The more appropriate title for this post would be ‘Evie turned one’ as we’re now almost two months into her second year, but that’s how behind I am with blog posts right now. Let’s just blame the house move shall we?
Anyway, my baby turned one.
Yup. It happened. One whole year since she was placed in my arms for the first time with a cord still tethering the two of us together. How’d that happen? I’m not even sure if I can call her a baby any more – does the baby stage officially end at one? I guess she’ll always be my baby, even when she’s 18 and super independent and I’m lucky if I get one phone call a month.
As I said it’s been a month and a half since we stopped counting her age via milestone cards and entered a whole new realm of parenthood, and so far I can honestly say I’m loving this latest stage. There’s been a lot of ‘new hurdles’ to get our heads around (the sudden arrival of very defiant tantrums that can only be solved by the opening of the biscuit tin being one of them) but in the space of that month and a bit, she has come on SO MUCH, has learnt more new skills than I can keep up with and her personality is absolutely bursting out, which is a true joy to see. I love that she can now communicate with us (albeit through pointing, grunting, sign language and ‘words’ that only we understand), I love the new style of imaginative playing that includes role play, different characters for each toy and funny little rituals that have to happen each day. I love how animated she becomes with certain games, how excited she gets when she sees a dog and how she insists on furiously cleaning every surface of the house with a cloth after lunch (yup really loving that game – long may it continue!). After a rocky few months leading up to her birthday – with teething, frustration over trying to walk constantly, and illnesses – it’s been utterly lovely to see her happy, content and waking up with a giant toothy smile every morning.
I’ve got a seperate post coming soon, documenting the first year a little more (well, as much as I can remember anyway) and taking note of everything she’s doing, loving, saying, and achieving at this age (because my last update was around 7 months and I’m terrified that if I don’t write down a little of who she is and what she does at each stage I’ll forget it all – each obsession/skill has such a short window before they’re on to the next thing) but in this post I want to concentrate on her actual birthday celebrations and the emotions that came with.
Because I found her first birthday an incredibly emotional time, and in all honesty, I totally wasn’t expecting that!
I wasn’t that Mum who was reminiscing for weeks beforehand. In fact I barely really thought about the pregnancy, or the due date or the birth itself as the corresponding dates came and went. I didn’t fall down a rabbit hole of looking at old baby pictures or digging out first sleep suits. Instead I threw myself into the planning of her celebration, determined to make it a wonderfully special occasion that we’d all remember forever. I got excited over choosing balloons and decorations, bought flower garlands for a planned first year photo montage, googled cake recipes and ordered personalised cake toppers, got giddy at the thought of her opening her presents and thought up fun activities for the week. I focused so much on making it a birthday to remember for her, that I didn’t stop to think about the emotions that might come along with such a monumental parenting date.
Especially, when, almost everything I’d spent weeks planning, had to be completely abandoned.
Yes, Evie’s birthday was on the 27th February. And if you feel like you might remember that date, it’s probably because it was the beginning of one of the worst bouts of snow the UK has seen in a long time. The ‘Beast from the East’ – ruining kids birthday parties since 2018.
I’m starting to think Evie might have some sort of X-Men style power over the weather – she was born during Storm Ewan, there were freak thunderstorms (on a sunny June day) at her Welcome to the World party, and her first birthday came complete with 6 inches of heavy snow.
Add a horrendous teething episode into the mix (we waited 12 months for one tooth and then she got three in the space of a week – and yup, you guessed it, it was her BIRTHDAY week!) and well, you’ve got a first birthday that was, frankly, a complete disaster.
Ok that’s dramatic. Let’s rephrase. The first birthday I’d planned for Evie was a complete disaster. Every. single. thing. that I’d prepared went awry, NOTHING happened the way I’d imagined it, and Evie, in all honesty didn’t enjoy very much of it. To put a positive spin on it (which, admittedly, I’m never very good at) I guess you could say that the first birthday we ended up with was certainly a lot more memorable, and looking back now we can laugh at the drama of it all. But at the time? Well, let’s just say I didn’t see it like that at all, and by the end of the week I was broken.
An exhausted, emotional, hormonal mess, inconsolably sobbing into an empty cake tin.
