The Blog

Mother's the Middle Years

When our children are very young we think we are in a living Hell.We think that nothing could EVER be as bad as this living Hell, except possibly if our father-in Law came round for tea as well and pointed out how we should just relax more.

I was woken yesterday morning by my 11-year-old son, who came into my bed at 6am, farted loudly, and then announced that he couldn't sleep because he had 'flappy snot.'

As starts to Mother's Day go, this is pretty much standard for most of us. If it's not a bed full of itchy crumbs and sticky marmalade, it's shrieks of joy at 5am, spilled water from bunches of flowers, and cards covered in glitter that you're still removing from the crevices of your ageing skin, some four weeks later.

It's truly the most relaxing day of the year.

But one of the thousands of foolish traits possessed by humans, is that we don't appreciate anything we have . . .until it's not there.

Youth, loose change, toilet paper.


Then one day we wake up, blinking into the blinding light of Now, like a mole emerging from a month's crawl through the Eurotunnel, looking at Calais and thinking, actually, can I go back please?

Motherhood is the same.

When our children are very young we think we are in a living Hell.We think that nothing could EVER be as bad as this living Hell, except possibly if our father-in Law came round for tea as well and pointed out how we should just relax more.

For this, we want to kill him, but resist because he is very occasionally useful for emergency babysitting.

When we're deep in the exhausting, constant shit of the Early Years, the temptation to abandon our children in a petrol-station forecourt with a packet of Skips to keep them going and a note saying 'Out of Order' taped to its dummy, can be overwhelming.

These jolly Early Years, suffocating us slowly from all sides like a gigantic, infected pustule of exhaustion, tantrums, resentment, laundry and human excrement, has the unfortunate side-effect of somewhat overshadowing the beauty and wonder and loveliness of life with young children.

'God, I can't WAIT until they grow up!' I'd think, crawling across the floor to put the jigsaw puzzles away every night, folding mountains of tiny items of clothing, reading The Gruffalo and doing all the voices for the 1000th time until my neck snapped my eyes turned to dust and crumbled onto the Star Wars duvet cover, taking the nappy bins out, scraping the scrambled egg off the kitchen floor and trying to get a raincover to stay ON THE DAMNED BUGGY.

I can't WAIT, I'd think, until this is over.

Over and over.

And over again.

And then that thing happens.

We wake up a few years later...and it IS over.

Instead of nappies and sleepless nights we're juggling GCSE options and puberty; relationship breakdowns and unfathomable sadness; teenage eye-rolls and 3-hour queues for the bathroom; career catastrophes and a creeping, deepening sense of loss as the little people we've been trying to get a break from for fifteen years suddenly start to pull away from us, and we realise we miss them terribly, and. . .Jesus, is that CHIN HAIR??

And what every parent I know in the Middle Years misses, is the unfettered, pure, simple JOY and happiness of those early years.

I miss it.

I miss the smiles, chuckles and toothless grins.

I miss grabbing a handful of chubby ankles and kiss-me cheeks.

I miss being able to kiss those cheeks without the kiss being wiped off IMMEDIATELY, even when they are asleep, lest they contract Mummy Leprosy.

I miss the immediate, incomparable reward of making a child giggle.

I miss hearing 'Mummy, look what I've made!'I miss being able to pick my children up and cuddle all of them in one soft bundle of Child; not being blinded by a bony elbow or a shoulder that's higher than I am.

I miss SMILING. There is not enough smiling, in the choppy, deep and unchartered waters of the Middle Years.

And if I'm honest, I think I miss feeling needed and wanted; feeling loved, and appreciated.

Babies and Toddlers are like intravenous happiness, washed down with giggles and a double shot of adoration. One game of peek-a-boo and you're a hero.

By mild contrast, teenagers can look at you with eyes that summon up all the hatred, shame, pity, rage, embarrassment and disgust it's possible for one person to muster, and shoot it like a burning dagger, deep to the long-wilted maternal heart.

And they do. About ten times a day, before they go to school.

We don't really wish the Early Years back, of course; It was, after all, a LIVING HELL.

But it doesn't mean we don't miss aspects of it.

It can take years to realise that this new tired heaviness and unshakable sadness that hits in the Middle Years, which we think might be depression, or midlife crisis or the wrong kind of under-eye cream, is in fact just a deep, unspoken, unrecognised grief at the loss of something so magical and beautiful, purely and totally, unashamedly, freely HAPPY, as young children.

And we never really get that back.

Those children are gone now.

The people who inhabit my house are not those people.Their faces have changed, bodies have morphed into someone else's, voices have dropped, teeth have been straightened, moods have been altered, and characters have been transformed.

They are new people. I have fallen in love with the new 'them', and I adore them. They're wonderful people, changing all the time, and impressing and inspiring me with all the things they can do now - by themselves, and with me.

But it doesn't mean I don't miss who they were when they were little, and who WE were, individually and as a young family, back then.

Sometimes I feel as if these Middle Years are a long, slow goodbye, to the people I gave birth to and nurtured, taught and played with, helped and loved.

The bereavement is long, slow, and refreshed every day because we live IN it, constantly.

It's completely normal to feel a sadness for a time that's gone, and grief at not having sticky-faced children who still sit on your lap and kiss you.

Almost every mother I know who has teenagers, feels as sense of preparing herself for the day her children pack their bags, and go off into the world - and is living with children who are so independent and grown up now, they have half left already, even though they still live at home and want clean clothes, food and money.

And kisses. Still plenty of those.

So this Mother's Day, while I still craved a day of peace and solitude, and even managed to read a whole newspaper supplement without having willies drawn all over Caitlin Moran's face while I was trying to read her column, I will be thinking all day about my role as a mother, how that has changed over the years, and how few years I have left now with all of my children living at home with me.

Years that I now count on the fingers of one hand. Weeks and days and hours that I now value and appreciate SO much.

Because one day soon, it WILL be gone. And I want to try and appreciate it while I still have it. Just like toilet paper.

Happy Mother's Day to you ALL. Hope you enjoyed every moment of it.

Liz Fraser's new book, Lifeshambles, a hilarious delve into the Middle Years, is available to buy NOW: