Tonight is the eve of Austin’s fourth birthday.
My mother-in-law says the next few years of a child’s life are magical. Gone are the nappies and (mostly) the tantrums. The remnants of attachment begun in the womb – breastfeeding, frequent demands to be picked up – have faded into the past. Instead, along with every cuddle comes a heart-tug of memory, without the physical drain of those early years.
And the character of the child is there to see. They’re still the baby you gave birth to; they still look to you for guidance, and help when it’s needed. But the person they are – and who they’re going to be – is in plain sight.
After four years of getting to know each other, we can say that Austin is already unmistakeably himself.
A gregarious boy, happiest when part of a familiar pack. It takes an age to prise him away from nursery; he spends a good ten minutes running round outside the school gates, shouting goodbyes to all his classmates. If they don’t answer, he bombards them with an even more determined barrage of farewells.
A child who is physically bold, sturdy, and always game for new experiences. The unfamiliar doesn’t holds any menace; instead, it’s there to be mined for its thrills. A day can’t be too long or action-packed and, at its end, no storybook adventure is too far-flung for our eager explorer.
A lover of food. Mussels and blue cheese don’t phase this little gourmet; one of his earliest dining experiences was sitting in a restaurant, stealing handfuls of the finest Iberian ham from my plate. When a dish is put in front him, the common refrain is ‘Mummy/Daddy, how did you make this?’
Nothing but a highly detailed answer will do.
A boy of deep, lasting attachments, who still frequently talks about his first best friend, even though the family has moved away, and weekly get-togethers are a thing of the past. Someone who ranks one-on-one time with Mum or Dad as an inferior second behind tripping off to mischief with his little sister.
Austin, you changed our lives, infinitely for the better. The day you were born was the end of the person I was, and the beginning of who I am.
On that morning, you scorched a trail into our lives. A furrow strewn with seedlings, and boy-sized roots.
Tomorrow, you’ll begin your magical years, armed with fortitude of character and the love of those around you.
Let those seedlings bloom, and your roots grow deep into the world.
It’s yours for the taking.