Category Archives: Letters To My Children

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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Slugs and snails: for Teddy

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You are one today, little boy. And what are little boys made of?

You are made of wrist rolls and chubby feet, big hands and big cheeks. Bounces and cowboy yells on a cot mattress at 6am.

Turbo-charged crawling. Clear blue eyes and wide beaming smiles, showing all six teeth, scrunching up your nose. A mess of corn-blonde dandelion hair falling into your face.

You are shouting and whooping in continual breathless streams. Delighted chucklesome laughter starting somewhere in your belly and spilling out past your cheeks. Unfortunately also that impatient foghorn bellow that takes up all our air space when you want some notice.

You are made of that look of intense concentration as you pick up cheerios with careful fingers from the floor, stuffing them into your mouth with your whole hand.

You are watchfulness, loyalty and deep, unquestioning attachment. You are ticklish between your shoulder blades.

You patch of sunlight on a stormy day; you streak of pure golden-haired grace.

You dream-maker, you heart-breaker –

wherever you’re going, I’m going your way.

(Happy birthday, Edward bear.)

This Is Where We Are: A letter to my children on Mother’s Day (3)

Dear Future Versions of Henry and Edward,

Today is my third Mothering Sunday, and you are two-and-a-half and nine months old, respectively. We are tucked up in bed again, this time because you have hand, foot and mouth virus. Before I had children I thought HFM, if I thought about it at all, was a disease for cows. Motherhood is not so much a learning curve as a learning ski jump, with no skis attached.

You first, Teds? You don’t often get to go first.

Henry and I call you ‘bear’ at home, and it suits you. You are a golden-haired, roly-poly, beaming little thing, and you remind me more of a bear cub than a baby. Your eyes are an untroubled, unclouded blue. Honestly, Teddy, I could go a hundred miles and not find another person as sweetly lovely as you. You are the sort of boy who sits in a two-inch bath clenching his fists and squealing, because nothing has ever been as good as this bath, ever. I can put you on the bed with a piece of paper, and twenty minutes later you’ll get a bit bored so I’ll need to mix it up a bit and show you an interestingly coloured sock. You’re that kind of lovely. You’re the sort of lovely that smiles so wide there’s not room on your face for the whole of it, because that’s the kind of smile you think everyone deserves.

You love cherry tomatoes (what?!), apple puree, your purple spider, bouncing on your chubby feet, being in water, anyone who will look at you twice, and your brother, who is the brightest thing in any room you’re in. You hate…well, actually, I can’t think of anything. Except maybe being ignored for too long, at which point you bellow so loudly the glass shatters in the photo frames. You eat well; you sleep well; you throw up like it’s an Olympic sport. When I pick you up and you huff contentedly into my hair, I squash my face against yours and look sideways. All I can see is cheeks.

Two babies has been an adjustment I can only think of in natural disaster metaphors: a tsunami, a tidal wave, an earthquake. But it hasn’t been a disaster at all, and that’s because of you. Do you know how rare it is to find someone who evokes in you utter, uncomplicated joy? That’s you, my darling. So bright I can’t look at you straight. You have the sort of light that people are drawn to, and I’m only grateful it landed on me first.

***

Henry, you quicksilver boy: you are skinny, sandy-haired and full of burning energy. Your eyes are blue with the most extraordinary rings of greeny-yellow: they remind me of those fire-veined pebbles you find on beaches, still wet from the sea. If I told you this you would fix me with that look you get, eyebrows raised, mouth quirked up on one side: that, good madam, is ridiculous. You love a good joke, and I’m often your best one.

You love books, sausage pie, the twenty-seven ‘waysing cars’ you have stashed everywhere, Finding Nemo, sprinting, sitting in patches of sunshine in your bath towel, and Daddy. You hate salad, being made to take off your towel and get dressed, sitting in the Tesco trolley, and being reminded that I am in charge. You are rapid-fire chatter, ingenuity, single-mindedness, throat-gurgling laughs. When I push you high on the swings, you close your eyes and tip your head back to the open skies. You invite me to dance during the closing credits of any film we watch, and I would never dream of turning you down. You are clever as heck. Let’s say that now while you’re too young to get it. Oh gosh, you really are.

