What a lovely age!

“The Clark Children” (1846) by Frederick R. Spencer (The New York Historical Society)

When I moved to the Netherlands to live, I was given the humorous book, “Act Normal: 99 tips for dealing with the Dutch”. One piece of advice for making conversation with a parent was to ask them how old their child was. No matter what the answer, you should respond with ‘Wat een mooie leeftijd!’ – ‘What a lovely age!’. The amazing thing is that this tip works – time and time again. Try it yourself, and you will see the parent in front of you beam with pleasure.

Why does this seemingly meaningless comment work so well? The reason is that, for the parent, it is always true. Every age has its own joys – and sorrows.

If anyone ever invents a time machine, then I want to spend a day taking a grand tour of my children’s lives. I would start by slipping back to the very earliest days, somewhere in the wee small hours of the morning, with no one else awake, to sit holding an incredibly tiny bundle against my shoulder, smelling the sweet scent of her head tucked under my chin, feeling the small soft hands, watching the miracle of each breath and feeling the gentle thump of her heartbeat. Next, I would set off for a morning walk, my infant strapped securely to my front in the baby carrier, her hands strongly grasping my fingers, hearing her inarticulate cries and feeling her little legs pump vigorously when something special caught her attention.

For lunch, I would stretch out on a picnic blanket in our sunny back garden, listening to my four-year-old chatter about her morning at school, still amazed at the colourful scrap of paper she brought home with her, the first three letters of her name scrawled across it – her very first piece of writing. In the afternoon I would bake banana bread with my six-year-old, watching with needless trepidation as she carefully broke open and whisked the eggs, then seeing her look of ecstasy as she licked the bowl afterwards. Dinner would be at a restaurant with my eight-year-old, marvelling at her eating – with relish – a dish she had never tried before, while she explained to me with charming seriousness the ins and outs of Pokemon training. Finally, I would end the day with a random choice, as the bedtime ritual has been a joy at every age – there is something infinitely tender about tucking my child into bed with her favourite toys, and giving her a goodnight kiss and hug.

That is how I would spend my day trip. But I would reserve a whole week to visit my favourite time of all – the second year. For both my daughters, this age holds a special place in my heart. The change during that year was incredible, from a baby who could sit up and say a few words, to a toddler hanging on to the school fence, looking longingly at the children and asking when she could go to school too. There were plenty of milestones – the first time standing, thin little legs braced and shaking; the first few steps, a joyous smile on her face; the floor covered in pieces of bread and her face in pasta sauce as she learned to feed herself. It was a time of exploration and discovery, where we didn’t even need to leave the house to find new worlds to explore, and a playground was the ultimate in excitement. At the same time, the wider world started to register, and we could see her fascination with animals, waterfalls, rocks, and other people. With the ‘terrible twos’ yet to come, fits of temper or tears were few, and blew over as quickly as they came. There was plenty of laughter, as a totally unselfconscious little girl gleefully removed her trousers, put a bin over her head, tried on Mummy’s shoes or reversed roles to feed Daddy. It may come as no surprise that it was when our first daughter was nearing her second birthday, that we decided it was time she had a brother or sister.

Who knows what the coming years will bring? Perhaps I will find a new favourite age. Of one thing I am sure – every age is lovely, in its own way. So, until they develop that time machine, I will do my best to enjoy the age my children are now, to the full.

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