Happy Birthday, Baby Boy!
To my second son, my second born baby, my littlest biggest love.
Happy First Birthday Baby JJ! You are one. One year's old. My baby is a one year old. I can't quite believe it, and yet it also feels right in a way that feels welcoming and whole.
You have completed your first journey around the sun, and while it was us who mostly held you physically on your journey, in many ways it has been you that has carried us metaphorically. It is impossible to explain the joy you bring to our lives; yes, because it is too big, bright and burly for words, but also because honestly, I've not had the time or clarity of mind to really even try to articulate it. As this first year of parenting two young children comes to an end, I know that I have never been so tired, both from a chronic lack of sleep but also from the busy-ness of life that makes our days feel like they take place on a treadmill that is always going a bit too fast on a bit too elevated route.
While the role of parenting hasn't doubled as such, many jobs have - the laundry loads, the meals (because you are thankfully such a very enthusiastic eater), the bedtime duties, and the cleaning... Okay, let's be real for a second. The cleaning has quadrupled because not only are you a much more eager eater than your brother ever was, you are also much more independent, insisting on only ever feeding yourself, but the way you do it always leaves more food on the floor and on your chair than in your stomach, I'm sure. And yes, we moved house this year to a much bigger house so there is now more square metres for you and your brother to make a mess of (more on that in a minute). So yes, there is a lot of cleaning. And life is busy. Too busy to give much thought to things that with your first birthday are now staring me straight in the eye. Like where has the last year gone? And conversely but predictably, has it really only been a year?
Your first year in twelve paragraphs.
I will try to make sense of that year now quickly. The first month was a blissful, emotional struggle. I never knew I could feel so many happy and sad things all at the same time. When I think back on this month, the word "mush" comes to mind because I was a thick soup of emotions, which was to be expected. The surprising part was that I let myself be that way. And I also let things happen as was the best way for our family. I rested as much as I could. I co-slept with you every night, and I held you as much as I could. You fed and gained weight. We were mush. We just were.
The second month was much like the first just with the burden of more everyday tasks slowly seeping in as we found our rhythm as a family of four. It also quickly transpired that in this new dynamic it wasn't you that needed the most attention but your brother, something that was also to be expected. We also signed the contract to buy a new home and that inevitably put a new set of wheels in motion for more things needing to be done. You fed, you gained weight. We slept when we could.
The third month saw me start to feel the need for more time not being 100% a mother. I was missing my keyboard, my blog, my writing, my words. So we found a wonderful babysitter and I got a couple of mornings a week to myself to write. You continued to eat, gain weight and sleep just about enough for me to sleep some but never nearly enough. We collected the keys for our new house and thus the many, many things to be done continued to multiply.
By month four you had started daycare which felt much easier than I expected. This was almost certainly because I was distracted by selling our old apartment, the pending house move and returning to work myself. This sudden rush of activity meant I stopped writing your weekly motherhood diaries, something I'm sure I will regret in the future but seeing as I keep a (mostly!) daily diary of what happens in our lives, and so much is documented on social media and on several WhatsApp chats, something had to give, had to go. This was just as well, as the end of the month brought a huge change in your sleep habits - goodbye five or six hour stretches of sleep and three hour naps! - so those days to myself were also welcome opportunities to drink (a lot of!) coffee alone with my to do lists and laptop, or occasionally just my thoughts and a good book.
In month five we sold our house, we packed up our lives, we moved, we went on holiday, we continued to work on the house, and we continued to struggle to get enough sleep at night. Until I typed that sentence I wondered why I felt so out of sorts on that holiday but now it makes complete sense.
Month six saw you begin to move, and you really haven't stopped since. Your relationship with your brother was solidifying - all you wanted to do was be close to him - and the house was coming together nicely after your father had been working so hard on it for months. As is often the way with things, although it was a time when life seemed ready to settle down a bit, my mind had other ideas and took it as an invitation to get busy. I began to experience nights of insomnia regardless of how well you or your brother slept.
Month seven was much the same, albeit with sunny days bringing us healthy doses of vitamin D with hours of fun spent outside in our new garden. Your father dug a hole big enough to bury several bodies in, but instead we put a trampoline in it. We took as many boat rides along the canals as we could with friends. But still I didn't sleep so good. Still I felt like maybe I was standing on the edge of something.
