Dear Balthazar and Lysander,
God, you beautiful boys. What can I say?
There was a day when I was expecting you, before I know that you were you – before I knew that your names, before I knew even that you were little boys (and I had always imagined myself with a pair of little girls, hand-holding small replicas of my sister and me). It was summer in Greece, the heat seemed to swim in the air and from the hills I could see the impossible blue of the sea and beyond that, Athens. You were tiny things, not yet viable, and I thought that perhaps I could feel you move at times though the movements were so indistinct and improbable that I could not trust that it were you. On this afternoon, I was walking toward the farm, the dogs racing up ahead and suddenly I could see you, a pair of wild-haired creatures running up the hill with your dog. And I knew, in my heart, who you were. I knew that it was you, and when I returned to London and a scan the following week confirmed one little boy and then another, I was not a bit surprised.
It seems so long ago now, and yet it will be just seven years in May and you turned six years old in October as the leaves turned gold and began to fall. What a year it was for you – you were so excited to start school, to befriend other children and to play and to learn. On your first week in school, Balthazar, you were awarded a certificate for comforting other children and helping them to tie their ties. Lysander, you asked your teachers, your TAs, your head teacher, every morning, what they had eaten for breakfast. It amazed me that every day you walked into a place that I barely knew, and cultivated relationships with people I wouldn’t recognise on the street.
You fill me with awe and love and fear. Where do you learn your compassion, your resilience, your empathy? How does forgiveness come so easily to you – and trust – and hope? You make me believe in the innate goodness of children, of people. You make me take deep breaths, and to smile. And I never know what I’m doing, and I am always terrified – and I make so many mistakes. It’s not fair that two of the most precious creatures have to be my blueprint for parenting; it’s not fair that I always expect too much of you, I’m always a little bit afraid of the person you might become if I take my eye off of you, and yet time and again you surpass my expectations. You are such sweet boys. You are laughter and joy and, Balthazar, you are tight round-the-neck squeezes and Lysander, you are all knobbly knees and awkward elbows tucked up in my lap.
You turned six in the pandemic. All you had wanted, all year, was a soft play party and to go trick or treating… and you got neither. And you just accepted it and you immediately looked for the bright side, as you always do. I want you to know – always, to hold it in your heart – that I am so proud of you. You are excellent humans, brothers, sons. You are steadfast and reliable and reliable and true.
Balthazar, this year you decided that you would grow your hair long – so long that you could wear it in a plait down your back, like your little sister. You crushed hard on your best friend’s mum, and eventually compromised in sharing her with her husband – your best friend’s dad. Every tree you saw, you climbed, and when you were forced to stay inside your home you climbed the outside of the stairs, you pulled yourself to the top of the doorframes. You play like a puppy does, bowling your siblings over, landing unexpectedly on my head whilst I work. This year you fell even more deeply in love with stories, hushing your siblings to listen to me read and poring for hours over your books. You adore Dahl, and are the first to recognise when a character portrayed to us as likeable really isn’t very nice at all. You also love films, and you will sit beside me for hours, entranced by the tale that is unfolding before you. You are so very kind to everyone you meet, the first to offer a hand or a hug to anyone who needs one.
Lysander, you tell us that when you grow up you will be a shepherd, and you have three dearly beloved toy sheep – Sleepy, Sheepy and Nuage. Sheepy, in particular, you treat as a living creature – you make him nests in which to sleep, and bring him along on our weekend adventures, his little white head peering out from your pocket. You are a funny, bony little boy with a wicked sense of humour, a lover of cake, and a talent for mathematics. Your best friend is Amelia, you love her fiercely and play sweetly, gravitating to each other on the playground to the exclusion of most others. This year, you have bonded closely with your teacher, Miss Stone, who talks you down from a panic attack in the bathroom with some complicated mathematics; she has embraced your sensitivity, your cleverness and your quirkiness, she laughs about your funny little brain and treats you with the gentleness that you need and deserve.
People tell us that you are a credit to us, little boys, but I hope that we are a credit to you – that we live up to the privilege and responsibility of being your mothers. You are such wonderful children and I love you very, very much.
Happiest of birthdays, my darlings.
With love from