It has been said that cutting the umbilical cord is painless, but cutting the apron string hurts. As my son passed each milestone on his journey toward independence, I felt a tugging at my heartstrings as I slowly released him.
Letting go has not been without struggle. Part of me looked forward to him growing up to be a “big boy”, and yet, part of me wanted to hang on to my little boy, to hug him so tightly that perhaps, I could squeeze him back into being the tiny, helpless baby whom I once carried with one arm.
While sitting in the school hall during my son’s Primary One orientation last November, scenes of his childhood flashed through my mind and tears welled up as I wondered how six years had flown by in a blink of the eye.
I recall the first time my new born left my side. He had been hospitalised three days for jaundice and I cried my eyes out each time I thought of him lying there alone under the glare of UV lights, in an unfamiliar hospital ward, separated from me. Would my week-old baby feel unsettled and fearful without mummy around? Would he cry inconsolably? Upon discharge, the nurses assured me that he had slept like a baby (of course), waking only for feeds and settling soon after. He had not even noticed my absence!
The next time I entrusted my son into someone else’s care was when he entered pre-school. Since I had been his primary caregiver from birth, that was the first time we were apart for three hours each day. Although I had taught him to feed himself and go to the toilet independently, I wondered if my two-and-a-half-year-old was still too young to fend for himself.
Would he have separation anxiety? Could he communicate his needs adequately? I stayed up late the night before his first day at pre-school, labelling every object in his bag and embroidering his name on all his handkerchiefs in case he lost them. Once again, my fears were unfounded. Apart from one day when a teacher had to wrench my crying pre-schooler from my arms, he settled in without a hitch, and graduated with all his belongings intact.
With my son’s promotion to “big boy school” (as he called it), I wondered if he could rise up to meet the expectations of a Primary One student. Would he be alert enough to take note of his teacher’s instructions, or would he be perpetually punished for forgetting his homework? Could he be trusted to spend his time and pocket money wisely? Had we prepared him adequately for Primary One? One year on, my anxieties are laid to rest. My little boy is now a big boy who exercises responsibility in his growing areas of independence.
At every new chapter of my son’s life, when he was increasingly separated from me for longer periods of time, I had been concerned whether he could manage on his own. However, I am learning that the goal of parenting is to “work myself out of job”. If I have done my job faithfully and trained my children well, they will grow up from being totally dependent babies into fully independent adults, prepared to take on the world without me.
Chained to a lead ball
What a change Primary One has been, with my son spending half his waking hours away from home. It seemed like just yesterday when I had to be available for him 24/7. Apart from his time in hospital, when he was supplemented with formula milk, I had nursed my infant son until he was weaned. As a result, my routine revolved around his feed and nap times, and I had to bring him along everywhere I went. The only times I left him in my husband’s care were when I was sick and had to see the doctor. I remember the sense of freedom from having to look after my baby for just those few hours, and yet feeling the stress of having to rush home in time for his feed.
I had observed my boy’s bedtime so strictly that when I finally brought him out for an evening concert at the age of one, he pointed excitedly to the lights and called them “stars”! I realised he had not seen a real star up till then, and I had not seen the city lights for a year! Since my toddler only wanted me to settle his bedtime routine, my husband and I could no longer attend concerts, as we had done prior to his birth. I missed my freedom to go out spontaneously, without having to plan an outing around my son’s routine, search for pram-accessible, family friendly venues, and prepare home-cooked food in advance.
Social life aside, I felt the restrictions on my work life even more greatly after the birth of my son. Having chosen to stay home in order to care for him, I could only work during the scraps of time when he was asleep or in school. Even then, these precious child-free hours had to be split between work and housework.
Needless to say, I have not been as productive as a full-time working mother can be. I’ve had several proposals shelved because I could not dedicate the time required to see them come into fruition. I faced the constant struggle of putting ideas down on paper as fast as they pop into my head, often being interrupted by a crying baby in the middle of the night.
As a work-at-home-mum, I felt as though my attempts at working were akin to running with lead balls chained to my feet. I had often looked forward to the day when my two “lead balls” entered Primary school, so that I had more time to pursue my career.
Treasure every moment
The day finally came when my son entered Primary One. However, rather than rejoicing at my new found freedom, I felt a sense of loss. I missed his presence at home, and often wandered into his room, looking at his toys, wishing I had my little boy with me again.
Though tiring as it had been, I missed waking up in the middle of the night to nurse my newborn. I missed those quiet moments of bonding, when he was slumped on my shoulder, contented after a feed. I missed the imaginary “magic carpet rides” on my toddler’s mattress during peak hours, when working mums battled traffic to pick their kids up from childcare. I missed crafting with my pre-schooler and our frequent outings to the parks, without the burden of homework hanging over our heads.
I recently came across the lyrics of a song by Darius Rucker, describing the challenges a father might face as he raises his daughter from infancy to adulthood. At every struggle, the refrain encouraged “This phase is gonna fly by, if you can just hold on, it won’t be like this for long”.
Indeed, I am reminded that “One day soon that little girl (or boy) is gonna be all grown up and gone”. Career can wait, childhood will not. This is the season of child-rearing, and I will cherish the remaining years I have with my children, because “it won’t be like this for long”.