In July, month eight, your brother turned four. We celebrated him and our new house with the biggest party we'd ever organised. So many people we love came and your brother demonstrated his expert knowledge of dinosaurs to all of them. It really was exactly the celebration we wanted, but unfortunately it was also the last sort of organisational feat I needed. I ended the month feeling so grateful and happy, but also so exhausted and depleted.
Month nine was full of significant endings. Your brother left pre-school and daycare, a shift I responded to with much more emotion than I expected. We spent a lot of time together, the three of us, as he embarked on five weeks of next to no childcare or activities. There was a one week at an art camp, for which I would twice a day cycle across Amsterdam with you both and in doing so I burned off an extra 1000 calories each day.,As exhausted as I was I loved the challenge. There were other challenges. Ones I don't want to write about here. Ones I don't have to write about here.
In month ten, your older brother started school and with this we all boarded a new rollercoaster. I've always liked rollercoasters, but it's fair to say that nobody wants to be on a rollercoaster for weeks on end. The unpredictability of his mood, the pure mental exhaustion tinting all his reactions, and the letting go of a tight grip that I didn't realise I had on his day-to-day welfare was an intense transition to say the least. With his sleep getting more disrupted by this huge life change, and your own not really settling down, I took things into my own hands and went to a doctor. I asked for what I needed and I got it. I also asked a favourite babysitter of ours if she could work some regular hours to help me with housework and the children two afternoons a week. I was proud of myself for taking action, but frustrated I hadn't done it earlier. We also went on a last minute holiday, which was much more effective at Having learned to stand and cruise around furniture by now, you continued to thrive, Always smiling and looking back and reaching for me now and then through it all.
In month eleven, I gave up a fight I thought I'd never have to fight. You had gradually been developing a preference for my left breast when nursing, and although I'd been diligent about trying to get you back on the right side in equal amounts, I decided that if my left one could provide enough and my clothes still fit me, I would just let it be what it is. I still latch you on to the right side but I don't force it. This month you were on the cusp of walking, taking a few steps alone regularly, but then in the last few weeks illness blindsided you and I was worried your first birthday photos would feature the red dots of chicken pox, but as is the way with magical baby skin, you have healed well and instead there will just be a snotty nose and hair in your eyes.
And no you are one. But you were also always the one.
Recently on another blog, I read another birthday letter from a mother to her son, her firstborn son. She wrote how he was what she had dreamed of before he came. That he was the one she had longed for so thoroughly that his image had been with her long before he actually was. I didn't feel this way with my first son. I don't know precisely why, but I have my theories. But I did often think about my future children before I became a mother. And it dawned on me this year, that when I thought about the baby I was to be a mother to, there was an image, an idea of what he would be like - because yes, rightly or wrong, I have long wanted to be mother boys - and it was you. Honestly, it was. The baby that stayed curled up on my chest. The baby that would be soothe by my voice only. The baby that would sleep on me for hours without respite. The baby that would smile at me endlessly.
How can you summarise the first year of someone's life in just a few paragraphs of text? You can't. And perhaps you shouldn't. I shouldn't. But I feel the need to write something because it is in writing that I not only understand something better or clearer, but it is in writing that I hold on to something. And it is with the end of your first year of life that I feel something going. I don't really have a word for what that thing is so I'm going to make one up. Your baby-ness. Your small, curled up, innocent, carry-able and precious baby-ness. It's not going to happen overnight and it's definitely not going to be a clear-cut affair but now we are past 12 months, at some point before the end of this coming year you will stop being a baby and become a toddler. A little boy. It is not only your baby-ness that I feel is on the cusp of leaving me, but also the presence of baby-ness in our family. We do not plan on having more children. Our family is wonderfully complete. There will be no more babies. So just as with your brother I had to rip open my heart to welcome a baby into my life - and it was indeed as painful and as profound as that sounds - with this birthday I feel I will begin the process of zipping up my heart once more,but since the sides have been stretched open for so long, this too will hurt and will maybe need the blast of a blowtorch-like burn to seal it up.
