by Hayley Doyle
Very soon, my daughter won’t need her stroller anymore. She’s already begging me to go everywhere on her scooter and it’s often not worth the battle to say no. She flies down hills meaning I have to chase her, then refuses to scoot up hills in which case, I have to drag her on the damn thing bent double. So, I get the middle-aged combo of a work-out and a back injury, but hey, she’s one step further towards her independence. Except this morning, tired after a busy weekend, my little girl didn’t kick up a fuss when I told her to sit in her stroller. And I felt relief. For my back. But really, for being granted time.
I don’t have to harp on about how quickly time flies. Even when a new parent is in thick of the newborn haze, relentlessly wondering when they’ll ever sleep again, time still manages to strangely pass us by in a flash. For every phase that ends, a new one begins. It can be hard to fathom, but the new phase, the one you were so focused on, so looking forward to, that had been just a glittering goal in the distance for so long, suddenly arrives. And it’s harder than you anticipated. You look back and think, wow, if only I could turn the clock back. Enjoy how things were.
When it comes to parenting, these phases are all marked by stuff. Actual stuff. Huge, bulky, plastic, awkwardly-shaped things that your teeny-tiny baby cannot survive without. Or, let’s be honest, what you cannot survive without. Before the kid even pops out, you have boxes arriving daily. Your Amazon basket has never been more full. The more stuff you get, the more you realise you need (like, maybe a mansion). You set up the cot, but realise the baby will be too small for the cot, so you order a crib to go beside your bed. Suddenly, you’re in possession of two “beds” for your baby to sleep in. Oh, and the Moses basket. And the bouncy chair. And let’s not forget the baby gym, changing mat and that round cushion thing you felt pressured into buying for “tummy time”. The sofa you once picked out because of the lovely fabric becomes hidden beneath muslin clothes, wipes and a plethora of pacifiers. The lounge you once thought of as spacious has become an assault course, a maze of inappropriately placed objects that you dare not trample on because your baby might - just might - be sleeping on one of them.
You get used it, though. The stuff. It’s the new normal.
You go on your first family overnight trip.
Easy. You take it all with you.
The first time we did the drive from London to Liverpool to visit my family, my son was about 8 weeks old. I’ve always liked to think of myself as a travel-light sorta gal, meaning I always overthink what I need to take - which drives me temporarily insane - so I only need to carry the bare minimum. I’ve been known to go on a week’s holiday with just hand luggage…many moons ago. So when I attempted travelling light with a baby, I lost the plot. Driving up the M6, anyone’d think we’d packed up and and done a runner, off to start a new life in pastures green.
I tell you what, though. We used it all. Every last vest (thanks to the pooping up-the-back phase). Because we’d taken so much stuff, our trip wasn’t so stressful. In fact, the hardest part was packing it all back up to come home. I remember my mum saying, the load will lessen each time. It seemed difficult to comprehend.
But she was right.
One minute stuff was there; the next it was gone. Our newborn suddenly became a baby that wouldn’t keep still and for him, it was time to explore. So, you know that baby bouncer we relied so heavily on? We passed it onto a friend who was expecting imminently. The plastic bath seat he was suddenly - dangerously - wriggling himself out of, went to a neighbour with a newborn. Charity shops and Facebook parent groups became a dream for the wannabe-minimalist I like to see myself as! We were getting rid of stuff.
I must sound like I was overjoyed at saying bye-bye to all the things that had served us so well. In truth, I mourned it. Every time. A close friend once said to me, that with every goal you reach, there is also loss. Like when Monica married Chandler in Friends. She’d pictured her perfect wedding day ever since she was a little girl, but once her dream came true, she said, “I’ll never be a bride again. Now I’m just someone’s wife." Of course, she went on to have a very happy and loving marriage, but she noticed the shift and recognised the loss. With every item I passed on or sold, my heart ached as I let go. My child doesn’t need it anymore! He’s learnt to sit up all by himself! I mean, wow, how did that happen so damn quickly? Do I blame sleep deprivation? Thank goodness for the gazillion photos we take these days. The proof of his progress will be forever in the cloud.
Anyway, just as the load started to feel lighter, along came a baby sister. We were catapulted back to the start, accumulating all the stuff again and plonking it about between Lego and dinosaurs. This, we handled okay. The stuff. It really, really served its purpose second time round. Having a baby can feel like being hit by a ton of bricks. It literally changes everything you’ve ever known. I’d heard that a second, third, fourth baby, just fits in. Goes with the (chaotic) flow. But honestly, I found going from one to two hard. With a three year-old and a newborn, their needs were oh, so different. I needed to split myself in two. One kid was missing the potty while another was attached to my nipple. The stuff - bouncers, baskets, beanbags…and eventually, the Jumperoo! - became my other me. A spare pair of arms. Without it all, multitasking would have been impossible.
Weirdly, the load never felt quite so heavy with my daughter. I guess we’d grown used to it. We’d evolved into people who just have - and move around with - more stuff. My arms accepted they’d never be empty. I’d become an expert of meandering through the maze. Also, we didn’t give absolutely everything away after our first baby. We were very much hoping for another one to come along one day, so we held onto certain things, just in case.
Bit by bit, once my daughter started progressing to each new stage, the feelings I’d experienced with my son returned. Except this time, they were bigger. More dramatic. As much as I felt like giving the Jumperoo an entire fanfare send-off - oh, good riddance and goodbye you massive (but wonderful) eyesore - it also cut deep. My baby - my littlest baby - didn’t need it anymore. Oh gawd! One day…she won’t need me! Bidding farewell to the stuff became much more real. There was no more maybe-baby. No, ooh keep it in the cupboard, ya never know. I wasn’t going to have another. I was done. And beyond grateful.
Which brings me to the stage I’m at now.
While my son was transitioning from his stroller to scooter, my daughter was born. But we had a practical solution. A buggy board. My daughter took his place in the stroller and he stood on this board that attached to it, and hey presto! I could push them both together. Once he made progress on his scooter, the buggy board was passed onto a friend in need. Now, my little girl either sits or scoots. And she’s very reluctant to sit. I can’t push her on a buggy board because there’s no new addition to our family. So, very soon, I won’t be pushing a stroller…
…Which blows my mind, frankly. For six whole years, I have pushed that thing day in, day out. It’s been all over London, through the parks, on the tube, across the city. It’s been to Dubai, folded and unfolded into cars and taxis, whizzing through malls and strolling through hotels. It’s been to Jamaica, to Lanzarote, to Portugal and up and down the UK constantly. It’s sent my babies to sleep and helped me get my steps in. It’s been their safe place, on the move, but comfortably seeing my face as soon as they opened their eyes. It’s also been a seat of learning, for them to watch the world go past and witness all that happens around them. It’s been my crutch. For six years.
And it’s almost time to let go.
Soon, I’ll realise that my back no longer aches from going out with my daughter on her scooter. I’ll be upright and she’ll be beside me. We might even chat, rather than me barking at her to slow down, SLOW DOWN. And then, what’s next? University?
I recently spoke with a woman who’s youngest has just gone away to uni. I asked her how she was feeling about this and honestly, she replied, “Empty Nest Syndrome has kicked in.” As much as she’s bursting with pride at her children’s achievements and knows in her heart that she has done a wonderful job of raising them as independent, kind and strong individuals, she’s feeling the loss. “I sometimes just go into his room and lie down on his bed,” she told me. Her arms feel light, floating, and although she has this newfound freedom, she also longs for something to carry. This made me think that one day, I’ll wish my back ached from pulling my girl up the hill, just once more, so I can bottle it up and remember that it mattered. Very much. Every single moment.
And every bit of stuff.