Tag Archives: Toddler

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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Five books…to help your kids love words

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I’m trying hard to be casually enthusiastic about numbers with H at the moment. I am naturally a words person, and numbers both bore and frighten me. Which isn’t so bad for me, because my days of mental maths tests are over. But I do not want to pass it on to them, and my coverage of Things You Need To Know tends to be a tad one-sided without me realising it. I am always up for a discussion of Magic E or cat poems, but keep forgetting that at some point he’ll need to be able to count to twenty without missing out fifteen. My bad, my bad.

Still. Just because you’re talking happily about numbers, doesn’t mean you can’t stealthily push your words agenda in other ways. Like, for example, picture books. There are some books, even for quite young children, that are so giddy, so nerdily joyful about wordsmithery, that I feel like it can’t help but sink in.

More importantly, I think if your child is finding reading a chore, these word-obsessed little stories might help put some of the fun back into it.

These are five of the best. MWA HA HA.

This Is My Book, by Mick Inkpen

This is my bookBefore anyone could stop him, the Snapdragon bit off the K, and part of the B of Book. 

“This is my Poo!”

It was a very naughty thing to do.

This was one of the first books – years ago – that we got from the library and loved so much we bought our own. It’s an imaginative riff on storytelling, in terms a two-year-old can understand: the Snapdragon keeps eating the letters on the page, and it’s up to the Bookmouse to find a new, scary word to stop him. It’s clever and it’s funny, and it’s delicious to read out loud. Even better than Kipper, Inkpen.

 

Oi, Frog! by Kes Gray and Jim Field

oi frog‘What about a chair?’ said the frog.

‘I wouldn’t mind sitting on a chair.’

Hares sit on chairs‘, said the cat.

This gloriously colourful, caustically funny little story sees a cat educating a frog about all the things he can’t sit on. No, he can’t sit on a mat, because only cats sit on mats. Only foxes sit on boxes. Only pumas sit on satsumas. You get the idea – and so will your small people, as they’ll take in the rhyming patterns and start guessing as you go along. The illustrations are fantastic and there’s a great twist at the end. Can’t recommend this one enough.

 

Grill Pan Eddy, by Jeanne Willis and Tony Ross

grill pan eddyWe fetched a trap with a snare – Snap! Snap!

Which we baited with brown bready. 

But he tripped the latch with a safety match

Oh, we couldn’t catch Grill Pan Eddy!

Speaking of rhymes! If you like your poems to come with pure joy, this is the book you want. It tells the story of a family trying to get rid of a crafty mouse, in hilarious bouncy rhyme. Like Tadpole’s Promise, another book by this husband-and-wife team, it goes somewhere a little darker than you’d expect, but it’s all the better for that. So much fun to read aloud and clap along to. The boys adore it.

PS, we searched for a copy of this for months a few years ago and ended up with a ex-library copy – but it looks like it’s back in print via Amazon. I don’t usually recommend buying books from Amazon, but in this case go go goooooooo.

 

On Sudden Hill, by Linda Sarah and Benji Davies

on sudden hillSometimes they’re dragon-slayers,

side-by-side house dwellers

and skyscraper dancers. 

But Birt feels strange.

You know, now that I think about it, it’s very rare to find a picture book for young children that is truly, lyrically beautiful. I suppose the urge to simplify and make the story accessible is (rightly) the priority. This book is that rare thing: the illustrations are sensitive and lovely, the story is heartfelt, and the language is gorgeous. ‘One Monday (it’s cramping cold)’: I think of that description every time I come out into a frosty morning. The story – about two best friends who become three, making one feel pushed out – is something real and important for this age group. I think basically everyone should have it on their shelves.

 

The Book With No Pictures, by B. J. Novak

book with no picturesHere is how books work. 

Everything the words say, the person reading the book has to say. 

No matter what. 

