‘No, no, no, no, no!’
I struggle to hold back a burst of laughter as my daughter exclaims with attitude, wagging her finger sternly. At nineteen months old, she knows exactly what she wants, and what she doesn’t. She is a beautiful blend of determination, courage and affection, topped off with the most brilliant mass of uncontrollable blonde curls.
Earlier in the week, we bundled up with rosy cheeks and red noses just visible between woolly hats and winter coats. The bitter wind and winter sun provided the perfect backdrop as I carried that same little girl down the cliff path to the beach. With a hint of disappointment, I noted the high tide and gentle waves breaking just metres away as I placed her down on the sand. But there was only pure excitement on her face. She pointed joyfully at the sea and ran, only stopping when I grabbed her as the waves splashed over the top of her wellies. Within moments, her wellies were strewn among the strands of seaweed while she laughed and dug her bare toes into the damp sand.
Watching my daughter pick up every pebble attentively and letting the sand fall through her fingers I felt myself fill with pride and wonder. Where did all this come from – all the bravery and huge personality? When did she grow up this much?
It’s hard to explain that feeling. It’s definitely not sadness – there’s too much happiness and excitement about the here and now to mourn the end of the baby days – but there’s just something. Some nagging appreciation that the common words ‘they grow up so fast’ are so very true.
For now, though, that feeling is just a glimpse of things to come. I’m reminded of that as my little girl (she is definitely still my little girl and I will most likely always think of her that way) grips my hand tightly standing at the front door of the nursery. She has her coat zipped up, miniature rucksack on her back and a serious look on her face. As the door opens, she stretches her arms up, reaching out to me. Her face creases as she begins to cry, clinging on to me. She knows where we are. I know she will stop crying and become completely absorbed in making a pretend cup of tea within minutes. But for now, everything is a little bit new and a little bit too much.
This nursery is new. The feelings aren’t. On my part, the overwhelming love that means it hurts to walk away while she is crying. On her part, the wariness of too much that is new, the desire to explore with the reassurance of the familiar. But I know already what will happen next. I will feel a little less uneasy taking a step back and allowing her to work things out for herself; she will once again find her bearings, find her brave. This is what lies ahead for years to come, growing together and learning to navigate our changing surroundings.
One day I won’t be asking ‘when did she grow up this much?’, it will simply be ‘when did she grow up?’ For now, the constant ebb and flow from brave to cautious and back again is a beautiful thing, because much as I love admiring her shouting and splashing in the water, I equally appreciate the smile on her face as she comes running back.
There’s the old saying – time flies when you’re having fun. We are, and it does. Part of me wants to press pause. But another (possibly bigger) part of me, doesn’t want to stop, because I can’t wait to see what happens next.