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Mama Said: Starting school is the end of an era

With her youngest about to start school, figuring out the early-years stage is over for Emily Martin

Her youngest starting school marks the end of an era for Emily Martin (58910156)
Her youngest starting school marks the end of an era for Emily Martin (58910156)

People always say children grow up fast but, in the case of mine, they have actually grown up as though we’ve lived in the Large Hadron Collider. They were born literally yesterday and now they’re both about to be at school aged nearly 9 and nearly 5. What?

Milestones are feeling increasingly bittersweet as we face the last days at this and final times of that. Yesterday my son drew me a picture and handed it to me saying he’d put a “4” in the corner saying: “So you can always remember I did it when I was 4.” And I cried. I’m crying a lot.

Initially having children was such a complete shock and huge adjustment, I remember new motherhood feeling as though I had died and restarted in a new life I wasn’t too sure I liked. But nine years later, the relentlessness of caring for the two of them has become my entire reason for living. And if that sounds dramatic then that’s exactly correct.

I work four days a week but being their mother still consumes 100% of my time, my money and my heart. My body has become so used to executing our familiar routines that I feel I could do them with my eyes closed. I could probably just carry on living this way forever. Like athletes who train so hard and so long that their muscles become honed to execute just one specific activity and their bodies look strange out of context, but out on the track/field or in the pool, they fit perfectly. They are at home.

I can feel the jolt of a new reality heading towards me like an arctic blast. That first day when I drop them both off at the same place and come home to our house to do, what? It will again feel like a death and new beginning at the same time. The childcare problem - a puzzle to be solved every week since my eldest was born 468 weeks ago – is now solved. Those two Rubik’s cubes, twice handed to me in a hospital, have suddenly clicked round to show the same colours on all 12 sides.

I’ve been extremely fortunate in that I’ve worked freelance for most of it. I’ve often been able to work at home and juggle things around so I could pretty much always be there to take and collect them from various places. Well, I say I’ve been fortunate, but also, there has been a trade-off for sure. Compared to many of my friends, both those who have children, and those who don’t, I’d say I’m exactly 9 years behind them in terms of career. I don’t have a senior-level job like they do even though I will be 40 in December and feel as though I should. My colleagues are often 20 years younger than I am. Or at least I think they are from looking at their little pixelated faces. I know they spend their tiny salaries on their enormous rent and the odd avocado, whereas I spend mine on school dinners and end-of-term gifts for teachers.

But I’ve done the early years the only way I knew how to do it and, during that time, I’ve been divorced, sold my house and moved back in (baby in tow) with my parents. Then moved back out again when I bought a house with Tom, had another baby and somehow juggled co-parenting with my ex who himself has remarried and had a new baby. A lot has happened in nine years and I find myself facing this new chapter, not so much raring to go but instead thinking maybe I’ll keep Wednesdays free and use it to just try to deal with everything that’s happened and maybe even have a little rest.

I have battled, strived, solved, adapted, created, organised, fixed, cleaned up, not slept and loved every single minute of these early years with my two children. Girl of course is further along as she prepares to enter Year 4, she and I are used to her routine heading off to school. But me and the Boy had our last ever “mummy day” yesterday. Wednesday has been our day for a long time and so we did what we always do. We went to town for a look round the shops. I pushed his buggy and chatted to him saying he’s probably a bit big for it now, and he pulled the hood over his head and said I would look pretty in all the dresses as we pushed past racks of clothes and I trailed my free hand along the fabric. Then, instead of buying a new dress, I bought him some lunch and we sat together and said how nice it was that we can spend the day this way.

And whilst I have a lump in my throat as I type, I am looking forward to having Wednesdays off from now on. “Mummy day” can turn to “Emily day”. And I can sit down and maybe figure out who I am now, after everything. And see what, if anything, there is left of who I was before.


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