As a parent, you have to learn to say goodbye to your child.
That first day back at work, when you still feel like a novice when it comes to parenting, and your mind spins as you take on the challenge of being someone else again too. Another hat to wear. You leave your baby safe in someone else’s arms and you blink back the tears, because you remind yourself: “We’ll be together again soon.”
The first day at school. When your no-longer-a-baby-but-always-your-baby clings to your leg and looks out at their new playground, behind long baby lashes, and watches other little ones make those tentative first steps away from their parents, to join in with those already laughing in the playground. You well-up again, marvelling at how fast this child of yours is growing up, as you sit in the car and flick through those “first school uniform photos” that you took on your phone. You take a shaky breath and remember: “We’ll be together again soon.”
|My little brother and I. How fast we grew up.|
The first sleepover. Where you hope to god that they behave and don’t wet the bed, or stay up all night, or eat too many sweets and end up feeling sick and grumpy the next day. You ask for a hug goodbye and they rush to you and it’s over in an instant, as they run, trailing excitement, sleeping bags, and their favourite teddy-bear that they have secretly packed in case they miss you. You smile and shake your head, you’ll miss them, but as always: “We’ll be together again soon.”
Time fast-forwards. Saying goodbye becomes easier, because you can pinpoint when “hello” will arrive and you just enjoy looking forward to the tales they will tell, while munching on their fifth slice of toast, while asking: “What’s for dinner?” You smile at your baby adult, the traces of the child they were are left behind in fleeting moments – when they become unsure of themselves and look to you for support, or as you wipe their tears because somebody broke their heart.
But then university arrives. They are eager to leave. Eager to grow. They want to set their own rules. They want to see it all and know it all. You load up the car, a lump in your throat, your hand on your partner’s as they navigate the gears to get you to your baby’s “new home.” You make light chit-chat and your heart aches as you feel their excitement that you don’t feel. Because your baby is leaving you.
You leave them, chatting to a new-found friend, and smile at this young, confident person that you have reared. You feel better knowing they have someone to talk to; the first of many, you’re sure. And, as you leave in the car, feeling a tear drop on to your lap, as you twist a piece of tissue in your hands – which you notice have aged now – you re-live the moments where that big person used to hold their little hand in yours.
But you remember, while it may be a while longer this time: “We’ll be together again soon.”
They’ll only need you to do those endless loads of washing, when they come back, raiding your full fridge and diving into your lovingly prepared roast dinner, with all the trimmings, with appreciation and gusto, while you watch with a wry smile, noting that they definitely need a haircut.
As life continues, you say “hello” and “goodbye” so many times, that you feel certain of the pattern. You learn to say “hello” more, as you are blessed with a new son or daughter-in-law. And grandchildren. Who are tiny replicas of your baby, once more. And as they cradle their little bundle, your child catches your eye, and in one look they tell you: “I love them so much Mum. I know now. I understand. I love you.” And you send a smile back that tells them: “I know.”
Ultimately, there is a final goodbye. At least on this earth. The hardest of all.
“How will I cope without you? I’ll miss you so much. Please come back to me.”
But these aren’t your words. They are your child’s, as they miss you, now you are gone. Watching over them. Always.
But sometimes, life can deal a cruel hand. And children are taken long before their time. Long before their parents. There is no peace in that goodbye. How can there be a better place for you, other than with me? You can’t understand that grief. You guiltily admit that you hope you never have to.
Today, a mother, who I fiercely admire, who my heart is so heavy for, says goodbye to her little girl for the last time. She has no choice but to let go and send her baby, that little star, soaring into the skies.
I don’t know where this wonderful woman finds her strength. How she copes. How she lives.
But I one thing I do know is that Jennie and Matilda will be together again. Perhaps not soon. But one day. One day.
For now, shine bright Matilda Mae. Always someone’s baby. Always a star.