‘He just goes to the toilet now without telling me,” my sister-in-law incredulously exclaimed.

We were chatting over a cup of tea while her little boy ran around the sitting room; an endless ball of energy. He has spent much of his life in our home here on the farm. When he was a newborn, I would sit up with him to give his mammy a bit of rest. Then, he would spend days with us when both of his parents were working.

Now, we help out with playschool pick-ups on days when my sister-in-law is working long shifts. We love him like one of our own, but I won’t lie: after only having daughters, there was a massive shift in trying to understand the mind of an energetic little boy. It’s been fun, though, as well (especially because I can hand him back to his mother at the end of the day).

Now, he is nearing the age of four and, all of a sudden, he isn’t a toddler but a young boy. He isn’t throwing tantrums or knocking over my houseplants. He is telling stories, playing imaginative games and learning what it means to be a friend. He is trying his best to be gentle with our pets and he loves to sing and dance. We had a tiny hand in raising this little fellow and he makes us all immensely proud.

Toilet training

Toilet training was a trial, though, and now that this milestone – of going to the toilet without announcing it – has been achieved, his mammy can’t quite believe it. I thought about when my youngest stopped announcing she needed to go to the toilet – or, indeed, any of my daughters – and I couldn’t recall when that occurred for any of them. It just happened, as so many other milestones did: quietly – almost sneakily – or, so gradually over time you would never notice.

At Halloween, we take our kids trick-or-treating with other children around the village. In previous years, this was an exhausting endeavour as the smallest child would eventually require carrying. You would follow closely behind with a massive bag full of extra coats, hats and bags because you knew at least one child would get cold, or fill their little pumpkin treat basket too quickly.

This past year, trick-or-treating felt deceptively easy. No one needed their coat, even though I brought them as I always do. No one required an extra bag, or needed me to carry anything (or anyone). What would normally have taken a long time as we make our way from door to door took just under an hour. Is this what these quiet milestones feel like? In another year or so, my eldest won’t even need me to accompany her – she can trick or treat with her friends. When did she gain such independence?

It just makes me wonder – did I miss these quiet milestones because I was in survival mode, or does every parent have a similar experience?


I’m not necessarily looking back fondly on the days when my children needed more of me (although I love the Facebook memories of them as babies which pop up into my feed each day; they were very cute). I am enjoying watching them grow up and become independent, and those early days of “three under four” were, at worst, excruciatingly difficult and, at best, just really hard – especially being a farming family, where your partner can’t take a day off and help is in short supply.

It just makes me wonder – did I miss these quiet milestones because I was in survival mode, or does every parent have a similar experience? I don’t recall when my youngest stopped sitting in a car seat, or when she was first able to brush her own teeth. I don’t recall when my middle daughter started reading. I don’t remember when my eldest developed the distinctive sense of fashion she has seemingly always had.

I wonder if my sister-in-law would think less of me if I told her that, really, the only quiet milestone I remember – and with extreme fondness – is the one where all three of my children slept through the night, in their own beds.

She hasn’t gotten there yet, so I will probably keep it to myself for now.

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