Tag Archives: Birthday

Cake for breakfast

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And so we discover that time, that fickle mistress, halts for no man, and no matter how sunny your good looks are, EVEN YOU WILL BE TWENTY-NINE IN THE END.

Or, in other words, Tim had his birthday this week, which means I’m not the only one in this house officially on the short slide to thirty. HARDEE HAR HAR.

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We had a lovely day. We decided to keep Henry in nursery in the morning, because it would make it more likely that family naps could happen (and they did). But before that there were presents, bunting and cake for breakfast. I don’t know why we haven’t just done cake for breakfast every birthday morning before this, by the way. It makes everything better. Maybe it’s a special milestone in adulthood, being able to decide that cake is a meal without any regrets? If it is, we are there.

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I found this root beer float cake on Joy the Baker’s glorious site some time ago, and bookmarked it immediately for Tim’s birthday. He is the sort of chap who drinks his own weight in the stuff every time we head across the Atlantic. Last year my sister got him a boxful of different brands in murky brown bottles, and he sat us all down and conducted serious taste comparison tests. With a spreadsheet. Love him.

Anyway, it’s a fabulous cake – the root beer comes through quite beautifully, and not too strongly – and I am a convert to bundt tins, because no more ugly first slices. My version was a little rough and ready, mainly due to the fact that a) I made it at 11pm, and b) I can never be convinced that it’s worth the effort of sieving cocoa powder and icing sugar, until my frosting comes out in pimples, and then I remember that it is. To make it a proper root beer float cake I stacked Cornish vanilla ice cream into the hole in the middle, which I think is the best labour saving device invented since I gave up the sandwich and started just eating peanut butter and jam off the same spoon.

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We took the boys swimming in the afternoon, then around dinner time left them with Tim’s lovely mama to go on a birthday date. We tested out some digital radios for our kitchen in John Lewis, then went for obscenely good steak (mine came with beef dripping sauce. Hnnnnggghhhh) and watched Interstellar at the cinema, groaning from our overstuffed stomachs.

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Interstellar is astonishing. It almost tries to cram in too much, and has some usual Nolan problems (some clunky dialogue, a twist a minute). But the visuals, the themes, the scope of the thing, Matthew McConaughey’s beauteous craggy face…oh my. We were overwhelmed.

We have a happy day whenever this guy has a birthday. Like steak and root beer and the great McConaughey himself, he only gets better with age.

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A science-y kind of birthday

Just a quick one about Henry’s birthday, before August is properly over and all my posts turn into meditations on apple crumble.

I didn’t organise a party this year, because we thought we’d be moving house in the middle of it. Then we weren’t moving this month after all (and do not even talk to me about that) but by then it was too late to coordinate everyone’s schedules. So instead of one medium-sized family celebration he had… three small celebrations, one after the other. I think he came out of it rather well.

When I asked Hen what he wanted for his birthday, he said he wanted a chocolate cake, and to see his friends. So we held a Favourite Dessert party the night before, with all his best little people, to tick them both off. For the birthday cake, I made The Cake Hunter‘s Ultimate Chocolate Cake that morning. It is an INSANELY good, easy recipe, and I will never need another chocolate cake in my life. The cake actually tastes of chocolate – this is rare, I find – and even though I’m not much of an icing fan, there’s something fudgy and incredible about the frosting. I doubled the frosting quantities, as I wanted to frost all the way around the outside (my cakes tend to need hiding), and threw on gold and silver stars at the end. It turned out pretty well.

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We put up the bunting from Teddy’s party (I will be doing this until one of them is old enough to mind) and bought napkins, pots and dessert flags from the supermarket, which has seriously impressed me this summer with its party gear. In the middle of all this flour-tossing and sugar-inhaling we had a disaster: Teddy tripped over and smashed both his lips against a colander he’d taken for personal use. Oh, it bled like the River Styx, dear readers. I was about two soaked flannels away from taking him to A&E, rambling on the phone to NHS Direct with one hand, wiping nameless gunk out of his mouth with the other. In the end it dried up all of a sudden, and he seemed totally fine. So we all changed our clothes, cleaned everything up, and ate some desserts.

