If I’m not building train tracks, I’m picking up escaped peas from the floor, or trying to stop a small child from drawing over his brother’s school uniform with a red pen.
The boys are mostly old enough to amuse themselves in the afternoons now – either doing something together or playing on their own. It means I can head into the kitchen and cook them something for dinner without a child attached to my leg. It means I can tidy up toys or rearrange books in the bookshelf. It means I can run a bath without the contents of the toy box being thrown inside. I guess it gives me the excuse to be even busier.
But usually, at around 5.30pm, I finally get a chance to plonk down on the sofa with a cup of coffee while they eat their tea.
And invariably, a thought pops into my head. Maybe I should check my emails. Or check on my social media pages. Or respond to a message from a friend. Or book a haircut for the boys. Or arrange a play date for next week.
My mind is always busy, wondering how I can milk every second for all its worth.
One afternoon last week, I was doing exactly that; tapping away on my laptop while the boys tucked into a bowl of chicken noodles. Responding to something important that I didn’t feel could wait. Occasionally taking a swig of coffee or glancing up to check that the boys weren’t picking the vegetables out of their noodles.
Wilfred finished and got up from the table. He took a book from his bookshelf and walked over to me on the sofa. As he snuggled into me, I kissed him on the head, but continued tapping away.
“No Mummy,” he said. “Read dis book.”
He pushed my laptop away with his chubby hand. But mid email, my instinct was to pull it straight back onto my lap and continue tapping away.
“One minute, baby,” I replied. “Mummy is nearly done.”
“NO MUMMY!” he cried. “READ DIS BOOK TO WIFFED!”
I turned to him to repeat my plea for a few more minutes, but his big, pleading eyes quickly gave me second thoughts. I didn’t need to send that email that very second. I could press save, shut the laptop, and give him the time he craved.
So I did it.
And half way through ‘Never Tickle a Tiger”, with my smallest baby happily listening and giggling away, it occurred to me how precious this time was. How much more rewarding it was than sending that email. And that even though it was Wilfred who asked for the story, it was me that was enjoying the moment most.
In just three months, he won’t be my smallest baby anymore. I will have a newborn attached to me feeding and he will suddenly be fighting with two siblings for my attention.
His pot belly won’t seem to babyish anymore. His thighs less chunky. His cute baby talk will suddenly seem so grown up. His nappies will look like they are designed for a giant. I will have even less time for cuddles with my bigger babies – and they will seem even more precious.
It took a two-year old to teach me a lesson that afternoon.
All Mums are busy – but sometimes we have to pause, sit still, and simply soak up our children.
After all, I’m not going to remember that there were escaped peas on the floor or that I had to save an email mid-tap in years to come. Or that I forgot to book a haircut or pick up a book from the living room floor.
But I will always remember that cuddle.
I will always remember the cuddles when they were small.