Category Archives: Letters To My Children

New worlds, old stars and red lipstick: some advice on being a woman, for my daughter

Little girl, you sleep.

I wanted a girl desperately, and you came like a song in the night. That’s a true thing – but in person you are less melodious. Squawky, hungry, passionately attached to us. You take up all your allotted space and more, and I am quietly proud of you for it. There are things I will need to tell you about being a woman in the world, and that’s probably first on the list.

No, here’s what’s first, always: you are loved, fiercely loved. But your worth does not depend on who loves you and how they show it. Your worth is intrinsic. You came with it, and you have it still. No amount of rubbing around in this world can take the shine off it.

This is number two, then. Take up all your space. Speak truth and keep speaking till you’re heard. Some people might tell you that a woman’s place is to be soft, tender, (most of all) quiet. You may know already what I think about that. Be abundantly kind, kinder than people expect. But don’t ever turn gentleness into self-erasure. Don’t beat yourself up for your spiky edges. You are meant to have those, too.

For various reasons, teenage girls are often the absolute worst to each other. Sorry. It can’t be helped. You may be in your thirties by the time you stop doing things just because other people expect you to. This is fine. If you get it earlier, even better.

Food is not your enemy. Your body is not your enemy. You are a thing of wonder, an atom in each of your fingers made in a different, distant star. You are a miracle. Treat yourself gently. Eat things you love, with people you love, getting your hands messy. Exercise because you want to look after yourself.

Your experiences and your history are your own. You get to tell your own stories. Other people are allowed theirs, too. Learning to properly listen and validate is one of the most powerful gifts you can give.

Don’t be afraid of red lipstick. It’s the best kind of warpaint I know.

It’s really alright to lie down and put a pillow over your head the day your period starts. Would the boys you know battle silently on if they got crushing penis pain, a distended stomach-balloon of rage and a gushing bloodbath in their bed once a month? I THINK NOT.

Read, and never stop reading. You’ll visit more new worlds than you can imagine – breathe their air, stand on their soil, then come back to your own able to see magic in everything.

A great many problems can be solved with a chocolate biscuit and five minutes outside with a good view. Or dancing in the kitchen to your favourite song, turned up very loud. It appeared in all those eighties montages for a reason.

Your older brothers love you, but it’s not their job to protect you or vet your boyfriends. Their job is to be the only people in the world who know the exact and particular madness of your parents. Keep them close.

Things that have brought me the most joy in life: loving your father; finding a field I was interested in and good at and pursuing it tenaciously; the grand cosmology of our faith; reaching out to people in need; being vulnerable and authentic in female friendships; loving my children.

Things I have found the hardest work: see above.

Be brave, dear girl. So many things need bravery. The best things. Go and find them.

With all my love,

Your mother.

(PS: if we’re at a point where it helps to pretend that someone cooler than me is telling you all this, feel especially free to do so.)

A letter for four (for Teddy)

Dear Teddy,

On the evening of your birthday, while the sun printed itself onto the carpet and your aunties pored over your new Lego sets, you buzzed around in the kitchen, high on cake. Then something occurred to you, and you popped your head back in the door to say, gratified, astonished: ‘People just KEEP ON buying me presents!’

It seemed very like you. You can’t do anything without singing under your breath, and you can’t stop yourself springing into rooms with a mouth-trumpet fanfare (whether your sister’s asleep or no), and you couldn’t believe that you’d be so lucky on your birthday as to get some actual, real-life presents. Last week you looked in open-mouthed wonder at the camping spork I’d given you to eat with. ‘That is ung-CREDIBLE’, you said, in a hushed voice. Oh, Ted. Imagine what you’ll think the first time you see a Swiss army knife.

Here you are at four: suddenly long-legged and perpetually covered in bruises, you fall out of bed at least once a night and dance all day in my orbit, telling me you’re hungry. ‘I’m STILL hungry’, you insist at 9am, at 9.12, and approximately every twenty minutes thereafter. You’ll try any food once, but pasta and pesto is still your favourite meal. You like to help me cook dinner, and often do – partly because you can’t bear to stay in the room if there’s even the mildest tension on the TV.

