He was trying to explain to me.
“The soup,” he said.
“Which one?” I asked.
“The one with the bacon.”
“Potato and leek soup? The one where I have the bacon just on top?
“It has bacon all in it.” He used hand actions as he spoke.
Bacon all in it. Bacon all in it. Thinking. Thinking.
“Oh! Pea and ham soup?” I suggested. I rarely make the soup so it took a moment to register.
That was the one: The dinner he chose to have on his birthday.
Seemed an odd choice for a little boy.
A realisation made me sob inside. I remembered asking my own mother for the same birthday dinner when I was grown, but still living at home. I remember distinctly the slow cooker sitting on the marble bench top in my parent’s kitchen, near the window with a view of trees.
She made it thick like I liked. I would have been nineteen at the time I believe. She’s gone now: my Mum; and these little memories, that hurt as much as they heal, can hit you, sometimes without warning. Even after seven years. After the initial pain passed, I enjoyed the memory, and made the soup for my son with as much love as I knew my mother had done for me, knowing that somehow, the love of the hearty soup had passed through the generations. There’s beauty in that.
While I prepared the final stages of the soup, I watched my dad interact with my son. They were building a Lego helicopter (a present given that morning). My son was perched there on the side of the table, in awe of his grandfather, and excited by the progress. I watched him gradually move around on the table — it’s something I would have usually pulled him up on — until he was directly in front of his grandfather.
Sitting on the table: it seemed the most natural thing in the world in that moment; engrossed as he was, with all that was his birthday, his grandfather and a table full of Lego. He was perfectly safe (you’ll just have to trust me on that), and I didn’t dare interrupt the magic. No. I loved seeing him there, knowing how unaware he was of his surroundings. What bliss. What joy!
It was easy to capture this smile.
We had the cake of his choice for dessert. Number 6, based on the classic Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book.
There was no matching napkins or a big present table; no party bags or jumping castles; no guest list or streamers. But it was special, and I could see in my son’s delighted smiles how much he enjoyed his birthday.
My husband and I decided we wouldn’t do big birthday parties for our children every year, and to this day I’m glad of that. Oh sure: they are fun, and we do them…but not every year. No. Because sometimes the best birthdays, the ones weighted with significant memory — like when in my teens I sat around my parent’s table eating pea and ham soup — are simple. I think of birthdays as celebrating life, not an event. And it is simple: it’s when the ones who love you most dearly, are close and make you feel like you’re the most special person in the world.