The Pressure of Making Memories

As my son went to school for the first time this morning, I looked at my little boy now in his uniform and loaded down with bags, and felt that familiar lump in my throat. This was a new chapter for him and for our family, although he has taken it all in his stride. He has neither been excited or particularly nervous, well except for me, “But you will miss me Mummy”. When his sister started school she couldn’t contain her excitement, and as she went into year 2 today, she rushed so much we had to call her back to kiss us goodbye.

We marked the occasion with photos before we left the house. Uniforms free from stains and new jumpers slightly too big (they will grow into them eventually), both children stood in front of the fireplace, smiling and posing. I shared the pictures instantly with family on WhatsApp; grandmas’ and aunties cooing over the ‘grown-up’ pair. I then did the obligatory first day of school share on Facebook. Close friends and family didn’t need me to do this, it was something I strangely felt I needed to do. It wasn’t about the likes or the comments, it was more a joining of the ranks of the other mothers waving their children off for the first time. It was marking the day and the time in our family life, a milestone to be fondly looked back upon and referenced.

The sharing of milestones is not unusual and I obviously don’t have any issue with it, but I have become more aware of how I am editing my life through the marking of this time. We are all selective in what we choose to share with the outside world but it seems to me the things we don’t share — the bad days, the arguments and the tantrums — are the other side of the coin that can cause so much anxiety and embarrassment. My sister and I sat, yesterday comparing the behaviour of our respective offspring, seemingly ‘out-doing’ each other with how awful they have been. It was cathartic, funny and just really bloody reassuring. Nobody is perfect all the time, least of all our children.

It has been a long summer holiday, dogged by poor weather (we do live in England) making it more difficult to let off steam out of the house. It’s amazing how small a house can suddenly feel when there are four people in it all the time. We’ve still managed bike rides, trips to the park, days out further a field and seeing lots of friends. We’ve painted and drawn pictures (there’s still glitter on the kitchen floor that I can’t get rid of) but was it enough? I’ve taken pictures capturing and documenting our summer, all the highlights locked safely in my phone. Making memories. All the happy ones — the best bits that I want us to remember. The reality is we have quite a few that we’d all rather not have, all perfectly normal but that leave that niggle in the back of my mind. Is this what my children will remember? Were they happy?

We spent the last week of the summer camping in the beautiful Lake District. Staying close to Ullswater and surrounded by breathtaking natural wonder. We enjoyed walking, fishing in streams with small nets, exploring a waterfall, castles, adventure playgrounds and having picnics. It even stayed dry! I have pictures of smiling children (yes, they were ours) in the glorious countryside. We made wonderful family memories. But. I didn’t record the bickering in the tent, the monsters winding each other up over the most trivial thing. The constant telling them both to use ‘inside voices’ — not having four walls around you means that any sound in your tent can be heard by everyone. There were tears and tantrums, some very public. A particular meltdown the boy had was over a stuffed toy he wanted from a gift shop and we’d said “no”. (Walking away from a shop, holding the hand of a screaming child, who is making it sound like you’ve ruined his life, while keeping your face and voice calm and steadfastly sticking to your guns, is not something that is taught in the baby books.) I didn’t share these events and I didn’t mark their happening. But they did happen.

All of these things do not change the positive memories that I will look back and remember fondly. All of the wonderful things still happened but the thing is with life, the rough stuff happens too. While in the eye of the storm the misbehaviour and the difficulties can feel overwhelming. I’ve frequently felt like the worst mother in the world, a failure hiding in the kitchen eating a full tub of ice cream. Striving for perfection is not a bad thing either, we all have expectations and no-one wants their child to be disruptive or cause a problem for others. How do we find the balance? How do ensure that our children are happy but not spoilt and rude?

I’m trying to find the balance by being more honest with myself. That little boy in his too big uniform who walked into the classroom today without me by his side, is polite, caring and funny. He makes friends easily and can make anyone smile with just one look. But at home he can also be the thunderstorm. It doesn’t change my love or my expectations of him, but it does mean when he does slip up, I know it is a slip. I can teach him how to manage his emotions, to understand how and why he feels a certain way. To understand what it feels to be happy he needs to know that he can also feel: angry, frustrated, silly, and all the emotions that we experience as we go through life. It’s taken me a long time to realise that happiness is not a destination, it is just another emotion.

There probably won’t be any pictures taken when I pick him up from school this afternoon. I won’t mark the occasion to share with the world. In years to come the reality is, I probably won’t remember picking him up for the first time. He won’t remember that first day in its entirety but hopefully he will remember that I was there, waiting for him. I’ll ask him questions and I’ll reassure him if he has any worries. The pictures will be lovely to look back on and they will trigger thoughts to a particular day but I hope his childhood memories are more than that. I hope I can give both my children more than that.