You love music, too, and often open the piano to plonk on the keys. ‘Listen, I’m playing some thinking music’, you told me the other day. It sounded like all of your other abstract compositions, but what do I know? Last week you refused to get out of the car until we’d listened to the very end of Elton John’s Sacrifice (I think I preferred your Starman phase). You’ve recently dispensed with your cheesy photo grin for a serious stand-to-attention pose. The look on your face – proud and dutiful and fierce – always makes me want to cry a little. I never know why.

Other things you love: Transformers Rescue Bots, riding your scooter to nursery, Lego, laboriously spelling out the speech bubbles in Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, Moana, your brother and sister. You have a small and enthusiastic group of friends, of which you seem to be the ringleader. On our way home from nursery you call out cheery goodbyes to anyone you can see. When the girls respond, you blush. I think you might be…cool? It’s all very strange to us. You start school in September and you’d go tomorrow, if you could. You’ve been desperate to go since Henry started, which is how it is with most things.

You are so loud. Your tantrums could knock over a horse, diminishing in frequency though they are.

In your two-year-old letter I said you felt like a piece of grace to me. I suppose what I’m saying is, you still do.

Happy fourth, little bear.

With love,

Your mother.

This Is Where We Are: a letter to my children on Mother’s Day (6)

Every year on Mother’s Day, I write about how I mother my babies day-to-day. I think they might like to know how the little things felt, as well as the big ones. Here goes the sixth, an entire week late (this is the first year I’ve had a proper excuse). 

Dear Future Versions of Henry, Teddy and Imogen,

This has been my sixth Mothering Sunday, and you are five-and-a-half, three-and-three-quarters, and two weeks old, respectively. And this is what we looked like today.

It’s a bit odd writing this letter, this year. We have never been so far from our normal day-to-day, and I’ve never, till now, had a Mother’s Day where I’ve been here in this most intense phase of mothering, the no-sleep, hands-on one where it’s impossible to do anything else. I spend most of my time sat down under various blankets, feeding, and Daddy is home picking up all of my slack (which you love). We’ve spent this whole weekend at home, watching Conference sessions, going for walks, eating, colouring, admiring your new sister in her stripy jersey dress, making monster cars out of Lego. It’s not normal, but I am so enjoying it. I hope you are too.

***

Imogen, here you are at last. We brought you home after that unpleasant forty-eight hours in the hospital, where none of us slept and they made your little heels bleed over and over, and the three of us buried ourselves in clouds of white duvet and slept for four hours in sheer relief. I spent the first week largely on autopilot, in shock, with you an unknowable, ravenous little thing beside me. The second week it was like you’d always been here. You have a head of black hair, like your middle brother did – in fact you look exactly the same as he did, so we keep speculating whether your hair will fall out and grow back bright blonde, like his. You have a delicate pixie-ish face, chubby cheeks, long spindly fingers. One of your toes – ridiculously small – folds under the one next to it, after it spent several months crammed under my ribs.

Two weeks isn’t terribly long to be anything, and most of what you’ll be is unwritten. But you are remarkably unfussy, for a newborn. You sleep in good three hour blocks, and feed happily from me or a bottle. In the evenings you watch our faces intently, dark blue eyes wide. You only screech when we change your nappy. In the bath you stretch out in the water, sigh and close your eyes, a look of bliss on your miniature features.

There was an evening last week where I sat, too late, pyjamas on, and rocked you a little while for the pleasure of it. Little bird, I loved you. It was new, and so strong it hurt my chest. I can’t wait to see where you go next.

