January has been a weird month for me. Ever since returning from our trip to America, I have been wandering in this unexpected desert of dissatisfaction. My ambitions have wandered. I have gone from wanting to stay in my job to wanting to be a stay at home parent to wanting to open a burger bar. (I blame you for that, Britain. Sort your burgers out!) My thoughts have wandered. I have found myself losing hours of my time flicking through site after site on the tablet, knowing that I’m searching for something, but not really knowing what it is that I want to find. I have been hoping, whatever it is, that I would find it on Not on the High Street.
I could feel it all happening. I knew the cause of my tiresome circuit through this decision-less desert. I was simply dissatisfied, but I continued to do the same things day on day through the month of January. I felt it affecting me. I felt it affecting how I was parenting. I couldn’t muster up the motivation to do more. I would just let her get on with playing as my thumb would repeatedly slide across a screen – searching.
And then last week The Duchess turned 20 months. That doesn’t even sound like a real thing, does it? 20 months. Lost somewhere between a baby and a girl.
I decided that I should probably start to look into the local pre-schools. In some areas of the UK, it can take up to 18 months before a place becomes available for your child. And so this morning, as she was picking at the remnants of her breakfast, I leaned across the table and asked excitedly, “Do you want to go see a school today?” She didn’t raise her eyes as she flicked the toast on her plate, “Yup.” I grinned. “You don’t know what school is.”
I carried her up to the painted yellow door of the tired looking building because carrying is what you do when they are still little enough. Despite the neglected exterior, the large room was brightly coloured with children scattered on the floor, sitting in a reading nook and on themed tables, engaged in various activities.
“Hi, I’m Jane. We spoke on the phone.” She was the supervisor of the pre-school. She was a slim, middle-aged lady who took the time to chat with me beyond just the standard explanation of how the school runs. I liked her. She invited us to stay and let The Duchess play.
As she started to make her way around the busy room, I looked back at a group of children on the floor. About 10. Adults were around, but not needed in that corner at the moment and 10 children were there by themselves. Without their mummies. Without their daddies. Playing in a room, in a village and getting on with life. Because that’s how school works. My child will move from being solely ours each day to being one in a class of many.
She is 20 months and I was reminded of how special this privilege of parenting a toddler is. This time is precious. It is so, so precious.
And right then, I made a decision to be more present. Because in 18 months this time will change. She will start school and that will be the next huge step towards independence – a step that is away from me.
So this is what I’m going to do. 3 things. Only 3. But I am going to do the poo out of them.
1. Put the technology down. I don’t want her to feel that she has to compete with a piece of plastic for my attention. She is my daughter. I also don’t want to teach her that this is what relationships are like when she is someday old enough to have technology of her own. Who knows what kind of crazy hologram, space contraption will be on the market by then. She is watching me and I am teaching her how to treat other people.
2. Doing stuff together. I’ve just started a book (read: a whole 3 pages in) where he opens by observing, in a restaurant of non-engaged people, a mother and daughter completely lost in each other’s company during a simple game of cards. Doing stuff together builds relationships. I will not buy a ticket for the crazy train and assume that I have to create a pinboard of elaborate activities in order for it to be worthwhile. The kid likes it if we walk into town and scream “bus” whenever one passes. Doing stuff is easy. There is no excuse.
3. Look closely. I am going to look closely at the way she crinkles her nose when she is pleased with herself. I am going to focus my eyes as she lifts her hand to wrap her chubby fingers into mine. I am going to study the tendrils of hair that fall and tickle the bottom of her neck. I am going to relish and remember 20 months. And 21 months. And 22…..