When you were small, I was so anxious all of the time. Not because of anything that you had done or had not done, were or were not, but because my mind was in some strange other place, because I was behind a glass and couldn’t reach you, could barely reach myself. It took me some time to fall in love with you, to feel connected to you. My memories of you as babies are hazy and often fraught with worry; for every sun-bright splash in the river or trip to the beach, there was the sensation that I was interacting with you and with the world as though through bubble wrap, and the creeping, insidious suspicion that I was a bad mother.
You were easy babies. You were full of the joy that I couldn’t mirror and I was afraid of you, afraid of how hard it was to love you. I was afraid of the children you would become; if it was so hard to feel connected to my plump, laughing babies, surely it would be impossible to relate to shouting toddlers, to children. I dressed you in bright clothing that made me smile and silently dreaded you growing up and developing personalities and minds of your own.
How wrong I was. And to think that it took me the whole of your babyhood to fall head-over-heels in love with you, to know you and to love you for the humans that you are.
You are my best little friends. You are sunbursts and fireworks and you turn a room upside-down just by flinging yourselves, headfirst, through the door. You never. stop. talking. Not ever. Even in the middle of the night we hear your little voices chattering, laughing, calling, crying, demanding water, demanding a cuddle. You fill up every space with the sheer force of your presence and that can be hard on undercaffeinated days, but I never stop feeling lucky to have such charming, charismatic little boys.
You are two-point-five and you are hilarity and rage, empathy and frustration, simmering, simmering, and you boil over fifteen times in an hour. You are constantly tugging at that invisible umbilical cord that connects us, testing us, pushing us away and pulling us back again, back again, your warm, soft, small bodies curled into us as though you could will yourselves back into the womb. Even now, in the height of summer, I cannot doze in my dressing gown without you declaring yourselves to be cold, without you demanding to be tucked up in my clothes with your soft, knotty heads poking out of my neckline like baby kangaroos. And you are so fearless. You will climb anything and leap from any surface: table tops, window sills, landing on your toes and then sprawling, face-first, across the carpet. Your sisters think that you are the funniest things, and you are.
I love the way that you never fail to thank the bus driver, and to wish them a “NICE DAY, BUS DRIVER!”. You are so polite. Balthazar, you will talk to anyone and you strike up random conversations with complete strangers, introducing your siblings one by one and sharing the minutae details of your day. Lysander, your imagination is a little bird soaring. You tell us that the xylophone is a birthday cake and make us blow out the wooden blocks balanced on as ‘candles’, threaten turn us into frogs, and you like to be called Sasha Rabbit as you squeak at us and giggle.
When you were small, I dreaded the typical ‘boy’ obsession with fire engines and tractors, police cars and diggers, trains and buses. I tried to fight it, and to mould you so that your hearts would mirror mine. I was wrong. You are one hundred per cent individual, neither ‘typical boys’ nor little reflections of myself, and falling in love with you has meant falling in love with your loves. I have found joy that I never thought possible in a motorbike zooming down the street, in facilitating in ringing of the bell on the bus, in purchasing clothes that reflect your interests and watching your faces light up with pleasure. We are finding common ground. You indulge my photography obsession in exchange for smarties, and we share a mutual interest in exploring. You love to feed the fish, to count the fish; Balthazar, you race around the pond whilst Lysander stares, transfixed, into the glimmering water. “Oh! Hello, fish!” You greet them like old friends.
At the weekends, you are my little buddies in adventuring. We give your mama a break by going out together, to the duck ponds or the woods, or further afield yet – you love to ride the train in to London and meander about the South Bank, and recently I took you to an In the Night Garden Live concert. Lysander, you are a little old man in a toddler’s body, but Balthazar, you are a horror. You wander off or else actively escape, and nothing contains you for long. Even at the Peppa Pig Singalong, you were the toddler chasing shadows at the back of the cinema: I am waiting patiently for you to grow into your fidgets. It is hard to be angry with you when you strop so politely – “Zaza no want it, PLEASE MUMMY! Zaza go hooooome!”. Your eyes are the eyes of a baby owl; I could sink into their depths.
Balthazar, your favourite food in the world is chocolate cake, and you both love to bake with me. We have a no-licking-the-spoon rule because you insist on mixing, and I find it hilarious that you give me the side-eye and then carefully pick the mix from the spoon with your fingers – how is that any better?! Sometimes we take my mother to the garden centre and have sit-down cakes and pink milk in the little restaurant and you seem so human and so grown that it takes my breath away. I feel as though I could smile at you and glance away, and when I look back you will be forty. That’s silly, isn’t it, except that I am sure that the mothers of the forty-year-olds would swear that just the other minute, their forty-year-old baby was their baby, and they were sat in a garden centre eating cake. The glimpses of adult-you are intriguing; they make me smile. I think that I will like you. I hope that you will like me.
Two-year-olds are strange, and you are no exception. In the mornings as I dress for work, sometimes I threaten to smack your bottoms with the hairbrush if you are particularly loud or distracting, and you come running over eagerly for your ‘mack’. You make us laugh every day, and most nights we fall asleep chatting about the silly things that you have said and done. Your mama calls you ‘her joy’ and you really are, we love you so very much and being your mummies has made us happier than we ever knew that we could be.
Thank you for being my little boys. You have exceeded all of my hopes and dreams, and I hope that when you remember your childhoods you have cause to feel as proud of me as I am of you.