The night before you turn two years old, your mama and I stay up late to bake you a cake. It is the cake that we always make, the cake that I think that you will associate with your childhoods one day: a vegan dark chocolate chip cake, made with almond extract and smothered in sprinkles. I could make this cake in my sleep and I almost do, blearily, adding in a little of this and then a little of that, mostly by taste. I am so tired that night; a busy week in the office, followed by an active day with the two of you and your brothers, has almost broken me. I feel guilty, as though I have not made the most of you; I have this urge to wake you from your rest and bring you into bed with us, to sleep with us how you slept when you were little babies who fed from my body. I feel snappish and irritable and underprepared to lose the one-year-old versions of you, whom I have come to love so fiercely. I don’t feel ready for you to turn two.
I am cold as I fell asleep that night, and a little lonely, though your mama is sleeping beside me. I remember the night before you were born and it seems mere months ago; I remember the two of you when you were very new: Embla, a little blue baby with big eyes and Olympia, who cried and cried as though her heart was breaking. I want you back, my tiny girls. I want to smell your newborn heads again, to feed you again, to rest my lips against your baby skin.
That night I dream of your new brother or sister’s arrival. I dream in black-and-white, which I never do, and the baby is a little girl, a mix of the two of you. I pull her onto my chest and I feel consumed with a fierce kind of mother-animal love and with the rightness of having you there, your skin against mine. The strength of the emotion wakes me.
It is a dismal, grey morning; it is the same sort of morning as the day on which you arrived. For a while I lay with my eyes closed, listening to the rain pattering against the windowsill, breathing the warm damp air and the smell of rainfall after so many weeks of browning grass and curling leaves. You and your brothers are still asleep. After a while I sneak out of bed and go downstairs to frost your cake. It is not yet seven o’ clock.
The four of you make me laugh in the morning; there is no gradient to your awakening, merely a sharp delineation between asleep and awake and then suddenly you are chattering and laughing and bouncing on our bed, all four of you in your pull-ups with your bed-heads and your incessant nonsense delivered so cheerfully, so lovingly, that I cannot help but feel glad for these early mornings with you. I remember the me that would sleep in until ten o’ clock and I don’t recognise that woman, I can barely believe that she is still a part of me. I don’t remember what so much sleep even felt like, what it felt like to not be a mother to you. And I find myself thinking about all of this on your birthday, as you sit on my lap whilst I pee, as you often do, and your big brother asks if we can have cake for breakfast as promised and then Weetabix, and you are the most perfect two-year-olds I have ever known, in these moments, my beautiful baby daughters whom nobody could argue are anything but toddlers on the morning of your second birthday.
I light the candles, and Embla wails through her brothers’ rendition of Happy Birthday to You.
It is still raining in the afternoon; we watch the raindrops bounce off of the decking and pool in the flowerpots that we have not yet filled. Your Grandy has promised you a little party, with cupcakes, and she has bought pink balloons and forgotten the candles, which doesn’t matter a bit because we have boxes to spare. You are always so excited to visit Grandy, who is unfailingly patient with the four of you. And I am grateful that we have her, that she makes the effort to celebrate you.
(“Can I borrow your camera? I promise I’ll be careful!
Yook, Mummy Work and Grandy! It’s you!”)
At the end of the day, when you have sung and been sung to, received your gifts and tried them on, eaten more cake than any little girls should have even in a week, your Grandy suggests that we cut your hair. I am not ready, oh, I am not ready, but my Olympia, my baby Pocket, you climb up on that chair with your typical determined set of your chin. And you sit like a statue whilst she trims your fairy, flyaway hair and gives you a little fringe. You look at her and you say, “More”. And she combs you and has to pretend to snip away more, until at last you relent and give your sister, whose curls are too precious, too coveted to chop, her own turn in the chair.
And just like that, you are two. My final-babies-who-weren’t, my little girls. And I am so excited to share this new year of your lives with you.