If you’re reading that and thinking how lame I sound, getting worked up about a birthday that my girl won’t even remember, let me just say this; the emotions that come with motherhood are often strange, mostly irrational, and sometimes take you by complete surprise. But in my experience they are almost always overwhelming. And as someone who was an incredibly emotional human being pre – motherhood, well from time to time they completely swamp me. This was one of those times.
Of course, I’d tried to prepare myself for this inevitable emotional dip. I’d tried to tell myself not to do too much, not to put too much emphasis on this one date, not to do that thing that I always do and build it up to an unreachable height in my mind which reality can never surpass, not to get carried away.
We aimed to keep things simple. A day just the three of us for her actual birthday and a small gathering of close family and friends at the weekend. Sounds easy enough right? But for those of you that know me a little by now, you’ll know that simple rarely stays simple when my organisation head goes on, that the creative in me can’t contain the ideas, and that the perfectionist in me often wins out. In my defence, at the heart of all of this was Evie. I so wanted to make this date special for her, because to me she is so so special. It was her first birthday. Her first ever. That in itself is so huge right? That she’d been on this earth a whole year. That we’d survived parenthood a whole year. That she’d become this beautiful, clever, strong, determined little person before our very eyes.
I just couldn’t let such a monumental occasion go by without a little aplomb, without a little celebration, without a few balloons, without some photos we’d look back at in years to come.
And so, invitations ended up getting ordered for our small, casual gathering (because why not? We’d keep one and show it to her in later years). Instead of just one large balloon, extra colour coordinated confetti styles got added to the online basket (because then there’d be balloons in both living room and kitchen and for both birthday and party), a personalised cake topper got ordered (because I loved it), photos got printed (because wouldn’t everyone love to be reminded of how she looked as a teeny tiny 1 month old?), food was planned, new outfits were bought (because of course she needed a birthday and a party outfit), a birthday breakfast was arranged, a multitude of cake ideas pinned to Pinterest, tiaras created out of pipe cleaners, a day out to a farm life centre pencilled in for her birthday afternoon (think acres of woodland, farm animals to gawp at, and lots of kid friendly activities), and we even booked up a family photoshoot with Siobhan to document her cheeky self at this all important age (after loving our newborn shoot so much!). My husband booked some time off and we were two very excited parents.
I don’t really need to fill in the gaps here do I? As you can guess, none of this happened. The snow wreaked total havoc with every planned activity, pretty much leaving us housebound for the week and making sure no one could get to us either, and teething upset made sure that Evie had an absolutely brilliant time at home, really enjoyed all of her new presents and looked deliriously happy in all of the pictures we attempted to take of her (heavy sarcasm applied).
At first, I was all like ‘Pah-ha-ha’ at the weather warnings. Hailing from the North of Scotland, snow isn’t usually something I get irrationally bothered about. So I ignored the husbands concerned face and carried on with the plans regardless, I told myself that the party would still go ahead, that it would clear, that we’d make the photo shoot work anyway. But the problem wasn’t so much the snow itself, it was the way the outside world ground to an absolute halt the minute it began to fall.
After two days of no post, I began to realise that perhaps all of those decorations, balloons, cake toppers, and outfits that were still ‘in transit’ may be staying ‘in transit’ until long after the weekend of the party. And when we opened the door and barely managed to get the buggy to the front gate, I began to realise that we might not be going anywhere until long after the weekend either. And when the phone calls and texts of ‘sorry, can’t face the roads’ or ‘stuck up here, no chance we’re travelling’ started to roll in from friends and family, I began to realise that actually, there might not be a party to decorate for anyway.
Thankfully we’d bought most of her presents in advance, and a good deal of presents from others had already been delivered. And I will be eternally grateful that when I saw Aldi selling wooden play kitchens around six months ago, I had the good sense to buy it there and then and keep it back for her birthday, as I’m really not sure I could have lived with myself if we didn’t even have a present to give her that morning.
