Motherhood hasn’t come naturally to Daisy Leverington. Four-and-a-half years in and she remains wide-eyed, terrified and in awe of the little person she’s responsible for. This week she reflects on how quickly things change. And raspberry-fuelled black eyes.
It’s been a little while since I wrote anything about motherhood or my daughter; we seem to have been busy having a series of firsts and lasts which have taken up so much of the precious little time which childhood metes out.
With two jobs and a child in full-time education, it’s easy to forget that she’s still only four, and prefers a knee-snuggle and fairy tales before bed to the discipline of homework and rushed kisses goodbye.
It’s taken the best part of her first school year for her to be brave enough to walk into school alone. A predictable flurry of tears at the door gave way to a sad wave from the bottom of the steps, which turned into a confident march up the path on her own, and now we’re lucky if she remembers to say goodbye.
So many firsts quickly evolved into lasts, and I was always a bit too rushed to see them happening. Sprinting back to my car to get to work in time, I got annoyed with her when she faltered; I didn’t have the time to gently encourage her to make the short journey on her own.
She’s overcome her nerves by herself, but I can’t shake the feeling that I should’ve been a bit more present for the changes.
Our daughter lives in a whirlwind of parental shift patterns, grandparent bedtimes and never knowing if Mum or Dad will be around to tuck her in. I usually manage about three bedtimes a week, and no matter how late I work (usually getting home at midnight) I always get up in the morning to do her hair before her dad takes her to school.
Missing out on sleep is an easy price to pay for missing out on so many bedtime stories and cuddles.
Sometime she astounds me with her knowledge. Things she picks up at school are littered through our conversations, incongruous titbits of facts stolen from her teacher and dropped casually into chat at home.
“Mummy, my painting looks just like a Matisse,” she threw out the other day, as well as “That cartwheel was exactly like the life cycle of a butterfly.” As hilarious as these are, they feel alien to my ears.
For so many years the extent of her knowledge and understanding came exclusively from her dad and me, so it’s odd to hear her relate things back to us which we haven’t taught her. Which is exactly what school is for, so I don’t know why I find it so bizarre.
We seem to have said goodbye to so many babyish mannerisms and preferences too, without noticing them disappear. She no longer likes to play in the bath for ages. A quick shower and back to business now, if you please. Everything must have an attainable goal before it is begun.
Lazy afternoons in the garden have been replaced by ‘we need to practise a perfect handstand’ or ‘this is my new game and here are the rules which mean you’ll never win’.
Everything has a vague air of competition now. Her achievements are measured against my own. “Mummy, did you do such brilliant handstands when you were little?” is a worry she now has, and I suppose being in a class of 30 means her competitive spirit is in full bloom.
We’ve nearly completed an entire school year, and the changes in all of us are enormous. I have a shiny new job, which makes me happier than I’ve been in a while, and my husband’s workload is picking up after years of cuts to arts funding.
Yet as we’re getting back on our feet we’re realising we don’t have a tiny little girl any more who runs wildly across the park to meet us after a long shift, we have an older little lady who waits patiently to tell us about phonics and won’t let us raspberry her belly without giving us a black eye.
Such huge changes for such a little girl, and the residual guilt of busy parents. I need to remember to pause occasionally, to take photos often and to forgive myself for working my arse off to provide her with everything she needs.
Firsts and lasts don’t need to be a sad thing; maybe they are just all part of a more complex journey.
Read all of Daisy’s Motherhood columns here.
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Daisy Leverington - Actor, mother, expert at winging it.