Someone asked me recently what my earliest memory was - the very first thing I ever remember happening.
It is a memory from when I was around 3 years old, and I only know I was that age because I remember being in the kitchen of the house we lived in at the time, which we moved from when I was 4. There were blue walls I think, and I was sitting at the table eating breakfast. The sun was coming in through the window and I can see my Mam at the kitchen sink, I remember she was wearing a long skirt and she's singing a song. I want to say it's 'You Are My Sunshine', but honestly, I'm not sure if it was that, or if I just think it was because that's what I sing to my two boys. Maybe that's why I started singing it to them? That bit has got mixed up in my mind but anyway, that's the memory.
And now that Rian is almost three, it dawned on me that any of these days might turn into his earliest first memory that will stick with him. So I suppose it's kind of like when you know there's a speed check up ahead, and you want to be on your best behaviour in case you get caught. What if his memory decides to pick the day I'm cross with him, or the very moment I crack under the pressure, lose my patience, and shout?! So I'm trying extra hard to keep it calm and channel my inner Mary Poppins (although, side note, I adore that film, but I'm not sure why we hold Mary Poppins in such high childcare esteem when you think what she actually did with those kids; jumped into paintings, entered them into a horse race without even a helmet in sight, floated to the ceiling in some random old man's house, managed to get them lost in the middle of London on their own chasing after a homeless woman feeding pigeons, dancing on roofs and leaping up and down chimneys, but who am I to judge?)
So it's kind of a big responsibility. Not just the first memory, but all the core memories. We're responsible for the childhood of two people - that's a serious responsibility. You don't really think of these things on a day to day basis, most of the time it's just getting dinners cooked and kids washed and hoping we all get a night of uninterrupted sleep and things like that. We make an effort do do things with them, things that involve investing time. Playing games with them, making things with them, involving them in the cooking and baking things, going for walks and all those sorts of activities, nothing unusual there.
As a full-time working mother, or as I prefer to say, an outside-the-home working mother, I'm plagued with constant guilt and always questioning myself about whether I should be leaving them. Missing little day to day things, the things that inevitably add up to big parts of who they are. It's not easy, but it's something I just have to deal with. So I ask myself, how can I make it work? How can I make sure that the memories they have that will stand out won't be of the days when I'm at work?
All I can come up with is to make sure that the time we do have together is full of fun and happy things. Of course, there'll be the day to day things, but I want them to grow up and remember things like us all baking something together. Or reading books together, or painting pictures. Going for walks to hunt for the Gruffalo (in our house, this seems to be the most fun an almost three-year-old can have!) The more I think about it, the more I realise that I'm no different in wanting these things just because I leave the house to go to work. Does every mother have the same guilt regardless of whether they work outside or if they stay at home and work there every day? Probably. We all just want those core memories to light up yellow (ever since I saw Inside Out this is how I picture it!), and stay stored in a cosy little corner of their minds and hearts forever.
And some days, I know it's working. Recently my heart almost exploded when I saw Rian playing with 'Sniffy', his favourite can't-sleep-without-him soft toy. Sniffy got flung to the other side of the room, presumably trying to fly, but he landed kind of awkwardly. Rian went over, picked him up and asked, 'You ok Sniffy?' Then tucked him into his neck as if Sniffy was a tiny baby, stood there and sang to him 'You Are My Sunshine'...
I get it wrong a lot of the time, I know I do. But when these little moments appear that show me that sometimes I'm also getting it right, at least getting it the way I've chosen, well, there's just nothing better. Maybe it is possible to work away from the home and not see them all day every day, and still create those all-important core pieces of comfort, happiness, security, home...love.