My friend and I were chatting the other day about how our two boys will be turning 7 in the next few months. Her eldest and my youngest, the fastest of friends, are slowly moving out of that first phase of childhood and into the next. The boys have been friends since they were both 3 and it occurred to me that they would not be able to remember a time when they didn’t know each other. Since there first memories were formed, the other was there.
I feel lucky that my little chap has two best chums, friends he sees at least once a week and would probably see every day if he got his chance. Both have very different temperaments, both bring out different aspects of his own personality and both have helped him evolve into who he is now. Not so very long ago Neirin really lacked confidence, he’d had some ‘not so nice’ experiences with other kids and his already quiet temperament was being driven underground. But spending time only with good friends, friends who play kindly and who never say nasty things, has given him confidence and happiness.
I’ve watched, marvelled even, at the special moments he’s shared with the other kids in his life. It’s easy to fall into the trap of seeing children as heartless and mean, casually cruel to one another. But that is a learned behaviour and one that is either tolerated or not. Kids often have to evolve a ‘thicker skin’ to deal with the unkindness that adults don’t want to deal with, but I really don’t think that is their job. Whenever I’ve felt disheartened at the behaviour that is ‘out there’ in the world, I’m always uplifted when I see the boys spending time with their close friends; where kindness and support is pretty much a given, a baseline that is expected.
Don’t get me wrong, our kids are learning as they go along, just like any others. But when there are adults around willing to step in, willing to enforce standards of behaviour and kindness that are seen as essential, things tend to go pretty well. All kids have their moments, their not so great behaviours, reasons to apologise, reasons to change sometimes. But that is part of their journey together, something they are teaching each other. They are learning to be frustrated, they are learning to tolerate, they are learning to speak up, they are learning to be a bit more flexible. It’s a journey that we’re all going through really, once that never ends.
This homeschooling adventure we are on in it’s 6th year and so there are people who’ve known my kids for quite a while. Recently we noticed that Huwyl has overtaken a very petite friend of mine who’s known him since he was 5. When we were talking about how big he is now, how the fatal day of being taller than a grown up had finally arrived, she said something incredibly wise that really stayed with me. My friend explained to my ever growing boy that ‘You are always changing and turning into new people, but we stay the same for you. You think you are the same person but to us you’ve changed completely, so we grieve a little for the person that has gone.’ I admit there was a prickle in my throat as I acknowledged the truth of those words, the parent’s lot to be filled simultaneously with joy and pride, alongside a wistful sadness for a person who will never return.
But I don’t subscribe to the notion that “it’ll never be so good again”. That the only time you are ‘truly’ loved by your child is during that time of exhaustion and unknowing dependence that comes in the early years. While they are wonderful, magical and to be treasured, they are also exhausting, difficult and sometimes frustrating beyond measure. To be screamed at by a person when you are simply trying to stop them killing themselves, is an experience usually the province of medical professionals and a tad wearing to the average person.
My boys are leaving (or have left) that first flush of childhood. Diapers and nursing is a thing of the past, we are entering the time of negotiation, of learning to be themselves, of explaining the way of things and sometimes hearing wisdom in return. The footing of our relationships are changing as they learn skills for themselves, learn what they can do for themselves and begin to imagine themselves in the world, just a little. Boxes of trains are packed away, clothes are passed on and books have been removed from shelves that no longer reflect who they are.
There are moments in our house when things fall quiet and no one is drawing on the walls. I sometimes go looking, wondering if there is mischief afoot, to discover both boys reading quietly in different spots in the house. These moments are not the norm but there are spaces developing, spaces where they, and I, can find our own thoughts. And I love it. I love being able to talk rationally to them and not be screamed at, I love not having to bend over until my back breaks, lifting, carrying, holding, dressing, cleaning oh so endlessly. I love laughing at a dry remark or silly joke from one of my boys, I love being able to talk about the world we live in, about why our family lives as we do, about what I’ve learned from life.
I think part of the joy of now is that when the boys were little(er) we really lived it. We slept, nursed, snuggled, played along side each other. I sling carried, slept with them for years, had them very much attached for as much time as possible. I remember keenly the joys and frustrations of the toddler years, the moments since that have challenged and uplifted. Each phase has something wonderful about it, each phase has lessons and struggles. To deny one is to deny the other, to my mind.
So much as I may miss the little fellows who slept between Stephen and I, equally I appreciate uninterrupted nights and a lack of midnight kicking. Who the boys are now is just as wonderful as who they were at 2. There is just as much magic, just as much hilarity, just as much love as there ever was. When it comes to it, that is the real reason I decided to homeschool, I didn’t want to miss these years. I didn’t want the early years to be the ones with the most memories, I appreciate being able to spend each day with the boys, to walk alongside them as they learn and grow.
And when I squeeze my little chap’s cheek to my own, his skin still smooth with enough baby chubbiness to remind me of his former self, I cling tight. I try to stop and savour the many hugs a day, I try not to get lost in the busyness of life and brush away their offers of affection. I fail as often as I succeed, I know that to be true, but at least I’m trying and that’s all I can offer. But I don’t want to get lost in melancholy because, for as long as I have breath, I’ll walk beside them. When they tower above me, when they are off into the world, my arms will always be there ready to be filled up with cuddles.