Babies are cute. Babies are so cute.
Seriously, how cute are babies?
Wanna know what's cute? Little tiny people (I'm talking about babies).
Goodness me but babies are cute.
Know what else babies are? Snuggly.
Can I be honest? Part of the reason I have wanted another child was that I didn't feel ready for the funnest part of parenting - ie, the baby part - to be over. (Uh, anybody else? Just me? Okay).
But lately, life has hit me with a few surprises. My kids are well and truly not babies any more, and there are no more babies on the horizon for us. But I'm surprised by how not-sad I feel about this. I didn't know that I would love my children more now, as four-year-olds, than I did when they looked as cute as they do in these pictures. I didn't know that they would delight me more because I would know them better.
I didn't know how much time with a four-year-old girl would be spent watching her hopping. "Look, I'm hopping! I'm so hopping!" and skipping "Look, Mummy, this is how you skip. I'll show you". I don't have the heart to tell her that actually, that's not how you skip.
I didn't know how unexpectedly innocent a four-year-old boy could be. He found his cousin's toy gun and pointed it at his own head and clicked the trigger. I looked on, horrified, while he beamed and said "Oh look, Mummy, a hairdryer!"
I didn't know how wonderful it would be to have a child who could take themselves to the bathroom.
Lately Pink has become convinced that she can run much, much faster if she is wearing very short shorts. "Mummy, I can do hard things if I am in my running shorts!" she says, and sometimes "Look, I did it because I kept on trying!" Magical thinking and determination? I think this girl will be able to do anything she sets her mind to.
It's not all sunshine, of course. Pink, particularly, can't stand being wrong. "I was NOT biting my toenails, Mummy, I was only LICKING them". (Well in that case, carry on). And Blue can't seem to stop needling his sister until she snaps and bites him. Sometimes they still drive me to the edge of distraction, then over the border and into the neighbouring counties of frustration and despair.
But I love them more than ever. And they are more fun than ever.
Being with these kids, aged four, makes me think, often, of my favourite African proverb about raising children. I'm sure you know the one beloved of Hillary Clinton: It takes a village to raise a child. This proverb is not like that proverb (and is yet another example of how 'Africa' is not a homogeneous place, but that's another blog post).
When I was growing up, my family spent a few years in Kenya and the proverb my parents often quoted while we were growing up came from the area we lived in while we were there. I don't know the whole thing in the original language, just the first few words that my parents used to sometimes say to each other as a kind of shorthand: abante bana. Abante bana means 'other people's children' and the whole proverb translates to mean: Other people's children are like cold snot.
How true this is, right? I've got to admit that it resonates far more with me than the village one. And I think this is where I was going wrong when I was thinking about what it would be like to have older children. Thing is, I had no idea what it would be like to have my own older children. I'd only spent time with other people's older children, and once they weren't cute babies any more, I kind of lost interest. Anybody's baby is adorable, but other people's children can be kind of like cold snot.
Not my own children, though. Their unraveling limbs and changing faces and disappearing lisps don't make them less adorable, less precious to me. I worried that they might but they really, really don't.
I would have loved any baby, but now that they are older, I love them.
And honestly, feeling that difference is the best possible kind of surprise.