The relentless press of time brings around another birthday and finds me having breakfast with my family.
Fresh fruit, coffee and pastries adorn the table while my daughter shows me the cake.
“You don’t have to eat a piece for breakfast but I can’t stand the suspense of hiding it from you all day.”
It’s a magnificent coffee and tahini creation made, with love, for me.
I enjoy the tradition we’ve settled into, where I bake a cake for her and she returns the favour, each of us, I suspect, gaining a little more from the one we make than the one we receive.
The year, many years ago, she asked me for a cake shaped like a banana, tasting of chocolate and smelling of strawberries was a particular highlight, not because it looked or tasted especially good but because of the challenge accepted to please someone I love.
“Do you feel any different being a year older?” she asks, rolling a raspberry between finger and thumb before popping it into her mouth.
“No, but I spent a few moments when I woke up feeling thankful that I’d made it through another year.”
“That’s a bit morbid.”
I suppose it might seem odd to see ageing as a success when you are in your early twenties but nearer sixty the gratitude feels apposite.
My son arrives, having taken a day off work to spend it with me.
I’d texted him a day or so earlier when he originally revealed his plan,
“You don’t need to take time off to come home for my birthday.”
“I want to. I’m looking forward to it.”
A text arrives advising that my shopping delivery won’t be coming because of “a technical fault” and my plans for cooking a birthday dinner are immediately in disarray.
I drive to the supermarket feeling strangely serene to complete a task that I would generally resent on my birthday considering it an irritation keeping me from the rightful business of indulging myself.
But I have found that self-indulgence doesn’t feel much like love and the self-imposed pressure of enjoying a special day is so often the best way of guaranteeing that you can’t.
I pick my way along the aisles trying to find all the ingredients I need and substituting where required.
While I’m there my daughter texts to say she’s feeling stressed about all the stuff she has to take to her accommodation at Uni next weekend now she’s gathered it all together in a foreboding pile.
“I’m worried it won’t all fit in the car.”
“If it doesn’t we’ll just take two trips,” I write back.
Inconvenience is inconsequential when it feels good and does feel a lot like love.
I spend much of the rest of the day preparing food for everyone.
I notice a contentment and happiness I’ve not felt for weeks and a sense of purpose that I’ve been struggling to identify since my son left home and my daughter prepares to follow leaving me without anyone much to look after.
I bake my son a loaf to take back to his flat.
Inevitably he leaves without it and I send him a text.
He replies a couple of hours later,
“Sorry. When I saw this I was long gone. I’m back now.”
I start to write, “I’m glad you’re there safely,” as if I can’t say the word and instead am describing some sort of nondescript location he is temporarily visiting rather than returning to where he now lives.
I think about how nice it’s been to feel purposeful and proficient in the family again with everyone around me proving once again that best way of feeling loved is to show it.
I fall into bed tired. I text my son.
“I’m glad you’re home safely. It was lovely to see you. Thanks for visiting,” and it feels like something else important has shifted besides my becoming another year older.