With her tween daughter turning 10, Vivian Teo wonders if she’ll notice the last time she holds her daughter or kisses her good night — and does everything she can to hold onto the last vestiges of childhood
My elder daughter, E, recently turned 10. Reaching double-digits is a milestone and, like most parents, I wanted the occasion to be special for my daughter. We planned a home celebration and asked E what would she like for her birthday. She wanted two particular stuffed toys. I readily agreed and effectively went back on my no-more-new-plushies-in-the-house policy (because we have accumulated so many of them that those which had fallen out of favour with my kids are literally kept in four full trash bags in our storeroom!).
Plushies weren’t the only thing I felt a sudden urge to buy for my daughter’s birthday. I decided to surprise E with one of those mini claw machines. My kids have been fascinated by claw machines at the arcade for the longest time. So, E was over the moon when we surprised her with a mini one.
You probably think, Nothing wrong with buying toys for your kid on her birthday, right? Well you see, this is not me. In recent years, I’ve been trying to embrace minimalism to reduce the clutter in our house. Our experience with most toys was that they only temporarily captured our kids’ attention— for maybe a few months, max — then they get chucked away in a corner, taking up space and accumulating dust. It’s the evergreens like blocks, arts and crafts, and books that they always return to. I’m glad to say we have successfully stopped accumulating toys over the past year or so.
But with E turning 10, I was regressing. Instead of books and craft kits, I had urges to get all this kiddy stuff. Heck, I even considered getting the bunk bed she has always wanted; one where we could hang fairy lights and make it look like a magical loft, maybe with a slide so she could play any time she wanted. A year ago, the minimalism mum in me would have screamed, “Don’t do it! It will be a complete waste of money and space when she outgrows them in a year or two!”
The truth behind this urge? I’m afraid I’m running out of time, as E will become a teenager in a few years’ time. I’m running out of time to see the excitement on E’s face when a new toy arrives. I’m running out of time to enjoy the cuteness of E tucking her plushie into her bed. I’m running out of time to make memories of E having fun with plushies/ claw machine/bunk bed/etc. I’m running out of time to be with her while she is still my little girl.
People always tell you when you are a sleep-deprived parent of toddlers with boundless energy and crazy tantrums that things will get easier in time. Indeed, they do get easier. I don’t miss diapering, interrupted sleep, or chasing after wobbly little people.
With my two girls at 8 and 10, I feel like I’m in a sweet-spot now. They play well together; they don’t call for my attention incessantly; they are a lot less picky with food; they can hold interesting conversations with me. Yes, it does get easier and you feel less physically exhausted as compared to when they are babies or toddlers. But as they get older, it also gets harder emotionally as you start letting them go.
Our kids’ increasing independence happens so gradually that sometimes you just miss it. That is until one day, when you’re working peacefully at home on your laptop and it suddenly dawns on you: When was the last time my kid insisted on sitting on my lap while I was working? When was that last time I bathed him or brushed her teeth? When was the last time I lifted one of my kids in my arms? These little things slip away without you noticing. But in that occasional moment when you realise your child no longer needs you to hold his hand, brush her hair, or carry him in your two arms where he used to fit so perfectly—it hits you.
Being a parent is about raising our kids so that one day they will be independent enough to leave us and thrive on their own. I know it’s ultimately for their own good — I don’t want to still have to cradle my kid to sleep or see her all teary-eyed when I drop her off in secondary school — but with every milestone my child reaches, I’m torn between pride and melancholy.
I remember when E started preschool, she cried almost every day for a year when I dropped her off at school. I would hide behind the school gate, hoping to see her calm down and play in the school garden. Most of the time, my heart ended up breaking as she would continue crying in her teacher’s arms. But a year later, I was so proud to see E settling in and comforting other kids crying in school.
When E started primary school, I was a bundle of nerves the first day I waited for her school bus to ferry her home. I kept thinking, what if she missed her bus or got bullied by older kids in the bus? Four years on, she takes care of her younger sister and tells off rowdy. She is responsible and diligent to the point that I never have to worry about her schoolwork. E has come a long way from the frightened kid that she was in preschool and I could not be prouder of her.
With every milestone E has reached, she has become less dependent on her dad and me. And with that I’m learning to put my trust in E and others caring for her, like her school, her teachers, and the bus driver uncle. I’m learning to let go of E little by little, yet trying to maintain whatever bit of her childhood I can still hold on to.
I notice these days that E starts squirming if I hug or kiss her a little too long. Perhaps we’re nearing the end of our lovey-dovey relationship. Perhaps there will be a day when I can no longer hug and kiss E because we both feel embarrassed doing so. And perhaps one day I will suddenly wonder, When was the last time E and I hugged or planted kisses on each other’s cheeks? I know when I look back at how it all used to be, I will do so with bittersweet tears.
Happy tenth birthday, my darling. Spread your wings and fly; I know you will do great. But if you ever fall, your dad and I promise we will never judge you and we will be here for you. And, if you’d like, with your favourite plushies and claw machine, no less.