Clare Mackintosh: A mother’s love

"This morning I bent down at the school gate to give Josh – now nine – a kiss. He ducked away, his r

"This morning I bent down at the school gate to give Josh – now nine – a kiss. He ducked away, his red flushes disappearing into the classroom, where I couldn’t embarrass him further." - Credit: Archant

The goodbye kiss at the school gate has fallen victim to peer pressure, so how much longer will I be able to cuddle my children?

And so it begins. This morning I bent down at the school gate to give Josh – now nine – a kiss. He ducked away, his red flushes disappearing into the classroom, where I couldn’t embarrass him further. Too old, he thinks, for public displays of affection. Too independent. Too cool.

A year younger than him, Evie and Georgie are still free with their kisses, and their brother’s reluctance makes me hold them a little tighter at the classroom door, newly conscious of the clock that ticks away such maternal closeness. Will it be next year they push me away? Or sooner, as they subconsciously take a lead from their sibling?

I had thought I might have a little longer – till the end of primary school, perhaps – but I had forgotten the power of those good-natured jibes from friends, and the strength of the desire to be older than one’s years. At home, in private, the children remain deeply affectionate. They sprawl against me on the sofa, and fling their arms around me when night falls. They crawl into my bed when their worries grow too big, nestling into me as easily as if they were still part of me. They seek out warmth at every opportunity.

Kisses – both offered and accepted – are numerous and indiscriminate; on the lips, on cheeks, on foreheads, tummies and necks. Sometimes soft, sometimes absent-minded, sometimes rushed. Sometimes hard and unyielding; kisses that say I love you, but by God I’m cross with you right now. In our house kisses are the currency of love; never rationed, never conditional, never refused.

“When will you be too big for us to do this?” I ask Georgie, as we lie in near darkness on her bottom bunk, our arms entwined, and my hand moving rhythmically across her head. “Never!” she declares, squeezing me more tightly. “I’ll still want to do this when I’m a hundred!” But my breath catches, because I know that one day I will lie on this bunk with her for the last time. I won’t realise it then, of course. I’ll kiss her goodnight and go downstairs; load the dishwasher and put on the TV. And I’ll never lie down with her again. She might be eight when it stops, or 10, or 14, or 18, but there will be a last time.

All these things we do without thinking: carrying our children down the stairs, holding their hands as they cross the road, cutting up their food when they’re struggling to use a knife. So fleeting; such a small part of our lives, yet more important than anything else. This is what our children will remember. I will be 40 this year, but I don’t even need to close my eyes to recall the feeling of my mother’s oilcloth apron against my cheek, as she pulled me towards her for a cuddle. How old must I have been, I wonder, for my head to be at waist height? Seven years old? Eight?

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I am there now, I realise, with the tops of three heads still at waist height, before the teenage growth spurts and lanky limbs; the surly grunts and pendulum moods of adolescent angst. I am there now, and I mustn’t waste a moment. Already I hoard obsessively the notes left by my bed, or on my desk for me to find once they’ve left for school. From you’re the best Mummy in the world! and I love you so much xx, to I’m sorry I was norty and maid you showt, I keep them all. I stash them away in my bedside cupboard, in a folder grown fat with post-its and scraps of paper, some bearing little more than a scribble; a heart; an I love you.

As for the school gate, I will gracefully accept defeat. I’ll settle for a casual ruffle of hair instead of a lip-smacking goodbye; a nonchalant arm around a shoulder instead of an eager bear hug. I’ll save my embarrassing kisses for home, when my oh-so-cool lad is just a little boy again, happy to curl up on the sofa with his mum. Whether he knows it or not, he’ll need cuddles for a few more years yet. And so will I.

Follow Clare on Twitter @Claremackinto0sh