My daughter recently turned ten. I’ve been wrestling with the feelings that have come with this birthday for a while now. I’m sure to others it’s probably just another birthday, but to me it feels like a bit of a milestone, and a few things have made me feel like this one is a biggie.
At the beginning of this year, my daughter took part in the Young Voices choir events taking place across the country. She and the rest of the school choir spent the day at our local events arena preparing for the evening ahead, and myself, my partner and our parents went to see her and her friends perform. I have to be clear here and explain that I am a sucker for a children’s choir. They render me an emotional wreck within seconds, so to hear over five thousand children singing their hearts out, to see them dancing, holding hands and being proud of what they were part of, and my daughter being among them, really spoke to me. I realised that she was growing up; that she had been part of this huge event. Afterwards she was buzzing, and I was so happy for her; it was as if she had grown up before my eyes.
A few weeks later she went on her first school residential for five nights, several hundred miles away. She regularly spends time with her Dad at his house so I’m used to being separated from her, but this was different as she wasn’t with either of us. She arrived back at the end of the week, covered in mud with a bag full of filthy clothes (some of which didn’t belong to her), completely exhilarated by the activities she’d done and how far she’d pushed herself out of her comfort zone.
After half term she decided that she’d like to walk into school herself, so we agreed that I would drop her on the corner. We did it once and I was really uncomfortable, so we compromised: I’d walk her to the corner and watch her until she entered the school gates safely. One morning I was watching her, and another mum who was unloading her younger child and baby out of her car asked if I was OK. I said yes and explained what I was doing. She expressed dread at getting to that point herself and offered me a hug! I declined and assured her I was fine. It struck me that now she has reached this age, she needs me a little less. She wants to gain some independence, which is only natural, and because she is my only one I don’t have another younger child to help make me feel needed for longer. I somehow never saw this moment coming. As parents we tend to pre-empt or worry about certain times in our children’s lives: potty training, the terrible twos, the teenage years; but I’d not foreseen this.
I also wonder if the reason it feels like such a milestone birthday is because my life, and by extension my daughter’s life, has changed so much in those ten years. All the other babies from our NCT group have been turning ten over the last three weeks. I’ve loved seeing the pictures on social media, and obviously realise that they and their families have grown and changed over that time too. Their parents have had siblings, moved to bigger houses, changed jobs, had miscarriages. Most of them live in the same town where we met and gave birth to those children. They are all married to the father of their children. I moved back home, much further north about seven years ago, and have lived in six houses since the one to which we brought our daughter home from the hospital ten years ago. I am no longer married to her father. I’ve had several job changes, and am now engaged to my new partner. I have changed so much from that naive, terrified twenty-eight year old who put her baby in button-up sleepsuits for the first three weeks of her life because I thought if I tried to put clothes over her head I would break her neck. My life, and therefore who I am, is completely unrecognisable from a decade ago.
Perhaps I’m overthinking things. I’m sure that lots of people’s lives change drastically in a ten year period. Perhaps it’s more that I have fitted a hell of a lot of living into those ten years. Perhaps it’s because until my marriage broke up and my daughter and I lived alone, I didn’t feel that I was a very good mother; I had no confidence in my abilities until I was going it alone. The other day I was brushing my daughter’s hair after her shower, and we were talking about our lives together so far. I told her that when I had her I felt very young, and like I didn’t know what I was doing in the early days, and sometimes still don’t. She patted my hand and said, “we’ve grown up together, haven’t we, Mummy?”, and suddenly it ceased to matter. The beautiful, clever, soon-to-be ten year old had hit the nail on the head.
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