This month was a well of nostalgia. July always is. I am thrust back to the past, however hard I cling to the present. However hard I work I'm hurled with my broken nails into maudlin reminders. A month of anticipation and worry, niggling silliness. A week, two days, 24 hours until the anniversary of Spiderboy’s birth. It is ironic how potent these days can be, given my often scatty, forgetful approach to birthdays and anniversaries.
If I were a better mother I'd see July as the month of Spiderboy’s birthday and focus my thoughts on how to realistically sculpt a sugar predator on top of a Victoria sponge. But my mind control, like my icing, is not quite good enough. I can no more escape the pull towards picking scabs and unleashing the ghosts of depression all over again, than I can get the jawline of a jaguar quite right.
Dreadful to see this day as anything else but his special day. He’s been obsessing about it for months, after all. Since his first weeks in reception it is all he’s spoken about, all the way home, every day. Every conversation an endless meditation on presents and parties and food and cakes. I can’t shake my preoccupation with it though – for five years I’ve tried - though this month fate had a new idea. On the morning of the 13th, the day before his birthday, after a night of brooding worry, I wake to a litany of time reminders. At exactly 10.45 my phone beeps, an alarm goes off, I catch the time on the TV. I tell the temp receptionist at work (because I can’t stop the words coming out of my mouth), that five years ago I called my husband and told him I was in labour. And I'm off.
On Twitter, I get involved in a conversation about gas & air. It was around the time, lunch time and early afternoon, where I was still giddy and excited. When I wasn’t broken yet, when it never occurred to me what could go wrong. A friend said she didn’t think much of that floaty puffing stuff; I note I was the other way, thoroughly enjoying it for a long good while, though conceding that, like most things, G&A is better experienced with a slice of cake and a glass of wine, than with an angry mammal climbing out of your vagina.
The evening spreads out before me like a brutal mistress. There is no escape: snatches of birth stories and birthdays jump out from TV, in books, on the radio. Even seeing old friends and building a playmobil zoo is merely a brief distraction.
Excited as I am by the thought of my big boy I don't want to see any clocks change tonight. I am afraid of his birthday. I may be dramatic and occasionally sentimental, but I’m not usually obsessed with dates. Yet by midnight? By then I am the worst kind of fool, staring at him asleep in his bed, transfixed by the time as if there’s still the chance, the second, the moment where I can stop the clocks and replay, rearrange, make better, mend, re-shape.
Silly woman, wasting time wanting to be Marty McFly. We know it never works out well fiddling with the past – so why can’t I stop replaying it and wishing (hoping even) for a way to change it. I once tried thinking of ways to obliterate it, but that only resulted in being given enough drugs to keep me from lying in a bus lane.
I wonder when it leaves? Speaking to other mothers, many find the build-up and the day itself, the anniversaries of giving birth, tough. Not just those who had a horrid time, or were left with reminders of birth through injuries and damage (mental and physical). Not even those whose children are not very young any more.
It is a monstrously earth changing moment, of course. And an epitome of the parental obsession with milestones and change we all link with children – from ‘hasn’t he grown?’ to ‘is he sleeping through?’, to ‘how’s school?’, ‘is he crawling yet?’, ‘can he read?’
Our noting and noticing feels like we want to capture the change as it happens, bottle the babies at each stage and understand them. We never can of course: once it has happened, there is rarely any going back. They only say Mama until the day they say Mumeeeee, we only recall the utter charm of their stilted early steps as they acquire poise and grace. But we do all this collecting of time, like charms on a bracelet, as our children stride through it showing us up and getting ahead as we scuttle behind savouring them as they no longer are. Forward momentum is theirs.
It is like we approach it dimensionally differently – children zooming along time in a great straight line, us scrabbling around at a standstill trying to understand that movement. I think we are unable, and scared, to properly view children on their pathways.
We are too busy looking back. It is as if our decedents are each some sort of Michaelangelo block in memory, our kids are things (hunks of potential?) from which we see each layer after each layer of youth chipped away by life. As if life is endlessly discarding bits of the picture, and our job is to scrabble around and sweep them up into albums, fashion the scraps, the redundant and the obsolete into anecdotes and stories to feel safe with a narrative. We look up hoping to see the next bit revealed, but rarely see it fitting our imagination or our plan.
We are peeling our children like onions! Hoping to see what? Them finally revealed? This wouldn’t be surprising; after all they are our biggest mysteries, so similar to ourselves and yet so very different. And so changeable that it is sometimes hard to imagine, especially when they no longer fit like soft pug dogs in the crook of our elbows, when they give proper barely moist kisses rather than huge mouthful sucky smackers, that they were ever attached to us. In some cases stuck inside us: part of us, joined together, acting like they didn’t even want to come out.
Birth is such a violence and mystery, even when it is strong and positive and beautiful too. It makes no sense, it seems absurd, the further I am from it the more ludicrous I find reproduction and delivery. How can one fuck produce all that creation and morphing and stretching and reforming? How can it result in giving birth, not just to the animals who have grown within us, but to the body they have ravaged and the people looking on?
I say that, though I appreciate it sounds syrupy and over emotional, but I think the act of any great moment of love, and the measure of that act, is a form of rebirth. You give so much of yourself away when you open up, just for a moment, to let someone in to your heart – whether that’s by letting them out of your body or by letting them in via any other means. Children are our great lovers, their shape carved into us somehow, built from us, riotous and righteous and brutal in their acts of tearing out of us to be themselves. No wonder I forget whose birthday tomorrow is.
Birth is becoming for both of parties, no matter how unbecoming the experience. It turns each player into a new animal, a new thing, and that should be celebrated, not least as it can never be reversed. We can only hope that the transition is positive, it usually is.
And I can only hope to atone by fine tuning the (big) cat cake, and praying the jaguar (not leopard, jaguar) costume we've ordered on Amazon turns up in time. Then at least someone will get to celebrate being a new animal for the day.