You will be exhausted. Every day for about ten years. You will be up at 5 a.m. building wooden railway layouts in the sitting room in your dressing gown. You will know things about children’s TV, like characters names and storylines and the ear-worm theme tunes. You will learn to find sanctuary in the bathroom, for five minutes each 24 hours, this will become your sacred space. You will create boundaries and yell them through the door when you’re in there “no-one talk to me while I’m here…” like a sit-com character.
You will carry enough luggage for a weekend away most days you’re out with your child. To start with necessities, food, nappies, spare clothes (for your child, also for you). Then on day trips, books, crayons, favourite toys, CDs for the car. You will become an expert in day-planning. Building an activity timetable from the moment you’re awake. Breakfast. Play. Park. TV. Garden. Mini-beast hunt. Bubble blowing. Baking. Dinner. Bed. A different programme each day.
Once they are in school the days, weeks and years will vanish. The nativity plays. Parent evenings. Carrier bag of books and drawings at the end of each year. The long lazy days of summer, when you’re trying to work while also remembering to buy sand for the sand pit and provide additional entertainment so they don’t watch six hours of Thomas the Tank Engine a day…
There will be times when you go to check on them and they are sleeping and you wonder where their dreams take them. There will be moments when they laugh so hard they shake with mirth, and you will feel a song in your soul of pure joy.
You will feel everything. Every cut and scrape. Every fever. Every stomach ache. When they’re older and heart-broken you will be torn in two and find a rage you had forgotten you possessed, ready to practice shadow magic, and burn anyone with the dragon-fire of your maternal fury. When they are at the very end of despair, and you know their thoughts are leading them away from life you will pray, light candles, cast a circle of black stones and protection, and wait.
And one day they will be ready to leave. They will be able to drive. Have their own car (you will learn to trust them behind the wheel). They will go to work each morning, and come home each night telling you about traffic and customer complaints. You will know it is coming. This is the moment you’ve been working towards. Two decades, phase one almost complete. You will go with them to check apartments. You will look suspicioulsy at people in the street, like strangers in the playground fifteen years before. And all the while you will be calm and enthusiastic. Positive about their good decisions, their grounded, practical, grown-up choices.
At nights come 2 a.m. you will sit awake with tea and worry. That they will be lonely. That they won’t know what to do. Until you remember that was you once. And you survived. So when the sun is up again, and you’re bleary from lack of sleep, you begin to pack. Finding the pots and pans they can take. Tea towels. A spare chopping board. You can feel the roller coaster creeping to the top of the slope, you can see the drop approaching and you know that once it’s here there’ll be nothing to do but let gravity take you.
There is also anticipation. Waiting to see them fly. Imagination takes you to visits, meet-ups for coffee.
Not the end then.
The beginning of the next cycle.