Deep down, we all want to believe we’re Peter Pan, don’t we? That we won’t ever grow up – and, just as importantly, that our kids won’t either. In my mind’s eye, our children will always be aged nine and under. Reality, however, is making it ever more difficult to sustain that fantasy.
It’s time to face the facts (and, I guess, the music).
Isaac is 13 now. He’s always been tall for his age and has towered over his mum for some time now. Last month he surpassed me too, and shows no signs of stopping there. He’s already selected his GCSE options. And next week he’s travelling to London on his own to meet up with a friend and spend the day out unchaperoned.
Toby is 11 and on the cusp of moving from primary to secondary school. A talented baker, he regularly takes himself off to the kitchen to make cakes without any adult help or supervision whatsoever.
Kara only turned nine earlier this month, but really she’s nine going on 19. She’s already focussing on which secondary school she wants to go to, a blue belt in martial arts and is possessed of more sass and confidence than both her parents combined.
It seems like only yesterday that all three of them were babes and toddlers. Where have the last few years gone?
Equally, how quickly will the next few years go?
It wasn’t that long ago that all three of our children were together in primary school. In just over two years’ time, all three will be secondary school kids. In three years’ time, Isaac could in theory finish full-time education. Another year and he might have a full driver’s licence. The year after that he could be flying the next nest altogether en route to university.
In some ways, five years in the future seems like a long time. But I know they will pass in the blink of an eye. And then one day, a little further down the line, they will all be gone and living their own lives, only remotely tethered to their parents, no longer a part of our everyday existence.
For the sake of assumption, let’s say Kara leaves home at 21. That’s 12 years away. Heather and I moved into our current house as a child-free couple 14 years ago. There’s every chance we will still be here – once again childless – in less time than that.
Wow. That’s scary. But also, in some ways, liberating.
Yes, of course, we will miss them all terribly if and when they do move out. But the end of one chapter also marks the beginning of a new one. We’ve already started talking about what we might do once we’re empty-nesters. Downsize and move to somewhere more suited to a couple’s needs than a family’s. Slipping off the shackles of a mortgage and going travelling again, just as we did pre-kids. Watching from a distance as our children find their own homes, embark on careers, maybe start their own families.
Sometimes I find myself daydreaming about Sunday dinners with three generations of family, where we’ve progressed from being the parents to the grandparents. I wonder about how far apart our lives may take us, and how closely we will stay in touch. I picture hypothetical snapshots of both our and their future lives.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no desire to wish away the present in a race to discover the future. We’ve been lucky that the last several years have been filled with happy, joyous memories. And, touch wood, there will be many more in the coming years. I just want to be able to slow down enough to savour each and every one of them, because one day today’s future will be tomorrow’s past, and all we will have to look back on is fond memories and an empty house.
Peter Pan is a fantasy tale about a boy who never grew up. But in real life, all of us grow up eventually: us, our kids, and one day (hopefully) their kids too. As Ronan Keating once sang, life is a rollercoaster. It’s full of thrills but it’s also over before you know it. So let’s enjoy the ride while it lasts.