Whether one of our children is celebrating their fourth or fourteenth birthday, I like to think we give them a little bit of magic – even if that only means a nice present in the case of the older ones.
It’s lovely to enjoy that magic with them, but for me their birthdays are also a time when I find myself feeling a little wistful, indulging in my memories of their birth date and all that has happened in their little lives since.
This week was toddler’s birthday. Let me share the magic and the memories.
You unwrap your presents – will you get that hot wheels you’ve been talking about for weeks, or that toy fire engine that we have to go and look at in the toy shop every time we go to town?
I unwrap the memories of the day you were born, of the dash to hospital early in the morning after those first signs that labour might be underway. Of those long hours of waiting while you decided whether or not you could be bothered to leave your safe place of refuge for the real world. Of the indescribable pain near the end, then the relief and elation when you finally arrived. Of the joy as we phoned the other three children and told them they had a beautiful new baby brother.
You run to the door as you greet your little friends who have come to your birthday party. You’re so excited – you’re having teddy bear crisps, pizza and mini sausages to eat, we’ve blown up lots of balloons, and you’ve helped choose the presents for the party bags to give out at the end.
I run my fingers over a dusty photograph of you as a tiny baby. I remember the first time I held you in my arms, the first time I touched your velvet skin, the first time I smelt your sweet breath. I remember how I just stared at you for what seemed like hours, unable to speak, not quite believing that you were mine. I remember all those milestones in your life so far, your first smile, your first words and steps, that brave wave goodbye as I left you at pre-school for the very first time.
You wear a big badge with your new age on it and show it proudly to everyone you see.
I wear the worry lines from those times you’ve hurt yourself, from those times when you’ve been ill with high temperatures and I’ve stayed up all night nursing and comforting you. From the times you’ve cried but couldn’t tell me why, the times you’ve had a strange rash or refused to eat for no apparent reason.
You wipe away a big, sticky, chocolate smear from your face.
I wipe away a tear. The tear of another year passing, of you growing a little bit older, a little bit taller, a little bit more independent. The tear of regret that I haven’t always savoured every moment with you, that sometimes I’ve been impatient and grumpy with you, that sometimes I have despaired of you, wished away those precious early years, and then felt like a really bad mother.
My thoughts scatter as we sing happy birthday, and I smile as I watch the reflection of the candles on your cake shining in your bright, excited eyes.
I take a photograph. I’ll put it away – like my thoughts – to look at another day or another year.
Happy Birthday my darling boy.