Friday, March 21, 2014

The Unblocking

When he was born, he was his mumma’s little chubby piece of boyish perfection. She loved every roll, every dimple. He was everything she had dreamed of, and everything she hadn’t known to dream of. He fed and slept, fed and cuddled, fed and learned to smile. And they were happy.

He had colic and reflux, like many babies. He teethed, and got coughs and colds, and bumped his knees. When he cried, his mumma held him in her arms and warmed the hurt away with her love. And soon he stopped crying, and was happy again.

When he was a toddler, his sister was born. Like her brother, she was her mumma’s dream come true. The two of them grew and did all the normal things. When they laughed, their mumma basked in the sound. When they cried, her arms circled them until the hurt was gone.

Another baby sister came. Perfection, again.

What a lucky family they were.

Whenever something scary, or new, or strange happened, the mumma and the daddy wrapped their love around the three babies to keep them safe. And they were happy.

Then one day, someone so very bad came along he literally took their breath away.

He also took away Grandpa.

The whole world changed. Days blurred. Police came and went. There were visitors, and journalists, and people, all of them asking “why?”

The mumma and the daddy stood in the centre of the maelstrom, stunned. And did the only thing they knew how to do – they hugged their babies.

And those babies – oh my. Their grief was bigger than they were. It made them do things like throw temper tantrums, and stop eating, and say things like, “I hope I die in my sleep so I can go to heaven and be with Grandpa.”

The mumma and the daddy heard this and it broke them in two. But they kept on keeping on, feeding their babies and tucking them in at night, and most importantly, enfolding them with love.

And the only way the mumma and the daddy were able to keep on keeping on was because they too, were encircled in love. They were wrapped in ever-widening circles of arms from friends and the community, and even people they’d never met. People who sent messages and food and flowers and hugs, all of them simply sending love. And all of it helped put strength into the arms of the mumma and daddy.


Life without Grandpa is different. There’s a shadow where there used to be light. But his belly laugh resonates in his grandchildren. And his kindness shines from their eyes. Without Grandpa’s selfless act, the family would be without their Grandma too. No one can ever repay that.

There is not a minute in the day when we do not think of Grandpa, and the act that took him from us. It is something we have to learn to live with. Our family will never be free of that hurt. But we are so very lucky to have each other, and so many caring people around us. It is my hope that instead of living in the shadows of grief, perhaps one day we might be able to help another family through their trauma, as we are being helped through ours.

But it is in honour of Grandpa that we will continue to strive to be happy. That we will keep each other safe, just as he did. That we will hug each other and kiss goodnight, and laugh loud and often. And remember just how lucky we are.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

To Phoebe, on her sixth birthday

To my Phoebe, on your sixth birthday,

Being your mumma is, quite simply, amazing. With you, life is musical, magical, exuberant.

You are three-quarters the way through your first year at school. You are so enthusiastic about your teacher and going to school every day that you literally hum with happiness every morning. Only once this year did I insist that you were too sick to go to school, and made you stay tucked up on the couch. You cried, insistent that your teacher would wonder where you were, and that you would miss out on something "important".

You colour-in, and draw, and write constantly. I am forever finding notes written in your beautiful, scrawly script, love letters to Daddy and Mummy and Maisie (Jack usually receives instructions). I have never seen anyone colour for hours with so much joy. If contentment could be measured in butterflies and rainbows...our lives would be utterly content.

You have finally (finally!) grown hair long enough to be braided, and one of the nicest things anyone can do for you is comment on your long hair. It is thick and wavy, and every morning when I brush it, it is full of knots. But as long as you let me do your hair, I will have to do it exactly like yours - in a "flat" - for your little sister. The Mouse might be bossy and a right little madam at times, but in her eyes, Beebee is queen.

You never stop singing. More often than not, you pootle around warbling made-up songs but you're also quite partial to a bit of 80's. If I have encouraged you in that direction...well. I could have done worse, right? You adore your ballet lessons and I love watching you prance and twirl, especially in your fairy dress-ups. You are very tall for your age - everybody comments on your height -and in your ballet troupe, you stand out. Graceful and giggly in ballet shoes, smiling and stompy in tap shoes...often it's the goofy grin that sets you apart from the others.

