Of course there were presents and balloons, streamers and flowers, cards and toys, candles and cake.
Of course there was the shiny satisfaction of a scrubbed-clean house, the thrill of using an almost-finished room, the busyness of a well-planned party tea, the jollity of assembled guests, the festivities of a feast, the pride in a well-baked cake, the thrill of perfectly-chosen presents, the smiles of a happy birthday chorus, the excitement of a brand new sandpit, the relief of a happy, smiling boy, the gratitude of unexpected gifts and the exhaustion of a busy day.
But the things that I want to remember about John's first party are none of these at all.
Instead, what I want to remember is the look of childish glee on the faces of John's grandparents as they walked in with helium balloons, the way conversation would pause quite suddenly as everyone became engrossed in the wonder of my boy, the moment when my mum said grace and for a second I thought I would cry, the look of utter disgust on John's face as he first ran his fingers through cold sand, the pride that made me tingle every time he smiled and above all the easy and comfortable togetherness that came from our love for this little boy.
My baby boy is one. Somehow, a full year has slipped through my fingers, and whilst I was busy tickling his tummy and curling my fingers around his toes he was busy making a circuit of the sun.
And so with joy in my heart and a tear in my eye, I celebrate his first year of life.
This birthday boy is so different from the tiny, sleepy one that I welcomed into the world twelve months ago and yet he's still the same peaceful, contented little soul that melted my heart from the start.
His sunny spirit and and ready smile bring joy to all he meets and have blessed me with more happiness in one year than I ever expected in a lifetime.
He's an adventurer and a walker, a fearless, unstoppable explorer, an inquisitive spirit, a smiler, a sociable soul, a charmer.
He's a giggler, a wriggler, a cuddler, a snuggler, a wonderer a wanderer, a happy-go-lucky toddler.
Not a day has gone by when I haven't been astonished by his bright and beautiful spirit and astounded by the depths of my love for him.
Happy Birthday, happy boy. You are such a blessing to us and it's been a privilege and an unceasing joy to have spent this first year with you. xx
It's the eve of my baby's first birthday. The presents are wrapped, the cupcakes are iced, the balloons are blown and my little boy is peacefully asleep, blissfully unaware of all the attention that we've stored up ready to lavish on him tomorrow.
And just like every other mother that's ever reached this milestone ahead of me, my mind is being pulled endlessly backwards to this time last year when my little one had already begun his journey into the world and I had already begun treading the long and painful path towards motherhood.
The mental pilgrimage back to this place of pain is one that I've tried my best not to take, and yet the memories of that night still seek me out in quiet moments and haunt me with their muddled intensity.
Mostly, when they come I blink and breathe deeply and focus on something else to keep the confusion at bay, but tonight, as I watch the clock tick on towards 4.44am, and the memories swell and fade in constant waves, I'm letting myself remember.
I remember the long, slow, day of induction that started with a sleepless night, a well-packed labour bag and an anxious car-journey at an hour when the rest of the world was heading out to work.
I remember the neat bed beside the window and the way it buckled in the middle, folding me up like a sandwich in a toaster; I remember the chirpy midwife who described the process ahead of me as though it were a game and I remember the organised schedule of drugs and rests and monitoring that stretched out endlessly throughout the hours.
I remember lying uncomfortably on the bed as they strapped the wires to me; the flutter of excitement as I felt the first little twinge of a contraction tickle my tummy and the thrill of seeing the little peaks and troughs appear on the monitor as the swoosh of our baby's heartbeat pounded in our ears.
I remember the distractions that did nothing whatsoever to distract me throughout that long, tense day: the card game that we played because the pregnancy book had instructed us to; the book that I failed to read; the walk that I had to abort through nerves more than pain, the conversations that were only half spoken because we didn't know what to say, and the large slice of lemon meringue pie that I ate with a certain amount of smug satisfaction, in between those easy, early contractions.
And as the day wore on I remember the way that the contractions became less exciting and more painful and the way that timing them became less of a game and more of an obsession. I remember strapping myself up to my tens machine to show the world I meant business and I remember fear wrapping its icy tendrils round my heart as the pain first took my breath away.
Then, suddenly, my memories accelerate at speed because just as the long day drew to a close and the hospital started settling itself for the night, the pain started quickening its pace and panic distorted reality into chaos.
There was a nurse jamming a large needle into my thigh to help me get through the night; there was a matronly midwife folding her arms beneath her bosom and ordering my husband to leave, there was panic, there was the sickening dizziness of the drugs coursing through my veins, there was confusion; there was the look of fearful resignation that James gave me as he left the hospital for the night, there were fearful pleas and tears as I begged for him to stay, there was sobbing; there were woozy moments between contractions when I honestly thought I would faint, there was vomiting, there was the sickening realisation that the drugs had done nothing for the pain, there was deep breathing, there was the silence of an empty ward, and there was the intense and terrifying loneliness of terror.
