Have you ever had one of those moments as a parent when you’re floored by the sudden realisation that your little one is growing up?
I mean obviously they’re growing up - that’s what kids do, of course - but sometimes the reality of that pulls you up short and has you pining for their baby days and vowing never to let them leave home. (That’s not just me, right?!)
My most memorable ‘they’re growing up too fast’ moment came on holiday this summer when my nine-year-old son, who has always been warm and affectionate and totally happy to hold our hands in public, suddenly wriggled his hand free of my grasp as we passed a group of teenagers in the street.
In a heartbeat he’d gone from my ever-affectionate bubbly little boy to a cool, street-wise, self-conscious pre-teen. My heart just about smashed into a million tiny pieces right there in the middle of a little seaside village in Ireland. In fact, should we ever return there for another holiday, I reckon I could find the exact spot in the street where it happened; where my firstborn child took a sudden giant leap from childhood towards adolescence.
It was a defining moment in my life as a mum. I was baffled for a moment, and looked down beside me to see what had happened to make him drop my hand as if it had turned into a hot potato. At first I assumed he’d paused to do up a shoelace or pick up some interesting bit of junk off the ground, as boys are prone to do. (That’s not just my kids that do that, right?)
But then I clocked the gaggle of uber-cool teens swaggering their way towards us, all skinny jeans and carefully-constructed complicated hair-dos. Neither of us said a word, but I don’t mind admitting that my heart sank just a tiny bit as I realised *that* moment had come. I’d blinked, and in that second I’d been relegated from the centre of my son’s universe to the role of embarrassing mother. Ouch.
In the sweetest twist, he picked up my hand again once the One Direction lookalikes had passed us by, and any ‘damage’ that had been done to my delicate old heart was instantly restored. My son might not want to hold my hand in the presence of the sort of cool-kid peers he is beginning to care about impressing, but he does still want to hold my hand. But that moment made me realise that those days are probably numbered too, so I squeezed that little paw as tightly as I could and hoped that would be enough to convey that I will love this kid until the day I die, and that the chance to hold his hand is a privilege which, though I may have taken for granted previously, I will treasure for every single second that it lasts.
And, of course, the realisation that our kids are growing up isn’t just a sad moment of mawkish nostalgia. It’s bitter-sweet, yes, but it’s as exciting as it is tear-inducing because I can’t wait to see this kid grow up; to have my first beer with him, to let him drive me to the supermarket, and to meet all the people who will touch his heart as he moves into adulthood, and on into all the adventures that await him.
I know there will be many more moments like this. And as that poem that periodically seems to do the rounds on social media says, there will come a time when my daughter will fall asleep in my arms and it will be the last time I’ll ever hold my sleeping baby. A time when my eight year old will climb into my bed at midnight for cuddles, and it'll be the last time I ever wake to elbows in my face.
And, just in case you haven’t sobbed into your keyboard yet…
“The thing is, you won’t even know it’s the last time
Until there are no more times. And even then, it will take you a while to realise."
"So while you are living in these times, remember there are only so many of them and when they are gone, you will yearn for just one more day of them. For one last time."
Ahem. Ok, I've pulled myself together now. So... hold that little hand and don’t take its willing clutch for granted. Rock that sleeping baby and ignore the inner critic that says that child should have grown out of this by now. Lift that tired toddler and relish the weight of their limbs in your arms, because one day, all too soon, you’ll stop to realise that they haven’t asked to be carried for a while now, and the moment might have gone forever...