I am a mother.
Every day has been Christmas Day for me since I had my two boys. Who knew I could love anything more than I love butter icing and The Two Ronnies?
My children are the most wonderful gifts and I shall always be grateful for having a functioning womb which did everything my biology book said it would as I sat through those excruciating sex ed lessons surrounded by stony-faced, virginal nuns. (Awks, much.)
I can’t imagine how it must feel to want a baby and not be able to have one.
That’s not strictly true. I did imagine it and for a long time my imaginings kept me awake.
They finally went away when I actually had a baby, and then it was the baby which kept me awake.
My very best friend didn’t get pregnant until she was forty-two, by which time my own children had graduated from Thomas the Tank Engine to Seinfeld. All that time I didn’t let myself tell her what a consistently amazing experience motherhood was turning out to be.
I couldn’t bear for her to feel she was missing out.
I downplayed the joy of a small, sticky hand in mine or firm little arms thrown around my neck, a warm body crawling into my bed.
I sent my boys on play dates when she came round so she didn’t have to see how many times in an hour I’d kiss them.
In the time since I became a parent the internet has filled up with online forums and parental advice. It’s true there is some good help out there but there’s a lot of competitive parenting too. And it’s grim.
I don’t want to read page after page of mothers berating other mothers for working/not working, breastfeeding/not breastfeeding, joining the PTA/eschewing the PTA as if these are things that matter.
I hate the slummy, scummy mummy blogs reassuring us that it’s ok to feed kids on a diet of Pom Bears and Vimto or to send them to school with nits or to open the wine as soon as you’ve picked them up wearing the yogurt-smeared pyjamas you never got out of that day.
I can’t bear their smugness.
I don’t want to read apparently hilarious columns about how children relentlessly overturn previously professional, grown-up lives and what a terrible nuisance it is to have to turn down invitations because the baby-sitter isn’t available.
Because all of this stuff is over too quickly. The high dependence years whizz by and suddenly you’re taking a call from your elder son telling you he’s had an unconditional offer from his first choice university.
You are happy because between you, you’ve got it totally right. You’ve nurtured and encouraged, loved and supported him to his ticket away from you.
And it hurts like mad.
What they don’t tell you at your ante-natal classes is that motherhood is a series of letting-go, of breathing deeply and dropping that sticky little hand lots and lots of times.
I couldn’t imagine, as I held my jaundiced, pulverised, startled, first-born in my arms, that he would grow to six feet tall, have an encyclopaedic knowledge of British comedy, a ready wit and quiet reserve and an enviable ability to sleep during the hours of daylight, nineteen years later.
Not being around that every day is really, really hard. And no one told me how to prepare myself for it.
We start out being young mums no matter what age we are when we give birth. And the world accelerates and the school plays and concerts, the hockey matches and parents’ evenings are behind us, university challenges and student debt ahead.
Not being in the same house as my big boy is tough. But I am still his mum. My life isn’t over. In fact, a new phase is starting. It’s one where he shows me new places and starts conversations about stuff I know nothing about. Where we go to the theatre together and he doesn’t groan if it’s Shakespeare.
I love my boys more than ever. Tomorrow I’ll have loved them for a day more than today. It just keeps growing. By next Thursday the universe will have expanded a little more to fit all the extra love in.
That’s the joy and the monumental privilege of being a mother. I haven’t taken it for granted for a single day.
When my elder son told me he’d got his university place, I cried. Uncontrollably and for a long time.
Eight weeks later, I bought a puppy.
The high dependency days are back.