I remember, with absolute clarity, the moment my first baby was placed in my arms. I was lying on the operating theatre table, having a caesarean, tearfully asking if all his fingers and toes were present and accounted for. Then the cord was cut, he was assessed and wrapped, and placed in my arms for my husband and I to adore while the surgeons did what they needed to do.
We cried with love and kissed each other and smothered our precious boy in gentle kisses while inhaling the extraordinary scent of newborn baby. And we fell deeply in love – right there and then – with this miraculous new person. Until I held him in my arms, I didn’t know there was a whole other way of loving. Not the passionate and lustful love of new romance. Or the eternal and fractious love of family. And not the gentle, familiar, comfortable love of good friends. Holding my own baby in my arms for the first time burned an eternal and unbreakable love into my heart and soul. The sights and sounds and smells of my very own child, a physical part of myself, taught me there is nothing I would not do to love and protect and nurture him – forever.
Those first hours, days, weeks and months were filled with love and dependency, but over time I realised I was raising this little person to leave me – not raising a child, but raising an adult. Hopefully a strong, independent, resilient adult. Those early years – repeated with as much love and awe twice more as his younger brothers came into the world – flew by with frightening speed. Despite the moments I wished away (“This too shall pass!” too often chanted), they were the happiest years of my life. My very own little people – nursing at my breast, snuggling in my arms, crying for cuddles and begging for independence. I never wanted to let them go.
Yet here I am, almost 23 years later, spending time with the young men in my life. Grown into strong, independent, resilient, talented, compassionate young men – making their own mistakes, creating their own communities, living their own lives. And I miss them! The early years of 24 hour a day dependence on me, have morphed into just 2-3 face to face hours a week – on family dinner nights. And soon, that newborn baby I held in my arms and fell in love with, will graduate from university, take a gap year travelling in Europe, then settle down somewhere with his career and new life. I am so incredibly proud of all my boys. And so incredibly grateful they will have the opportunity to live the lives they dream of. But I am also incredibly sad to see the light at the end of the tunnel, the one I focused on when overwhelmed by toddlers and teens, is now burning so brightly I want to shield my eyes and stop the passage of time.
It is so hard to let go. We taught these young men how to read and write, ride pushbikes and clean toilets. They learned how to cope with disappointments and humiliation, as well as success and pride. They’ve made mistakes – big and small – and they’ve made us proud, more often than not. And every time they learned a new skill, they were just a little more independent and a little more grown up. Until the time has come that they don’t need me at all. And I am going to miss them!
I am overwhelmingly grateful to be living in the high tech age of social media with the option to contact anyone, at any time of the day, via messaging or phone calls. I can always stay in touch and watch their lives from afar, when I don’t have them close by to engage with. But oh lordy, I am going to miss these beautiful boys. I miss them already.
Being a mother has been an overwhelming identity for me – one I can’t and won’t let go of. Now my youngest is about to turn 18 and I find myself flailing about in unknown waters, trying to discover what motherhood looks like when all my children are adults. It is a wonderful connection – to sit and watch these beautiful people love and laugh and live their lives. To have adult conversations with young men I once potty trained… it is a surreal experience. Letting go is hard. Much harder than you might think when you’re into yet another month of sleepless nights and cracked nipples – when the years ahead are paved with the all encompassing daily grind of school and sport, tears and tantrums. But it was all so worth it – every hour of every day. Even the four years of my life spent as a passenger in my own car, supervising learner drivers and learning the true meaning of fear and helplessness. Parenting brought me the happiest – and most exhausting – days of my life, and it’s now behind me. The great unknown of forging new relationships and finding a new identity, all ahead of me. It’s frightening, but here we go… in the inimitable words of a great Disney song:
Here I stand
And here I’ll stay
Let the storm rage on!
My power flurries through the air into the ground
My soul is spiraling in frozen fractals all around
And one thought crystallizes like an icy blast
I’m never going back,
The past is in the past!
Let it go, let it go
And I’ll rise like the break of dawn
Let it go, let it go
That perfect girl is gone!
Here I stand
In the light of day
Let the storm rage on,
The cold never bothered me anyway!