You have been talking about turning six for several months now. Certainly, I was asked to calculate how many 'sleeps' until your birthday about 126 sleeps ago. This year, it was all about mermaids - we made clay mermaids (and dinosaurs for the boys) at your birthday party, and ate mermaid birthday cake. When you unwrapped a mermaid story book and a copy of "The Little Mermaid' on DVD this morning, the look on your face was gorgeous. The only thing that didn't have mermaids on it was your new bike, which we surprised you with on Sunday. Since then, you have lapped the driveway a thousand times, grinning broadly under your helmet and wobbling determinedly on your training wheels. Only the unceasing rain yesterday and today stopped you. Even when we got home from school today, you rode through the puddles until your birthday dinner was ready.

This afternoon I picked you up at school, just as someone was wishing you a happy birthday. "Mumma!", you exclaimed. "Today I am six, and when I wake up in the morning I'll still be six!" Yes, my darling, you will be. Every day you grow older, and recently I stopped wishing you were a baby again and learned to appreciate the little girl you are right now. Just because you have long, lanky legs and a gap-toothed grin, even though you barely fit on my lap and are big enough now to butter your own toast, despite the fact that you think you are quite grown-up and can read your own birthday're still my little girl. And how lucky am I to be the mumma of such an amazing little girl?

Your Argie, and your grandpa would be incredibly proud of you today. They both loved your sweetness, your spunk, your quick wit. They both revelled in your hugs and kisses. They could both see your sharp Maths brain, sometimes so fast it's scary. Since your fifth birthday, they have both gone to live in the rainbow. But their love for you is still everywhere, and I know that today, both of them would have been with you as you shared your birthday with your classmates. Both of them would have laughed, watching you decorate your own cake with Jack and Maisie tonight. Both of them would have been singing to you when you blew your number 6 candle out.

Today you are six, my Phoebalina Ballerina. You are kind, funny, caring and fun. You are sweet, fiery, crazy and intensely loyal. You hang off Pa's legs for more hugs. You play the clown to get Narnie's attention. You adore your brother and sister, and can be quite the stirrer. You are clever and happy and strong, and life without you is unimaginable. I cannot even begin to describe how big my heart had to grow, just to encompass the love I have for you.

Happy sixth birthday, my beautiful girl.
With love always,
Your Mumma xxx

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Taking the sunshine when it comes

I'm here.

I'm in the background, behind the scenes. I have been for a while.

I have so much to say, and no idea how to say it.

So, for now, all I will say is this. My little family is broken. I am trying so very hard to fix it.

Today, being Father's Day, illustrated everything that is right and good in my family. I hope to build on that.

I watched my children today with their Daddy. They showered him in love and smiles, because they would expect nothing less. It was a beautiful day, spent trawling the city in the sunshine. We let them run in circles and eat lollies. The Mouse kept wishing her Daddy a "happy Muvvers day". The kids were happy, most of the time, which made a big change from real life.

I watched my children tonight with their Pa. They kicked the footy, shrieked, laughed, and ate sausages. They got blue playdough everywhere. They played with their little cousin, and teased their uncle, and asked Aunty Miffy a thousand questions. They ate every single bit of fruit that Narnie cut up for them, and asked for more. I haven't heard Jack laugh that hard in ages. About 7 weeks, to be precise. It was so nice. Being normal.

My Dad - he is, and always has been, my mate. Put us together in front of Fawlty Towers, and we're a lost cause. I have always been so aware of how lucky I am to have a brilliant Dad. Tonight, I was reminded how lucky my kids are that they have such a wonderful Pa. The way he made them giggle and chase the footy tonight - it was exactly what I have needed to see and hear for weeks.

