This week my daughter celebrated her tenth birthday. It was a splendid thing. There was a lot of cake, a sleepover with four girls (considerably more fun than you might fear) and that melancholy joy you get when another milestone is reached.
I suppose it’s the nature of my job as a writer but I tend to feel these milestones more keenly these days. I realise that this is natural for a woman in her forties with growing children and ageing parents but still, the passing of time has never seemed more apparent and often a little alarming.
As part of her birthday present I bought my daughter some jauntily named ‘Walbums’. For the uninitiated, these are fold out plastic ‘frames’ with pockets for photographs.
One morning I sat down at my computer and went through my daughter’s life on film. It took a while (why did I take nineteen versions of every photo?) but it gave me such utter joy and brought me repeatedly to tears.
I smiled at the pictures of her as a baby, that steady ‘Paddington bear’ stare she used to give me, unamused but constant. It was as if she were peering into my soul, wholly unimpressed by what she found. It’s the kind of look that keeps you grounded at all times and I love her for it.
Then there were the pictures of her with my husband’s father, who died four years ago. They catch me every time because we would love him to see her as she is now; not a teenager but not a little girl anymore; funny and kind and fiercely interested in everything the world has to teach her. She loves music and sport and this makes my husband happy and a little sad because his Welsh-rugby-obsessed, passionate musician Dad would have been so proud of her.
I turn to the pictures of her with my own parents, who are now in their eighties and am taken aback because they look so much younger back then. This is obvious, of course. Heaven knows my husband and I looked about twelve in those days, admittedly with bags under our eyes and unkempt hair but still, it wasn’t quite as grey. There is one photo in particular of my Dad and my daughter to which I keep returning. It’s taken in summer in a garden in Suffolk. They are sitting on green plastic chairs and it looks as if my three-year-old daughter has just told my Dad the funniest joke in the world. She wears a look of delighted mirth at having said something amusing and my Dad is leaning towards her, his face wrinkled with laughter lines, his mouth grinning with joy at the sheer brilliance of this small person. He was in his late seventies when this picture was taken and had always been an immaculate man, taking great pride in his appearance. People often thought he was ten years younger and I never thought he would age. A couple of years ago he had a mini-stroke and although he is all right, he seems like a shadow of the man he was. He is less polished, slower and more remote. This happens of course, but seeing that picture of the two of them simply enjoying each other’s company, I am reminded to savour each moment and treasure every memory.
Some of my favourite photos are the ones of my daughter and son together. As she regularly likes to tell him, ‘I was two years and nine months and then you came along and ruined it all’. In truth, she has been his fiercest protector since the day he was born but above all, she made room for him. As our family of three became a family of four, she shifted a little on her princess’s throne and let him share the attention. Of course they have their moments but most importantly, they like each other and I’m pretty sure it’s down to her readiness to accept him.
As I sift through these treasures, I see my daughter at the centre of it all, of the happiness she has brought and I see how much she is loved. I always knew that being a mother would change me but I don’t think I realised how profound it would be. I know I’m lucky and I’m grateful for everything she has taught me, both good and bad.
You can’t stop time but you can do your best to enjoy every blessed second.