I can hardly remember a time when I wasn’t taking care of little people… giving orders about putting on shoes, packing away toys, making sure teeth are brushed, vegetables are eaten, bottoms wiped. My days now consist of snatching away food that has been rescued from the floor, wiping hands that are forever sticky and kissing away bumps and bruises.
It all began six years ago.
Eli Thomas Hughes arrived into our lives and we became parents. Suddenly we struggled to remember what our ‘before’ life was like as the days rolled by faster than ever. Our conversations became entangled with references to feeding and sleeping, our phones bursting with images of the face we just couldn’t get enough of.
On Thursday we celebrated the milestone of six. In a grave voice, I told Eli that something magical would happen during the night that would turn him into a big six-year-old and in the morning I was half-convinced I had been onto something. He woke up with a newfound air of maturity somehow and seemed to have morphed into an older boy. He began by calmly giving out instructions as to how he would like his brother and sister to hand his presents to him (you could say that he likes just a little bit of control). This year we focused on gifts that would last the distance – a refurbished Ukulele, some two-square balls, some robotic Lego to practice building and coding and a Super Mario costume. They seemed to be a hit.
When I asked Eli what he wanted for his birthday dinner he told me with great certainty “prawns, flavoured corn chips and salad. Oh and Magnums for dessert.” An unusual combination but I dutifully prepared the ingredients as he requested. When we sat down to the decidedly odd meal, Eli took one bite of a garlic butter prawn and made a face. “Ew, I don’t like that.” Ivy and Hudson soon followed suit and I’m pretty sure that dinner for them that night consisted almost solely of corn chips and ice-cream. We asked Eli what he would choose for next year’s feast. “Definitely not this dinner!” he said with feeling. The main beneficiary of the unfortunate choice was Gus who received a gourmet dinner of the leftovers.
This year Eli has discovered Mario, from the (weird) 80s show on Netflix to the Wii games, even to the point of watching Super Mario Nintendo game walk-throughs for five minutes every night before he goes to sleep. I have a suspicion that his dreams might be dominated by tiny red and green figures collecting gold coins. It was a foregone conclusion that his party would be a Super Mario theme. We decided that he could invite the whole class and begun to make plans.
The decorations were simple – red, yellow, green and blue streamers with white lanterns that I drew King Boo faces on. I had some leftover clouds from his Planes party when he turned 3 (made with glue and cotton wool) that we hung from the lights.
Eli requested a Super Mario face cake and while it wasn’t my best effort (something about the face proportions were just a little off, and the ‘skin’ coloured icing was a little on the orange side in the daylight!) it looked close enough to the character to pass.
As for the food, we kept it quite simple. I only baked brownies and raspberry and white chocolate blondies, plus the cupcakes which were iced to look like the power up mushrooms. There were ‘cloud’ jellies, star shaped ham and cheese sandwiches and strawberry and grape skewers. Apart from that we bought the standard party food – pies and sausage rolls, frozen pizzas, cocktail frankfurts, fish fingers and beer battered fries. Mum made some little chocolate cupcakes and cookies. About half the food ended up being eaten (despite Dave questioning me yet again as to whether I was sure I had enough).
We had no idea how the logistics of a class party would go, or whether the parents would be brave enough to leave their kids in our care for the duration of the party. Thankfully, all the kids seemed to settle in really well and the parents backed slowly out of the front door with looks of slight bewilderment as though they couldn’t quite believe they were about to get away with it.
Dave firmly cemented his reputation as Games Master this year. He perhaps got to half of the games that he had on his list. There were dance offs, Mario quizzes, draw the moustache on Mario, pick the right corner game and an immersive real life obstacle course in which the kids jumped ‘into’ green chalk pipes, bounced through bushes, and went on a gold coin hunt in teams. I think he could have gone another hour with those enchanted faces fixed on his, leading them through imaginative worlds. We almost missed out on cutting the cake because he got so carried away with the games.
It felt like no time at all by the time the parents returned to collect their kids. We all enjoyed ourselves immensely and it was so nice to put faces to the names that Eli has been avidly talking about this year. It was very helpful having both sets of grandparents lending capable hands, particularly with Ivy, Hudson and Harvey. Eli was very blessed with so many generous presents and he has been excitedly waking up each morning to play with them.
I still can’t quite believe that we have been doing this for six years now. Our lives are so filled with the chaos and beauty that raising small children entails, but I wouldn’t have it any other way (most of the time). Here’s to surviving the course so far, to making colourful memories every day and for the opportunity of raising four completely unique human beings that teach us about the universe and the meaning of life.
I look into the depths of your warm, brown eyes and I see that you have an old soul. I sometimes catch myself questioning whether you are in fact only six as you ask me such insightful questions about the world swirling around us. You absorb everything around you – facts, figures, conversations, emotions – and you somehow manage to arrange it in a meaningful way that allows you to understand things far beyond your years.
I love that you are a questioner, that you don’t take things at face value, and you aren’t afraid to challenge me when I act in ways that belie what is important. You have such a clear picture in your mind of how the world should be, of how things should play out, and this has the potential to both buoy and frustrate you.
You brim with passion and emotion. You are learning to control this more and more, even to the point of schooling me when I similarly erupt. Stoke this, learn how to ride the tides of your emotion without being afraid of it, though without being completely carried away by the explosive embers. I know you can do it.
Your arrival into our universe burst open all my pre-conceived ideas of love. I barely knew what my being was capable of before you and my heart has only continued to expand with the experiences of your younger brothers and sister. I ride the wave of terror and fierce love, hoping every day that I can protect you from the harsh realities of the world while cautiously releasing you into greater independence. I am a tight-rope walker – tremulous and brave.
Each day I grasp flashes of the man that you will become. I burst with pride at your developing character and beam at your tenacity. You are strong, tender-hearted, creative and bold.
I marvel at you, my son.
Love you to infinity and beyond, beyond,