And then finally, at long last, on a sunny bench in a churchyard in Hambledon a glorious release occurred. Words that had been scrambled, jammed and tangled flowed once again, like a river silted up and suddenly cleared, and I felt overwhelming relief as pure clear water gushed once again down the dry riverbed. How to encapsulate a whole year? A year in which Felix has gone from being unborn to newborn to infant to toddler. A year of the most profound and wonderful change, but also of struggle, sleep deprivation and gnawing anxiety. A year of immense personal development for all of us, for the breakneck speed of change that a baby undergoes demands that as parents you keep up. It's like a race between a tiny jet propelled car and a push bike, you have to keep peddling and the pace is relentless.
Motherhood is a brutal pruner, anything unnecessary is ripped off ready or not, but although painful I have welcomed these changes. Motherhood has made me a better person; more empathetic, more humble, kinder. I have become incredibly dexterous, able to carry a baby and run a bath and feed the cat and pick up stray toys all at once. I have grown the extra arm and eye that all mothers possess, invisible weapons in our struggle to keep our offspring alive. I have felt the pain of sacrifice and done battle with the green eyed monster. We have long outgrown our one bedroom flat and at times I have felt trapped, while financial worries have exacerbated the ordinary challenges of parenthood. And yet a light shines through all the rubbish and clutter, a beautiful beam that illuminates everything before it, chasing away the shadows and striking fear and resentment from the dark corners in which they lurk. Felix. It may be a cliché but it is also a truth; Felix makes it all worthwhile.
On the Sunday before his birthday a small gathering of family and friends converged to celebrate. There was a picnic, a homemade cake iced to look like Mr Bump and a trip to Clarkes to be fitted for his first pair of proper shoes. But most of all there was Barker, an antique dog walker purchased in a curiosity shop in Rye. As we sat beneath the sycamore tree Felix raced around the grass with his new pal, stopping only now and then to smother him with exuberant dribbly kisses. As I sipped my celebratory wine and nibbled on picnic food I pondered the meaning of the first birthday. It's a strange thing really, incredibly significant and yet not really understood or appreciated by the celebrant. It is a rite of passage, an acknowledgement that the first and most dangerous year of a baby’s life has been successfully completed. So many hazards lurk in the first few months, and like any mother I have stood by Felix's cot a thousand times watching to see him breathe, sometimes I still do.
As our very nearly one year old son tumbled to the grass after an overly ambitious turn I rose automatically, running to his side to make sure he was unhurt and setting him back on his feet, and I thought what an incredible journey a human being makes. Once a mass of cells nestled in my womb that had been expelled into the world and become a boy, a person capable of independent thought and action. His blue eyes alight with joy our son was in his element, pointing at every airoplane and bird and truck and bus that whizzed past, and I was reminded of the maiden flight of a baby bird. Seeing him prepare to launch himself into the limitless sky of the future made me dizzy with wonder; what a privilege to have brought a child into the world, the most beautiful, terrifying honour I will ever know. This is the true meaning of the first birthday, for it is not only the first birthday of your child but also of you as a family. A newborn baby may be fragile and helpless but it's also the Big Bad Wolf and you better make damn sure your house is build of sturdy bricks or it'll huff and puff and blow your straw house right down. The first birthday is a milestone for you as a family, a time to reflect on the year that has passed and celebrate the creation of a family unit, that most precious and wonderful thing that springs out of a baby's birth. So go forth and multiply, it will undoubtedly be the very best thing you have ever done.