Remember this forever, I tell myself as I take a photograph in my mind, because you’d be embarrassed if I whipped out my phone. You’re standing just inside the high school gate – dipping your toe in, not ready to dive all the way yet. I can’t believe you’re taller than me. Your arms are crossed – the same as mine – fingers splayed, fidgeting with the sleeve of your Northcote High School shirt. Your translucent blue-green eyes flicker around, uncertain. You ask me to wait a bit. I should leave, let you go, get on with it – no other parents are hanging around – but I can’t, not until you tell me it’s OK. A friend you know from primary school approaches and your shoulders relax a little. You give me a quick, self-conscious hug; it’s OK now. I cry behind my sunglasses all the way home on the tram.
Remember this forever, I told myself as I left you playing with marbles on your first day of primary school. Your teacher was gentle; the skin around her eyes crinkled when she smiled and I believed her promise that it would be OK. I cried as I waddled home, a third baby kicking in my belly.
Remember this forever, I told myself on your first day of kindergarten. You squeezed my hand tightly and tried to hide behind my legs. Your little sister was asleep in the baby sling strapped to my chest. Her fluffy orange sweater irritated my nose. We left you kicking a ball around the big elm tree. I sat in the car for a long time, crying, before I drove home.
When I saw you for the first time – a skinny thing, covered in blood – you looked more like a rabbit in a butcher’s shop than a baby. Then the doctors whisked you away. Monitors, tubes, temperature instability, infections, blood tests, antibiotics; drips so hard to insert into tiny veins. The hands on the clock in the neo-natal intensive care unit didn’t quite reach the numbers, so it was hard to tell what the time really was. The doctors said I could touch you through the portholes of your plastic crib, but you were too fragile to hold in my arms. I imagined you falling to pieces like a broken doll. They’d put a blue-and-white beanie on your head to keep you warm. I didn’t cry when they told me to prepare for the worst, for letting go. I was looking at you and thinking that if they just let me hold you, I would never let you go.
Remember this forever, remember this forever, remember this forever.
(Published in n-Scribe, Darebin Arts journal)