There are a lot of firsts, milestones, and special moments that you enjoy as a parent. First smile, first word, first steps. Learning to read, singing a nursery rhyme all the way through, starting school. I suppose I have just muddled my way through, the same as we all do, juggling the five children and the housework and the day to day without ever really stopping to think - this is the LAST time you'll do this. This is the LAST time we will enjoy this. I suppose I never really appreciated that all good things do indeed come to an end, until now.
My children are growing up.
H turned 9 years old yesterday. We celebrated a few days earlier, he enjoyed a birthday party at the local swimming pool on Saturday with all of his friends from school and rugby, and then we went out for a family meal in the evening. Yesterday he chose what we had for dinner, and I made him a stack of cappuccino brownies with chocolate fudge topping as his birthday 'cake', and we sang happy birthday to him and made his day special. Tonight we'll go to Toys R Us and he will spend his birthday money, he had a sort out of his toy boxes over the weekend to make space for new things.
"Maybe we should find a new home for these, Mum", he said.
I absent-mindedly asked "What?" over my shoulder as I helped him tidy through his other toy boxes, without glancing back to look at what he was talking about - just assuming it was one of his little-used games or puzzles. "Look", he said, "these, perhaps T might want them". I twisted around to see what he was referring to, and felt a jolt in my heart.
It was his box of toy cars.
For the last nine years I have been stepping on or over his cars. I have had them lined up on the draining board while trying to do the washing up, and blanketing the landing leaving me no space to step without risking serious injury (not quite as bad as stepping on a lego but close enough). I've watched him lay on the floor on his car mat, where he would stay and play for hours, making car noises and completely lost in his own little world.
I felt my chest tighten and my face get hot, tears pricking my eyes. "Don't you want them any more? I thought they were your favourites?", I asked him. I almost didn't want to hear his answer.
"I don't really play with them any more", he shrugged. "I like them, but I like other toys now".
I watched as he rolled up the long car mat that has been the boys' bedroom rug for the last two years. Then he sat and carefully sifted through the cars, removing his Eddie Stobart lorries - he wants to keep those, he is collecting them. By this point I can't even speak because I know I have reached a stage where the tears will spill over if I dare say a word. A couple of weeks before this, we had sorted out his wooden Brio train set and passed it on to a friend for her son.
Box by box, the toys are slowly disappearing.
Soon there will only be remnants of their childhood left. An Eddie Stobart die-cast lorry here, an old forgotten Moshi Monster there. A neglected pack of Yu-Gi-Oh cards sitting on the shelf. And then there will be nothing.
Empty beds. Empty rooms. An empty nest.
E is 4.5, and all she wants for Christmas is dolls. Dolls, and just about everything pink and plastic that you can think of. And we will buy it for her. Because one day in the not too distant future, I won't be tripping over plastic and toys any more. One day we will wake up on Christmas morning, & hear nothing. No excited giggling of children as they rifle through stockings to see what goodies they've been left. There will be no more cars on the draining board. It's all getting a bit Toy Story 3 for my liking. I want, I NEED, to hang on to this time, to enjoy the magic of their childhood while I can.
Enjoy every moment as if it were the last. The last breastfeed, the last bottle, the last time you put your child down & didn't pick them up again, the last time they crept into your bed in the early hours after a bad dream. Because one day it will be the last time, & that day will come sooner than you think.