(This was first published in Le News 6 November 2014)
I’m all for attachment parenting, I really am. When the children were babies, I demand-fed them (and myself, if I’m honest); my husband and I carried them around in our arms, in slings and in baby backpacks; we co-slept and I loved it. There was nothing sweeter for me than waking in the night to see their small, snuffling faces inches away from mine. But now, after seven years of dedicated attachment, I’d like to know … when can I expect them to detach?
When can I reasonably expect to sink into a nice hot bath without both children immediately rushing in to a) use the toilet and b) use my knees as islands for their toys to play on?
I like to cuddle them, of course, but when can I expect to sit down on the couch without them climbing onto my lap and starting a vicious turf war?
The smaller child is particularly fierce in her desire for proximity. She went through a phase – oh, such a long one, it seemed! – of following me around with her forehead pressed to the side of my leg.
‘What are you doing?’ I asked, the first time this happened. ‘It’s weird.’
‘I’m keeping my eyes on you,’ she replied. ‘You’re not going anywhere without me.’
I can’t complain too much, though, because it’s her father who really bears the brunt of her barnacle nature. He’s her guy, her Happy Place, her comfort, her big doudou. She follows him around all day and climbs into our bed in the early hours, to sleep on his head. On our recent South African holiday we spent a very pleasant few hours in a Camps Bay restaurant, gazing out to sea and drinking sundowners. And of all the tanned and trendy people there, my husband was the only one who had a small girl in a bright pink tutu perched on his shoulder, like a large and very demanding parrot. It’s hard to believe that one teenage day she won’t want to be seen in public with us.
The older child isn’t quite as cuddlesome as her sister, but she’s certainly still attached. In fact, I think she sees me as some sort of extension of herself, useful for doing the things that she can’t, yet.
‘Hi,’ she’ll say, with the winning smile that always prefaces some request. ‘Please will you Google a few things for me? Thanks. Here’s a list. And could you go on Spotify and find me the song that I just heard on the bus? I don’t know the title or any of the words but it sounds like that other song that you couldn’t find last week. And will you open this water bottle for me? And scratch my back? Also, I’d like a play date with someone from my class. Can you arrange it?’
It’s like I’m a cross between Miss Moneypenny and a robotic arm.
Anyway, neither of them are showing signs of undocking from the mothership anytime soon. Only last weekend they found me in the playroom, where I was huddled in a corner with a magazine and a cup of tea.
‘Mommy!’ the bigger one cried, scandalised. ‘What are you doing in here all by yourself?’
‘I’m fine,’ I replied, backing further into my corner and clutching my magazine to my chest. ‘I’m happy here. Very, very happy.’
‘Poor you,’ crooned the small one, climbing onto my knee and patting my head. ‘All alone. Don’t worry, Mommy. We’ll keep you company. We won’t let you be alone. Ever. You will never … ever … ever … be alone …’