Parenting

A Letter to My Children

To my oldest:

From that faint little blue line that told me you were real, to that first tiny flutter that let me know that you were, you have changed me. You have moved me in every way. You were the one to give me a new title — no longer was I girl, woman, wife — I was mummy. My life was no longer just mine. My actions no longer impacted only myself. What I ate, what I drank, how I moved, thought; you impacted it all. When I held you for the first time, I felt shock ripple through my body. You were all big eyes & smooth skin. You weren’t an ugly baby like I’d been told you would be – you weren’t wrinkly or covered in anything that made me shudder in disgust. You were pink & sweet & tiny & perfect. It was the first time in my life that I’d experienced true fear. What if I lost you? What if I hurt you? What if I didn’t take care of you right? What if I couldn’t love you enough?

I thought you’d stay a baby forever. I couldn’t imagine you ever growing up. All that talk of “they grow up so fast” seemed so foreign to me. How could you? You were brand new. You were helpless. You were curious & confused & innocent & pure. How could that change?

You sucked your thumb at night like it was a lifeline & clung to my breast in hunger & comfort. You took your first steps at nine months old only a few short moments after it seemed you’d begun crawling & my heart equally leapt with joy at your achievements & broke with melancholy that your baby phase was already ended — you were a toddler & then, before I could grasp your new milestones, you were a little boy, articulate & polite & logical & contemplative. You were compassionate from tiny but you grew into it more as you aged, empathy & sensitivity the backbone of who you are. With you, I experienced loving something so much that it hurts — it hurts because I have to let you grow & change & develop & become your own person & outgrow me. I have to let you become a person who doesn’t need me.

Still, right now, you do. You need me to set your boundaries & listen to your endless tales about what you’ve built in Minecraft. You need me to remind you to brush your teeth & get a bath. You need me to pray with you & put you back to bed at night after a nightmare. You need me to hold & comfort you. You need me to give you choices & let you make the wrong one & you need me to help you understand why it’s wrong. You need me to laugh with you until we can’t remember why we started laughing in the first place.

There is a place in my heart that is only for you.

The way you love your brothers is a sight to behold. Your bond with them is, I hope, unbreakable. You play with them for hours, read them books, hug them, comfort them & fear for them.

I see you thinking, worrying, working things out, burdened in a way that your brothers aren’t & I wonder if that’s a first child thing or a you thing. Do you feel the weight of responsibility because you’re the oldest? Do you yearn for the days when it was just you, mummy & daddy? I hope you know that we love you. I hope you know that, no matter what, we are always here for you – we are always yours.

To my second son:

You were born in a rushed flurry of panic & anguish. You didn’t breathe on your own for what seemed like hours, when it reality it was only moments. When the midwife dumped you onto my chest, you were purple & heavy & unmoving. I didn’t see your eyes as you were tucked under my chin. You spent a week on the neonatal ward & I didn’t stay with you. I wanted to escape, to go home, to be normal when nothing in me felt normal. I know now that it was the shock, that horror of your dead weight on me & the fear that you wouldn’t wake that launched me out of that hospital & home to my 15 month old child, whom I convinced myself wouldn’t survive without me if I were to stay. So I left you there &, although we visited daily, it is my biggest regret in life.

I spent every night you were in the hospital waking myself up 2 hourly to express colostrum & milk for you. I cried when they gave you a bottle because I wasn’t there. I cried when it took days for you to understand how to breastfeed & it hurt & I was devastated & I felt like a failure. I ended up with some form of PND or PTSD — I’m not sure which or what the difference is, but I know something was wrong. I hated myself because I resented the tiny bundle in my arms who fed & cried continually & didn’t let me sleep.

It took months for me to find myself & to see you properly. It took months for me to see your giant piercing blue eyes, your gentle easy spirit & that you weren’t crying because you hated me, but because you loved being held by me so much. When I did break through the fog, I couldn’t get enough. You were the sweetest baby. That bond that it took me so long to feel was just as strong as with your brother — there was no difference, no gap, no gaping void as I’d feared there would be, a remnant of those early days. No, our love was strong — mine was strong — & it was unending.

You still need touch now, as you did in those early weeks. I sometimes wonder if it’s a remnant of those first few days, when we missed skin on skin contact, when you were in a tank with needles in your arms, untouchable. Either way, you don’t remember that & I’d rather forget. But you crave touch. You love hugs & tickles. You’ll sit with someone for hours if they’ll run their fingers up & down your arm.

There’s nothing more important to you than your family. when you pray, you pray for each of us individually and your words are always about us “feeling better.” You care, deeply. You want the world to be happy & you don’t understand when it isn’t – you want to fix sadness & pain & anger & I think you’re at least going to find a way to lessen it as you grow – you already do now for those who know you.

You are fiercely loyal, a trust that would refuse to buckle even under the heaviest of weights. You have the sweetest disposition, the purest spirit & laugh. You are mischievous, but not in a forced way — its ingrained into you, something you can’t not be. You are cheeky but in a way that amuses rather than annoys. You don’t understand how your big brother is always one year older than you – we can see the cogs in your brain churning, desperately seeking a way to change it so you can one up him.

You are the definition of a master builder, always fiddling with Lego, bettering your creations, innately able to see the symmetry in things, the beauty, the simple in the complexity of engineering. You baffle & amaze & delight me. You build things that grown adults would – & do – find staggering.

