Where Did All The Years Go?

My daughter comes to hug me in the kitchen, as I wait for the kettle to boil. She has become so tall my chin can no longer comfortably tuck itself upon her head. I am so practised in bending my neck down to smell her hair I am struggling to adjust to find the rightness in meeting her embrace from this level place. Where did all those years go, I ask myself, and feel the tug in my heart that has been recently haunting me.

I walk past a woman with a new-born in her baby sling, the baby’s right cheek squashed against her mother’s breast, eyes shut in blissful oblivion. The woman looks tired, intent on the aisles in Whole Foods, and I imagine her lower back aching from that unfamiliar weight in the front of her, even whilst she absently kisses the top of her precious sleeping bundle whilst she picks out avocados. I want to stop that stranger amongst the vegetables and, looking her intensely in the eye, urge her to relish every present moment, even when exhausted by those nights after nights of disturbed sleep. I want to tell her to savour it all, to not complain about a moment of it, because before she will know it her daughter will be as tall as her and will no longer seek to snuggle a warm check against her side.

Where did all the years go? Where was I whilst my daughter’s limbs busied themselves in growing? I feel indignant, cheated almost, how sneaky of those limbs to grow so long. And I remember how her chubby, perfect baby foot could fit so sweetly in the L-shape of my thumb and index finger.

She was never what people call an easy baby, my eldest girl. I would watch with envy whilst other mothers’ babies would sleep for hours after lunch or gently coo in their cot. My daughter never mastered coo-ing and had little appreciation for sleeping. She insisted on doing life her way, from the moment she made her painful upside-down entry into that brightly lit hospital room. Huge eyes stared out at life and stranger after stranger, drawn in by those large blue eyes calling for connection, would stop me on the bus, in the park, or the coffee-shop to take a closer look.

She demanded closeness with a ferocious intensity, loudly voicing her disapproval at any attempts to separate. She insisted on hours at a time of lying on my chest, sipping at my breast. She refused to lie in the pram or cot her Dad and I had spent so many hours selecting, wanting arms not mattresses, laps not baby chairs, body heat not blankets. It was as if she knew at some innate level that this human thing we do in separating is quite wrong. Later, as a toddler, she would cuddle round my neck so tightly I would have to peel her off finger by finger to put her into bed. She learnt to scream for hours if left alone to sleep, and however large a bed she found herself in she would always sleep as tightly close to me as she could find her way.

And, all of this I resisted. So used to being alone and independent, I would feel guiltily suffocated by her demands, craving my physical space, longing for sleep, and hours apart. I read endless books on sleep training, took her to homeopaths, cranial-osteopaths, all in a desperate quest “to fix” this need for closeness.

And now I have what I so longed for. No more the soft patter of feet waking me from my half sleep, her standing in the door-frame, white flowered night dress and dishevelled bed hair. No more her uninvited climbs into my bed, warm little limbs wrapping around my own, finding their rightful shape. No more that little hand in mine, as we walked our way through life. The bed is all mine again. My hand is empty. And how I miss her.

No longer the centre of her Universe I long to be back there, to have again those trusting eyes, that insistent reach, that surrendered body snuggled so tightly into mine. Now, as we watch a movie together she sits on the very edge of the couch, cushions for support, on a good day grudgingly allowing me one foot to rub. Now I am pitifully grateful for those moments when she does come down to the kitchen to seek my company out. Now an unsolicited hug has come to make my day. Now it is I who goes to her room at night; and there I sit on the edge of her bed in the shadowy light, watching her sleep, finding my baby’s face, traces of it still there in her repose.

I want her back, my hearts insists. I can’t quite believe she not only has gone but will never return. I want to do it all again. I am angry that no one grabbed me as I wondered around so sleep-deprived, angry at myself for seeing so much struggle in it all, for wishing so much away. Why did no-one fiercely tell me to treasure every second, to take in every tender moment of her hand in mine, her leg on mine, because all of it would go away, never to come again and I would long for precisely that I was wishing away. Except of course they did, in their own way: all those wistful strangers on the bus. They knew what I couldn’t hear back then. Where did all those years go? Where was I as they passed?

And then I bend in toward her and kiss her level forehead, heart wide in maternal love. My almost adolescent baby bounces out of the kitchen, pony-tail swinging, singing loudly. And I sit to drink my mug of tea, grateful for our moment.



  1. Christelle says:

    Wow Susannah, how beautifully written! This brought tears to my eye. Ok, whilst this is probably not so hard to do as you know, this article really struck a cord.
    I am myself coming to the realisation that, whilst I knew in my heart that these moments were really precious and to be savoured, I didn’t – not really, not fully. I did not manage to be truly present to the beauty of this everyday life, the juggling, the demands, the lack of sleep and as I face the same fate as every parent of a ‘tenager’ (as she is now ten), I mourn those moments whilst learning to embrace what is here now for me as a mother.
    I am now calling my approach for this new phase, the gift of freedom and independance…as my butterflies spread their wings

  2. Beautifully put and so very true. Am living with this right now. It helps to know I am not alone.

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