Yesterday, in between bouts of sand clearance, I launched a sunshine induced and uncharacteristic attack on my two daughters respective wardrobes, sorting out summer clothes from various chaotic boxes and cupboards and drawers. Like all such jobs, in order to try and complete it I had to do two things - set the three year old on a lunatic project (how many layers of trousers can you get on?) and allow the baby to play with various marginally dangerous items (plastic bags, pointy things, tin foil). It didn't get finished.
I felt a curious mix of optimism and sorrow as I dug my eldest daughter's little sun dresses out of hiding, ready to be worn again by the baby, and stored newborn vests for the second, and who knows, possibly the last time. There always seems to be something rather poignant about old baby clothes, that seemed so big when you bought them, and now look like handkerchiefs next to your sinewy and hectic toddler. It can be hard to put them away.
But do you know what? Lean in here, because I have a bit of a confession to make...I'm glad my baby's first year is nearly over. 'It goes so quickly doesn't it?', people constantly say, and I know what they mean, but to be honest, for me, the first year with a baby is a bit of a long slow struggle, interspersed with some quite lovely moments, rather than vice versa. I think it is the lack of communication that I find the hardest: here is this tiny vulnerable soul who is utterly dependent on you for their needs - but they can't tell you what they are, you have to guess. Exhausted from lack of sleep and lack of time to yourself, you battle on, trying to read their signals, trying to give them comfort, trying to be a good enough mummy. Much as I love babies, in particular my own, I closed the lid on the box of sleepsuits yesterday with one overriding emotion: relief.
Of course I know I will live to regret these words. There is bound to be a time in my future life when I conclude that the very best and most desirable thing to have is a newborn baby. I will look back on these years and get positively dewy eyed at the thought of all those magical moments: my little one gently breastfeeding as the birds sing their dawn chorus, long and picturesque walks at sunset to soothe my baby to sleep, laughing gaily with my partner at the hilarity of eating supper one handed every night for six months...yes I can already begin to imagine how Nostalgia will cast a rose tinted glow over the whole experience: tears and desperation forgotten, history completely re-written.
I'm already familiar with the powerful and impressive makeover job that Nostalgia can do, having observed it recently going to work on my Twenties with more vigour, enthusiasm and cheap trimmings than Linda Barker. Already my life before children has been transformed in my memory into a collection of cool bars, warm love affairs and hot city nights. Nostalgia convinces me that it was all fun fun fun, and glosses reassuringly over the loneliness, insecurity, and episodes of depression. Not to mention the hangovers. But I only have to catch a whiff of cigarette smoke on a summer evening and I'm sighing with longing for that lost decade.
It makes me feel rather fearful actually, if I project myself into the future, and try to imagine what will undoubtedly be the biggest nostalgia hit of my life: looking back on this time I'm living right now. Because, once the first year is over, and the baby gets bigger, stops wailing for no fathomable reason, and starts to give me the positive feedback that every human craves, I'm in heaven. At every mother's meeting we air the usual complaints: too much housework, not enough sleep, too much selflessness, not enough freedom. And yet it's painful to contemplate how much I am going to miss this time, and these small and adorable creatures, once it is finally over and they have disappeared forever into their adult guise.
Yesterday my three year old and I danced around the kitchen to Paul Simon, and then both collapsed in an arm chair as the music played on. She curled up in my arms, as I sang along: 'Oh my mama loves me, She loves me, She gets down on her knees and hugs me, She loves me like a rock, She rocks me like the rock of ages and loves me'. That night when I put her to bed I snuggled up with her as usual and held her as she fell asleep. As she drifted off she suddenly murmured to me, 'I love you as a stone my mummy'. These are the moments that don't need the brush of Nostalgia to make them exquisite, right then and there, no retrospect needed, it was pure bliss. Even if the pillow was a bit sandy.