And just as the silence became too much to bear, my tens machine became more of an annoyance than a distraction and the realisation that this was only the beginning threatened to overwhelm me, the shift changed, the matronly midwife went home and an angel came to my rescue.
With kind eyes and an understanding smile she held out a hand in help and offered me the imeasurable comforts of a private room, a bath and my husband back; and if I hadn't been so completely consumed with my own pain, I would have smiled and thanked her.
And so for the next few hours I languished in the bath whilst time blended into a blur about me. I remember twisting and writhing as the contractions tore at my belly, I remember clinging on to James as though he had the power to save me, I remember counting, counting and counting through each and every contraction and the way the counting became crazed and desperate whenever I reached 22, I remember reciting the Hail Mary over and over again, despite not having thought of those words since primary school, I remember the fear of what was still to come making me breathless with panic, and I remember slipping into a sleepy daze between contractions as I waited exhaustedly for the next wave to arrive.
And finally, after what felt like hours, I remember the midwife returning and informing me that I was finally, finally in labour and that I had to manoeuvre myself onto a wheelchair so that they could move me to the delivery room.
When I try to recall all that happened in that delivery room my memories become dislodged and instead of a steady stream of memories I see a series of snapshots and remember disjointed snippets in crystal clear clarity amidst a blurry sea of confusion.
I remember grabbing the gas and air tube with desperation and sucking and sucking as I waited for blissful oblivion to arrive, and I remember crying out in tearful frustration as it did nothing to dampen the pain.
I remember first feeling that unstoppable urge to push and being told that I mustn't, mustn't obey it, and I remember heaving, groaning and writhing in agony as I did my best to comply.
I remember the many wires and tubes that were attached to me inside and out and I remember the horror that I felt at the addition of each and every one.
I remember the endless galloping beat of my baby's heart pounding from the monitor beside me and the way it accompanied my pain.
I remember crying and begging for an epidural and I remember being told that it was too late.
I remember the kind face of my lovely midwife and the way I wanted to deliver my baby just to make her proud.
I remember doctors coming and going as machines bleeped and I twisted my bloated balloon belly this way and that without finding any relief.
I remember pushing and pushing and pushing, and I remember the moment at which I glanced at the clock and realised that I'd been doing it, uselessly, for two hours.
I remember the burly doctor agreeing that some 'intervention' was needed and I remember almost weeping with relief.
I remember the agony of that intervention and I remember screaming "No!" with such sudden force that two doctors and a midwife all froze in their tracks and stepped backwards from the foot of the bed.
I remember the pulling-pushing carnage that ensued and I remember screaming with a frightening force that made all my previous screams sound like whimpers.
And then I remember the sudden sight of a baby in the room, and someone saying "It's a big baby" and "4.44am" and rubbing it quickly with a towel and placing it in my arms.
And I remember looking at this enormous baby that had suddenly appeared in the midst of my unearthly suffering and thinking how strange it was to see it there, and how it was an ugly baby after all.
I remember holding it awkwardly in my arms and petting it uncertainly whilst it screamed until it was crimson in the face.
And as everyone laughed and smiled I remember jiggling the baby distractedly without ever taking my eyes off the doctor that was busy sewing me back together, and without crying those tears of love and relief that I'd anticipated since I was a child.
And so although I remember many things about my baby's arrival into the world I don't remember the precise moment at which I fell in love.
I know that it was later; after the shaky phone calls to parents, after the surreal first feed, after being wheeled from the delivery room and looking back in horror at what looked like the set of a horror movie, after being dumped, weak and shaking in the shower and not knowing how to wash myself because I had no idea where my body ended and began, after the shock of my baby's size had abated and the sound of his galloping heartbeat had stopped ringing in my ears and after I'd been wheeled away from that gruesome delivery room to another neat bed with a babe by my side.
All I know is that at some point during that first dreamy, drowsy morning with a baby on my chest, I fell helplessly and hopelessly in love with the beautiful little soul that I'd just helped bring into the world.
And I know that I've been falling deeper and deeper in love every minute of every day since.
"How do you settle him when he wakes?" asks the friend whose new baby has complied very placidly to the Gina Ford routine, and who is horrified to learn that my one-year-old is still waking through the night.
"I still feed him to get him to sleep" I say, tentatively, sensing as I say it that the admission is a mistake.
