He was like a prototype, the one we practiced our parenting skills on, skills that, having perfected, we had totally forgotten by the time his siblings came along.
We made formula milk the consistency of porridge, put both feet into one leg of a baby-gro, attached nappies so unskilfully that it looked as if he was wearing a bicycle tyre.
If we didn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, it was only because we had filled the bath too full to be able to lift it.
He replied, since he was learning too, with projectile vomit, smearing his face with baby-food, and an uncanny ability to pee straight into your eye.
But we would wake in the morning to the sound of him singing in his cot in his room. When we went to fetch him he would squeak with delight, shaking his blanket excitedly like a matador who has suddenly discovered that the bull has come armed with a baseball bat.
He brought unimaginable joy to a house that had always thought that it was joyful already.
Today he is 21. At the moment he is away, yet he has never been more here.
Part of the reason is Skype, of course, which means he appears each Sunday afternoon on our computer, eating oatmeal and drinking the last pool of milk direct from the bowl (which I now do, having never done it in my life, learning it from him when he was just three). He is always in the same corner, with pale blue walls behind him (we suspect that he’s in jail and hasn’t had the nerve to tell us yet).
It is important to remember that he is a university student, so when he is home we see very little of him. The weekly Skype visit is actually an improvement.
As I say, today he is 21. I think that means a lot more to our generation than it does to this one, who can vote, drink, or drink and then vote, at the age of 18. He supposedly gets the key of the door, but has had one since he was about 12.
But it is a special day, an day when he can no longer, in any way, be referred to as a child (just ask the delightful Quinn Healthcare about this, they have increased his annual premium from under €400 to over €1300, as if the road to decrepitude begins exactly on the day you turn 21).
Right now he is in Wake Forest University, working on a project which will hopefully make solar panels cheaper, and thus help save the world. It’s not quite in the way that, say, James Bond does it, and he gets less girls (as far as we know), but he is out there, making his contribution to society, and loving what he is doing.
The project ends in just twelve days’ time, and he will be home again.
We will keep his birthday celebration till he comes home (though he may be having one of his own, shooting at moose from the back of a pick-up (sorry, North Carolina, if that’s a bit of a stereotype)). In the meantime, today we just want to tell the world, as always, that we love him, and are proud of him.
Happy birthday, Tinson1.