Birthday letters - River

Birthday letters - River

Hello again, little one. 

I'm back. The last time I wrote you a letter was way back when you were small and new and jet-black furry. That was a letter full of fear and hope, of surging hormones and searing doubt. This, my love, is one of pride.

We're in Hoi An right now, halfway down Vietnam and halfway through our big adventure. And tomorrow you turn one. One whole year since you came barrelling into our lives. We went for dinner tonight at a little place down by the river, and I took you off in my arms and just stood with you on the waterfront, watching the reflections, holding you tight, trying not to cry. 

Now here's the thing. Every baby amazes their mother, every time they make a new sound, roll over or do a new coloured poo. When they shove a chubby fistful of mush somewhere near their mouths or chew the corners of a book, they are deemed a genius. And yes, I'm biased, but you have astounded us.

Soon, you'll have been travelling for longer than you haven't. That's pretty cool. I don't know anyone who's done that. And you're doing it with style, and charm, and yes, the odd explosive nappy.

When we left London back in September, we thought you were lovely. Lovely, but a little bit useless. A frog-pyjama clad blob that smiled and mewled and was, somewhat inconveniently, starting to crawl. But now we know you. You're a person, with things you love and things you really, really don't. You can hang onto the nearest surface and clamber your way around a room without a problem. You've definitely inherited the Italian genes, with your wild hand-flapping and reactions worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy if we say no. You like to lean back against a sofa, a louche little smile spreading across your face. You still have those dimples. We know that you love plants and pink things and Thai roast chicken from that place in Chiang Mai, that you couldn't give a damn about sweets. We know that you love music, and we've laughed watching you dance to everything from heavy metal to Vietnamese folk to terrible EDM. 

We always joke that we should just strap the GoPro to your head, because you've seen so many things that we haven't. As soon as you enter a place, you're picked up, adopted and whisked off behind the scenes. So you've met the chefs, seen the kitchens and propped up the bars from Kathmandu to Hanoi. You scored an access all areas pass, just by being you.

You've woken up in the most ridiculous of places. In front of an elephant. On a canoe. In a purple velour pedicure salon in Bangkok. You've lived in elegant tea plantations and eaten street food you probably shouldn't. You have the immune system of a stray dog in Delhi. You are, ridiculously, on your third haircut.

You've given us all several heart attacks with your world tour of hospitals. You've fallen off the bed on day one, jumped headfirst out of your buggy, worried us silly with your Sri Lankan mosquito bites which, bless you, you didn't know to scratch. You've made me wonder endlessly if we were mad to take you away, but then you light up another room, or meet a new animal, and the answer is always no. We'd have been mad not to.  

Everyone loves to tell us, as if they know you, as if we haven't heard it before, that this trip is pointless because you won't remember a thing. I could use a bad word now but I won't because, you know, you're one. But River, those people don't know anything. 

You've met people from all over the world, and broken hearts everywhere with a smile or a high-five. I'm not proud to say it, but we've used you as a charm offensive in many a check-in queue with our slightly overweight baggage. You've met rich people, poor people, people with different lives and different houses and different breakfasts and different coloured skin. So no, we're not dumb. We don't expect you to reel off the history of the Thai royal family or remember that time we kayaked around Ha Long bay. But we're hoping, really hoping, that this trip will help form you. Your mind, your character, your openness. We hope that you'll grow up into someone who instinctively knows that there's more out there, past the school gates and the local park. That different is not a bad thing.

And we've had time. The four of us together, the year of the musketeers. We've built this family on solid foundations, because if we can do this, I'd like to think we can do anything. And when it comes to the two of us, mother and son, we've been inseparable. 

You've been my koala, my joey, my little extension strapped to me in a sling or suckered on to my breast. We've spent days and nights together, a sticky tangle of milk and sweat and love. They say it'll be difficult, weaning us apart, and it will, but so what? Because I've had the absolute privilege of hanging out with you on the adventure of our lives. Because we've shared so much. Because, we've been so close. Because whatever happens, we've got this.

So, my tiny dancer, my hair idol, my traveller, my darling, my River, 
happy birthday to you,

Mamma x