My baby-of-all started school today.
Of course, by “school”, I just mean the village playgroup, where he only will go two mornings a week, provided all is well.
And by “baby”, I mean sturdy, lovable, just-turned two year old, with eyes full of mischief and dimples to match.
It’s not that I don’t think he is ready – he spends lots of time with other children, but few his own age, and he needs to learn not to get his own way by dint of making everyone’s lives easier if they see sense and give in to him. His brother and sister were at nursery, 10 hours a day, by the time they were 8 months old – but he is my baby-of-all, and there have only been a handful of times when we’ve been apart for more than the briefest of periods.
It’s not even that I’m not ready. If I’m honest, there have been times over the last year when he has pushed me to the brink of my patience, with apparently groundless, weeks-long bouts of misery and temper, resulting in days on end of howls and physical battering on his part, and clenched jaw and tears on mine. Even on the good days, I’ve been forced to admit to myself that although I love being at home, and relish the chance I’ve had not to go out to work for a while, my need for occasional solitude extends even to my children’s company.
It’s just that it’s another step away from that all-consuming haze of early parenthood. As he moves a little bit away from me, so I have to look at what I’m needed for. I’ve always found the first two years of a child’s life to be a physically different experience – not just the obvious aspects of breastfeeding, sleeplessness, constant demands; but an inability to focus beyond my immediate surroundings and the day-to-day exigencies of life with very small children. To me, restless by nature and plagued with a constant internal refrain of “what’s next?”, it’s been in a way a luxury to be forced to live in the present.
It’s a phase which is over now, though. I’m learning that the demands of children change rather than lessen as they grow, but with all three out of the house for at least a portion of the week, I need to decide what will fill the vacuum their absence creates.
More than that, though, is the realisation that this is another little watershed in my own life – the end of a hiatus which has lasted the best part of seven years. I always thought of having children as my own happy ever after. Well, now the credits are rolling, but I’ll be damned if I spend the rest of my life picking up the rubbish under the seats.