I love you more than life itself
As I was leaving the house to go to work the other day, my eldest daughter, Ana, called out to me “I love you more than life itself!”. Rushing to catch my train, I smiled at the exuberance of her declaration and almost immediately began to wonder if there might come a point when such declarations from my ever-growing children would be a thing of the past. Would these unselfconsciously earnest pronouncements soon become a childish thing to be put away on the road to adolescence? Should I be paying more attention and committing each enthusiastic pledge of undying love to memory just in case their supply was running out?
In the summer, I read a fabulous article from the mother of an 11 year old who described observing her son balancing on the edge of childhood, staring into a scary, but exciting, more grown up future. The bittersweet description of a child at the crossroads of a new adventure was poignant and familiar and, as I watch my own 12 year old change and grow, I am reminded of that account. In many ways, Ana remains a little girl clinging tightly to the toys, games and symbols of her childhood and – like her – I am reluctant to see these things disappear forever. I gleeful join her frequent reflections on the past and we look back with nostalgia to recall cherished childhood memories. We find long lost video clips on the computer and, as we watch them, the half-forgotten sound of her 3 year old voice melts my heart and immediately transports me back to the moments on screen. I want to reach back in time to play with the squeaky-voiced, curly haired toddler she used to be and drink in her perfect toddlerness. I see her childhood slipping through my fingers like sand and I want to stop time just where we are now so that I can listen to her babble about childish nonsense; and play schools with her bears; and make lego models with her sister. I want to slow it all down so I can cherish these moments properly.
And yet….so many endings are also beginnings and my newly 12 year old gives me daily cause to marvel at the person she is becoming. The move to secondary school has brought with it so many changes as my baby strikes out on her own: walking to and from school on her own; meeting homework deadlines; negotiating new friendships – all of these things have brought new challenges and required new skills and Ana has stepped up to each one. Daily my heart glows with pride at her ability to find her way in this new world. She may be tentative and she may find it scary, but she’s out there and she’s doing it and I couldn’t be prouder. As I listen to my pre-teen explaining the ins and outs of the Norman Conquest, or confidently teaching me Spanish (a surprise favourite amongst her new subjects), I find my melancholy nostalgia turning into something that feels like anticipation. Once again I gleefully join Ana in her reflections, only this time she is starting to wonder what she might want to do in the future: what GCSE subjects could she take? What career might suit her? We google the best routes to being an ecologist and we discuss ways to develop a writing career whilst also earning money. My excited 12 year old tells me her plans to own a house in the countryside, surrounded by wildlife and filled with pets, where she will write and bake and invite me round for dinner and I wonder how many revisions this life plan will go through as she forges her way through the coming years.
And so now I think I know what I should do. I should take my own advice and I should remember to cherish the moments. I will keep on committing those declarations of love to memory and I’ll listen to my growing children play and laugh and change and grow, right in front of my eyes.
Because I love them more than life itself…and that’s not about to change.