Seeing my happy little tribe this evening, you would have been forgiven for not realising something was amiss. You wouldn't know that my kids couldn't wish their Grandpa a happy Father's Day. You wouldn't see the grief in my husband's eyes, the fatherless father putting on a brave face for his babies. Thank heavens for the family we do have, and for their ability to surround us and our kids with love, to smooth out the edges on quite a long, emotional day.

My little family is broken. But the pieces that we are gluing back together are quite beautiful. Even when we are put back together, the cracks will still be visible. But with my whole family wrapping their arms around us, we will hold together. I'm sure of it.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

A letter to my Narnie

Dear Narnie,

I have so many memories of you. I remember sleeping on a mattress on the floor, next to your bed. I would tell you when you were 'snorting', probably disrupting your sleep several times a night.

I remember building cubbies out of blankets and chairs in your loungeroom, so that you literally had no living space for days on end.

I remember being terrified of your grandfather clock; of hiding in your magic pantry with the light that went on when you opened the door; of the enormous chest freezer that always had Eskimo Pies in it.

I remember being given an old margarine tub and a spoon, and spending hours in your beautiful forest of a garden, making 'perf'. I remember feeding the maggies on your deck. I remember being taken up to the Cross on the Mount, and finding Little Red Riding Hood's house.

I remember feeding the horses with you on crisp winter mornings, and freezing autumn nights, when the mice would leap from the bags of chaff in the shed. You were never afraid, or flinched from the task. I was always glad you were the one scooping your hands into the golden chaff, piling the buckets high for Joker and Willy's dinner. I can still remember the sweet scent of the lucerne we fed the horses when they got older, and needed more nourishment.

I know when my Mum was small, you had several beautiful cats, but when I was growing up there was always an adored and adoring Aussie terrier by your side. You would put their Good-o's on the carpet in the morning after they'd been outside, and when they'd been polished off, your little dog would sit patiently by Pa's chair until a corner of toast was offered. First Pixie and Hemingway, then Pepper, and then finally Joffa - all were enclosed in your circle of love. Even when the Ash Wednesday fires threatened your home, and you took refuge in the local pub with the rest of the town, you smuggled your dogs in with you rather than leave them in the ute. Thank goodness you did.

You had an aviary of canaries that enthralled me as a little girl. You used to go and talk to them while you fed them. It was the simple pleasure of their singing that you loved, so I loved it too. My one-and-only beloved Tweety came from you - the only "male" canary to ever lay eggs. But boy, could Tweety sing.

I remember crying at the end of every school holiday, when Mum and Dad would come to take me home. You would always break off a sprig of forget-me-not from the little patch at the top of your driveway and hand it to me, telling me that if I took it, I wouldn't forget you.

How could I? Even as a tiny girl, I knew we were old friends. You called us kindred spirits, and understood me like no one else. You were wise when I needed advice; brave when I needed courage; enthusiastic when I needed spirit, calm when I needed settling, and endlessly, endlessly, loving.

Over the years, you have given me so much. You told me stories of your parents and grandparents, instilling the family history in me. You gave me a thirst for knowledge; a desire to travel; the hope to be just like you when I grew up. It was you who embraced my education and my friends when I needed to change schools and came to live with you and Pa during Year 12. It was you who drove me to aspire to be a student at the University of Melbourne, just like you. It was you who lit the fire of curiosity and bravery that made me shed my fears and travel the world when I was 22. It was you who built the family who has shaped me, and showed me every day that love is all you need.

You were there when I was born, when I grew, when I left home to see the world, when I returned. You were there when I became a teacher, just like you. You were there when I met Christian; when we got engaged; you danced at my wedding. You cradled Jack, and Phoebe, and then Maisie when they were born, and the look on your face each time was priceless.

For as long as I can remember, you have been there. There is not a family occasion that I can recall when you weren't there, smiling and enjoying the chaos. After all, you raised four babies of your own who went on to marry and have babies. In the last seven years, your great-grandchildren have swelled the ranks. The family you and Pa created is large, loud and loving. We support each other, celebrate each other, and surround each other when needed, all because of you.

