It is hard to say it, but the truth is I loved my second babies far more than my first.

I was so young when we first bought those little, tiny lives into our world. A baby myself really, high on responsibility – playing at being a grown up.

And we did love them. We barely put them down. They slept in our room and kept us awake half the night. We were obsessed with them, how they grew, how cute they were, taking photo after photo, letting them take over our entire lives. We bored our friends silly with their antics and achievements. The house heaved with their toys, and we catered to their every whim. If we didn’t hand make their food, we bought the new, expensive packet-type, which back then had only just come out. We couldn’t go out as much, ourselves – but we didn’t care. We worried for them, cared for them, coddled them, cuddled them and cooed over them.

And time passed. Nearly 17 years since we first held those perfect, wiggling little bodies, since we first started thinking of ourselves as ‘mum’ and ‘dad’. They grew. We grew. And we decided we were ready to do it all over again, older and wiser.

The next babies were harder. It has taken them longer to come into their own and it has taken considerably more out of us in the process. They have needed us more. And those first babies, those first babies took a back seat. They were evicted from our room. Eventually, to distance ourselves from their outrage, we shut them out of the main house altogether. They were a nuisance, a hindrance; a distraction from the reality and enormity of the precious new lives now part of our own. The new babies were amazing, and perfect, and all encompassing. And to my shame I also evicted the old ones from my heart.

The tale we tell ourselves – and certainly the tale I told the Big Small before the Small Small came along – is that love is infinite. That it will stretch to encompass everyone; that love breeds love.

But it doesn’t – not really, not for me anyway.

I loved my second babies so much it eclipsed everything else. Including my first babies. If I’m honest, including my husband. Including my own family – my own mum and dad. Everything, really, I ever thought I loved or valued. There has been little room left for anything else, up to and including myself.

That love has burned through me like wildfire – bright, beautiful and destructive. It has changed me quite utterly. It has taken those other loves and reshaped them, refracted them, and even dimmed them by comparison.

After a time, my first babies became accustomed to the second babies. Despite the flagrant favouritism, they even became friends. And seeing that friendship build was both touching and special. But since those second babies, we have never loved the first ones or dedicated ourselves to them in the same way.

Our love was changed – spread thin – and I believe they knew it.

Times change. People change. Priorities change. Certainly being a ‘grown up’ – something I’ve still not figured out – was not what I thought it was when I was playing at it all those years ago. It is a hundred times more exhausting, and frightening, and befuddling. As time has gone on, that’s taken its toll.

Time also, inevitably, took a toll on those first babies. They had gradually become less cute, less adorable – and considerably less continent. They also became more demanding, and more draining.

Running empty on both energy and love already, I even found myself wishing them away.

My first babies, obviously, had fur. (To be fair, the second babies started out fairly furry, but have grown to retain only the hair on their heads).

There are of course those reading this who don’t believe the furry babies should ever be compared to the real babies. Perhaps I am one of them now. But there will also be those who are infinitely sad for those kittens who ruled our roost – only to be ousted by tiny humans through no fault of their own. I am one of them, too. And there will be those out there who have and love furry babies like they are flesh and blood and family. Today – today I am also one of them, again, too.

Because this week, my last first baby has gone, and gone brutally. A reminder, I suppose, that she was an animal after all, subject to nature’s laws, and not a person. Not my baby. Not really.

It is the end of an era – and the end of what was at the very least a very real friendship which has informed and affirmed nearly half of my life. It is a sign of how much my life has changed, how much time has passed without my noticing, and how out of my control it all is, – how terrifying. It is a reminder of how easy it is, in the grinding monotony of coping, in the daily scrubbing of stains and preparation of meals, to lose sight of what you’re doing it all for – what really matters.

So I would like to thank her, that baby that wasn’t a baby, for many things. For teaching me about love, for letting me squeeze her, pour my heart into her, and practice at nurture and patience and care until I was ready to do it for my real babies.

I would like to thank her for her part in building my relationship with Dadonthenetheredge, in helping us grow together, laugh, worry and bond. In helping us create our family, our foundation – and paving the way for our future.

I would like to thank her for teaching my children how to be gentle, how to be kind, how to show respect, how to stroke fur in the right direction, how not to pull tails – and why it’s important to remember the sharp bits.

I would like to thank her for never really using those sharp bits. Even when dragged down hall by the neck. Even when cornered for cuddles on the sofa.

I would like to thank her for teaching me, in recent months, how to clean up wee from sofa cushions – which is certainly going to come in useful shortly when it comes to potty training the toddler.

I would like to thank her for teaching me that while love changes over time, it doesn’t have to die. It just changes shape, and colour, and intensity. It can fade and it can swell – over and over again. You just have to let it. You just have to hold onto it and help it along.

I would like to thank her for helping me to realise that the madness of that wildfire love – which has literally burnt me out – might also have left behind more fertile ground for the future.

I would like to thank her for reminding me to be grateful for what I’ve got, even through the hard and boring bits. To never, ever, to wish things away.

I would like to thank her for teaching me that daily irks and inconveniences cannot be allowed to overshadow love and memories. I needed that reminder.

I would like to thank her for the last 17 years of bright eyes, bushy tails and welcoming plurps.

I will miss them more than I knew.

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