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The day after was Henry’s actual birthday. First, a few presents from friends and admirers to open over breakfast.

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Then we did as birthday celebrators do, and went to London. If our great capital consisted solely of a Tube network, and all you did was ride round and round till you were dizzy, he’d still think it was the best day of his life.

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As it was, we also had Shake Shack for lunch, along with a very serious conversation about whether Shake Shack or Five Guys do the better burger. Tim and I come down on opposite sides of this divide, like poor Littlefoot and his grandparents from The Land Before Time, and I’m not sure we will ever bridge the gap. We put a lit candle in his burger, because if you can’t have a burger cake when you’re three, when can you, eh?

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PS, I love Covent Garden. There was a chap dressed up in full costume and paint as the Mad Hatter, drinking tea from vintage crockery, all SUP GUYS THIS IS TOTALLY NORMAL FOR A TUESDAY.

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We’ve been to the Natural History Museum (‘dinosaur you-see-um’) a few times now, so we thought we’d try the Science Museum this time. He loved it. A word to the wise for parents of toddlers: you need to hit The Garden in the basement (the bit for under-sixes), the cars and planes on the ground floor, and then the Launchpad on the fifth floor (with all the hands-on experiments), and that’s all. Everything else is beyond them, and will only make your feet tired. We discovered this so you don’t have to.

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Know who else was hanging out in the Launchpad that Tuesday? STEPHEN HAWKING. ACTUAL STEPHEN HAWKING. It’s seriously impolite to stare at famous people, I know, but HELLO. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Tim run so fast.

Happy belated birthday, Henny-Pen. Sorry I often call you ‘Hen’ in public and in front of people who don’t know your name. It makes you sound like a chicken. I know, I know. You can carry it off.

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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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On losing Two, and trying not to be sad about it

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Second birthday. The cheeks have it.

He is on the verge of being three. Hanging onto Two by his fingertips. You can see Three coming in those long skinny legs, the bony bottom in little underpants. Three is in his self-awareness, the jokes with a random punchline, the sentences with multiple clauses. There are Threeish days he wants books with more words than pictures, and days he wants me to pull stories out of my head. I can smell it on the days he sleeps till 7.30 instead of 6am, and doesn’t want a nap because it’s obvious he doesn’t need one.

You’d think this would be good news. It is, it really is. Two has been a marvellous, multicoloured fire-storm. I have sensed for a long time that he and I are very similar, and I’ve butted heads with Two so often we have bruises. I can see the seeds of logic in Three. There’s the unremarkable everyday use of the toilet coming (!!!), and the point at which he can get himself a seventh glass of water. I can see, very VERY distantly on the horizon, a day in which he can put on his own socks.

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But oh, there is sweetness here I am not ready to give up. Two, with his chubby cheeks and flannel Thomas pyjamas. The process of watching him pull words from the air, awestruck with the discovery that things have names, and mispronounce them hilariously. Not ever again in his life will he forget how to say ‘porridge’. He won’t ever need my hand again to go down the stairs. That was Two’s thing, and Two has almost gone.

Three goes to nursery in September. We’re still waiting for the confirmation letter to arrive, but it should come any day. He’ll be someone else’s for five mornings a week, and he is so excited to go. Me, I’ve spent these sunny weeks holding onto Two with both hands: picnics, day trips, library books, lots of mornings jumping off walls and poking things with sticks, as much time as I can wangle with him wedged on my lap. For these last few golden weeks he is all mine, all day, and this life I make for him is the only one he knows. It was never going to last, and it shouldn’t, either. But I will close my eyes and breathe in Two for every minute I still have him.

Three is coming, lovely boy, and just wait till you see what you’ll find there.

Three is coming.

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A little post-birthday fanfare

I’ve kind of lost the plot since our big group stomach bug last week (you know what they say: the family that shares gastroenteritis together, stays together). But I didn’t want the week to go by without giving a nod to this guy’s birthday.

