Like every year, this leaves me stumped. And like every year, Ba and I talked about the day you were born, and the morning we brought you home from hospital. You should’ve seen us, Ba and me – two utter amateurs, all by ourselves, no family in the country, clutching onto a teeny-tiny person swaddled in a great length of cloth. I remember standing outside the hospital in the October sun holding you while Ba went to fetch a taxi. If I close my eyes, I can still smell you; the one-day-old you. I can still feel the texture of the crocheted white blanket you were wrapped in. I can still see your little face, eyes shut in sleep, nose wrinkling with the first smell of the outside, the smell of sunlight. Your skin peeling in little patches. Everything new – arriving, waking; all at once.
When I say it was just the other day, it was.
The only difference is that now we don’t have to hold you gingerly anymore. We can squish you and squash you as much as we want, and you squish us right back. You also write us letters – long letters, sitting in school – which you give us when you come home. Sometimes you keep them in your hidey-holes, little surprises for us to find. On your birthday, as Ba and I sang your birthday song early in the morning from under our duvets, still groggy, the sun rising behind us, you bounced out of your bed and ran into our room, and after we’d given you your birthday card, you said you had something for us too: you ran downstairs, there was shuffling, and then you ran back up holding a card. You’d made us a card for your birthday with a letter inside, and kept it hidden all week. But there’s nothing you keep hidden on these sheets of paper – all your love is in there in careful handwriting. Every emotion, every time you’ve ever missed us, is on it. The way you see us is on it. And we’ve never looked better. I’m always humbled by how powerful, how uncomplicated, this love is that buzzes and crackles and flows without ebb.
When you’re not writing, you draw. Yes, you still love to draw. Visual references of your world, journaling things that stick to you. Like rainclouds and rooftops, geese flying over water, a wild hare in mid-leap.
You also drew your birthday party, only the guests looked a little different, and decidedly four-legged.
The actual birthday party though was by no means less wild: sixteen six-year-olds; it would’ve been calmer with the animals.
You had a Totoro Party in honour of your favourite movie, with a popcorn-and-sushi screening at home. And party bags with soot gremlins and chopsticks.
And finally a cake that made you so happy, that it made all the late-night baking and smearing and Totoro-drawing worthwhile.
Apart from Totoro, these are some of your other favourite things at six:
The animals you collect; a veritable zoo, each animal with its own name: like Cuba and Havana (the leopard and her cub – gifts from Bobo), Chandan (the St Bernard, because you love the smell of sandalwood), Charcoal and Snow (the black horse, and the white), or Snot (the snake; because that’s what he feels like).
Taking late night walks by the river, your dim little torch showing us the way.
Discovering the joy of reading your first chapter book. But still much preferring to sit on my lap listening to old favourites like the Beatrix Potter books on your desk.
Going to Ba’s Aikido class and copying his every move on your own little mat.
Making tiny sculptures that can sit on the tip of a finger. Like this dog and baby Totoro you made today.
Coming into our room, crawling under our blanket and snuggling between me and Ba every morning before our day starts, and we run late for school.
Dancing with me, and making music with Ba.
Chotto-ma, how we love you! From the ends of your short, spiky hair to the tips of your six-year-old toes. You make music for us every day. And every day, we wonder how we created a note so perfect.