This is What Happens To a Family in Five Years.

Lizzie 15

The first five years were the chaos that parenting websites write about daily. We had every size of diaper or nappy, a high chair (or two) at the table, and the hour that ran between dinner and bath time was the shit show that only a parent of small children can understand.  It was all about crowd control. We’d collected five strollers, three car seats and an undisclosed amount of sippy cups. By the time our eldest had turned five she had lived in four countries and was on her second passport. She greeted new siblings with the excitement of Christmas perhaps because they appeared almost as regularly. If a stranger struck up a conversation it usually began with a jovial  “you’ve got your hands full” or “are they all yours?”

The next five years was a time of physicality. Training wheels were attached, shoes laces were tied and little voices demanded to be heard “I do it myself” and “No, don’t help, I can do it” or “I a big boy now.” We all spoke in the first person “Mummy will be very grumpy if you keep putting the cheerios in your ears” or “Annie is very good girl, Annie needs donut, Annie wouldn’t put donut in her ears”. People learnt to dress themselves, carry plates to the sink, and read with confidence. Parent/teacher nights were attended where we discussed handwriting, attention spans and books to read over the summer. I returned to the office and kept my desk blank, a picture of my children would have felt akin to removing my heart and placing it on the desk. When I met the VP of our division at the Starbucks close to the office to discuss our strategy for acquiring a major client, I couldn’t stop myself from watching a mother with a toddler on her lap and a baby by her side – a muffin which had been decimated was scattered over her table. And while I was releived to be crumb-less and without a stroller, my arms felt weirdly empty. Each time I walked past someone with a baby I stopped myself from saying “I have one of those at home”. They were with me always, a stray wet wipe in my handbag, a half nibbled biscuit on my car seat a greasy handprint on a work blazer.

The next five years have been our last five years, it began with our arrival in Qatar. The first birthday was the first child to turn double digits, it felt monumental. “How did you get so old?” I asked more than once. We baked cupcakes for teachers and students and made our usual walk into the school. Our morning ritual involved dropping each child at their door one by one, Kindergarten, Grade 1, and finally Grade 4. I began my Doha days with Henry Hotdog as my constant companion, either on my hip or at my side.

We bought a beach house in Australia and began to measure our heights on the door frame of our first piece of Australian property. We made a home in Qatar, built relationships and changed careers. We joined sporting clubs, learning sports we’d only ever seen in the movies, and got up early for weekend games. We held bake sales, built lemonade stands, and ruled the park. We grew, some of us are twice the size we were when we arrived, including me.

Last week as we drove past the gates of the “little” school a voice from the back said “How come you never walked us into school?”

“Are you serious? I walked you into school every day!”

“Really?” they had forgotten.

I wondered what else was gone. The bedtime song, the dance movements I’d made to go with skin-amarinky-dinky-dink. The birthday parties, the cakes, the kisses that made it better, the concerts, the class parent roles.

I watched from afar as my newly turned fifteen year old played her own music on her own stereo in the backyard with friends, film clips were projected onto the wall. Girls reapplied make-up and occasionally checked their phones in between fits of giggles and joining in on the chorus. I thought of the magician who scared her at her fourth birthday, the rock-climbing wall at her sixth, the ice-skating party, the pool party. The phases that were all consuming which are now invisible; the braces, the trombone, friends who have moved on. The cliches were all there, it truly was the longest shortest time. I was tired and emotional. It had been the busiest of weeks, a new client for our podcast, a sponsorship deal for the blog and a proposal to be written. And while I thought about all I had to do and how quickly this year (our last year before she heads off to school) was going, I realised as she was moving on I was moving with her.

With the return to university and the start of my own business, perhaps my children have watched me grow in the past five years as much as I have watched them. While I still think about them roughly 943 times a day we’re somehow finding a balance. They remain to own each millimetre of my heart and can stop a day’s plans with a phone call – but they understand when they call I have my own responsibilities they’ll have to work around.

This is what five years looks like. We rarely go to the park anymore (which I am more than happy about) now that we’re older we’ll sometimes sneak down to the pool for a swim after dinner. We kick the footy, throw hoops and catch balls. We invite families to join us for outdoor movie nights, our children are made to contribute, they know how to take the top off of a beer and which glass the champagne goes into. My mother’s day breakfast is now edible AND it arrives on a fancy plate. I sign consent forms, reach into my wallet for hotdog lunches, and volunteer in the concession stand at the softball tournament – my involvement in the school no longer involves standing in the craft room and cutting out pumpkins. I like this space, this is a good space to be in, people rarely throw up on me and I haven’t wiped anyone’s bum but my own for quite some time.

While I’m nostalgic for those little chubby fingers and bedtime routines I wouldn’t give up a second for the tiny snippet of time where I catch my children mid grin over a shared joke that comes with the maturity of age. “I hope they remember this bit” I’ll often think when someone throws their head back in laughter. I’m not sure if they will. Why didn’t you walk us into school?

This is what five years looks like.

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