It has been three weeks since Felix's first birthday, and in that time I have started and scrapped at least a dozen entries. I have been tormented by the task of trying to sum up Felix's first year in a thousand words or less, and all the while the words have been lodged deep within, slyly whispering in my ear then turning tail as soon as I try to pin them down. Reading back my false starts I have felt sickened by them. Delete.
And then finally, at long last, on a sunny bench in a churchyard in Hambledon a glorious release occurred. Words that had been jammed and tangled flowed once again, like a river silted up and suddenly cleared, and I felt the 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 patient, 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 utterly 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 walking frame purchased in a curiosity shop in Rye. As we sat beneath the sycamore tree Felix raced around the grass with his new pal, stopping now and then to smother him with exuberant 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.