Since becoming a parent I’ve been acutely aware of the passing of time. When you have a small person growing before your eyes you have this constant reminder of the transience of things. Tiny hands and tiny nails growing bigger with every passing day, to a distant tick, tick, tick. Strangers telling you, “Make the most of it – they don’t stay small for long,” as you battle through tantrums. Even the most grim of parenting moments seems to be a reminder that nothing is forever.
I remember, in technicolour detail, folding my daughter’s outgrown newborn clothes and putting them away safely in a box to be stored in the loft. I cried as I did it, a mixture of raging hormones, sleep deprivation and the dawning realisation that time was passing too quickly.
I would cuddle my newborn tightly in my arms in cafes, sniffing in that new baby scent – a mixture of milk and magic baby perfume – and feel secretly sorry for mums cradling a bigger baby. My baby was still tiny, I was behind them. I still had all this time to enjoy.
And then the daily desperation to hold on to the slipping sands sort of faded. As the physical changes in my baby girl slowed down, so too did the incessant reminders that she was growing. It all became more gradual in a way, until we’d be surprised by a first word or a newly acquired skill like clapping or pointing. And then it would be a cause of celebration, rather than a moment to mourn the loss of time.
As the firsts rolled in – smiles, steps, Christmases, toes in the sea – that tick, tick, tick was drowned out by life. We were too busy enjoying, battling, LIVING to notice how quickly time was passing us by. Until a last – and then we’d be hit BOOM with that realisation of what had gone.
When we relocated from Berkshire to Devon last summer I spent much of the month prior to our move in a state of lost limbo. Every day would be a last. A last trip to our favourite pub. A last cup of tea in my friend’s garden. A last day at nursery. It was a long goodbye – and I’ve never been very good at goodbyes. I get emotional and sentimental and nostalgic, forgetting the bad bits and viewing the past through a rosy haze. Like an Instagram filter that skews the real life and makes the ugly bits pretty.
And so, this time, I’m choosing not to focus on the lasts, but to enjoy the idea of the firsts instead.
Tomorrow will be my daughter’s last day at pre-school. The place that has been fundamental in our feeling content and settled in our new home in Devon. The source of new friendships, new skills and many, many happy memories.
But the last day of pre-school means the first day of the summer holidays. The first day of a summer spent by the sea, scrambling around on Dartmoor, rock-pooling in Cornwall, visiting beloved family up north, seeing wonderful friends get married, making plans and painting walls in the first ever home we can say is truly ours.
It’s our last summer as a family of three. The unit we’ve grown so used to over the past four years, full of shared experiences, memories and “in” jokes. But after the summer comes the autumn, when we’ll be a family of four, with a whole lifetime of new memories waiting to be made.
With every last there is a first. And the firsts are just as worth celebrating as the lasts, in my book.
(PS. I may not feel this way as I collect my daughter from her last pre-school session tomorrow, a blubbering, pregnant, hormonal wreck.)