During ’emotional episodes’ like this, I always find that there is one thing that ends up bringing out the emotional outburst. It’s usually something small, ridiculous and totally unimportant but is the thing that for some reason your mind gets fixated on. For me that thing was the cake topper. Truthfully I wasn’t even sure if I’d manage to find the time or the energy to make a cake, but still it was the idea of a cake without a topper or a candle that tipped me over the edge. I ordered a really lovely one you see – a personalised, gold, glittery, handcut number that read ‘Evie is 1!’ but when it became apparent that that cake topper wasn’t going to make it out of the post office depot any time close to her actual birthday, I became OBSESSED with finding something to go on the – not yet made – birthday cake that could take its place. I told my husband that we would just HAVE to get out of the house in order to buy something, and so a very stressful, extremely cold, extra bumpy, tinged with screaming, goose chase entailed the afternoon before her birthday, as we attempted to bundle Evie up and head into town through metres of heavy snow storms in search of a number ‘1’ candle or topper. I call it a goose chase because that’s what it was. Could we find a number ‘1’ candle/ cake topper or anything even resembling that anywhere?? NO OF COURSE WE COULDN’T. Every supermarket in a nearby vicinity seemed to be completely sold out of number 1’s, as if every baby in the land was turning 1 at the same time as ours. Every card shop, stationary store and even Wilko failed us and eventually I found myself bursting into huge sobbing, ugly tears in the middle of Morrisons cafe, after the till assistant had squashed the birthday cupcake I’d just bought (in realisation that time was running out to make anything myself), and this – the last stop on our list – had also sold out of number 1 candles.
I sobbed and sobbed while my Husband consoled me, as fellow customers looked on bemused, and Evie screamed in my arms because nothing we did seemed to rid her of her current discomfort.
I think what I couldn’t seem to get over, through all of this, was that we’d never get this time back. She’d never turn one again. She’d have other birthdays but she’d never have a first birthday again. And I couldn’t seem to live myself that we were the parents who were letting that birthday go by with such little celebration. With hardly any decorations, potentially a cancelled birthday party, and a shop bought squashed cupcake that didn’t even have a candle on it.
You see, I never thought I’d be that parent. I know it sounds silly, smug even, and maybe all first time parents feel like this before the actual reality of being a parent happens, but I always imagined myself as that Mum – you know the one, the one who brings out colour coordinated tupperwares full of healthy home made snacks when they go to the park, the one who spends her time creating epic birthday cakes that are the envy of all of the other Mum’s at playgroup, the one who crafts non stop and turns the house into a jungle/princess castle/aquarium depending on their child’s interest at that time and the one who makes birthdays the most special days they can be.
But hey, it turns out I’m not that Mum AT ALL, much to my eternal disappointment. No, I’m the Mum who is frantically searching for a birthday card and a 1 candle 12 hours before her daughter’s first birthday rolls around, I’m the Mum who loves to bake cakes, yet has been so sleep deprived for so long now, that she hasn’t had the time or the energy to do anything remotely close and handed over the reins of birthday cupcakes to the Morrisons bakery, I’m the Mum who gives her daughter all of the packet food because I have NO IDEA how people ever manage to cook while also looking after a small human and I’m the Mum who most days is barely functioning, let alone being that sunny smiley, well dressed, cooking, cleaning goddess that I thought I’d be.
And so, yes, I’m ashamed to admit I sent my husband out onto icy treacherous roads that evening to search for a 1 candle in Asda. And luckily, three hours later he came home. Defeated, yet clutching a pretty ugly candle to put on our smooshed cupcake the next morning.
Evie’s first proper trainers – a pair of silver glittery Converse! Aren’t they the cutest?
And so, the birthday itself came along. Despite Evie waking up about 3000 times that evening, and us being so sleep deprived we could barely keep our eyes open, we somehow managed to assemble a play kitchen, wrap her presents and get the living room looking pretty. During our ill fated trip to town, I’d hurriedly bought a gold star balloon to replace all of the ones that hadn’t turned up, we tied a happy birthday sign up on the wall and threw some streamers around her high chair before admitting defeat.
And when we woke the next morning, I was feeling positive. Yes a record amount of snow had fallen overnight. No, none of us had really had any sleep. And no, the decorations weren’t how we’d planned. But it was Evie’s birthday. We’d made it. She was 1!
And it was wonderful.