***

Teddy, you’re in front of me right now, pushing a toy car from one end of the piano to another, cracking poor jokes for my benefit and humming to yourself. Which is you all over: happy, fidgety, affectionate, unintentionally hilarious and so. very. loud. You hum all the time – one constant, buzzy stream of song fragments – which means we’ll never lose you in a supermarket, but also makes it hard to concentrate. Now you’re a new-minted middle child, you seem huge to us, though in fact you’ve been getting older on the sly for a while. You wake up at a fairly civilised hour, and you’re starting to dress yourself and put on your own shoes. After we’ve dropped Henry off at school we spend the morning together, then you speed off on your balance bike to nursery. You can read, now, and recognise numbers. You just rushed up to tell me that it’s very important to wash your hands after handling your pets (we don’t have any pets) and that ‘boys have eyelashes too, you know’. Apropos of nothing, as per. You represent total, uncomplicated joy to me, still.

You love Where’s Wally books, your bike, Transformers, and any Lego vehicle you can persuade Henry to make for you. You would eat pasta for every meal if I let you. You idolise your brother, even when his reticence frustrates you and your chatter irritates him. You won’t do anything you don’t want to, until I’ve counted to five. Just occasionally now you get tongue-tied and nervous, quite unlike your usual fearlessness. The threenager rages are less and less frequent, now we can see four on the horizon. Which is to say, my baby-no-longer-baby, that you’re growing up.

***

Henry, this is you. Somewhere between five and six, and in the middle of a big year. Self-contained and quietly stubborn. Cautious and intuitive. An endless, vocal worrier. You are dryly funny, an insatiable fact-hoarder, and can communicate ten sceptical things just by raising your eyebrows. You love reading, cycling, dancing and singing (strictly in private, those two), Pokemon, dinosaurs, Lego, and sausage pie for dinner. You hate having to do anything quickly, and being reminded that I am in charge. At home you are kind and capable, though you have flashes of defiant temper and always want the last word when we disagree (I have a feeling this will come up again in, say, ten years). You dress yourself, like your own space, and direct Teddy like a benevolent general when you play or do chores together. Yesterday I was in the middle of making Sunday lunch, and came in to find the two of you poring over your Pokemon encyclopaedia, you making up quiz questions and Teddy guessing the answers. You are increasingly inseparable. It’s everything we hoped for, for the two of you.

At school – such a huge part of your life now – you are the youngest in your class, and I think you feel it without knowing precisely what ‘it’ is. You are quiet and unshowy there. Sometimes you struggle with who to play with in the playground. You feel things very deeply. It can be difficult for both of us. I try hard not to wish away your sensitivity because, my love, I want you to remember that emotional literacy is a powerful thing, and not something to be ashamed of. To know always what you’re feeling and how others feel too – do you know how rare that is? If you can work up the confidence to listen to yourself, you’ll be a wonderful friend: the sort of steady light in the corner that people are drawn to; the sort of person people feel safe with. And I couldn’t ask for anything better for you to be.

So there we go. I don’t know what our normality will look like over the next few months; I expect things will be chaotic for a while, and you’ll have to be patient with me, as you have been for the best part of a year now. I hope it counts for something that I love your company. That’s all I wanted to say: that I love your company, and I love where you are, even with all your contradictions and complexities.

(I’m also very tired.)

Here’s to our new gang of five.

Much love,

Your mother.

One thousand, eight hundred and twenty-six

 

Dear Henry,

Today is your birthday, and you are five. You are asleep, finally, after an exciting day where you have made all the important decisions: bacon and waffles for breakfast, a trip to London to visit the ‘dinosaur museum’, hot dogs and milkshakes for lunch, episodes of Transformers Rescue Bots for an evening treat. At every pause in the day you have told me how happy you are. ‘Isn’t this the best day we’ve ever had?’ ‘Mummy, I’m having such a nice time’. ‘I wish we could do this day forever and ever!’ If I’d have known that this kind of loveliness would be the reward for year three, I’d have kept my chin up rather better than I did.

Because you are lovely, Hen, quite unexpectedly. I don’t mean that to sound like an insult – I mean that you are such a stubborn, inquisitive, emotional boy that you have often brushed your way through the world like a porcupine with all its quills out. Interested in everything, refusing to back down if you feel you’re in the right, never moving with the crowd for the sake of moving. Honestly, it can be (has been) frustrating having a child who is so resolutely not a people-pleaser. You are yourself, always. You mean everything sincerely. You will not perform. At school we had to find other motivations for you to try hard other than ‘your teacher will be pleased’, which left you unmoved, as much as you loved your teachers. We settled on something like ‘getting better at things makes me feel good’. These days I feel like this total, self-contained integrity will be one of your greatest strengths.

