I type this now in the rain-laden breeze of an open window while my little one nurses and I perch my laptop on the edge of my knees. My babe plays with her toes and studies the grey sky beyond.
And I think: these are the tactile years.
The years with babies, with toddlers, pre-schoolers, with little ones who know no boundaries, who have no idea of 'personal space'.
These are the years when touch is most present, when I am nearly always attached to another being, or dealing with another's fluids, and often both at once - the warmth and heft of a child on my hip as I scrape a nappy, often while negotiating with another child.
These are the years when it is common to have my babe in a carrier at my chest, one little hand in my larger one, and another small being hugging to my leg, while I also carry a school bag and my own bag. When I shower it is more likely than not that my little one will be curled to my shoulder, one hand behind her back to catch more of the heart of the spray. On the loo I am lucky if only one child and the puppy decide they need to be within sight of me.
My littlest, Giggle-Bear, has learnt 'hug' and her small, smooth arms are often around my neck, her cheek to mine. My drama-queen, the Extravaganza, adores hugs and kisses and comes for them often during the day, launching herself into my lap, often squeezing in beside the baby, and even my oldest boy still holds my hand as we walk to school, still needs big hugs for little upsets and still pads through to our bed in the early hours of the morning.
I am so used to the feel of small hands in mine, of the weight of a small one in my arms that I find it hard to believe that there will come a time - soon - when they won't be there. That ahead lie decades when my little ones are big and I won't wake to find small warm ones curled against me, when my sleeping baby's face, so entirely beautiful, so entirely perfect I could stare at it for hours, won't be the last thing I see before sleep and the first thing I see on waking. Despite all my best intentions that she, my littlest, my last, would be sleeping through in her own bed, she sleeps the night in the curve of my body and screams blue murder if the milk is more than a few centimetres away. Unerringly she wakes if I leave her to go to the loo or let out the puppy. During the day if I try to leave the room she toddles after me to hug at my knees, "Up! Up!"
It's hard to comprehend that the day will come when small feet won't knead at my hip, small fingers won't explore my teeth, when arms won't be up-stretched to me with wide, joyous smiles and bodies suddenly descend upon my back with a stranglehold.
With (God willing) more than half my life before me, I find it so hard to take in that I am coming to the end of these, the sweetest years. I watch my little one nurse, the small poke of curved tongue just above her lower lip, the flutter of her lashes, her pudgy fingers holding possessively to my top, her big stretch and reach and lunge for the other side and the whole rearranging. I cup her foot in my hand, checking it's warm enough - cool but not cold. She flexes her toes.
I have spent so long waiting to get to these years, and they have flown so fast, are over so quickly. I have not been the mother I thought I would be, that I wanted to be, and it has seemed all to often we have lunged from one (minor) disaster to the next, but I already know that I will spend the rest of my life looking back on them with longing, chaotic as they've often been.
Now, when my days are fully of blowing raspberries on bellies, smooching necks, dropping kisses, I cannot imagine being without the constant touch. (My little one begins exploring my teeth - they fascinate her. A phone rings - Eh! she tells me, then heaves a sigh.)
Thoughout the day so often my littlest is held by my heart, her head just below my chin, all silky gold hair and milk-sweet scents. I drop kisses absently, then with awareness. This time is precious and so quickly fleeing. As she falls into sleep her head drops to my shoulder and I stroke her hair, gently close her eyes more fully - for she often falls asleep with them not quite shut.
These are the years of touch and fluids. Of holds, kisses, hugs, but also of milk and poop, stripping beds, cleaning up vomit, wiping noses, reaching into the toilet to retrieve lego that's gone for a dive (arm safely encased in a plastic bag). These are the years of head-butts and hair-yanks, of eye-stabs and sudden nipple-bites and I never imagined it was possible to be elbowed so many times in so many places in one day. But touch is the constant.
I have forgotten so much - impressions remain, but looking back on the day to day of the past six, nearly seven years, so much has been forgotten. I think of all the moments, like this one, that I've forgotten and I promise myself that now, in the close of them, the last of my baby years, I'll hold tighter to them, record them better.
But the thing about the tactile years - it is the touch, the softness, the sweetness, the lightness, the delicacy, the warmth, the smooth cool, that can never be properly captured, recorded. The complete happiness of reading stories with a child to either side and a babe in arms, warmth and vivid personalities surrounding. Of smooching in at a delicate neck as a babe or toddler contorts in giggles, the casual cupping of a head of silky hair as my babe is carried, carrying a toddler in a towel through to their bedroom to dress them for bed.
These years are fleeting are they more precious as they are so fleeting? It is so easy to think of all the things that will come later, the time and space that will free themselves when my little ones are that bit more independent, but these are the years that will never come back, in all the decades to come, these years of tenderness and touch will never return.