It is the sixteenth.
The boys wake up and immediately ask about the books from Nan. Even Bear knows that there is a “present!” to be opened. Their enthusiasm is very endearing, but we insist that they wait till after school, when we eat Cameron’s birthday cake together.
Because it’s a Wednesday, Rick has Scripture to teach after he drops Angus and Pete off. Before they leave, I give all three of them a tight, squeezy hug. “I love you! Have a lovely day, and I’ll see you guys this afternoon…”
Jamie and Bear play happily together, as they alway do. At half past nine, they watch Play School and then Small Potatoes. They turn the television off themselves after that, conscious that mummy is not a big fan of Bananas in Pyjamas.
In the kitchen, I flick through the Family Circle’s Commonsense Cookbook which Mary gave me the Christmas before Rick and I got engaged (which was also the first Christmas after we started dating).
I need to choose a cake. I need to choose a cake…
“Which cake will you bake, mummy?” I look up to see two adorable little faces peering at me through the kitchen hatch.
“I don’t know yet, Jamie. What do you think?”
I push the cookbook over to him and he flips through a few pages. He decides that he likes the chocolate cake, the sponge cake, the jam drops, and the chocolate eclairs. Bear grins and nods in agreement.
I briefly consider the sponge cake. I made one for Pete’s birthday and one for Jamie’s birthday earlier in the year. It tasted amazing, but I feel like I want to do something different for Cameron’s birthday. I want his cake to feel special.
Jamie and Bear return to their playing. I am already exhausted and I can feel the nausea kicking in. I am desperate for something hot to drink, but coffee and tea are out of the question. Instead, I heat up some instant miso soup on the stove, then settle down on the couch to watch Jamie and Bear. The exhaustion hits home, and I find myself drifting in and out of sleep as Jamie and Bear continue to entertain themselves with blocks, cars, and train tracks.
An hour or so passes. I surface from my nap.
“Have you baked the cake yet?” asks Jamie.
I glance at the time and realise it’s almost noon. I haven’t done morning tea for the boys. I haven’t done lunch. I haven’t even played with the boys. And I haven’t baked a cake. I feel like a total failure.
“No, not yet darling, but I’ll try and bake it now.”
I return to the kitchen and again wrestle with my decision about the cake. The cinnamon tea cake catches my eye. It looks light and fluffy like the sponge cake, but the recipe looks slightly simpler and more straightforward. I ask Jamie and Bear what they think. Bear nods vigorously while Jamie rewards me with a “Yes!”
I beckon them over to the meals table and I make them peanut butter sandwiches for lunch. I turn the oven on, grease a baking tray, and measure out all the ingredients. Thankfully, I have everything I need except for the vanilla essence.
I sift the flours together and start to panic when I think I see weevils. I send Rick a harried text message but he puts my mind at ease when he points out that it’s wholemeal flour.
I glance over at the boys just as I begin to beat the butter and the sugar together and see them chatting and chuckling. I remind them both to eat their crust. Bear shoots me the most innocent look, as if he has no idea what I’m talking about.
The butter and sugar cream quite quickly. Next, the egg goes in. From where he sits, Jamie spies the delicious batter dripping off the electric beaters. Once I’ve finished with the egg, I detach the beaters, bring them over to the table, and hand the boys one each. They look over the moon about this. I carry my batter over from the kitchen, along with the bowl of flour and the cup of milk. With the boys watching on (as they lick their yummy beaters), I fold in the flour and milk alternately – the last step of the recipe. I am secretly pleased with how easily the cake has come together, and that I am no longer the complete baking klutz that I used to be. I am also pleased that I will have a cake done before the big boys come home from school.
As soon as I’ve got the cake in the oven, I get the boys down from the table. They wash their hands, then help me to tidy up the playroom while I wipe down the table and sweep up the crumbs.
Quiet time ensues. Both boys go down happily, though I am extra stern with Bear about not getting out of his cot.
Feeling shattered myself, I lie down on couch in the lounge room for a short nap. I drift immediately into sleep, only to be awaken twenty short minutes later by the timer on the microwave.
I stumble into the kitchen, put on my oven mitts, and take the cake out of the oven. It looks and smells lovely. I put it on the cake rack, then head straight back to the couch to rest.
Around half past three, I am woken up by the sound of the Disco coming down the driveway. Rick is home with the big boys.
I am so exhausted that I can barely move my body. I lie there, immobile, for at least another half an hour.
Meanwhile, the afternoon progresses without me: Angus and Pete unpack their bags; Jamie and Bear wake up from their naps and come down the stairs (“Wake up time?” says Bear); Rick makes banana smoothie for all the boys; and the big boys do their homework at the table.
Around four o’clock, the boys find me in the lounge room and ask me about the cake. I manage to smile back, and with great effort, I actually get off the couch. I follow them into the kitchen.
“Hello darling,” says Rick. We exchange a quick kiss.
I examine the cake. It still looks good. I brush on some melted butter, sprinkle cinnamon on top, then add a cluster of chopped strawberries to the centre of the cake.
The boys can hardly contain their excitement. We all gather around the meals table. I bring down Nan’s carefully wrapped presents from my study and place them next to the cake. We sing happy birthday to Cameron, then Rick cuts the cake and serves us a slice each.
I hold my breath briefly as I take my first bite. The texture is soft, and the flavour is subtle and sweet. I feel very pleased.
This was for you, Cameron, my boy….
The boys love the cake, as does Rick.
“I think you’re getting better and better at this, Ronnie.”
One by one, the boys finish their cake and wash their hands and mouths. We hand them their books from Nan. I manage to get a few quick photos before they tear the kraft wrapping off.
This year, Nan has bought Stuart Little for Angus, The 13-Story Treehouse for Pete, The Magic Colours for Jamie, and An Australian ABC of Animals for Bear. Angus climbs onto Rick’s lap, and Rick begins to read his new book with him. Jamie sits on the stairs with his, while Bear brings his into the playroom. From afar, I can see him carefully turning over every page. Pete is next in line to read with daddy, with Jamie looking on.
Much later on in the evening, Rick and I sit side by side on the couch in our lounge room.
Together, we open up Cameron’s photo album.
As soon as I see the first photo, my tears begin to fall.
I see us in hospital, taking turns to hold our son.
I see his beautiful face and the broken skin on his forehead.
I see his chubby cheeks and the dimple on his chin.
I see his dark red lips.
I see his arms, his legs, his feet, and his hands.
I see his perfectly formed nails.
I see how big he was and how ready he was to join our family.
I see my eyes, dripping with tears and sorrow.
I see my hands, clutching him tightly.
I see myself, willing him to wake up.
I see his hand in mine.
I see Rick, looking at our son with nothing but love.
I see the love, and I see the loss.
I see the three of us, alone in a hospital room – our last time together as a family of three.
With each photo, I sob and wail.
For the rest of the night, I cannot stop crying.
Happy eighth birthday, Cameron.
I will love you forever.