As an only child, I spent plenty of one-to-one time with my Mum: we’d visit my Nana and Grandad on Sundays; go and stay with my aunt and cousins in Cornwall during school holidays; we baked together; she’d ferry me around to horse riding, gymnastics and art lessons; as well as being there every day after school to make dinner and help with homework. And on weekends when I visited my Dad we’d go swimming or ice skating or shopping, go to his friend’s houses for dinner, watch films and play Nintendo together. I never had to compete for attention from either of them with anyone else. I spent lots of time on my own too, getting lost in books, drawing for hours and practising tennis skills in the back garden. I loved both aspects of it as I grew up and am very grateful for the childhood I was lucky enough to have had.
I always knew I’d have children of my own one day, though I never really had an idea of how many I wanted. Now I’m a mother to three wildly independent daughters and I have to admit that as much as I love them infinitely and with my whole heart, I do find the dynamic between my three girls both fascinating and challenging in equal measure.
Firstly, there’s a lot more noise and mess than I anticipated, which, for an introvert like me can be quite tricky to handle. I find it incredibly hard when they argue and fight (which they do on a daily basis) because in my mind they’re sisters and sisters should love each other, not push each other’s buttons and speak hurtful words. I sometimes get sucked into the trap of thinking that I’m not doing a very good job at parenting because if I was then they’d get on with each other all the time. Silly, I know – after all, who gets on with anyone a hundred percent of the time?
Equally, though, I don’t understand their fierce love for one another and the way they look out for each other, stand up for each other and know each other – purely because I’ve never experienced that depth of feeling myself for anyone other than them and my husband – it’s always just been me. It’s such a wonderful thing to witness and my heart fills with pride and joy when I catch them in moments of kindness, having a quiet cuddle or encouraging each other and cheering each other on.
When I found out I was pregnant with my second and third daughters, I didn’t ever wonder how I could love them as much as I did my first – I knew my heart would easily expand to accommodate them and that my love would simply multiply. And it did without any effort whatsoever. What I hadn’t taken into account however was how to make sure each child got personal one-to-one time with me.
For years it’s just been a blur of surviving, moving from one stage of growing up to the next – baby, toddler, nursery, school and so on. And as they’ve all got older and I’ve learned more about their love languages, the more I’m starting to realise just how vital it is that I stop seeing them as a collective (‘the girls’) and start seeing them as individuals. I mean, of course I know they’re all different with their wonderfully unique personalities and traits, but I mean really seeing them and understanding their personal needs. So I’ve made it my mission to try and carve out proper one-to-one time with each of them over the coming months.
A couple of weekends ago I had my first opportunity to do just that. We’d managed to get hold of some discounted football match tickets through school and Ella and Mimi were super-excited about it as they’ve never been to a real match before. Lola however, wasn’t interested in the slightest. Normally I’m pretty insistent that we spend our Sundays together as a whole family unit – it’s the only day we’re ever all together thanks to school and work shifts and activities. But something told me that this time it would be ok to divide and conquer. Football really isn’t my thing whereas the husband loves it, so we decided that he would take the older two to the game and that I would spend the afternoon with Lola at Trentham Gardens.
Trentham really is a garden for all seasons and it’s somewhere we visit all year round. I do love it in the Springtime though – the gardens are just beginning to wake up after the long winter and the buds and shoots bring the promise of better days ahead. When we visit as a family, we tend to follow our little rituals – first we walk around the lake before moving on to the adventure playground and then we finish up in the Italian Gardens. This time though, with only Lola with me, we decided to do it in the opposite direction.
She loved running on ahead of me and having the freedom to search for blossom trees and daffodils, both of which were out in abundance. She asked me endless questions about all the buildings and when I didn’t know the answer we read the information signs together, which we don’t normally have the time to do because when all three of the girls are together they turn into whirlwinds and speed through everything as quickly as they can.
She remembered that we’d found both a hedgehog curled up under a hedge and a frog hopping across the path on different visits several years ago and we talked in depth about all the day trips and holidays we’ve had as time has gone by. We stopped and took selfies together and I asked her all about school and her teacher and her friends and what she loves to do. She asked if I could find her a dance class to go to as she “just loves to dance and sing” and I promised her that I would look into it.
She pretty much had the adventure playground to herself – unusual for a Sunday – and she briefly thought about going on the zipwire before deciding that she still isn’t quite brave enough to go on it at the moment but that she will be soon. She let me take photos to my heart’s content without complaining once.
We held hands as we walked together and sat down to eat chocolate cake on a bench overlooking the lake and once we were moving again she stopped every ten seconds to envelope me in a bear hug and whisper in my ear that she loves me so very much. She balanced on logs and looked for treasure in the fountains and we laughed and talked some more. It was wonderful. Honestly, it filled my cup as much as it filled hers. I felt like I got to know her so much better during those few hours than I have done in the previous eight years we’ve been together.
It’s made me realise how much we’ve both needed this. And how much Ella and Mimi probably need it too. So now I’m trying to figure out how and when I can do a similar thing with each of them, just a few hours together, talking and spending time in each other’s company, getting to know them as the versions of themselves that they currently are.
On my ’40 Things Before I’m 40′ list I have one about having a Lovebombing Day with each of my girls. A whole day spent one-to-one, doing anything and everything that they want to do (within reason, taking time and money into consideration of course). This time and these adventures with Lola – a smaller scale version of lovebombing – has made me even more determined to do it because only good things can grow from it. She bloomed in front of my eyes and I loved every second of it. I really hope it becomes a memory that will stay with her forever, and that we can build on it as the months and years go by.