One year

lambley-4 How do you compress a person into a year? How do you tell, without being impossibly shallow, what a child's birthday means to a mother?

Can anyone truly build into words the story of a little one who one year ago wasn't here and now, as the sparklers on his birthday cake sizzle and glow, must surely have been here forever?

Ralph turned one on the weekend, and I kept trying to find moments for us: quiet cuddles at the morning feed, kisses on his round belly while changing his nappy, the blowing of Weetbix-filled raspberries, to really notice and remember and mark this occasion with the weight I felt it deserved.

So when the Happy Birthday song was all over and the rousing "hip hip hoorays" of 40 of Ralph's closest friends and family had all died down and the sparkler in the shape of a 1 on his cake had faded back to grey, I found myself in the very unusual position of wanting to say a few public words.

"Thank you for coming," I told our friends, as toddlers shrieked across the room with balloons and streamers in their wake, and small conversations started up while Mr B began to dismantle and distribute the croquembouche. "This little man deserves celebrating…"

I paused. By then the room was so full of the noise of friendships and celebrations and music and food that nobody else was there with me, so I gave it up. Instead I kissed my little boy on the forehead, feeling all the heavy beauty of loving him, and the body-memories of a connection that only he and I could share, and went on with the party.

But this is what I would have said, if I had been brave enough to raise my voice.

Ralph is the kind of kid who is loved by people who don't like kids.

Anyone who has ever met Ralph knows his big, wide smile, because it beams from his face most of the time. Ralph is a gentle and loving little boy who gives people the very special gift of trusting them.

He spreads joy.

He barely cried when he was born, and spent the following days and weeks calmly watching, or easily sleeping, while I learned how to be a mother all over again, and adjusted - not entirely seamlessly - to life with two under two.

Ralph smiled early and often, and crawled late. He was content to sit and watch the people he loved - which was pretty much the whole world - go about their lives and businesses.

Now that he is finally on the move I have watched his confidence and curiosity grow.

With a thumping crawl that sounds like the muffled footsteps of a clydesdale, he follows me faithfully around the house, secure in the knowledge that he is wanted and loved. Which he is.

And then I will look around and he is gone, the thump-thump-thump of his crawl receding to the far end of the house as he embarks on another adventure of his own making.

Ralph's sister Scout is teaching him to talk, and tickle, and play. When he sees her he squeals with delight, racing to be near her. He laughs when she laughs and, when she cries, he is round-eyed with concern.

When Ralph gets tired he puts one thumb into his mouth and lifts the other hand up to twirl his hair. I gather him into my arms and carry him to his cot, where he flops his head to the side (always to the right) and closes his eyes. Utterly trusting, again, and asleep in moments.

It breaks my heart, every time.

(ps. What? That's not his name, is it?)

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