Dashing round the supermarket this morning, I saw an earlier version of myself in the frozen aisle.
She was wearily comparing packets of fish fingers while simultaneously keeping a near-hysterical one year old from flinging herself out of the trolley and reassuring a thoroughly bored two year old that they would be going home soon, but in the meantime, please, please, could he stop hitting his sister with the stegosaurus?
For all the dozens of items on my to-do list, I suddenly felt like the freest woman on earth, what with my two hours of child-free time to shop and accomplish chores at will. I wouldn’t want to go back to those days now, and yet a tiny part of me envied her for still being the centre of her children’s world, exhausting as that is.
I’m only now realising how short the time is in a child’s life when I know what they want or what they’re thinking, and to have it within my power to make it all better – or at least to make it seem so. Apart from the very early days, when the answer to what my inconsolable babies wanted seemed to be, after eliminating every other possibility, not actually to be babies at all, I love this all-too-brief phase of being able to read their minds (even if, having read them, there are times when I’d rather not have done).
At some point in the last few months, I made the enormous mistake of convincing my four year old that “Mummies know everything”. I don’t know why that one particular throw-away saying has stuck in his mind whereas others such as “put your shoes on” or “wash your face” seem like wholly novel concepts each morning, but he falls back on it whenever something is lost or he is having a random ponder on what Barnaby in his class’s dad’s pet tortoise is called. I’m no longer allowed to say “I don’t know”, on pain of a prolonged stamping of feet to the untuneful refrain of “but you know EVERYTHINGGGGGGGG”.
Sweetheart, the truth is that I don’t, as you will learn soon enough. But just for now, as far as you are concerned, I know pretty well all there is to know. I know from the train of your conversation what’s happened at nursery that morning, long before you ever tell me. I know when you’ve done something you’d rather I didn’t know about; when you’re worried, or tired, or upset. I even know, before you’ve quite clocked it, when you need the loo, courtesy of that special soft-shoe, knock-knee’d shuffle known in these parts as the wee-wee dance.
I know, or I hope, that my babies will always need me and that I’ll be able to be there for them. I know how much I still need my own mum, even now at nearly 40, and how lucky I am that she is here. I just know, too, that as they grow up, no matter how good a relationship we have, there will be parts of their lives that they keep hidden from me, secrets they won’t tell, thoughts that will remain unspoken. That’s as it should be, as they learn to navigate life on their own terms.
What else, but to enjoy the all-knowingness (and pretend to the everything-knowingness) for as long as I can? I’ll miss the wee-wee dance when it’s gone.