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Missing the Moments– Feeling Sentimental As Children Grow Up

By Benison O'Reilly - 5th August 2013

A couple of months ago I attended a performance of Joanna Murray-Smith’s new play, Fury. At one stage the central female character, Alice, comments that it’s often best we don’t know when it’s the last occasion of anything.  I can’t remember her exact words, but I do remember the example she quoted: the last time her (now rebellious) teenage son and only child had shared a bed with his mum and dad in the morning.

As parents we know this particular ‘last time’ must come for a whole variety of reasons, but I can’t help looking back on those (now past) years of morning cuddles with a twinge of sadness.

All good things must come to an end. I was struck by this recently, when we sold off Joe’s huge Thomas the Tank Engine wooden train collection on eBay.  Joe was an avid Thomas collector — it seems to go with territory when you’re on the autism spectrum — but Thomas had been a part of my life ages before Joe even came on the scene.  I think we bought our first video back in 1996, when my eldest was just two.  Along with The Wiggles, Thomas formed the soundtrack to my life for many years.  I loved the original WH Audrey stories, which managed to be both funny and moral, before the merchandisers got to Thomas and it became a money-making enterprise called Thomas and Friends.

When it came time to list the trains on eBay, I suggested to Joe that we might want to keep Thomas, Henry the Green Engine, Percy the Small Engine, and Gordon the Big Engine (in other words my favourites).

No,’ said Joe with ruthless efficiency, ‘they must all go.’

Oh well.

When my boys were very little, I regarded parents who lamented their kids growing up as soppy sentimentalists. Caught up in the relentless grind of nappy changing, bathing, washing and pumpkin pureeing, and wearied by the constant vigilance that is an inevitable part of parenting a toddler, the thought of my kids becoming independent adults seemed the Holy Grail.   If we’re to be successful at this parenting caper that’s what we should be aiming for, after all.

But now, as that time approaches, I’ve become much less sure of myself.

My second son is now in Year 11.  At a parent information evening earlier in the year, his school principal alluded to the ‘last time’.  He noted that in our sons’ final years at school we would spend many hours driving them to and from exams and assessments. He said, ‘Cherish this time because before too long it will be gone forever.’  My heart contracted into a tight fist at his words.

Across town, my husband attended a ‘trainer the trainer’ evening, where parents were offered instruction in how to teach their kids to drive.  The woman presenter used much the same words as my son’s school principal – that the many hours you spend alone in the car with your teenage son or daughter provide an incredible opportunity for bonding. Some parents, she said, found driving lessons had allowed them to reconnect with their teenager after years of relative estrangement.  What a lovely upside.

Right now I have two sons with their L-plates, which equates to 240 hours of driving instruction in New South Wales. Ordinarily I would have thought of this as unfair penance, but I will heed the wise words of others and be mindful that these are hours with my boys I may never experience again.  Makes me sad just thinking about it.

Ah, the last time. What period of your children’s lives do you look back on with nostalgia? 

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