We were so excited to take her downstairs, and actually, the first couple of hours that morning were really lovely. She was happier than she had been in a few days, and she absolutely LOVES opening presents so was VERY excited when she realised every one was for her. We sang happy birthday to her, which again she LOVED (diva!), and it looked as if despite it all, we might just have a great day anyway…
That was, until we attempted to give her breakfast, and suddenly she descended into an almighty meltdown. She’s not a great eater at the best of times, but I guess amidst the teething troubles, even home-made pancakes were met with a bright red screaming face and promptly thrown all over the floor. And the day pretty much went downhill from there.
She spent her ENTIRE morning screaming inconsolably and NOTHING we did could pull her out of it. After that initial opening frenzy, all her new toys were thrown away in disgust/dismissed completely. She wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t sleep and threw a tantrum if I even attempted to get the camera out to document this wonderful time. We realised the day out to the farm wasn’t going to happen as the place was closed due to snow, and we weren’t even sure we’d be able to leave the house. After her finally screaming herself to sleep in my arms, we took a breather and I thought ‘hey it’s OK’. We would work with what we had. It would still be lovely. We’d make it GREAT! I told myself she’d feel much better after a sleep and some Calpol. When she woke up, we’d get her dressed in a cute snow appropriate outfit and after a nice lunch we’d take her out for her first ever snow day! What a memorable birthday I told myself, we can wrap her up in that sweet snow suit we bought her that she’s never worn and we’ll go outside with her birthday balloon and get a super cute postcard worthy picture of her sitting in the snow holding her balloon. Oh how perfect that would be! When she was older we would show her the photos and tell her about her snow filled first birthday and she’d love it!
Yes. All was not lost. IT WAS ALL GOING TO BE FINE.
So we all bundled up in snowboots and coats and wellies and opened the back door to the garden and took a step outside into the white stuff and…. NOPE, all hell broke loose. Turns out we have a baby for whom snow isn’t at all fun or enjoyable or photo worthy and she let us know nice and loudly that, no, we would be going back inside immediately. We now know of course that she was teething pretty badly at this time, because a few days after this her first tooth made an appearance, followed swiftly by two more, but at the time, I could only guess that she absolutely hated us, hated her birthday and was telling us we were the worst parents imaginable.
We did, miraculously, manage to get one photo where she wasn’t screaming and had the smallest sign of a smile, we just had to sing happy birthday to her on repeat for around 20 mins beforehand until she calmed down. But, at least there’s one for the photo album!
And the week carried on in similar vein. Me getting more and more exhausted and emotional as each screaming episode broke me that little bit more, and each activity ended up being abandoned/cancelled. The farm visit didn’t happen as the place was closed, the photo shoot didn’t happen as we couldn’t get into London, no party decorations turned up and guests for the party were dropping like flies until finally we decided to call it quits and tell everyone to stay home.
And that pretty much brings us up to the sobbing into an empty cake tin scenario which I found myself in at the end of the week. The longest week on record. The snowiest week on record. The toughest week on record.
I was done. I hadn’t slept in too long. I was irrationally worried about my poor constantly screaming daughter and I just couldn’t stop crying over the fact that her first birthday had been such a royal disaster. There was only one photo, and not a single family shot. We weren’t getting a photo shoot to capture her as a one year old. She’d thrown her squashed cupcake on the floor along with every other morsel of food we’d tried to give her, and she wasn’t one bit interested in any of our attempts to make her happy. Her party had been cancelled. No one would be there to sing her happy birthday. She didn’t have a cake. She didn’t have a 1 balloon. I hadn’t succeeded in making it special. Her birthday had gone by uncelebrated, and I felt AWFUL.
Everyone kept telling me she wouldn’t remember anyway, it didn’t matter, Evie didn’t care. But I cared. We’d remember. It mattered to me.
And that was the crux of it. Why I found it so hard to deal with. I was devastated on her behalf. I kept imagining her at 18 asking to see a photo from her first birthday party, and we’d have to turn around and say ‘you didn’t have one darling, I’m sorry, you didn’t get a first birthday cake’ and that whole idea broke me.
