I seem to remember reporting solemnly on the events of Big Al’s third birthday on this very blog. Well: this September ushered in his seventh.
Life is insanely busy and it was not until 6:30pm on a balmy September Wednesday evening that I found time to post the present and card in the panniers and jump on the bike to pedal down to the nearby house of my quicksilver, indispensable nephew.
I parked the bike outside and my sister opened the door. “Al!” she hollered. “Come and see what Auntie Kate’s got! She’s come to say Happy Birthday!
A small figure wearing a small pair of underpants and a beatific grin (one of his favourite lounging outfits) appeared at the door.”Hello Auntie Kate!” he beamed hospitably. I surmised it had been a good birthday.
But my sister confided it had not started well. Al loves presents, but he’s not big on change. Birthdays are irregular, and if you’re not careful everything is different. He opened his first present: a state-of-the-art three-wheeler scooter. But it was just too new to countenance. Al, his mother reports, scowled thunderously.
When all is darkest, and tempers are frayed, there sometimes comes a tiny window of time in which listening is the only way out. My sister calls it ‘The Teachable Moment’. She waited patiently for it to appear, and, like an expert meteorologist, gauged exactly when the clouds would clear and she could talk a little sense into Big Al.
They role-played. “Al,” my sister said, “when you get a present, you can’t just look at it and stomp and say ‘that’s a stupid present.’ That would hurt the feelings of the person who gave it to you. Sometimes – even if you think it is rubbish – you need to smile as if it were the most amazing present in the world. And what do you think you say, even if the present’s a bit boring?”
Al meditated on this for a short spell. “I’d say, ‘this is an amazing present! Thank you so much!’ ”
My sister nodded sagely. “Right,” she said. “We’re going to practice.”
She picked up an old tea towel and folded it up. Al wrinkled up his nose.
“Now,” she said. “This tea towel is really rather boring, isn’t it?”
Al nodded vigorously.
“Right then,”my sister continued. “I’m going to give it to you as a birthday present, and I want you to choose the right words to say.”
Solemnly, she handed over the tea towel. “Happy Birthday, Al.”
Al’s acting skills have never been in question; but this was a performance straight out of the Olivier method-acting school. “What a wonderful present! I’ve never had anything as brilliant as this before. Thank you so much: you’ve made my birthday.”
Mother and son smiled. They had this covered.
All day, Al had been delighted and amazed and really very pleased indeed, so much so that the actor’s union Equity should have offered him membership free for a year. Some presents had been great and some a bit so-so, but they all got the Olivier treatment.
I arrived and watched him receive a duvet cover covered in Minions from Grandma and before he even knew what it was – he loves minions – he was already telling her how brilliant the package was.
It was drawing near to Big Al’s bedtime. I slipped out quietly, before he could tell me just how wonderful and amazing was the bedroom lamp I had bought for him.