Fourteen and a Life to Go

Today was beautiful, and it’s nearly over, and we will never get it back again. That’s the funny thing about time. It trickles or rushes by, but we never will get a chance to relive the moments once they pass.

I’m sat down on our front porch to write a blog about my eldest child’s 14th birthday, which I will not, and cannot share until he reads it and gives me the go ahead.  Daniel does not like surprises. Daniel’s disappointment is often immeasurable and his day is frequently ruined. He bought a hoodie to express this fact clearly to the world without actually having to engage with anyone he does not already know.

Interestingly, despite Daniel no being a fan of surprises himself, he was actually a bit of surprise.  We found out he was going to join us the same weekend we signed the contract on our second house. We were just married and bought a three bedroom ski chalet in Ohakune, to enjoy fun weekends with friends all through the winter.  Phteven and I wanted kids, but planned a good five to ten year cooling off period after our marriage.  I did ski right up until we were 8 months pregnant, but as soon as Daniel was born the trips to the snow waned and we have just recently sold the wee chalet we had lovingly named The Happy Hobbit Love Shack.

The pregnancy was hard.  I puked all over myself at St. Lukes mall early in the first trimester, then gained nearly 40kg over the next seven months and earned the dubious distinction of gestational diabetes for the efforts.  I remember polishing off half a baked cheesecake in a single sitting, stating it was the baby who was hungry and I was eating for two.

Daniel was named for a friend from high school who passed away when he was 19, and my soul mate Phteven’s best childhood mate. The quickening came on the Victoria Park flyover while I was listening to “she will be Loved” by Maroon 5 and thinking about the shy and brilliant Danny Coles who was one of my few friends during the most difficult time of my life… High School in a small town.

Daniel was born to the same Maroon 5 album Songs About Jane. I started and finished pushing him out of the safety of my body to the song Harder to Breath.  Despite an epidural, I knew when contractions were on their way. and he arrived in silence and did not cry until his tiny heel was pricked for a blood test and he received his vitamin K shot.  He hates needles to this day,  There’s a very good reason above and beyond his first tears on this earth, and I won’t cover that gruesome story in this blog.

I suspect a few people reading this can probably remember the sense of helplessness and inadequacy that bowls you over when you become a parent.  A life arrives. This delicate, floppy, noisy and, helpless creature needs you for everything.  I suppose some people have the instincts to parent in built, I did not.  I will never forget my mother-in-law putting a blue striped sock on Daniel’s tiny foot by opening up the mouth of it with her strong sausage fingers. She wrapped it around his monkey toes the way you might open a flexible shopping bag to fit in an oversized but fragile purchase at the supermarket.  I fell in Love with my mother in law and she fell in Love with Daniel at some point in his first days, and both relationships remain firm fourteen years on.

Daniel had incredible reflux.  We were terrified of co-sleeping so his wooden crib was hoisted onto a sharp angle and his safety sleeper wedge was lovingly placed at the top of the incline.  He was demand fed, and, unbeknownst to us, lactose intolerant.  I really, REALLY like cheese so he suffered as a result and we finally figured it out when he was weaned at about 9 months and could only tolerate goat milk formula.  

This is so very Daniel.  He’s suffered through my awkwardness and learning curves for 14 years. He was born to question and to confirm that we are all fundamentally fragile and undeniably needy.  His first words and phrases were pointing out the obvious, which he still does, only now often with impeccable comedic timing.  “Hepicoptor cwash” he’d say each time as his father’s model helicopter met its fate when he was just a smidge over a year old. He’d also question us and everything around him verbally and non-verbally, looking quizzically as we attempted to explain things to his insatiably curious brain.  This child is a creature of integrity who has called bullshit on anything and everything for a very long time. His thirst for justice and knowledge fight with his soft nature every day. He will stand up and question or constructively criticise everyone (especially his mother I often think) and this gift he has, has been a source of shame as he’s been pained by the potential of hurt feelings and unintended consequences of his insatiable questioning since his first words. 

Fast forward to today.  He’s the smallest in his class by a country mile, and holds himself like he is ten feet tall and does not give a single fuck about anything, while feeling scared and nervous most moments throughout any given day. He studies in the top streamed class at AJHS with other quirky kids who keep Daniel and the family in constant supply of memes, painfully funny YouTube material and very good jokes and philosophical conversations. He is not competitive. He is whatever the opposite of competitive is. He will drop out of something as soon as the fun is taken away or people put him on the stage. However, he will happily stand on any stage and perform or speak, he finds that easier than talking to a small group of peers. Not a social butterfly, but a brave and beautiful brainiac is this small dark and handsome lad.

Not surprisingly, he’s crucified occasionally for standing up for himself and others.  He is brave and panicked in equal measures as he bashes through this life with an insight and wealth of experience that many people probably never need to, or perhaps more accurately, get to know.  

This kid has become a man through a life I can’t imagine living.  He feels a guilt that is so profound and pure for his blessings.  His father and I did not have a fraction of his comfort or opportunity, and he is so sentient of his privilege it serves us a feast of humility that creates compunction and care daily, keeping us honest and exhausted.  

We all have a birth order, a narrative, and trauma. We all have mommy and daddy issues. I often ask Daniel how he grew to be so dark, sardonic and genuinely hilarious, and his response is often “deep and painful childhood trauma” to which I always respond, “Well, you’re welcome!”.  

We all make a difference every day on this earth by being amongst life or hiding from it.  Daniel is a quintessential observer of life, and a painful prodigy. He is kind and gentle to the point he refuses to hold a bird because he does not trust himself not to hurt it’s fragility.  He won’t pick up the cat because he feels like he wouldn’t like being picked up himself (after bullies threw him around making him feel powerless) so he refuses to inflict that on a living breathing creature. 

All of the people who came out of my body are extraordinary.  And they are all so indescribably unique.  Daniel is burdened with brilliance and bravery beyond my understanding.  But he uses humour to defuse pain.  He relies on logic to calm his active brain.  He’s the only true introvert in the four kid we are responsible for, and that introversion is something he grapples with consistently because he isn’t afraid to stand up and question injustice or ignorance, yet he always beats himself up for stepping out of line.  

I do hope he lets me share this.  And more than that, I hope he knows how exceedingly proud we are of the person he is.

He has scared the shit out of Phteven and me countless times. He’s got mad DJ skills while we drive in the car or he puts together a Spotify list to share, owing to his rich and diverse taste in music.  He’s dark, bright, heavy, and light.  He’s fucking great actually.  And he’s just getting started teaching anyone lucky enough to cross his path how to question themselves the way he can’t help but interrogate himself.

Happy birthday Daniel san.  If there is a single bit of truth I could offer you, it is just to stop being so painfully hard on yourself and everyone else.  We are all imperfect and illogical and we can all do better.  Your integrity and curiosity will absolutely piss people (including yourself) off. But give yourself a break because you’re already one of the best things I have ever seen in my 40 years on this earth. I just wish you could see how great you are.  The broken bits, the bright bits, the dark bits… They are what makes you Daniel Allan Alexander West, and you are better than good, you’re great.  

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