Sunday 8 December 2019

Marking the end of an era

As her youngest starts Montessori, Emily Hourican weighs up the wisdom of having another - or not

Emily Hourican , Author of 'How to (really ) be a Mother' at home in Stillorgan. Photo: Ronan Lang/Feature File.
Emily Hourican , Author of 'How to (really ) be a Mother' at home in Stillorgan. Photo: Ronan Lang/Feature File.

Emily Hourican

The littlest one started Montessori today. We packed her Peppa Pig bag with lunch, a change of clothes, her princess-and-the-pea doll, and off we went, to hand her over to the lovely women who will gradually transition her towards 'Big School', by teaching her some rudimentary ABCs, and how to be part of a group who are not primarily engaged in the business of keeping her happy.

As I walked home, alone, for the first time in almost eleven years, the lollipop lady smiled and said, "You'll have to have another now."

I smiled back and made some kind of joke about peace and quiet, and then I realised that, actually, right there was the end of an era. Now, I'm not much of a one for milestones and anniversaries - I have been reluctantly dragged into the celebration of birthdays by my husband and children - but even I can recognise something momentous when it is pointed out.

Yes, the time of motherhood to very small children is over.

I could have another. Just about. The window of opportunity is narrowing, but I could squeeze in there again. And I can see the temptation. From having been someone who found newborns, even my own, far less interesting than older babies, I have become the kind of person whose head swivels around 180 degrees when they catch sight of a tiny, scrunched-up little thing. I actually cried when my sister-in-law sent me photos of her hour-old son recently.

I have even begun to wash over the memories of the solitary, late-night feeds with my own three, with a kind of schmaltzy soft-focus. Mentally, I have transformed them from bleak and lonely moments - where mostly I just wished I were still asleep or could afford a wet nurse - into something magical and infinitely precious.

Really, is there nothing that time and nostalgia will not make over into a lying, rose-tinted version of itself? That time I got attacked by a group of North African kids who threw popcorn and conkers at me? Ah, happy, halcyon days .

The sane part of me - the bit that is operating on actual memory and understanding, rather than fuzzy instinct - knows that I really don't want any more kids. I am thrilled to have reached the stage where all three are gainfully employed - for the mornings, at least. I look forward eagerly to the next bit of this process - discussions about World War I and watching The Searchers with them - without regret for endless re-readings of the Hungry Caterpillar.

I even have dizzy dreams of one day being able to pop out for milk without having to load the whole lot into the car, or beg 20 minutes of babysitting from a neighbour.

I figure that the immediate future offers some good years - no tiny ones, and no teenagers (yet) - in which we can do interesting things together without one person having a meltdown over their car seat, and before someone else starts to say, "You are so embarrassing!"

I am also, I confess, excited at the idea of more freedom for me. Freedom to work, to meet friends, to think about more than the next meal or whether I have remembered a favourite toy. It's not that I haven't had child-minders before, but this is different. Psychologically different.

And I am ready for all of it. Eager, even. Eleven years is a long time to spend moving at a baby pace. I'm ready to pick up a bit of speed.

And yet, that quip by the lollipop lady has loosened a mud-slide of memories and realisations. A lot of them begin with "I'll never".

I'll never hear my baby laugh for the first time again. I'll never realise that the funny sound they make is actually an attempt at saying "Batman". I'll never potter around a quiet house with a very small child, trying to put on a wash while they busily take everything out of the machine. And now I've wasted my first morning of 'freedom' lamenting what was and will not be again. But I guess the end of an era deserves that, at least.

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