Happy Fifth Birthday!

Maki,

Five years is not long at all, really, but there’s this strange thing that happens whenever I think of you. Time fades and the years merge and even when I’m way back inside my memory, as far as I can go, or as forward into the future as I can imagine, you’re always there, an influence on everything that happened to me, on everything I’m going to do. It’s as if we’d sat in a circle backstage, you, your mother and brothers and I, flipping pages, rehearsing a play, accepting our roles in a script that was written before any of us – before anything – was here.

It’s crazy, but I used to think it was a quirk of circumstance that wrote you in to the Greagen/Pizzari show. Mummy was pregnant with a baby we hadn’t planned for and it took us some time to get our heads around that twist in the plot, to get excited about expanding our family beyond the size we’d always envisioned, but once we did we were so looking forward to it.

We kept the cot assembled and held on to the tiny onsies your brothers had worn and shifted our future goals and expectations. The stage was set, all the roles were filled, the curtains were drawing open to reveal a new scene and a more complete story. Inside our house, inside our minds, inside our hearts, we were ready to perform as a family of six.

But that particular story arc didn’t take us where we expected it would. On my 37th birthday, at the twelve week scan, we were told the baby died in Mummy’s tummy and it came with such a sudden and unexpected sorrow that we spiralled inside the loss for several weeks and it was right at the point where we were able to peek outside of it, on the verge of recovering a little, that I decided I just didn’t want to. It felt like there was a hole in the script, lines to be voiced, a role still unfulfilled. Tragedy would move us to a cathartic moment, when a major player would appear for the first time, centre stage.

I’m listening to Savage Garden’s To The Moon and Back as I write this to you and I may be tumbling into a melodrama here, maybe even a kind of spiritually-tinged mawkishness, so forgive me if you become an adult atheist, a more practical man than me – feel free to roll your eyes whenever you read this – but occasionally I get a little creative in the way I remember things. I sometimes imagine that baby we lost was you, Maki! Emerging from the theatrical fog, bursting on stage, claiming your place inside this comedy/drama before the script had called for it.

It’s such a Maki thing to do because you can be a little impatient and a little demanding. You love the limelight even more than I do. You have the craziest faces. You’re a performer prepared for every crowd. You have a way of engaging attention and applause that’s often disruptive and rebellious, that roars above the status quo, that’s hilarious and entertaining, and the very thing this family needs. It’s not hard for me to imagine that your three brothers were playing their parts perfectly and, not able to contain yourself, you threw the script aside, gave us a preview – an appetizer – of your ability to improvise and steal a show.

I have the occasional gut-clutching horror, thinking back on that sorrowful time shortly after we lost the baby: Mummy and I whispering back and forth, intermittently, skirting around the edges of our grief – building suspense and drama as the script demanded – wondering if we should settle back into our family of five. What if we’d left it there? Decided not to try again for a family of six?

I would have spent forever looking to the left of the stage, looking to the right of stage, wondering what was missing.

But there really was no choice. The script played itself out, the months went by, and we did try again. The story sustained itself in suspense of your appearance until tiny footsteps on a wooden floor aroused an applause that will simply never die out.

One day you’ll realise, if you haven’t already, that my character has been emotively drawn, that I find it hard to move on from the simplest scenes, even as I’m eagerly awaiting a twist in the tale, the next dramatic point. Here’s just one example…

This morning you crept into Mummy and Daddy’s bedroom while everyone else was sleeping. I felt the chill on your cheeks when you whispered in my ear and after lifting the doona so that you could wriggle in to lay on top of me, I could smell something in your hair – beyond the hint of shampoo – that was timelessly familiar, so inherently Maki.

While running your hand over my face and neck and shoulder, warming against me, you whispered, ‘I love your muscles Daddy’ and I was forced to muffle my laughter to a shudder – in danger of waking Mummy. Humour fused with a melancholy joy as I hugged you and thought of primary school approaching, thought of you as our last baby, growing away from moments like this.

That quiet scene, performed in the absence of an audience, would be cut from most plays, but it confirmed me as a major player in your life and I’ll be calling encore over and over again, even as your character develops, even as the curtains close, as the stage is reset to make a repeat performance impossible.

However this script rolls out, however our roles evolve, this amazing show just wouldn’t work without you in it. You bring the right mix of comedy and drama, your character is constant and surprising and complicated all at once.

You provide a cliff-hanger every day, Maki. I wake up every morning just to see what you’ll do.