During the course of a pre-Christmas clear-out I came across a box containing the tiny wrist bands the children were issued with when they were born; little strips of plastic containing a lot of important information. Along with the relief that I will always have a record of precisely what time they were born (I confess I don't remember - a bit busy experiencing the 'special' sensation that comes with childbirth - first time - and thinking "oh no! I remember this part and it's really horrible!" - second time - to check my watch), was that they read 'baby of Toni Kent'.
So fast were the tags put on that their names were not recorded - and after all those months poring over name books and negotiating! They just 'belong' to their mother and exist as nothing else officially until you visit the registrar and hope that they don't make a mistake and register your little boy as 'Sue' or your little girl as 'Frank'.
Then come the family tours and the visits to work which boost the spirits and make you long to return and where nobody complains if the baby farts loudly or vomits on their black suit and instead they congratulate you on managing to hold it together for long enough to get out of the house (even if you did have a little cry in the car, and another one in the loos, and you might have one on the way home) and how you've 'sprung back into shape' when in fact you have rolled your stomach up and stuffed it into a pair of control knickers. They might also remark on how much your offspring looks like you. Or not in my case, but that's ok, at least they won't ever be greeted with "ooh don't you look like your mum!" - I've yet to meet an adult that feels 100% happy with that 'compliment'.
And as the children grow they are testing boundaries and asserting themselves in ways that we hadn't predicted would happen so soon. Conversations at the dinner table switch from what happens after you've swallowed your food to what happens after you die, to precisely how old Yoda is. It is like being in constant preparation for a general knowledge quiz..and they don't always agree with, or accept our answers.
Refusals of some kind happen on a daily basis: having their hair brushed, wearing something that looks vaguely smart (even weather-appropriate would do - our son wears shorts almost without exception), doing homework, and sometimes we are not even permitted to hold our daughter's hand on the walk to school. At each turn we try to hide our frustration or sadness in the hope that they might do what we want or would like. Behaviour can be encouraged or resolved with a trip to the reward chart or the threat of pocket money deductions but on things like their opinion on what they wear or whether they feel like holding our hand we know we have to let them make their own decisions - we are kidding ourselves if we think we're in charge! Each day sees their personalities building and each year brings more independence of action and thought. They are growing up, and away.
We carry them round and cuddle them tight calling them 'mine' and 'ours', take endless photos and videos and post status updates on their achievements, but they might grow up to be embarrassed by this, by us, and our delight in the minutae of their youth. Remember the shame of your mum getting the baby photos out in front of your boyfriend or girlfriend? The school photos that were all over the living room wall charting the never ending horror of the home-cut fringe? I like to look at them now but it's safe to say that my teenage self would have been quite happy for none to have existed as I strained at the leash to establish myself as appearing completely unrelated to my family.
Much as we love our children and give them everything we think they need it's likely that at some point they're going to think we're cramping their style or being frankly rubbish parents. So I will try to see these little disagreements and differences of opinions as reasons to celebrate their individuality, be happy that they are building their own personality and hope that we are laying the right foundations for confident, independent, healthy, happy little people to grow up and away (whilst secretly holding on to the hope that they will let us hug them tight and call them silly names well into their twenties!).
Soundtrack: Sweet Child O' Mine - Guns N Roses