Over the last few years your body has become more frail but your spirit never wavered. Only two weeks ago, my aunty 'outed' me and told you about my lessons in pole-dancing. I underestimated you by hiding from you, thinking a lady such as you would be shocked. You were delighted, and laughed until your eyes sparkled. Somehow, you managed to be mischievous, down-to-earth, practical, exuberant, naughty and extremely respectable, all at once.

Yesterday, you breathed your last breath, and walked hand-in-hand with Pa away from this earthly life. I haven't yet allowed myself to think about life without you, because it is something far too painful to imagine. Your wisdom, your stories, your gentle hands, your loving eyes, I have taken for granted, I know. Not everyone is lucky enough to have a grandmother reach the amazing age of 85. Fewer still enjoy a relationship with someone as remarkable as you. You were, and are, one in a million.

Everywhere I look, there you are. In a photo on the shelf. In the cookbook you gave to me last Tuesday. In the dinner you taught me to make. In Phoebe's smile. There are tangible bits of you everywhere I look. But it was my children's response to me yesterday that proved that you are in all of us, and that your love will always be there.

When Christian and I gathered the children onto our laps to tell them you had gone to heaven to be with Pa Fred, they cried. But their tears stopped instantly when my own sobs grew, and it was their actions that showed what their Argie had taught them - that love is all you need. Jack immediately turned, put his teddy in my arms and gave me a box of tissues. The Mouse went and got a book to read to me ("Dora Loves Boots", just in case you were interested), "to feel you better, Mumma". And Phoebe drew me a picture to cheer me up. All three forgot their own grief in their attempts to 'feel me better', which is something that you would have done.

They miss you terribly already. How could they not, when you have been such an integral part of their lives since they were born? It is Jack who turned 'Narnie G' into your last nickname, Argie. It is Phoebe who carries your artistic blood in her veins. It is Maisie who refuses to wear any jumper that wasn't "kitted" by Argie. It is Asha, their beloved cousin, who looks most like you. My children already understand that one of their jobs, as they grow up, is to keep you alive in Asha's memory. I think they are proud of that responsibility.

As for me, it will be a long time before I can speak of you without sobbing. Losing your kindred spirit is not an easy thing to do. I am fortunate that there are so many of us in this enormous family, and so many wonderful stories of you to tell, that at some point my tears will be mingled with laughter. The only thing that eases my grief is the thought of you and Pa, together again. You have missed him so terribly, and borne your own grief for him so well, that I can only be happy that the two of you are in each other's arms again. The love in our family is not an amazing thing, considering the love that this family came from.

And so my darling, my Narnie, I will say good night. Not goodbye - never goodbye - but good night. Sweet dreams. See you in the spring.

Your Sal-pal xxx

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mothering Day

I am so grateful for my stretch marks.

Because they delineate every kick, every roll, every stretch and every bout of intestinal-pummeling that my babies enjoyed while growing round and fat in my belly. And not every woman I know is lucky enough to have mama-stretch marks.

I am so very lucky, knowing that my sleep is never guaranteed. That a huge proportion of my day is spent comforting hurts, breaking up squabbles, and helping a frustrated three-year-old put her princess dress on without appearing to help.

Because even during the night, I am the one they want. When they are hurt, distressed, angry, upset, matter what the problem, I am the one they rely on to fix it. They have not yet realised that I do not have magical powers, and there are problems I cannot fix. At this time, I am still Mummy, who can kiss it and make it better. And there will come a day when I shall yearn for a frustrated three-year-old. Just as many of my friends do.

When they are happy, oh my. When my children are happy (which is most of the time), I am the one who basks in their sunshine. I am the one they run to, to show new tricks and ballet steps. I am the one they insist on telling the stories of their day. I am the lucky, lucky one to be deluged in hugs and kisses, even if my absence has been for a trip to Woolworths without them. It is never lost on me, how blessed I am that they are mine.

I am so fortunate to have nappies and baby wipes stuffed in every bag; to never, ever have enough food in the cupboard; to have a floor that is perpetually covered in jigsaw pieces and random bits of Iron Man.

