Six years ago today, I made the most important catch of my life.
A little after 11 that evening, what should have been a calm, midwife-delivered home birth became a frantic, daddy-delivered home birth as Toby made a dramatic entrance into my waiting hands.
It’s pretty much the only time in his life our middle child has ever been in a hurry to do anything.
Six years on, I’m reflecting back on 12 months in which Toby has changed more than ever before. So here are six photos that best sum up Toby’s sixth year.
He loves the London Underground, to the extent that he has memorised the entire network and can reliably tell you the best route to get from X to Y.
He loves buildings and landmarks, to the extent that he can tell you everything you could possibly want to know (and a whole load you didn’t) about London and Paris’s most iconic structures.
He loves taking photos too. We bought him a basic point-and-shoot digital camera for his fifth birthday and he uses it constantly.
So our occasional boys’ days out in London are always a hit, allowing Toby to indulge his inner geek in every possible way. This photo sums it up perfectly: Toby in his buses-and-cars hoodie, clutching a Tube map and taking an alternative look at St Paul’s cathedral.
Whereas Isaac is super-conscientious and will tell you all about what he has achieved in class, Toby is more reticent and requires cajoling when studying something he’s not interested in.
So when he received an Oustanding Achievement award at the school prize-giving at the end of his first school year, we were as surprised as we were delighted.
We knew he was doing well but we hadn’t realised he was doing this well. So often it’s the quiet ones you have to watch out for, isn’t it?
When Toby started school, he had some speech issues which, in addition to his natural quietness, meant he wasn’t the most confident speaker or reader. By the time he turned five, these had started to resolve themselves.
This year he’s moved on in leaps and bounds. Not only has he developed a voracious appetite for reading – whether it’s books or, in this case, a car brochure – but he reads with great fluency and pride. He’ll be providing voiceovers for reality TV shows next.
Toby’s reading development has been one of my favourite things this past year, even when he insists on telling you every specification detail of the Fiat 500 with the same obsessive enthusiasm other people reserve for Harry Potter books or the musical stylings of One Direction.
4. Love and affection
Of all our children, Toby has always been the most comfortable in the solitude of his own company. However, this year he’s become noticeably more open about sharing his emotions – for a while this was mostly in the form of incessant whingeing but he thankfully snapped out of that phase – and expressing his feelings for his siblings, his grandparents and his beloved Uncle Peter.
He may do it in an understated way but there’s no mistaking the affection he has for those closest to him. He won’t show much on the surface but once he’s opened up to you he loves nothing more than a snuggle and a one-to-one chat. Again, he’s a lot like me in that respect.
Toby has now reached the point where he can join in a variety of games and hold his own.
From Downfall and Connect 4 to Monopoly Junior, Game of Life and our current family favourite, the symbol-matching card game Dobble – where he is household champion on merit – it’s given us a whole new set of activities we can do with both boys.
Best of all, as I’ve alluded to already, Toby has really come out of his shell this past year. He had a tough act to follow in his brother but he’s really stepped out from underneath his shadow and shown us that he’s every bit his equal while being distinct from him in almost every aspect of their personalities.
After some tricky patches earlier in the year, six-year-old Toby is so much more communicative, helpful, mature and confident than his five-year-old counterpart. He’s not just his big brother’s little brother any more – he’s a fast-developing individual in his own right.
He is Toby. The same as he ever was, only different. And obsessed with owls rather than goats now, as you do.
Love you, Toby. Happy birthday.