We have a more complicated bond these days: you want things and push back when you can’t have them; I lose my temper over your stubbornness more often than I should. We are parenting now in earnest, and often I feel a terrible tearing mix of frustration and fear and pride and love. I suppose that’s how you become less of me and more of you, and there’s something wonderful in that. I love you fiercely for your wholeness and integrity. Regardless of who’s watching, you are always most perfectly yourself. I have this sense of you as a poised arrow: fearless, determined, ready on the string. I can’t fathom where that headlong rush forward will take you, but I can guess. So high, my love, so high I can only watch you: so blazingly, beautifully high.

With love and some hair-pulling (on all sides),

Your mother.

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Seven hundred and thirty

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Dear Henry,

Today is your birthday, and you are two. Tomorrow I will write one of those photo-heavy posts about what we did today, and how you shouted ‘WHOA’ every time the underground train set off, and roared at the dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum, and used every cunning wile you could think of to make us let go of your hand so you could fly off and explore by yourself.

Tomorrow, that is. Tonight – because I don’t have very much left of your birthday, and you’ve been in bed for hours – I just want to write about you.

How can I stop you getting bigger if I don’t write you into a page? Your babyhood is close enough that I can still remember the smell on the top of your head, and your fierce little cry that was more like a shout. But you couldn’t have been further from that today. You wore skinny jeans and lace-up trainers, all the better to run away with. Your eyes were huge under that little-boy haircut; you kept turning back to check that we were keeping up, and just as excited as you.

You are always excited. Or furious. Or in some passion or other. Sometimes you want something without knowing what it is, and whine until I remind you to stop and use your words. I love watching you search for the right thing to say and pull it out with a flourish (‘please-a-haf, gink o’ dooce!’). You use words like a box of wonders. You talk all day, and repeat anything we ask if you think it’ll get you a laugh. You make me laugh a lot. You’ve got a good line in silly faces and exercise moves (Sarah taught you lunges), and can work a room better than either of us.

I sometimes call you Henny-Pen in public. I’m sorry about this. Also, sorry: I dress you with one eye always on button-up shirts and braces. You might never wear a shirt with a cartoon character on it. You might want to get your own fashion sense, sharpish, because at the minute you’re making do with mine.

Today I woke up early and thought about the day you were born (this is one of these sentimental things that will annoy you when you’re older). How I dressed and undressed you like you might break, and looked at you in your hospital crib without knowing what I was feeling. I assumed I would love you. I had no idea what a tidal wave that would be, how it would rebuild me entirely, leaving me new and bruised and tentative. It wasn’t always comfortable. It isn’t always now. But it became a part of me just as you did, and I could never argue with the rightness of it, or the rightness of you.

Two years, and ten thousand miles. You are my box of wonders, little boy. You may not always need my hand in the T-Rex room, or anywhere else. But it’ll be there if you want it, and if not, well. I’m glad I get to watch you run.

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This Is Where We Are: A letter to my son on Mother’s Day (2)

Having read about it here, I wanted to write about how I mother my babies day-to-day, every Mother’s Day. The first was here. Here goes the second. 

Dear Future Version of Henry,

Today is my second Mothering Sunday, and you are eighteen months old. We are sat side-by-side in the big bed, you tucked under my arm and watching your third episode of ‘Sarah and Duck’. You’ve got a dribbly cold, which is the reason we’re at home on a Sunday morning, and also the only reason you’re happy to be tucked anywhere. I’m making the most of it. Usually you’ve got too much to do.

Oh, I am in love with you, little boisterous boy. You sprint through a world of vivid colour where every last thing is so interesting it’s worth climbing a bookcase for. You should exhaust me completely – our energy levels are not, at the moment, on a par – and sometimes you do. Mostly I marvel at how keenly you feel everything: you’re always astonished or powerfully curious or hilariously excited or heartbreakingly sad. I mean, I never considered how interesting a cake fork was, before you insisted on inspecting all twelve of them in the cutlery drawer. You do not believe in sitting still, not for a second. You sleep like a champ, but only because you’ve knocked yourself out all day wrestling with chairs and sofas and me.

After much trial and error, we’ve found a routine that works for us both at the moment. Daddy fetches you from your cot in the morning, and you lie between us for an hour, hiding under the covers and tweaking our noses, until we’re ready to get up. You take long morning naps while I work, then I fetch you lunch and the rest of the afternoon is ours. You love books, red peppers, your pull-along doggy, the fluffy side of your monkey blanket, other people’s breakfasts, jumping from high places, and Daddy, always Daddy. You would give up ten strawberry yoghurts to have that man chase you around the kitchen. You hate having your teeth brushed, being made to eat when you don’t want to (often), broccoli under any circumstances, and being told ‘no’. We are working on the time-out thing, at the moment. Thus far, not an astoundingly successful experiment. Neither do any of my warning faces have any effect whatsoever. I’ll keep trying.

