I am grateful for. Every humble pleasure, every speck of joy, every tiny miracle, Felix, my darling, brilliant, beautiful boy, it has all been about you. This whole book, this unfolding of myself, this journey of growth and improvement, this opening of the eyes and heightening of the senses, this marvelous, extraordinary escapade, it is you who have made this possible. I love you more than life itself, and I love life very dearly. It is time to end now. I cannot help but feel a keen sadness, and the tears run unchecked as I write these words. But comes a season to begin and a season to end; and it is only the wisdom of age and of experience that helps to show you which is which.
“One of the strange things about living in the world is that it is only now and then one is quite sure one is going to live forever and ever and ever. One knows it sometimes when one gets up at the tender solemn dawn-time and goes out and stands out and throws one's head far back and looks up and up and watches the pale sky slowly changing and flushing and marvelous unknown things happening until the East almost makes one cry out and one's heart stands still at the strange unchanging majesty of the rising of the sun--which has been happening every morning for thousands and thousands and thousands of years. One knows it then for a moment or so”.
Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden