As I write this, my heart is beating a little quicker than normal, and my eyelashes are still wet with tears. Mr E is downstairs preparing a risotto for us all to have for dinner, I am sat in our office supposedly working, and I have two little girls chattering together in the top bunk of their bunk bed, oblivious to the way they have made us feel this afternoon.
It's late Friday afternoon and a couple of hours earlier Mads happened to spot some of the older children on our street playing out on their bikes. She has always had a curious fascination with the two little girls who live next to us, as younger children often do with bigger kids, but bar a shy wave or hello if we happen to cross paths outside our front door, that has been it. I don't know why but this afternoon she asked to go and play on her bike outside with them, and two other older boys who live across the road from us too. She has never asked us before and being that she has only just turned four we said that she could, but that she couldn't go outside without us being there.
So we duly popped her little cycle helmet on, got out her bike and scooter, and Mr E pottered around our front garden pretending to weed, all the while watching her. I was supposed to be working, but I stood at the window and I got the strangest feeling in the pit of my stomach. A feeling of absolute pride watching her out there interacting with children a good few years older than her, a feeling of nostalgia remembering doing that very thing myself when I was a little girl, a feeling of nerves about the fact that she still isn't completely wise to dangers of cars or roads, but mainly a feeling of sadness about just how fast she is growing up. My eyes filled with tears and I stood there blinking them away.
I watched Mr E lean down and talk to them all and I heard Mads say 'I am playing with the big boys and girls Daddy' while she was stood next to them. At four, she is completely innocent, she isn't yet at that stage where she was embarrassed that her Daddy was outside watching her. She said again excitedly 'I am playing with our neighbours' and they all chatted to Mr E while I watched on at the window. After a while I went outside myself and sat on the doorstep with LL on my lap. Watching our little girl riding up and down the street, with the retro ribbons on her handlebars very much the same as I had as a child, and her little helmet wobbling unsteadily on her head made me get butterflies in my tummy. She had the biggest, most innocent smile on her face and above all she just looked so proud of herself. Her cheeks were flushed red with excitement and she cycled along on the pavement while they all cycled on the road, as we told her she needed to keep on the path. None of the other children had a cycle helmet on, to be fair we live in a cul-de-sac and although traffic can whizz round the corner, it's not really like you need to wear a helmet. But Mads, our little girl, she always wears that blue and pink helmet- she's so very proud of it. And now that helmet made her appear so little and small compared to her peers.
After an hour or so, we told her it was time to come in, and she started to cry. Big, fat tears rolled down her face and her bottom lip trembled as she told us she didn't want to. She did it in front of her new found friends, she doesn't yet have that filter that makes her realise that there are some things you don't do in public, melt downs over nothing being one of them. She was so desperate to stay out but eventually we got her inside. We stood in the kitchen and all of a sudden LL came up to her with her favourite toy 'Baa' and held it out for her to cuddle. She said 'Here are Mads', she knew her big sister was sad and she wanted to make her feel better.
I don't know what came over me but I just burst into tears. The feeling of experiencing this first milestone, combined with the tenderness in which LL gave Mads her toy, reduced me to sniffling like a baby. I hugged Mr E and said to him 'I bet you think I am so silly', fully expecting him to proclaim that yes I was indeed a complete crazy person. But to my surprise he said 'I feel entirely the same away- I am not ready for this just yet.' Indeed, now I am writing this some time later after they have both gone to sleep, Mr E and I have been chatting about it, and I am surprised just how much this small thing has got to him. He says he feels very emotional about it all- about the prospect of learning to give her that little bit of freedom, of the worry, about the fact that his little girl is growing up so quickly.
I know that it's probably a little pathetic to get so worked up about her playing outside on the street where we live, but I was just filled with so many emotions. I still am to be honest. There's no parenting rule book for this kind of thing and it just took us by suprise a little. I'm so nervous about all the stages yet to come- teaching her that the world isn't always a lovely place, that there are people that could hurt her. That not everyone is as kind and as beautiful inside as she is. I am so sad about her losing that innocence, that pure child like innocence- the way she is proud of her Daddy stood there watching her, the way that she ran to me and hugged me because she was just so damn excited to be playing with the 'big boys and girls'.
Until now, all our playdates and all her friendships have been closely monitored by us. The little friends that she has made are mainly due to me being friends with their Mum's- they are chums of circumstance more than anything else. It sounds ridiculous, but I also worry who she will become friends with at school when we are not there to influence it. No mother wants their children to be friends with 'those kind of children' or worse still, have your child be the one that other parents are wary of. The other day we were in the park and I was watching a group of three girls- they must have been about 11 or 12 and they looked so grown up. They were wearing clothes that I would even wear, or perhaps a couple of years ago I would, their hair was styled in top knots and I am pretty sure they were wearing makeup. They were playing on a roundabout and it struck me how they were so on the cusp of leaving childhood behind- they looked like teenagers and I overheard them on a couple of occasions about boys, but at the same time they were giggling loudly and freely as they held hands and tried to keep their balance. That innocence of childhood and that beauty of childhood seems to be getting lost much earlier than when I was younger, I dread to think what it will be like in another ten years.
I'm not ready to let her go and while I know, yes she wil always be my baby, I am going to have let her go and become the little girl she was meant to be without me at her side constantly. September brings her first year at school and a whole new set of milestones. She's completely ready, but I am not. I don't want this stage to be over. I am not ready to leave these days behind. I know that there's a lot of excitement to come but that doesn't mean I don't feel painfully sentimental about the fact that my little girl is growing up so quickly. Bizarrely just this afternoon I bumped into the midwife that was there throughout my pregnancy with Mads. It seemed like yesterday that I last saw her. She will have seen countless babies born since then, each special and the most amazing gift to their parents. Each and every one brand new and ready to start their story.
Leaving the hospital for the first time, the first mouthful of food, and the first steps are just different parts of their story. The story of their childhood. As is the first time they proudly forget their shyness and play outside on their street with their new found friends. I did that, way back in the first few chapters of my own. It's nothing out of the ordinary, it's just another ordinary milestone and moment ticked off the list, something that will happen on many, many occasions...
It's just another ordinary moment that as a parent feels so very bittersweet. But to a little girl who has talked of nothing but playing out with her new friends, 'the big children' since she came in, to a little girl who has gone to bed with a bit of a spring in her step and a new found air of confidence and above all to a little girl who is feeling so proud and that little bit more grown up than she did when she went to bed the day before- well to her it's the most exciting of moments indeed.