Tag Archives: Fifth Birthday

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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When a dinosaur comes to a party, it wears its best hat

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Birthday fortnight is over. Well, not really – H’s birthday is still to come next month, though because he’s blown out a glittery ‘5’ candle, he’s convinced he already is. And I say: fair enough. You can be five for a few sneaky weeks. Five is great.

It seemed like a good idea to move H’s party forward to before the end of term, to catch his friends before they went on holiday. He’d asked for a party, after all – unusual for this beloved people-wary child – and since we weren’t sure how many years he’d want one, we wanted to make this one good. Until we realised that we’d scheduled two consecutive party weekends for ourselves, which is the sort of way madness resides.

He chose a dinosaur theme. He wants to be a palaeontologist – he can pronounce this better than I can spell it – and most days I have a scheduled bare-feet run-in with a tiny rubber ceratosaurus and some muffled howling. So I went and drowned myself in Pinterest for a few days, spent a few more days whimpering at the extravaganzas on Pinterest, then chose a few decoration and game ideas I thought I might be able to do. I even made a spider diagram. This was getting SERIOUS.

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A word to the wise: even the simplest home-grown party is going to cost you some money. Party bags, my guys. Party bags. I know for a fact that when H comes home with a party bag full of small plastic bits, he is thrilled to his core while I’m only waiting a couple of days before I can quietly slide it all into the bin. It seems silly to spend money on them. But buy anything twenty times, let alone five or six things, and you’ll be weeping soft tears at the checkout regardless. In the end I was lucky, and found most of what I needed in pound shops and sales. You just have to suck it up.  I got these little paper bags from Party Pieces in red and green, and they were great: sturdy, and not so big that you felt the pressure to over-fill them.

So here we go. We’d hired our local village hall – inexpensive, roomy and with a good stock of child-sized tables and chairs – and arrived there with decorations to set up. I loved these balloon dinosaurs I found on the ole internet, and they really were easy enough to do: I wasn’t sure that sellotape would hold the arms and legs on, but it did. I hole-punched their heads in strategic places, and Tim strung them up in the air with sewing thread. Marvellous.

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I also spent a full hour of my adult life making tiny party hats for our larger dinosaurs. I did kiiind of feel like something had gone a bit wrong at this point – OR WAS IT VERY RIGHT – but hey. We got two helium balloons to tie onto their tiny claws, and they sat as centrepieces for the tables looking like they were terribly glad it was H’s birthday.

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I was lucky enough to find this set of dinosaur tableware – cups, napkins, and lovely straws – on sale a couple of days before. Why do kids get all the best party gear?! We’ve got some straws left over, and every now and again I use one so that my drink can feel ferocious.

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We played four games: a pin-the-horn-on-the-triceratops, a dinosaur egg-and-spoon race, a pass the parcel and a version of musical statues where they danced like dinosaurs and froze into fossils. It all sounded a bit cheeseball on paper, but with seventeen four- and five-year-olds leaping around, it was seriously adorable. Then we finished with a T-Rex pinata – a terrifying, crumpled beast we found on Amazon that was made, apparently and unfortunately, from strengthened steel. No matter. They had a whale of a time beating the heck out of it.

H's new photo face: look like someone's died. Think it'll catch on?

H’s new photo face: look like someone’s died. Think it’ll catch on?

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Making the cake was my favourite part. H has dedicated tastes when it comes to cake, and every year requests a chocolate cake as though he’s never eaten one before. So I used our old reliable standard, the Cake Hunter’s Ultimate Chocolate Cake, and put one of our behatted dinosaurs on top, holding a Happy Birthday sign. It cheered me up for days, honestly. Who knew that festive dinosaurs were such a tonic.

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By the time we got to the party, I’d been thinking about it for several weeks, and was starting to wonder if it was going to be more trouble than it was worth. But his face: surrounded by friends, feeling like the cool kid. I will never forget it. The next morning he woke up and said ‘I wish I could have slept at my party and had breakfast at my party and never left!’ When you’ve sat gluing spots onto party hats for toy dinosaurs and wondered how on earth you ended up here, those are the parts that remind you. Here you are, and here you should be. Pom-poms and all.

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