The sun shone and the sky sparkled. It was the first day of spring and you lay in my arms, perfect and beautiful. I don’t remember whether you cried. I know your dad and I did.
Since that unforgettable March afternoon we have been on a glorious adventure together, you and I. I have watched you, and held you, and fed you, and kept you warm and safe for the last eight months. What a privilege, what a wonderful honour, to be allowed to spend every day and night with you, watching you grow.
Eilidh, there are people we have to thank for this. Not every mother gets to spend the first months of her child’s life in this way. In many countries, I’d have received no maternity pay at all. In others, I’d have gone back to work months ago.
Instead, we investigated the new and welcoming world of mummy land together. Eilidh, I had no idea, when I was spending all those years at a desk, in meetings, wrangling with budgets and plans and intransigent people, that there was a whole different universe of happy mums and babies out there.
We went to Buggy Fit, and I jogged round the sunny park with great joy six weeks after your birth, delighted to be freed from my lead-weight belly, relieved to find that I could still run at all.
We discovered Baby Cinema, and I could not believe my luck – I still cannot believe my luck – at getting to sit in the dark, cuddling my new daughter, watching films in the middle of the day while the sensible people worked.
We embraced Baby Yoga, and now I find we will have to leave it behind soon. The baby who used to cry on the blanket in front of me, unwilling to be put down for even a few minutes, now rolls onto other women’s mats and is threatening to start crawling round the studio any day now. Eilidh, I think our yoga days are numbered.
We travelled into town every Wednesday to meet your daddy for a family lunch. In the beginning we went to our favourite restaurants, and you’d sleep quietly in your pram while we ate. These days we eat in cheap cafes and spend most of our meal spooning food into your delighted mouth as you perch in your high chair, always open to new tastes, but never happier than when in the presence of a Petits Filous.
On the hottest days we lay on a picnic rug in the back garden or tucked you into your sling as I hung out the washing. I remember the first time we tried that sling. You were so tiny and it almost covered your whole head as well as your body, and I could not concentrate on anything for the fear that you would suffocate right there on my chest.
Now, you sit facing forwards in your sling, watching the world with your wonderful curiosity, greeting every new person with your impossibly joyful smile, waving your hand bashfully whenever anyone says hello to you – and, as they always do, tell you how gorgeous you are – as if to say, bashfully, “What, me? Little old me?”
And every Thursday, we went to the home of one of my ante-natal classmates, and I got to watch their babies grow up, too. At first we compared experiences of birth and then breastfeeding, each of us struggling in different ways, all of us determined to do our best by our babies. Then talk turned to teeth, to sitting and rolling and crawling and clapping, and to our exciting first steps into weaning: should the first food be carrot? Sweet potato? Should we puree, or mash? We debated it all, Eilidh, and we ate a lot of cake while we were at it. But now we speak of flexible working applications, and return to work plans, and nursery applications. Now we speak of a different life, because we know the sands of our summer are running out.
It’s not over yet, EIlidh. Not till February will I have to take you to nursery, leave you there and walk away, knowing I won’t see you again for eight or nine hours – and how will you have changed in that time? What new achievements will I miss, what happy discoveries will I never share with you, what frights and worries will I not be there to comfort you through?
No, it’s not over yet. But summer is gone and already it is autumn, and the air is ever colder. And shortly after your first Christmas, I must return to the world of responsible, hard-working people, who do not go to the cinema in the middle of the day. The leaves are gold and brown now, more strewn on the pavement than clinging to the trees. The wheels of your pram crunch over the yellow sycamore leaves as we walk to the park, and I know that soon it will be winter.
But we had these months, sweetheart. We had these magical months. You won’t remember them, but I will never forget.
In truth, Eilidh, I do not know who to thank for our year together. I can tell you the names of those who campaigned to end slavery, and those who battled to get the vote for women. But those who fought for parents to have time with their children are not so well remembered.
So I will have to say thank you, whoever you are. Thank you, trade unions. Thank you, suffragettes. Thank you, politicians and campaigners and enlightened employers. From the bottom of my heart, thank you for this, my summer of miracles.