I never quite know how to approach my birthday. Do I edge up cautiously, poking it with a stick to see if anything frightening is about to pop out? Or should I run up and embrace the mystery with both arms and clean up the mess later? I suspect that the reality ends up being some sort of combination of the two.
It is no secret that ever since the kids came along, birthdays have been a little tricky. I see-saw between struggling with expectations of impossibly perfect behaviour from them, and resigning myself to the fact that it really is just another day when you are a mother of young kids.
This year I tried to prepare well, quietening down any unreasonable expectations when they appeared, and trying to make cautious plans for an ‘out of the ordinary’ day. It began well. Eli was filled to the brim with excitement and churned out beautiful messages on postcards. Dave had hacked into my blog page on Facebook and left an unbelievably affirming poem for me to wake up to. There were presents to open and notes to read, and probably about a kilo of Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate. So good.
My mum came around armed with a delicious layered carrot cake with cream cheese frosting and far too many presents.
We decided to be brave (perhaps not quite the right word) and venture out to A Touch of Dutch cafe in Berwick. With three kids.
It started well. Hudson and Ivy were content to sit at the table and look around, particularly in awe at the delicious looking cakes in the glass cabinet. We ordered then ventured into the specialty shop next door to buy a treat for Eli who was missing out on the event due to his presence at school. When the kids began to get edgy I suddenly remembered that I had a random pack of flash cards and crayons in my bag. Thankfully, the distraction worked until the food came. Then Harvey lost it. Mum valiantly tried to calm and bounce him while I ate my food – a Dutch tasting board with numerous delicacies on it.
Hudson and Ivy weren’t incredibly happy with the beef croquettes that I had ordered for them and preferred to enthusiastically sample from my board, taking a bite and then placing the half-chewed portion back on the plate with disgust. It was a little crazy. I took over on Harvey duty while Mum tried to eat as fast as humanly possible before we high-tailed it out of there, no doubt under the questioning stares of the rest of the diners (I tried not to look). After having written a guide last week to eating out with kids, there was just a little bit of pressure to ‘do it right’!
Despite the craziness, however, I was glad we did it. So often in the past I have gone for the safe option, having foreseen the myriad of ways that the event can go wrong. It wasn’t exactly a leisurely lunch, but I tasted food I never have tried before, felt like I learned something new and had a birthday to remember. Nothing in that list to regret.
Last night Dave and I celebrated my milestone at The Independent in Gembrook. We completed the heist-like stage of planning and delivering all the kids to the safe care of grandparents and set off on our adventure. It was an evening of reminiscing, planning, savouring, laughing and a few (good) tears. The food was incredible – we had the Calamares (crispy calamari with chickpea puree), Chorizo Criollo (chorizo with prunes and a fresh salsa), Remolacha (baked beetroot with hazlenuts and goat’s cheese), Zanahoria (roasted carrots with smoked maple syrup), Papas Al Horno (the most incredible roasted potatoes we have ever tasted) a succulent chicken dish and bread pudding to finish. Dave half-seriously asked the waiter if there was a bed he could collapse onto to sleep off the feast.
This year has been a big one. I was pregnant for most of it – a state that I definitely do not find to be easy. Then Harvey arrived and we were plunged into the chaos and swirl that is keeping a newborn alive. Eli began his first year of school and we have felt all the feels that come with releasing your first child into the great beyond and the steep learning curve of figuring out how to help him through friend struggles. We finished up at Open House and began the process of settling into just being part of the crowd, an experience that has shown us a lot about ourselves and freed us up to pursue other things.
Looking back on my birthday post from last year, at first I wondered if I have grown. Sometimes it seems like it is two steps forward, three steps back as I voraciously consume self-improvement material and then feel as if I can’t possibly enact it all. Lessons learned in the past sometimes fade away or experiences require me to relearn something I thought I had already mastered. Sometimes it is hard for me to feel – in the monotony of changing nappies, cutting up snacks, signing off on readers – that I am really making a difference. Getting the chance to have an incredible meal with Dave last night with uninterrupted, inspiring conversation felt like just the perspective and space that I needed.
Life isn’t linear. Lessons come around in spirals and our failures become important data in understanding ourselves better. I’m beating my way towards the lighthouse in the distance and trying to take the next best step through the dense, black forest as I go. And I’m finding the most beautiful kindred spirits along the way – people who are brave enough to look themselves deep in the eyes and accept what they find there. Souls who aren’t afraid of struggle, who take the messiness that life has to offer and make something amazing out of it.
I’m another year older, and I am so thankful to be on this planet (most of the time). I have bad days, struggle to feel as if I’m making good choices, but I’m choosing to take the next difficult step each time. Thanks so much for doing this journey with me.