“Thanks for my birthday Mummy,” says Eldest as he gets up from the sofa to go to bed. He bends his head towards me and I put my arms around his neck so I can kiss him and ruffle his hair, “and thanks for not embarrassing me!” High praise indeed.
He was 14 on Sunday and instead of a party with balloons, pass-the-parcel and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, like the one we held for our eight year-old three weeks ago, we agreed he could take some mates for a meal. He wanted to “go Nando’s,” and he didn’t want us tagging along.
Fair enough, but what about paying for it? “I could turn up and pay at the end if you like?” I suggest, hopefully. “It doesn’t really work like that,” Eldest patiently explains, “you pay first.” So that’s classy. We agree to give him the money and he looks absolutely delighted.
You don’t really want your mum turning up at Nando’s when you’re 14. I get it. I want him to have what he wants for his birthday, I just have to accept that doesn’t include me anymore. But we did still celebrate as a family in the morning. There was the customary opening of presents followed by the fry-up Eldest requested and then a cake with candles in the afternoon before his mates turned up. Did he want to wait and have the cake with his friends? No, he didn’t. I guess that’s embarrassing too when you’re 14. Funny, because by the time you’re in your forties it’s really rather nice.
Negotiation. At this age, it’s all about negotiation, and so far (cross fingers) it seems to work. There’s none of the conflict and emotion I had with my mother mostly because Eldest is so calm and laid-back about everything. He didn’t want me to go to Nando’s, or sing happy birthday with his friends, but he’s tactful, he doesn’t say, “Oh my God! That would be sooo embarrassing!” He just shrugs, raises his eyebrows a little and suggests we might not do it like that.
Then there was the sleepover on Sunday night (it was an Inset next day) when I agreed not to embarrass him by telling them to go to sleep at 10.30 and checking if they’d brushed their teeth, I said they could stay up, so long as we didn’t hear anything. Apparently, I’m the only parent who tells them to go to sleep at sleepovers. Yeah, right. Whatever. They all slept in the basement and we didn’t hear anything, so it worked; I guess.
It’s all a far cry from the first time, his real birthday, that June dawn 14 years ago, still my favourite memory and the one I use late at night when I’m trying to sleep. The other two births were lovely too but Eldest’s was special because…well, because it was first and it was good, great even. I know it’s not what everyone wants to hear, especially other mums with traumatic birth stories - and there are so many of them - but it has to go right sometimes. What can I say? I must be a peasant or something: I could have crouched in a field, had him and carried on threshing.
Instead of a field I almost had him in the car on Battersea Bridge on the way to the hospital. There was no time for pain relief and no time to ask for the water birth I wanted either, (as explicitly requested in my three-page birth plan. What a waste of an essay that was!). I arrived in a sort of animal trance, threw off my clothes, climbed on the bed and just managed to grunt the word, “water!” So they brought me a glass of the stuff.
“You’re going to have this baby within the hour,” said Jane, the wonderful young Australian midwife. It was just the three of us in the room – husband, midwife and me and dawn was breaking over the Chelsea rooftops: the beginning of a stunning summer day - and a new life.
That quiet early morning, the view through the window, the lack of intervention, the encouraging midwife, I think it all helped to get me through it, and I told myself, I can do this, it’s what I was made for. I’ve certainly never felt stronger or more alive and I guess there was some sort of natural high that kicked in as well. Of course it hurt, it hurt like hell; I didn’t wear the gown they gave me, and I didn’t lie down either, I knelt, with my arms over the head of the bed, and I had him, like that. It was wonderful.
Immediately before the cord was cut or anything, I took him in my arms, held him close and looked into his eyes, and he looked straight back at me. He seemed so wise, so knowing that I felt he was looking into my soul and we knew each other straight away. And I often think, despite all the ups and downs, all the inevitable frustrations associated with raising a rather lazy teenaged boy, maybe that’s why we still manage to get on, most of the time, because there was some sort of deep understanding between us right at the start. Probably sentimental rubbish, but I like to believe it.