She stumbles out of her room, eyes barely open. “Am I six now, mum?” she asks, rubbing her eyes. “You sure are sweetie,” I say. “Am I taller?” she asks, but she doesn’t wait for me to answer. “It’s so weird. I don’t feel six. I still feel five.” I laugh and pull her into a hug, kissing her on the side of her head. “Happy birthday, honey.”
It’s a Thursday afternoon, ordinary, were it not for what I held in my hand. I’m alone. The house is quiet. I look down and take in the two pink lines. They seem indiscriminating, like they are calmly existing, whether I like it or not. Like there is neither a case for or against them, just yet. She was sure of herself, even then, sitting there, patiently existing, waiting for us to catch up. I stared at those lines and I thought they could either be the end of my life, or the beginning of it.
If you want to be me about it, the words “destiny” and “fate” come to mind – that she was the glue to stick two fiercely independent and uncompromising adults together to forge their next stage of life which would shape and ultimately transform them. That her destiny, at least initially, was to fuse ours. Still, there was a part of me which always felt I had failed her. That she should have been born into more stability, a hardier relationship, a nicer kitchen. The kind we have now.
But life isn’t interested in perfect and ready.
She certainly wasn’t.
For that, she will always take up a very rooted part of my soul; the place where something like God resides. I trusted her, even when she was two lines on a stick, and now – six years in – she still has this uncanny way of lighting up what I’ve come to know as true north. She leads and we follow — fumbling, readjusting, learning, then getting it right. She is the greatest proof I have of showing up before you’re perfect and ready.
Georgie is asleep in the pram, Joel and Billy are on a ride. I sit with Ella, scanning the water waiting for them to emerge. She is perched on my lap, a rarity these days, both my arms loosely reach around her chest. I know she’ll squirm out of my embrace after a minute, so I close my eyes and sink into how it feels, knowing like I know the sun will rise that these days will be over soon. At six, she hovers between missing teeth and eye rolls, between back tickles to get to sleep and a locked bathroom door, wanting privacy and space. Where once I was the solution to all her problems, she now understands I am equally the cause of them. She has turned into a girl, with her own dreams, her own thoughts, her own prerequisites and I understand I have – what – maybe two more years until she won’t sit with me like this again, too caught up in being big to ever regress back to this kind of embrace. I think how true it is how Kelly Corrigan said parenting is sitting back and watching them disappear into their next selves. I think about how parenthood is a forever kind of process of losing who your child used to be and gaining a new them, over and over and over again, and that there is nothing quite like a birthday to crystallise the them that has disappeared. It’s true – I have so little recognition of who that baby I had used to be. Because it’s also true what Kelly says – that it’s all happening whether we attend to it or not; whether we pay close attention or distract ourselves away – that they will turn into the next version of themselves while we’re cooking dinner and taking out the garbage. The painful thing is that we don’t ever really get to say goodbye. And the beautiful thing is that we get to fall in love again, over and over with their next self. We get to know it a little more. We get to be there with it in a different way.
And so, in the end, all we have is the ability to dive in as much as we can; to attend to it, to hold them in our arms until they no longer fit, and to watch them eventually walk out the front door forever. It’s a wild ride; ours to board and eventually disembark, thanking our lucky stars that we ever got to do it at all.
Celebrating six years with a day at Wet’n’Wild — great for younger kids — and a pj’s and popcorn movie night party with a small group of her friends — centred around a popcorn machine I bought off Gumtree for $20, a projector from Joel’s brother, and a requested Frozen cake. Super easy party idea if you haven’t slept in six months.
Happy birthday to the girl who made me a mother. I love you at six.
“It’s a lonely business and then sometimes strangely claustrophobic. But this is it. This is what I wanted. And what my very sick friend Liz wants more of. And what good people get pulled away from every day kicking and screaming. This abstract performance we call family life is our one run at the ultimate improv. Our chance to be great for someone — to give another person everything they need to be happy. Ours to apologize for to try again for to get a little more right next time for. Ours to watch disappear into their next self. Toddler to tike. Tween to teen. Ours to drop off somewhere and miss forever. It’s happening right now whether we attend to it or not. We get to be here recognizing once again the one thing we must stop forgetting. This is it. This is the great adventure.” Kelly Corrigan