Before you were mine, little ones, I used to paint my nails.
I chose exotic colours - hot pink and blue chrome, sparkles and crackle and base coat and top coats, French polish and high gloss. My hands shone like peacocks, ready to show off to the world. But now my nails are short and unadorned, ragged and bitten at the ends. They do not flash or shimmer; they do not say 'look at me'.
Before you were mine, my loves, I read into the small hours. Books were dear, dear friends and the lives I imagined, the places I saw, tucked up with a book in hand - they permeated the real world and enriched it with wonder. But these days there is no time to read, save for work, or research, or a few lines that make little sense before I fall asleep. My thoughts are filled with shopping lists and bank statements and speech and language reports.
Before you were mine, my sweet babes, I straightened my hair and despaired when the rain made it curl or the wind made it cling to my lip-gloss. But now my hair is always scrapped back, in a band or bun, seldom thought of but for a cursory brush, only straightened for job interviews, weddings and funerals.
Before you were mine, sweethearts, I was rated as an outstanding teacher. I was dedicated, innovative, imaginative. But I am not a teacher any more. I let my colleagues down. I let you down. I let my pupils down. I could not continue, knowing that I could not be my best, knowing I was not outstanding any more.
Before you were mine, little boy, little girl, your daddy was my best friend. Friday nights were spent together in smoky pub corners, with Champagne Strawberry Fizzes, bright eyes, warm hands, and gentle, meandering conversations. Each new topic was a treasure trove to explore, as we learned to love one another.
But now we share a house and we share you and we share a mortgage and hours can pass with barely a thought or a word for each other.
There's no way back to the life before. The world has changed beyond imagining. But, little beans, there is a new life to explore.
My hands are there for your comfort - they cook, they dress, they change nappies and make bottles. They hold you tight and rub your backs when you are sad or poorly. My nails are short because their purpose is to take care of you; the first time I caught delicate, baby soft skin, I cut them and never grew them back.
There is no time to read for hours and get lost in a world of imagination but there is exquisite joy to be found in watching you grow and learn; the world is still touched with wonder; we see it new, every day, through your eyes.
When the wind blows, when it rains, I do not think of myself. My hair could not be further from my mind. I think of you. I think of keeping you safe and dry. I am less vain, less selfish - because, my babes, you are mine.
I am not a teacher. To help so many young people achieve their dreams was a truly exceptional thing; I gauged my worth as a person by how much I helped my pupils, by how much my colleagues admired and respected me. And now I have no pupils, no colleagues. No books to mark or deadlines to make. But I have two small people whose dreams I can help come true.
Your daddy is still my best friend. There are nights, tucked in our own home, with the curtains drawn and you two gently snoring upstairs, when we capture that delight in each other's company once more. We do not need Champagne and noisy night clubs - just us two - and sharing our delight in watching you become people, sharing our love for you.
I have felt nothing stronger than the absolute necessity that I must protect you. There is no agony more exquisite than the knowledge I would die for you, without a flicker of doubt, without a conscious thought.
In truth, my loves, you are not mine. I am yours - wholly, unequivocally, irrevocably yours. Some parts of me are paused while we raise you; some parts have been replaced by something else. Perhaps, one day, I will paint my nails and straighten my hair, and wear lip gloss and go to night clubs* again. Perhaps not.
But, for now, I would be no one else's, have no other life, know no other reality but this -
I am yours.
*I will never go to a night club again, if I can help it.