You might have seen the video of the author reading this to a group of children laughing so hard they can’t sit up properly. I can tell you it’s not an act: one of my boys has actually thrown up from laughing at this. Which might not sound like much of a recommendation, but it is. The concept is a clever one: no pictures, just silly words and sentences the grown-up reading the book has to say, even when they don’t want to. Words can be mischievous! Words can create character! Words can make you laugh so much you throw up onto your mother’s jumper! What better lesson is there?

Happy reading, nerds-in-training. Much love.

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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Boyhood, free-range

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Happy almost-Easter!

We’ll be decamping to parents later on today for Easter weekend. Right now, some family time: we keep forgetting to schedule Tim’s work holidays with H’s school holidays (because, apparently, with a school-age kid you have to do this?) so this long weekend is the only time we’ll have with him.

Tim and H are watching something about dinosaurs downstairs. T has squirrelled himself next to me with some Sarah & Duck, chubby forearms resting on mine. I am laughing at videos from my brothers, who are rewriting songs with rude lyrics and recording themselves singing them. This is the purpose of brothers, even at a distance of several thousand miles.

Later, we’ll get out.

The best thing about living here is how much time we spend outdoors. Living next to a busy street had its advantages – Henry’s ninja road safety skills, for one, since the alternative was getting flattened by a bin lorry – but living next to green things has made me happy. If I’d have known that before, we would have made more effort to go places. I don’t think it matters at all where you live or where you take them, as long as it’s green and outside.

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I’ve been surprised by what being out in the woods does for me. The sun falls through the trees in slanted columns. My wellies squelch in mud. I stop worrying about keeping the boys tidy and safely within grabbing distance. I feel like I can breathe easier. Is this a horrible cliche? Do I need to start hugging trees?

Actually, the bark is so wonderfully crusty and light-patterned that sometimes, I’m tempted.

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Children seem ten times more themselves in the forest. (I first wrote that sentence as ‘boys are more boyish’, but any girl of mine will be tramping through leaves and getting filthy too, thankyouverymuch.) It speaks to something instinctive and joyous in them, something that screens can’t touch. They don’t have to be quiet and they don’t have to stay clean. They’ve cautiously poked frog spawn, ridden bikes over dirt mounds, fallen into swampy mud piles and been pulled out, laughing and shivering. They are physically incapable of holding a stick without poking something or seeing a puddle without going in.

And why shouldn’t they? Learning how to get muddy – and that mud washes off – seems to be something worth knowing.

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H daren’t speak above a whisper in a room full of people, but we found a fat log balanced over a deep trench and he scrambled over it in a minute. Uncharacteristically fearless. The other Sunday we found piles of cut-down trees and made them into an Eeyore house. I kept wanting to freeze the afternoon  – golden evening light, boys in Sunday jumpers with arms full of sticks – so I could stay there even when the clouds came back.

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And that sort of wish never works, of course. But we can go back and do it again. I wish it hadn’t taken our house move to show me how much we need the mud and sun and air.

Here’s to free-range childhood.

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Angry mummy

It was 5pm. Of course it was.

5pm is when their tiny resources are shot to pieces, when I’m desperately trying to tidy up and get dinner ready, because half of their bad temper is down to the fact that it’s been a long time since lunch. I am busy because they need me to do things, but they also need me to be not busy. In an ideal world I would sit cross-legged on the floor and read to them like they want me to, while Mary Poppins cleaned and cooked. As it is, at 5pm I switch on the TV.

This 5pm I walked back and forth across the kitchen, taking things out of cupboards, picking up crayons, scrubbing the porridge-gritted table so we could eat. T maintained a tight grip on my kneecap and a droning wail, so my walking was more like hobbling and my teeth were already on edge. I could have picked him up, but he was wailing because he was hungry, and I can’t cook with him gaily splashing his hands in hot pans. Dinner, then. Just be quick. Keep hobbling.

Then H had a hand on my jumper too. He was asking me something about Captain America (‘Captain OF Amewica, Mummy’) over and over, something I hadn’t quite caught over T’s angry bee hum. He got impatient in the end, and pulled my jumper so hard I almost fell onto his brother. ‘MUMMY. MUMMY. I NEED YOU’.