You are one of our middle children. You are sandwiched between “older” and “younger”. Do you know that your position does not make you any less valuable? Do you know that we want to hear your voice, and listen to your stories and spend time with you? I hope you realise that being a “middle child” does not devalue you or your worth in any way. You are so loved. You are wonderful. You taught me that love knows no bounds & that the world was right – you do love all your children the same, with never-ending ferocity & joy & hope for their lives. You are wonderful.

To my third boy:

You wrinkle your nose & sigh loudly in your sleep. You stamp your feet so hard in annoyance that people down the street can most likely feel the vibrations through their floor. Your main food sources are carbs & apples. You could spend all day outside, never growing bored or tired. If you’re inside too long, you become restless. You want to wrestle & play fight & beat the world into submission; it’s your way or the highway.

You’re a water baby. Born in water, you would have stayed a mer-baby, I’m sure, if it had been possible. You don’t mind getting wet or messy — in fact, you thrive off of it. If we go for a walk near a pond or a lake or a river it’s all hands on deck chasing you, staying by your side, distracting you, trying to stop you plunging headfirst into the murky depths. You need bathing every day – often more than once. You find it hysterical. You have no fear.

Your smile is one of the most beautiful things I have EVER seen; your laugh changes atmospheres. You can reel out any episode of Dora the Explorer from the top of your head at any given time & act it out, voices & all, to any & all who will listen. You act them out for yourself too, when you think no one is watching. You are dramatic & chaotic & a whirlwind that we are so damn lucky to see & be struck by. You are a lightning rod for laughter.

By the age of one and a half, you could recite the entire alphabet front to back & back to front &, since then, you have gladly & joyfully consumed anything remotely related to linguistics, from YouTube videos, to magnets, to songs, to puzzles, to books – your obsession with sounds & words & letters has been unrelenting thus far, & we can’t see it faltering any time soon. You have perfect pitch, something we realised immediately with your first singing of the Alphabet Song. You will sing anything you like the sound of & you will make others join in – you make it so others want to join in.

You idolise your big brothers, especially your biggest, & you mimic everything he does & he lets you. You even look like him – exactly like him, as though we had twins years apart.

You too are in the middle; you show signs. You are a lot more independent than your brothers. You are wilder. You are unflinching & you end up apologising a ridiculous number of times a day. You are bold & strong & you show no signs of slowing down. You get your stubbornness from me – I both hate & love it.

You are in doubt of our love for you – you demand it; you make us put our phones down; you climb all over us until we give you are full attention; you accept nothing less than everything. I hope that continues. I hope you always fight for what you want.

To my youngest:

You are as sweet as they come. Your smile is full of wonder & every time your mouth quirks upwards & your eyes brighten & sparkle, you are surprised by it – we can see it. It makes it even more adorable.

We don’t know what your personality or character are going to be like. Will you be shy? Will you be brave? Will you find joy in the small things? Will you be compassionate or giddy or silly or serious? Will you think things through or will you dive straight in? I don’t know. Whatever you’re like, I hope you give it everything you have. I hope you don’y shy away from who you are. I hope you allow yourself to grow & change & lean & love & be unapologetically you. I hope you are never ashamed.

Your birth didn’t go exactly to plan. It was probably the hardest I’ve gone through, physically. Stubborn to the end, you faced the wrong way the entire time – it took an absurd amount of energy & sheer will power to get you to come out. You were worth it.

As my last child, I get so be sentimental with you, more than I was with your brothers. I realise more now that the first time you made the sound “dada” was the last first time I would experience that. The first time you crawled was the last first time. The first time you breastfed, pulled yourself to your feet, sat up, ate solid food, laughed, grew a tooth, bounced in your jumperoo – all last first times.

I get to be selfish with you. I get to hold you for longer, stare at you more longingly, relish the time you spend breastfeeding, make you laugh more. You are my last baby. I will not have this again. I try not to get as frustrated when you won’t sleep at night or nap. I try not to wish you out of this nappy phase & the crawling “oh my Lord, he’s trying to climb into the cat litter box” phase & the separation anxiety phase. I want to enjoy every last second.

Sometimes that seems impossible. Sometimes I just want a moment of peace. You stopped sleeping through weeks back, refusing to go for naps or be put to bed on your own. You are almost permanently nursing through the night & you need constant attention & attentiveness throughout the day. But oh God I love you. I look at you & my heart hurts. My breath catches. Sometimes I cry because this is it – you’re it – & in some moments of frustration & exhaustion I’ve allowed myself to miss the joy. I want to always feel the joy of you as a baby. I don’t want any regrets.

You are perfect. You were chosen. You were planned. You were wanted. I’m so happy that I got you as my last to love as much as I love my first, my second & my third.

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I don’t know what the future holds for any of you. I don’t know if I’ve messed you up yet. I don’t know how we – okay, I, – will handle puberty & girlfriends & university & you moving out. It seems so far away & yet so very, tantalisingly, terrifyingly, near.

I have given my life over to you all – years of laughter, tears, shouting, fear & overwhelming happiness. I have given you time in favour of myself & my needs. I have loved you with every cell inside of me, feared for you & protected you in every way that has been possible. You are all my favourite. You are all unique. You are all adored. You are the best of me. I love you. You are “fearfully & wonderfully made”. Don’t ever forget.

Mummy

a letter to my children

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