I recently realised that there are certain new things that my four year old can now do and enjoy. This is fab news – I can only feel pleased, proud and excited. On the other hand there are certain barriers to many activities – well, one specific barrier actually, called EJ. Having just returned from a ‘child-friendly holiday’ I have come away in a reflective mood, with those feelings (please tell me I’m not alone here!) of time slightly wasted by being unable to participate in life to the full whilst a newly toddling baby is in the picture. You know the thing, we’ve bought a fishing net and a bucket, we’re suited and booted in our wellies, there’s a beautiful beach with lots of quirky rock pools to explore, JJ’s raring to go, but eh-ah (noise of wrong answer from Family Fortunes) EJ is stuffed in a backpack and screaming because he really just wants the opportunity to run off into the sea and get swept to America/scale the nearest rocks and bungee off (minus the rope), etc, little thrill seeker.
I know that once EJ hits the age JJ is now we will be able to do the more interesting stuff together as a family. As well as rockpooling, I’m looking forward to theme parks, miniature railways, picnics and playing with bats and balls in the park in the summertime, conker gathering in autumn, sledging when it snows, holidays abroad with the kids on lilos in outdoor pools, maybe even camping trips, messing about in boats, playing silly card games together at Christmas and going to pantos as a family amongst many, many other things.
I recently expressed this feeling (in a more succint and vague way) in a Facebook post and one of my friends (who has a little boy JJ’s age) asked if I wasn’t wishing my life away or assuming that things would get easier. On reflection I don’t think I am and I wonder if this question itself assumes that to ‘look forward’ is synonymous with ‘wishing away’. I look forward to going to see Russell Brand live in December with my sister but that doesn’t mean I think Winter 2013/14 will be some kind of perfect magical time in my life. I look forward to watching the Great British Bake Off on a Tuesday evening but I don’t assume that it will preclude the possibility of any number of other irritating things happening to me on a Tuesday! And neither do these looking forwards negate any feelings of happiness or contentment I might have in the more mundane here and now. But they are highlights and I feel like its pretty normal to have things, either concrete, in the diary, or just more long-term goals and imaginings in order to keep motoring on through the day to day ordinariness of an average life.
I wonder too about the difference in attitude to this subject from the point of view of only-child parents. Maybe it is hard to imagine the (albeit temporary) spanner in the works that a second baby throws in there. Or, for someone who absolutely adored the baby stage and enjoyed every second of it (strange but true apparently!) and who maybe won’t be having another for any number of reasons, perhaps this ‘looking forward’ speaks to them of looking away from the beautiful baby and not counting blessings and being ungrateful. But that’s not true either. There’s a difference between enjoying nurturing a baby, the cuddles and smiles and physical closeness, and then on the other hand the fact that older children are actually more fun and more interesting! (and yes, more irritating and demanding in a plethora of a different ways!).
I notice, having written this, that there is a bit of a conflict in the original two-point argument that to look forward (through childhood) is both to assume things will get easier, and at the same time to ‘wish away’. The first point implies that things are not easy with a baby (my thoughts) and the second point assumes that things are so great with a baby that you shouldn’t ever look any further than the here and now.
I wonder if there are other people out there who, like me, feel that they are not really great at the small child bit of this parenting experience? I know lots of people who have managed to do any number of amazing things with a baby in tow, and any number of toddler-involved creative projects like baking, awesome artworks and educational growing and planting projects. I envy these people because they seem to have more time, inventiveness and get up and go than I do, but I also know that every child is different and my little boy does not have the attention span for those artsy, craftsy, creative things and is more of a mad, active, outdoorsy child. I suspect this is more the case with boys in general… I guess this is why I know that the things we will be able to do later in childhood will suit both him and me more. I just wish that it was more commonly accepted that we are not all the same and neither are our children.