I got impatienter. And I meant to say ‘Just a minute, love’, or ‘Let me just -‘ or even ‘Scuse me please, darling’. But what actually came out was ‘H. GET OUT OF THE WAY.’

My name is Rachel, and I am an angry mummy.

Impatience has always been my particular failing. When I was younger I was never very good at stopping myself broadcasting it over my face, even if I managed to keep my mouth shut. I’ve learned to keep it under wraps more often, but groundswells of irritation still rise up and catch me off-guard.

Here’s a shocker: when you give birth, your vices don’t just slip right on out of your birth canal along with the baby. You’re the same person you were, only running on much less sleep, and torn in half by love so consuming it stings as well as soothes. I was impatient before and I am impatient now. The small, irrational co-workers I have these days bring two significant differences: they provoke loss of temper more often than the adults used to, and they deserve it far, far less.

I read an utterly wonderful article about the ‘difficult empathy‘ of parenthood last yearthat said:

‘Having a child is a series of tiny successes and failures, all microscopic to the onlooker, all specific to our households alone in ways that cannot quite be explained…Failures are the hardest to explain, and yet those are the very instances when we are most desperate for a little understanding, a little empathy.’

I sobbed into my hands when I read it. I can’t even read it now without tearing up. Not only because it talks – with gorgeous gentleness – about our tendency to show our worst selves to our children, but because it made me realise that my own not-so-microscopic failures can be eased by successes. I decided that my efforts could be two-pronged: bite back the impatience, of course; but also shower them in tiny evidences of love. I can show them – long before they’re able to consciously understand – that while I might lose my rag and raise my voice, I only diminish myself when I do. Never, ever them.

That 5pm, when I yelled ‘H, GET OUT OF THE WAY’ in the direction of my unresisting three-year-old, he crumpled immediately. ‘It’s not kind to say ‘get out of the way”, he whimpered, on the verge of tears. I felt my whole self sag with horror. I got down on the floor beside him, held his hands and looked him full in the face (our family language for ‘I really mean this’).

‘No’, I said. ‘No, it’s not. I’m sorry. I was trying to do something, and I got cross, and I shouldn’t have shouted. It wasn’t kind. Will you forgive me?’

This is one of the things I’ve been trying to embed this year: accept his apologies with instant forgiveness, and apologise readily myself. Also, sitting with him quietly during his time-outs instead of pushing him into isolation, letting him dictate the length of them by how long it takes until he’s ready to talk, naming the emotion he’s feeling and asking whether he needs a hug, and honouring any requests for ‘alone time’ (he does ask. He’s my boy, after all).

Then, prong two: we started doing ‘happy fingers’, where I sit him on my lap facing me, and count out things I love about him on his fingers. Usually we get to five and, beaming all over his face, he requests the other hand. And in our general day-to-day I do try to say ‘yes’ when it’s not important that I say ‘no’. I don’t want to over-praise and I am a huge believer in healthy boundaries, but I think it can be pretty hard to be a three-year-old. Having your mother tell you that you’re valued might make all the difference.

Last week – was it after the Captain of Amewica thing, or before? – we had a little ruckus over biscuits. I ate one he’d made for me at nursery without realising he’d wanted to try it too, and he was so disappointed he cried.  And I thought: I can’t take back the times I’ve hollered up the stairs this week, and becoming a calmer parent will take time. I will keep at it, because this boy deserves my best self, not my worst. But it’s not an easy fix. Biscuits, though? And love, and a morning of one-on-one attention? I can do that. I can love him so warmly that it chips away at my microscopic failures. I can love, and be more than angry mummy.

So we strapped on our aprons. I told him he looked super-snazzy. And we baked.

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You must read this article. It was probably the best thing I read on parenting last year; maybe even the best thing I’ve read on parenting, EVER. Go and read it. No really, GO.

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This is a big deal for him.

