I got three presents for Elsie's birthday.
When Elsie started at nursery, she was miserable. She cried when she was dropped off, she cried when the nursery staff put her on the ground to play, she cried when she was picked up and she was clingy and nervous at home. The first two weeks were not fun. Slowly though, slowly it improved. First I noticed the changes at home. Instead of needing to see us at all times, Elsie started toddling off to other rooms while we got on with other things. She cried less, clung less. Next the reports from the nursery staff changed. She stopped crying when they put her down to play and seemed more settled. On Elsie's birthday I went to pick her up as usual. Generally when I show up, Elsie has been put in a highchair and is watching the other children, tired after a long day, her thumb in her mouth and the other hand clutching her doudou. On her birthday for the first time, I looked into the room and saw her before she saw me. She had her doudou in one hand but was using the other to rifle through the toys in a box. She picked something out and moved on, seeing whether there was something more interesting in the next box. I exchanged smiles with the nursery nurse and the anxiety at the back of my heart slipped away. That first present was seeing my little girl settled and happy somewhere other than in her own home.
The next day, I checked the balance at the cash machine. We're not on the bread line, but money has been tighter in recent times. We took the decision for me to stay home with Elsie for a year and it was definitely the right choice. It did mean holding back though and I always check the balance before withdrawing cash so I avoid taking out our last tenner. The amount on the screen that day surprised me though. It was much more than I was expecting and it could only mean one thing. My first salary since restarting work had been paid in! We got a couple of bottles of beer to celebrate. Feeling happy being back in my balanced life of work and family life was the second present.
Two days after her birthday, Elsie's party was a lot of fun. Her fellow one-year-olds crawled and toddled about, ignoring one another until they spotted a toy in someone's hands that they liked the look of. We sang happy birthday, the candle was blown out and birthday icing was smeared on faces and furniture. Once the crowd had dispersed, party bags in hand, we were sitting back and congratulating ourselves when the phone rang.
It was mum asking how the party went and I was suddenly blinking back the tears. A year ago I would be speaking to my mum every day, but she has not phoned for months. The treatment for the cancer that is long gone has taken her down the roughest road she has ever been down and the lows have been very low. Recently though, things have been starting to improve. That short call, the interest in her granddaughter's first birthday, the questions about the food, games, people... A month ago I would not have imagined it would have been possible. Having that glimpse into the future, when mum will be back to her old self and able to focus on the people around her who love her was my third present. That was the best present of all.