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Which, incidentally, was completely rearranged by said gastroenteritis, but you’d never know it from him. He’s not the whinging type, even when a Five Guys burger is at stake. (We are not the same.)

Let me tell you a story about Timothy. Just a little one. A few Sundays ago we attempted an afternoon nap, except Edward, who attempted a different cross face every ten minutes. Tim had had the boys a lot the day before – and he always, always does the early shift when Hen bounces out of bed at 6am demanding porridge – so I took Teds to settle him. After two hours, I’d rocked a lot, huffed a lot and slept not at all, and wasn’t best pleased about it.

‘It’s not FAIR’, I hurled at him once he’d woken up. Yes, really.

‘What’s not fair?’

‘Babies. I spend all day and night looking after them, and the one time in the week when I could have a proper nap, Edward won’t sleep. Why won’t he sleep?!’

Perhaps, you idiot, because he wasn’t tired? In my defence, interrupted sleep is the very boil throbbing on the nose of my existence, and, like any throbbing boil, it makes me more unreasonable the longer it’s there. As you see.

Tim took both boys away, and I huffed in bed by myself for the next hour, pointedly ignoring the chaos downstairs. Eventually I heard a knock on the door.

‘Hey’, he said, gently, a rack of homemade scones steaming in one hand, ‘are you coming downstairs?’

I did. We ate them for tea with butter and jam, watched Babe for the twenty-seventh time, and laughed a lot.

If I could choose just one thing for you to know about him, it would be this: that given half a chance he would bundle up your temper tantrum, take it downstairs, puzzle over how to make it better, and then get out the flour and start making you scones.

Also: they are amazingly good scones.

Happy twenty-eighth, favourite!

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Five cakes for five occasions

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This week we have discovered that the more people you have in a house, the longer you can keep a cold virus going. We just keep throwing it between us like a frisbee of snotty sadness. I’m a lot better at catching colds than I am at catching frisbees (twice in a week, now! I am the virus winner!), which is oddly making me feel a little better.

Anyway, after I’ve run through painkillers and melodrama, dessert is my third stop during cold season. I had to choose three of my favourite desserts to bring to an activity last week, and I just hope you never have to make such a wrenching decision, dear readers. So much good cake. So much. [tears.]

So I thought I’d try to be useful, and suggest a few shortcuts. Here are five cakes perfect for five occasions – and it should go without saying that all of them will improve your average snotastrophe NO END.

the birthday party: white chocolate and brownie torte

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This is ideal birthday fare: it’s the easiest thing in the world and looks far more impressive than it should (good for crowds), but needs eight hours in the freezer, so can’t be made on a whim (hopefully your loved one’s birthday hasn’t come as a surprise). And with only three ingredients, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t like it.

I inherited this recipe from my mother-in-law – if you recognise where it’s from, let me know so I can credit it!

Ingredients:

300g white chocolate

600ml/1 pint double cream

250g brownies (I use one of those boxes of mini brownies in the bakery section at Tesco)

cocoa powder

Method:

Line an 8-inch Springform tin with greaseproof paper.

Break the chocolate into pieces, and melt in a pan with 1/4 pint (150 ml) of the cream. Let it cool once it’s melted.

Crumble the brownies into pieces, and pack into the bottom of the tin (not too hard!).

Whip the remaining cream (3/4 pint, 450 ml) into soft peaks, then fold in the chocolate mixture.

Spoon into the tin, clingfilm and freeze for 8 hours (or overnight).

Transfer the torte to the fridge 45 minutes before serving. Dust with cocoa powder.

Read the full run-through here.

the valentine: Sophie Dahl’s flourless chocolate cake

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I may be just shallow, but nothing says true love to me like the BEST CHOCOLATE CAKE YOU’VE EVER HAD. Trust me, I’ve tried a lot, and this is the one I keep coming back to. Without flour, the cake relies on whipped egg whites to rise, which makes it moist (I hate that word, but when it fits…) and puddingy. Creme fraiche and raspberries on top, while deeply offending Mr Jeffcoat, counterbalance the chocolate nicely, and prevent it from being too sickly.

