I have something to confess… I’m a sniffer. One of my favourite things is sniffing Harriet’s clothes. Before you start questioning my state of mind, I’ll explain!
Harriet has her own distinctive smell- the smell of Fairy non-bio washing powder which I first used as a neurotic mum-to-be getting clothes ready for her arrival. Almost 10 months on I’m sure her skin is more than tough enough to cope with the one I do the rest of the washing with, but I just can’t bring myself to stop. I know it’s weird to say when she’s not even reached her first birthday yet, but the smell is nostalgic. It takes me back to those precious and priceless first cuddles. It’s my way of keeping her small. My little baby.
I look at pictures of Harriet just a few months old and I could be looking at a stranger. I struggle to remember her being anything other than what she is now. Smell takes me back in a way photos will never be able to.
Last weekend I was at a wedding that my best uni friend, at 38 weeks pregnant, valiantly travelled more than 170 miles to attend. I was so interested in her experience, hopes and fears. Again I was nostalgic. Nostalgic for my lost bump and the excitement I know I felt this time last year. I revelled in her pregnancy stories, sympathised with her aches and accounts of poor nights sleep. I offered tips and advice on how to get through the pre-birth limbo period and the tricky first few weeks. While I spoke knowingly, I was aware it wasn’t really coming from a place of properly remembering. It’s like when you tell a well-worn story over and over, the story becomes your reality rather than actual experience- snappier, more black and white and even a little cliched.
One good friend said to me recently that where children are concerned ‘the days are long but the years are short’ – blink and they’re starting school, another blink and they’re leaving home. I didn’t quite believe it until I had my own. I smile and get excited at every little development- Harriet clapping hands for the first time or offering me her biscuit but weirdly, at the same time, I get a little sad. I try so hard to ‘be in the moment’ but I’m fully aware at the same time that these things happen for the first time only once and I won’t ever fully remember them as I really experienced them.
While babies grow up so quickly, many changes happen so gradually you can sometimes have trouble remembering what things were like in the first place.
Harriet spent months in her moses basket but as she got bigger and bigger, she was in it less and less until one day it was packed up and put in the loft, leaving a gaping hole in the back room where it used to sit. Now I even struggle to picture her in it or it being in the back room at all.
Then there are the clothes- the favourite babygros. Looking back at pictures they drowned her. The sleeves were rolled up multiple times and had empty feet that the toes didn’t reach. There must have been a point where she was almost busting out of them and the time came to wash them and store them away. I don’t feel like I properly remember the start or end point or any of the inbetween.
From speaking to other people with children I don’t think any of this is unusual. Perhaps it’s a weird quirk of nature to get you to forget the bad bits so you have more children, or encourage you to have more children with the anticipation that second time around you really will remember. For now I’ll carry on sniffing!