On the big wheel

*this blog post originally appeared at http://www.mamamia.com.au*

My daughter is excited about starting school. She has been counting sleeps, insisting on wearing her school uniform everywhere, and greeting everybody with, “Hello, I’m going to school soon!” When asked if she is worried or sad at all, she says no. But her behaviour shows otherwise. She throws monster tantrums almost hourly. She clings to me like a limpet: she’s even taken to lying on the bathmat waiting for me while I’m in the shower. And she’s insisting on endless games of big-sister-little-sister, a fun (read: excruciating) game where I have to talk in a baby voice and pretend to know nothing while she smiles patronisingly and puts me straight.

I know what’s wrong with her. She can feel the big wheel turning. And I know that, because it’s also what’s wrong with me. What else could make a grown woman with a PhD get teary when buying a Tinkerbell lunchbox from Coles?

The big wheel turns whether we like it or not, rolling us from one stage of life to another. For my daughter, it’s the transition from the private world to the public world. Even preschool, that cocoon where the teachers only have first names and little beds are laid out in the afternoon, is a private place. Starting school is their first step into the public world. They are no longer considered so little that they require shelter and gentle handling. We stop using words like “care” and “love” quite so much when kids go to school. “Numeracy” and “literacy” become more important terms.

For me, it’s the transition between being the mother of a baby and what comes next (I don’t know what comes next, but I guess I find out this year). I didn’t feel the wheel turn when my son started school four years ago, because I had a one-year-old to occupy me. I’ve known a few women who, faced with this transition, have another baby just so they can hold the wheel back a little longer. And that’s fine. But for me, this is the end of my childbearing years. No more babies for me. No more toddlers to vex and delight me. No more tiny sticky hands up my nose or new shiny teeth popping up in gums; no more lying down with a warm little body for a daytime nap while the public world—full of postmen and trucks and telephones—goes on outside.

This is it. Life has resumed. It has been nearly ten years since I first fell pregnant and I’m now outside the age where I have reliable eggs or, frankly, any energy left for babies. Like my daughter, I’m excited about where this turn of the wheel will take me. My career, which I’ve kept bubbling with part-time work and carefully spaced contracts, may blossom. Perhaps I’ll finally learn to meditate and achieve spiritual peace. But, like my daughter, I’m also full of unvoiced fears. Maybe I’ll fall into despondence, feeling the sting of the end of my biological usefulness. I really don’t know. On good days, I’m cautiously optimistic. On bad days, I want to drink gin until menopause is over.

So when my daughter chucks one of her wobblies, I try to go gently with her. When she clings, I hug her harder. And I’ll continue to play the part of little sister with gusto, as long as she needs me to. We all go into the unknown with hope in our hearts and doubts in our minds. Right now I understand her better than anyone.