It's the eve of J's thirteenth birthday. He says he's happy for me to blog about this event, and tomorrow may even make a photo for the blog. I'm overly protective about posting images of my son on my blog, though I will post the photos I found he has already stored on my laptop, from a few months ago, in which he appears suitably deformed...
This night, thirteen years ago, I hardly slept for excitement. We knew we were heading into the hospital in the morning for an elective Caesarian, for J was a seriously breech baby: head up beneath my ribs and not going anywhere. We didn't know he was J, though. Given that everything else about his birth was completely known, right down to the hour, it seemed important not to know too much about the baby.
When they plucked him out — knees first, according to Paul — they laid him next to my head, and he started talking, saying "ah ah ah", as if he were just continuing the conversation we had been having while he was still in utero. And ever since then he has remained a great conversationalist. I remember lying with him next to me all day and some of the nights, for the week I stayed in hospital, his peachy little head nestled close to my ribs. He was only about six when I told him about these memories, as he snuggled up close one day. I told him how he used to lie with his head against my heart. "Music to my ears", he said.
When I tell that story, it reminds me of one of the great mysteries of time, and of parenting. J has the language bug in spades, and has always had a good vocabulary and great syntax. One of his first full sentences was adverbial. We were at the zoo, watching the giant tortoises lumber about. "Tortoise ... moving ... slowly", he said carefully (and trochaically). I used to write some of these gems down, but as a record, they tended to lose their point quite quickly, as they only made sense as examples of his growing maturity, relative to how old he was. So as time went by, the great leaps and bounds of language acquisition became blurred. But emotions stepped in to do the work. Around about this time, we put his cot back in our room while we had visitors, I think, and I can remember hearing him stirring, then standing up and holding on to the bars, and saying clearly, "I wake up". And what I also remember is the pleasure of that moment, the child so clearly starting his own day.
This seemed prodigious to us at the time, but I suspect most of our excitement was just at the novelty of his learning. But it is surprisingly hard to measure your child's growth and development, and to work out where the time goes between birthdays.
A few weeks ago, I found an old email. It describes a day when I was working at my desk, and J and his dear friend E were playing together. I started transcribing their conversation, and sent the email to Paul and to E's parents. When I found this email recently, I sent it on again, collapsing time, and trying to measure the miracle of these two children, both on the verge of teenagerhood, and also to measure the time of our own parenthood: three of the four of us are turning 50 this year. Here's what I sent.
J and E have just come in to my study, each with a couple of toys. You know how it is, you hear snippets of the presiding syntax, which is, "let's pretend we did such and such", but then they drop the "pretend", and wander around, narrating their actions in the past tense. So, they came into my room, saying, "and then we came into a strange land"... "and then the monster had decided to go and find a different land" " and then I had my own little cave and had to fold up to get inside" (crawling under the futon), "and then everyone came to visit me because I was so famous" "but then the ghost decided to move out to a different house" "and you thought I had betrayed you but I was just in my house for a long time" "and then friends came to visit us but we didn't say anything because we were too sad" "and then you saw me and apple and blackcurrant up on the mountain having a picnic." More and more and more of this: a kind of dual stream of consciousness...
I'm going to keep this email and send it on to the three other parents, every few years. The kids would have been about five or six at this time, I think. What great dramas they were enacting here, and what serious play: fantasy kingdoms, fame, ghosts, betrayal, misunderstanding, disfunctional grief, solitude, regimes of spectatorship. Both are only children who often used to spend one or two days each weekend together: they are perfect mutual analysands!
Anyway, J is turning thirteen. I know it's supposed to herald the beginning of a ghastly period of adolescence, but at the moment such turmoil seems unimaginable. We still have great conversations; I am in awe of his musical ability; and English is his favourite subject. He will have a small party at the end of the school holidays in two weeks: a trip with six friends to the Game On exhibition of video games at ACMI; a meal at a Chinese restaurant; and then a sleepover party.
March 21 is also the first day of the astrological year, the first day of Aries, and the birthday of J.S. Bach. How's that for auspicious?