Minimalism Life

On a warm day in August, three months and one week ago, I woke up to what seemed like a normal morning. As normal as can be expected during the kid’s summer break, when ideas are frothed up by young minds and easily become reality without the school run drum beating in the backs of our minds. When instead of questioning the fruit-to-carbs ratio in the kids’ lunchboxes and asking myself for the one thousandth time why I still haven’t attained that effortless smart-casual, capsule wardrobe, I’m wearing a robot head made from cereal boxes, being roughly manhandled into a cushioned den (keep pushing, we’ll make her fit) and instructed to spy on invisible monsters (they could attack at any moment!). In other words, the small humans are teaching me with ease and dexterity how to live in the moment.

I discovered less than an hour into that particular day that it was anything but ordinary. When I arrived back home after a quick run, ready for whatever harmless, albeit slightly odd games the six-year-old had dreamt up (I’m a dog called Steve. Get me to fetch something), my eldest son called out to me. He used a word he’d never, ever called me before. I stopped in my tracks, one trainer untied, the other still knotted, like my stomach. What could I have possibly said to make him call me that word?

"Pardon?" I said, because I couldn’t quite believe he’d said what I thought he’d said. He was only eight after all—surely it was too soon?

It was worse when he said it again, because he’d walked into the room where I stood. He said it brazenly, looking right at me, catching my eye for a piercing moment before his gaze slid away, chased by a tinge of awkwardness only I would notice.

"I said look at this, Mum. I made a crane that actually moves! I used the motor from my train."

My insides quivered at the realisation that a whole chapter of parenthood was over. Just like that. I wasn’t Mummy anymore. I was Mum. And he hadn’t given me any warning—what had changed since yesterday? Was it because after several failed squishing attempts, my left leg had been abandoned, sticking out of the pillow-fort, making us a target for invisible, enemy monsters? 

I looked at him for three or four seconds. He knew I’d noticed, and he knew I was processing this monumental, insignificant lexicon choice. In that moment I felt so close to him. Almost painfully close. But further from him than I’d ever been before. I could feel his anticipation of my response, his euphoria at having said the new word so seamlessly. I looked at the thing he’d created, balanced in the palm of his hand that I could never have built myself. Made from imagination and trial and error; not with instructions or an agenda but because he woke up with an idea and didn’t consider stopping until he’d completed it. It was his proof he could call me Mum now. His evidence he no longer needed Mummy.

"Wow! That’s incredible!" I said, having decided to follow his lead—not to verbalize the shift that was happening right at that moment, in front of my eyes. "Show me what it does, I’d love to see."

As his shoulders relaxed and he zoned into the carefully constructed object, explaining with the assured narrative only children use, I felt waves of emotion wash over me. I’d long ago lost public hand-holding and hugs and spontaneous declarations of love, and even my invitations of play were becoming more regularly rebuffed in favor of reading alone in his room. 

But that younger, less confident, child who called me Mummy couldn’t have built this remote-controlled crane. Wouldn’t have had the patience, the stamina, the skills, the insight. I let go of the urge to question the change, to try to halt it, to invent stories in my mind about what I’d done or not done to make it happen, to try to take ownership of an occurrence I had absolutely no control over, to cling to the familiar. And I celebrated the fact he’d sought me out to share his milestone.

By bedtime I’d been called Mum many, many times. He’d figuratively beaten me over the head with the word in his mission to convey his new-found maturity. I felt a wobble of doubt. Was this bad? Should I be worried? Could he and I retain our close bond if things kept changing, disappearing, morphing into something different? But then a thought occurred to me. I certainly didn’t control what my children said or did, but I still had the monopoly on my own responses. I could start a new phase too. 

"How about I come and read my book in your room. We can read our books together?" I suggested, once his younger brother was tucked up in bed. 

Reading him bedtime stories felt a lifetime ago, but our shared love of plots and characters and words remained constant. He grinned at me and offered me a cushion as we got comfy and resumed our respective stories. Together. Apart. And after a few minutes he looked up.

"Mum—what does sinewy mean?"

A quiet excitement bubbled up in me as I answered (so I could say the tortoise’s scrawny, old, sinewy neck?) and he too found the word intrinsically funny. Like turgid or scuttled or nodule. Suddenly I had perspective; holding a tiny, clammy hand and being called Mummy was awesome, but so was discussing the meaning of words, the art of language, and being called Mum.

"Does that make sense? Did I explain it clearly?" I asked.

He nodded. Re-read the sentence. "Yep. I get it now."

Me too, I almost said out loud. I think I get it now.

Everything is a phase. That’s the best knowledge on parenting I ever, ever got, back when I had a six-week-old with colic. Being a parent is letting go and embracing change, on steroids, under a microscope, every day. It’s exhausting. It’s overwhelming. But it’s the thing that’s taught me to be present in the moment. To endure the hard times, to embrace the infinite new phases, to celebrate the every day. To identify the unnecessary things and thoughts and relationships that become barriers, that weigh me down, and let go of them. To cherish those I love. To do things that feel innate; sometimes joyful, sometimes gruelling. Because the truest minimalists I know are my children. All they need is an idea and someone they love and trust to share it with.