Last Friday was my youngest daughter’s 5th Birthday, which was celebrated with all the excitement and enthusiasm of a newly turned 5 year old. There was a trail of shredded wrapping paper, Barbie shoes, Octonaut stuff and various other brightly coloured, small plastic things designed to be trodden on by unsuspecting parents.
I’ve always loved my my children’s birthdays; sharing in the anticipation and joy of the day, organising the parties – and I’ve done plenty of those.
My daughter’s 5th birthday represents the 51st birth day I have celebrated – the combined ages of my 3 daughters. Every birthday, I always think back to their original birth day. My labour and the first precious moments of my child’s life. And they remain incredibly vivid. I’m very lucky that each of my birthing experiences were straight forward, although as different and individual as my daughters. I acknowledge there was pain and discomfort, but mostly, I remember and celebrate three intensely powerful and joy-filled births.
I imagine there will always be a moment on my children’s birthdays when I reflect about their birth and their earlier years. Moments of pride at how I have, and am, guiding them through life. But also moments of regret as I consider what I could have done differently.
And as the birth days roll by, I realise how much of the early years of parenting are just preparation for when your children get older. Sure, the early years are physically demanding and pass by in a fog of sleep deprivation, endless preschool energy and infectious enthusiasm for quirky displays such as ballet scootering, or playing out complicated games that are peppered with ‘Now just pretend…’. Not to mention the fussy food habits, tantrums, nappies etc, etc. But all this fades into a mist coloured a soft shade of rose as one looks at the grunting, surly teenager imprisoned by hormonal urges they can’t control, let alone begin to understand.
As the birth days shift into double figures, the emotional and psychological demands are far more taxing, far more exhausting than anything your little one could possibly hope to throw at you. You are no longer the love of their life, but the bitch who ruined their life. For Ever More. And don’t even attempt to wander through the school gate with them, or deliver them to the front doors of parties, which don’t have friendly afternoon starting and finishing times. These parties start when you’re about to sit down with a glass of wine and then you remember you to have leave your cosy couch at 1am to pick them up. Remind yourself, as I did, that you too were once a teenager and survived to become a relatively normal adult, so there’s every chance your teenager will too.
As they move into young adulthood, you’ll discover the paradox of parenting. That the children you coaxed from their birth day on to become independent and self sufficient individuals, become just that and are off living their own lives, away from the nest.
Birthdays are happy and celebratory, and for parents they bring the extra perspective of reflecting on the life that began on a birth day.