Because being a Mum is all I ever wanted to do. And I was so, so lucky that it happened for me. I don't want to let go of nappies in a hurry. It distresses me enough that the Mouse won't sit in her pram. I love the fact that Jack is growing so fast he eats me out of house and home. I fed him with my body until he had jowls that reached his shoulders. Now, all I can do is pile his bowl high with Weetbix and be joyful that he still has such a wonderful appetite. And even though Phoebe is still the slowest eater in the world, we have some lovely conversations while she is (not) eating. Her five-year-old self is, quite simply, freckled exquisiteness. If I could bottle her sweetness right now, I would. Because I cannot quite believe my luck that she is sitting there, taking an hour to eat her lunch. And she is all mine.

One day, my house will stay tidy when I clean it. There won't be hobby horses left strewn on the stairs, or Barbie lying naked in the hall; there won't be stray shoes and Lego and dolly tea-parties left underneath the groaning clothes-horse. I know how fortunate I am to have such a messy house.

The thing is, no matter how tired or messy or shouty I get, I am always aware of how fleeting this time is. How my children will be grown-up in the blink of an eye. And how I am forever grateful to be blessed with them, regardless of how many tiny bits of toys I stand on with bare feet, or how many poos I clean off the carpet (yes, true - but that's another story). I am already smiling at the knowledge that my sleep will be interrupted tonight by little footsteps running into my room. I know this, because it is raining. And the Mouse will, without fail, come into me at around 2am to tell me it is "rainding" and that she doesn't like it. And I will need to carry her back to bed, and cuddle her to sleep. This is something that will exhaust me, and no doubt frustrate me at 2am. But it is me she wants and needs, and it is me she will get. Because I want her, one day, to be a grown-up girl who knows her Mummy has always been there for her, no matter what. And that being her Mummy is the most amazing thing I could ever have hoped for.

And I am eternally grateful to my own mother, who not only went through all of this with my brother and sister and I, but is still here and smiling (and grandmothering my own kids!). Not all of my friends have their mums, for many and varied reasons. I nearly lost mine. I think about this every day, and on Mothers Day...I know how lucky I am. So very, very lucky.

Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers out there; all the grandmothers, the aunties, the mums-to-be, the should-be mothers, the adoptive mums, the foster mums, the stand-in mums, the teachers who love their students as their own, the childcarers who pour love into every child who passes them and the women who love the children in their lives regardless of whether they belong to each other or not. Mothers Day can be both very lovely, and very bittersweet. For me, it's a day to commemorate the loving women in our lives. Everyone has those. So Happy Mothering Day, one and all. Regardless of your stretch mark status :)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Seven is a lucky number

I’m fairly sure that it wasn’t baby brain that wiped my memory. I mean, obviously I can’t be completely certain. Whatever the reason, I seem to have absolutely no recollection of my life when I was not a mum.

It’s almost as though my life has been neatly divided into two stages – Before Kids (BK) and With Kids (WK). If I think about BK now, according to my brain I was a Mummy-In-Waiting. Even before they were born, I felt it in my bones that my children would come. And I was one of the very lucky ones, because they did.

When Jack was born, seven years ago today, he made me a mum. In many ways, he made me what I felt I was always meant to be.

It was for the love of Jack that made me want Phoebe, and then Maisie. Had my broken insides not been an issue, I would have kept going.

Jack is seven years old today. It is all at once so, so big, and still enough little to make me want to keep him close to my belly.

As with every birthday, our boy has been counting the sleeps until he was no longer six, but a ‘grown up’ of seven.  All of a sudden, he has grown long, gangly arms and legs, freckles upon freckles, and has been losing teeth with abandon. Considering how difficult it was to get those teeth in the first place, I wasn’t too happy about them falling out. And quite frankly, the size of the tombstones growing in their place scares me more than a little bit.