(I don’t want ’emotional’ to sound like an insult either: another one of your superpowers is that you can always articulate exactly what you’re feeling and sense what others are feeling too. That’s pretty rare, and very valuable.)

But then yes, in the past year – loveliness too. More calm, more logic. More space for your natural sense of humour to hold sway. You have let your brother keep one of your new birthday toys in his sticky fist all day, without complaint. The other day he fell over in the park, and I looked up to find you guiding him tenderly down the stairs towards me, so I could help him. (You also bicker A LOT; I mean, we’re not in Utopia here.) You are still obsessed with dinosaurs, bikes, books, sausage pie – but now you prefer showers to baths, hoodies to jumpers, cereal to porridge, and those vaguely hideous dinosaur trainers to basically everything else on the planet.

And you talk. Constantly, hungrily, melodramatically. You pick up words and facts from obscure places and bring them out later, much to our surprise. One day you appear in the doorway holding your arm and screeching ‘Teddy! You did that on real big purpose!’ Or when I’m trying to convince you to wear a winter hat: ‘I’ll never be with you if you force me to wear things. YOU FORCER’. The next day you’re refusing to go to bed until we’ve read the encyclopaedia page on the Industrial Revolution (‘Ohhh. I’ve been thinking about that.’ ‘You’ve been thinking about…the Industrial Revolution?’ ‘Yes! All the time!’) and correctly identifying, after an internal rummage, a duck-billed platypus in the Natural History Museum (‘How did you know that?’ *shrug* ‘Oh, I dust picked it up somewhere.’).

Anyway, on you go. Back to school in September, and no longer the baby. Buying a bike tomorrow with your birthday money, with no stabilisers. I exclaim twice a minute how big you are – this must get annoying – but really, Hen, I’m not sad about it. You child of my heart; you beloved, vulnerable, fiercely defiant boy. You are growing into yourself all the time. And you’re making, oh, such a wonderful job of it. I am so proud. I look at you sometimes and I can barely breathe for it.

Happy fifth, with much love.

Your mother.

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A letter for three (for Teddy)

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Dear Teddy,

Today is your birthday, and you are three. You have just gone to sleep in fuzzy dinosaur pyjamas, so thoroughly squashed in by soft toys that you look like a pharaoh buried with treasure. You haven’t the heart to banish any of them to the toy box, so we come in later to dig you out. How you’ve escaped suffocation before now is, honestly, a mystery.

You’ve been the twoiest of two-year-olds, so it’s been strange watching Three steal over you, bit by bit. You’ve grown out of your rainbow wellies and nappies. You are pulling words from the air, spinning them into sentences that make you sound like a person. You make your toys talk to each other, acting out stories with dinosaurs and fire engines. You have – sorry – atrocious taste in television. You like to reminisce about things we did six months ago, and check whether I remember them too. What a peculiar and lovely thing, to have a memory for the first time, and only to remember the good things. It’s very like you. You love music, and when the song changes on the radio you pipe up from the back ‘hey, I like this one!’ Every time. That’s very like you too.

I can’t write about you without superlatives, Ted: you are the most joyous, most frustrating little thing. All fury and determination and happiness. Wild white-blonde hair, big eyes, a wide, easy smile. You talk and shout and screech and sing, so loudly I cringe for our neighbours. Some days we bash heads from morning till night, and I collapse at the end of it, exhausted. You are energetic, bursting with confidence that life is good and that people are glad to see you. You still burst into rooms shouting ‘I baaaaack!’, even if you’ve only been gone for thirty seconds. When I chat with passers-by on our way home, you grab Henry’s hand and interrupt ‘Um, excuse me, my name is Teddy and this is my brother, Henry’. The other day I looked up at the park to find that you were engaging a ten-year-old in conversation, introducing him to your brother, persuading him to push you on the swings. And I wasn’t surprised.

