My son turned 18 recently. It was huge. He went to bed a child, and when he woke up the next morning he was an adult. All my parental worries and responsibilities disappeared overnight. I was freed.
Except, I wasn't freed at all. Absolutely nothing changed for me on that magical day. Of course, it's changed in my son's life. He can vote now, and get into nightclubs, and sign his own contracts with his very own signature. (Yes, my son has a signature. It's so cute!)
But my relationship with my son hasn't changed at all. He is still my baby. And he isn't my baby in some vague, 'I'll always be there for you' kind of way. He is, actually, my baby. I look at him and his 18-year-old face morphs into the cute little boy I held in my arms, whose curly hair I brushed back from his face, whose chubby cheeks I kissed. He is that child, still, for me. And he always will be.
Over the past 18 years my son has passed through innumerable milestones, each of which promised to sever the bonds between us. When he weaned himself at 10 months, I was sure he didn't need me anymore. Anyone could feed him a bottle! I wasn't special!
But of course, I was wrong. I was his mummy, and his entire world. And drinking milk from a bottle instead of directly from me didn't change that at all.
And then he went to creche, and eventually to pre-school. And again, I was sure it was going to make him more independent. He was away from me all day. Would he even recognise me when he came home?
Turns out he did. Every day, he would rush into my arms (or, at the very least, rush into my bag for his after-school snack). Some days he was talkative, other days he was grumpy, but he was still my little boy and I was still his only mum.
And then he went to school, and his world expanded dramatically. He was trotting off every day in his too-big shorts, having interactions and adventures separately to me. I thought that would be the end of our intimacy, and the beginning of his true independence.
But independence comes slowly. My little school boy still needed me, to debrief at the end of the day, to problem solve, to help with his homework, to wash his little uniforms. He needed me all the way through primary, and into high school. His problems changed, his conversation changed, his height certainly changed, but our bond never did. I was still his mum. He was still my only son.
Now my son is technically a man, and, to the outside world, I'm sure he appears as one. He gets himself around. He manages his own finances. He makes his own decisions. But he is still my little boy. And there is no conflict for me, in his being so. I kiss the top of his head. I worry when he's late home. I cook him a hot breakfast on occasion for the pleasure of seeing him eat.
I look at his adored face and feel astonished that I made him.
"Our children are only ever lent to us," the saying goes. And in one sense, this is true. We cannot know how many moments we have with our kids.
But your baby will always be your baby, no matter how many decades have passed. No matter what milestones are crossed, no matter how independent they become, no matter what the law says, no matter how adult their signature.
There is no end point to this parenting journey. We are in it for life. There is only a beginning.