The elderly woman wrapped a warm thin hand around my forearm and leant in close. At first I thought she had stopped to steady herself as she shuffled down the long aisle at Broadway Coles. But with a smile on her lips, she leaned in so our faces nearly touched and said: “These are the best years of your life. They will go quickly. Cherish them. Don’t have regrets.”
She gently patted the sling that held the 12-week-old bundle snugged softly against my sore, leaking breasts, nodded firmly and walked away.
It was the first of many times over the following decade that I would be stopped by a stranger and given the same advice. But I’ll never forget that first old lady, because at the time her warning bemused me. “The best years of my life.” Seriously?
I was 21 years old and had found myself 1,000 kilometres away from family and friends, unexpectedly navigating parenthood, university study and work. I wanted to arrogantly scoff “I’m educated, I have ambition, I haven’t slept in two months, I sing nursery rhymes 18 hours a day and I accidentally left the house in my pyjama bottoms this morning – surely this is not as good as it gets!”
But time makes fools of us all. Flip forward 13 years and I’ve just sat down at my desk after seeing my fourth and last child off to her first day of school. It’s the end of an era; a great big chunk of my 33 years of living ends today. And the old lady at Coles was goddamn right.
In the years between then and now, I carried four wonderful people, nurtured them, saw their characters develop, independence blossom, talents emerge, vulnerability morph into resilience and ideas become beliefs and opinions.