There’s nursery on the horizon in September. Uniforms, carpet time, new friends and new skills. So much change, so close, and you’ve no idea. I’m not afraid for you in the slightest. Making the best of new things is rather your strong point.

We can’t imagine what we did without you. Everything about us is better with you in it. You don’t let me sing your song to you very often anymore, but it turns out it was well chosen, after all.

You dream-maker,

you heart-breaker.

Wherever you’re going, we’re going your way.

Here’s to more of all of it (except, maybe, the tantrums and the Paw Patrol?). Happy birthday, little bear.

Much love,

your mother.

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This Is Where We Are: a letter to my sons on Mother’s Day (5)

Every year on Mother’s Day, I write about how I mother my babies day-to-day. I think they might like to know how the little things felt, as well as the big ones. Here goes the fifth (late again – will this become part of the tradition? Yes).

Dear Future Versions of Henry and Teddy,

This has been my fifth Mothering Sunday, and you are four-and-a-half and two-and-three-quarters, respectively. And we look like this.

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In previous years we’ve taken Mother’s Day photos in natural light, somewhere outdoors, possibly with matching outfits. We ran out of time for that, this year, but I’m glad. When I look back at this phase in our lives, this is how it will feel. We are dishevelled and muddy from walking home through fields. I wear those trousers every day despite the giant hole in one knee, which I got from kneeling on asphalt wrestling Teddy into pushchairs. Henry in school uniform – hasn’t that been a transformative, defining part of the last six months – and Teddy wearing a piece of everything he’s eaten today. I need my hair cutting. I always need my hair cutting. We’re a mess, but it’s a good mess.

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Ted, you still wake up first. Will you always? It feels like it. Six am, on the lucky days. We have an unspoken rule that the parent you’re shouting for is the one who has to get up for you. You seem to be favouring Daddy this month (yessss). You are way past two-and-a-half, and it still hasn’t occurred to you to try climbing out of your cot. (Much more cautious than your brother, who climbed high and early and often.) You are getting taller, suddenly. Long fingers, long feet. Still the blue eyes, the half-ton of white-blonde hair. You are quite heart-stoppingly beautiful, altogether. We don’t really know how it happened.

You are also, alas, the twoiest two-year-old that ever lived. Once you had full sentences and strong opinions in your arsenal, we were sunk. You are constantly nattering, shouting, protesting, singing. Singing! That’s a new one for us. You pick up songs from nowhere and sing them to yourself – accurately and in full – in the bath. Your current favourites are Hey Jude (by ‘zer Beatles’), Life on Mars (by ‘Starman’) and the Frozen soundtrack (while you provide an audio commentary to explain what would be happening on screen right now, if we could see it).

You also love: your stuffed dog and cat, your rainbow wellies, books, the ‘little wed boike’ you inherited from Henry this year, Thomas the Tank Engine, grapes and yoghurt, and all the beleaguered pets belonging to our neighbours. You hate: having to get in the pushchair, having to get into your car seat, getting out of the bath, sending Henry into school and not being able to follow, having to do anything you weren’t going to do anyway. You are the best and most exhausting of daytime companions, the teller of terrible jokes, the giver of spontaneous hugs. ‘I baaaaaack!’ you shout, as you run into a room you left thirty seconds ago. We three introverts couldn’t do without you for a moment.

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Henry, my love: isn’t being four fantastic? It feels like a crossroads of an age: we get occasional flashes of toddlerhood, when you struggle with taking turns or decide you don’t like chicken again today; then sometimes I look at you and can see ahead, to the quiet, capable and fascinating boy you’re going to be. So soon, so soon. You are so much calmer, more able to articulate your ideas and feelings. You do a heck of a lot of both, being you: interested in everything, and also hyper-aware of how you and others feel. It’s a funny old (sometimes exhausting) mix. All this emotion makes you a worrier who tends towards melodrama (‘my TEARS are BURNING MY FACE!’ you screeched at me last week). I’m hoping you’ll feel more at ease with time, and that you know you always have a safe place here with me.

