‘I’ve done wrong as a parent but some things I got right’
The call comes as I am driving. It's my eldest daughter, the 20-year-old, who lives in another city.
"Mum," she says, "are you on your own?"
I tell her I am and instantly ask what's wrong.
"Well, I know you've been really busy moving into the house and it would be totally understandable if you forgot to do this but …"
Oh God. What have I forgotten to do? How have I let my child down? Will it be fixable? My mothering muscle, honed over two decades, clenches into action even though this grown-up child of mine now runs her own life.
She's at work so she speaks quietly, explaining how her little sister has rung her in tears from a school retreat.
Parents had been asked to send a letter to their children as they begin their last year of schooling and while all her friends were reading lengthy missives there was no letter from me.
"Of course, I wrote one," I tell her, slightly indignant. "I emailed it to the school."
I don't confess that I only wrote it the day before.
My daughter laughs with relief. "Ha, ha, that's what I told her. That it's mum we're talking about - there's no way you would not take up an invitation to write to her."
In that instant, I've never loved my children more. My youngest for reaching out to her big sister in a moment of uncertainty; my eldest for her calm and clarity in handling not only her sister's distress, but being attuned to pre-empt mine.
Where does it come from, this emotional deftness so often lacking in those three or four times her age?
Nobody tells you about this stage, this surprising and wondrous moment when you emerge from the depths of the parenting trenches to discover you've had a hand in creating something truly beautiful.
That all those years of listening and guiding and teaching colours and numbers and resilience and empathy will one day lead you to a quiet, sun-dappled clearing where you will see your child, not just as the baby you raised, but the person they have come to be.
So let me tell you what it's like, not because my eldest child is a shining example of new adulthood but because so often when you're raising children it's hard to see the endgame; to believe that it will get better than it is right now.
Our little girl, born in the millennium year, was a tricky baby. She cried. A lot. Her dad and I, discombobulated at having up-ended our lives from one side of the world to another just months before her birth, probably transmitted our uncertainty on to her.
The GP declared that some babies are just "intense" which didn't make us feel any better. But she was healthy and capable and, even on the worst days, I tried hard to remember that some children aren't.
As a parent of a special-needs child once told me: "Everyone else gets to see their child thrive, the best I can hope for is that mine will survive."
Like so many we had no family close by. We were also part of the generation who transformed parenting from an unremarkable life stage into a performance sport.
There were accessories to be bought, milestones to be achieved and, as the years galloped by, technology with which to record her progress.
I feel grateful that we had a handful of years of seeing her life through our eyes; so often now our children are watched through a phone camera.
I've written before of the things I've done wrong as a parent but, looking back, there are some things I got right. When she was a toddler we went for walks as the sun went down. We turned over logs and watched ants crawl and boats bob. I'm glad I saw the value in that quietness.
As the years passed, I learned to listen more than I spoke which is bloody hard for someone full of words. I let her fail when I could've orchestrated it for her succeed. I trusted her when she said she wanted to change schools and I let her figure it out if she forgot her lunch or her cossie.
Crucially, I kept putting my arms around her as the softness of childhood gave way to the sharp angles of adolescence and she struggled with what author Caitlin Moran calls "the bad year".
I learned that being a mother sometimes requires great stillness, not manic action.
My child is not a measure of my motherhood but when she came home last weekend I couldn't have been more proud.
She hung out the washing without being asked, suggested we call her grandmother and talked me through her saving plan.
As she laughed over the letter debacle - her little sister remarking on how many pages I'd written - I realised that while my work here may be done, my love never is.
Like so many, I haven't seen my mum for nearly a year and while FaceTime is great I want her to have something more thoughtful and precious. So I've written her an old-school card and posted it.
The blaze of purple reminds me of bringing home my second daughter from the hospital after her birth in November. They still make me happy beyond measure.
Love her reworking of the famous line from Notting Hill: "I'm just a girl standing in front of a boy asking him to vote."
Originally published as 'I've done wrong as a parent but some things I got right'