I can still glimpse the shadow of my cheeky toddler in his beautiful blue eyes. I can still hear my little boy in his high, sweet voice. I still catch my breath when he wraps his arms around my neck, his hug fierce with love.

But my baby is not a baby anymore, and turning seven suits him. Jack has spent the entire school holidays riding his bike and his skateboard, wearing a helmet with huge red spikes all over it. He is Star Wars obsessed, and spends hours in an imaginary world zooming Luke and Darth Vader around while making the noises out loud, completely unselfconscious. He still loves his dancing and ballet, and has become the proud member of a troupe that competes in competitions and exams. But this has been tempered by his adoration of the Bombers, and all things footy-related, the boy in him obvious as he whoops and hollers “Yes!!!!” when the Essendon boys kick a goal.

Jack actually received his birthday present two weeks early, just in time for the beginning of the school holidays, and it was this present that showed me just how grown up he has become. For Jack’s seventh birthday, he became the proud master of a cavalier puppy who he named Toby. He actually wanted to name his puppy Michael initially, which made me snort because I had this vision of standing in the dog park calling, “Michael!! Come!” A day or so later, he changed his mind and preferred the name Jonathan. Again, I couldn’t quite picture a small puppy with such a formal name…even if the opportunities for comic relief would have been numerous. In the end, we talked about names together and agreed that Toby would be an awesome name for Jack’s puppy.

So Toby came to us two weeks ago, an eight-week-old brown and white little bundle of energy with curly, floppy ears and a growl that sounds like purring. Jack simply worships him; he plays and wrestles with Toby; feeds him and takes him outside for wees; cleans up his messes and gets up with him in the early mornings. Of course, I get up to Toby in the night, and play with him at 11pm when he gets the puppy maddies but he’s so gorgeous it’s not a hardship.

Seeing Jack with his puppy, giggling and rolling on the floor, it makes my heart burst. Just as it did when the Mouse sang “Happy Dirt Day Princess” to her big brother this morning, as only she can. Or when Phoebe carefully chose a birthday card with lots of doggies on it, because Jack loves dogs.

I fell in love with Jack long before I clapped eyes on his big blue eyes and tufty newborn hair; long before his gummy smiles and backwards commando-crawling; long before his wild blonde toddler curls and obsession with Thomas the Tank; long before this leggy, lanky, gap-toothed, goofy, dinosaur-loving, ever-performing seven year old landed his bony bottom in my lap.

Today it is seven years since my heart was turned inside-out with love for this boy, who made me a mum. Seven years of joy, seven years of hugs and kisses and squeezy cuddles, seven years of ridiculous love. Happy, happy, happy seventh birthday my Jack.  I hope you never get too big to throw your arms around my neck.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Phoebe O'Toole is Going To School

It was a lovely morning today when the girls and I dropped Jack off at school. He threw kisses at us as he ran up the footpath to the school gate, never once looking back as his enormous Grade One feet thundered along.

We drove home for a morning of fairy dress-ups and play-doh, bathing baby dolls (in Daddy's study, of course) and spreading Barbie paraphernalia all around. The girls perched up on stools at the kitchen bench and 'helped' me make chocolate chip cookies. They were quite sceptical at the length of time it took the biscuits to bake, and then cool enough to be tasted. I think they thought they were being duped, because they both kept checking on the oven trays.

We had a picnic of ham sandwiches and peaches on the floor. We did some drawing, and some more play-doh. The girls skimmed around the driveway on their scooters while I rearranged the garage, hoping for just a little more usuable space. Obviously, they both wanted the same scooter. The pink one. We had to work out a system of taking turns so that the squabbling was diminished, somewhat. The poor old blue scooter got scorned.

When it was nearing 3 o'clock, we trooped back to school to collect Jack. The girls trotted happily around me as we visited Mrs. Hunter and the Grade 3's to say hello. They played in the sunshine outside Jack's classroom until he ambled out, and then smothered him with impatiently-borne hugs and kisses.

