Bill finishes preschool, or nursery as we’ve always called it, next week. I hadn’t really thought about it too much. And I have to admit I am guilty of not thinking of Bill as much these days. When he was my one and only baby, his life was an obsession of mine. And, of course, it still is. But I have realised how hardy he is. How capable he is. And, in the most physical of ways, he doesn’t need me anymore.
Does that make sense?
I remember talking to my mum earlier today. As we fed Daisy in the sun-filled kitchen. And I tried to explain what I meant. But it’s almost as if, the older your children get, the less ‘yours’ they become. It’s not as though he’s not my baby anymore. Or I am losing him. But it’s just the stark reality of growing up.
Our apron strings were so heavily entwined before now. Special knots in places. The sort that Scouts and Guides can do. Woven tight. Digging into my skin. I carried my baby close, even when I was far.
But I don’t know if it’s the comparison of a sister who not only needs me, as only a newborn baby can need her mother, but also in the way that she needs me for care that, really, only I can give, day-to-day. But Bill has grown.
The boy who couldn’t open the heavy-doored fridge, can now do so with ease. The boy who was wary of a bubbling pot on the stove, stirs confidently with ease. The boy who cried in frustration when he couldn’t pull a top over his head, now selects an outfit for the day. He brushes his teeth. He puts shoes on. He has the knack of holding his sister’s dummy in when she is crying. He fetches me when her monitor sounds, when I took a chance on dashing for a wee.
Those apron strings feel like they are sagging and loose now. I keep gathering up strands and pulling them close. But I can’t tie them anymore. Some are unravelling in my hands and I’m fighting to catch the strands before they fly away. Like that moment you try and catch a balloon, when you know it’s already begun your helium-powered flight. Never to feel that string safe in your hand again.
Of course I knew school was imminent. I found out that Bill had his first choice of primary school the day before his sister was due. I remember joking that bad news could send me into labour. But we were so pleased for him to carry on where he’s been for the past two years. It felt so very right.
And then, slowly, as I finally brought his sister home to him, we juggled our new life with trips to school. Little tasters, here and there. I remember navigating the pram into a crowded classroom. And trying to trust that my sleeping baby hooked up to the oxygen monitor would be okay as she slept. Because in that moment, I felt like my son needed me more.
We explored a classroom. I watched him mumble shyly at teachers. Who all reminded me of Matilda’s Miss Honey. We played with sand. We did little matching activities to nursery rhymes. I watched him spray water in the air, outside, with his best friend, Oliver – who I took a great joy in meeting as he’s all my little boy talks about.
Next time, he went without me.
The third time, the whole morning there.
Then the fourth time, was actually just for me. A new parents’ evening. A chance to ask questions. Find out more. Mingle.
I was so nervous when I walked there in the rain. It was only a short walk but I was very jittery. I think it’s mainly because I don’t know anyone properly yet. But as I walked into the school grounds, I bumped into one of the mums I have spoken to the most. Her son is also a William. And we click. At least, it does feel like we do.
We walked in, collecting uniform pamphlets. And jumping at the offer of a hot brew and a cake. The cake was this chocolatey thing that I remember from my high school. I’m sure it must be the same cook there. And some of us, who all went to the high school, started reminiscing.
I started to relax. I took a deep breath and relaxed into this completely normal scenario. And it felt so good. After many weeks of finding it hard to not be able to put my son first. Completely.
I found emotion rising in my throat as that short hour passed. At first I remember forcing myself to concentrate, sipping my coffee, just due to tiredness. And I chuckled to myself as I sat in a play-doh scented classroom, because I felt like I was back at school again. Trying to be good and listen. But I found myself drifting in and out of important points and facts, which I obviously noted, to imagining my little boy in this classroom. Where would he sit? Which tray would be his? I wonder which spot his art will be hung up. Where he will prefer to sit, cross-legged, for story time. It’s like I was beginning to place him there. Like the Ghost of Motherhood Future had paid me a visit.
The school had put together a slideshow at the end, to the soundtrack of M People’s Proud. And I felt it. So proud. I felt my eyes fizz and prickle, and my vision blurred with the telltale promise of potential tears. I whispered to The Other William’s Mum: “I’m getting a bit emotional here.” And she whispered back: “Me too!” We spoke later of how it was the last chance with our babies. The freedom of a day together, a chance to go somewhere, last-minute, free, no plans. Days on the sofa, cuddled under a blanket. Late nights, just because.
Now, we have a little pile of things on our landing. School sweatshirts. A book bag. Little school socks. Polo shirts. Shorts. Little grey trousers. They are so alien to me. I actually look at them and think of my school experience before anything else. And that seems to be more accessible to me than the near future. More acceptable to me. Than the near future.
Today I read his preschool report. And it was – allow me my pride – wonderful. It was golden. And after four years of motherhood, and many more ahead, it was wonderful to take a moment and celebrate him. My boy. The one that I have reared. Not alone of course. But with everything I had. Every part of me.
His educational strengths and capabilities are not my William James. Bill James. Bill. Billy. He isn’t defined by mathematics and phonetics. And neither am I in his success at those things. But it was warming to know that school is going to be the further making of him.
And it was humbling to note how many times it was noted that he mentioned home. His family. His baby sister, Daisy. How he was loving and kind. Mature and reasonable. And how he will be missed.
Those things are the things that set the pride in my heart alight.
And so, in one more week, my boy will no longer be my preschooler. Like he was once no longer my threenager. No longer my toddler. No longer my baby. No longer my newborn.
I am missing him even before it has begun.
We have one last summer of babyhood. And my chance, the arrival of his newborn sister has given me the chance to take that summer and make it into something magical. I am desperate for the sunshine to join us. For moments to capture. For the hopeful approval that Daisy can travel further than half an hour in radius. So we might take a family break away, a staycation, to make up for the summer holiday we had to cancel. Hoping that the insurance company can make it so that we are able to spend our pennies on something we can actually experience. That he can actually experience.
I want to see his swimming lessons come to life, now he’s moved up a class. So I can swim with him. Ignorant of my thick thighs and sagging stomach. Just enjoying his laughter.
I want to stay up late with him. Watch a film as a family. Or let him explore the garden as the sun sets. While he is sticky with sun lotion, sweat and tell-tale ice-lolly palms. And his face is flushed, and his hair tufty and scruffy. And his skin gold.
I want to drag the BBQ out and curse myself for not cleaning it properly the last time we used it. To make burgers and hot dogs. And bananas and golden syrup in tin foil. Just like my parents used to make for me and my brother.
I want to go for long walks. Bake cakes. Ask him questions. Enjoy his answers. Encourage his long-limbed boy cuddles. Like having Bambi folded up on my lap.
I know this is not the end. Rather a beginning in many respects. But it is a chapter of our lives that I cannot open again. I cannot make him younger. Or smaller. Or need me like he once used to.
I will miss the preschool team, who encouraged me every, single morning when Daisy was in hospital. Who comforted me when I admitted I worried about my boy, going through all of this too. Who made him smile and exercised his mind, while I could barely manage a story at bedtime. Who sent us messages of good luck and support. And wholeheartedly shared my joy when William walked to nursery that day, holding on to the buggy with pride. “It’s my baby sister, Daisy.”
I really don’t want this to end. I know I have approached all new milestones and chapters with a little reluctance stirred into my excitement for my son.
But this time it hurts a little more.
Because he needs me a little less.
And I love him a little more. Every day.
It’s our last summer of babyhood.
Let’s make it ours Bill.