You were lucky I was already so wide open when you were born. Your brother was not so fortunate. But while you have enjoyed the benefits of a tried and tested model of mother, you must now also watch - albeit hopefully unknowingly - your mum struggle through the closing of a huge and hard and unique chapter in her life. And like your brother, you will come to learn that when this happens, your mother will mourn it a little and while necessary, that mourning is not a smooth line or process.
I read in another birthday letter from a mother to her son, her firstborn son, that he was what she had dreamed of before he came. That he was the one she had longed for so thoroughly that his image had been with her long before he actually was. I didn't feel this way with my first son. I don't know why, but I have my theories. Before I became a mother, if I thought about the baby I was to be a mother to, there was an image, an idea of what he would be like - because yes, rightly or wrong, I have long wanted to mother of boys - and it was you. Honestly, it was. The baby that stayed curled up on my chest. The baby that would be born with a full head of hair. The baby that would have deep brown eyes. The baby that would be soothed by my voice only. The baby that would sleep on me for hours and hours and hours. The baby that would smile at me endlessly.
As has been the case again and again this year, your developmental milestones have come and gone with little to no fanfare. This is the curse of a second child, I suspect. We expect you to do things that seemed like miracles with your older brother. Even getting up and taking your first steps nearly six months earlier than he did has only been commented on briefly. But there are things about you that continue to amaze me so let me take a moment to write about them now.
Your hair. With a "follicley-gfited" father, we always expected your brother to be born with plenty of hair but instead he arrived with just a thin strip of a mohawk on his head. You were the one born with all the hair. It was dark, and curled at the edges, You suited a side parting from your earliest days, and I would stroke it for hours, marveling at how soft it was. It hasn't stopped growing since and you have ringlets now inching down your neck. It is the main thing people comment on and I never get bored of playing with your curls as you feed, or watching you do the same when you're tired.
Your eyes. They are endless in size and in their hold on me. You have always looked right at me in such a generous, knowing way. In another text written by a mother about her son, she wrote how the way her then 3-month-old son would look at her would cause her to blush. This has also happened with me and you. You bright wide eyes have always fixed on me, from day one. You have known me and I have known you. This fact and the way it has unravelled and grown and been a constant over the last year, it is without doubt one of the greatest gifts of my life.
Your smiles. I have never known a baby smile like you. You do the thing we're not supposed to expect of our children (and for good reason). You smile on demand. Every. Single. Time.
Your curiosity. Like your brother you are hungry to learn. And that also means move, touch, taste, feel, hold, climb, roll off, go under, go over, go anywhere and everywhere. It is exhausting for us as parents, always having to think two steps ahead, and I have often joked about wanting a baby that just sits still but that is exactly what it is. A joke.
Your sense of independence. In over six months of eating food (brilliantly!) you have only allowed me to spoon feed you a total of ten, maybe fifteen times at the most. It is wonderful that I can use my own hands to feed myself at mealtimes... until I then need them to clean up the square metre of mess that lies under your chair.
Your self-awareness. It's hard to say that a twelve-month-old has a strong sense of himself, but you do. You are relaxed in your own company in a way your older brother never was and as much as I hate to keep on comparing you it feels inevitable because you are the only two babies in the world I have spent hours after hours, days after days, nights after nights. You are more methodical in the way you go about doing things. You get more frustrated with other things rather than yourself.
Your love of soft things. You love cuddly toys. You pick them up and squeeze them tight. You laugh at them when you push them away from you, giving them a good look before bringing them in to you again. You often crawl or cruise around with a comforter in your hand, At daycare you've been known to steal other kids' cuddlies and it's a fight to get you to give them back.
Your similarities to your brother. So if we're talking similarities, we may as well talk about the way both you and him haven't been the best sleepers at night, although you have always gone down better at night and you have generally taken better naps. I never joke about wanting a bay that sleeps better - that will always be of utmost seriousness, although it is NOT going to happen (see below!). You are also the same in how you both reached a year showing no signs of stopping nursing every 3-4 hours (including at night). And most bizarrely of all, both of you decided around the age of 9-10 months that you didn't want a dummy anymore. It has baffled both your parents and all of your daycare staff. Oh yes, daycare. Both of you loved starting daycare; being with other children, building bonds with your carers. We are so fortunate that you will be loved in the same great place your brother spent nearly four years.
