Molly is the youngest of my four children, and Thursday was her eighteenth birthday. It was a landmark for both of us. For over twenty-seven years I’ve been responsible for the care of one or more children. That is no longer the case.
Although I’ve loved having a family, it does seem to have been going on for a very long time, and has not been without its challenges. A notably low point came during one of Will’s birthday parties. Emma was two, Henry was just a few weeks old, and I was only thirty-four but felt ninety-four as I’d been up most of the night. I hid in the downstairs loo hyperventilating, crying and soggy as a horde of five-year olds marauded through the house.
There were many years, too, when the biggest trial was the children’s endless squabbling. Each jostling for prime position. Then I was given one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever had. Just say ‘sort it out yourselves.’ Realising I could tell them this and walk away was a great discovery. And when there was no parental audience to annoy, they always did sort it out.
I want to reassure my children that I’m fully committed to being their mother for the rest of my useful life. But hopefully there will now be fewer occasions when I’m called on to transfer money between bank accounts at short notice, and to provide lifts in the middle of the night. I did a rough calculation the other day and realised that I’ve been a parent at nineteen schools and playgroups, bought about fifty-two pairs of school shoes and organised seventy-two birthday breakfasts.
I can truthfully say I love my children equally, which seems a miracle as they’re such different characters. I heard recently that ‘very few parents love one child more than the other, but at different times in raising children, favouritism is unavoidable.’ Mine have certainly all tried my patience at times, and have each had the honour of being the most and least favoured child an equal number of times. Or so it seems to me. I hope they remember it the same way.
My two sons and two daughters have given me many positive things. My life has been enriched immeasurably by their interests and quirks. From blues music and tennis to theatre, travel and politics, and most recently, Molly’s experiments with photography. And they’ve unintentionally pushed me to find out what I can do, and also what I can’t. I’ve had to learn patience. That’s been a struggle and there have been times when I’ve scraped up a last little bit from somewhere. There have been many occasions when I haven’t managed it.
It’s easy too, to talk about the selflessness of parenthood. The times when you have to do things you really would prefer not to. But there has to be a bit of selfishness too. You have to make some time for yourself and to keep sight of who you are. Otherwise you disappear down the plughole. That’s why the treats have helped me so much.
Another of the great things about the children is that they’ve made me laugh and Molly as the youngest has taken a highly individual approach to life. She preferred to get inside the duvet cover and regularly experimented with sleeping upside down. At the theatre she sat with her back to the stage. And when she was six, she packed her older brother’s ‘Never Mind the Bollocks’ CD in her satchel for ‘show and tell’ at school. With two older brothers and a sister she’s been desperate to keep up and has been ready for university since she was ten.
Her approach to cooking also bends the rules. Recently we had a family meal in the garden and she made a banana cake for pudding. As she carried it out she whispered to me. ‘If it’s not nice, could you say you made it.’ The first indications were promising. It looked good – a perfect loaf shape, sitting on the plate all ready to be cut into tempting slices. Luckily it tasted delicious, too so we asked how she made it. ‘I followed the recipe for chocolate chip cookies’ she said inscrutably.
And on this occasion, the final words are for Molly. In the week in which you finally join your brothers and sister as adults, I send you a great deal of love and want to pass on just a few tips:
- Remember that life is an adventure. You never know what each day will bring.
- Make your own happiness. Anything that other people provide is a bonus.
- Eat salad.
- Enjoy the sunshine but when it rains dress warmly, and try to enjoy that too.
- Keep your sense of humour, your curiosity about life and your open, loving heart.
And lastly, be adaptable and don’t worry too much about following a recipe for life. Sometimes the chocolate chip cookies come out as cookies and sometimes they come out as banana cake.
It’s just the way things are.