On a twelfth birthday at Christmas

Christmas birthdays add extra sparkle to the annual festivities… and a lot more hassle. My second daughter is one of those blessed or cursed to have been born in this crazy season. Twelve years ago, on 12 December, she tumbled wiry and wailing into the world. A Thursday’s child, the line from the rhyme saying ‘far to go’ was inscribed in her cheeky look. A tad superstitious, I was relieved she’d been induced on her due date, rather than letting Nature prolong the torment of labour until Friday the thirteenth. Somehow, though, I don’t think she’d have waited. Full of energy from the start, she began to make an impression by exercising her lungs. Sleep was pretty low on her agenda. Aching and light-headed, having been awake over twenty-four hours, I could’ve done with a bit of rest. Instead, I spent the night after her arrival waltzing her around the post-natal ward. Five babies snoozed peacefully in between their feeds. One did not.

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And that’s been the story since… Maybe it’s the infamous ‘middle child syndrome’. With an older and, four years later, a younger sister, Number Two has learned to assert herself. Although that’s no problem to someone so adept at stealing the limelight! Her first Christmas set the tone. Youthful and idealistic, I was determined that everything would be calm and bright. In hindsight, I was way too high on adrenalin. Trying to write assignments for my Masters, decorating the tree, squeezing back into trim skirts (thanks the miracle of the Japanese Velcro corset) and even planning the perfect Christmas dinner! My colicky new-born did her utmost to sabotage the big day. The meal was over-cooked and a veritable disaster. The baby howled through it. Her elder sister, then aged two, fell asleep. Tough turkey was served with a sauce of tears and exhaustion. But we survived.

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Slowly that weary winter melted into spring. My diva cut teeth early and ran before she walked. Soon, she was crowned the queen of tantrums. A title she still holds! My husband claims it’s because she was ‘made in Sarajevo’. I was pregnant with her when we returned to Ireland. Perhaps the upheaval of moving had some effect… or the DNA of her volatile parents. Whatever influences might’ve shaped her personality, she’s quite a conundrum. Fearless yet deep-feeling, sociable but occasionally shy. A speed-devil on bikes and scooters, she picks herself up quickly when she ends up over the handlebars. Sensitive, enthusiastic, loving, madcap, artistic… And now the candles glow twelve on her birthday cake. Nearly a teenager!

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It’s scary, the too-fast passage of years, the future that lies ahead of her. She’s growing up into the maze of modern womanhood. One minute dancing to Taylor Swift, the next she’s curled beside me like my Christmas child of 2002. Then I realise how lucky I am to have her and her sisters. Even as a flawed, unorthodox kind of mother who freaks at the stereotypes still associated with that role. At least, though, dirty nappies and puke-stains are things of the past. These days, life’s more about slamming doors, jokes and neon nail-polish, rows and times of the month and, when needed, simply being a cry-on shoulder. As, one by one, each of my daughters discovers it ain’t always easy to be a girl.

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