I am expecting this to be an emotional week as Mum should have been 80 years old on Wednesday , so this will be the first big anniversary that we have had to face since she died over three months ago now. My sister and I booked the day off work some time ago, knowing that we could not concentrate on such a day and knowing that we needed to be together to mark Mum’s birthday. We had originally planned to meet up together for lunch and retail therapy half way between where we both live, but now we have changed the plan and we will be at Mum’s house together all day. We plan to make a start on sorting through some of her things but I insisted that we also have a celebration lunch out in her honour, and we are confident that Mum would approve of this plan – she would want us to get a move on on house clearing and she was never a fan of shopping!

Such an anniversary has got me thinking of past birthday celebrations, as we always make an effort to get together around birthdays in our family. Increasingly Mum did not want gifts that she had to find a home for, so last year, we three went to Harrogate for a weekend for her birthday treat and it was the best gift idea. We three spent some quality, fun time together and we laughed until our faces ached. On that trip for her 79th birthday, we were trying to persuade Mum to plan a bigger, brighter weekend for her 80 th celebration. She threatened to go abroad alone if we threw her a surprise birthday party. Yet now, here we are, without her – it does not feel real even now. I wonder how long it takes to properly sink in? I imagine that it is the brain’s way of protecting me from the pain of grief. Mum has appeared to me in two dreams now and again, I think my sub-conscious must be trying to adjust to the loss while I am sleeping.

The 11th of September for the last 18 years has always been a significant date in the news and for the families of the Twin Towers disaster, but in our family, it was always an important date and never more so, than now. As a child, Mum’s birthday was really exciting as it meant just over a fortnight until my own birthday – Mum’s birthday cards were never on display for long as they had to make way for my cards. This , our first year without her to celebrate with us, will be tough and emotional, but we will toast the very special lady that she was, together, and celebrate her life in style.

Magic Moments

When I collected Joshua from school yesterday, I bumped into the Headteacher who asked if he had had a good birthday, asked how could my son have grown to be 18 years old – I questioned I asked myself all day! – and if I had had ‘a moment’ at all? She knows, as most people who know me know, that I am an emotional person and that it does not take much for me to cry. I replied that I had experienced several moments all day. I have always found Joshua’s birthday emotional : we celebrate Joshua reaching another milestone and the 18th birthday has to be one of the biggest so far; it is always bittersweet, full of memories of 5 March 2001 and being my Dad’s birthday too, I always think more about Joshua’s Grandpa than on other days. But I thought that I would share with you. the ‘moments’ that I had during the course of yesterday, when the emotion for me spilled over into happy tears:

  • I was totally moved by all of the wonderful, kind messages and  photographs that were posted on Facebook, wishing Joshua a happy day. He was inundated with kindness from a wide range of family, friends and acquaintances- including some lovely words from our Great Ormond Street families.. I wanted to post some baby photographs of Joshua but of course 2001 was before digital technology and easy sharing from the mobile phone. But I was delighted to find our birth announcement cards that his Grandad had lovingly made with photographs from his earliest days and so I snapped and posted that. To see that tiny baby and our young, scared but hopeful faces on the day we brought our new baby home, made me well up.
  • My first tears were shed when I opened an email from his keyworker from Respite who had taken the time to send birthday wishes from her holiday, which took me aback. But I wept when I read ” He truly is an amazing young man who is an absolute pleasure to spend time with”
  • I cried again when I saw him after school and I felt the love that was shown towards him and realised what a huge impression he had made  there and of course started to speculate on the day next Summer when he has to leave this environment ,where he feels comfortable enough to lie on the floor, and absorb the love and attention that was thrown his way as staff walked passed him on their way home
  • My husband and I took Joshua to Donald’s, his own choice of birthday tea without a doubt. He was drowsy on the way there and looked as though a seizure might be on the horizon too. But as we drove up to the fast food restaurant, he leapt into life and began to shout ” Donalds” and he made it clear that this time, he was not taking no for an answer. We took his birthday balloons with us, to make the experience special and Joshua chose his table and slid into position. He sat beautifully while I placed the order, just smiling and waving at me in the queue, but perfectly content. I chose table service and the girl who brought his food commented that it must be his birthday and Joshua gave her his best “thank you”. He tucked into the chicken and chips with gusto, not waiting for his Dad to arrive later, and you would have thought that it was a Michelin-starred meal, the appreciation that he showed for both the food and the setting. It is the simple things that made Joshua’s day special.
  • We did not begin opening cards and presents until after 8pm, as he needed a nap when he got home – it is exhausting being an adult. I was really moved by so many photograph cards showing happy, smiling Joshua, by kind messages of congratulations and good wishes for his future and of generosity of gifts. I know how difficult Joshua is to buy for, so family and friends have been really creative in trying to make his 18th birthday so special. I cried when I opened Joshua’s card from his Granny, as it enclosed a Garden Centre voucher, which is something that Grandpa would have approved of. She suggested that we buy and plant him a tree for his 18th birthday, to mark this day, which is just the best idea.
  • Finally I cried  as I tucked Joshua in bed, at his usual 9pm – no late night or first pint in the pub for him! I kissed him good night and told him how proud I was of him and  how lucky he was and this deep voice came out of the darkness, saying “Thank you”. So I gave him another kiss and left him to sleep.

So you see, there were plenty of ‘moments’, but none of them sad or resentful, all of them  were motivated by love and gratitude.

