Happy Birthday, Son

Twelve years ago today, I woke up with a stomach ache. And, despite being almost nine months pregnant, I blamed it on a curry.

(I looked it up in a baby book, you see. It couldn’t POSSIBLY be contractions. Not coming that fast…)

About four hours after that, I was a parent.

And, to be frank, it wasn’t exactly love at first sight.

You were long and thin – very thin! 80th centile in height, 20th in weight, and, really, no change there.

Your head was still misshapen from a traumatic, if rapid, unanaesthetised journey from uterus to outside world, the pair of us wailing and bleating.

For, yea, while many women set out with the intention of a natural childbirth and end up under the epidural, I am one of mercifully few who had every intention of utilising whatever chemical cosh was out there and ended up au naturel.

And whining about it, obviously. “So… I can’t have an epidural, you tell me? How about you just HIT ME OVER THE HEAD WITH SOMETHING HARD, then, and wake me up when this has stopped?”

But I digress…

You had an unnerving, quasi-reptilian stare (“Oooh! Isn’t he alert?!” said the midwife), the angular, beaky features that make one realise how much baby birds have in common with dinosaurs.

And, as you were placed on my bosom, you took one look at me and started to cry.

Then you ate, for about half an hour, urinated over your grandfather, and continued to eat for the next five and a half hours until I was allowed to leave the hospital.

“Oooh, he’ll be asleep in no time,” said the midwife, repeatedly.

You weren’t.

And, to be honest, you’re still not that good at going to bed.

And now you’re twelve. How DAFUQ did that happen?

I’m 38. How did that happen, as well?

All those birthdays…

The first birthday, with the bunny rabbit candle on the cake, and the swimming party at the pool.

In November! A London November! I must have been mad.

The fourth birthday, at EuroDisney, your big happy smile and your genuine awe at Mickey Mouse.

The fireworks in the London back garden for the seventh, eighth and ninth, apple bobbing in the bath.

Your tenth, ice skating in Brisbane. Your eleventh, at the Water Cube water park in Beijing.

And now your twelfth, paragliding in Nepal, scampering down a slope, catching the pull of the wind, pulled back by the wing behind you, then up, up into the air, soaring on the thermals with the raptors and the kites, Annapurna snowclad in the background…

The weird thing is, though, you’re still the same person.

Not as round as you were for the period when Pauline minded you and fed you to the gunnels with illicit chocolate pud as a dose of love (“He’s not had any sweeties, has he?” I’d say “Oh, no, no sugar…”).

But still the same calm, chilled, generally unfazable person.

Your terrible twos were a single tantrum.

“Now that you’ve behaved like that over it,” we said, “You’re definitely not getting it.” And that was that…

You’ve always had a way with words (“How about?” was a favourite phrase when you were not far over one).

And you’ve always been generous. Even as a very, very little child, you always shared.

And now, as you’re one year off your teens, I wonder who you’ll be this year…

I’m hoping the terrible teens will be like the toddler years. I can dream, right?

You’re more assertive now. Still generous, mind.

That Kobo Dad bought you for your birthday? You’ve picked a selection of books and made them into “Mum’s Shelf” (and, yes, you’re right!, Foundation does repay rereading, and yes, I WILL finish The God Delusion now, I promise!).

You’re funnier now, rocking that deadpan, obscenely entertaining. (“Mum… Look how many fucks I give…”)

Your feet are the same size as mine, your hands still slightly smaller, the top of your head is past my chin and headed for my nose, you who were once so little I had to bend down and you reach up to hold my hand.

You’re endlessly open-minded, accepting everything but bigotry and understanding even bigotry when you meet it.

And, well, you’re pretty darn brave. Happy birthday, son! I’m proud of you.

And, in case you missed it last time round, here’s 11 reasons why.

27 Responses

  1. Dalene says:

    What, no poem? Disappointing.


    • Theodora says:

      Let me try one, just for you, Dalene…

      After seventeen years as a writer
      I thought my life couldn’t be tighter
      Then I got up the duff
      And right in a puff
      My world was incredibly brighter…

  2. Talon says:

    What a great letter to your son.

  3. i love this. i feel the same way – amazed that i’m a parent, and in awe at our kids and how they grow and stay the same. happy birthday, zac!

  4. Kristy says:


    When you are angry at your mum for whatever reason, just go back and read this letter. You are a lucky young man to have been born into this life with your mom, and dad, and we are better off to have you in our circle.

    Happy Happy Happy. Now go eat cake.

    • Theodora says:

      No cake, sadly. But he did have some butterscotch ice cream. Looking forward to seeing you guys in Beijing…

  5. Rosa says:

    I love the letter to your son!.

  6. Happy Birthday Z! 12 will be fantastic! We’ve found the teen years to be the best of the lot, Theodora, here’s hoping the same for you! 🙂

  7. Yvette says:

    Happy birthday Zac!

    PS I’m sure I mentioned it at some point, but “God is not Great” by Christopher Hitchens is WAAAAAAY better than “God Delusion.” Like no contest better, cause Hitchens can seriously write. In case you’re looking for a late birthday present. 😉

    • Theodora says:

      Thank you! I will suggest to the boy that he sources it for his Kobo. Might even suggest he read some of Hitchens’ dying pieces on Vanity Fair…

      I got him, in fact, in print, the Little Prince, which I realised he hadn’t read, and a book of Nepali Folk Tales. Kobo schmobo…

      • Yvette says:

        Good choices- everyone’s gotta read The Little Prince! 😀 And yep even though I don’t agree with all of Hitchens’ politics over time, he is nonetheless one of my favorite writers. His writing was just so powerful.

        Oh and PS my sources haven’t leaked yet on the Martian rover rumors before you ask- though I’m still optimistic. 😉

        • Theodora says:

          Well, I always thought the whole argument that life required a certain specific set of conditions found only on earth to be rather ass-backwards, I’m sincerely hoping it’s life, but not as we know it…

  8. What a fantastic birthday letter. Happy birthday to Zac!

  9. Reena says:

    What a lovely birthday letter. I’m sure he’ll look back on this years from now and treasure it.

  10. Micki says:

    Such a lovely letter! Hope you had a wonderful birthday, Zac!

  11. A stomach ache announced the week-early arrival of my baby, too (and I blamed the pasta sauce). Nice letter. Good thing you changed the name of your blog!

    • Theodora says:

      Thank you, Terry! I really did need to, didn’t I? He’s getting quite tall, as well, if still very young around the face (looks over shoulder, guiltily), so Travels with a Nine Year Old really wasn’t going to cut it for long…

  12. Mary says:

    Wonderful and happy birthday to you both! Such a lovely tribute to him I am sure he adored it!

    I am constantly amazed by my children. The same yet so grown. Dylan is much bigger then me now and wise beyond his yeaars yet his gentleness and empathy remain the same as when he was young!

    • Theodora says:

      Thank you! You’re lucky having multiple ones to be amazed by. Must be such a shock when they finally pass you in size, though… I’m hoping we’re still a couple of years off…