You started school in September and you took to it immediately, much to our relief. You like to learn, as I said, and once you had a small circle of friends to call your own, you flew. Writing, reading, solving little counting problems – all new, and you seem to thrive on it. We walk home with you peppering me with facts and questions from your scooter. This morning you asked me to locate and explain all of your major organs, and the kidneys were your favourite. I suspect because they work with wee, and toilet jokes are king. All this is total joy.

Other things you love: dinosaurs, sausage and mash, your scooter, your books, your dinosaur trainers, your red Oxford hoodie (worn so often you’ve broken the zip), and our giant box of Duplo. You eat well and you’d sleep for much longer if it weren’t for Teddy bouncing on your head. You’re growing out of all your trousers simultaneously, again.

So there we are. I wonder, often, what you’ll remember when you’re older, now you’re starting to remember. From my vantage point I can see it all, of course, including the hard and terrible days. I know that I am often tired and bedraggled, that I’m not very patient, and that I make dinner too late (does that ring a bell? Like, 6pm at the earliest?).

But we’ve been walking home through the gorse this week. All out, and all blazing yellow. We made up a rhyme between us to remember its name, ages ago, and you always do. You tell me jokes and I laugh because the telling of them is funny even if the joke isn’t (it isn’t, sorry). We take off our wellies and come into the warm and I put the kettle on. I hope you’ll remember that feeling, the same one I get when the kettle starts to boil: I love this, and you – so much I can’t really articulate it, after all this – and I wouldn’t be anywhere else.

Let’s stay here as long as we can.

With much love,

Your mother.

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One thousand four hundred and sixty-one

SAM_2315

Dear Henry,

Today is your birthday, and you are four. We’ve just got you to bed after a long and thrilling day, and I sort of want to run back upstairs and get you up again. Being four is such a serious thing. Your birthday was the last milestone between you and school. As with most things, you are forging ahead while I keep looking back over my shoulder at how much I’ll miss.

You have such a distinct character, but you keep it under wraps. With most people you are reserved, serious, tongue-tied. With us, with people you trust after a decent half hour has elapsed, you’re funny, fast-talking, spirited and curious. You like to know how things work. You have an over-developed sense of fairness and correctness. You’re our little back-seat driver (‘Mummy, that’s too fast for this road’) and my walking to-do list (‘You said not to forget the pushchair!’). You like your own space, your own things. You feel things very deeply, and often explosively. We work hard on things like ‘I need to spend some time alone right now’, ‘I will share even though sharing is hard’, and ‘will you forgive me’. You’ve come so far this year, with all of it. I want you to be comfortable in your own skin, more than anything, but we are so alike and oh, my love, I still make so many mistakes with both of us.

(‘Aw, Teddy is so cute’, you said last month. ‘Look at his great big head.’)

You love Thomas the Tank Engine, Captain America, bikes, books, being first out of the bath, eating anything that’s not very good for you (sigh) and sleeping longer than your brother allows. We talk about Space and The Animal Kingdom and Vehicles and The Human Body. The last time you had a cold you were tickled pink when I told you about white blood cells. You are fun, did I mention that? You have always been great company. You try hard to be a good and kind brother. We are the best of allies whenever we’re not at loggerheads, which can be some of the day or most of it, depending on the day.

(‘I tell you what’, you told me encouragingly once, when I was sad about something. ‘When we get home, you can have a fried egg.’)

Your nursery teacher told me that you would play with anyone, until they started doing something you knew was wrong, and then you’d quietly walk away until they stopped. I was more proud of that than of anything.

(‘Daddy’s really hairy, like a spider’, you said after a bath. ‘Some of it is called a beard, and that’s very funny.’)

I could go on, trying and trying to get to the essence of you. But it’s no good. You are full of contradictions now, like the rest of us. I love you so fiercely it makes my ribs ache. For your prickly vulnerabilities even more than your blazing strengths. On the days when you’re a beast and I’m a boar I like to remind myself of that: that you are tied to me as I am tied to you, and that love for you goes to the very heart of me, has made me in a lot of ways, and that I will never, ever, ever stop.