"Oh no!" she says, her voice high with surprise and squeaky with dismay. "Every time he wakes?"
"Yes," I answer, guiltily, feeling her judgement crackle like static down the phone line.
"Oh," she exclaims flatly, waiting for me to stumble and mumble my way through my excuses so that she can tell me how her baby settles himself quite happily whenever he's left in his crib.
Much later, after I've hung up the phone, the exchange is still making me feel like a failure.
I can still hear my friend's dismay ringing in my ears and I still find myself cringing and cursing for the honesty of my admission.
Because whilst I don't quite know when it happened, it seems that the simple act of nursing my baby to sleep has gone from being the most beautifully natural thing in the world to being a guilty secret.
It's something that makes people hum and tut before giving me unsolicited advice, and its something that makes them look at me with a superior sort of judgement, as they class me a lazy and over-indulgent mother.
And so the next time that somebody asks about my baby's nocturnal practices I'll be deliberately vague.
I won't tell them of the way that my baby snuffles miserably with his face against the sheet as wakefulness disturbs him, I won't tell them how he sits up and looks around in sleepy confusion with his arms spread wide for my hug, I won't explain the drowsy fondness with which I pull him close to my chest or the warm pull of love that I feel as he settles himself at my breast; I won't tell them of the blissful relief that I feel as he drifts off to sleep in my arms and I won't describe those few precious moments when I gaze upon his sleeping face and brush my lips against his warm cheek before settling him back in his cot.
Instead, Ill let them assume that I leave my baby to cry himself back to sleep. Because that's what good parenting's about.
Maybe it's the sudden sunshine that's splashed Spring across the land, maybe it's the sound of little shoes clomping tirelessly through the house, or maybe it's the acute awareness of ageing that only a birthday can bring; but for some reason time seems to be blowing past me like a brisk and boisterous March breeze.
It's whisking away the baby-days that I've grown to know and love, blending the weeks together in a blur of constant motion, and driving us ever closer to the momentous milestone of One.
And as my days disappear before my eyes, and the deadline of his birthday draws ever closer to hand, I find myself clawing my fingernails against the wind, and raising my voice against the gale in an effort to stop these fierce gusts of time from blowing John's babyhood away.
I claw and clutch at the present and cry out against what is lost, but the winds of change refuse to heed my cries and in just ten short days my baby boy will turn one.
And so I have to turn my face into the breeze and remind myself that a birthday is just another day in the gradual unfolding of life; I have to savour every last moment of this wild and wonderful year and I have to stop thinking of the year that's passed as something that I've lost and remember that it's actually a beautiful and undeserved gift that I have gained for good.
It made perfect sense for me to stay at home and make the curtains, or James to stay at home and plumb in the radiator, but instead we went to the woods.
The Spring sunshine splashed shadows across the slowly-warming world, lending a lustre to the leaves that have been silently blanketing the earth all winter long and giving a golden glow to the trees that are waiting proudly and patiently for their Summer finery to arrive.
The air smelt of drying damp and distant water and the afternoon sunshine cast hazy halos around the trees, giving the place a fairytale feel that enchanted us with its spell.
And in amongst those silent trees, and beside that cold, bright water, we set our little boy down on his own two feet and set him free to explore.
We watched him wriggle his fingers deep into damp mud, rake his hands through a carpet of dried leaves, gingerly poke the spongy innards of a rotten branch, stroke the smooth contours of a pale, fallen trunk, dig in the soil with with a small, sturdy twig, taste the earthy goodness of soil against his tongue, crumble lacy leaf skeletons carefully between his fingers and methodically move fist-fulls of mud from one side of the path to the other.
With all the time in the world to watch, we loitered in those woods as our boy tripped and stumbled through the tree trunks and explored the awakening world.
And as we watched the wonder with which he greeted each twig, each leaf and each grain of dirt, we saw with fresh eyes the beauty of the world that we could so easily have trampled underfoot and wondered how we could ever have considered staying at home to worry about curtains and radiators at all.
Sometimes, when he awakes from his afternoon nap, he fixes his eyes on a spot on the ceiling and a smile slips onto his lips. A glorious glow spreads upon his upturned face and the smile stretches and spreads until it erupts into cascades of giggles that echo around the room.
I follow his eyes to the ceiling but I only see plaster and paint, because I don't have the eyes of a baby and I can't see the guardian angels that were watching him silently as he slept.
I'm a brand new mummy discovering the pleasures and pains of staying at home and watching my little boy grow. I like to write, to make things and to wander in the great outdoors. I've created this blog to document my days and capture some of my thoughts before they flit away.