I recently had a birthday. Not a big one, no zero involved. No need for any fuss.
I knew my daughter was up to something, though. She’s getting more opaque but, at thirteen, is still touchingly transparent in her questions and actions.
Several weeks before my birthday, I saw her eyebrows rise almost imperceptibly and her head give a satisfied little nod when she got my answer to the ‘casually’ asked question as to which chocolates I liked best from a display when we were out shopping together. She was canny; telling me first which her favourites were and speculating about what her brothers might say, before directing the question at me with a swift, penetrating glance from her blue-grey eyes. Sure enough, the chocolates I mentioned were part of her birthday present to me, the specific type and flavour perfectly recalled from several weeks earlier.
During half term, a couple of weeks before the not-so-big-day, she suggested a trip to Hobbycraft, claiming, implausibly, that her little brother wanted to have a browse. When we got there, in what was clearly a pre-planned move, they suggested I go ahead of them to the next shop and they would catch me up. I played along and left, not before seeing my younger son pull hot pocket-money coins from deep inside the pocket of his skinny jeans and count them in his hand, their conspiratorial heads together as she marshalled him around the corner to another aisle.
There were some clues to something else too, like when she asked to use my phone to take a photo when we were out in a café, emailing the picture to her dad, but refusing to tell me why, just telling me I’d find out soon enough. There were rustling noises from her room, a closed door and shouts of ‘don’t come in Mummy!’ and a bin suddenly full of polystyrene and plastic wrappers.
And on the evening of my birthday, after a mundane, normal February Sunday with its usual mix of skateboarding, cricket and homework, we went out to a local restaurant for birthday tea and I was given my presents (including a wonderfully random assortment from Hobbycraft). I loved them all, but one of them made me cry.
Two photo frames, containing three black and white photos each, horizontally arranged. I pulled them from the wrapping paper, initially confused. I was aware that they were spelling something out, but was unable to decode what it was. She eagerly put me right, watching me warily for my reaction, as she instructed me to reverse the glass frames in my hands. Then it was revealed that they spelled out my name, through:
L – my beautiful girl lying solemnly, semaphore-style, on her bedroom floor
O – a shot of her bedside light
U – taken in a cafe
I – the clock in our kitchen
S – a bagel cut up on the breadboard
E – kitchen roll, shot from above (NOT toilet paper; she was affronted at the suggestion).
She had the idea: she thought about it, she planned it over a period of weeks; she enlisted the help of my husband; she walked to the photo shop and printed off the photos, she shopped for frames and agonised about finding the right size to match them up.
I am so touched by her hard work, creativity and thoughtfulness.
It was perfect.