Saturday was my son’s 21st birthday.
I remember the day he was born. I remember the first day the nurses let me take him outside (into the rose garden at the hospital). I remember taking him home and the health visitor saying he was an old soul as we sat there in my front room.
I remember riding home in a taxi with him (when he was maybe 5) and my father after a holiday in Florence, Italy. It was late evening and there was a huge white moon hanging low in the sky. He was talking to and about the moon. He was a late talker but once he started, he had something to say about everything.
And I remember a lunch on that trip at which I ordered him the pasta and tomato sauce because that’s what he liked to eat and ordered myself the chicken special. He ate the chicken special and I ate the pasta (I got some chicken), and that was the start of his awareness that you should order the interesting thing at a restaurant rather than what you got at the café in the park at home – ie, it was the beginning of his proper relationship with food as pleasure rather than just sustenance.
I remember the deal we made that on trips to central London he would sit still and read in Liberty while I sampled perfume if we could then go to the horrific toy store Hamleys and look at the Thomas the Tank Engine stuff. Sometimes I’d put stuff on him and explain I needed to see if it smelled different on him vs me. Once he was about 8, once in a while he would ask if I needed different skin.
For the first 15 years of his life we holidayed in NYC with his grandfather. His light-bulb moment of what NYC actually offered came at around age 10. We arrived in the city during a huge snowstorm. The next day his uncle took him sledding in Prospect Park and we had hot chocolate at a sadly now gone café on 7th Avenue called Ozzy’s. We ate lunches and dinners out. It became the gold standard for what one did on holidays: the eating, that is. He would accept breakfast at home, but all other meals needed to be “interesting”.
As he aged and became particularly interested in the development and structures of cities, walking and discussing different parts of the city got added to eating as key aspects of those NYC visits.
I had promised a ‘tropical’ holiday when he finished secondary school. I didn’t really think much about destination until the year before, when I came into some money and we could actually do a sort of bucket list trip. We ended up on a tiny island 30 miles north of the equator in the Maldives. He was over the moon. He had asked for perfect blue/green sea and perfect white sand and that’s what he got – along with great food twice a day (we didn’t bother eating lunch) and seeing sharks and colourful fish every day. (I enjoyed it all too…)
He went off to uni to study urban planning and human development. Six months later, he came home and stayed during covid, doing the awful but necessary online ‘learning’ thing. He was finally able to live there again for third year. Which he finished a month ago. Last week, he received his last mark, which confirmed he’d get the ‘good’ degree he wanted.
We went to his favourite Japanese restaurant here for birthday lunch and then brought home the weirdest birthday cake with chocolate cream, marshmallows and crumbled biscuit.
I wore Guerlain Shalimar parfum to celebrate my son’s birthday: sweet, weird, complex, flummoxing, heart-wrenching, contradictory, gorgeous.