The recipe is here, and you can read about the first time I tried it here. The only thing I’d add is that putting chocolate in a food processor always broke my food processor, and cutting it up finely was achey and time-consuming. Just melt the chocolate with the butter in the microwave, and follow the recipe from there.

Mmmm. Romance.

the church social: lemon bars

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I do this every time: sign up to bring a dessert to some activity or other, and then forget until the last minute. I owe my friend Kathryn for this revelation: soft shortbread underneath squidgy lemon-meringue-style topping that tastes like happiness. One tray can be sliced into as many pieces as you need, and you can dress it up in individual cupcake cases if need be. Timothy always requests these to bring into the office on his birthday, at which point one of his coworkers described them as ‘like a lemon snog to the face’. I cannot give any better recommendation than this.

Crust Ingredients:

1 cup butter (this translates to about 226g)
1/2 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 cups flour (I use about 3/4 plain flour and 1/4 self-raising – did it this way by accident once and it worked well)

Filling ingredients:

4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sugar, any kind
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup flour (self-raising, I use)
1/4 cup lemon juice
Rind of 1 lemon, grated

Method

For crust –
1) Cream butter and icing sugar.
2) Add salt and flour, and mix well.
3) Pat into a 9 x 13 inch lined baking tin. Bake at 170 C for 15-20 mins.

For filling –
1) Mix all ingredients and pour over hot crust. Bake at 170 C for about 25-30 mins. It should be light brown on top and a curd-like consistency.
2) When done, sprinkle with icing sugar. Cut into squares when cool.

Read the full run-through here.

the Sunday lunch: Nigella’s ice cream cake

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Och, this one is amazing. Ice cream mixed with biscuits, chocolate and honeycomb, frozen into place and then covered with hot chocolate and butterscotch sauce. Ideal for Sunday lunch because it’s dead easy, and you can fill it with whatever your family or guests like best: peanuts, chocolate chips, different types of biscuit, favourite chocolate bars – even fruit, if you must.

Nigella’s recipe is here, but it’s not an exact science: just a tub of ice cream, your favourite things, and a Springform tin. The recipes for hot chocolate sauce is here, and the butterscotch sauce is here. One would do, but using both makes it a thing of beauty.

Read the full run-through here.

the comfort eat: cinnamon roll cake

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I speak here as someone obsessed with cinnamon rolls, but without the patience (or breadmaker) to make them. I first made this on a rainy afternoon with friends, so heavily pregnant I looked like a giant cheeseburger, and I swear to you I nearly buried my face in it. It’s another tray bake (though you could put it in any shaped tin you like) which is somewhat dangerous: you start off virtuously with a small square, and before you know it, it’s half gone.

The recipe is from The Girl Who Ate Everything, and it’s here. I use a cream cheese frosting rather than her suggested icing, which is at the bottom of the page, here (I generally halve this recipe, because it’s insane). And while I’d recommend checking the cake after the recommended 25-30 minutes, it actually takes just over an hour in my oven. Maybe it’s an altitude thing.

Read the full run-through here.

Head cold, I spit in your face. And eat cake. So much cake. [tears.]

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What to do in London when you’re two

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We do London on our birthdays. On Monday we got to induct Henricus Rex into the tradition. Did I mention the Big Smoke is covered with trains?

We didn’t start with trains, of course. We started with a vest with a bow tie and braces sewed on to it, like any sensible birthday celebrators. He was catching on to the present thing by this time. The tiny jungle menagerie went down a storm. So did the chocolate chip pancakes.

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Then we dressed him up all fancy and headed for the Underground. You should know, if you’re new to the Tube, that there’s an unspoken rule of no talking to strangers and no eye contact. Unless you’re the most excited two-year-old in three counties, in which case it’s ok for you to yell ‘WHOOOOA. TRAIN NOISE, DADDY. GRAMAA. IS GARK. WHOOOOOOA’ in the ear of the chap next to you. I’m sure.