Happy fourth, darling boy. I wish you the courage to grab hold of all the wonderful things that come your way this year, and to be your own lovely self while doing it. You never need to be anything else. Let’s smash it.

Much love,

Your mother.

SAM_2486

A letter for two

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Teddy,

Today is your birthday, and you are two. Your day is supposed to be over, actually, but you haven’t yet given up the good fight: I can still hear you bouncing and yelling in your room. Most of the street can. You have two volumes: the cracked little fake-sorrowful voice you put on for apologies, and Is That A Jet Engine, No It’s Just Teddy.

You are two, and these last two years have gone before I could blink. You are two, and it feels like you’ve been two forever. You’re a mixed little thing, my love: pure sunshine with a streak of steel through your middle. You are good-natured, big-hearted, puppyish; ready to make jokes in silly voices and then to laugh before anyone else does. You give hugs freely, without the asking. At heart you are happy, and want everyone else to be too. You are also single-minded, stubborn and intensely strong-willed. When you want something, you shout. If you don’t get it, you shout louder. The other day you asked to be picked up in order to more conveniently hit me in the face, and I was stern (‘we do NOT hit’ / ‘sowee mammy!’) but also reluctantly impressed.

You won’t get this till much later, maybe ever, but I’ll say it for myself: like most second-time parents, I wasn’t sure what my love for you would look like before I met you. When you love a child for the first time, it knocks you silly. You’re shaken to the foundations of yourself and built up again into something new. It’s hard to imagine it happening again, a second time, the same but also different. And then it does. You open up, again. Caverns with vaulted ceilings expand, and expand again. With love, and love, and love.

But Ted, this is what I’m trying to explain: you made it so easy. No one has ever met you and not loved you immediately. You are laughably lovable (that hair! those eyes! that ridiculous smile!). You arrived three weeks early, quickly, unexpectedly, and none of us had any idea of the happiness you’d add to our store.

Like grace. Given freely, without the asking. That’s how I think of you, really. And I’m so grateful.

…And you were a pain in the neck on the Tube today, and you drank two mango lassis one after the other, and you wanged a metal train into a poor gentleman’s ankle because I wouldn’t let you leap onto the platform at the wrong stop.

I wouldn’t change you. How could you be anything but gloriously yourself?

I pinch myself when I think about how lucky I was to get you. Happy birthday, Edward bear.

Much love,

Your mother.

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This Is Where We Are: a letter to my sons on Mother’s Day (4)

Having read about it here, I wanted to write about how I mother my babies day-to-day, every Mother’s Day. Here’s the fourth. A bit late this year!

Dear Future Versions of Henry and Teddy,

This has been my fourth Mothering Sunday, and you are three-and-a-half and twenty months, respectively. It’s the end of the day, and I’ve just walked out of your room feeling overwhelmingly grateful that you both go to sleep at night without fuss. I have three stains on my shirt and two on my trousers. I am cramming chocolate in my mouth, eardrums ringing from the unaccustomed silence, so tired I feel like a sack of sand. This is how our days end right now. But you both sleep well, and my giddy aunt, I’m grateful.

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Teddy, you’re the first thing we hear in the morning, usually around 6am. ‘MUMMAAAAAY!’ you bellow. ‘OUT. OOOOOOUT.’ One of us comes in to get you, and you’re standing ready in your cot, all that incredible white-blonde hair standing on end (so much of it we could stuff cushions, if we wanted. The haircut bills are killing us).

Somehow in the last year you became a person: lost all your chub, started taking up three-quarters of the bath, grew a little backbone of steel alongside your natural sweetness that still surprises us. You want what you want. First you try charm – and you have piles of it, all huge blue eyes and endless cheeks – then volume. Your lungs, bear. If you want to be an opera singer when you grow up, you’ll make a fortune.

