Today I am 38. Not a big birthday, not a notable age, just edging nearer to 40, but not close enough for it to look really scary yet. But what struck me was how birthdays can so often slip away without you even noticing, yet some seem to summon birthday wishes and treats from such scattered sources that they coalesce to make the day into something truly special.
This year I went out drinking and dancing with my mummy friends, the latest addition to the roster of friends I have racked up so far. The mums who kept my spirits up while I was huge with the twins, who visited me to drink cups of tea and cheer me in those first few miserable weeks of being a new mum to multiples. The mums who pick up my children from school when I am stuck in the rain, who give me a break by arranging a play date, who chat to me as I walk up the hill to school, who babysit for me when I am desperate to leave the house. The mums who keep me sane and let me know I am not alone in the struggle to bring up small children.
Then my darling mum and dad came up to visit. My mum had baked a cake, coffee and walnut, my favourite and what she has cooked for me every year of my life as far back as I can remember. Wobbly red icing wished me a Happy Birthday and wonky candles were swiftly blown out for me by my boys. My dad had designed a card that meant so much to me, far more than anything Hallmark could say. We ate, we drank and despite my advancing years I felt like a special little girl again.
Today, the big day, my boys sang Happy Birthday to me while I lay under my duvet like a decadent queen. My husband brought me breakfast in bed and thoughful presents. A gorgeous bunch of flowers arrived from one of my dearest, oldest friends who I haven't seen since I got married thanks to her rock chick lifestyle out in Nashville. A card full of news arrived from my friend from university, the one who dragged me out of the door to lectures and is probably the reason I actually managed to get a degree, the one who I spent drunken nights declaring was my best friend forever, but perhaps there was a grain of truth in it too. My oldest friend in the world wished me a happy Facebook birthday and despite my being the worst person in the world for keeping in touch still wants be a part of my life decades after we shared secrets as school children.
I was taken out to tea in London, the boys scoffed jewel bright dainty cakes in an elegant hotel lounge and actually behaved quite well. We walked through smart streets back to the car amusing ourselves by trying to spot magical entrances to Harry Potter's Diagon Alley and dreaming up ways to discover the mysteries and secrets hidden behind the smart facades of the wedding cake-pretty houses we walked past.
It's easy to feel drab and isolated as a mum of four small boys. To feel as if you live to serve, but I am grateful to everyone who made my birthday such a happy one by making me realise that there is a lot more to me, past and present, than washing bottles and folding babygros.