I read all this back now and I think how ridiculous I sound. What an idiot. Jeez, babies cry. Babies have bad weeks. Babies get teeth and it hurts them. And NOW I know all that. Now, 3 teeth in, we know how to spot a teething episode, we know how to deal with them, we know that we don’t need to phone the hospital if she won’t sleep one night and screams every time we try to lie her down. I can look back now and see that, actually, I was emotional over my tiny baby growing up. I was emotional over the fact that the first year of parenthood had zoomed past us in a blur of just ‘making it through each day in one piece’. But that’s the thing about first time parenting, there’s no rule book. There’s nothing you can consult to reassure you. You just have to live through it, do your best, and come out the other side stronger and more knowledgeable.
There’s lessons to be learned in all of this of course, and as I get older I’m realising that truthfully no matter how epic your planning and organisation skills are, things rarely match up to the picture in your head. Sometimes they’re better, sometimes you’ve just got to accept the reality of the situation. I’m getting better at this overall, but it’s not something I find easy and every so often I slip up and let it all get to me. This was one of those instances.
But all was not lost. Because on Saturday morning, something amazing happened. The postie turned up at the door for the first time in over a week. He knocked on the door and I was so shocked and happy I almost hugged him.
Not everything arrived, but a Hobbycraft order including a giant 1 balloon did, and you know what else did? The cake topper! The bloody cake topper came, and suddenly I had a renewed bout of energy and positivity and decided that I was going to make a cake! Who cared if the party was cancelled, who cared if Evie threw it on the floor, who cared if it was only us there to sing to her. This was one thing I could control, and I could make sure she at least had a first birthday cake with candles and a cake topper. So I slaved away all Saturday evening and came out with this, ok not brilliant, but all things considered, pretty bloody fantastic ombre birthday cake, WITH a cake topper AND a candle. A miracle.
And then another miraculous thing happened. On Sunday morning we woke up and most of the snow had disappeared, the roads were clear and my parents even phoned to say they’d managed to get on an early flight out of Inverness that morning. By lunchtime my brother and my Husband’s Dad had also phoned to say their route was clear and asked if they could drop over for the afternoon, and despite it being a day later than planned and very disorganised, we had a small gathering of family on our hands. Some might even say – a first birthday party!
We cobbled together some sandwiches and sausage rolls, with my parents around to keep Evie occupied I managed to stick up some photos and create that floral photo montage on the wall I’d been imagining. We found an unopened bottle of prosecco in the fridge, dressed Evie in a cute outfit and her fancy new Converse and blew up that giant 1 balloon.
And so, a first birthday party happened after all. She had a cake after all. It wasn’t at all the party that I’d envisioned, but you know what? It was just lovely.
She still wasn’t that well, she still cried, she wouldn’t wear the birthday tiara, but she was also happy for at least ten minutes, and in that ten minutes we managed to have everyone sing her happy birthday, blow out the candles on her cake and get my bro to take a family photo.
And by the end of the day, I felt like I could breathe again. See clearly again. Was lifted out of my ridiculous and irrational state. Felt happy, and grateful for the people in our lives, in Evie’s lives. And felt lucky – really bloody lucky. Because after all, we were hugging our healthy one year old daughter and putting her to sleep that night knowing we had the next day to try again. The next week to be better parents. The next year to enjoy and many many more birthdays to make special. Not everyone has that. Not everyone gets to be that lucky, and suddenly I could see that again. See that a cake topper or a cake or a balloon was not what we’d ultimately remember, but we would remember the love, the happiness, and the family. Evie, hopefully, wouldn’t care whether she had a smiling photo to look back on, but perhaps she would care that she had a funny story to listen to, and two parents who adore her through and through.
It certainly wasn’t the birthday celebration we’d planned, but it was the one we got, and it was one to remember all the same. A common theme that seems to run in all events in my life as it happens.
Parenting is one heck of a rollercoaster, one that only gets faster, scarier, and with more upside down moments the further you go along. But one that, once you’re on, despite it scaring the life out of you, you wouldn’t dare even think about getting off.
So happy birthday to our sweet, funny, clever, independent, determined (weather controlling) little firecracker of a girl – you’ve changed our lives irrevocably, but we know how incredibly lucky we are to have you, and to have been blessed with such a little character!