Your talking goes a bit like this: ‘[gibberish], Tedder, BOOTS’. Or ‘[gibberish], Tedder, DRINK’. Saving the important information to the end, to make sure we get it. You love: your bedtime doggy, books, strawberry yoghurt, raisins, Sarah & Duck, Lightning McQueen (‘AAAAA-keen!’), and shuffling along with your tiny balance bike. You hate: a variety of foods on rotation, being made to nap when you don’t want to, being shut out of any room I’m in, and having to sit in the pushchair. Here’s a secret I probably won’t admit later: ‘sweetie’ was maybe your third or fourth word. High on the list. You are obsessed. We are kind of obsessed with you, in turn. It’s hard not to be. You’re an utter, utter delight.

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Henry, I catch myself looking at you these days feeling bemused and proud and sad all at once, because you are shooting into little-boyhood at a rate of knots. Long legs, thin face, wide eyes. You’re my little companion in the afternoons: joking on the way back from nursery, laughing when Teddy does something silly, cajoling me into playing games when I should be doing the hoovering. You talk in complex sentences and heartfelt ideas, to the point that whenever you’re struggling with something three-ish and I’m frustrated, I have to remind myself that you are, after all, only three. You are shy and find social situations intimidating, and you’re also prone to emotional explosion. We’re working on ways to make both things easier for you. While I’d rather step in and save you hurt, I’m learning to let you find your way through.

You love dinosaurs, animal documentaries, fish fingers and chips, milkshake, your bike, and your books. You’re so much better at eating than you were, but need some mild persuasion to get started. You go to nursery five mornings a week, and you’re thriving there. ‘I watched a video about a chameleon’, you told me today. ‘It changes colour and it has a sticky tongue to GRAB flies on leaves, just like THAT’. Then you asked me to list every other insect the chameleon eats, and I chickened out after about ten.

Anyway. I think a lot about you both, as I hope you can see. I worry about being too shouty and too severe, too tired and too switched-off. And I do get used up, sometimes. More than I’d like.

But boys, lovely boys, you’ll read this when you’re too big to crawl onto my lap on the kitchen floor like you did today, both of you jostling for space on my knees.

And I want you to know: I would not give a single minute of this, of you, away. Not to anyone. Not for anything at all.

With much love,

Your mother.

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Previous editions of This Is Where We Are: here (1), here (2), and here (3).

One thousand and ninety two

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Dear Henry,

Today you are three. Today has been a good day.

It’s getting harder to write about you properly, because describing you is becoming a challenge. The sweeping generalisations we hold up to babies – he’s loud; he’s busy; he’s a good sleeper – are poor greyscale things when held up to the patterned light of a three-year-old. You are multi-layered and contradictory, full of depths that surface and take us by surprise. You are increasingly a person. This is something we will both have to get used to.

Let’s just write you into this page a little. You talk. And talk and talk. You don’t say ‘I fell down’, you say ‘gosh, that was a tumble’. You don’t say ‘it’s dark’, you say ‘look, Mummy, outside it is dark and werry gloomy’. We laugh at you and with you a lot. Following your thought processes is like trying to catch a spark in blackness. It is difficult, but oh, it illuminates such lovely things.

You are passionate and emotional, as I think all toddlers must be, and we are learning to navigate this together. Not always very well. You love dinosaurs, books, trains, racing cars, Winnie the Pooh (a bit left-field, that one). You still run everywhere and only from the waist down. You whizz so fast on your little balance bike that I have to sprint alongside you with the pushchair, watching your hair stand on end. You can say seven wordless things just by raising your eyebrows. As of this morning, you do not own a single pair of trousers that fit.

I think now that all of my children will be special to me in their own way, and nothing will ever take away from the miraculous firstness of you. You were the moment I heard a jagged newborn cry through my own exhaustion and pain. The point at which everything in my head and heart changed all at once was marked, indelibly, by you.

I watched you open-mouthed, astounded, that first long night. I still do. I think I probably always will.

Today we have ridden trains, conducted serious experiments in the Science Museum, eaten chips in Covent Garden. Today we bought you pick-and-mix, and every time Teddy pulled on your sleeve for a foam banana, you very quietly and kindly passed one over to him. Today has been a good day. I hope you’ll remember some of it.

May three be good to you, little boy.

You are good to us.

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