I want to remember five years ago, to touch your newborn skin – waxy, translucent.
I want to remember the vivid plum blood-test bruises on your tiny heels and feel the way your cry bypassed thought, resounded in my chest. I want to be inside that moment when everything changed.
I want to grasp the first lock of hair that I cut from your wispy head. Not blond, but flecked with gold – like precious metal shimmering against the murky pebbles.
I want to feel your warm, sleeping weight on my chest in the black, aching hours of the night. I want to know the uneasy peace of listening to your breathing as if it were the only sound in the world.
But the memories are clouded. I see a shadow of what you were.
These moments passed without excitement or circumstance. They passed without the realisation that they were everything. There is no return. No way to bottle your toddler rolls or your three year old laugh. No way to visit your tiny, frog-like legs or throaty first laughs.
And so this is my bottle. This is my scrapbook, my memory box.
I have watched your features sharpen, your face emerge from the podgy clay of toddlerhood, like a picture coming into focus.
Your limbs are long and milk-pale. Your skin, new, perfect – fresh snow but for a few pale freckles dancing near your eyes. They remind me that I am there too, hidden in your features, though your face is dominated by those huge blue eyes that are just like daddy’s.
When you get home from school, you climb into my lap and curl up to fit, making yourself small, knees bent under your chin. Tired from the day, your whole being lacks focus. Your eyes never rest in one spot, your head pivots and swirls. You make sounds. Some of them are like words but others are more guttural – yelps and grunts and hums.
You never answer a question first time, though you are almost always listening. You do not say hello or please or thank you unless you are prompted. But sometimes you tell me about your dreams, in great flights of fancy, and the vibrant words spill out, absurd and wonderful.
For your birthday, you asked for bongos. You love rhythm – the rhythm of music, the rhythm of words, the rhythm of repetition. When we read you Dr. Suess, you bounce and shout and ricochet off the walls with unadulterated rapture.
At the school disco, the lights and music were your religion. I saw the other children fade from your view, felt the world slip away and the sights and sounds become all-consuming. I watched for the moment when you could take no more; I knew it would come. I think your sister did too, as she moved close without touching and you draped your arm around her tiny shoulders.
You are fascinated by how things work – by words and patterns and cause and effect.
Manipulation is alien to you. You are honest. You are gentle, stroking our puppy oh so carefully. Sometimes, others feel uncomfortable because your urge is always to be close, to reach out, to touch.
Today, you are five.
Little boy, you have stretched out in front of me. The years have passed so quickly – but they were so full, so swollen with my love for you, for your sister, that world before seems ancient and dim. In another five years, these flashes of delight may seem so too.
I hope your day is filled with laughter and contentment. I hope you go to bed feeling safe and secure. I hope you love your bongos.
Happy Birthday, gorgeous boy.