The first thing you notice as a child is how it feels like you’re not having to wait so long for Christmas to come around again each year. The next thing you notice is that you’re old enough to leave school, then old enough to drink, old enough to vote – officially an adult! Oh – boy – how you can’t wait to leave your parents’ house and use all your new adult rights. 18th, 19th and 20th birthdays seem to come almost back-to-back. Whoosh! Where did those teenage years go?!
But when your parents celebrate big birthday milestones: their fortieth, their fiftieth, they seem old, and really properly growing-up still seems like a long way off for you yet.
But those Christmases still keep coming thicker and faster, and before you know it you’ve celebrated twenty Christmases, twenty-five Christmases and you can’t believe how quickly summer comes and goes each year. Is it really time for Wimbledon again? you ask yourself.
And then suddenly you find out you’re going to be a parent and you have 8 or 9 months to get used to the idea and then before you’re ready you’re holding a screaming baby in the supermarket with sick on your shoulder and your clothes on inside out and an irritating old woman tells you to ‘Make the most of it. They’ll be grown-up before you know it.’ But you don’t know it and you don’t want to know it because you haven’t slept and you want to tell her to piss off.
And then it’s a baby’s first Christmas and then it is Grandad’s last Christmas. And you yawn, scream and plod through the terrible twos and troublesome threes and Wimbledon again. And then the kids are at school and you’re giving away toddler toys and you notice for the first time how old your parents are looking and you scratch your head and think Gosh am I really a parent? What happened there? And the kids make mess and they make noise and they need less and they want more: they want food and things and money and they write Christmas lists and they write Christmas lists and they write Christmas lists and then one of them looks up thoughtfully and says, ‘Cor. Christmas again already. That year went fast.’
And then taking down the Christmas decorations seems to lead directly into Wimbledon and it hardly seems worth putting the boxes away because you’ll be getting them out again in a minute. And then you catch your reflection in the hall mirror wearing a waterproof jacket and holding a garden centre list as you head downstairs with a thoroughly grown-up serious face just like those you saw on your parents’ faces. And someone in the garden centre tells you your eldest daughter looks just like you used to at that age.
It wasn’t such a long way off after all.
And then you notice that the apples have started growing on the tress again already and it dawns on you that it is precisely 18 years since you first found out you were going to be a parent.