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Once we’d finished annoying random Londoners, we got to enjoy the city proper. It’s a glorious thing, especially with sunshine bouncing merrily off the Thames. We sat on a Sphinx that survived a bomb in the First World War, and was still lounging in place with a few shrapnel holes in the side, all ‘Bombed by the Luftwaffe, suckas. No big deal’. That’s the kind of history I’m in love with, and in London, it’s everywhere.

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Then we made a pilgrimage to the Shake Shack they’ve just opened in Covent Garden, and oh, it filled every one of our burger-and-crinkle-fries dreams. It was the sort of lunch that brings tears to the eyes. A solemn occasion. Teds thought so too.

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FYI, the Natural History Museum would like you to know that it’s made for little boys carrying toy tigers around, and adults who would like the Jurassic Park theme tune in their heads all afternoon. Richard Attenborough, get over here in that snazzy white suit and subdue this T-Rex.

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I am enjoying him so, so much at the minute (Henry, I mean, not Richard Attenborough). Those cheeks. That chatter. The way he pronounces ‘tigers’ as ‘kiders’ and ‘dinosaurs’ as ‘dinnyslaws’. He can have a birthday any old time he likes, as long as we’re all agreed that he never gets any bigger, and there are always crinkle fries. Alright? Alright then.

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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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Boy with balloons

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We started Henry’s unbirthday by giving him a haircut that broke my heart.

Unbirthday because his birthday is actually tomorrow. But we held a little family tea party for him on Saturday evening. He has no clue what a birthday is, but he knew he had new hair, and people kept giving him exciting things, and suddenly there seemed to be no restriction AT ALL on cake. Add in the bunch of helium balloons I let him jump around with for an hour, and this Saturday just sky-rocketed to the best one of his life. I watched him dance on the edge of two, with short boy’s hair and a giant smile, and felt like I couldn’t hold him still for a second. He has a bike now. We’re stuck into boyhood, and there’s no going back.

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I knew that with Teds in the house and my mama visiting I wouldn’t have much inclination for party planning. And so it proved. It took a whole two days just to decide what birthday cake to make him, and I didn’t get much further than that. I settled on a Hummingbird Bakery Hot Chocolate Cake in the end, adapted from their Hot Chocolate Cupcakes, mostly because Henry would lick up hot chocolate from the floor if you let him. (I don’t let him.) He also calls it ‘hot cocky’, which is not at all awkward, particularly when he’s asking for some of Daddy’s at the top of his voice.

Anyway.

It’s called a Hot Chocolate Cake because there’s hot chocolate powder in it, instead of cocoa. I can’t say it tasted overwhelmingly of hot chocolate, but it did have an interesting sort of malted flavour that went well with the chocolate frosting. It turned out to be the sort of frosting that doesn’t ever go smooth, so I textured it like wallpaper from the eighties and hoped the chocolate sprinkles would cover the rest. I rather liked it, in the end. I recycled bunting from his party last year, and we made a trip in the morning to pick up a bunch of balloons. We made miniature scones, which we ate with jam, cream and strawberries, and put out cheese and crackers and chopped up vegetables. We opened presents and ate, and that was all. By gum, it was lovely.

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I will write a happy birthday post when I have made my peace with this boy being two, which might be never, but I will try my best. More later; I have leftover birthday cake to eat. What else is 11pm for?

Most of these photos are courtesy of my father-in-law, who is much better at this sort of thing than I am. Thanks, Jeremy!

Arrivals

‘Just so you know’, I texted Timothy on Sunday afternoon, ‘I am definitely baking a cake in swimming hotpants right now. I am a vision.’

Sunday was a good day. But not an especially good day to be thirty-seven weeks pregnant. It was hot, and bright, and busy. After three hours of church and an afternoon of preparing for a workshop activity that evening, even wearing a skirt had become too much to contemplate. I switched to the swimming hotpants, did my printing and preparing and mixing of cake like a heffalump in turquoise lycra, and felt pretty good about it, since you ask.

