My eldest daughter is almost 11 now. Growing up far too fast far my liking. Justin Beiber and talk about boys she likes. I remember her as a baby the first time I saw here, all wrapped up in a white blanket, white mittens and a white hat, laying in the cot staring up at me with those blue eyes and wondering who the hell I was. The times we would lay cuddling on the settee Bon Jovi playing softly on the CD player and me singing to her making her smile. Her spindly legs as she first tried to walk and her uncle calling her chicken legs a name that still sticks even now.
She has her own ways about her now. A loving child still but who knows what buttons too press and how far to go with them. She starts secondary school in September and she got into the school we wanted her too. She wasn't sure at first but her best friend from school is going there as well so any fears she had soon went away. She has just started to walk to school with her friend, me and my other daughter and son following just far enough behind them to make sure they are okay but not too close to be uncool.
She is great with her sister and her younger brothers, reading to them and playing with them. She has a vivid imagination and always instigates the games that they all play together. Be it hide and seek around the house, which will no doubt involve hiding in cupboards or wardrobes or building houses with the cushions from the settee in the front room. She insists on having picnics every now and then and lays the blanket on the floor in the front room, placing cups and plates for the others, then helping to carry the food as well all sit down on the floor. She can be bossy at times but they listen to her and do as she says, more than they do me the soft touch.
I used to put them all in the bath together, it was easier that way to be honest. She, as the eldest, would insist on washing her brothers hair. They used to sit there and let her do it not making a sound and closing their eyes when she washed the shampoo out of their hair. They would insist on her doing it and not me and would play a game as they did so. They loved it if it was a little cramped, but not so much now as she has started too notice a few changes about herself. The bra's she insists my wife buys her, even though she doesn't need them quite yet. She doesn't share a bath with the other kids anymore, she has become more self conscious around me as well.
The child that used to take her clothes off and run around naked is no longer there anymore. Sticking her bum in the air and wanting me to chase her around the house before her bath, catching her and dropping her into the water as she laughed out loud. Ive known for a while that she was moving away from me and wanting more independence. I deal with it as best I can but what I didn't realise was that she was starting to move away from the others as well.
I take the kids to school three days a week. We don't live far from the school, we are lucky its a good school with a strict but fair headmistress, and we walk there when I take them. The roads are quiet and lined with trees, blossom fills them in the spring, and she say how pretty they are. She would walk with me holding my hand and her brother holding hers, my other daughter on the other side of me holding that hand. We would chat and laugh and talk about school, the things she had learnt, who was talking too who, and what she had eaten for dinner the day before and what she thought would be for dinner today. Then as we got closer she would shout to the others to see who could catch her and they would run the last part to school, and my son and daughter would follow her always a little farther behind.
At the school gate I would get a kiss and off she would go, my other daughter would kiss me as well and I would walk the length of the playground with my son towards where he has too stand in line. Sometimes he makes me follow a path that's etched into the playground, its has markings that tell you that you have to hop this bit, skip the next bit, run after that. I don't mind making myself look a fool, its for him not me.
The other mothers stand there chatting away to each other, others not lifting their heads making sure their children are in the line at the right time, whilst me and my son run around the playground. I notice that the other fathers seem awkward around me and each other. Its as if they feel unsure about doing what I do with my son in the morning. Other children will come over and join us but the parents never do. There is a fence made of pencils that surrounds the entrance. Not real pencils but from wood and standing 6 feet tall. All different colours, reds, yellows, blue, greens and I think back to what it was like before they put this fence there.
The red metal fence that was waist high, with wire mesh linking it all together. I used to stand there watching as the girls went into their classrooms, waving at them until the last minute that they walked through the door. Safe in the knowledge that they would be there, filling their small minds with all the wonders of the things that they would discover that day.
Now as the gates open and the teachers come out, the noise of the bolt that locks the gate scrapping along the ground, my son gets into line and follows the other children single file through the gates to his lessons. I'm one of the lucky ones, I am tall enough to watch him over the tall pencil shaped fence. I watch as he chatters away to his friends and just as he is about to go through the door of his classroom he lifts his head and smiles at me, just to let me know that he is okay.
As I leave to make my way to work I see her, standing there with her prefect badge on taking in the packed lunch trolley and I feel a sense of pride at the child she has become. She doesn't notice me as I stand there for a few seconds watching her doing her job as she calls it and I remember the journey to school this morning and how I finally realised she was going away from not just me but the others as well.
My son saw her leave the house with her friend this morning and he chased after her, they saw him and they started to run. Try as hard as he could he couldn't keep up with them and it broke my heart. To see him want nothing more than to be with his sister and her running away from him. Not in a malicious way, she was with her friend and that was fine, but too see him, no matter how hard he tried he couldn't keep up with them. He stood and watched as they crossed the road leaving him behind on the pavement waiting for me and my daughter too catch him up. Desperate too get across and see if he could catch them, but he couldn't they were too far in front. He cried at first, not understanding why she didn't want to walk with him as she does every other day. I knelt down, wiped the tears from his face, kissed his cheek and told him that one day he would be able to do the same as she was.
To be trusted enough to make his own way in life but know that whenever he needed me I would be here. To know that even though she was running away from him she wasn't doing it because she didn't like him, but because she was growing up and needed to have a little bit more freedom than she has now. To be allowed to play with her friends and not depend on playing with us all the time. At least I think I was telling him that, perhaps I was telling myslef the same thing as well.