Happy birthday, Toby: Big brother, little brother and just Toby

All hail the birthday boy! Toby turns a magnificent seven today and the past year has seen plenty of growth and development from him.

In some respects this was a year in which he didn’t spin off in lots of new, exciting directions but it was one in which he grew into his own skin a lot more – and not just because he is suddenly eating in volumes that make Mr Creosote look like the poster boy for Slimming World.

On his birthday last year I used the following six terms to describe Toby: geek, smarty-pants, bookworm, love and affection, gamer and individual. All of those remain true, in many cases even more so.

If I had to sum it up, I would say what’s changed the most over the past year or two is that Toby is now defined more by what he is than what he isn’t. In the past I would have said that he wasn’t a social beast. He wasn’t talkative. He wasn’t emotional or cuddly. In short, he wasn’t his brother or sister. He was just the archetypal middle child. The different one.

He will always be the middle one, of course. Isaac’s younger brother. Kara’s older brother. Increasingly, though, he’s defined more by his own personality traits than by his position in the family pecking order.

As recently as six months ago, I described Toby as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a middle child. Of all our children, despite him being by far the most like me, I struggled to really understand him.

Recently, though, something clicked. So if there’s one thing that has changed more than anything over this past year, it’s that I now get Toby. He has come out of his shell more, he’s matured a lot and we’re much more on the same wavelength now. For all the frequent bickering that goes on, he’s in tune with both his siblings too.

In fact, while both his brother and sister have become more of a handful over the past year, he has mellowed. In some ways he is now the glue that holds the three of them together, forming a bridge between nine-year-old Isaac and 4½-year-old Kara. Those two would always be quite close anyway but I think they’re closer because of Toby. When the three of them are on song, they’re an unstoppable gaggle of chatter and laughter.


The big brother

As the oldest, Isaac often takes charge and Toby is happy to defer to him. When Isaac is out of the picture, though, Toby is always there for his sister Kara as IT support, a reading partner or just someone to share an activity with. He can be a surprisingly gentle soul at times.

The little brother

The bond between the boys is a little more obvious, with their shared love of cars, the London Underground and technology. They do so much together but it’s been noticeable how Toby is more willing to stand his ground and assert himself these days. For so long he has kept his own counsel but now that he is gaining the confidence to express himself and challenge his brother, it’s bringing out a whole new side of him which is lovely to see.

Just Toby

Most of all, though, Toby is Toby and that individuality is now starting to shine through.

Like his siblings he loves to sing, dance and read. He has started to show a real interest in food. And, all of a sudden, he has become quite the chatterbox when you engage him on a favourite topic. He still has his quiet moments when he retreats into his own little world – he gets that from me – but he is surprisingly articulate and perceptive when you give him the chance.

He’s sharp too. He’s always been a dab hand at jigsaws and, as we’ve started to broaden the kids’ repertoire of board and card games, he’s demonstrated that he can more than hold his own with Isaac in any game that requires a degree of strategic thought. Inside that quiet little head of his the cogs are turning furiously. He has all the hallmarks of a master chess player. Or a serial killer. Possibly a chess-playing serial killer.

Oh, and he’s still obsessed with owls. Last year we have him a book about owls and an owl piggy-bank. Among his presents this morning were an owl cushion and some owl crockery. 

Overall, though, for all that he can be grumpy and stubborn at times, he’s a great kid and one who is rapidly carving out his own niche in the world as opposed to skulking in the shadows.

Happy birthday, kiddo. Now show us what you’ve got in store for us this year.

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