Our activity went well, mostly because I remembered to change out of the hotpants before we left, and we arrived home late and tired and happy. We were in bed before 10.30pm, and unconscious not long after that.

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‘This is my first properly empty week before D-day’, I remember thinking before I dropped off. ‘Shall I nest? Maybe I’ll make some frozen meals’.

Well, I can only conclude that nesting is so entirely out of character that the universe stepped in to avoid such silliness. At midnight I was awake again, with stomach ache. I didn’t think anything of it. We’d never settled on a proper nickname for this baby-to-be (Tim had tried TJ II, with not much success), but I didn’t call him the Bowel-Treader for nothing. I went to the loo, came back, and had almost dropped off again when the pain came back. And then back again. And then back again after that. After half an hour, I got a magazine, retired to the bathroom and started timing the spaces between them. They were fairly regular, but not clockwork, and I didn’t want to wake Timothy – who had, frankly, a rat’s behind of a week ahead of him at work – if all I had was boomerang diarrhoea.

At 2am they were still there, and I hadn’t managed to take in much about the situation in Egypt (in hindsight, I should probably have chosen a different magazine). So I went back into the bedroom and woke Tim.

‘Soooo’, I started, feeling ridiculous, ‘I think I may be having contractions’.

‘Wha?’

‘Contractions. I’m having them’.

‘Oh’.

There was a pause, while his rat’s behind of a week ran fairly obviously over his face.

‘Are you sure?’

I stopped. Suddenly I was horribly sure. ‘Yep. I’ll call the hospital’. And then I added, while the phone rang, ‘I’m frightened’.

Because I was. Your body and mind are helpfully in cahoots, after giving birth, and all I remembered from Henry were a few vivid flashes. The rest of it was coming back to me now, in pieces. In most of the pieces I was making a lot of noise.

The midwife at the other end of the phone was lovely. We were told to wait until the contractions were stronger and more regular, and in the meantime keep moving, get the bags ready, have a soothing bath. I got in the bath, as directed. We tried to have a discussion about where to send Henry, but I was finding it hard to talk. I breathed in time on my hands and knees, and made a valiant effort to be interested in the location of Henry’s vests. I didn’t really cotton on that things weren’t going to plan, however, until fifteen minutes later, when I started wanting to push.

‘PUSH?’ yelled the functioning part of my brain, as soon as I’d verbalised that bit in my head. ‘Push what? PUSH WHAT? GET OUT OF THE BATH, YOU IDIOT’.

I did. I crawled into the bedroom to the edge of the bed, got a nightdress on over my head – stupid fiddly tags – and told Tim to call the hospital again. I remember thinking how blessedly calm he sounded. I am alright, I thought. I am wearing half a nightdress and kneeling on half a towel with my head underneath a flipping baby crib, but Tim is here, and I am alright.

‘She says that if you’re feeling pressure, we need to come in now. If you want to push, I need to call 999 for an ambulance’.

My waters broke. He called 999. Somehow he remembered to take the stairgate off the top of the stairs. Neither of us remembered that I was still crammed half underneath a baby crib, over a cream carpet. And then there were voices behind me, and one of them – heaven bless that woman from eternity to eternity – was offering me gas and air.

‘Can I push?’ I sobbed, ‘I need to. Please, can I?’

‘My love’, came The Voice, ‘if you need to, push as much as you want’.

So I did. Ten minutes after the voices arrived, out he came. And he cried, and I cried, and managed to back out from the corner to sit and hold him. A cheerful bearded face came into view for the first time.

‘Hello there’, it said. ‘Well done. You know, Gareth is a wonderful name for boys, these days’.

***

At first I am too numbed to feel anything but relief: blissful and dizzying. We arrive home less than a day after it all started, and it feels like a bizarre dream, except that now there’s another baby. The early hours of the morning find me alone with this tiny person, fascinated with his face and feet and hands. He is entirely his own self. And I feel a wave of fierce, unstoppable tenderness. Oh, I know this, I know it: it is how I feel about my first, adored boy, but this time it’s for my second.

Come in, I tell it, gently. Come on in.

SAM_9973

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