Recently my eldest turned 9. He greeted his birthday with the usual youthful enthusiasm of a child who knows he is about to be showered with presents. After receiving his gifts and having his special pancakes with chocolate topping breakfast I took him off to his Saturday soccer match. He was delighted to be playing his favourite position of goalie for the first half. A perfect soccer birthday present.
At the end of the game, while all the team munched on celebratory chocolate, the coach wished Jonty a happy 9th birthday then looked at me and said, “You know what this means Caitlin? He’s halfway to 18.”
This statistic pretty well made me gasp. Given that these first 9 years have effortlessly slid by, I’ve suddenly got a glimpse of how quickly my son’s childhood will be over.
But it’s not over yet. And we are determined to continue to make his childhood a tapestry of rich memories threaded together by strong and meaningful relationships.
By the birthday bonfire later that evening, I reflected on the first half a childhood my boy has experienced and what it’s been like mothering the first half of his childhood.
The moment that little man was born and I held him in my arms, I was enveloped in a vacuum of love. The feeling of him in my arms was like no other. The vacuum of love in those moments after his birth were thick. There was nothing else in life that mattered in those moments apart from absorbing and transmitting sudden deep emotions. As I held him for the first time and the thickshake of emotions swirled around, I vaguely became aware of the midwife gasping, “Oh dear, he’s poo’d all over Mummy.” I didn’t respond, but I can remember feeling annoyed that she would distract my attention from this bundle that I was completely besotted with. Poo is inconsequential when your life is being transformed. Becoming a mother is a transformation. You are still yourself, but never again the same as before.
I realised later why she would make a comment, the poo was rather enormous, and black and sticky and was plastered all down the front of my hospital gown. I didn’t realise at that moment how the poo was symbolic of what was in store for me in the years that followed. Lots and lots of poo. But let’s not dwell on the drawbacks of motherhood.
Since those first moments of motherhood, every moment afterwards has been guided by love for my child. Of course the intensity of that initial fierce rush of emotions subsided, but never the amount of love I have for that boy.
And so his childhood began. My days were devoted to giving him a childhood that would set him up for life. The effects of a good or a bad childhood echo throughout the rest of a person’s life. The enormous responsibility of parenting can be a daunting task if you let it be.
So instead I started by focussing on learning one thing at a time and then doing each thing I knew to the best of my ability. Of course, I often failed. But gradually we traversed through the fields of childhood.
Such meadows of discovery! From the moment he discovered his fingers and toes progressing to an awareness of the world around him – principally at first a bee mobile used to keep him occupied for hours. In fact, I would have to remove it for him to sleep. He couldn’t close his eyes as long as they dangled above him. (Little did I know it was the first glimpse into the later sleep habits of my little insomniac.)
Onwards he strolled through the meadows of discovery. Crawling becomes a vehicle to venture further and to make more exciting findings. First stop is normally the Tupperware cupboard, but so many places to go from there. Learning to walk is increased the pace. The ability to walk through the meadow of discovery and pick bouquets of adventure and excitement naturally only increased the thirst for further exploration and before long he was running.
I have many, many fond memories of childhood. Becoming a mother has made me more aware of the time in childhood that a person cannot actually remember of themselves. The baby and toddler years are precious years of passion. Feelings are immediately expressed and hysterical giggles can morph into hysterical tears in a moment. Everything is a related to feelings and discovery. And I learned that as a mother, you are most likely the person who most treasures the moments and experiences of what will become their forgotten years. Childhood amnesia is a part of every persons life. Grey misty memories of early ages can be obtained, but those who loved you most keep most of the moments close to their heart, and even if the stories are not all told, it adds a layer of complexity and beauty in that rich tapestry of love that surrounds a person.
0.5 of childhood. The halfway point of riding bikes, climbing trees and jumping on the trampoline for hours. A time when little regard is given for time. There is no realisation that time is in fact fleeting. He has swam through the summer days and played hard during winter in the frosty outdoors with little regard to the cold. (“Please son, put a jacket on! I don’t care if you aren’t cold. I’m cold, so that means you have to put one on.”) Disregard for dirt and cleanliness and any food that features sprinkles is classified as gourmet.
Childhood. A time when life is taken for granted. Because that is the way it should be during this time. Too many childhoods have been ruined by selfish adults and by wickedness thrust upon a child’s innocence. My child trundles through childhood unaware that he is lucky. Unaware that there are dangers that others experience, but not him. Of course there are times when he has a glimpse of his own fortunate life. I can remember my boy staring at a picture of a little African boy. Skin clinging to ribs with nothing in between. Stark bareness all around. As he looked at the picture he peppered me with questions about where and why and then he sat staring at the picture, for at least half an hour. And then he began dreaming. Scheming of ways to help the helpless. In his imagination planes full of food and necessities were flying endlessly. Houses shipped across oceans. Inventions to find water. Machines to create happiness in far off villages. All impractical and childish, but visionaries only need a seed and the seed doesn’t need to be practical. Plant the seed, let it grow and practicalities will come in time. In the end all the dreams were reduced to a small donation from one little boy’s money box.
As he grows, so does his awareness of the outside world increase. The second half of Jonty’s childhood will not be the same as the first half of his childhood. During the second half of the year we will continue to water that seed of awareness of those around him and those who live differently to him in the world. Early childhood is by nature egotistical. He is becoming less self centred but compassion for others can also be learned, so it is our goal to continue to foster that in him as he grows into adulthood. It is my ambition that by his teens he will be able to focus energies outwardly rather than filling the status quo of a self centred teen.
We have started to share memories. He is no longer dependent on my memories to remember his own life. And so a major part of our role as parents is assisting the creation of memories. Giving our childhood experiences and learning opportunities that will later become the memories that shape their life. Giving them experiences that they are able to learn from and grow from. Not all memories necessarily need to be pleasant, but the main thing is that from the trials of life they grow to be a better person from it.
So on that 9th birthday, as we reached the halfway mark of childhood, the memory creation continued as children danced around the fire, twirling with glow sticks, making up games and hunting for more wood to throw on the pile. Hollering, whooping, no fear of darkness but pure childhood heaven.
9 years old, but still plenty of time for firsts. On that night it was the first time they ate smores and then later settled down, after watching a movie for his first sleepover with a mate.
His cousins also slept over, but that wasn’t a first. All deposited in the good memory bank while blood ties and friendship bonds that keeps growing richer. One of the greatest joys of motherhood is that I have become a childhood bliss creator. The currency of my payment is smiles and giggles, whoops of excitement and jumps up and down in ecstasy and anticipation.
Childhood. It’s a long term investment. A healthy happy childhood will keep paying dividends for a lifetime.
What do you think are some of the delights and highlights of childhood?