Tag Archives: Birthday Letter

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.

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.

Photo 19-08-2016, 6 14 30 pm

One thousand four hundred and sixty-one

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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.

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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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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.)

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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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.

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