Birthdays Past

Joshua will be 18 in a week’s time, so I have been reminiscing about Birthdays Past, as he has had some pretty memorable ones : He was in Las Vegas for his first birthday as my best friend from University was getting married on the 1st March and I was a bridesmaid. Baby Joshua was upset by the flight and he did not settle very well in the Vegas hotel I recall. On the run up to the wedding, my husband was jigging him up and down the hotel corridor humming the Archers theme to him for some reason, to try to settle him down. After the wedding, we drove onto Palm Springs and had a wonderful holiday with our newly one year old son.

On his third birthday, he was lucky enough to be in the USA again, this time in Florida with us, his grandparents and my sister in law. We went to a farm on his birthday and held baby ducklings I remember and that night, we went to see an Elvis tribute act in a local hotel, and he danced up and down the aisles in his element.

As Joshua got older and larger, we stopped going abroad for his birthday and we had many family birthday parties as he shared his birthday with my Dad – Joshua arrived on Grandpa’s 64th birthday. Joshua will have stolen the birthday limelight from my dad, but never someone to enjoy being the centre of attention, he will have been happy with that. I can visualise us all in the snug at home, one year when he was more vocal, Joshua holding up the clothes that he had been bought, delighting in his new shirt, calling it ” smarty”! He just loved having the wider family around him and of course, the inevitable chocolate cake. I have photographs of what must have been his 5th birthday, with family all wearing fancy dress : Joshua was wearing his Shrek outfit with a spongy big tummy, my mum was Wee Willie Winkie and Dad was dressed as a professor in a gown and mortar board.

But his 13th birthday was particularly memorable to me: on 4 March 2014, Joshua had brain surgery at Great Ormond Street hospital to try to reduce his seizures. He was in intensive care the day before, but when he turned 13, he woke up on surgical ward. The nurses gave him a chocolate cake, which he sat up in bed to eat, but that it about all he managed on that particular birthday, although we had brought all his birthday cards with him and they surrounded his bed.

So compared to that, every other birthday ought to be an improvement and lets bring on number 18, we are on the countdown now.

Happy Anniversary

23 years ago today, my husband and I got married and we had a brilliant day. I can remember beaming all day as everytime I looked around, there was someone that I cared about, wishing us well and that I did not want it to end.  It was a beautiful, sunny autumnal day and everything went to plan on the day, then we had three glorious weeks in the Florida Keys. We were both younger, and slimmer, then and we had no idea what life had in store for us. We were together for 6 years as a married couple before Joshua arrived on the scene, to change our lives forever. Those two people in the 30s who made those vows 23 years ago, had no inkling how much their relationship was going to be tested years later.

I look back at our wedding photograph album every year and love to see the smiling faces. Sadly too many important men in those photographs are no longer here with us : my dad, my husband’s grandad and father and my boss. But they were all a big part of my memories of our special day : My Dad turned me down flat when I suggested that we had a small drink to steady our nerves before we got into the wedding car. He introduced the DJ at the reception as a ” man who plays records for dancing” and both of those memories now make me smile and I remember my father very fondly.

We were married on my niece’s second birthday and so today we are having a family party to celebrate, rather unbelievably, her 25th birthday. Both anniversaries are indicators of the passage of time and show us how much life changes. Joshua was not even a twinkle on 14th of October 1995, and now here he is, a tall and handsome teenager who makes his presence felt every day.

So let’s look forward to the next 23 years together, it is hard to think that they can possibly hold as many surprises as the first 23!

Happy Birthday Skinny Rabbit

15 years ago today, at 5.57, our lives changed forever when Joshua Fred was born and made a rather dramatic entrance into the world. He had waited two weeks after his due date and even then had to be encouraged out into the world, but he was well worth the wait. We called him our ‘skinny rabbit’ as he was so long and thin as a newborn. Sadly he was whisked away to Special Care immediately as he began fitting and there, he was hooked up to monitors and oxygen, as he kept forgetting to breathe. So he made his presence felt immediately and gave us, his parents, quite a few sleepless nights – good training for the future you might say!

Joshua arrived on his Grandpa’s 64th birthday and so they enjoyed many happy shared birthday parties over the years either at our house or theirs, so today we are re-creating one of those tea parties at Grandpa’s house. Their most memorable shared birthday celebration was a trip to London’s West End to enjoy Lion King, one of Joshua’s favourite films. It was quite a struggle getting them both out of Covent Graden tube station and so we missed the famous opening scene that everyone raves about! Within 15 minutes of the start of the show, both birthday boys were fast asleep!

For Joshua’s first birthday he was in Las Vegas : We had been invited there for my best friend’s wedding, where I was honoured to be bridesmaid.  After the wedding we stayed for an incredible holiday with our baby, who struggled with the jet lag I recall. For his third birthday we were in Florida with his Grandparents and Aunt : during the day we visited a Farm and at night, we all enjoyed an Elvis tribute act, where Joshua danced in the aisles. For Joshua’s 7th birthday, we had a party in the local scout hut as a farewell to his entire class at mainstream primary school as Joshua was about to leave to go to his first Special School

Less exciting, but more memorable, on his 13th birthday Joshua woke up in Great Ormond Street hospital having had brain surgery the day before. We had never guessed that the nursing staff would be so kind as to provide a sticky chocolate cake, let alone that Joshua would be well enough to sit up in bed and enjoy a slice of it. I then shared the rest with the ward and it was a great way of meeting people – long ago I realised that cake makes people happy and so, it is a real gift to be able to bake and then share.

I tend to look backwards and reflect on Joshua’s birthday, but today I am looking forwards but who knows what his future will bring. I am amazed by all that he achieves everyday and he makes me burst with pride : Happy 15th Birthday Joshua Fred!