You hear it a lot this time of year – “What day is it?” – as though the arrival of Christmas sends shockwaves through everyone’s calendars, a sort of annual festive Millennium Bug that apparently no one learns from. I get it myself of course and it frustrates me because the days of the week are basic Reception age stuff and I generally operate at at least a Year 3 level.
Parenthood does much the same thing to time as Christmas does. Today is my son’s 2nd birthday and AS IF HE IS TWO YEARS OLD WTF YOU HAVE GOT TO BE JOKING SURELY HE’S STILL A FLIPPING ZYGOTE.
There is no way I birthed this little grub two years ago. Not a chance.
And yet for all the ways the last two years have felt like a tornado blasting through my house and my soul, I also can’t really remember a time when he didn’t exist. Children have that effect, they carve their impressions in the landscape, and like the tallest mountain or the longest river they become a part of your world, a part that’s eternal and timeless and a backdrop for all of history, whether they were truly there or not.
So today for me feels a little like being stood at the base of Mount Everest, having just been told it’s only existed for two years. Whatever the Nepali is for, “Shut the f**k up, you’re drunk,” is basically where I’m at.
Something I regularly marvel at about my baby Everest is his capacity to teach me things. Considering his intelligence more closely resembles that of the average dog than an adult human it constantly surprises me how much wisdom he has to share. For example, did you know that you can use board books as stepping stones across laminate floor? And that spacemen sometimes work part time in toy shops? And that pesto tastes great with fruit custard? Of course none of these things appear to be clever or profound, but on closer inspection what they are are lessons in creativity, flexibility and imagination. He shows me a world without boundaries, a place where anything is possible (and where clichés aren’t clichés at all because there’s no one there jaded enough to call them such). He shows me how it’s okay to be dirty, and it’s okay to leave half or all of a meal, and okay to say no to unwanted affection. He teaches me to laugh with abandon and fart like a child, giddy with the realisation that the best punchline to any joke is a sound gifted to us by biology. He shows me over and over how gender expectations are meaningless by not giving a shit whether his toys are pink, blue or multicoloured or whether the characters in his favourite books and films are male or female, and by excitedly embracing a new train set as well as a new doll that he tenderly and lovingly pretends to breastfeed despite having never seen Mummy do it herself.
He teaches me how to be a real person away from societal rules and the accumulated debris of a life clumsily lived. He’s helped me find a part of myself I didn’t know still existed until he invited me in to his world of play and freedom. He’s taught me the cliché of all clichés – how to be a child again.
And so to you, my darling boy, I wish you the happiest of birthdays. I hope you’ve enjoyed every second. Know there’s no party big enough, trip out long enough, or cake sweet enough to equal the joy you bring to me every day.
There’s nothing we could give you that could match the gift you are to us.