This is all happening too fast.
It’s not just the growing, it’s the developing, the knowing, the maturing. “Stop growing up, start growing down,” I tell them, and they roar with laughter. “Again?” requests Ralph, “Will you tell me to grow down?” (“Grow down,” I obligingly order him. “NO!” he yells in evident delight).
Ralph started toilet-training on the weekend. I have always said this wasn’t the kind of parenting blog that would share the details of my children’s challenges, and I’m not about to change that now, so I’ll spare you the details of that particular story (although you can ask me in private if you want to: there is much hilarity for people who can appreciate or relate to that sort of thing). But I didn’t need Ralph to keep reminding me “I’m a big boy now!” to reinforce the significance of this time. Nappies = babies. Undies = big kids. Once my last baby is out of nappies, that tender, sweet, all-encompassing stage in my life is gone forever.
Oh, it’s such a boring cliché, I am bored even as I write it and you are probably yawning, if you’re still here at all. Alert the media: Mother Mourns Passing of Time.
Each little milestone, announced with such pride.
Scout: “Mummy, watch me. I can skip!”
Ralph: “Mummy look at me standing on one leg!”
Scout: “Is this how I write my name Mummy? I am very good at this.”
Ralph: “Don’t help. I can brush my own teeth.”
And Scout (beaming with pride): “Maman, comment ça va?” (“Je vais bien, merci,” I reply.) Scout (nodding her head approvingly, like a wise old lady): “Ah, bon.”
Here is another cliché that is true: every age is the most wonderful and the best.
Whether they are cloud-gazing or deciphering words, practising new skills or teaching one another, seeing the world through their eyes is a great privilege, a front row seat to the theatre of life as it unfolds, all over again. Just like it was for me when I was their age, I imagine, but I was too busy doing the growing to pay attention to the sheer wonder of it all.
Last night I lay them on the carpet side by side after their bath, to get them dressed. They turned to face each other, giggling and playing, each one using the other one’s hand as a pillow, feigning sleep, cuddling, kissing.
Suddenly it all hit me.
I stopped trying (and failing) to get them dressed, and started paying attention, proper attention, to the moment. “Look at them!” I wanted to open a window and shout to the whole world. Why couldn’t everyone else see what I was seeing, the absolute miracle of these two human beings?
(A mother’s ego that everyone must naturally find her children as fascinating as she does.) (Nobody does.) (Plebs).
Time stopped and it didn’t matter any more how big they were getting or how small they still were, the new skills they had mastered or their adorable mistakes, it was just them. These two amazing individuals, and their love for each other. Such a love that I have never seen between two people for each other. Ever.
Later, we three snuggled together and read stories. I read to them from Amazing Babes, a book that celebrates women of courage, of conviction, of creativity, and of compassion. We had conversations about women’s rights and war crimes, about equal opportunities, about the law. It wasn’t easy to explain these things in ways that a four-year-old and a two-year-old could understand, but I loved them for trying. Those little furrowed brows: concentrating, questioning.
Small fingers tracing over the dark skin of Mum Shirl. All the questions! About prisons and prisoners, about Indigenous people in prison, about the whole history of colonialisation. Those big grey eyes looking up at me, round as little stars. “What did the people from England do to them that was naughty?” I took a deep breath. “Well, they took away their homes, and they hurt them. They tried to be the bosses of them, and they were cruel to them.”
Those eyes again. “Why?” Oh sure, let’s just solve the entire problem of racism during a cosy bedtime-story chat. “Because they were different,” I said at last. “They looked different, and believed different things, and spoke a different language, and lived a different way. Because they were different, the people from England though they were better than them.”
Scout stroked the dark-skinned face of Mum Shirl again. “Shohana has dark skin like this,” she said, thoughtfully, “and Bella,” naming her best friend. I pressed the advantage. “Do you think any of our friends are better than others, because of the way they look or what they believe?” She shook her head solemnly. I could tell she still didn’t understand: racism wasn’t just wrong, it was genuinely incomprehensible.
“Vaishali looks like that,” Ralph piped up all of a sudden. “Yeah and Rajetha!” Scout returned. “It is a little bit like Yulia,” Ralph continued (he pronounced it “Loolia,” be still my heart). They started naming everyone they knew and loved with skin that was any colour other than their own: friends and teachers from India, Iran, Pakistan, Singapore, Indonesia, China, Peru.
Last night I talked politics and race and feminism and creative expression with my two kind and compassionate children. Yes, they are growing up, and it is an honour to witness the growing.
Permit me a proud-Mama moment, cliché or not.