"Parenting often seems like it is obsessed with firsts: first words, first steps."
Recently I put together flat-pack bunk beds. It was a memorable day and not just because I had a hangover, no Allen key and a two-and-a-half year old who was very keen to “help Daddy”. I was also aware that it was my youngest son’s last night of sleeping in a cot.
Parenting often seems like it is obsessed with firsts: first words, first steps, first time your kid decides to see what that brown stuff in their nappy feels like. So, it was nice to read a Guardian article around the same time as I was wrestling with my flatpack bed (last time I assemble a bed with the holes for the ladder at the wrong end? I hope so) from an author that valued lasts as much as I did.
In the case of a new bed, and a discarded cot, these firsts and lasts are inextricably linked but firsts tend to be exciting and new, lasts far more poignant.
Firsts also seem to be more shiny and dazzling leaving the lasts to be relegated to the shade.
And they are less ephemeral. Firsts tend to come with (almost as good) seconds and (still pretty good) thirds, lasts never come again.
In my own life lasts burn more brightly that firsts. I can still clearly picture my last night in the family home when I moved out at the age of 17, the receding view of London from the plane when I finished living in England, and the final time I saw my grandparents in their home together before age and fragility split them up. I have a more vivid recollection of the end of most relationships than I do the beginning.
My wife is also very attuned to closing chapters at the moment, since our two-year-old will be our last child. She is keen to milk these final moments for as long as possible knowing they will never be repeated. Clothes feature prominently, such as the moment our youngest no longer wore all-in-one baby suits; she has a vivid memory of the last time our eldest fell asleep in her arms, the final time she breastfed our second who was wriggly, distracted, and clearly ambivalent to the last moment they shared a nurturing bond; first haircuts which inevitably mean the end of wispy blond baby hair (but has the bonus of producing a memento for the keepsake box).
But we are both aware that you cannot hold onto these final moments too desperately, there is no desire to foster a little Peter Pan, it is more to mark the passing of certain things that can seem innocuous but which grow in importance over time. I never thought I would be nostalgic about getting up at 4am staring through heavy eyelids at a bottle warming … but there are weak moments.
There are final moments I fear – like the end of spontaneous leg hugs from our youngest, one of which I just got while writing this piece – and there are lasts I crave -- I may well have the final dirty nappy shellacked and framed, a reminder of the (combined) six long years of wiping someone else’s bum.
Last moments will always be more special because their loss can be sudden and unpredictable. You can never know when a child that has sat tucked in bed listening intently to your evening stories will suddenly prefer to read to themselves, you get no warning that a toddler who used to pester you for a ride on your shoulders will decide he is too big for it.
They are catching-lightning-in-a-bottle moments, the first casualty of growing up and the last thing many of us look for but they are worth celebrating.