Your wild differences to your brother. You eat nearly anything and everything we give you. You go slow when are learning how to do something - walking, picking something up with your thumb and forefinger, bringing a spoon to your mouth. You are already saying a handful of words "Uh-oh" "Dah-Doo" (Thank you) "Huh!" (Hi!) and "Bah-Bye" - something we waited nearly a year longer for with your brother. The way as a much younger baby you barely cried; there would be days where I wouldn't hear you cry, and as long as I managed to feed you when you were hungry, hold you when you wanted to be held, and got you ready to sleep when you were tired, you were a seemingly happy, happy quiet and calm baby. This changed from about four to five months and we began to see you had opinions as well as needs - and that's okay, that's normal! - but believe me when I say how very grateful we were for those calmer early months.
Your screams. When your brother was a baby I thanked my lucky stars he wasn't the kind to scream when he didn't get his way, instead he would wail or cry or grunt. Those stars are punishing me now. Screaming is your default reaction to frustration, refusal, rejection, anything remotely displeasing, and ouch, those screams are loud. Really loud. Your shrieks sail right through me, and because I know they are not going to disappear anytime soon I like to tell myself it suggests you have a determination that will take you far. Managing this better inside my own mind is a top priority for next year.
Your laughter. It is musical. It is full of joy. It is spontaneous and special. It of course came first at the sight of your brother being silly. It is a noise I will always want to hear.
And so to summarise a year of you....
How can you summarise the first year of someone's life in just a few paragraphs of text? You can't. And perhaps I shouldn't. But I feel the need to write something because as you will come to learn about your mother, it is in writing that I not only understand something better or clearer, but it is in writing that I hold on to something. And it is with the end of your first year of life that I feel something going, leaving, disappearing.
I don't really have a word for what that thing is so I'm going to make one up. Your baby-ness. Your small, curled up, innocent, carry-able, fragile and precious baby-ness. It's not going to happen overnight and it's definitely not going to be a clear-cut affair but now we are past 12 months, at some point before the end of this coming year you will stop being a baby and become a toddler. A little boy. This is wonderful. This is worth celebrating too. But it is also worthy of a moment or two of grief.
It is not only your baby-ness that I feel is on the cusp of leaving me, but also the presence of baby-ness in our family. We do not plan on having more children. Our family is so deliciously and satisfyingly complete now. There will be no more babies. So just as with your brother I had to rip open my heart to welcome a baby into my life - and it was indeed as painful and as profound as that sounds - with this birthday I feel I will begin the process of zipping up my heart once more, but since the sides have been stretched open for so long, this too will hurt and will maybe need the blast of a blowtorch-like burn to seal it up.
I think what I'm trying to say is this: this birthday is deeply bittersweet. It is indeed a celebration. A happy occasion. A true honour and achievement and a delight. My heart will feel light as I squeeze you tight all day, and my smiles will be broad and full and felt in my bones. But there will come a time - and if I'm honest there has already been a few moments already - when I will feel other things heavy and full in my bones. There will be a time when I lay in a hot, hot bath, remembering the hours I spent in hot, hot water, labouring my last baby through my body, and I will cry tears for what was then, what has been, and what will never be again. Already in the last few weeks, after you and your brother are sleeping, I have found myself sat in an uncomfortable spot - the bathroom floor, the stairs, on a cold bench outside - lost in scrolling through photos of you nine, ten, eleven months ago lying still, gazing up at my phone smiling and cooing and giggling, and I have scrolled on and on despite the numbness or coldness of my backside, trying to find more photos and videos that are ultimately the same thing. You. You. You.
I hope now that I can do some metaphorical scrolling forward. That I can have this moment for the past but ultimately keep my fingers, my body, my mind and my heart thinking forward to all the joy that is to come. The challenges, the struggles, the cleaning (groan!), the screaming (bigger groan!), yes, but also the smiles, the laughter, the playing, the bonding with your brother, the being with each other, the living of our life now this year has cemented us together as mother and son.
Let's do it,
Your proud, imperfect, ever-loving mother x
Frances M. Thompson
Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
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Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+.