Boy #1 was 6 years old last week. I've known his birthday was coming, just like it does every year, but how can it be that my darling is now 6 years old? My little bear, the baby reluctantly pulled into the world a bright blue colour, his enormous worried eyes looking quizzically into mine.
"Who are you?" we asked each other, as he rested on my chest for those few fleeting moments before he was whisked away for evaluation and - thank god - to turn a healthy pink.
Over the last 6 years we've slowly worked each other and ourselves out. As I sat in the hospital bed with him curled up, still in foetal position on my chest, afraid to put him down, afraid to entrust him to anyone elses' care, I began to understand that my thought processes had altered. One of the first casualties of this was my natural English reticence; it got pushed to one side, never to fully recover it's previous position as default reaction. Suprised by nerve I hadn't known I posessed, I suddenly found myself reprimanding any visitor who arrived via public transport to pay their respects at the crib of the one true baby and who didn't wash their hands before daring to put their finger in his mouth. This forcefulness, this willingness to put others' feelings to one side if my baby's well-being was threatened was a whole new aspect of my personality that I hadn't known I ever possessed.
Only a few days previously I had said confidently at work 'This motherhood thing won't change me', before weeble-wobbling off on maternity leave. 'I'll be just the same person I was before, only with a baby in tow. Who, by the way, won't slow me down at all...'
Famous last words.
How could I have been so naive? OK, so perhaps the person I was after the arrival of Boy #1 was not so different from who I had been before, but my priorities certainly were. The woman who blithely organised a nanny share pre-baby surely wasn't the same one who felt so crushingly awful about leaving her 7 month old son at home with a loving carer when her maternity leave ran out? Who told herself for the first couple of weeks back at her desk, as she wilted in meetings and watched the minutes tick by until 5.30pm; 'if I still feel this bad in 6 weeks time, I'll stop work, it's not worth this'. I didn't, of course. Stop. Not until his brother arrived two years later, anyway, and I decided that it might have been worth that but it definitely wasn't worth this...
My boys. Or rather, since this post is in celebration of his birthday, my oldest boy (Boy #2 will have his turn). I am terrifyingly proud of Boy #1. I have to force myself not to big him up at every opportunity. His gorgeous face, his winsome smile, his cheeky sense of humour, his sensitivity, his innate sense of rhythym. When friends tell me how cute he is, I know it, but I have to wince and make a disparaging remark; I couldn't possibly confess and tell them that yes, he is, and whilst I love their child too they're right, and there isn't really any comparison. My boy is the most beautiful, the most wonderful, the best, the brightest...
Of course, I know that when I look at him, I am wearing my Motherhood Spectacles. That very possibly, whilst he is no doubt a winsome child, my son is no more special than anyone else's, so I always smile politely and dodge the compliment.
Oh, alright, I don't really believe that. What mother does? But every now and again I am reminded of the presence of the Spectacles. When Boy #1 was about a year, we unearthed a photograph that a friend had taken of him when he was around 5 months old. If you have had children you may be familiar with this situation; when your baby is born you look at him or her and you don't just think your child is the most beautiful that there has ever been, you know it, with every fibre of your being. Only you don't talk about that, because you don't want other parents to have to feel bad when they acknowledge - as they surely must - that your child is beyond compare, a pearl without price.
And then, you have a wake-up moment. In our case, it was the photograph taken 7 months previously. Who was this baby, Husband and I asked each other. Our Boy #1 was much better looking than this, surely? Why, this child looks almost... ordinary. The realisation that yes, as we looked at him back then we had been wearing our parent goggles, was a bit of a shock. We laughed at how foolish we had been, in retrospect. We wondered how on earth we could have been so blinkered, and put it down to post-pregnancy hormones still being rampant around the home (those little blighters stick around for ages, didn't you know?).
And then we congratulated ourselves on having had this moment of truth, looked at our boy again, and said something along the lines of 'Of course, his hair was only just coming back through when that shot was taken, and his eczema was pretty bad. Now though, he really is the most wonderful boy in town...'
Happy Birthday Boy #1. You are my favourite oldest son, in the whole world, ever...