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Emily Writes: my son is turning five tomorrow

Spinoff Parents editor Emily Writes reflects on the last five years on the eve of her oldest child’s birthday.

My son is turning five tomorrow. I can’t quite fathom this since it feels like yesterday I was pacing the living room, my cellphone on my shoulder telling a Plunket nurse “Please he won’t stop crying and I don’t know what to do!”

Every day felt like forever. Every day felt like an ordeal of trying to learn to parent while also trying to work out why he was so ill. And now suddenly, he’s hip-high and telling me that “red blood cells carry oxygen around the body mama”.

Eddie after being taken off oxygen after his first surgery at three months old.

Discussing his birthday has been a three month ordeal of him steadfastly refusing to have any type of birthday that isn’t an “Eric Yum Pry Mews” birthday. Since seeing the Olympics he has been obsessed with Prime News’ Eric Young. He thinks his full name is Eric Yum Pry Mews. He talks to him through the television.

So here we are, tomorrow he will have an Eric Young Prime News party. Because well, why not. He loves Eric Young because Eric Young is the Olympics and also “he does important mews every night mama, even when you’re tired Eric Yum Pry Mews still does that mews” and you can’t argue with that can you.

Eddie and Eric Yum Pry Mews

But last night I had a dream that Eric Young sprang out of an Eric Young cake. He was dressed in his Prime News suit wearing his signature black rim glasses. All around me children were dressed as Tiny Eric Youngs.

“Ka kite ano and goodnight,” they all said in monotone over and over again.

Are my fears about my baby boy growing up manifesting into nightmares about New Zealand Television’s most elegant and classy newsreader?

Birthdays are a celebration, especially for children. My son talks about growing up “a size”. He says “When I am a size bigger I will still be your baby”. He tells me when he sees my brow furrow “that did you know mama, did you know that daddy is so tall as the ceiling but Nanna still call him her baby boy mama. Did you know that?”

Maybe he can see a part of me I thought I wasn’t showing. Even when they’re small we send them out into the world, and we hope in our absence every other adult will protect them. We hope they’ll come back to us. Can he see that worry behind my pride?

I remember lying with him when he was brand new. My aching body curled around him. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. I couldn’t believe he was mine. That feeling has never gone away. I often catch myself looking at him the same way and thinking – is this all a dream?

He is everything I could have hoped for in a child. Generous and kind and a friend to all. He has all of the qualities I don’t. All of the best qualities of his father. For so long, when he was very sick as a baby, we just hoped he’d make it. There wasn’t room for any other wishes in that murky well.

And here we are. He outshines even our greatest hopes for him.

Eddie collecting for The Children’s Hospital.

He has nightmares sometimes. Before bed we lie down together and I give him three dreams to choose from.

“You and Isaac own a cake shop. Isaac makes pancakes shaped like hearts and you make donuts with pink frosting. Annie and Ronnie are your taste testers.”

“You and Billie are astronauts and you live on Mars. You dance around Saturn’s rings and you play hopskotch on the Moon.”

“You and Daddy drive diggers. You make the roads shiny and new so all of the cars can drive down them.”

He picks his favourite dream and I whisper in his ear a made-up magic to ensure there’s no nightmares.

He is five. He can write his name but more importantly he can put his arm around another child and say “Hey, are you OK friend?”

When he was a baby I thought I’d never get him out of my bed. Once in a blue moon he climbs in next to me and I try not to squeeze him too tight – I never thought I’d be so happy to be sharing a bed with both of my babies again.

Eddie and Ham trying to replace Hilary Barry and Jake Tame

He will soon be too old for whispered magic but I’m going to savour these days. They did fly by so fast, but I had the best co-pilot so I feel like we enjoyed the view along the way.

I used to worry – is he sleeping enough? Eating enough? Now my worries are different – will he be OK at school? Will other kids be kind? Maybe worry is a constant friend to mothers. But I know too that my worries pale in comparison to the worries of others. And that alone quietens the voice of fear and encourages me to reach out in his name.

Five isn’t always a promise. When you have a sick child you know this.

My baby – always baby – will be five tomorrow. He’ll wear the suit we bought him to look like Eric Yum Pry Mews.

He will be his usual self but five. Quirky and kind. Silly and funny and generous. Sunshine on our rainiest day. Better than we could have ever imagined.

If you’re starting your odyssey now, holding your brand new baby – know this: This is the greatest adventure. The most wonderous voyage. The hardest but best journey. You think you can’t love them more than you do now?

Oh the capacity of our hearts for our children.

I could burst.

My gracious plenty. My baby is five.

How lucky, lucky, lucky we are.


On another note: this time last year I was anxiously awaiting another type of birth. The Spinoff Parents emerged October 1 with this post. I could absolutely not be prouder of what we have achieved together. Our second post was about my son’s birthday wish to raise money for the Children’s Hospital, so there’s a kind of symmetry in writing about his birthday again. I would like to thank Flick Electric for supporting us even when they had angry emails because we wrote about vaccination and abortion. I’d like to thank my editor and friend Duncan Greive for having faith that this section would work. I’d like to thank Catherine McGregor for teaching me how to be an editor.

Most of all, I’d like to thank all of our amazing and brave and talented writers. It is such a privilege to have a section that showcases how incredible our country’s writers are. They have been bold and shown great courage and we have tackled the really important issues we committed to covering one year ago.

Thank you to our readers. Without your support – we wouldn’t be here.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. And please join us at our birthday party where I will be giving away a bouquet of [redacted] in honour of all of the pleasure this section has given me and hopefully a lot of parents around the world.

Emily Writes is editor of The Spinoff Parents. Her book Rants in the Dark is out now. Buy it here. Follow her on Facebook here.

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