So just as the boy made the momentous step of making his First Holy Communion, the toddler (she who I still think of in many ways as my baby) made her first tentative steps towards proper independence.
My sweet, lovely baby girl, who still has a fondness for the dummy (but only at bed times) attended her first induction session for the nursery school she will attend in September (or ‘apetember’ as she calls it).
I had been pretty cool and collected about it - sure it was only a wee induction session. Just 45 minutes of playing with the other boys and girls and maybe singing a wee song and then back home again. I emphasised to her it was not ‘apetemeber’ yet and this was just ‘a wee try’.
I should have, perhaps, emphasised the same to myself - that was just a ‘wee try’ and I didn’t need to be getting myself annoyed over the head of it all. I thought I would be grand and I smiled and danced down the path with her revelling in her excitement.
When we got inside and I saw the teachers - the same faces who had seen Joseph through his nursery experience five years ago - I reassured Cara that they had looked after her brother and her cousin before him. And I assured her that they even knew her granny.
In hindsight, as my maternal heartstrings were being battered I think I was reassuring myself that they had taken care of Joseph before and of course I had nothing to fear in them taking care of her. She would be grand. And as she happily tootled around the room, chatting easily to the teachers and trying out of the various activities, I knew instinctively she would be absolutely fine.
But me? I’m the cliche. The mammy who tears up with pride at every tiny achievement. The mammy who is delighted to see how well she took to it but feels a little torn that she didn’t look back in my direction for a bit of reassurance. I didn’t want her clinging to my legs - but a wee sniff of emotion would have been strangely reassuring.
By the end of the session as she sat proudly beside her new teacher and sang her songs, chatting easily in the group my heart was beating furiously - that mixture of pride and emotion at the glimpse of the little girl she is becoming - far removed from the tiny new born who was placed in my arms after a dramatic and exhilarating labour just three years ago.
I’m sure every parent feels the same pull when they leave their child to school for the first time. For many of us this is the first time our children are beyond our direct care.
We may choose a nursery school, but we have no power to choose the teachers. Up until now Cara has been in the care of my aunt, who she calls ‘Mimi’ - almost a surrogate for mammy. I have had not one moment of worry about her care - I know values I have are shared entirely by my aunt. I know Cara is loved in buckets. But now, it’s time to loosen the apron strings a little bit and when I look at the babyish little imp in front of me I wonder if she is ready? Or at least I tell myself I am wondering if she is ready but the truth is, it is me who is not one bit ready.
I know that the time between now and ‘apetember’ will fly by. I know we have much preparation to do. She needs to perfect certain skills. I need to put together a little bag of essentials for her to take with her. We need to work on her listening skills just a little (she has the same selective deafness as her brother). But that aside it will be no time at all before the big day rolls around and it is no longer a “wee try” but the full on, real deal.
And I know from the experience with her brother that it will be no time at all until nursery school is finished and she is starting at big school... and no time again until it is she who is making her First Holy Communion.
I have said it once and will say it again - time is so very precious when your children are little. Being a parent is hard work. It is exhausting. It is relentless. The sense of responsibility can be overwhelming. There are times - lots of times - when I long for just one day off with no worry, no concern about them. I’m sure I’m not alone.
But while I’m wishing for that day (which would involve cocktails, a nice big bed with 12 hours uninterrupted sleep and the choice of what I want to watch on the TV) I also know that it is all very fleeting.
‘Apetember’ comes faster and faster each year without me realising how quickly they are both growing - and how many milestones they are passing. So I’ll make a promise to stop wishing it away quite so much and to appreciate what is right under my nose while it is there - babies certainly don’t stay babies for long.