He doesn’t like to paint, or make collages, or do anything that means getting his hands dirty. The other children in the class are painting things for him (seriously. Future mob boss?).

I worry a little about where he fits, and what his teachers see in him.

I do not know always whether I am encouraging him to try new things, or squeezing him in a mould that’s not made for him, so that one or both of us will look better.

I am trying to let him be. I keep thinking: no boxes, no boxes, no boxes. No boxes allowed around here.

Today, he made a leaf picture (he’s still picking off the glue from his fingers).

School jumpers

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He loves it.

He came out on his first morning, beaming.

‘How did you do?’ I asked.

‘QUITE WEEEELL!’ he shouted back, arms in a victory V.

I see we are raising a classic British child, who uses ‘not bad’ to mean ‘really good’ and ‘quite well’ to mean ‘verily, mother, I have had the best morning of my life so far’.

We are not quite getting to grips with a new routine where half our day is gone with the school run and the other half is taken up by staggered naps. Teddy and my work are getting particularly short-changed. I am also quite terrifyingly awkward at the school gates, as anticipated. But we’re getting there, and we’ll get there better once we’re five minutes’ walk away instead of twenty minutes’ drive (in just a couple of weeks!).

I miss him. I am only just beginning to realise how much of our days will revolve around school from now on. I have lost a time when we invented everything around him, and I’m allowing myself a bit of space to mourn for it. But other things are on the horizon too: library books, history videos, bonkers German nouns, residential trips, PE, maths, piano lessons, friends. Bad days, good days, non-uniform days. I can’t wait to see what he makes of them.

If Les Miserables was performed by my one-year-old

The struggle is real. 

Look Down Teddy

Look down and see
the sweepings of the street
and eat them
they are ambrosia
whatever your mother says

Valjean Arrested Teddy

Tell Her Reverence your story
let us see if she’s impressed
you were splashing in the toilet
you have faeces on your vest

Factory Teddy

At the end of the day you’ll eat nothing for dinner
tomatoes are rank little globules of pus
and you’ll put them on the floor
and the inside of your nostrils
that’s as far as you’re willing to go
where are the cheerios

Who Am I Teddy

Who am I
that other baby in the mirror isn’t your favourite
is he

Do You Hear the People Sing Teddy

DO YOU HEAR THE BABY SING
BELLOWING LOUDER THAN BIG BEN
IT IS THE PROTEST OF A BABY
WHO WILL NOT WEAR SOCKS AGAIN

CLOTHES ARE TOOLS OF THE OPPRESSOR
CLOTHES ARE SATAN’S TOILET ROLL
YOU MUST WEAR ONLY YOUR SELF-RESPECT
AND A CEREAL BOWL

***

A cure for the Monday blues

 

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When you release a fourteen-month-old into the wild after a morning of Septemberish errands, he cannot believe his luck, and for the next hour he’ll be like OH MY WORD LOLS EVERYWHERE, EVERYWHERE I LOOK.

Then after lunch you’ll give him a spare grape, and he’ll laugh appreciatively, all CLASSIC, YOU’VE DONE IT AGAIN. Grapes are hysterical.

Once his brother is in bed he’ll want to get in there too, so you’ll pass him your phone for distraction. He likes the photo on your home screen, and every time the screen goes black he’ll pick up your hand, carefully, carefully, and move it over to the button for you to make it light up again. ONLY YOU KNOW THE ANCIENT SECRET OF THE ON SWITCH, he’ll think, and laughs, because you are the best of all humans on this earth.

At some point he’ll stand on your internal organs to better reach the telephone. ‘Teddeeeeee…’ you’ll say, warningly, and he’ll turn around to flash his six teeth in your direction. Then, while holding eye contact, he’ll push the router off the table casually, his eyebrows all YES I DID, WANT TO SAY ANYTHING ABOUT IT? NO? RIGHT THEN.

What I’m saying, I think, is that fourteen-month-olds are pretty great, and if you can get hold of one, you should.

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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