He chased Maisie around the asphalt, just as he used to do to Phoebs when she was little. I stopped him, before she lost half the skin on her face like Phoebe did. I shepherded the kids back to the car with promises of snacks and quiet time for tired, sweaty boys, and snacks and ballet time for hyperactive girls.

Friday afternoon, after school, just as it has always been.


Today was identical to so many other days I have enjoyed at home with my two girls, except for one very significant detail. It was my last day at home with Phoebe before she starts Prep.

To see your child all dressed in their school uniform, so proud and so eager to get out into the grown-up world, is a moment of true emotional upheaval. You know this moment is coming - there can be no surprises when this little buddy of yours has been counting the sleeps for over six months - but it just seems to rush up and slap you.

For some reason, seeing your five year old dressed in a too-big school uniform removes all vestiges of how big they are, and firmly plonks the baby they used to be, right there in front of you.

This moment in time, when they take an enormous step away from you and begin their life without holding your's what you have worked towards and expected since they first burst noisily and magically into your world. Every thing you have taught them, every little skill you have celebrated and sweated over...from learning to walk, to feeding themselves, to doing up their own buttons...they have learned all of this from you, so that they might be able to learn so many other things for themselves away from you.

It might not seem like much, but every single day spent with your children teaches them something new. It might be how to speak on the phone (goodness knows, the Mouse knows how to be imperious to prospective telemarketers) or walk to the shops ("I get my baby and go shops, ok? Hi Mum, I back! Here da carrots"), but it's all important to them. When our babies go to school, all of the teeny tiny little lessons we've given them come to the surface. It's just so hard to trust that you've taught them enough, and that they'll know what to do without their little hand clasped firmly in yours.

I suppose in a way, the 'baby' years - the years of day sleeps and toilet training and throwing uneaten lunches away and wiping down food-smeared high chairs and hanging out load after load of washing; the years of toys strewn all over the carpet and rescuing the cat and knowing the words of every single God-forsaken song on every Wiggles DVD in your TV cabinet - seem endless.

If you are a stay-at-home mum, a working full-time mum, or somewhere in between, when you spend every day at home doing the exact same things, you take it for granted that that's what you'll be doing for a very long time.

And then one day, you wake up and it HAS been a very long time. And it's over.

It's the time warp of childhood. Five years that appeared to be of normal length suddenly got swallowed by a worm hole.

So today was my last day at home with my sunny, funny, easy-going, stubborn, question-asking, slowest eater in the world. She insisted on wearing her school uniform at home. All day. She had me put pig tails in her hair with her proper school elastics and hair clips. She practised writing her name, over and over (backwards, mirrored). She made 'chocolates' with the brown play-doh, and 'bikkies' with the orange. She played so beautifully with her little sister, and it broke my heart to think that neither of them realised the significance of today.

Then again, perhaps it's good that they didn't.

I have enjoyed so many of these days with my biggest girl. But I have also wasted too many of them, even though logically I knew they couldn't go on forever. I guess I was simply assuming that the long, long years of babyhood would stretch as long as I needed them to. All too soon, my round-faced, baldy baby ("I never cried, did I Mum?") has grown into the sweetest little girl simply bursting to go to school. And on Monday, that's what she'll do.

All I can do is hope that in all my days at home with her (as patchy as they were, given my shifting work patterns), I filled her pockets with enough kisses and cuddles to get her through the school day without me. I hope that even when she's sitting on Mrs. Heron's carpet, she knows how much I love her. I hope that no matter Phoebe is learning, she knows that I am thinking about her, and waiting to hear about her day.

I will not cry on Monday. (I have to face my new class of Grade 3's on Monday, and it just wouldn't do to present them with the Ugly Crier now, would it?) No, I will not cry for my grown-up baby when she trots through her classroom door for the first time. She deserves better than that. I will smile and be happy for my baby girl who will absolutely devour school life. And I will put my trust in her, that all the years spent reading and singing and dancing and play-dohing and drawing and tidying up and squabbling and scootering and kissing it better and playgrounding have taught her enough to go out into the world of Big School. Even if those years turned out to be much too short indeed.