A year of journaling...
I wake at our holiday house, down on the south coast. It is half past eight. We are in a rush this morning, because we are heading home for the weekend. This is the earliest I've been up all week. My movements are sluggish, and my speech is somewhat slurred from exhaustion. "Good morning boys," I say in a raspy voice, as I drag myself down the corridor, past the big boys' room. The response is a chorus of voices: "Happy birthday, mum!" And a few seconds later: "Happy birthday, mummy!" shouts Lewis from the kitchen upstairs.
Yes, today I begin my fortieth year around the sun. I am touched that the boys have not forgotten. Edward hands me the little birthday card he drew for me yesterday: it has a big "39" on the front and, on the inside, there is a picture of him and me holding hands. Something about this simple stick drawing moves me deeply. "Thank you, darling Bear. I love you." Angus has also made me a card with the number "39" repeated at least eighteen times on the front. James' card has a drawing of me drinking coffee and a little note: "You are the best mum ever!" I am genuinely humbled by this—my sense of inadequacy momentarily quashed by my eight year old's heartfelt message.
"Thank you, Gus. Thank you, James. I love you boys so much..."
My birthday breakfast is the same as it's been all week: Crunchy Nuts, a piece of toast, and a cup of tea. It is both simple and heartwarming. Rick beams me a big smile from across the kitchen. "Happy birthday Ronnie," he says as he wraps me in his arms. "Thank you, darling."
After breakfast, Rick and I pack up every single item and load them into the car. Before we leave, we take photos on the couch. Every year, we do this. Every year, someone gets upset. This year, it is Bear. He wants to lie on the ottoman in front of everyone else. We need him to be on the couch, or sitting in front of the couch. Tears ensue. Eventually, I persuade him to crouch next to Lewis in front of me. Rick fires off about a dozen frames so that maybe, just maybe, we end up with one good photo.
We take the scenic route home. I open a pack of Ovalteenies in the car and distribute them evenly—there are exactly twenty-one in the pack, which means we each get three. As we wind our way up the Macquarie Pass, Rick and the boys count every single turn that we make. When we reach the plateau on the other side, the count finishes up at 112. At Bowral, we stop off for lunch at the sushi place. The big boys all choose three plates each, while Lewis shares our tonkatsu ramen noodles. I can't help but recognise the background music: old Chinese songs that my parents and I used to sing together at karaoke—a rather amusing anomaly considering that we are at a Japanese eatery.
The rest of the trip home is dominated by Lewis' cries of protest and exhaustion. Even the boys become fed up with the noise generated by their youngest brother. A ute passes us on the motorway, with the words "global roadside assistance" plastered on its doors. Without skipping a beat, James and Angus call out together: "We need assistance! Please stop Lewis from crying!" We all burst out laughing—except for Lewis.
Despite the noise, I manage to doze off—a skill I’ve acquired after ten years of parenting. As I drift in and out of sleep, I make a somewhat unexpected decision: I shall start to write again in my fortieth year. I shall document a moment, a ritual, or just a thought from my day, every day for the next 366 days. Nothing ground-breaking or spectacular. Just a simple year of journaling to mark my fortieth year—preserving my story the best way I know how.
Back at home, Rick gives Lewis a long hug, which calms him down completely. The big boys help me to bring the bags in while Rick and Lewis head off to the post office to pick up some parcels. I potter about, working out what to unpack and what to leave in our bags for next week. With my permission, the boys turn Netflix on and sit down to watch Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs.
Upon Rick's return, I head up upstairs to rework the storage in my studio to make room for packaging materials for my artworks. It is therapeutic and soothing, and I'm thankful that I get to do one of my favourite things on my birthday: decluttering and reorganising. Meanwhile, Rick bakes a cake with Bear and Lewis while the other boys head out to ride their bikes with our neighbours.
The birthday cake is the Betty Crocker vanilla cake (with vanilla frosting), and we are all excited to eat it. We place the cake on our cake stand, and I put a single gold candle in the middle. It starts to sink and melt, so we try to snap photos as quickly as we can. The process is somewhat protracted as I have to negotiate with Bear to let me sit in his usual seat so that I can be behind the cake. Again, there are tears but, somehow, we manage to regroup and sing Happy Birthday and take photos before the candle disappears into the warm centre of the cake. I cut the cake and serve up a huge slice to all seven of us. Inexplicably, the boys end up with a bigger piece than me. The cake is as good as I remembered it to be! Rick and I pour cups of tea to enjoy with the cake, while the boys have milk.
At dinnertime, we pour sparkling apple juice into wine glasses for everybody, including Lewis. We all toast to my thirty-ninth birthday.
"To the best mum ever!" says James.
"To mum!" everybody replies.
And so begins my fortieth year around the sun.
Surrounded by my family.
Decluttering my room.
And eating lots of cake.
Photos taken at twilight near our holiday house, two days before my birthday.