I feel a great deal more pressure now you not only need to be fed and clean and rested, but also stimulated and taught: given good habits, trained out of bad ones, exposed to people and principles that will open your eyes and make you everything you could be. It’s a lot to do in an afternoon, and I am no great paragon of any of it myself. But somehow, despite all that, I feel more secure now in mothering you than I ever have before. This has been my favourite age so far. You are good company. I can see so much of what you are, and it gives me hope. I want you to keep forging new paths. I want you to be graceful, and grateful, and kind. I want you to read the whole of Roald Dahl’s back catalogue, but that’s probably a goal for another year.

I can’t tell you how much being your mother has changed me for the better. You have my heart and soul and everything in between. I hope you can feel it. I finally begin to understand that the glory of motherhood is this: no matter how far you move away from me, some part of you, for me, will always be that little boy lying between us and kicking his legs in the bed, babbling secrets into the half-darkness. I’ll have that forever. What a gift, my dearest boy. What an inexpressible gift.

With love,

Your mother.

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Dear Future Version of Henry, my hair doesn’t always look like an insane person’s wig. Promise.

Something to celebrate

Happy birthday to Henricus Rex! What a year, eh?

Try posing him with ANYTHING these days. Doesn’t work.

This boy is such a delicious thing. He is frantically busy until exhaustion knocks him flat at bedtime. He has charm, and works it shamelessly. Has opinions, and voices them loudly. Pulls amazing faces. Is the reason we’ve roped the fridge and freezer shut. Says ‘dadada’ when he means Tim, and ‘mamama’ when he’s hungry (nice). Will do anything, really anything, to get hold of an iPhone. Holds on to the back of your t-shirt with a fierce grip when you carry him. Thinks that falling asleep on Mummy is for sissies. Totally loses his head when you put him on your shoulders, and pulls your hair out and screams for joy. Wore his first shirt and tie today, and kept rediscovering his tie every half hour, and being pleasantly surprised all over again.

Oh look, a tie! How exciting! How satisfying! For me?

Which sums up how he rolls quite nicely, I think.

Thanks for all of it, lovely boy. Pass me another twelve months.

This Is Where We Are: A letter to my son on Mother’s Day (1)

Having read about it here, I wanted to write about how I mother my babies day-to-day, every Mother’s Day. Here goes the first.

Dear Future Version of Henry,

Today is my first Mothering Sunday, and tomorrow you will be seven months old. I am sat in a puddle of quiet, feeding you before your nap. You’re not much interested in feeding these days apart from as a comforting book-end to sleep. The knowledge that this connection between us is winding to a close is breaking my heart just a little. You are so big now. You are so completely yourself. You’re hardly my creation at all.

It has taken us this long to cobble together something like a routine, but we’re getting there. Neither of us are great at sticking to a routine – I am too indecisive and you are too energetic – but it does us both good. You nap twice in the day if we’re lucky, and most of the night. You will eat sweet potato till it comes out of your ears (or nose, more often), but choke extravagantly on anything more solid. You do everything extravagantly: lunging at things you want to put in your mouth, burying your face in my neck in a fit of excitement, bouncing like a grasshopper in my lap. You are always in the throes of some passion or other. You are never, never still. I think you’re going to give me a run for my money as soon as you can actually run.

You love singing, Sir Prance-a-Lot, your door bouncer, books that are solid enough to get in your mouth, labels, my hair and Daddy. You hate pasta, getting dressed, and doing anything for longer than five minutes.

In some ways I struggled with the transition to full-time mothering, needing more validation and more structure than you were able to give me, but I’ve grown into my life as you’ve grown into yours. I’ve been surprised at how natural it all is. I know every inch of you. I can sense what you need without really having to try. You want Daddy when you want to be happy, and me when you want to be sad. I know I won’t always be able to fix your problems so easily, but oh, I wish I could.

I have so many hopes for you. I want you to be independent and confident and curious. If I could have you be anything, I would have you be kind. I worry about you constantly. I suppose it will always be like that. But I love who you are and who I’ve become since you arrived. I only have you to thank for that.

With love,

Your mother.

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